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Bad conversation: Like peeing on the seat

Remember driving across the country in your car as a kid on those family vacations?

Picture this: Your dad, brother, uncle or whoever gets out of the car, goes into the restroom, comes back a few moments later and without a word, they’re ready for the next leg of the trip.

Next, your mom, sister, aunt or grandmother heads for the restroom, comes back almost immediately and is beside themselves about how gross that bathroom is.

The car doors slam and you’re moving a mile or five down the road to find a bathroom that might have been cleaned in the last year or two.

When mom, sis or whoever returns from the clean bathroom, they can’t help but comment about the gross one a few miles back and they might even be incredulous about the fact that you (dad, brother, whoever) didn’t think anything of it – much less that you didn’t say a word.

Maybe it’s about expectations, but that’s not where I’m heading today.

Standing up

Newsflash from the Business is Personal Department of Obviousness: Guys go standing up. Ladies do not.

As a result, the conversation about restrooms is different even though the facility is exactly the same for both.

Peeing on the seat is (effectively) meaningless to one group and like kryptonite to another. The perception of two audiences is totally different, despite everything in the room being identical.

Likewise, you can sell the side of the road in a bad neighborhood as “acceptable” to a guy who has to go, while you better not even think about stopping there for most ladies. Yeah, I know there are exceptions. Move along.

Are your conversations one size fits all?

The question is, do the conversations you start with your clients and prospects look like those bathrooms? Are they one size fits all?

If they’re acceptable to those who stand up, is your message lost on those who are sitting down?

All too often, I see websites, ads, pitches and other materials treated like those bathrooms – one message for everyone. It doesn’t work.

Talking to everyone is talking to no one.

One size may (more or less) fit all when it comes to doorways, water in the tank, toilet seats and the hardware – but that’s where it ends. How you talk (verbally, on paper or on the web) with different folks is much the same as those bathrooms.

The *conversation* you would have in person with a single mom is different than the one you’ll have with the 12 year old boy or the 47 year old menopausal woman.  So why is your marketing and other content aimed at some random spot in the middle of those three?

You already know that the perception and expectations of each group that enters the bathroom (ie: reads your ad, reads/hears your pitch, listens to your talk, reads your blog) is totally different – so why not do something about it.

Talk to the 72-75 year old widows differently than you would 65 year old ladies whose husbands are alive.

Talk to the 22 year old skateboarder and the 32 year old mom of three in a way and about the things that matter to them – not as if they are just a gaggle of identical humanoids (or the Borg).

Otherwise, you may as well not bother having the conversation.

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Don’t tick off the moms

Motrin learned this the hard way recently, with this ad on their site (note: it might disappear from YouTube):

Want to see what happens when you say the wrong thing to moms?

  • 5,700 hits (as of noon Monday Nov 17) on #motrinmoms, which is a tag for people blogging and tweeting on the subject – that is, Motrin’s misguided website ad about moms who carry babies in a sling.
  • 61,300 hits on motrin+baby+carrying+ad+mom
  • At least 16 people went to the trouble to make a YouTube response video.

You might be thinking that it’s hard to imagine that people give a rip about something like this, but when you insult the same people that your marketing is supposed to attract, it’s not hard to wonder who in your business is on the same wavelength as your clientele.

Peter Shankman has a pretty good angle on this Motrin thing as well – particularly as he wonders who is writing the ad, 23 year old guys or 20-30-something moms, but more importantly that there either isn’t anyone listening, or the right kind of person isn’t listening.

Though it took a while, McNeil has posted this apology on the website:

With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you. On behalf of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and all of us who work on the Motrin Brand, please accept our sincere apology. We have heard your concerns about the ad that was featured on our website. We are parents ourselves and we take feedback from moms very seriously. We are in the process of removing this ad from all media. It will, unfortunately, take a bit of time to remove it from our magazine advertising, as it is on newsstands and in distribution. Thank you for your feedback. It’s very important to us.

Kathy Widmer
Vice President of Marketing
McNeil Consumer Healthcare

I suspect the folks over at McNeil have been taking some of their own medicine over the last few days.

Once again, I’ll say it: Enter the conversation already going on in your customers’ minds. If you can’t relate to the situation of the person you are trying to sell to – find a way to get yourself to relate to it. McNeil could have saved themselves a lot of pain by showing this to 5 moms who work at McNeil.

You can – and should – do the same. If you can’t understand your customers, their problems, their wants and their needs, you’d better find someone who can.