My wife Linda is a peer mediation trainer. She and her colleagues at School Mediation Associates (SMA) travel throughout Massachusetts, teaching middle and high school kids how to mediate their own disputes in school-sponsored peer mediation programs.
(By the way, SMA’s founder, Richard Cohen, writes a terrific E-Newsletter of his own — and I’m not just saying that because I hope he gives Linda a big raise. Although I do. Follow this link to see for yourself.)
The trainings are intensive, three day courses, filled with discussion, role playing and group exercises. Last week, Linda got home from a session and told us about an exercise they did that day involving Hershey’s chocolate kisses. Here’s how it works. . .
The kids in the group pair up, hold hands, and stand side by side about two feet apart (get the picture?). When the group leader says “Go!,” each person tries to pull his partner’s hand towards himself. Getting your partner’s hand to touch your own hip earns one chocolate kiss per touch.
The object of the game is stated clearly at the start: “Get as many kisses for yourself as you can in twenty seconds.”
The rules are equally simple: You can’t talk, you can’t move your feet, you can’t let go and you can only use your one hand to pull towards yourself.
According to Linda, students often lock in a stalemate during the entire 20 second period, with neither side strong enough to move the hand of the other. Often however, a pair of kids has a breakthrough.
It happens when the two suddenly realize that by working together, they can both earn dozens of kisses. All they need to do is stop fighting, and simply take turns moving their joined hands back and forth from one person to the other.
And that, according to Linda, is the essence of a successful mediation: Realizing that it’s usually in both parties’ interest (i.e. they each get more for themselves) if they work together with their adversary rather than try to beat them.
As with most things here on planet Earth, this got me thinking about E-Newsletters. In particular, how E-Newsletters are different than traditional advertising.
If you think about most of the advertising you come in contact with every day — TV, radio, print, direct mail, billboards, etc. — it’s passive at best, and frequently adversarial. You don’t go looking for ads (in fact, you often go out of your way to avoid them), they simply show up in-between where you are and where you want to be.
That might mean an ad in an elevator as you’re waiting for your floor; an ad in an on-hold message as you’re waiting for a human being; or an ad in the men’s room as you’re waiting for. . . OK, you get the idea. Like a couple of middle school students pulling as hard as they can in two different directions, you and the advertiser are often working at cross purposes.
In the world of e-mail (and therefore E-Newsletters) however, it’s an entirely different story. The only one who controls entry into your e-mail box is you, and while a company might sneak in once pushing something you don’t care about, with a click of your e-mail filter you can keep that sender out of your in-box from now until the end of time.
What this means of course is that the only way to make an E-Newsletter work for your company is for somebody on the other end to want what you’re sending.
I’m pretty sure you didn’t hear what I just said, so I’ll say it again. The recipient has to want what your sending.
You can’t trick or force or buy your way in because the end user holds all the cards, and the end user — not you — decides whether or not your message gets through. Step one for a successful E-Newsletter therefore, is to figure out and focus on what your readers (i.e. your prospective clients and customers) want to know, receive or learn.
I know that you want them to know all about you, and I know that you want them to buy more from you and more often. And I’m not suggesting for a minute that you abandon these objectives.
All I’m saying is that in the Bizzaro world of e-mail, where the power is nearly 100% in the hands of the person receiving the message, your only option for influence is to be invited into the conversation. Figure out how to do that, and they’ll buy from you all day long.
Bottom Line: A successful E-Newsletter — like a successful mediation — requires the willing participation of both parties. And, like mediation, getting what you want is often no more complicated than first helping the other person to get what they want.