People are Weird (and that makes them awesome)

I was at a birthday party the other night for a very good friend. She’s the kind of person who has never really met a stranger. She has groups of friends and other groups of friends and still other groups of friends. If our city were FourSquare, she would be the mayor – of all of it.

It was a rainy night, a restaurant 40 minutes from our suburb and still more than 50 people showed up. On paper, we’re probably similar. If you were buying a mailing list for your catalog, chances are pretty good most of us would get it. Similar ages – 36 to 50(ish) – and incomes. Geographically close and just about everyone had kids between the ages of 1 and 15. College – yup – and a 401(K) of some kind.

But what strikes me every time I’m in one of these rooms of seeming sameness, is just how very different all of us are. Different priorities, politics and personalities. Different levels of comfort with affection – not a big fan of being touched by strangers – intimacy and loyalty. Different ways of speaking, ways of thinking, ways of dreaming.

And, yet, to many who make a living out of trying to reach us, sell us and turn us into customers, we are all the same. To me, that seems like a missed opportunity. And it’s not just about celebrating the weirdness in some sort of video, but facilitating it. Give me, Mr. Marketer man, an opportunity to demonstrate my peculiarities and allow me to make my value to you to be known.

Is that so much to ask?

I’m a firm believer that marketing is only as good as its ability to get me to do something. To buy something? Yes, but also to listen, to engage, to come back and tell my friends.

My mom falls in love with people behind counters. She met her best friend when she wandered into the friend’s interior design shop more than 20 years ago. Her best story from the time we lived in California was about a butcher who refused to share his prized salsa recipe until she could prove we were moving away. Every time I visit her and my dad in Northern Michigan, she introduces me to another shopkeeper, bartender or antique dealer she has made friends with.

Is this because my mom has some kind of fetish for people with cash registers? Maybe. But more than likely it has something to do with the fact that those people have all taken the time to see my mom as a person, not a customer; as a human, not a consumer. They’ve asked for her opinion on new offerings. They’ve taken the time to talk to her, opened their doors and let her in caring first for her and then for the sale.

The result? She tells everyone about them. She buys more stuff from them. She keeps coming back.

But that’s the thing. Sales are the result of a relationship that starts with a person’s needs and ends with your ability to meet them. People are weird. We have different needs. But maybe that’s the key, not the impediment. Maybe if you stopped thinking of us as a room full of people with wallets and started thinking of us as a room full of people with something different, something human, something better in common, you might have better luck. It’s not easy to build a strategy around my friend Anne, but you can certainly learn something from her, something valuable from the looks of her birthday party’s guest list.

She treats people like she is interested in their lives. She gives them an opportunity to be who they are. And when the time comes, even though its raining and kind of far from home, those people show up.

Anne understands that people are weird. We all do. And being weird is exactly what makes people awesome.

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