Water World

I’ll get right to the point: For the past six months, I’ve been trying to cancel the water delivery to my office – but I just can’t do it.

And even though I’ve been getting a five-gallon container delivered every three weeks for the past six years (sorry, too much math?), I just don’t see the need anymore.

Not only has the price kept going up, ever since they installed a real kitchen in my office building, I’m no longer faced with having to refill my water glass in the men’s room, a fallback option that always struck me as a bad idea.

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Now, there’s a kitchen right down the hall, outfitted with a real sink and access to all the cold water you could ever want.

But I still haven’t picked up the phone and cancelled. You know why? It’s because the guy who delivers my water is so damn friendly.

No matter how cold or hot it is outside, no matter how many of those heavy containers he’s got on his back, the man never stops smiling and he’s never too busy to stop and chat. He’s like a water-schlepping Mother Teresa.

The funny thing is, if six years ago, the people at Poland Spring had tried to sell me on the concept of water delivery by highlighting how friendly their truck drivers were, I would have laughed in their soggy faces.

But now, and despite a cheaper, more convenient option, it’s the reason I’m still a customer.

Guess what – your E-Newsletter works the same way.

No stranger signs up because they want to get to know you better – they don’t care about you. Or your dog. Or your kids.

They come for the water (i.e., useful information and/or a solution to their problems).

But along the way, and if all goes well, a funny thing happens: They get attached to you as an individual.

Sure, you still need to give them the information they come for. But over time, the differentiator – the stickiness that holds their attention and makes them think twice about moving on – is the human being who delivers the product.

What’s that mean for your newsletter? I can think of at least two things:

Thing #1: You need to tell stories and share personal tidbits when you write.

I know, I know, your brother-in-law with the MBA warned you of the dangers of appearing “unprofessional.”

The thing is, appearing unprofessional is a much smaller and less likely to occur problem than the big one you already have: The information you possess, within your field of expertise, is no different than that of your competitors. Everybody is selling the same water.

When you tell stories and share personal information, on the other hand, you become my delivery man. I see you as a human being. A likeable expert, if you will.

Thing #2: You need to write the way you talk.

Uh oh, here comes the brother-in-law again. But here as well, your readers can’t make a personal connection with someone who says things like, “we have a proven track record of supercalifragilized best practice stakeholder solutions.”

Big companies get this. Their ads use words that are clear and simple. They understand that common, everyday language is what builds connection. And connection is what helps people buy. Why else would they hire an Australian lizard to try and sell you insurance?

You, happily, don’t need a lizard. As a solo professional, you’ve already got an authentic, friendly, human voice, sitting right there below your nose. Time to start using it.

Here’s the bottom line. Humans like to do business with other humans. We like to connect, we like to chat, we like to smile, we like to shake hands.

Yes, we need to do business as we go.

But if you can figure out a way to deliver a friendly bit of yourself alongside every gallon of useful water, you’ll keep people coming back for more, even when they’re faced with cheaper, more convenient options.

Give my best to your brother-in-law.


19 thoughts on “Water World

  1. Lew

    Always great points you make in your newsletter. One teenie factual error to correct, however: Geico’s lizard is not Australian. Granted, it’s easy to confuse Australian, New Zealand, South African, and some English accents. But the lizard speaks an English that is closest to London Cockney. But most certainly he is not Australian – that is a an accent that sounds different from English, and different from Cockney, and different from South African. Only New Zealand is close enough to Australian that it can be hard to tell them apart.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Good to know, Lew! I could have sworn I heard him say G’Day once or twice. Of course, living here in Boston for 30 years, everyone sounds like they have an accent to me at this point!

  2. Kenton Cowdry

    I looked back through the last few emails we sent to our list and almost fell asleep. Your post was great reminder that we need to reconsider our approach. By chance, I just read another article about the power of storytelling. Thanks for a great read and the gentle wake up call.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      My pleasure, Kenton. Yes, it’s amazingly easy to fall into that biz-speak flow. It’s like a drug that takes over. One thing I find works amazingly well is to read whatever it is out loud, to another person (or the mirror), before you send. That uncovers a lot of blah blah.

  3. Doug Sowerbutts

    Good reading Michael and a good example of how sales and marketing people are the easyest targets for well oiled sales organisations. I reckon we generally find it harder to say no than non sales/marketing types. I am suprised that the same bottled water company is still independent and has not been gobbled up by CC.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Not independent, I’m afraid. From Wikipedia: “Poland Spring is a brand of bottled water manufactured by a subsidiary of Nestlé and sold in the United States.”
      You and I Doug, however, remain independently owned and operated!!

  4. Katherine Andes

    So, Michael. How many folks listen rather than read your emails? I think I’m going to copy you on my next email blast and try sending out an audio version like you do … and, yes, everything you say is correct. My email blasts have been a terrific way to build trust with my readers. I would only add that companies should aim to do the same with all their copywriting for all their materials … especially the website. btw besides your writing style, I admire the style of your son, Evan. A rising star there … (I look forward to listening to your emails on Saturday morning with a hot cup of coffee.)

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Katherine!
      I agree, ALL communications need the authentic touch.
      On the podcasts, about 5% of those who open the newsletter listen to the audio. It’s a small but loyal group, as I’ve discovered that those who prefer listening REALLY prefer it, so easy enough to make this available. Plus, you can post to iTunes as well as create physical CDs of past podcasts as giveaways. Lots of benefits. Let me know how you make out (I’m sure you’ll have no problem with the tech side).
      And thanks for the Evan kudo – I’ll let the young man know he’s got a fan!

  5. Carole Seawert

    Absolutely agree about the need to sound natural and as if you are speaking to someone. Otherwise it’s like someone trying to speak in a fake accent. BTW, the point about the lizard was lost on me. Probably because this is a US ad campaign? Think I’ll google lizard insurance and see what I get.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      You see Carole, this is just another example of the cultural benefits one misses out on by not living here in the U.S. Talking lizards are just one of the many things we’ve invented over the years and shared with the world.

      Here’s a sample ad for your pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4njS23NvzPU

  6. Jen @ Daycare In Demand

    Great post, Michael! In some ways it’s so counterintuitive – solos are always trying to look “bigger” and more professional – but at the end of the day our likeable humanness is our best asset (apparently true for professional water delivery people, too). 🙂

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Totally agree, Jen. Big companies work hard to look “human” and we tend to dismiss it in ourselves as unprofessional. To me, it’s one of our biggest competitive advantages!

  7. Amber-Dawn

    Presumably, as your very latest Student, (starting tomorrow, Thursday, 7/10/14) I just want to assure you how truly relieved I am that no Blue Penguins have been harmed on your site. As a Red Bull, I shall be very careful.
    Looking forward to learning your e-newsletter program,
    Amber-Dawn Cusack

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Amber-Dawn!
      Sorry for the delayed response, just saw this. Glad to have you in the program; and thank you for treading lightly as a Red Bull amongst us teeny penguins.

  8. Michelle Morris

    I’m reading through your most popular posts in anticipation of the fabulous year-long course with you. 🙂

    And so, I want to know– it’s 18 months later, did you ever cancel the delivered water???


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