Telegraphing the Punch

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“The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.” Tom Fishburne

In he walked—a fellow un-remarkable except for one distinguishing feature: he was wearing a ridiculously large nametag with a red LED-scrolling marquee. This shining body billboard could have attracted every love-stricken moth within the tri-county area. The guy was a one-man landing strip of tackiness.

The business-networking event fell to an awkward hush as this flashing beacon of braggadocio surveyed his unwilling victims, like that ravenous fanged rodent in the movie Ice Age ogling a bunch of shiny acorns. Then…he moved. A foot shot out and his body weight shifted. Then—hallelujah! A miracle! The crowd parted like the waters before Moses! People practically fell over one another to avoid the guy whose entire persona screamed, “I’m going to SELL to you!” Little surprise, his business ultimately failed to launch.

Don’t be LED-guy. His story highlights what may be the #1 way businesses routinely get people’s defenses up. Boxers and fighters call it “Telegraphing the Punch.” Wikipedia describes it well:

In sporting terminology, to telegraph is to unintentionally alert an opponent to one’s immediate situation or intentions…For example, a boxer rotating his shoulders to throw a hook would be telegraphing…it is particularly risky at upper levels of competition, where talented players are better able to anticipate and react to telegraphed actions. The ability to suppress telegraphing is often the hallmark of elite athletes.

The best advertising and marketing doesn’t telegraph the fact that you’re selling something; it doesn’t look and sound like marketing at all. LED-guy’s entire aspect said, “Get your guard up. I’m about to hit you with a pitch!”

Elite marketers see people, not targets. As author and entrepreneur Jonah Sachs puts it, they “see consumers as complete human beings with all the dimensions real people have.”

The best way to avoid telegraphing a punch (or a pitch) is not to punch at all. If you have an attitude of sharing and serving—not selling—people will let down their defenses and are much more likely to engage with you. Chase the butterfly and it will flee from you; relax and it will come to you. Muhammad Ali didn’t just sting like a bee; he also floated like a butterfly. Great marketing takes poise, style and finesse, not just blunt force.

As Beth Comstock, senior vice president and CMO of General Electric said, “Whether B2B or B2C, I believe passionately that good marketing essentials are the same. We all are emotional beings looking for relevance, context and connection.”

Fellow marketing maestro, Seth Godin, said it eloquently: “Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them, more able to get where they’d like to go.”

If you avoid telegraphing with marketing that looks and sounds like marketing, then you stand a chance to connect, not with the jaw, but with the heart!

Kelly Walker is the Host of A Swig of Branding, Creative Director for Intrepid Marketing, and a Senior Copywriter with over 20 years experience. He has masterminded scores of high-profile brand identity projects, written hundreds of ads and taught college-level marketing and copywriting courses. He is also, among other things, an amateur boxer who tries not to telegraph.

(Photo above | Courtesy of Intrepid Marketing)

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About Author

Kelly Walker, MS for SWIVEL

Kelly Walker is the host of A Swig of Branding, creative director for Intrepid Marketing and a senior copywriter with over 20 years experience. He has masterminded scores of high-profile brand identity projects, written hundreds of ads and taught college-level marketing and copywriting courses. He resides in Bend with his wife Andrea, four boys and (finally) a little girl due September, 2015.

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