Two weeks ago today, I was prepping to keynote Content Marketing World 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. It was to be my first time in 18 months on an actual stage in front of actual people.
Real talk: I wanted to vomit before I stepped on stage again—90% excited but also 40% crazy-nervous. (And maybe 10% anxious about being in a crowd again—even a masked/vaxxed/tested/socially distanced one.)
I know the math doesn't work. My insides are complicated.
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You know that idiom about riding a bike…? As soon as my heel hit the stage I started peddling, metaphorically speaking.
Muscle memory kicked in. I know how to do this. These are my people.
The crowd was smaller (because Covid). And a little muted (because distanced).
Still. The joy! For me, for other speakers, for the audience.
It felt so ridiculously good to be around actual humans again!
It felt glorious to look at an audience of actual people, with actual blood pumping through their actual hearts!
After 18 months of presenting virtually to a faceless audience, it was freedom to step out from behind a Zoom screen.
Screens are fine, when it's all we have.
But actual in-person after a year+ of not-in-person felt like the thrill of live music: Almost a marvel.
You feel things more strongly. The most ordinary interaction suddenly feels like… I don't know… a *moment*.
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A few days after I got home, I sat in on a webinar.
The speaker—an exec at a tech firm—was sharing how they approach customer targeting. Like a lot of us, they have developed buyer personas that represent their ideal customer segments, based on data and existing customers.
They give their segments names, backstories. (Including "Alex the App Developer"—I appreciated the gender neutrality of that one.) They have their fake faces tacked up in one of their home office conference rooms.
Maybe your company does this too. I think it comes from a good place—to get to know the people you sell to.
But I always find the fictional nicknames and backstories a little... I don't know... hokey. A bit contrived.
To me personas too often feel like police composite drawings based on eyewitness descriptions. Useful, sure. But they're always just a little bit off. Just a little bit wrong.
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Personas in a lot of ways are a starting point, when that's all you have. They're the Zoom audience, when the Zoom audience is your only choice.
But as I relearned two weeks ago in Cleveland (and really knew all along), real people are always better. Real customers are not off. Real audiences are never a little bit wrong.
Yeah, in-person events are a pain in the neck. The travel sucks. You waste a lot of time.
It's way more efficient to wander into your home office and lead a Zoom talk.
It's more efficient to create proxy personas and leave it at that.
But it's more freeing to get to know the actual people, with actual blood pumping through their actual hearts.
So the challenge for each of us (as marketers, as business owners, as writers) is to challenge ourselves… and every single person on your team:
- Have you talked with an actual customer lately?
- Can you text one of them right now, just to say hi?
- Can you conjure up a not-fake face?
- Can you see their not-fake faces looking back at you? When you peddle onto your metaphorical stage, open up your mouth, and start to speak?
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Here are a few things worth sharing this week:
EVERYBODY WRITES Writing Tip of the Fortnight
This week's tip is inspired by Facebook and the drama it faced this past week. Monday, Facebook's six-hour outage caused chaos for many—monetarily, socially, anecdotally. On Tuesday Whistleblower Frances Haugen told the Senate that Facebook harms kids, sows division, weakens democracy, and chases cash and profit at any cost.
Does that mean new government regulations are going to drop?
I don't know. But the pieces are there, because that drama did something that's important in any revolution: It humanized the story for each of us. It gave the story a face.
A business owner in Brazil sees her sales grind to a halt. A nonprofit in Colombia couldn't serve its community. An elderly grandmother in Iowa City loses her ability to book her follow-up doctor's appointment.
The drama surfaced some important questions about how much it's healthy to rely on Facebook-owned platforms ("healthy" in every sense of the word).
How this applies to you 👉 👉 👉 Change in the hearts of your customers doesn't happen unless you make the story smaller and accessible. Write the smallest story you can. Find the human at the center of your story.
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THIS WEEK: My Fun and Only!