How to Market without Becoming the Houseguest from Hell
by Lynn Serafinn
Adapted from the chapter “Grace #3: Invitation” from the book The 7 Graces of Marketing
In Chapter 3 of The 7 Graces of Marketing, I talk all about the lost art of ‘Invitation’ and how we marketers and business owners could learn a lot by looking at what we all know as part of ‘common sense’ when it comes to daily life, but we seem to forget when it comes to marketing.
In that chapter, I tell two stories: one about what makes a great ‘host’, and one about what makes a ‘houseguest from hell’. The story of the great host was about a man named Abdulla I knew back in the 1980s, who treated me like gold when I dropped by their house unannounced, unaware he and his extended family were right in the middle of a family party. The hospitality, respect and engagement they showed me was so special, I remember it to this day as an example of people who really know what it means to be a gracious host.
The story of the ‘houseguest from hell’ (which I think is a pretty funny story when I read it back) is about a roaming ‘monk’ I call ‘Sam’ who we invited to stay at our home as his car had broke down, but instead of getting his car fixed, he ended up staying for months, eating us out of house and home and offering nothing in return. I was trying to be a gracious host, but my ‘guest’ lacked the knowledge of what it means to be a gracious guest.
We can learn a lot from these stories of Abdulla and Sam. When we are marketing our books or businesses (especially over the Internet!), it is important to think about whether we are playing the role of the ‘host’ or the ‘guest’. When we build this awareness, it can transform the way we communicate with our audience significantly.
Hospitality, Respect and Engagement
When someone lands our website, walks into our shop or comes into our ‘space’ in any way, it is the equivalent of them being our guests within our home. While we cannot physically offer our Internet visitors the water, food, a comfy chair and cosy conversation during their stay, we can, however, offer them the virtual equivalent. All these components of hospitality make guests within our homes feel comfortable, relaxed and satiated. When a guest feels like this, they are happy to stay in our company, and when they do leave to go home, they carry with them the memory of how you made them feel.
In much the same way, when someone comes to our website, our aim should be to show them our hospitality. We should make them feel comfortable, relaxed and fully satisfied. If someone has come to your website, they are hungry—for information, for a solution to a need, for advice, for assurance, for fun—for something.
Just as the best hosts will feed their guests with delicious food, the best sale pages are those that feed your visitors’ hunger for information. If the site is for a piece of software, give your visitors lots of videos showing them exactly how it works. If it’s for an event or a course, give them a taster and a concrete breakdown of what they’ll gain. What we shouldn’t do is use lofty, overblown or ambiguous language telling our customers if they buy our product we’ll tell them secrets no one else knows, or they will gain something they cannot gain any other way. Imagine coming into someone’s home and being told such things by your host.
You’d think you’d stepped right into the parlour of Mr Spider.
Nonetheless, this is the kind of marketing messages we are subjected to every day, both on the Internet and on television. When we taunt customers with hype, distractions, ambiguity or delayed promises, we make them feel anxious, confused and eventually mistrustful. What is ironic, of course, is that all this lack of hospitality makes people less likely to buy from you at all, even if your product is the very thing that would answer their needs.
If people become mistrustful of us, it is more than likely because we are not showing them the respect they deserve. There are an awful lot of Internet marketers who make a formulaic show of their trustworthiness by integrating customer testimonials and money-back guarantees into their sales pages. But neither of these strategies is effective if a sales page shows little respect for the customer. Besides, most consumers nowadays are pretty savvy. They know testimonials could be faked and promises of money back guarantees could be just words.
And if someone comes to a website and gets that impression, it’s more than likely because the marketing is not demonstrating respect for the customer’s intelligence, values, health, happiness and freedom of choice. If marketers focus solely on conversion in creating marketing pieces, this will be the result. Respect can only be present when marketers remember it is a privilege for people to give you their time and attention and to consider using your products or services.
The actual exchange of currency is the not the result of a sales page. It is the result of a relationship between customer and merchant—between guest and host. Customers are the guests who knock on our door and we business owners, as their hosts, must create the quality of that relationship.
