Avoiding mediocrity in your messaging – with Dan Rood and Zach Franzen

Speaker

Dan Rood is the Vice President of Marketing at LeadIQ. He is an expert at sales, content, and product marketing, with over 10 years of experience. Dan specializes in sales messaging, marketing positioning, and is a revered speaker.

Quotes

“We’re living in a new romantic era that thinks it’s a rationalist era…the problem we see is [companies] are making emotional statements that are unsupported by ration…but still want to stand out. [Companies] need to find a strong rational reason to hold the attention of their audience.”

-Dan Roon and Zach Franzen

Key Points

  • There is a misunderstanding of how our emotional aspect relates to our rational aspect. 
  • Stop stretching the “story” into areas of marketing and sales where it doesn’t fit. 
  • The emotional, quicker way of thinking needs to fit the logical, slower way of thinking. 
  • Don’t lose the emotion, don’t be afraid of talking about the pain. 
  • There are two factions the power and truth faction. 

Transcript

Dan Rood:
Ask Ari Zach. We are at final demand. June summit. We are. I want to give the audience a little bit of a set up for us. So you and I went to college together. We both studied theater and creative arts, and then we were close friends. And then you went into the publishing field and illustration field, and I went into software sales and software marketing.

We found each other again about six, seven years ago. And for the last seven years, we’ve been working in software together in marketing, and we have literally spent hundreds of hours debating, talking about storytelling, persuasion, rhetoric, narrative, all with this attempt to, I think, be more persuasive in arguments that marketing organizations are trying to make. Sales organizations are trying to make outbound sellers like I’m trying to get people to be more persuasive.

Hmm. And yet it feels like the messaging that I see on most companies websites, the pitches that I see from salespeople, like, tend toward blog. They tend toward media. And so it’s been a passion of mine. What is your kind of hot take on this topic? Because you and I have been talking about this forever. You come at it, I think, from a little bit different perspective.

Zach Franzen:
I think the what you’ve seen in the past, I don’t know, three or four years is an explosion of writing about storytelling and captivating people. And and yet the quality of the the ads and the blogs and the presentations and the websites, it’s not much better rhetorically. Mm hmm. I think the so yeah. I think the problem is the lack of either there’s a couple of things.

One, there’s a misunderstanding of how our rational aspect relates to our emotional aspect. Broadly, there’s a lack of harmony to messages. There’s also lack of hierarchy to messages, a failure to break things into big, small and medium categories so that we can process things. And then there’s the subsequent problem of the way that business language uses words in, in, in kind of a faddish way to chase whatever the fad is, and story becomes a popular word, and then it gets stretched out of all proportion so that it doesn’t fit anything anymore. And people are talking about story and applying it to, you know, data sheets and other things where where there is no nothing that resembles a story.

Dan Rood:
Okay. So you’re talking about two things that I, I want to hit on, if we can remember them. One is you mentioned the rational and the emotional. Right. And then to we’re talking about the broadening of the definition of story. Which one you want to hit first? Because I’m interested in both.

Zach Franzen:
Well, I think the rational so I think the rational, emotional thing is Dow is upstream, I should say, of story if you’ve listened to any podcast. So Daniel Kahneman did a book a couple of years ago called Thinking of Fast and Slow. Mm hmm. And he proposes through his research, he wants the Nobel Prize in psychology. He studies the way people make decisions.

He’s very authoritative guy. And he does a lot of research and finds that people have a quick way of thinking and a slow way of thinking, the quick way, as are impulses or intuitions. It’s that stuff that sort of hits you all at once. And then there’s a slow way of thinking, which is what we think of. When we think of thinking.

It’s rational, it’s focused, it’s analytical. And if you listen to sort of the photocopy of a photocopy version of his thesis on like a podcast, what you might hear is that we make decisions with emotion and then we rationalize after. And that is a false characterization of his argument. And in fact, it’s I think part of why you’re seeing a lack of harmony on a given.

