Marketing Lessons From The Suicide Hotline

by · September 6, 20134 comments

For several years I volunteered on a suicide hotline. Before taking calls, I was required to take about 100 hours of training in using active listening skills.  From that training, and the experience of talking to people in situations where what you say really matters, I learned some of the most valuable lessons in communication.

The first thing I learned is that what you’re most likely to say to people in crisis is probably the worst possible thing you can say. Yet, no matter how much I (and everyone I volunteered with) learned about what NOT to say, it was hard to get out of the habit of saying the wrong thing.  Our knee-jerk reaction was to give people advice.  What’s wrong with that?  It puts the focus on you, not the person who needs help.  Giving people advice tells them what you would do. It might make you feel better that  you’ve got a quick fix for them but it’s really not helpful. 

HotlineWhen we talk to people, we often focus on what we want out of the conversation, not what they need.  If this is true of people who are volunteering with the idea of helping people, imagine how much more true it is of people who are in the business of trying to get people to buy more products?

So, here’s the principle that makes for the most effective marketing communication:

It’s not about you.

I know that’s very hard to swallow.  There you are with a job to do—getting people to want more of your product—and as it turns out, asking them to buy more of your product is not the way to do it!

When you share content on your blog, your Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, or any other form of media, remember this:

It’s not about your product or service. It’s about what it means to the people who might use it; how it can make their lives better, or how other people are using it to improve their businesses.

It’s not about your promotions and special offers but how your product or service is different and meaningful and useful to your audience.

It’s not about your newsletter. It’s about what you have to say in your newsletter that is helpful to them.

Attention is the most precious commodity online. Do you think people will give you their attention so they can hear you talk about yourself?

If  we could all remember this simple principle, we would be better crisis managers, better friends, and better marketers.

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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