And finally, no relationship can be built without engagement. Old school marketing was always a one-way street with no engagement between marketer and consumer whatsoever. The consumer simply absorbed the programming and was expected to buy. But as the world has changed, and it continuing to change, lack of engagement or interaction will probably turn out to be the fastest track to business failure in the coming generation.
Just as when we visited Abdulla’s home and his entire family engaged with us, to survive in the modern business world, marketers must be engaging. They must listen and respond to their customers demonstrating genuine (not feigned) interest in them. We must make them feel valued, and invite their input and their ideas. We must convey to them that they are a valuable part of our ‘circle’, our tribe, and that their voice is being heard in how we do business.
When all three of these components—hospitality, respect and engagement—are genuinely and authentically present in our marketing, we have a foundation for the Grace of Invitation to flourish.
When Marketers Become Takers
Now, on the flip side, the story of Sam has useful lessons for us when we are a GUEST in our marketers. Let’s first look at online marketing. When someone comes to our website and signs up to our mailing list, they are no longer our guests as in Abdulla’s story—we have now become their guests and are in their space. When a consumer supplies us with their email address, that person is, in effect, opening their door to us and saying, ‘Yes, you can come in and stay here,’ just as our family had opened our door to Sam. Unlike when they are coming into our space, we are now in their space.
And just as there is a moral code for hosts, there is also one for guests. However, I see few online marketers acting as if they truly understand this. While most of us would never dream of treating a host the way Sam did, when it comes to marketing, we feel justified in coming into people’s homes, either through their Inbox or the media, and bleeding them dry with relentless advertising.
When marketers operate on the assumption that it takes repeated exposure for subscribers or viewers to become customers, they find it necessary to saturate the consumers’ consciousness with their message, without giving them much of anything in return. This is not really very different from Sam taking advantage of our hospitality without offering any compensation for all he consumed at our expense.
Marketers simply must start realising that coming into people’s homes is a privilege, and we cannot ever allow ourselves to become the proverbial houseguests from hell.
The Importance of the Grace of Invitation
The art of ‘Invitation’ is a true ‘Grace’ because it expresses our ‘graciousness’. Graciousness is a quality we admire in individuals, but how often do we think of it as a criterion for our professional practice? Admittedly, this shift from Invasion to Invitation is going to be one of the most challenging for marketers to make.
We need to communicate with our customers, but because there is simply so much ‘noise’ out there, we have adopted the belief that if we are the loudest and most aggressive, people will hear us above the din. But this is simply not true. Invasion simply creates more Invasion. The more we inundate our customers with noise, the louder others will become. And the faster and less caring we are in our communications, the faster and less caring our customers will be when they click ‘delete’ on our email or flick the channel with their remote control.
We are all people, first and foremost. We want to connect. We need each other. We want to be able to knock on each other’s door and feel welcome. We want to be invited in for a nice cup of tea. We want to have the kind of relationships where we can knock on someone’s door unannounced and be welcome. We also want the kind of relationships where friends do not exploit each other’s good nature, and we treat each other with respect and gratitude.
If these are common values amongst us in our social life, surely we cannot forsake them in marketing. How incredibly could the world change if we simply reintroduced the divine responsibility between host and guest, and applied this in all our business dealings?
If Invasion creates more Invasion, surely Invitation creates more Invitation. Begin today by being aware of whether you are the host or the guest, and very soon you will start to see your marketing has become a completely different form of communication.
Lynn Serafinn is bestselling author, marketer, coach, speaker, radio host and promotional manager for a long list of #1 selling mind-body-spirit authors. In her work, she has witnessed both the conscious and unconscious mechanics of marketing that threaten our society and our very planet. In her book The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell (Humanity 1 Press, Dec 2011), she reveals how modern marketing has played a hand in the the rise of consumer culture, negatively impacting our health, happiness, economy and natural world in an unparalleled way, and offers us hope via a new paradigm she calls “The 7 Graces of Marketing.” Subscribe to this blog to keep on top of how you can help change the world through 7 Graces thinking. Author, marketing and radio show enquiries, please send via http://spiritauthors.com/contact.
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