From time to time, I run a trivia night at a local pub. It’s great because you have all these people with a wide range of careers, skills and education all vying to be the best at general, random knowledge.
Since then, I’ve had the chance to meet and mingle with a few of the regular players. The other night, I spoke to a young guy who has been playing for a while. We got talking and it turns out, he’s a chemist. You don’t meet a chemist everyday, so I asked him, “what do you do?”
I can tell he gets this question a lot because he had an answer prepared.
He said, “I put molecules together and see how they react to light.” At this point, he could probably sense that I wasn’t too marveled at his description, so he went on.
“Imagine trying to meet a girl. We could put her at one end of the bar and wait for you to go over, talk to her and see if you two hit it off. Or, we can do what I do and put you two in a phone booth and see what happens. The result might be the same, but we’ll know if things work out a lot faster.”
Remember that old expression, “it’s not rocket science” as a way to poke at people who didn’t get something. Well, this was quantum mechanics! AND I understood it. In one simple analogy, I was able to identify what he did and why it’s important. Best of all, his job sounded like the sweet gig I thought being a chemist would be.
One more story and I’ll get to my point.
The same night I met a woman who was in charge of shipping sugarbeet byproducts across the country by rail, plane and barge. She explained how a snow storm in Colorado affected her shipments to Maine. To her, shipping was a concept – a big idea that you can figure out if you picture it as something abstract.
The stories they told me were some of the best advertising I’d heard in months. There was no gimmick. There was no hype. There was no spin. There was no generic, empty language. You can sell anything and tell any marketing story – no matter how complex your industry is- by answering the question “what do I do?” After that, pretend you’re talking to a five-year-old and keep asking the what’s, why’s and how’s until you come up with a simple visual that’s ready for a dinner conversation.
Here’s what I mean.
Ask a chef what he does and he’ll say “I cook.”
Ask a chef what he cooks and he’ll say “I work the grill.”
Ask a chef what he does best and he’ll say, “I dunno, I can make a pretty good steak.”
Ask a chef what he does to his steak and he’ll say, “I make my own dry rub using a blend of French Mediterranean spices, so it has a really hearty sweetness. Then I grill it to about medium rare so that it stays really juicy but still has a little crunch on the outside.”
That’s integrity in advertising. You don’t need spin, buzzwords or heavy amounts of Photoshop to tell a good story and make people interested in your company. Sometimes all you need is a concise, clear visual to help people see the world from your point of view.
This is especially true when a business-to-business company wants to have a public presence. Go back to the chemist. When he’s talking shop in a B-to-B publication, he’d probably talk in angstroms (units of length), but in the public arena, he’d be wise to use nanometers as the measurement or try to explain how small something is with a visual concept like he did with the phone booth analogy.
Maybe the bigger moral is this: Don’t be shy about what you do. Everything is interesting.
Another one of the regulars at the trivia night makes windows. Another is in human resources. Another is a professional pool player. Another works in billing. My co-host works with the mentally disabled. I work in advertising.
Every story is cool. Each business has a reason for being. Forget the fluff. Forget walking on eggshells. Forget the political agendas. Tell your story in a way that anyone can understand and your business will have a public audience that thinks what you do is exciting, engaging and worth paying attention to.