I don’t generally like to comment on or analyse viral videos, because it often leaves people with the impression that “viral” (I mean truly viral) is something you manufacture, rather than something that is, for most part, fairy dust.
There are, of course, ways to increase your odds, and it is usually a perfect storm of unscripted, relatable pain and ‘right place, right time’.
Nothing illustrates this more than a video you have probably already seen this week (and if you haven’t should stop everything you are doing and watch now):
This video represents, in 30 seconds, everything I have tried to say, over and over again, about how thin a veneer this notion of “professional” actually is, how quickly that veneer can come crashing down, and how magical that elusive “emotional connection” can be when you give it a chance.
3 days ago, Robert E. Kelly was just another guy in a suit on the BBC, talking about North Korea as an expert. Today, he unwittingly finds himself a hero to every parent who has ever worked from home, because he has (albeit accidentally) told the truth about the life of the work from home parent.
We all live this lie and put on this mask in some form — whether it is putting on a suit, stacking books behind us, or speaking in jargon, “synergy” and Powerpoint decks. I don’t know where this started, but this outdated and oppressive notion of “professionalism” is like the shittiest game of chinese whispers ever.
Who decided that this stuff was the norm?
The only people who think that corporate culture is “how things are”, are the same people who whinge and moan about what is and isn’t appropriate on LinkedIn. Yep. Those guys. The Simon Dempseys and Dwight Schrutes of this world. The middle managers. The recruiters. The people whose very existence and survival is dependent on the status quo (and all too frequently — punching down).
Meanwhile, the rest of us are all waiting for someone (else) to call bullshit on all of it, have it all come crashing down, so we can have an actual human-to-human conversation about how to add value and achieve our goals.
And crash it is what this video did. It put a dent in the narrative of what an “expert” looks like and does. That you can be both a parent AND an expert. That good parents also have kids that are assholes (but cute assholes) sometimes. That you can be vulnerable AND smart. That you can be honest AND credible.
That you can challenge corporate groupthink AND have corporate clients (as I do).
And you know why I can do that? Because deep down, if you walk into a board room with everyone “speaking enterprise” — everyone but Simon thinks it is all a load of horse shit.
CIO, CFO, CEO, Managers, staff. They’re all painfully enduring your Powerpoint waiting for something funny or interesting to happen and the coffee to be served. Trust me.
They are constantly looking for someone else to break the ice, but once they do, everyone relaxes and then connects.
Traditional corporate culture and its norms are the antithesis of human connection.
How is this related to marketing?
We all play it way too safe, lest someone take issue with something we said, and this permeates through all of our communications, including marketing.
It is understandable, what with everyone getting way too offended way too much, over the smallest of things. Minor grievances are amplified through social media and it has made us lose all sense of proportion, and ignore the basics of marketing.
I’ll be honest with you — even as someone who is known for speaking the truth and taking risks, I too battle with that “wanting to please with buzz words”. A lot. I cop heat for it. A lot. There’s a definite trade-off in that I alienate some groups of people.
But that’s okay. They are not my customer.
Having lived this online life of speaking my truth for 22 years now, and being naturally mouthy and contrary for 38 years, I can guarantee you that the trade-off for keeping it safe, and compliant, and generic result in terrible marketing that says absolutely nothing, makes a stand about nothing, offends no-one and appeals to no-one.
Funeral Homes are the most immediate example I can think of. Have you seen those ads? Everybody keeps dancing around the truth with euphemisms and soft focus and flowers and bullshit copy about nothing.
The true pain and true value goes completely unaddressed — which is that when you are in the middle of grieving the person you lost just 2 days ago, you just need shit handled in a way that doesn’t add to that stress.
And for fuck’s sake — talk about death. Acknowledge that pain, break the ice and we can move on from there. And maybe offer a bouncy castle or DJ or something. Geez.
The fact of the matter is, that if funeral homes didn’t have a steady stream of customers and had to rely on their marketing to win business — they’d be dead. Har har.
It is critical that, to get cut through and connect, we starting acknowledging the elephant in the room. Tell the truth. Stop bullshitting people. Stop patronising them. More importantly, give your customers a little more credit. They know when you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
If your office is a guest room — it’s okay! If you have little kids, it’s okay! If you are hiding the fact that you are not wearing pants (like this guy certainly is) — own it! Most people envy people who have the luxury of working from home.
If, like me, you are terrible at admin — that’s okay. If you are small and want to stay that way (like me), then tell people that. If you fuck up, admit it, address it, apologise and move on.
Do you respect the friend that dances around the truth and uses buzzwords in your face? Or the person who owns up to it and tries to fix it?
This stuff isn’t hard, and I have no idea why it is so damn hard to sell.
Okay, I do.
It’s hard to be the first person to speak the truth. It takes courage. I do it all the time, mostly because (I think) my brain lacks fear synapses. I have been called many names over the years, been lectured and mansplained about “how the world works” more times than I can count, simply for speaking truth. It is definitely the harder path, and the riskier one.
Note: I wouldn’t recommend you taking the sledgehammer approach that I do: this is not for the faint-hearted. You can apply the thinking 😉
Ultimately, I have ended up being right. And, more importantly, have been told many times that something I said was the ice-breaker and catalyst for a change in strategy & thinking — ironically with the people who ‘the Simons’ are constantly trying to impress with their “professionalism” and their Powerpoints.
Someone is going to break that ice. Someone is going to take the risk. Someone is going to take my advice. It may as well be you. And, no doubt someone is going to fuck it up royally and have their customers forgive them anyway, because they tried, and people are generally good like that, when you have faith in your customers.
Don’t worry about offending people. You’re going to anyway. But believe me, there are others that will thank you for it, feel relieved that someone, ANYONE is telling the truth for once, and become loyal customers as a result.