Pee Behind A Tree At Your Own Risk
On a warm, sunny spring day last year, my friend took his kids to the park for lunch. Within 10 minutes of arriving, his five year-old son complained that he had to go to the bathroom. Dad looked around and realized there weren’t any bathrooms to be found, so he shrugged his shoulders and pointed to a spot about 30 yards away and said, “Go behind that tree.”
A few minutes later, the boy appeared again with a second complaint—this time with his shorts around his ankles: “Dad, I can’t find the toilet paper!”
Ahhh…the joys of communicating with another human being. As we all know, what is so simple and makes so much sense to one person isn’t always so simple and sensible to another. We’ve all experienced the frustration of saying something to an employee, friend, or spouse (gulp!), and having them hear something totally different than we intended.
The reason we have these communication gaps has a lot to with what’s known as a “word print.” A word print is a collection of information about something or some topic in your memory. If someone says they saw a killer whale on TV, you see something in your mind that looks like a big black and white fish with a smile full of small teeth with a name like Shamu.
But a word print is not just a definition, which only offers a physical description of something. A word print, includes a physical description plus attaches a meaning to the word, based on our individual experiences. My wife saw a movie called Orca when she was 6 ½ years old; ever since, her word print for “killer whale” has included people in boats being stalked and eaten by those big black and white fish. When we went to Sea World recently, she only agreed to attend the Shamu performance if she could sit on the back row on the aisle—so she could escape quickly if necessary. I’m not making this up.
Similarly, when my nephew says he’s starving, it means he hasn’t eaten for 3 hours and he “needs” a pop tart—meanwhile, that same word probably has an entirely different meaning to the nearly 1 billion chronically malnourished people on this planet. For me, the word “cruise” isn’t just a picture of a big boat on a brochure anymore—not since last October, anyway. Now it’s now loaded with vivid images of non-stop buffet gluttony (aka eating “cruise style!”), and the gentle rocking motion of an ENORMOUS ship. And the phrase “go to the bathroom behind that tree” evidently has two very different meanings for a 45 year-old man and his 5 year-old son.
So here’s the point: your word print and somebody else’s word print might be very different—for the exact same word or phrase…and herein lies the root of many serious communications problems—which are almost CERTAINLY showing up in your advertising.
For instance, we have a sunroom client who has innovated what they consider to be the “industry’s best warranties, including 4 separate documents: 1) a price protection guarantee, 2) a lifetime glass replacement warranty, 3) a lifetime materials and labor warrantee, and 4) a money-back guarantee, which basically states that if the workmanship doesn’t meet certain requirements within a certain timeframe, the company will tear down the sunroom and either re-build it at their own expense, or return the home to it’s original condition.
Sounds pretty impressive, right? When I tell contractors in my seminars about these warranties, I often get a nervous laughter, as if to say “they don’t really do THAT, do they?” The warranties really are pretty good—they do, in fact, protect the consumer against poor workmanship and future problems. And given the fact that not every contractor is 100% reliable, competent, and/or honest, you’d think that the sunroom buying public would be clamoring to do business with this company with its exceptional warranties.
So why then, when they’ve run ads in the past that say, “We take the risk out of home improvement” or “we have the industry’s best warranties,” do the readers yawn themselves to sleep?
To understand why, let me introduce you to a fun little game we played called “tappers & listeners.” We divided people into two groups, “tappers” or “listeners.” Tappers received a list of 25 common songs like “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” “Jingle Bells,” and “God Bless America.” The tapper’s job was to tap 15 of the songs, one at a time, on a table with his knuckles while the listeners tried to guess the tunes. Listeners were not provided with the list of songs—they were only told that they were everyday songs.
The results? Listeners with no particular music background only guessed correctly about 6% of the time—or in other words, 94% of the time, they couldn’t tell “Happy Birthday” from “It’s A Small World”. The tappers, meanwhile, got a kick out of watching their partners fail. They couldn’t understand why listeners couldn’t “hear” the tunes that they were plainly tapping out on the tables.