Let me say what he said first. And so what he actually says in his book is that that quick way of thinking, your intuitions, your impulses, your emotions, has to then be ratified by your slow way of thinking for you to be persuaded. Mm hmm. If it does, it endorse your quick way of thinking, then you don’t need persuading.

But what people are doing is they’re proposing a kind of a Freudian notion that we’re we’re just governed by desire and reason is an illusion. It’s not something real. And so, for example, I was I had an interview for a job a couple of years ago, and I went on the website of the company, you know, I won’t say who the company was.

And they don’t use this line.

Dan Rood:
And you can if you want.

Zach Franzen:
So it was it was a content management system. Mm hmm. And they said that they were the world’s number one storytelling platform. And I think that’s captivating. Interesting. I thought, how in the world are they the world’s number one story level? So I went to look for any support for that statement, and there was none. Not on their YouTube channel, not on their website.

It was just something that they threw out there thinking that that’s going to emotionally engage people. And then it’s done. The work is done. People are persuaded now. Right. And what you have to do and there’s the tragedy of that, is that there’s actually a really good, rational support for that. You could say that that information unorganized is boring.

It’s uninteresting. Every story is information organized. They organize information to help your company tell like they could do any of that stuff. They didn’t. They chose not to write. They chose just to say the line and then abandon it and not support it. So that’s what I think. There’s a lack of harmony to understanding that our our quick emotional sort of way of thinking has to correspond to our slower analytical reason, and and you’re just you’re seeing a lack of harmony. You’re seeing a lot of flash and not a lot of reasoned support.

Dan Rood:
Okay. So that’s interesting because my take is is different. I was I was in Austin, Texas, last week, and I was doing a session for sales leaders on using storytelling principles to drive like outbound messaging to try to generate more interest for your business with your stickers and your A’s and your sales folks. And the thing I was arguing was that emotion has been lost in the argument that what we’re doing is trying.

Part of the reason why it feels mediocre is that we have a website or we have a sales presentation. We show, you know, the statistics, we show the social proof from my customers, but we are failing to enhance the problem statement like we’re some for some reason, we’re afraid to talk about pain. Like we go right to solution,and to me, the pain has to connect to an emotional response that then I want to ratify with statistics, with a rational argument. So do you do you agree with that? Like or do you do you separate? Like, because to me, pain is what’s missing. We’re not being painful enough. And you don’t have a good story unless you’ve got pain.

Zach Franzen:
Well, I think I. I sort of agree. And. Well, here’s here’s how I would frame it. And this might I think this would under this would support maybe our divergent views. But there’s something to what you say. Certainly, and it depends where in the business you’re looking, because some people are they just have a, you know, a good image or a a very rhythmic soundtrack or something like that, and they feel like that’s going to supply the emotional piece and and an emotional hook that is ratified is going to be more emotional. Right. It’s going to be better. I think what you’re. So so I would say it this way. We’re living in a new romantic era that thinks it’s a rationalist era.

Dan Rood:
Thinks it’s rational.

Zach Franzen:
It thinks it’s right, right, right. And the failure of romantic capital are like like like the romantic movement, right? Not like. I like Valentine’s Day. Mm hmm. So I think the problem that you’re seeing is a failure to to care about the reasonable piece that much. Okay. And the reasonable piece requires hierarchy to be to be processed by the brain.

Dan Rood:
Okay. So my so when I’m thinking of emotion, I’m thinking of like the book challenge or sale, which a lot of sales organizations adopted, which had a lot of really good data points, talking about what the best salespeople do sure to make an argument. And the big thing was they’re able to take you down a painful track using data in emotional impact to make you feel bad in order to then start to show you a new way.

I think what you’re arguing is that in this romantic era, we’re making emotional statements. Are unsupported and there’s no there’s no need to even try. If, like you said earlier, if I say that we’re a storytelling platform and then I don’t pay it off. Yeah, like we’re.

Zach Franzen:
Like that’s it’s so and it’s few things like you’re finding this in persuasion books where they’re saying, speak to the lizard part of a person’s brain and they’re going to be all the way there. If you if you put a picture of a woman on your on your whatever, your bank newsletter accounts are going to go up right?

