The Friendship Illusion

(Listen to this post, here.)

I was down on Long Island last weekend, attending my 40th high school reunion.

It was, as you might expect, fascinating.

Some people were a lot heavier. Some people had hardly changed at all. Others had gone almost completely bald, giving them the appearance of an extinct, prehistoric bird (hey man, no need to get personal).

And, as you might further expect, there was a lot of catching up to do.

Given that I hadn’t seen most of these people since the Carter Administration, the conversations were, from a chronological perspective, incredibly wide ranging, spanning everything from “Where did you end up going to college?” to “Are you still working?” and everything in-between.

That’s no surprise. When you haven’t seen someone in forty years, everything since 1978 is “news.”

If, on the other hand, I went home tonight and said to my wife, Linda, “You’ll never guess what happened to me last week,” she would look at me like I was crazy. Why would I bring something up from last week when I’ve seen her 800 times since then?

Time frame and relationship strength are tightly correlated

When it comes to topics of discussion, in general, the better you and I know each other, the more frequently we communicate and, therefore, the narrower the time frame of the news we share.


My wife: one day.

My friends Matt and Rick who I meet at our local bar most Tuesday nights: one week.

People I went to high school with: 40 years.

All of this has important implications for the way you write and, in turn, the effectiveness of your marketing.

Simply put, if you want people to feel like they know you well, use short, specific time frames.

Consider the opening sentence of today’s newsletter:

I was down on Long Island last weekend, attending my 40th high school reunion.

Suppose, instead, I had written:

Not long ago, I was down on Long Island, attending my 40th high school reunion.

Same information and from a “just give me the facts” perspective, what difference does it make when I was there?

It doesn’t. Still, I think you’d agree that the first sentence is the way you talk to a friend. The second feels more distant.

This may seem trivial, but these “soft elements” in the way you communicate matter as much as (maybe more than) the facts.

I can find facts on my phone in five seconds. What I can’t find – quickly, reliably and easily – are professional service providers I can trust. That’s art, not science.

When you write (and speak) in close time frames, it feels like you are talking to a friend. It helps me feel like I know you. It helps me feel more comfortable.

Here’s the bottom line.

Effective marketing is about creating a feeling. It’s not a lie, but it’s not a pure exchange of information either. (If it were, you wouldn’t have a British cartoon lizard hyping insurance on TV.)

Something as simple as writing and speaking to strangers the way you would a friend is a very effective way of building trust and a sense of familiarity. Add those to your skills and experience, and it’s a pretty compelling package.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where did you go to high school?
  1. How many times have you seen my wife in the past week? Explain.
  1. What kinds of things do you do to make your writing feel more personal?

Share your comments below!

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18 thoughts on “The Friendship Illusion

  1. Kim Tyler

    1. Niagara Catholic, originally Madonna & Bishop Duffy, combined in my sophomore year to Niagara Catholic. The guys were not happy. GRADUATED 1978! Did you have “Always and Forever” as your prom theme song too? Lame, lame, lame. And will you attend your 50th? Am I allowed to ask questions?
    2. Zero zippo nada
    3. Because I’m a barely educated bumpkin, I write naturally. I think. LOVE your stuff!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Madonna & Bishop Duffy? Sounds like a comeback tour of 80s musicians!
      I don’t think I’ll attend the 50th although I did agree to go back every 40 years, no matter what.

  2. Steve Church

    1. Oakham, Rutland, England.
    2. She sends you her best.
    3. I ask questions with the word ‘you’ in them.
    I ask my readers to ‘imagine’.
    I write in a familiar way, a bit like an observational comedian might – e.g. “You know when you’re in a shoe store? The assistant suggests you try on a different pair? …” That kind of thing.
    I write as though we’re chatting over a beer – like it’s an intimate conversation.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Steve! Funny you should mention the comedian thing; I tried to work that same observation in to today’s newsletter but it was getting too long. They have a knack for always talking as if something just happened in the last day or so, even though, of course, it didn’t. I think it’s a good guide for connecting with “the audience.”
      Speaking of which, when are you coming state-side so I can buy you an actual beer?!

  3. Gina Longo

    1) Northern Durham High School, in (drum roll) northern Durham, NC. One of the more creative school names in the history of school names, that.
    2) Not one.
    3) I try to write like I talk (except better, of course, because I’m an introvert who has to plan what I want to say or I get tongue-tied), and I use “you” a lot.

    Thanks as always for the great writing tips, and also, a belated “Thank you” for the birthday card — I loved it!

  4. Sharyn Inzunza

    1. Boort High School (dot on the map in Australia).
    2. Ummm…
    3. Imagine the reader, understand what they want (or need), and make it conversational — like you’e sitting across from them, separated only by a pile of buffalo wings, steak fries and local brews.

    A great Friday afternoon, pre-happy hour post. Thanks, Michael!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I don’t know, Sharyn, your #2 answer sounds a bit suspicious.
      Thanks for commenting; enjoy happy hour!

      1. Michael Katz Post author

        P.S. I clicked on your link and noticed you are in Portland. My daughter, Emily, just moved there (she went to school in Tacoma). Say hi to her if you see her!

        1. Kim

          And I just saw your daughter Emily in Portland on December 21st! She brought a loaf of Tabor bread to our monthly dinner. Your daughter has great taste in bread and social engagements!

          1. Michael Katz Post author

            She continues to be quite impressed with those events of yours! Thanks for keeping her in the loop.

  5. Graeme Roberts

    Brilliant post, Michael, as usual. I would have said as always, but I don’t want you to get a big (shiny) head.

    Melbourne Grammar School, Melbourne, Australia
    I told her I wouldn’t mention it.
    I use emoticons sometimes, but not with my German clients who are lovely but quite formal.

    And Sharyn comes from Boort! You could have knocked me over with a feather! I had to look it up, though it’s in my state of Victoria, and not too far from where my Dad was born, in Warracknabeal. Boort apparently means “smoke from the hill” in the local Aboriginal language, has a population of 873, and is known as The Oasis of the North, I think because it is next to Lake Boort, and water is not too common. I don’t want to steal Sharyn’s thunder, but I did want you to know the astonishment you have unleashed Michael.

    1. Sharyn Inzunza

      Hi Graeme,

      How lovely to hear you’re from/in(?) Melbourne — still my (absolute) favorite city. Thank you so much for your comment (feeling super nostalgic, okay, homesick). Your dad was born in Warrack?? My mum was from there — know it well.

      Oh, Hi, Michael — Aussies at large (beware). I don’t want hijack or “go walk about” (yes, I went there) with your thread (coz, as Kathy Bates might say,”I’m your biggest fan”).

      So, Graeme, I’d love to continue the Boort-Warrack-Melbourne conversation, here’s my email (yep, puttin’ it out there for the world):

      Michael, Graeme — Have a great weekend!

      1. Michael Katz Post author

        Glad you two connected. A great small world story indeed. If you meet in person, I’ll need a photo, please!

  6. Diane Spadola

    1. Concord, Massachusetts…same class year as Caroline Kennedy, and I think we have accomplished about the same amount of stuff…
    2. Looking under my bed, right now!
    3. I try to use personal names and current dates even if it was in the past…my husband Joe, my daughter Jennifer, my Talking Horse Ed, and my large rabbit named Harvey…that sort of thing.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      And Caroline had a head start.
      I love your #3. So easy but many people never get that specific in their writing!


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