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De-Comforting and Re-Comforting (Jim Karrh On Marketing)

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Following our spate of winter weather, power outages and flu outbreaks, it seems an appropriate time to discuss discomfort.

Much of marketing and sales success comes down to a company’s ability to create the right type of discomfort — and then comfort — among customers and prospects.

Advertising has for decades provided vivid examples of “you shouldn’t live with this any longer.” I mean, who knew “ring around the collar” was such an issue until the makers of Wisk detergent pointed it out?

Marketing messages are commonly designed to make you dissatisfied with what you make, how you look, whom (or whether) you date or how you spend your time. Those classic ads also manage to pair the message of “your status quo isn’t good enough” with a ready solution that will move you to a higher state of confidence and comfort. Check out the old Wisk TV ads on YouTube; just by buying and pouring the product on shirts you could make a seemingly intractable problem go away!

You can learn from the sequence. First comes a process of unearthing a problem with today’s common situation or approach, often with an emotional hook (let’s call that “de-comforting”). Next is the path toward resolution, with the sponsor/marketer emerging as the logical and trustworthy partner for getting there (“re-comforting”).

This sequence of de-comforting then re-comforting is easy to recognize yet difficult to pull off. I have seen several patterns emerge over the years when working with executive, marketing, product, service and sales teams.

Some teams veer off course with their messages and tactics during the de-comforting stage. They carry the assumptions that prospects are largely ignorant, need “educating” or otherwise don’t get it. These teams feel more agitation with the status quo than do their prospective customers.

Many teams unfortunately take a pass on the de-comforting step; they wait for the discomfort to come to them. They consider themselves primed and ready for the re-comforting stage (perhaps in the form of a customer request or RFP). But by that time the terms of discomfort have likely been established by someone else.

While some teams fail to de-comfort effectively, others miss the mark on re-comforting. Sure, their messages are designed to establish trust and credibility — but the messages are too often so company- or feature-focused as to lose the connection to the original problem with the customer’s status quo.

Your team will be effective by pushing discomfort in the right way and to the right degree, showing a practical path for correcting the problem, then making the case for why you — and not some other alternative — are the person or company to get them there.

What are some good practices to follow in de-comforting?

• Don’t attack a customer’s past decisions.

• Don’t slam competitors or talk about yourself too much; focus on the customer’s reality.

• Make sure that customers know they aren’t the only ones in this non-ideal status quo. After all, if they believe the problem is uniquely theirs, then they might assume they’re a lost cause.

• Do point out the common problems in the status quo for them and peer organizations, or how common approaches diverge from practices you know would work better.

• Do your homework and ask questions so that you understand the pain points of the flawed status quo. Don’t just ask prospects what their pain points are.

• Don’t start proposing solutions (which is part of re-comforting) before you have explored and understood the de-comforting.

Effective re-comforting practices include:

• Create with your customer or prospect a shared vision of what “problem resolution” or that “better tomorrow” looks like.

• Talk about your differentiators and expertise.

• Use stories and examples that feel relevant to the customer. Some companies put together case studies in a way that unfortunately fails to connect.

Is your company equally adept at de-comforting and re-comforting?

Jim Karrh of Little Rock is a marketing consultant, researcher, speaker and author. Visit JimKarrh.com or email him at Jim@JimKarrh.com.

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