You’re going to get more. And so there’s there’s not even much of a desire to appeal to ratifying this. But I would say so going back to the because we’re in a romantic era, in order to swim in the waters in which we live, you need an emotional component for sure, right? But because you want to stand out, you need a rational if no for no other reason.

Right? You need a rational ratification. Okay. So but it just so happens I would say it just so happens that that also is the way that the human brain works. So you get another bump.

Dan Rood:
So isn’t okay. So is it because we want to pay this off for the audience in some way? There’s it feels like there’s a truth there that needs to get hit, which is you need a you need I’ve heard it said product truth. Right. Yeah. But so you need an emotional argument to cause pain for your audience, for them to feel compelled to then have a rational argument that’s hopefully ethical and right that your your product, product or service, it’s paid off.

So that’s my side of the stance, is that you need the emotion that that and the mediocrity that I see in web and sales presentations is that we’re just going right to a rational argument. But you’re saying we’re we’re misappropriating emotion like we’re trying to manipulate sometimes with like an emotional, you know, catchy phrase, and then we’re and then we’re not even paying it off.

Zach Franzen:
Right. I think that that all of it. So the classic dispute in rhetoric between there two factions it’s the Truth faction and the power faction in power is a very big part of marketing where they don’t mind manipulating people or they don’t mind being a little bit less than honest as long as they’re sort of accruing power. Whereas that’s always a short term gain.

The longer term game is if you if you speak the truth beautifully, you get power in the long run. But it’s sort of a secondary effect. It’s not your primary pursuit. And and the other I think part of the problem that even we’re having in this conversation is that we’re seizing on these particulars. One of the reasons that stories valuable is that it harmonizes those particulars into a structure that people resonate and recognize.

So it’s like the difference between I could hold if you gave me a bunch of tennis balls, maybe I could hold ten or maybe I could hold 15 or something, right? 16 or 16 perhaps. But if you gave me a bucket, I could put 20 and it’d be easy, right? So what a story does is it harmonizes all these particular pieces so that you can hold a set, particularly for products that are complicated, processes that are complicated, other abstract concepts.

If you can group them into a story, then you can make them comprehensible. And also you create a hierarchy because a story has an internal mechanism that tends to organize things and it wants to be arranged as rising action where it starts small and gets bigger.

Dan Rood:
Okay, so here’s my here’s my fear. You and I, we nerd out on terms like rhetoric, which sounds like I’m back in college doing a term paper or narrative. And then there’s this weird, you know, broad definition of story.

These terms that the and we interchange them a lot. So when you’re talking to an audience like this and tomorrow I’ve got to go out and make a pitch or I’ve got to send an outbound message, or I’m trying to create web copy. That is, to me, again, ultimately persuasive and truthful. How would you guide simply an audience through? Because you just talked about harmony and a hierarchy. The hierarchy brings complicated ideas. These disparate parts brings them into some unity. So how do we start to lay in this plane?

Zach Franzen:
Let’s look at. So when there’s no hierarchy, let’s just for a second, if you.

Dan Rood:
To give an example, everybody.

Zach Franzen:
Can do a demo that’s bad. Okay.

Dan Rood:
Give it your perfect sample. So give it a bad demo. What does that look like?

Zach Franzen:
And when there’s no hierarchy in the demo, every button is as important as every other button, and nobody can process the amount of information that happens in the demo. And frequently it seems, and this might be charitable, but it seems as though that the solution consultants or whoever is running the demo is just trying to impress you that they know a lot about tech, right?

Yeah. Right, right. And that and in fact, it’s almost like they’re the reason that interpretation exists is because the less you comprehend, the more their status raises. Right. That and and.

Dan Rood:
And I don’t think that’s intentional.

Zach Franzen:
It may not be intentional and it might not even be true, but it’s just there’s so much confusion when you don’t have any hierarchy, when everything is as important as everything else. If you say, though, everything in our product does one of two things it’s either going to do this or it’s going to do this. And then now I’m going to explain these two big categories.