Here’s the key point: When you’re assigned to be the tapper, it’s impossible to NOT hear the tune in your head. In fact, you can hear it in full stereo surround sound—with the orchestra. The listeners, on the other hand, only hear a monotone set of like-sounding taps. They’re only being given a small fraction of the information needed to decipher the song—the melody. But look at what they’re NOT getting—no individual notes, not words, no rhythm. Just taps.
The problem is that when we know something, it’s nearly impossible for us to imagine what it’s like NOT to know it. This is where communication becomes tricky—because the more we know about something, the harder it is for us to truly “see the world through John Smith’s eyes.” We tend to impose our set of knowledge on the person we’re communicating with.
So back to our sunroom client with the great warranties. He taps out a song called “We take the risk out of home improvement.” As he’s tapping that song (in an advertisement, on a website, etc.) he’s got the last 25 years of history firmly entrenched in his mind. He remembers the time one of his crews installed a sunroom improperly and it gushed like Niagara Falls during the first heavy rainstorm. He remembers how, after three failed attempts to fix the problem, he ordered the entire sunroom ripped down and installed again from scratch. He remembers how he sent the homeowner on a 4 day vacation while he had 3 crews work overtime to get it done quickly. He remembers how he ended up losing over $12,000 in real hard cash on that job. And he remembers how thrilled the customer was that he’d actually gone through all that trouble to make it right. And he remembers a dozen other jobs during the history of the company where they’d gone to extraordinary lengths to do right by the customer.
That’s what we call “full stereo surround sound—with the orchestra.”
Meanwhile, the customer sees his ad declaring that they “take the risk out of home improvement,” and yawns. His word print of “low risk” doesn’t have the depth and richness of history that the company owner’s does.
Okay, so how do you fix this? How do we move past platitudes and into meaningful communication that overcomes the curse of knowledge? The key is to realize that advertising and salesmanship are really not very different. You’d never imagine sending a salesman in to simply say “we take the risk out of home improvement,” and then just sit there. The sales person, either through training or common sense, would know to tell the stories that make the concept come alive. The sales person wouldn’t just tell a brief story about the time the sunroom had to be ripped down and built again from scratch… he’d include every little detail: the exact date, the name of the customer, the neighborhood of the customer, why the sunroom was installed improperly in the first place, how the boss exploded and insisted that the problem be fixed, the fact that they had to rush an order to the factory for the room, how they shut down production on 5 other jobs that were being done to get the manpower to fix it, etc.
Clear communication is in the details! If Dad had only taken a very brief moment to clarify what “need to go to the bathroom” meant to the 5 year old!
So here’s my advice to you: go ahead and clearly communicate details IN YOUR MARKETING.
In advertising, there is no such thing as “too much text” or “too little text.” There is only such a thing as “what is interesting and relevant to the prospect?” We create plenty of ads for our clients that are short and feature lots of pictures. We also create ads that are long and contain a lot of words. But as long as you can pass the interesting and relevant test, your prospects will read anything you can throw at them. After all, a sunroom is a $35,000 investment—so trust me when I say they’ll take some time to read an ad, as long as the information is interesting and relevant. It has to help facilitate their decision making process.
So let’s look at how this concept of word prints and communication breakdown might affect a company selling replacement windows. You might think that talking about energy efficiency as it relates to windows is an important topic. In fact, almost every single company in the industry runs ads that feature claims about saving on energy bills and windows that “you’ll pay for whether or not you actually buy them.”
But here’s the problem with that approach—and why it so rarely works the way they’d like for it to. The vast majority of the people who NEED replacement windows don’t even realize that their windows are a problem. The might know that their energy bills are higher than they’d like them to be, but they don’t realize that the windows are the culprit. They think that energy is just expensive. Or their bills have always been high so that’s just the way it is.
Meanwhile, the window company’s entire livelihood is based on people knowing and believing that their windows are causing their energy bills to be high. They’ve installed over 10,000 windows in the last 20 years, and can discuss the merits of argon, krypton, and extrusions till they’re blue in the face. In other words, they live inside a symphony hall that plays a song called “your windows are costing you too much in energy” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can’t imagine what it’s like for somebody to NOT be aware that their windows are causing them too lose money on their energy bills. How could anybody be that stupid!?
Their word print for “lower energy bills” and their prospects’ word print just don’t match up.
