The Hero Dies at the End

In a world with increasing choice, brands are forced to cater to consumers’ decreasing attention span. This makes me wonder, ‘If we know that instant gratification is bad, why do we want to give it to our customers?’

Sure, the customers are busy. People don’t have time.

Even at this moment, I don’t have time for you and you don’t have time for me. I’m writing this with full acceptance that you’re not really concentrating. It’s almost a given.

So, in this fierce fight for people’s attention we’ve learned to be clear, concise, shoot straight. Keep it short. Don’t waste the customer’s time.

Let me quickly tell you about my favourite film of all time: Terminator 2.. And in the spirit of not wasting your time, let me tell you about the ending of Terminator 2 which you may or may not have seen. The hero – who is a robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger – dies. And I am willing to bet that reading the previous sentence did not emotionally move you very much. 

I mean if you’re especially sensitive or empathic, you might have felt a slight itch at the thought of any ‘hero’ doing any kind of ‘dying.’ But whether you’ve seen the film or not, your current overwhelming reaction is, ‘Whatever. Get to the point.’

The point is that being direct, getting to the point and valuing clarity is only effective if the audience has been on the same emotional journey as you have.

In a modern world, where there are shortcuts to almost everywhere, we should remember that human to human communication takes time to develop. We should remember that even with our own long term business partners or husbands or wives, we say things that the other person misinterprets. But for some reason, we expect to be able to craft effective communication to an audience of complete strangers hoping to connect with them on a genuine emotional level instantly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying it’s difficult. And of course, somebody somewhere is always doing it—by accident. What we want to do is connect with strangers on a genuine emotional level through effective communication—on purpose. 

The first step towards doing it is to understand that it’s a skill that can be acquired and developed. We can be better communicators in business and personal life with conscious competence – doing things purposefully.

The second step is to understand that marketing is storytelling. And a good story is an optimzed sequence of events in a specific order conveyed over a period of time. You can move through the optimized sequence quickly – but you cannot skip it. An effective communicator understands the difference between saying, ‘1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9’ quickly and just saying, ‘9’. 

If I want to pass on the same emotion I felt as a 15-year old-watching Terminator 2 to someone who hasn’t seen it, I can’t just tell them the ending. They haven’t travelled the same journey as I have. So when I say, ‘The hero dies at the end,’ even though my listener understands the meaning of those six words, even though I’m being explicit and communicating with clarity, the two of us are evoking completely different emotions in our minds.

We have to avoid the temptation to jump straight to the end. That means denying the urge to give an answer to a question too quickly, even if it’s the right answer because if the listener isn’t ready to hear it, they will not evoke the same emotion in their mind. That means we can’t just tell them why they need your product. Being clear and direct isn’t enough. Your listener doesn’t have time? Then take them through the optimized sequence quickly. Don’t skip to the end.

Marketing is communication. And communication is difficult. In order to craft effective marketing communication to cold prospects, we have to try to balance two things: our need to grab their attention and our plan to give them something useful.