Katz Got Your Tongue

(Listen to this post, here.)

Well, it happened again yesterday.

I was standing in line at Starbucks awaiting my turn to order (tall, black, dark roast) when I heard a young woman say my name.

Except that’s not what happened.

What she said was, “I need to get back home to feed my cats.”

What I heard was, “I need to get back home to feed Mike Katz.”

Which of course, makes no sense, since I had just eaten lunch and I don’t even know where that woman lives.

This phenomenon, known in the literature as the “cocktail party effect,” is what allows us to “detect words of importance originating from unattended stimuli.”

In plain English, it means that when your name is spoken at a cocktail party by someone you’re not even paying attention to (or a stranger in Starbucks with hungry felines), it rises through the din to the level of consciousness.

Am I telling you this to impress you with the fact that I have a psychology degree? No, although now that you mention it, McGill, 1983, with Honours. 

Rather, I’m telling you because this idea of “selective attention” plays an important role in the words we use when creating content.

Maybe you’ve noticed, for example, that in nearly every issue of this newsletter, at some point, I use the phrase, “small professional service firms and independents.” (Oh look, I just did it again.)

Why? Because I work exclusively with small professional service firms and independents.

And because I know that this population – like every population – is inundated with information during every waking hour.

And so when I write something like, “As a small professional service firm or independent, it’s important for you to blah blah blah,” I am cocktail-party-effecting you.

You perk up and listen, because it sounds like I’m talking directly to you and the things you care about. Which I am.

But doesn’t that limit my chances of getting hired, since those who don’t fit within that category will ignore me? No and yes.

No, because chance is not the way small professional service firms and independents (I just did it again) get hired. It’s not a lottery. It’s a winner-take-all, no-credit-for-second-place competition. (Much more on the topic here.)

Yes, but that doesn’t matter. How many clients can you serve a year? Ten, twenty, fifty?

Your capacity as a SPSFI (now I’m kind of getting tired of typing it) is a teeny-tiny slice of the potential market and reducing the size of that market from millions (if you’re willing to serve anyone) to, I don’t know, tens of thousands (if you focus your efforts), will have zero impact on whether or not you are hired.

But it will have many times zero (I am aware that would technically still be zero, but you know what I mean) if you commit to breaking through the clutter and noise by directing your content in particular and your marketing overall to a narrow slice of humanity.

Gotta run. Mike Katz don’t feed themselves. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a standard coffee shop drink order? Explain.
  2. What does your name sound like?
  3. What phrase describes your ideal target audience? (If your answer is along the lines of, “small to midsize companies in any industry,” I am revoking your honours degree.)

Share your answers below…

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22 thoughts on “Katz Got Your Tongue

  1. David Katz

    My friend Ken came to visit us in Israel. Problem was that “ken” means “yes” in Hebrew. So he was constantly turning about and saying “what”? Actually “what” in Hebrew is “ma”, so if my mother…well, you get the picture.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Not to mention me is who, who is he, and he is she, plus everything goes right to left, I don’t know anybody gets anything done over there.

  2. Louise Desaulniers Proctor

    I do have a standard coffee order. Tall non fat latte
    However if I was in Montreal (did you know I also have a Psychology degree from McGill? Of course you do ) I would order a cafe au lait!
    My name sounds like Louise disowned ya. My kids like that by the way (not).
    I’ve already forgotten the last question.
    Love the news letters!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Louise! I was hoping that the mention of Old McGill would bring you out here. I love the words that sound like your last name!

  3. Gina Longo

    1) Yep: nada. I’m one of the few people on the planet, apparently, who doesn’t drink coffee.
    2) Hmm. I’ve never thought about that before. I think it pretty much just sounds like my name, but I’m open to suggestions!
    3) Corporate or business leaders who feel ignored, undervalued, or unappreciated at work… and who aren’t happy about it.

  4. Terry

    1. Like Gina, I don’t drink coffee. That makes 2 of us on this planet. Plus all the cats in the world.

    2. Unfortunately, my middle name rhymes with my last name: Terry Lynn Matlen. (oh man…). Worse, my maiden name was Zolkower, which only 5 people could pronounce. When I was a student teacher, I told the kids to call me Ms. Soul Power. That worked. Yes, this was in the 70s.

    3. My ideal target audience is women who have trouble remembering where they put the salt shaker.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Love the Soul Power trick. And your women and salt shaker line is great. Funny, but very clear and memorable where you fit in.

  5. Stacey Shipman

    1. I’m a basic coffee drinker – medium blend, milk, sugar.

    2. My maiden name was more fun – Hamwey – often got asked, “so, how much does a ham weigh?”

    3. My ideal client is number focused or analytically minded. Whether they work for a company or own one. And just last week I realized I need to insert that more prominently/clearly into my newsletter!

  6. Lindsay Gower

    1. I order “Coffee, small, room for” and that’s what I get. I need to start ordering… “a lot of room for…” because that’s what I need.

    2. My last name, Gower, sounds like Gower. Yet people spell it with twists and turns: Gaulnier, Gawwer, Gauer. Simplify!

    3.. I now realize that, although I know exactly who my ideal customers are, I haven’t yet constructed the phrase that sums it up. It will sound a lot like “small professional service firm or independent.”

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      2. That’s funny. I don’t even say my name out loud when telling someone who needs to spell it as they invariably write cats, even if I spell it immediately afterwards. I just spell it.

  7. Kate Bosch

    1. My standard order is a small hot coffee with cream, because I like to keep things simple. When I feel like being fancy, I’ll go for a whole milk cappuccino and when I just need a quick jolt, make mine an espresso.
    2. When my fellow Aquidneck Island Robotics board members want me to get something done, they say they’re going to put the “k-bosch” on it, like kibosh. Back in high school, I had a math teacher who was fond of saying “cake” (as in “piece of…”) whenever he explained a concept. Every time he said it, the other Kate in the class and I would look up in alarm assuming he’d called on us!
    3. As a professional organizer, I work with people who are feeling overwhelmed by their stuff and want to regain a sense of calm control.

  8. Michael Katz Post author

    2. I LOVE the k-bosch phrasing!

    You just remidned me too that recently I said to my wife, “I’ll ask her,” and Alexa woke up thinking I was talking to her!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I hear you. I am totally torn even having her around for many reasons. But I love being able to add stuff to the grocery list by speaking it (and then bring it up on the app when shopping), as well as asking her to play any artist/genre of music just by saying it.

  9. Jessica Eken

    I am the 3rd non-coffee drinker. I never have to stand in a lineup at any coffee shop!

    My last name is a Dutch one and living in Canada people just never pronounce it properly. That said, my English first name is not a problem. However, people are always wondering about my Hebrew names.

    I work with people who design and build houses for the rest of us. A creative group for sure. This is one area, there are more but they are less interesting….

  10. Devika

    It’s not about selective listening. But I have had quite an experience with the autocorrect feature in my phone. My name is Devika. But every time I type my name, I don’t know what kinda grudge my phone holds against me, but it autocorrects to Devil. No point in screaming at a cellphone screen, right?


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