I’m going to layer data, and then we’re going to have even a layer deeper. It’s the way that you group information naturally with a grocery list or with acronyms or anything like that, that lets you process them this way. Nobody says NASA. They say nascent, right? Right. Because that’s sort of a grouping that we process is one thing, not for separate letters.

Yeah. So anyway, that’s just the way the brain works. I would say we’ve seen what happens when you don’t have any hierarchy. The reason story is a good tool is because it introduces hierarchy.

Dan Rood:
Okay, so I, I think this is really good for the audience because we you do see, I think the demo example is good because we, I think the audience, all of us, we receive demos and we do demos and you get on there and it does feel like there’s just like a straight line of, you know, buttons and features and things, and I it’s up to me to categorize those in a way to make it have meaning. And that’s what makes it feel mediocre, because I’m having to go to pains to try to group it myself. And I think what you’re arguing, I think, is that harmony am I saying this right? Harmony comes from a proper hierarchy of what is the most important thing.

I’m going to show you in a pitch on my marketing site, on my demo, on my presentation and order the loves. Like, we really love this and we also love this.

Zach Franzen:
And we love yeah everybody loves the same things that when in conflict we love this more than we love this. And the order of our loves defines are the character of the person or the product or the company or whoever. That hierarchy introduces comprehensibility and things that are not easy to comprehend at first, you know, first blush. So yeah, I mean, I think the harmony is important.

Going back to your other question though, about like so the story, there’s a lot of story principles and there’s even within if you’re just pursuing it, if you’re just a writer and you’re just writing short stories or plays or something like that, there’s a lot of variance in in story structure and storytelling. And you’ve got three acts and five acts and so on.

I think for sales in particular, the three act structure is good for a presentation or for long form content. I think sales probably should focus on a one act structure with no ending. Okay, because you don’t want the audience to feel catharsis. You want them to feel kind of the cliffhanger. What do I do next? Right.

Dan Rood:
And that’s the pain, though.

Zach Franzen:
It’s an unresolved pain. Unresolved, but you probably introduce.

Dan Rood:
The pat will lead you to the next meeting potentially or the next conversation, because you’ve left in a place where I feel emotionally compelled to keep going instead of going. All right, I’ll talk to the next vendor.

Zach Franzen:
Right. Right. So every well, the good thing about every one act is that it’s essentially the first act is essentially the same in every story structure, whether it’s, you know, three acts or seven acts or one act. And and you have just a few things that help to govern it. The first is you have to define who the hero is of the story of the protagonist, and then you have to recognize the pattern of their behavior, that there’s some pattern, that something they do every day and then there’s an interruption in their pattern caused by, you know, internal or external forces. Right? So that’s the pain. That’s the part. That’s the pain. And you have to address the pain or not address the pain. And so you have to either the calculation is worth the risk or it’s not.

So it’s either jump into the boat. Right, or it’s I’ll take my chances. Hopefully somebody else will come before the bridge.

Dan Rood:
So we’ve got like, I think like 2 minutes. All right. So if I’m summing up what we’re talking about there, one is that it seems like emphasize not necessarily emotion, but emphasizing the pain. Clearly, it seems like to having a hierarchy in your if you’re if your product does five things, you need to have an order of loves in which when you’re addressing the pain, the solution points to the highest love secondary love third in a way.

Zach Franzen:
Or grouping in big medium small what you what’s most important.

Dan Rood:
Right now to the heart of so you have the hierarchy and then I think what you’re saying is then harmonize how those disparate parts, even if they’re great features or capabilities or how they come together to to solve that pain that we have. Cause is.

Zach Franzen:
That so? Heart Yes. Harmonize the particulars. Sometimes the story helps you do that. But also more importantly, I think rhetorically, is to harmonize the way that fast thinking and slow thinking have to coordinate so that you’re not just what’s the most emotional thing we can say about our product, it’s what’s the most emotional thing that’s supported as a solution or anything else.

Dan Rood:
Okay, cool. This has been really fun. I appreciate your time and I hope everyone to chat. Funnel enjoys the demand gen summit. We thank you for your time and have a have have a great conference. Thanks very much.

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