Knowledge: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

We’ve survived the seasonal gift-giving frenzy, but what’s left after the great unwrapping and the thank-yous? A lot of stuff that you either use up or have to dust in perpetuity. Knowledge is a different kind of gift, and a good one with which to begin a new year.

What Knowledge Does

Knowledge challenges the human brain to do something. The one thing you can trust people to do with information is use it. We can’t help ourselves. New information forces our synapses and gray matter to relate it to information we already have on file. But our brains are wired for less-direct “random access” than our hard drives. New information in our brains takes a more scenic route, sparking unusual connections that we call creativity, or “thinking outside the box.”

You never know exactly what you’re going to get back when you put new information out there. The trick to optimizing your rewards for taking that risk is to pay careful attention to the echoes that come back. For every “Howdy!” you send out, among the myriad carbon-copy echoes you get back there’s bound to be at least one “dee-How!” that you can turn into “how to do something new.” Inspiration breeds inspiration, and so on.

Now that you have this information penetrating your brain, you’ll find ideas popping up related to it — new twists on old ways of motivating your customers to buy and your staff to produce… or new tactics entirely. You know the drill with messages from the right brain: Jot it down, turn the left brain loose on it, reject the left brain’s initial in-the-box “no,” and get both hemispheres to play nicely together to create a game plan that works.

The Good and the Good “Bad”

While you’re in creative mode, let’s look at seemingly opposite inspirational uses for information.

First, “good news” information: kudos, awards, favorable poll ratings. These boost self-esteem, which boosts both staff productivity and customer confidence. After you announce awards in a newsletter, place the award logo on your pages as a link to an explanation of the award’s meaning regarding your product’s quality. You can use that same tactic for a “Users Say…” link to a page of testimonials or favorable poll ratings.

Second, “bad news” information: There is no really bad news, only challenges and opportunities. Though it’s true that I may be under the influence of too much holiday spirit ` la Zig Ziglar and Tom Peters, the “treat disaster as opportunity” approach really is the only effective way to help you move forward and out of that ditch. It’s best to take ownership of a problem as soon as you recognize it, first with your staff and then with your customers (preferably before they read about it from a headline in NewsLINX).

Rewarding your staff members for coming up with workable solutions (repairs and preventions) for the problem gains you a better, faster ROI for your time than blaming them for it. There’s no better employee than one who has learned from a mistake and contributed to its correction. To restate the point: Give them all the information they might possibly need, and they will give you creative solutions.

When dealing with customers, immediate honesty is the rule. Coupling admission of a mistake with its solution is the smart corollary. That solution should be immediately accessible to your customers: For example, “Click here to download the (choose one) software patch, refund coupon, request for product replacement, stock options.” Just kidding about that last one. But give your customers an appropriate remedy right away.

Giving Thanks

As you head into a brave new millennium (the purists say it starts this year), you know a few things you can be grateful for. First, at 12:00:01 a.m. on January 1, you didn’t have to worry about your computer systems resetting their clocks to the previous century. Second, your brain is processing new ways to motivate your staff and your customers, and it will surprise you with gifts of creativity for months to come. And third, you probably don’t have the job of marketing the new president of the United States to “the other half” of his constituency. Even if you do have that job, consider it a large-scale opportunity to motivate the behavior you desire by targeting information and trusting your targets to use it creatively. Remember, it’s a biophysical rule: Once it’s in our brains, we have to use it.

Recess: If it’s later than 10 a.m., you need to take a break. Dwell for a moment on the lighter side of advertising. If you need coaching, you know where to find me.

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