Break on through to the other side … of what people know, and what they think they know.
One of the most agreed-with opinions I have ever expressed was a post on my personal blog, “People know more than we think; in fact, they know everything."
I claimed that our friends, families and colleagues learn everything they need to know about us—and usually more than they want to know—by simply watching how we react in various situations.
“Because of a thousand signals, a friend knows when he’s second-fiddle, a colleague knows a real compliment from a political kudos, a direct report knows you know when he's slacking, a boss knows if you think she's dumb, and eventually, the whole of the employee population knows whether management is in touch or out of touch, sympathetic or downright creepy.”
The conclusion I came to is that “our essential responsibility as personal and organizational communicators is not to spoon out information slowly to babies with weak digestion systems. Rather, it’s to try desperately to keep up, verbally, with the massive flow of unvarnished truth that our behavior is sending, and that our family, friends and colleagues are receiving every day.”
But content marketers have to do more than just keep up with people’s understanding of their brand and company and industry. Content marketers have to get ahead of it.
Because I own a Subaru, I get a magazine from them. I forget what it’s called.
I don’t read it.
Because I looked at the first one and it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know from all the years of commercials I’d ever seen from Subaru and all the Subaru dealers I’ve dealt with and all the glossy brochures they’ve given me. I already know everything—or at least I think I do—about this Subaru magazine: why they’re sending it to me, what they are and aren’t willing to say to get me to read it, the wide demographic they’re trying to please and not alienate.
Subaru has got to go a hell of a long way to convince me otherwise. And they haven’t done it.
Of course, this is my family’s fourth Subaru.
What if I received this magazine knowing nothing about the company beyond those weird commercials that say Subaru is “love”? I’d still think I knew everything about this magazine because of all the other car company communications I’ve seen over the years, all the in-flight magazines I’ve ever pulled out of a seat pocket, all the pretty, polite corporate schlock I’ve ever seen.
Between everything I already know and everything I think I already know—if Subaru or you are going to break through, you’re going to have to do something really surprising.
(Not that it’s impossible. I took a break from writing this piece and skeptically watched this cockamamie corporate video from Procter & Gamble.
Hell, my dog is crying.)
But then you have to keep doing it, over and over again.
That’s why content marketers get the big bucks. Or will, someday.
Now: What would I do if I were Subaru? In my next post, I’ll tell you all about Love magazine.
David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.