Would You Call Your Preacher Fat?

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The other day, Liz Strauss wrote a great post about building vibrant communities. In it she recounted how a speaker who was a VP at a big corporate brand offered the following to the audience:

I want to build a community in which peers are talking to peers openly.

Liz was bothered because SHE was one of the people who was being sought as part of that community and didn’t particularly love being labeled just another “peer.” You should read the rest of Liz’ post, its powerful.

Her post reminded me of the risk of labeling the people we want to buy from us.

About a dozen years ago, I was deep into the personal training world. I had gained some notoriety for seemingly coming out of nowhere and launching a 5,000 square foot high-end training facility was selling more sessions per month than our 25,000 gym competitors sold in a year. I did this by essentially looking at everything the big players in the industry were doing and doing the exact opposite.

In the fitness industry, there are a few communities that are considered Holy Grail markets. One are the folks who make up the Boomer generation. The other is what the industry called for years “the deconditioned” market. Somehow, I’d managed to easily attract both, so when I had the opportunity to share a bit of wisdom in one of the industry trades, I started with a simple point.

If you want to attract the deconditioned market…STOP CALLING THEM DECONDITIONED!

For crying out loud, with more than 75% of U.S. adults being woefully out of shape, we’re talking about your mother, your father, your sister, your colleagues, your boss, your preacher, your teacher, your lover, your brother and the vast majority of people you hang out with every day!

We’re very likely talking about YOU!

How many RSVPs do think you’d get to your Annual Deconditioned Market Picnic? Or, your Festival of Fun-loving Fatties?!

The label you choose for a market subconsciously informs the way you view the people who make up that market.

It impacts the way you treat them, the way you solve their problems and the way you communicate with them.

Terms like “deconditioned” depersonalize and dehumanize the very people you want desperately to understand and connect with. It throws a wall up between you and them. Rather than empathize, you remove yourself from their experience, and, in marketing, that is a really, really bad thing. Because everything begins, every assumption, every solution, every action and communication, with a deep understanding of who the people who make up your market are, what they’re suffering, how they want that suffering relieved and how they’d like to be not only spoken with but endeared and respected.

It’s the same for every business in every industry. There are no exceptions.

In fact, the more I think about it, even using the word “market” beyond the research stages does a disservice to your ability to understand the underlying psychology of a group of people with shared needs, experiences, problems and motivations for a solution.

Yes, it’s easy shorthand. It’s efficient. But, as James Autry wrote in The Servant Leader, efficient does not mean effective.

Shorthand often ends up the losing hand.

So, use the term market when researching the size of a group of people and commonalities in hunger, need, emotion and motivation. But, the moment you begin to communicate with the “individuals” in that market, do what I was taught to do as a copywriter.

Speak to a single person, not a label.

Create an avatar that represents, in great detail, the qualities of the people you’d like to serve, then speak to that avatar as if they were one person. Not a peer, not a market, but a person. And, if you want to label that individual, name him or her. Call them Madge or Bill or Carol. But, not Mr. or Ms. Deconditioned.

So, I’m wondering who is that group of individuals you’d like to buy from you? How have you labeled them?

And, is that label facilitating or limiting your ability to understand, then blow these kind folks away?

As always, just thinking out loud.

What do YOU think?

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29 responses

29 responses to “Would You Call Your Preacher Fat?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Sean McGinnis. Sean McGinnis said: RT @jonathanfields Are You Calling Your Preacher Fat? | Jonathan Fields http://bit.ly/7Wv2Ft <– This is brilliantly well done. Please read […]

  2. Ed Gandia says:

    You make some great points here, Jonathan. You know, I used to think this argument was pointless. I mean…who cares what you call someone (or a group) in closed-door meetings. Right?

    Wrong. Here’s the thing. If you’re labeling a group in a way that the group would find offensive or demeaning, even if you’re very careful not to let that slip in your copy and marketing materials…it WILL come through. Subconsciously, what you’re doing behind closed doors will somehow be communicated via your actions, copy, images, design. Your stuff will give off the wrong vibe.

    As a marketer, you have to care — especially when no one’s looking. Your prospects are incredibly perceptive. They’ll figure it out whether you want to or not.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Mhm, you don’t even realize how the labels you create limit your ability to connect with and create the best possible solutions for your “people.”

  3. Ok, “deconditioned”??? That is rough, I had no idea that was the word used for nonathletes. You’re right, that is a horrible word.

    I guess it boils down to treating your clients/customers/guests with respect.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      yeah, I know, it IS a horrible word, but it was the phrase of choice for a lot of years. HELLO!

