You’ve Got a Friend

Despite having lived my entire life in the Northeast, I’ve always been drawn to the desert.

I’m pretty sure it started back in 1988, when my not-yet-wife Linda and I took a two-week vacation out west, driving from Denver to Phoenix in a rental car. It was one of those “make it or break it” trips, where we knew we’d either come back engaged or come back separately (I forget how it turned out).

And so when I was invited to speak at a conference in Palm Springs, California this past Friday, I jumped at the chance. Beautiful resort, terrific people and plenty enough deserty.

Was it hot? Funny you should ask.

It was so hot that when we landed at the airport and the pilot said, “Welcome to Palm Springs; the current local temperature is 109 degrees,” I thought I had misheard her.

But a quick check of my iPhone confirmed it: 109 degrees at 2:21 PM. “Luckily,” and again according to my phone, it only felt like 102 (for once, the wind chill was working in my favor).

So here’s my question for you: What do you suppose I said to every human being I spoke with, emailed with and texted with over the next couple of days?

If you answered, “It’s 109 degrees here!!,” you are today’s lucky winner. I told everyone I knew about the hot weather.

And why not? It was interesting, current, local and based on my own personal experience – a formula that adds up to, “this is the way we talk to the people we know.”

You do the same thing every day. When you meet a friend for coffee, you don’t tell a story about a stranger, in another city, from two months ago (and if you do, please don’t meet me for coffee). You share a recent piece of your life.

Why then (here comes the BIG POINT of today’s newsletter, so pay attention) do we deliberately take these four elements out – interesting, current, local, personal – when we sit down to market our respective businesses?

Why do we insist that our web sites contain “just the facts;” that our newsletters “get right to the point;” that our presentations, LinkedIn updates, tweets, thank you notes, emails, business cards and client chit chat be bland, whitewashed versions of what we really think and who we really are?

In other words, if what works with friends is some version of interesting, current, local and personal, why do we throw it all away in a business setting?

I have a theory: It’s because we think our prospective clients are somehow different than our friends:

Our friends are fun and interesting; our prospects are businesspeople.

Our friends love our stories; our prospects don’t have time for stories.

Our friends hang out with us because of who we are; our prospects don’t care who we are.

To put an even finer point on it, we’re afraid that if we talk to strangers the way we talk to friends, we’ll somehow be considered “unprofessional” and be passed over when it comes time to be hired.

In practice, I’ve found the exact opposite. When I include interesting, current, local and personal in my marketing, two (really good) things happen:

  1. People feel like they know you.

    I’ve lost count at this point of the number of complete strangers who, thanks to this very newsletter, have come up to me and started talking about my family and my life as if we are old friends. I don’t even know who they are, but they’re already comfortable.

    From a sales perspective, that’s really valuable. It lessens the perceived risk, it helps them feel like they can trust you and it shortens the buying cycle. Can you say, “new client?”

  1. Big companies can’t compete with you.

    Check the emails you get from your bank or airline or phone company. Have you noticed that they’re not particularly interesting, current, local or personal? They’re usually not even signed by an actual human.

    It’s not because they’re stupid over there at the big company. It’s because they need things that scale – things that work equally well across the country, that will pass muster with the legal department and that can be written a month in advance. They have constraints that you and I don’t have.

    So when you talk about last week’s local wine festival, or show a picture of you and your co-owner spouse on your home page, or mention how freakin’ hot it was in Palm Springs last week, you do something they can’t. I believe that’s called an unfair advantage.

Here’s the bottom line. I spend a lot of time helping people learn how to communicate authentically. And I know, it’s easier to talk about than to actually do.

So try this. Stop thinking of your prospects as boring, impatient, serious businesspeople and start thinking of them as “friends you haven’t yet met.” When you talk and behave with that in mind, before you know it, it will be true.


18 thoughts on “You’ve Got a Friend

    1. Idoia

      Gen X’ers didn’t really know Michael Joseph Jackson, no more than we knew that he prlobbay lost his voice each night after getting his ass beat by a 200lb man for missing a cue or ad libbing too much on the Ed Sullivan show. Ain’t nothing like losing your ability to breathe or catch your breath when you get caught off guard by a searing belt or open-handed smack across your naked eight year old body. Some of us know that feeling intimately, we even joked and reminisce about how long our mouths remained a gape without a single sound coming out. But of course, we grew up in the 80 s, when talking about getting your ass kicked at home was a no-no; we were even the first generation to be armed with the power of calling child abuse. I threatened it once or twice, before my mother finished me off.We generation X’ers didn’t know Michael Joseph Jackson, we knew the The Michael Jackson Experience . We were amazed by his morphing, as we were by Transformers, Tranzor Z and the Justice League. Our generation was much harder to please than those growing up a generation earlier. We were obsessed with Close Encounters and little ugly muthafuckas called ET . Michael Jackson doesn’t need our forgiveness, on the contrary, we need his. How dare you be just another Chris Brown! the two most celebrated artists of my day were Prince and Michael Jackon, come the fuck on! We X’ers wouldn’t allow our idols to be anything less than a caricature, any less would have been a dissapointment. What’s next? That was all we really wanted to know. There’s something funny about Michael Jackson? Wow, we Xer’s created your current style of skinny jeans and neon shirts. Weren’t we all funny? Don’t forget we juiced our hair, and eccentricities were celebrated in the most fad-oriented decades know as the 70 s and 80 s. Or did you mean funny as in limp your wrist motion, fag? Some us were so obsessed with making him a fag that we years later would pimp our kids in hopes that they would get fucked for a 14 million dollar pay day. Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but my generation did it so well. I am glad Kiese is the writer, thanks man, your words resonate.

  1. Evelyn


    This is among my favorite marketing tactics and has a third benefit: you are more likely to end up working with people you like, because those that get to know you through your communications pre-select themselves as people who enjoy your expertise, style and perspective.

