The Hoarse Whisperer

It was February of 1980, and my friend Rob and I were sitting in the lobby of the School of Education, at McGill University in Montreal. We were second year students at the time, and were quite pleased with ourselves, in the face of Rob’s most recent discovery.

The simple truth that Rob had uncovered was this: “The School of Education is overwhelming dominated by female students. You can walk the halls, sit in the lounge, read in the library, whatever — everywhere you look, there are 10 women for every man. If ever there were a place worth hanging out in, this is it.”

And so we sat there in the lobby on that chilly winter night, quietly discussing an attractive woman across the way.

Suddenly, and without warning, she slammed her book closed, jumped up out of her seat, waved the North American finger signal of disapproval in our direction, and stormed away.

Needless to say, we were shocked. What we couldn’t understand was how somebody sitting way on the other side of a big, open area, could possibly have heard what we were saying. Could it be, as Rob suggested, that she was both beautiful AND the possessor of superhuman hearing?

No, as it turned out, the answer was much more mundane. It seems that Rob and I both had head colds that day, and (as we later realized), both of us were having trouble hearing. According to eye witnesses, Rob and I were nearly shouting our conversation that night, even though the two of us thought we had only been whispering.

By the same token, it’s not uncommon for the people inside an organization (even an organization of one) to have a distorted view of how it’s perceived by the outside world. For example, you may be proud of certain company characteristics which clients hardly notice, and you may be overlooking or downplaying traits that are highly valued.

Why does this matter? I’m so glad you asked.

It matters because to the extent your newsletter is a tool for attracting clients who like the way you talk, think, behave and operate, you’ve got to make sure that it reflects these characteristics. And unless you know what these things are, you can’t deliberately bake them into each issue.

With that in mind, here’s what I recommend to all my clients. . .

Send an e-mail to (at least) 15 people who know you well — choose a mix of friends, clients, colleagues, vendors, etc. Tell them that you’re launching / fine-tuning your newsletter, and want to know, “the first three words that come to mind when you think of me or my company.”

If you do as I suggest, three things will happen:

1. The responses will be extremely positive. Short of attending your own funeral, this is about as good as it gets in terms of praise from others, so prepare yourself to enjoy this exercise.

2. The responses will be very similar to each other. People who know you well, even if they occupy different corners of your business or personal life, tend to enjoy the same things about you.

3. The responses may seem unimportant from a business perspective. What I mean is that many of the comments (e.g. “detail-oriented,” “reliable,” “down to earth,” “creative”) may strike you as “nice but not relevant.” On the contrary, these are the ones to pay special attention to.

Because while you may believe that clients hire you due to your fancy law degree or superior accounting skills, it’s simply not the case. They can’t judge your technical capabilities — they just assume they exist.

What they can judge however, and what they do care about, are the human traits of you and your organization. This combination of things is what makes you you,and frankly, what makes your firm different from the dozens of others which claim to offer similar services.

Bottom Line: Effective E-Newsletters are “attraction-based” marketing tools and they work on a simple principle: Show the world what you’re all about, so that those who like what they see can “recognize” you and step forward.

If you can do that, you’ll save yourself a ton of time, effort and marketing expense. You may even avoid a few North American finger signals of disapproval. I’ll be in the lobby (alone) if you need me.

3 thoughts on “The Hoarse Whisperer

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