‘Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.’
- Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, June 1997
The pandemic has given rise to an advice frenzy. Constant email invitations to webinars seem good value, except it’s your time that’s bartered.
Help, without asking for a return. It’s harder than it looks.
We’re living through the unknown. So, if advice really is a form of nostalgia, how much can we trust it? And how available should we make ourselves to the avalanche of well-meaning tips and advice, before we call time and act?
The flood of emails that have swept inboxes since March promise a lot. But they are exhausting. The constant stream of invites demand decision-making. And the never-ending flow of information is hard to deal with. As marketers, as business owners, it’s our responsibility to wrap up the help we have to give in a digestible manner. And the method I have in mind might surprise you…
Zoom: forcing you to smile and look presentable since March 2020
“Furlough, furlough, read all about it!”
“Your guide to business interruption loans, be there at noon on Tuesday!”
“How to manage remote staff! I’m an expert, listen to meeee….!”
Since the pandemic hit, my inbox has been overwhelmed with constant invites to webinars. Information sessions. Catch ups. Masterclasses. Talks.
All manner of things which, to be fair, are probably extremely helpful. The problem isn’t so much the invitations, the problem is the sheer volume of them. I’m confident I could spend every hour of the week on Zoom attending some such event and not do a scrap of work.
And while the tips and advice are, no doubt, very helpful it’s not wholly a one-way street. These invitations ask you, as the potential viewer, for:
Your attention – now, in the moment of receiving the invite, and on the day
A decision about attending
Your concentration, time focused away from your business
Peel it back and there are more asks layered into how we find ourselves working now:
Oh ’eck. Better do something with that barnet.
Make-up: yay or nay? Is it worth it for Jim the accountant’s presentation, live from the sunny climes of Luton?
Pyjamas, tracky bums, moth-eaten jumpers... quick, put on a work top! Nobody irons these days, do they?
Who’s going to watch Junior?
Schoolteacher, professional, childminder, efficient worker, champion of client services, door-answerer-of-Tesco-delivery-extraordinaire… dutiful student of the most recent HR developments as well?!
Of course, the second list of asks are implied or self-imposed. Jim the accountant from Luton doesn’t know mascara-less you from Adam. The vast number of invites forces us to make decisions constantly. Shall I attend? Is it worth it? Will I have to compete with the dog barking at that incessant pigeon that keeps landing in the garden?
Take a breath. It doesn’t always have to be like that.
An invitation to peace and quiet
Recently, I’ve been plaguing my friends for book recommendations. I’m craving story – more than chocolate actually, and that is saying something. All I want is a really good story, specifically in book format, and preferably with a ‘Happy Ever After’ kind of vibe. No deaths. No tragedy. Gimme your Bridget Joneses, your Treasure Islands, your Secret Gardens.
Why? And what does that have to do with webinars?
I’m desperate for some narrative comfort. Amidst a global pandemic, my brain is hungering for the compactness of a well-constructed narrative. The familiarity of a story (not necessarily a known story), something to get lost in, is very welcome.
Perhaps it’s the contrast to the wave after wave of information download we’re faced with. A sort of aversion to the bombardment of hustle.
But that’s not quite the whole picture. Because I do receive marketing messages which I look forward to. Well-crafted emails. Thoughtful blogs. Artful tweets. The one thing they all have in common, is a strong narrative element. Each post is a miniature journey for the brain. Beginning. Middle. End. Easy to follow, taking my hand and guiding me along the yellow brick road one step at a time. In a word, story. Satisfying, familiar and comforting. A bit like that holey pair of trackies I refuse to part with.
Give without asking: the art of generosity
So, what can marketers do about it?
Taking a blanket approach and blasting everyone on your list with the same message gets old fast. There’s real risk of alienating people, of turning off the folks you could help.
Instead of dumping request after request on people, think about how you help them. How can you give something, without making the implied asks noted above? Is it possible? Perhaps there is always a trade-off. As the giver, it’s your responsibility to reduce the demands made on the people you’re trying to help.
HOW you say it matters as much as WHAT you say
The world, gripped in the clutches of COVID-19, is moving constantly. It’s draining. And while the intentions behind the email bombardments are good, the onslaught in itself is off-putting.
