Fresh Ideas /

What proposing marriage taught me about marketing communications.

#ContentMarketing, #Copywriting, #CustomerExperience

It’s the ultimate unique sales proposition:

“Darling, will you marry me?”


Consider this idea in light of a quote from marketing legend Fairfax Cone, (today the ‘C’ of ‘FCB’). He was referring to advertising, but for our purpose, it works for marketing communications. “Advertising,” he said, “is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all it is.”

In other words, marketing, in its purest form, is an act of human interaction and intimacy. Marketing communications is about approximating intimacy: a surrogate for the sort of one-on-one, face-to-face communication for which we’ve been hard-wired for thousands of years. In fact, only during the last tiny ‘nth of our history—four centuries or so—have we found the means of reaching thousands (today, billions) simultaneously, with the same message at the same time.

Trouble is, our brains haven’t completely caught up to the idea of being part of a mass audience. Save for a special set of powerful collective experiences—sports events, movies, theatre and concerts for instance—we tend to consume ‘mass’ messaging as a constituency of one. Smart communicators know that, and play to it.

Hence, ‘mass’ media is a misnomer in the marketing trade. “Hey, Canada!” is lousy copy.

Here’s where the marriage proposal filter comes in. Try this nifty experiment and examine your marketing content through this filter: Imagine you’re proposing marriage to your prospective client. Silly as it sounds, it can come in mighty useful.

For instance:

1. Is your messaging too ‘you-centric?’

Imagine you’re courting someone by rattling off your attributes: your education, the awards you’ve won and the wonderful things people say about you. (Can’t you just ‘hear’ the bullet points?) Not likely you’ll find the word ‘yes’ in your future any time soon. Your well-honed instincts, and an aversion to a lifetime of cooking-for-one, will probably steer you towards a more empathetic dialogue. Imagine what you can be together.

At Quarry, we take this notion seriously enough to have coined the term UBP™, or Unique Buying Proposition. The height of romance it ain’t, though it reminds us to see things from the buyer’s perspective.

2. Have you got context and tone right?

Imagine gently wooing your prospective partner by quietly reciting Byron in your best mid-Atlantic accent. If you’re in an intimate bistro—good. If you’re on the dance floor at an after-hours club, not so much.

In marketing communications, context is about being familiar with your surroundings, and tone is about mastering the mood—no small task when you have to imagine someone consuming your message. Getting these right requires a combination of empathy and homework (research), preferably captured in a rock-solid brief.

3. Are you courting the right person?

Are you proposing to someone, or anyone? In marketing, as in courtship, a “yes,” on its own, is no guarantee of lasting happiness and mutual prosperity. Ah, but there’s good news: in marketing, we have plenty of tools to help us get to know the person we’re courting and avoid the need for a steady parade of first dates.

That the proposal metaphor works surprisingly well reveals a useful distinction between B2B branding and B2B selling. Branding is relational. Selling is transactional. Branding is about creating fertile ground on which both of you can benefit over time, where selling is more of a one-night stand.