Here’s what needs to be realized—the message of “saving on your energy bills” is played so often by so many different kinds of companies, that John Smith, your prospect, just tunes it out. Here’s a short list of companies playing the same tune in their advertising: electric companies, roofing companies, radiant barrier companies, air conditioning system & service companies, light bulb companies, ceiling fan companies, automobile companies, gasoline companies, and at least a dozen more. Now the window company shows up on the scene feebly tapping “save money on your energy bills.” What did they expect would happen? They’d get flooded with calls? They throw a phrase out there and expect everyone’s word print will match up? The prospect’s not the stupid one!
Remember—the listeners’ word print is missing critical pieces of information. Namely, they’re missing the piece of information that their windows are causing the problem in the first place. To get this point across to them, we’ll need to create ads with headlines that communicate this point to them in dramatic fashion. Here are a few possibilities:
• Shocking Discovery: High Energy Bills Are Not Caused By High Energy Prices
• 90% Of Homeowners Are Not Aware That High Energy Bills Are Primarily Caused By Inefficient Windows
• How To Instantly Cut Your Electric Bill By 40% Without Switching Power Companies And Without Turning Lights Off
• Want To Guess What The #1 Cause Of High Electric Bills Is? (hint: it has nothing to do with the electric company’s rates)
• What Is The Real Cause Of Your High Electric Bill? Believe It Or Not, It Has Nothing To Do With What Electric Company You Choose.
• “My July Electric Bill Went From $404 Last Year To Just $268 This Year—And I Only Made One Simple Change In My Home.”
• I Can Guarantee You A 40% Reduction In Your Electric Bill—Without Having To Switch Electric Companies Or Turn Off Any Lights
• The Windows On Your Home Are The Energy Sucking Equivalent Of A Hummer H2 Stuck In Stop & Go Traffic.
• Your Windows Are SUCKING Money Out Of Your House—And You Didn’t Even Know It.
• Here’s A Quick & Easy Way To Slash Your Electric Bill By 30% to 40%… Without Switching Electric Companies.
• Every Window In Your House Is Costing You $10 Per Month MORE Than It Should In Electricity—If You Have 20 Windows, You’re Wasting $200.
• FREE Window Meter Test Will Tell You If Your Windows Are Wasting Your Money Or Not.
These headlines are relevant to the prospect without throwing the same old, usual junk at them that they hear all the time from other companies who are in the energy savings business. Here’s a radio ad that conveys the same point:
We’ve had a pretty cold winter this year, and I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about high energy bills. Did you know there’s a good chance that your bill is 20% to 40% higher than it should be simply because you have lousy windows? Hear me out on this one—you’re probably losing money, even if your house is NEW. You might think if you don’t hear wind whistling in that your windows are fine. NOT TRUE. The real problem has to do with how well they insulate—which has to do with lack of proper coatings on the glass, the kind of air between the glass, and the materials the windows are made out of. Trust me—you need to at least LOOK INTO THIS—it could save you a ton of money. My friend Mike Nickel at American Remodeling has a high-tech tool called a “window meter” that measures how well your windows are insulating your home…and isolates problem areas. Mike normally charges $80 for a window meter analysis and report, but will come out to your home and do the test for FREE if you’re one of the first 15 listeners who call right now. If you do need new windows, Mike’s got an instant rebate of $200 per window—but only through February. So call for the free Window Meter test—the number’s 1-800-CALL NOW. Quit complaining about high energy bills and do something about it—call for the free Window Meter test at 1-800-CALL NOW right now.
So where do we go from here? First of all, just be aware that your definition of a word—your word print—is probably significantly different that your prospects’ definition. Your expertise in your field is actually hurting you. Next, once you know and admit that, the quest becomes to find out specific and clear ways to communicate in your advertising about issues that are important and relevant to your prospective customers. Don’t be afraid to say too much…chances are that you’ll be helping yourself by explaining your REAL meaning. And finally, always have somebody who’s not in your industry read your ads before you send them out into the expensive media—you’ll be surprised at how valuable this little step can be to garner valuable feedback on your messaging.
And next time you’re at the park, near a tree—watch your step!
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