Mussolini, Facebook and Why Your Customers Don’t Care

I was late for a meeting last week because of a train.

It happens more often than not when I choose to ditch the car in favour of public transport.  Why I constantly put myself in the position of handing control over my time to the rail companies when I’m let down by their reliability, I’m not sure…. but it started me thinking.

It started me thinking about Mussolini. We all know Il Duce wasn’t a great human being, though he did possess a quality that helped him on his way into power. He understood what make people tick.

This was clearest with the aim of making the trains in Italy run on time. Why, of all the things Mussolini did, is this still the most memorable aspect of his rule.

You see, even though his Fascist party was responsible for all manner of violent and anti-democratic activity and his foreign policy verged on tyrannical and self-destructive, making the ‘trains run on time’ was more immediately relevant to the people that mattered: his public.

If you travel by train to work and it is constantly late, you cannot rely on it. Control of your time is taken out of your hands. And as any commuter know, on a day-to-day basis, this is disempowering, frustrating and ruins your day, every day.

So what happens when suddenly someone pops up with a promise to alleviate all your day-to-day problems. You’re going to listen to them. This is what Mussolini did when he made the claim about Italy’s trains. And it’s relevant to your marketing.

Great copywriters must be good at many things.

You may be surprised to hear writing isn’t necessarily one of them.

A copywriter’s most important skill is being able to understand other human beings. More specifically, it is being able to understand their target audience. What this means is understanding their fears and motivations, their worries and what makes them happy.

It means getting inside their head.

Once you understand what matters to your audience you begin to find a way of communicating with them in a way that resonates with their emotional needs. Knowing how to speak to someone is not just about what you say; it also involves the way you say it, the language you use and how you relate to someone. If someone really believes you understand their problem, they will give you all the attention you deserve.

This doesn’t mean tricking people. This involves genuinely understanding how people frame their problems.

If you’re writing a sales letter or advert for a weight loss programme, you better understand exactly how it feels as an overweight mum who can’t dedicate time to exercise or proper diet because she’s got two part time jobs and a child to look after. You better understand how a 16st single man feels when he looks in the mirror and sees his chances of finding love wither alongside his confidence because he doesn’t know what he has to do to look good.

This is real understanding of  people. It is understanding what matters to human beings.

And, when it comes down to it, it’s the problems affecting us day-to-day which are the ones with greatest emotional resonance.

The major factor here is this. Immediacy.

There may be a global financial crisis. The polar ice caps may be melting. MPs may be fiddling their expenses. But none of these problems trouble you when you’re desperately trying to find your car keys, or you can’t get the kids out of the house and into the car otherwise you’ll be late.

It was another leader of a very different organisation – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook – who summed this up perfectly in a statement that’s been misunderstood or taken out of context by some commentators. He said:

A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa

It may be painful to hear. It may not be right. But it is true.

As human beings we see our problems in terms of what we experience every day. And like Mussolini, copywriter and marketers understand the power of resolving those immediate worries and concerns.

Do it well and your audience is receptive to whatever you have to say.