you cannot make someone want something

Perhaps one of the hardest life lessons to learn is also one of the biggest barriers I’ve seen to true understanding in social media marketing. “You cannot make someone want something.” You cannot force, nor make someone take a specific set of actions to your liking. Have you ever tried? I’ve tried,and failed miserably, and still have to remind myself of this crucial little life lesson every day.

You can dangle the shiniest of all shiny objects, valued at a million dollars, the answer to all of life’s problems, in front of someone’s face, but yet, there is no guarantee that they will want it. What we forget to remember is that “want” (and need) is so deeply personal. It’s driven by factors that we often  have no control over.

But this lesson isn’t a lesson in impossibility, it’s a lesson in context and expectations. You cannot make someone want something, but that is not to say that you cannot “influence” another to want something.

What’s the difference then, between the two words that we often use synonymously when it comes to making a sale? They are two completely opposing forces – push vs. pull. “Make” vs. “influence”.

“Make” contextually implies both force and threat in a short(er) period of time. “Buy my product if you don’t want your health to suffer,” is a an extreme example of a “make” message. In life, a make message could be “you will be miserable without me.”  Calling out the flaws of your competition, are also a “make” statement. So are ultimatums. “Make” happens when you try to apply and enforce your own thinking, which is usually always subjective. It’s your own perspective of the world, personal to you and your wants and needs. With “make”, there is a lack of context and often a lack  of understanding your audience. And a little bit of ego. In “make”, we inherently believe that there is only one solution for our audience and it’s what we can offer that is best for them – which as much as we don’t want to believe it, is not always true.

“Influence” tends to be contextually more positive and often happens over a long(er) period of time than what fits our sales cycles (sorry!). I like to think of influence as storytelling and transparency. Influence can be laying out facts, and more importantly, leading by example. Influence is “be (and show!) the change you wish to see” as opposed to “make’s” “see the change I want you to be.” Influence can be a deep understanding that what you have to offer is not going to be what everyone needs – and focuses then on “attraction”, pulling and filtering the people that want what you have to offer on their own accord. In other words, you dress the mannequin outside your window only in the clothes you can sell, and you attract those that want it most!

Though we tend to think that if we can get people to respond to force and threat the way we want them to, it creates more power – it’s actually our powers of influence that make us most powerful. It’s the difference between requiring something of someone and empowering someone to want something for themselves – the second always leading to more long term successes because it’s a self-directed and feeds a key human need to have control over our own lives.

Influence doesn’t require subjectivity, which can always be changing – so influence allows for consistent behavior and brand integrity – in other words, you will always be able to support what you say, consistently. And as humans, we trust in consistency. Influence also increases the way you are valued. When you align yourself with people that want you the most, on their own accord, they are willing to pay more and do more for you. Just as in life we are willing to do more for those who positively impact us, when it comes to purchasing – people are willing to pay more for what they want and what is important to them (Google the cost of the iPhone over time if you don’t believe me.)

For social media strategy, it’s important to distinguish between “make” and “influence” when it comes to both crafting the way we talk about ourselves to the consumers, but also to make sure we have the right goals in mind when it comes to why we are social in the first place. The right messages, the right goals, and the right expectations will show you value in “being social”.

  • Tell Stories – When you talk about your brand, consider telling it like a story. Well written stories provide context and can easily turn a “make” message into a message of influence.
  • Facilitate community – People are smarter. They understand “marketing” now-a-days – it’s no longer the case that people believe something to be true because the company says its true. So rely on your community to tell stories about your brand. Open yourself up a bit to both positive and negative feedback. People will carry your brand a lot further online and offline than a small department of marketers ever could.
  • Be objective and stick to the facts – …when talking about your brand as a company. As a company, focus only on what you can prove without anecdotal evidence, and leave anecdote and subjectivity to the audience. I know that sounds crazy, but consider it. For example, “Quality” is subjective; “Quality control processes” are not. Learn the difference. Quality relies on the ability to compare that, when coming from the company, can turn into a “make” message.  Understand that people view “quality” differently depending on their own perspectives and contexts – it’s something you will never be able to prove as a company. Quality control processes however, are provable facts. You can prove the testing done during the manufacturing of a product to assure that the company has made the best product that they know HOW to make. Where it ranks amongst other products in terms of “quality” is up to the consumer to decide. So let the subjectivity stay with the audience and instead focus on what you can prove. It’s not the marketing standard, but in a realm where consumers now expect brands to be human and social – the authenticity of sticking to the facts will go a long way.
  • Be yourself, find your own thing – Along the similar lines of quality, be honest with yourself as a brand about who you are, and show it. Back to the quality example, there is a place for quality in the marketplace, but  there is just as much want for cheap alternatives. You can sell $20 sneakers to the same consumer that purchases $100 sneakers – I’m proof. The trick is to focus on what the $20 sneakers are, not what they are not. I will buy the $20 sneakers because they are trendy, they are a crazy color that will only match with one outfit I own and I’m not expecting them to last more than a few months – and I don’t care because they will be out of style in one month anyway. In this case, I’m looking for affordability over a quality shoe I need to be made to survive a beating of 20 miles a week or more (those would be my $100 shoe purchases). Be who you are and you will attract the right wants.  Furthermore, a better match can bring about stronger feelings and stronger value, which when repeated can mean more to your brand than 100 mediocre word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Be patient, but be consistent – Influence takes longer, but again, is SO much stronger. So be patient. ‘Tis better to have an audience full of people who actually want what you can offer than people who felt coerced or even tricked into it. And be consistent about messaging – if your messages conflict a bit or seem off, your audience will pick up on it. The quickest way to lose supporters is to make your audience believe you are still trying to find yourself.
  • Always be open to new audiences – You can’t make a square peg fit into a round hole. So, the question is which do you change, the square peg, or the round hole? You can shave a bit off the square peg to make it fit into a round hole, but then it’s no longer a square peg. It’s an unrecognizable shape. Instead, try finding the right hole – they are probably out there, just not where you would expect them to be! New audiences can fit your product without altering what it is. So, even if they weren’t your initial thought, keep your eyes peeled for patterns in stories coming from people that use your product to capitalize on opportunities that may be beyond your own perspective.