Metaphors, the human thought bomb

metaphor (n.), a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable, a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract

The power of the metaphor lies in its ability to communicate the abstract. When you have something complicated to explain, whether it be an emotion or technical process, you don't want to lose your audience to your rambling, literal terminology. Let's consider this blurb from a financial group's website:

As the nation’s largest independent broker-dealer*, a top RIA custodian, and a leading independent consultant to retirement plans, LPL is an enabling partner to more than 13,500 financial advisors and approximately 700 financial institutions. We believe that objective financial guidance is a fundamental need for everyone. Through our proprietary technology and a suite of customized services, we enable our customers to focus on creating the personal, long-term client relationships that are the foundation for turning life’s aspirations into financial realities.

Did your eyes glaze over? Mine did. My brain had nothing to chew on--no image, no idea, no feeling. Instead my brain attempted to gnaw on words that painted a bleak, abstract picture. This will not do if you actually want people to pick you over your competitor. Finance is boring. Most people don't get excited about the terms "broker-dealer," "RIA custodian," or even "financial guidance." Nor do people care about how many advisors, institutions, or services you have. Your audience just wants to get off your finance site as soon as possible, so let them.

Enter the sleek and sexy metaphor:

Nurturing your money, also known as "adulting," can sometimes be severely mind-numbing. In fact, some people find it utterly unbearable. But with LPL, attending to your finances can feel as natural as pulling on your favorite t-shirt. We're the tried and true group that won't disappoint. Let us match you with an advisor who'll fit you and feel better than any tailored suit."
Etsy is a wonderful place.

Etsy is a wonderful place.

Metaphors are not only useful when attempting to explain something complicated; they're also great for appealing to the senses. Sensory marketing is legit--the more senses you incorporate into a message, the more effective it's proven to be--and metaphors can provide an avenue for including content that evokes sights, sounds, scents, and tastes. When you think of your favorite t-shirt, you think about the comfort of wearing something casual and familiar. You think about the fresh scent of laundry and the softness of something worn over and over again. After walking away from that paragraph, you'll end up remembering that impression for a while.

People tend to shy away from using metaphors when creating "professional" content because they fear metaphors aren't to the point. They might also worry about the irrelevant associations that a metaphor might conjure. My response: what's more important, being completely relevant/on point or being remembered? Humans value uniqueness. Are your competitors going to use this metaphor? No. So use it.

The Communication Equation

Photo by Awkward Robot. It'll be relevant later.

Photo by Awkward Robot. It'll be relevant later.

I recently discovered Unstuckable, a podcast where you can "get daily inspiration and learn ... how to work on your own terms to achieve the freedom you desire and the stability you crave." While that statement is pretty fluffy, Episode 43 featured a discussion with Cory Huff of The Abundant Artist, who offered this nugget wisdom to artists looking to make art their living:

Figure out the best way you communicate and use that method to communicate what you do, why you do it, and why it matters to the people who are looking at your work. And then don’t be afraid to ask people to buy things.
— Cory Huff

Below I've illustrated Huff's communication equation:

TML Formulas.jpg

While this basic formula is exquisitely effective as is, my research and experience leads me to recommend a few edits. I would posit that the result of such an equation isn't necessarily success (whether that be defined as freedom, financial security, or something else), but rather a response to the stated, specific request. Oftentimes a request can be too vague to result in a desired outcome that could be described as success. (Clearly defining success would be the first step in crafting a request that would lead to a desired result.) Therefore, I propose altering and simplifying the equation:

TML Formulas.jpg

But that equation still leaves room for redundancies and inaccuracies. First of all, starting with "what" isn't necessarily going to attract and retain your audience. There are probably a lot of people who are doing what you're doing, and the details of that "what" may not matter to those who aren't sure they should invest their time/interest in the first place. Instead, your initial message should engage your audience's emotions, which is best accomplished through the element of "why"--go ahead and tell them why they should care. Furthermore, your "what" could be stated directly in your request. For example, if you're a landscape photographer who wants to make a living selling landscape photography prints, instead of starting off your message with, "I sell landscape photography prints," you could end your message with, "Buy my original landscape photography prints by visiting my virtual gallery."

The element "why" can also be simplified. If you want to capture emotion via the expression of your personal reasons for doing what you do, you should avoid saying something like, "I specialize in landscape photography because I enjoy taking pictures of unusual geography." Why would strangers care about your likes and dislikes? It is much easier to tap into emotions by stating an authentic belief: "I believe that capturing and promoting our planet's unique beauty can inspire people to make conscientious environmental choices."

By sharing your personal belief, you can connect emotionally with people who share your belief, the people most probable to respond to your request. But before getting to that request, you should squeeze in a persuasive, audience-centric "why." Your audience's "why" is not about you. It should not be a list of features: "My landscape photographs are printed in black and white, so they will match any decor." Instead, it should be presented as a benefit: "Viewing stunning landscapes everyday in your home or office can reawaken your appreciation for nature and motivate you to do your part in making Earth a healthy, thriving place for generations to come." Better yet, make it both informative and emotional: "With stunning black and white landscape photography greeting you everyday in your home or office, you can reawaken your appreciation for nature and find motivation to do you part in making Earth a healthy, thriving place for generations to come."