Wrap help in the right packaging and you’ll make a difference to your intended recipient. Why not consider saying what you have to say in the form of a story? A compelling tale, a narrative journey you can walk the reader through. It doesn’t pull on your reader’s attention with the same short, sharp, jerky motion that shouty emails do.
There’s a saying common in marketing:
‘What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it.’
- David Ogilvy
Of course, you have to have something to say. Beautiful delivery doesn’t make up for a lack of substance. But don’t discount the how, even if it seems unfashionable to do so, or if you worry that you’re going against the grain. Asking ‘How?’ makes your job harder, there are no two ways about it.
‘How can I make this appealing to my reader?’
‘How can I get this vital bit of information through in a way that people want to hear?’
‘How can I give people something they can work with, without making too many demands on them?’
No doubt, you’ll need to get your thinking cap on. It means more brainpower on your part and more creativity too. And that’s a great thing.
Because when you shift into the gear that asks the hard questions, you move away from the question of how to shove a message out upon the world. You move to a place of empathy, compassion and conversation.
Transaction is not a winning strategy
If you have helpful advice for the world, that’s fantastic. And if you’re willing to share it, good for you. Bear in mind that asking for someone’s attention in return for something you have to give is transactional. It’s easily blocked out, easily overlooked. And the crying shame, is that your valuable information gets lost! It falls down the cracks, without impacting the people it could be most beneficial for.
The world is upside down, so work with what’s familiar
Think about how you can introduce a narrative element to what you do. Perhaps it’s a thoughtfully crafted LinkedIn post. Maybe you spend a bit of time getting clear about what your message is, and why it matters to your reader. And if you’re really unsure, here are a few tips on how to navigate choppy waters with a clear, empathetic approach.
Stories are satisfying, memorable and don’t ask too much of your reader. They are much less taxing on your clients’ and prospects’ brains than short, snappy, fact-laden, and action-oriented copy. So, embrace your inner raconteur next time you have something to share. You might be surprised!
Your words matter,
The Weekly Writing Reflection
Each week I share a quote that I’ve found inspiring. What started as a way to keep my sanity during lockdown has morphed into a regular feature. The idea is to create space for you to do some active reflection through writing. Nothing demanding, simply jot down a few thoughts about your week. There’s no need to share, though if you’d like to, I’d be delighted to read your writing. Or, you can simply reflect on how your week has been. So…
Your quote this week, is:
‘Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.’
- Mother Teresa
And your writing prompt, if you’d like one*:
- The small things are…
*By all means freestyle, if you’re so inclined…
What’s caught my eye this week
Each week I’ll share a few snippets of inspiration, thought-provocation and jubilation. This week’s picks all have a strong narrative element. Beautiful stories, artful telling. I hope you enjoy them. And please do share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to know what you think about these pieces.
There’s a world of cracking words on our digital doorstep, let’s dive in.
Love letter to a newborn in extraordinary circumstances – Part reportage, part memoir, part gift. If you read one piece this week, read this. BBC correspondent Nick Bryant recounts his experience of welcoming a child in New York, as COVID rages and protestors march in anger.
Tell tales – I dare you – No, really, I do! A fabulous initiative from Slow Coach Sarah, aka Sarah Thayer. She’s aiming to document our stories of personal transformation during lockdown. Take a look at this beautifully written email and if you fancy chronicling your transformative experience, I couldn’t think of a better facilitator to help you.
The honest approach to social media – A thoughtful take on how to ‘do’ social media with integrity. It’s like Simon Cox has reached into my brain and pulled out my own thoughts. If you spend any time using social media for business, take a look.
Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young – 1st June 1997 is when Mary Schmich’s advice to graduates was published in the Chicago Tribune. Hanson’s ‘Mmm Bop’ was number one, Tony Blair had swept into number 10, Lady Diana was still with us, and Kate and Leo hadn’t quite hit our screens as the ill-fated lovers of the Titanic. You may recognise the words of Mary’s faux-graduation address – Baz Luhrmann turned it into a song. 1997 feels like a lifetime ago, and yet the advice is as pertinent today. Perhaps that’s the art of genuinely good advice. It’s not about teaching people how to fight fires, it’s about figuring out how to live well and thrive over the long haul, taking the best bits of others’ experience and ditching what doesn’t work for you.