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by jonathanfields: Are You Calling Your Preacher Fat? http://bit.ly/5Kp1kZ

  5. Hi Jonathan,

    Excellent article! I’m a User Experience Designer (and Career Renegade in training) and what you describe above as an avatar, we refer to as a persona and use mainly for creating better online experiences. But this method lends itself perfectly to creating a better in person experience for your business.

    Here’s a really good intro to researching and creating personas:

    Take care!

  6. Ed Gaile says:

    How we talk/refer to the people we server and interact with is how we think about them. I for one must take this post to task and do a better job this year of bringing this down to the individual personal level you talk about. Good stuff Jonathan.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It’s always a process, my friend. And, I’m smack in the middle of it with you

  7. Laura Click says:

    Great post! Marketers, and business people in general, have to remember that they are working with people, not demographics. In the end, we all want to be treated as human beings, as individuals. Keeping that in mind makes a tremendous impact on how we communicate with prospects, clients and the like. Not so coincidentally, those who communicate with people on a personal level are also those who tend to be most successful.

  8. George says:

    Great point. Not only are 75% of people out of shape and need your services, the remaining 25% could use them and immediately see value. I think we can find ways to make our business succeed by marketing to a large group, and then figure out what works. The awesome thing about online marketing is that you can test and know what is working and what is not working.

    For us, our “avatar” is someone that is dissatisfied with their job and wants to achieve financial freedom. But it doesn’t stop there. (No, it is not network marketing.) We are looking for people who are willing to find ways to succeed.

    Why? Because those are the people who will become early adopters and early successes. They will share their experience and their learnings with others, primarily through social media. Also, these are the people who make it rewarding for us. We love to have conversations and connections with people who are going to use the information and change the world.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      No doubt, one of the killer benefits of marketing online is that we can test and tune until we’ve got it right. But, the mindset and picture of the people we want to buy from us strongly influences how we create what we test and how we analyze and revise both our communications and solutions

  9. Kyle Hansen says:

    I will not start to commmunicate with ‘individuals’ and not a market! Takes more time this way, but well worth it!

  10. Jim Kukral says:

    I purposely had to stop myself from calling people “users” years and years ago. We’re all different and unique and mean something significant in our own special ways, to our target markets. Marketers should take heed of this message in this post. Great stuff.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Users, youch! I think one of the big challenges is also understanding that while we used to have to put a static sales page as a selling tool online, our options have now become much less static, much more dynamic in our ability to engage and interact our way through the process

  11. Julie says:

    Brilliant, intriguing post. The difference between communicating with an object and someone who is alive and breathing can’t be stated any more clearly (and with great humor) than you have here. Thank you for sharing these insights with such clarity. In the course I teach, we share the heuristic “See with your heart”, something that comes across on this post. It changes everything.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I like that “see with your heart” concept. Treating people like individuals also makes it easier to focus on solving instead of selling

  12. Great post. This is so important, and so easily lost when people are in the throes of business. For seven years, I worked at The Thomas Kinkade Company. Now, you either love or hate the work of Thomas Kinkade. I love art. My favorite artists are people like Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, and Salvadore Dali. How does someone like me who loves art by advant garde, surrealist, dadaist, and cubist artists work for a sentimentalist like Thomas Kinkade?

    By loving the people who love his work. The people who love Thomas Kinkade are usually but not always older ladies who see in his work an ideal world that should exist but does not. They see in Thom a passionate, caring man who understands them and who is a genuinely good family man. They see another ideal: a passionate, caring, faithful, positive and uplifting artist in a sea of iconoclastic, nihilist, cynical and grubby artists you usually see in the galleries.

    Thom’s work is so powerful to these people that his art helps them to live. I mean that literally. One of my favorite stories is about a woman who had to do an MRI because she found out she had cancer. She was claustrophobic, scared of dying, and the thought of being locked in that tube for the procedure was more than she could bear. She had a post card of one of her favorite Kinkade paintings, and she clutched it while doing the MRI – she “put herself” in the painting, and it helped her through. It helped her through her whole ordeal.

    Two things about this: First, the story is true. There are a thousand more like this where Thom’s work helped real people through real crises. Second, can you imagine her clutching an iPhone or Louis Vuitton bag in this situation?

    For those seven years, I didn’t work for Thomas Kinkade. I worked for her. It made a real difference.

  13. Hey, this is really cool. I never thought of it that way! I remember graduating from my coaching training several years ago and I was the only one in class not willing to commit to a certain # of clients I wanted to generate in my first six-months of business. I completely resisted the idea of thinking in terms of my clients as simply “numbers” or something that I “generate.” Geez, my clients are real human beings, each with a sacred story of their own! So I still rebel from the idea of setting goals around #’s of clients. And it always, always works out perfectly!

