Roomba Has It

My wife walked in on me last week.

I’m guessing I’m not the first man this has ever happened to, but it’s embarrassing all the same.

I was standing in the upstairs bathroom with the door mostly – but not completely – closed.

I thought I was alone in the house.

Suddenly, and much to my surprise, Linda burst in, took one look and said, “What are you doing?!”

Don’t worry, it’s not what you were thinking (what were you thinking?).

What I was doing was talking, out loud apparently, to our Roomba – our robotic vacuum.

I don’t remember the exact words but it was something to the effect of, “Ready Roomba? Here we go.”

I confess, I have a “special” relationship with Roomba. It’s one that goes beyond mere functionality and quite different than what I have with all the other devices in the house.

That’s a little odd, don’t you think?


After all, I’ve never had a conversation with the coffee maker or the lawn mower. As for the dishwasher, I don’t even say hello.

So why is Roomba different and, as important, why does it matter for iRobot’s business – and yours?

It’s different because…

… it has a friendly “face.” It’s not quite a face, but it looks less machine-like and more human than most appliances (and politicians).

… it moves on its own. That adds to the sense that it’s alive.

… it speaks out loud. When it has a problem it alerts me with a spoken female voice.

… it refers to itself by name. It doesn’t say, “Empty the vacuum,” or “Clean the brushes.” Instead, it says things like, “Please charge Roomba.”

I don’t know how much of this anthropomorphizing (or “humanishness” for you non-SAT enthusiasts) is deliberate, but I’m hoping the answer is, “a lot.”

Either way, it benefits the company.

Thanks to my emotional connection with Roomba, I’m way more interested in its health, safety and longevity than I would be if it were “just a vacuum”:

I’ve had it for years. I’ve replaced the battery, the chassis and all kinds of brushes several times. And, maybe most important for iRobot, the day Roomba dies for good I’ll go out and buy another one (after a respectful amount of time has passed, of course).

Now I admit, maybe my fascination with this particular device is not the norm.

But the concept is valid across all kinds of businesses and all kinds of clients/customers: Emotional connections matter at least as much as objective qualifications.

Which is why I continue to be surprised by the number of professional service firms – from big to small to solo – who seem to believe that facts, figures and user benefits are all that matter in getting hired.

Not me. With email newsletters in particular (but it’s true with nearly all the content I create for myself and others), my primary focus is on making an authentic, personal connection with the reader.

Does that mean you don’t need to provide useful information in your newsletter? Of course not – if Roomba doesn’t clean the floors well, all the personal connection in the world wouldn’t help.

That said, the problem for us professional service providers is that all of our competitors are equally skilled and experienced at “cleaning the floors.”

Our prospects – and in many cases, our own clients – can’t really tell how good we are relative to other options. Everybody is qualified, certified, experienced, hardworking, etc.

Which is why for me, the answer is simple: Find a way to connect, emotionally and subjectively – and, therefore, uniquely – with readers.

Put real pictures of real employees on your web site. Tell stories from personal experience – with names and details of actual people – in your newsletter. Write as if you are sharing an anecdote with a friend.

Bottom line. One of the reasons people get tied up in knots when writing business and/or marketing content is because they assume it’s a fact-based challenge.

It’s not. It’s a connection-based one.

Take it from me and Roomba: Write your stuff in a way that other humans feel like they know you, and pretty soon they will. That’s when the phone starts ringing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Has your wife ever walked in on you?
  2. Please don’t provide any detail on #1 above.
  3. Vacuum is kind of an odd word. Discuss.

Share your comments below!

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15 thoughts on “Roomba Has It

  1. Claudine Laforce

    I totally agree with you on the personalized newsletter (though I don’t have a Roomba and can’t comment on that). I include stories on staff in every newsletter, whether it is about a conference they attended, work they are completing, or even baby and vacation stories. I always include a photo to go with the story to bring in that personal touch. That is what people remember when they think of the newsletter.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Funny, isn’t it, how people comment the most on the “non-business” things, even though the assumption going in is always that nobody has time for anything nonessential anymore. Glad to hear it’s working for you!

  2. Arlene D Moss

    I have actually said “Excuse me” when I have bumped into our Roomba. And yes, he has a name. So when he gets stuck under something I can say “Have you seen Remy?” I work out of my home, so Remy is my only coworker besides the cats, and he works much harder than they do!

    Great post!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Amazingly, it never occurred to me to name our Roomba! I just call him Roomba, which I guess is like naming your dog, “dog.”

      1. Arlene D Moss

        My anecdotal evidence is that people who DO name their Roomba always choose an R name… Robby, Rex… – and so far all are “male” names.

        We had a cat named Kitty growing up. Don’t let kids pick pet names.

          1. Kathryn H.

            Yes, ‘”vacuum” is an odd word. I misspelled it with two c’s in grade school, and to this day I think carefully every time I write it. It’s a running joke with my parents.

          2. Kathryn H.

            I meant to add that the Romans actually did name their children “Last.” Well, that is, if Julius had daughters, he’d name them all Julia and then give them numbers. You could do that with Roombas.

          3. Michael Katz Post author

            I like that Kathyrn! Although I think Linda already thinks I’m obsessed enough with the Roomba without my running around the house asking, “Has anybody seen Roomba the VIII?”

  3. Steve

    I’ve been following your podcast for several years now. I appreciate your balance of the every day challenges with an unorthodox style and delivery. It is your new twists on old topics that keeps me listening (and recommending you). However, this entry merits my first ever comment. A true head-knocking ah ha moment. How could I have been so blind to have missed today’s axiom for so many years? Initiating the business relationships I want is not a fact-based exercise, but depend on making an emotional connection. I’ve been around long enough to have brushed the theme many times before, but you broke through to make it real for me. Thank you. I leave the week better for having listened today. Enjoy your weekend.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Steve! Well, you’ve certainly made my day. I’m glad today’s podcast registered with you – thanks for letting me know!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      You never disappoint, Dave! A great montage of CAT + ROOMBA.

      (It would seem that dragging a cat around on the back of a vacuum would give you a net of zero in terms of the amount of hair on the floor!)


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