Sometimes, a hint of the right information brings seemingly mundane details into razor sharp focus.
Like in a mystery novel when it’s revealed that the just-attentive-enough-to-be-barely-noticed butler is actually the love child of Harold, the seventh viscount of Worcestershire. Suddenly you realise that not only does he have a motive for the viscount’s murder, but it brings into sharp focus all the times he served Harold his favourite earl grey tea – so that was how he was able to poison him!
Bum bum buuuhhhhhh!
The butler, previously taken for granted (and not thoroughly background checked), now becomes memorable.
Every day we face a tsunami of details to prioritise and pay attention to. If we looked at everything as if it were going to be significant evidence in a trial at the Old Bailey, life would be exhausting. Trust me, I know. As a child, I used to write down license plate numbers and where I’d seen a vehicle on the off-chance it was used in a crime.
Think about that. It’s a miracle I’ve been able to achieve anything at all in my life.
It’s not practical to give high priority to every detail you see (and according to Scotland Yard, not the most effective way of catching criminals).
That’s why we often process and file most information in “conclusions.” It’s easier to package neat conclusions in our minds, than it is to investigate everything.
We do this with people all the time. Mr. Jones over the road is a cranky so-and-so who won’t give kids their balls back. Mrs. Wilson is a sweetheart who chats about the weather and makes a mean tray bake for the village fête.
That may be as much space some people occupy in our minds.
But what if you want someone to pay attention to you (and your business)?
What if you don’t want someone to make a conclusion and file it under ‘forgettable’?
Well, just as the knowledge of the butler’s lineage all of a sudden makes him a murder suspect, a small detail can turn something (or someone) from a neatly filed conclusion, into something much more memorable.
For example, I know a guy called Chris who is funny, chatty, and sincerely charming. Whenever people talk about him, it’s always the same:
“Oh Chris is just lovely…”
Just lovely—said in your most British accent—is the simple conclusion people have.
One evening I bumped into him at a bar and as we chatted over drinks, I found myself asking:
“How come you’re so bloody charming?” (Imagine me saying it with a smile though, I wasn’t interrogating him).
I was expecting the answer to be in line with his ‘lovely’ nature. That he just really liked people, or found everyone fascinating… With a brief pause of consideration he explained:
“My dad was a bully.”
He continued: “I hated how he treated people, so I learned to smooth things over, put people at ease. I just never want people to feel the way he made people feel.”
It’s over 10 years since we had that conversation and it’s still memorable. With just a sprinkling of detail, Chris’s ‘loveliness’ had a sharper focus in my mind.
This isn’t an accident.
Brain science shows that a combination of concrete details and an abstract conclusion, makes something more memorable than one or the other alone. Marketing often leans towards the abstract. “Get actionable insights! Make better, faster decisions!” Without telling you HOW. But too much concrete detail, without a conclusion can make your copy sound as exciting as a shopping list.*
I believe there’s a 3rd element that makes something memorable and that is encouraging the audience to complete the vision in their minds. A monster in a horror film that you imagine, but is never seen, will always be more haunting than one that is revealed on screen. (The only downside in one of my favourite films).
I talk about the combination of these elements in this week’s podcast, so you can write copy that stops people filing you and your business under ‘forgettable’.
Don’t blend in. Make sure your business stays sharp, in focus, and memorable.
Till next time, keep believing.
* I always wanted to put on an art exhibition of discarded shopping lists but it’s much harder to find them now most people keep lists on their phones. Currently I have but one in my collection. “Pots, Grapes, Pizza, Donuts, Spray Bleach” and it’s written on a Ladbrokes betting slip. Feel free to send me any you can find and we’ll take this thing to the Tate Modern.