Sometimes it’s hard, when you’re cranking out posts, ads or other content you hope will connect with your fans or prospects, to know if a piece is really ready to run or needs further work to create customer engagement. I had a sort of aha moment recently that’s helped me with this challenge, and maybe will help you, too; it came when I was reminded that to communicate, in addition to meaning to share or exchange information, news or ideas, also means to open into each other (like connecting rooms). 

How & why does “opening into each other” matter?

At one level it’s sort of a geeky nuance (admittedly, written across my heart is “writer & english major”, so…), BUT when I started rating work to see if it promoted this level of connection or not, I realized that checking in with a quick “Is this helping both brand and customer open into each other?” very quickly cuts to the heart of message motivation:

  • When I could answer yes, there was a human-to-human feel being created between brand and consumer — and it was naturally engaging to key target audiences, and true customer engagement is what will help us achieve our organization’s goals.
  • Those that earned an “eh” or “no” were distant, either holding the customer at arms’ length or (worse) showing up as self-serving, with results that were more hit or miss; at best their effect is neutral, like safely chatting about the weather at a cocktail party, but they won’t get you any closer to a date.

In short, when we’re focused on successfully opening into each other we’re more likely to create a personal connection — it even risks a little vulnerability. We have to be more genuine, consistently true in how we show up… and be listening as well as telling. The best of personal branding succeeds here, and its shaping customers’ expectations for business branding too.

So what does “opening into each other” look like in action? Here are 2 quick examples:

1. Sheetz recently sent an email to its list with the headline “Celebrate our 600th Sheetz location with us”; the photo felt inclusive and fun; the offer also felt like a party (order on the app at any location and receive 600 points). Though the subject line (to me) was a miss, “600th Store Celebration Tomorrow!” overall I answered yes to the “open into” question. This was a communication that, in my view, strengthened the sense of belonging that Sheetz hopes to create.

2. A massage center in my area emailed its list with a solid deal: buy one get one 40% off. The email was promising: the text assured us this was an amazing deal for last minute gifts. It also explained that prices would be increasing Jan 1 to cover increased costs, so now was the time to stock up for the best possible deal. It thanked us for understanding and for continued support. Holiday savings and giving customers the heads up definitely gets a “yes” to the “open into” question…

 Unfortunately nothing else in the piece came close. The first two lines set up an “us” vs “you” right off the bat; there was no reminder of how transformative an excellent massage can be; this is an ultra-human-touch service and there was neither a human shown, nor even a promise to continue to deliver at a high level (or whatever the center’s unique promise is) to offset the cost rise message. Everything was about price — and the more price is the key factor, the more of a commodity the offering becomes. Bottom line: to me, the email left an aftertaste of self-protection on their part. I might bite on the offer, but unless I had a strong relationship with a specific therapist, I’d be more open to deals from other centers now.

It’s a simple “quality connection” check

My friends at big companies — with their many processes and people always on hand to make sure work checks all the appropriate boxes for customer engagement (needs, personas, branding and etc.) — may be unimpressed by my simple question. But for those of us in smaller orgs, running a mile a minute, often single-handedly (even in 7-figure organizations), with precious little time for reflection or resources to consistently pull the magic off, I’ve found this to be a handy tool to quickly ensure our work is more connective than not.

I’d love to know how this works out for you — try asking yourself if your posts, ads and other efforts (or those of your favorite brands) are helping your biz and customers open into each other. And just give me a call if you want to talk further about this or other ways to connect better with your customers.

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