I Need You To Need Me

Thanks to a persistent pain in my left leg, I am temporarily unable to run out on the street. Luckily, however, I’ve discovered that I can run pain-free on a treadmill (go figure). And so last month, I joined the local Gold’s Gym (Milford, MA).

In the short time I’ve been a member at Gold’s, I’ve noticed two things:

  1. Only extremely muscular men wear those skimpy tank tops. I don’t know if this means you must first be muscular in order to wear one, or if the tank tops themselves somehow cause excessive muscularity. Either way, I won’t be needing one.
  1. There’s no avoiding the TV when working out in the gym. In front of the machines, in the lounge, even in the locker room… there’s always a television on and in view. I’ve watched more ESPN in the past 30 days than in the previous 3,000, and I don’t mind telling you that if my testosterone level gets any higher, I may have to father more children just to stay focused.

And that’s my point. In the gym, the news, sports, weather and whatever else, comes right at you. Short of closing your eyes, there’s simply no way to avoid it.

If you’re the information provider, of course – ESPN or one of its advertisers – that’s good news. Gym patrons are literally forced to watch whatever you decide to put in front of them. Talk about a captive audience.

In today’s Internet-centric world, however, and for most of us as information providers, it’s less and less the case. Increasingly, each of us has more choice regarding the timing, length, format and content of the information we let in. Whether choosing which emails we open, deciding which web sites we visit, or selecting which YouTube videos we watch, each one of us controls his own personal Gold’s Gym (minus the sweaty equipment).

Obvious? Maybe not:

I sat in a meeting with a great client company last week, discussing an article that they’ve hired me to write. It was immediately clear that they had done a lot of thinking before I arrived, and they had most of the basics already covered: target audience; distribution tactics; budget; length, purpose and format of the article; etc.

In fact, our meeting was sailing right along, until I asked, “So, why would anybody in your target audience want to read this in the first place?”

Yikes. You could have heard a skimpy tank top drop to the floor. The question simply hadn’t been considered, and it wasn’t until another hour had passed that we were able to leave the meeting satisfied with our answer.

The problem with business communication, of course, is that knowing what you want to say, who you want to say it to and why you want to say it, only gets you part of the way there. In 2007, and with e-mail-based communications in particular, if the targeted recipient of your communication doesn’t want to get it – not just tolerate it, but actually want to get it – you’re pedaling uphill from the start.

Without this very busy person pulling you towards them (at least) as hard as you are pushing, you’re going to have a tough time clearly and consistently breaking through the noise and clutter. There are just too many other options and distractions in your way.

The solution is simple to understand but often hard to implement: The key is to ignore for a minute what you want your audience to know about you, and instead try and think about what it is they need – to live their lives better or make their jobs easier:

  • If you’re a photographer whose target audience is “people with kids,” provide information on how to take great kid photos.
  • If you’re a CFO for hire whose target audience is “small ad agencies,” provide information which helps this group become financially better educated.
  • If you’re a branding consultant whose target audience is “first time entrepreneurs,” provide information on how to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t worry, you’re not giving your expertise away; clients will hire you because of the good information you offer. Step number one, however, is to establish yourself as informed expert, and that doesn’t happen until people seek out the information you provide.

Bottom Line: In a world with an infinite number of information options, the successful communicator will always be the one who offers what his audience wants to hear. If you can’t do that, you may as well be running in place.

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