I don’t read many “standard” business books.
As a one-man band with no interest in expanding, books about CEO excellence, leadership strategy, hiring, firing, motivating others … little of it applies in my world.
Plus, between you and me, I find those topics kind of dull.
And while they aren’t intended to be business books, they are very much about how people think, behave, and make decisions. Which, if you boil it all down, is the heart of marketing.
Among the few exceptions to my non-business book inclination is Selling the Invisible, by Harry Beckwith. I reread it every five years or so, as I just did.
First published in 1997, this short, easy read is filled with terrific insights and suggestions for those of us who sell a professional service (that’s the “invisible” part).
It’s also filled with now comically outdated 1990s references…
… Minivans with VCRs and “ill-fated experiments with electronic maps on dashboards.”
… Commercial airlines as glowing examples of both customer service and profitability.
… The “spotless restrooms” and high-quality food at McDonald’s.
… Mentions of people nobody under 30 has ever even heard of, like F. Lee Bailey, David Ogilvy, and General Norman Schwarzkopf.
One of my favorite segments is a story about when journalist Helen Thomas appeared on Letterman to discuss the 1996 presential campaign between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton – a pretty timely reference in 1997.
But reading it today, 25 years later, it groans with age: Helen Thomas and Bob Dole are both dead, Letterman has been off the air since 2015, and Bill Clinton now spends his days … well, okay, he’s probably still doing that.
So here’s my question for you (careful, it’s a trick):
Should we avoid contemporary references when writing – people, events, cultural happenings and phrases – so that our words don’t sound outdated a few years later?
My answer? It depends (I told you it was a trick question).
If you are deliberately writing something that needs to remain “evergreen” – a special report, a downloadable course, a handout that you give away when you speak to a group – then yes, don’t put things in there that will age quickly.
If you do, you will be left with the option of either redoing your work, or sharing things that sound and look older with each passing day (like me).
Other than that, however, my recommendation is that you regularly and intentionally include timely references.
Friends Speak in the Present Tense
When it comes to marketing for a small professional service firm or independent, the metaphor I like is “casual business lunch.”
It’s friendly. It’s informal. And while the content is mostly of a business nature, there is also plenty of, “How was your weekend?” “Have you been watching the NCAA tournament?” “How is it possible that Michael Katz has not yet won a Pulitzer for this newsletter?”
In other words, it’s very much about what’s happening right now.
That matters. A big part of what we are doing as sellers of the invisible (yet another great band name) is building connection and trust.
And while prospects – and even current clients – can’t really tell how good we are, they can tell, absolutely and without hesitation, how much they like and trust us.
When you include present-day references in your writing and speaking, you sound like a friend, not a research paper.
Here’s the bottom line.
If what you write or say today wouldn’t sound dated in five years (let alone 25), and you’re in a high-risk, trust-based, commodity business (i.e., you sell a professional service), you’re probably not doing it right.
Communicate in the present and you’ll prosper in the future.
And as we said in the nineties, Hasta la vista, baby!
- How was your weekend?
- Have you been watching the NCAA tournament?
- How is it possible that Michael Katz has not yet won a Pulitzer for this newsletter?”
Share your answers below…