    Enjoy the long weekend!


    P.S. I’ll be collecting all new stories next week in anticipation of our coffee meeting.

    1. Michael Katz

      That’s a great point Evelyn, thanks!

      Funny you should mention that too. When I wrote today’s newsletter I was conscious of using the word “freakin'” near the end. Certainly not a bad word in my world or vocabulary, but in the past when I say that (or similar) I get an email or two in protest. But, as you say, I remember that too is a way to help people “pre-select themselves.”


  2. ankita


    Thank you so much for writing this newsletter. I was making the mistake of writing blogs for my business in an impersonal way. Thinking about all my readers as friends will really help make my writing more creative.

    Btw I never miss reading your newsletters. Not only are they useful, but also really entertaining. Thank you once again.

  3. amy lenzo


    I so love your work – you say just what I say to my own clients, only better :-), so I often use your newsletters as examples for them to draw on or be inspired by (secret – your advice works for bloggers, too).

    This last trick is a new one I hadn’t seen you do before in your newsletter (ask a great question at the end and then offer an invitation for the reader to comment – linked to a blog post with the same content). It’s very effective. Thank you – I’m going to use it!

    I actually do have an answer to your question… (“How do *you* remember to market authentically?”). I too enjoy what Evelyn above describes as the added benefit of working with people you like and who then tend to like you, but even when I am working with “difficult” clients, I always remind myself of their essential humanity by lighting a candle right there on my desk before each phone or Skype meeting and taking about 30 seconds of silence before picking up the phone.

    They may never know the candle is there, but I do, and the silence grounds me in a place of calm and acceptance so that I am able to be more open and receptive to their needs.

    Thanks again for your message and the eloquence with which you speak it.


    1. Michael Katz

      Wow, that’s a great tip, Amy. It’s so easy to just jump in and be swept up in everything. I’ll have to try that (hopefully the sprinklers in the office won’t go off!).

      And on the blog post thing, yes, I’ve found having this kind of public conversation — as opposed to my just talking one on one with each email comment I receive — is more useful for people. Two changes coming in that regard:

      1. This web site (Blue Penguin University) and my primary company web site (Blue Penguin Development) are going to be merged into one in the next month.

      2. I’m looking for a comment plug-in to replace this one. I want one that lets people subscribe to the comment thread after they make their comment. Otherwise, you have to keep coming back here to see what others have said. Not so convenient!

      Thanks for writing,


  4. Rusty LaGrange

    Hi Michael,

    I enjoyed your Palm Springs experience newsletter. Yes, it is hot. I live in the Mojave Desert in the upper desert where the temps are still hot but not quite as high as Palm Springs. Down there it’s brutal!

    I get up in the morning to a balmy 78-82 degrees and by noon it’s a-hunnerd-n-hot. Anything over 100 is just not worth worrying about. I just try keeping a few plants, trees, and dogs watered.

    When I do develop my client prospect list (still not sure about finding those folks yet…haven’t found my niche, either) I will aim at using your friendly method of “interesting, current, local and personal. However, I’m also a person who likes to remember pertinent things by association (as many folks do). So I would call it CLIP: current, local, interesting, and personal. Just that bit of switching the words around could make it more “stick-in-the-mind” useful …I’m using it that way for myself.

    Just thought you might consider it …

    PS: thanks for considering! (PS doesn’t always stand for Palm Springs, like their publicity department at the Chamber would wish)

    1. Michael Katz

      Hi Rusty!

      I love the “hunnerd-n-hot” phrasing. Not so common for us northeasterners, so we like to include all the details!

      And thanks for the CLIP suggestion. Great idea.


  5. Kim Davis

    Hi Michael,

    You are so right, I feel like I know you.

    It is a real trap, the “fear of unprofessional” must be a close second to “fear of stupid”.

    I really try to think I am talking to a friend on my web page articles, but then as soon as I deal with a client, my different “professional person” hat gets whipped out. But I have to say, so does theirs – why is that? And do we need a different persona for business?

    Because with business we use transactional behavior and with friends social behavior. Getting the two confused can cause a bunch of trouble I think.

    BTW it isn’t snowing on the Gold Coast in Australia, but I do have my heated throw turned on and on my lap.

    Love your work


    1. Michael Katz

      Hi Kim!

      Good questions on the business vs. personal behavior. I’m guessing there’s a line somewhere that shouldn’t be crossed in making the two too similar. In my experience though, both for myself and my clients, most of us have a tendency to make the two personas so different that the question of too much in the other direction isn’t an issue.

      I try to apply the “brother-in-law rule:” I give you an honest answer, I only sell you stuff that you really need, I tell you if I’m not the best person to help you. Stuff like that. Makes the whole selling thing easier.

      Thanks as always for reading (and writing)!


  6. Barbara Shea

    Hi Michael. I haven’t commented in awhile but I have continued to read your newsletters and have enjoyed your cards as well. I like this one in particular because I find in business (and in life in general) that being authentic and friendly and interested in other people makes them feel comfortable trusting you. What better basis for a good working relationship? Thanks again for your wonderful insights. Barbara

  7. Kathy Rowell

    Your wisdom always shows up at exactly the right time… I prepare to deliver a presentation and wonder just how much personal “stuff” I should or shouldn’t include I am reminded yet again Mr. Penguin to be “authentic.”

  8. Marilyn Bennett

    Thanks for reminding me how different I am from the mass merchant. For 10 hours, six days a week, I share my life with my loyal customers. They first walked into our business as a customer, but now are considered a friend. I spin humerous stories for them all day long and hope they leave knowing they supported a local business who appreciates them. You have given me something to think about in setting the tone of my email newsletter……to be myself. Thank you.


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