    The idea in your post is a perfect way to get at what I’ve been thinking about all along. I have an ideal client profile and I know exactly what she looks like. What I will do differently now, though, is create an avatar with a name and profile. Love it! My guess is that this will make it even easier to keep attracting that perfect client.

    Thanks for getting me to think bigger!

  14. The world is your mirror is the first thing that comes to my mind.

    The second thing that comes to my mind is being politically correct. I am not a fan of being politically correct. People get so caught up in words and labels that they forget to look through what the people are telling them and listen to their message.

    That would be my point. Look beyond words and labels and see if you like what you see then. I think it is time for many people to grow and stop being overly sensitive about words that others use and look beyond.

    Really not much else to say. I might be right and might be wrong, but it just has been my experience in life.


  15. Liz Strauss says:

    What you are saying here is so important. We don’t even realize that we’re talking down to people, but we are.

    What makes us so smart? What makes us so real?
    What makes the universe revolve around our thinking?

    If we really want to connect with people, have to put our heads and our hearts into thinking about how to solve the problems they care about not the ones we think they should be thinking are important.

    You always point to the brilliant.
    Because you are.

  16. Susan Sagun says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Once again, you’re making me think. “How DO I think of the people who buy our clothes?” Honestly, I’m their greatest fan and admirer because I know they could go to Target or K-Mart and buy a perfectly cute outfit for their little girl but instead they choose to make a difference to a child in another country by buying a Pockets of Dreams outfit.

    Recently, I purchased a framed silk screen poster from an artist. When I brought my purchase to him, he seemed far more excited to point out and share what he loved about the picture than he was that I was giving him money for it. I felt like I was walking away with a rare and priceless gem that had been dearly loved – because it had. His attitude towards me during the purchase increased its value to me considerably and I recall it every time I look at the picture.

    Thank you for making me think…again.

  17. Julie says:

    I studied PR and Communication and at some point, one of my teachers kept using the word joe-lunchbox or joe-doggybag to describe the working class. It didn’t quite feel right, but still,as I viewed that professor as an authority figure, I dared to use it in a conversation with my mother one day that I was home for the holidays. Right as the word came out of my mouth, I felt pretty cheap. I knew I was actually talking about my father, my friends’ fathers and about so many people I know who go to work early in the morning, working manually for hours and eating their lunch out of a lunchbox instead of in a fancy restaurant. Respect is everything. Thanks Jonathan for this thoughtful post.

  18. Tracy says:

    Years ago I worked at Disneyland as a summer job and one of the things that struck me was that within the organization the customers were always referred to as “guests”. This completely framed my view of my job because I then felt more ownership of my place of work and took pride in providing my “guests” with a great experience. This was Walt Disney’s vision from Day One and I think it’s why Disney is the giant it is today.

    That being said, you actually have to believe in words to begin with. If the words don’t inspire something in you then you’re always going to have a problem no matter what you call people.

  19. Just recently I had a jarring experience. Sent an email to a half-dozen people saying “Let’s do this thing.” Among the various positive responses was one that said something like “With this list of names, I don’t even have to read the email to know that I’m in!”

    When I clarified what we were going to be doing, they changed their tune to “If I had a dime for every person who wanted to do this . . . ”

    All of a sudden, we’d gone from a special group to just some more people.

    Never *ever* tell others they’re just another somebody. I wrote it in The Commonsense Entrepreneur over a year ago: know why every single individual you interact with is special, unique, and important to you and your business.

    Otherwise, you’re gonna call them something offensive like ‘average’.

  20. Greg London says:

    I most definitely would call my preacher fat, only if really was fat of course. I love the site.

  21. What a great post. I have dentified my clients as “expatriates” which they are…but who are they really?: amazingly adventurous people who have moved to a foreign country and might be finding the change difficult. The shift in identifying with their individual personalities (I can see each of their faces) and essential selves is so much more powerful than lumping them all in a group of “Expats”.

    Thanks for this great reminder!

  22. reese says:

    It’s easy for any one of us to get a little bit of power.
    Or prestige.
    Or publicity.

    And suddenly also gain, in turn, a lot bit of self-righteousness.

    I’m ashamed to admit I used to regard design in this manner–that somehow, my small bit of knowledge made me superior to others.

    Thing is, there’s always someone out there who has a better skill set, or experience, or insight than we do. Our roles are relative and contextual.

    That singular person that you recommend we use as the avatar? That person is thrilled beyond belief when we take time to show appreciation for her value in this world beyond the money she spends. She delights in our humility and that we see her potential and worth.