Below is the final equation:

Put it all together and you've got this message:

"I believe that capturing and promoting our planet's unique beauty can inspire people to make conscientious environmental choices. With stunning black and white landscape photography greeting you everyday in your home or office, you can reawaken your appreciation for nature and find motivation to do your part in making Earth a healthy, thriving place for generations to come. Buy my original landscape photography prints by visiting my virtual gallery."

The equation below indicates what each element should aim to do.


Communicating Like a True Human: Practical & Entertaining Exercises

I love that lady in the back. She knows she shouldn't be wearing that.

I love that lady in the back. She knows she shouldn't be wearing that.

Last week I gave a presentation to twenty small business owners on the subject of creating contrast for business. I went over my Bad Rules and led the following exercises, which I recommend printing and trying out on your own. Enjoy!

Break the Rules: How to Help Your Business Stand Out

Today I gave a presentation at a Chicago Women Entrepreneur Network (CWEN) event. Here's the spiel I shared:

The outfit I like to wear when giving presentations.

The outfit I like to wear when giving presentations.

I started The Magma Lab after I took an internship at a presentation design company. I learned that some businesses succeed more than others only because they are different--they stand out, people notice them, word spreads, and business grows. I guess it's pretty obvious. Think of Apple--iPhones and iPads weren't new technology, but Apple marketed them differently and it caught people's attention. You don’t even have to be great--just different. Think of Lady Gaga--she's not the most talented singer in the world; she's known because she's unusual.

With a business, though, how can you be different? It’s likely that you’re doing the same thing some other company is doing, offering the same product another company offers... Or maybe you do offer something unique, in which case you want to make sure your customers or investors understand that thing that sets you apart. If you want to get noticed, there’s something you should get comfortable with...

Breaking the rules. Part of the reason I love being a freelancer is that there’s no one getting angry at me for breaking the rules. That’s my job: to help you break the rules because breaking the rules helps you stand out. Innovation requires taking a look around for rules that you can intentionally break. That doesn't mean you need to break all the rules--just the bad ones.

Bad Rule #1: Look/sound/feel corporate. How are you supposed to stand out without showcasing your own voice or personality? How are going to get noticed if you hide the things that make you who you are? I help people communicate their stories and voice so that others notice and appreciate them for who they are. It's not very easy to capture your own voice, and sometimes we need help figuring out what really makes us different.

Bad Rule #2: Focus on your customers. What you offer shouldn’t be what everybody wants. It should be what some people want and it should be what you want to offer. If you want to stand out, be specific and focus on what matters to you. You should know why you’re doing what you’re doing; the right people for you will follow.

Bad Rule #3: Trust tradition. Tried and true will only get you so far. If humans evolve and change is inevitable, it’s time to let go of the status quo. Yes, change is hard. So is succeeding. Nothing amazing ever came from playing it safe.

If you are ready to break rules and want to learn what rules you should break, I invite you to come talk to me and grab one of my business cards. We can have fun breaking bad things together.

Lessons from My Quests: Level 1 Freelancer

The original Guild Wars. Good times. #pyromancer

The original Guild Wars. Good times. #pyromancer

As a sometimes MMORPG gamer, I like to imagine my experience bar filling up as I complete projects and develop my skills. Here are some of the lessons I've learned thus far as a budding freelancer.

1. The fake it till you make it method works if you consciously fortify your confidence. As Henry Ford once said, "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." There are countless resources available (sometimes for free, like this one!) that can help you feel more confident in the skills you want to claim. After landing my first client and getting down to the work of presentation development (chartered territory, thankfully), I found myself doubting my abilities nearly every step of the way. How dumb did I sound on that call? Did I quote too low? Am I doing good work? Instead of asking questions that you cannot answer, ask only, "Is this something I want to do? Yes?" Then do it and read up on how to do it better until your work is awesome and you feel awesome.

2. Keep it simple. You can apply this clichéd philosophy to pretty much everything in life. In regards to business, keeping things "simple" (or simplified to their lowest common denominators) improves almost every situation: phone calls, emails, meetings, contracts, content, design, style, money, intent. Keep it simple, sister. 

3. It's okay when your customer disagrees with you. Although I think I know some things about writing and design (cue the Socratic paradox), sometimes customers aren't going to be on board with my opinion no matter what. Part of me feels compelled to insist on a particular recommendation that I know will serve them best. But my clients' perspectives will not always jive with mine, and that's okay. While I may not subscribe to "the customer is always right," I do subscribe to, "the customer deserves to be happy." When a client wants to do something that contradicts my sensibilities, I state my case and move on.

This is Pepper, my cat who hates everyone except people who hate cats.

This is Pepper, my cat who hates everyone except people who hate cats.

4. Being yourself pays off. It's true that your personality can be a big part of what you offer, especially if you're going to be in constant communication with your clients. Being yourself will attract people more like you, and working with people more like you motivates you to be more productive, and therefore happy. I know it sounds fluffy, but authenticity is the best tool for building a solid reputation and doing good work. People can sense inauthenticity like cats can sense allergic friends; it's a good thing to get over whatever's keeping you from being yourself.

5. Say yes. Don't lose an opportunity to insecurity or fear. My first three freelance projects could have gotten away from me had I not been ready to embrace the unexpected. Client #1: a business veteran; I needed to exert my authority or risk weakening my credibility/my client's trust. Client #2: proposed I do a project that I had never done before. Client #3: had turned down my initial proposal, but then came back to me later. 

Soon I expect to have a lot more to share about networking experiences. Until then, I'll keep making my way to Level 2.