Directness in Marketing Pt 1 – The Cultural Communication Gap

Lack of Directness can make our marketing and branding sweet but without substance or content. Lynn Serafinn discusses why Directness is vitally important in our marketing, and why it is often the most difficult of the 7 Graces for many businesses to master. Part 1 in a special article series on The Grace of Directness.

During my 58 years on the planet, I’ve lived in 11 different towns and cities (don’t ask me how many houses/flats I’ve lived in; I’ve lost count). Since 1999, I’ve lived in the UK and I’m a dual US/UK citizen. But originally, I came from New York. I was born in Brooklyn and spent the first 18 years of my life on Long Island. They say that no matter where you live, “You can’t take the City out of a New Yorker.” I’d have to confess I agree with this to some degree. I feel very acculturated to Britain and love it as my home. But while I haven’t lived in New York for 40 years now, New York somehow seems to get into your genetic (or at least cultural) blueprint. Every now and then, if I’m not careful, I catch myself sounding like Barbra Streisand. There’s a patter and a rhythm to our speech that doesn’t change with time, even if our accents change (as mine has). And we New Yorkers gesticulate a lot when we talk (especially if you have Italian or Jewish blood). I remember once when I was doing a coaching training course in London, a French guy I was partnering with actually took duct tape and wrapped it around my arms, challenging me to talk without using my hands. I was livid.

Anyway, the point is that New Yorkers are known for their communication idiosyncrasies. Even amongst their fellow Americans, New Yorkers have a reputation of being very “up front”. New Yorkers tend to be say things as they see them. Some people find New Yorkers to be unabashedly blunt. On the one hand, this “up front” quality makes New Yorkers appear to be an open and honest people. But on the other hand (as I’ve learned over the years) many non-New Yorkers find this unfettered openness to be confrontational, if not rude. Rather than describing New Yorkers as “up front” they might say they “get in your face”.

This leads us to our discussion on the Grace of Directness. The fact is our degree of comfort or discomfort with being direct is often a cultural thing. Some people might be direct (or at least they think they are) to the point of alienating or intimidating others. Others may be so indirect that what we say has little meaning, comprehensibility or impact. For example, the media in Hollywood is culturally (and geographically) 180 degrees opposite of New York in terms of Directness. Some months ago, I tried to watch a few episodes of The X-Factor USA and nearly died from the sugar-coated commentary from the judges (the word “amazing” must have been uttered at least 10 times a minute). Overuse of superlatives is a classic style of indirectness, and it devalues whatever it is we are trying to communicate.

Other cultures (and the British are masters at this) find it difficult to be direct unless it is within the guise of irony and comedy. For them, being Direct can rub against the grain of their nature. I remember when I came to England, I struggled to understand the indirect way people expressed themselves. My daughter and I still joke about the circuitous way British people reply to you if you ask them for travel directions on the road. And going to work was even more of a challenge. I remember how my head would spin when sitting at staff meetings. After staring incomprehensively at the faces of everyone in the room, I had to hold up my hand and say, “I’m sorry. I understood all the words you just said, but I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” But the British are not incapable of Directness; watch any episode of Fawlty Towers and you’ll see Directness in full comedic force whenever Basil Fawlty loses his rag. Directness in Britain seems to be reserved for “impolite” scenarios.

Related Article:
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Then, there are professional cultures wherein the Grace of Directness seems to be a foreign concept altogether. I’m thinking specifically of the legal, financial and medical industries. Only today I was reading a legal document that said, “This number should be not less than the greater of two or one half the total number.” Come on. Really?

And finally, Directness can be a challenge to any of us if we fear other people’s judgement, feel insecure or are lacking of confidence. When someone is evasive or indirect in their language, you can bet your bottom dollar (there’s that New Yorker again) that they’re feeling less than sure of themselves. Think of the “class clown” who uses comedy to cover up his insecurities. Even in coaching, if I hear someone use the second person instead of the first person (i.e. talking about their feelings by saying “you” instead of “I”), I know we’ve hit an uncomfortable place for them. And the sad thing is, our lack of Directness can make it difficult for us to communicate our ideas in such a way that people can understand us, leaving us feeling even more insecure. And so the cycle continues.

So Directness is a real challenge for many people. Well, maybe it’s because I’m from New York, but in spite of all this, I think Directness is pretty damn important and pretty damn simple to put into practice. It’s important because it enables us to communicate what we really mean. It’s simple because all it requires is “telling it like it is”. What could be simpler? But as we’ve seen, because our natural Directness is so culturally conditioned, for many people Directness is the most misunderstood and difficult to grasp of all the 7 Graces.

Directness is what I call the “no bullshit” Grace. It’s the Grace that guides us not just to be honest, but to be CLEAR. It’s the Grace that shows that speaking simply is more effective than spinning a concept around in fluffy clouds and crème puffs. It’s the Grace that teaches us not to sugar-coat, hype-up or bedazzle things to make them look better than (or different from) what they really are. And really, if we’re brutally honest, it’s easy to see that…

Directness is the one Grace that’s MISSING in 99%
of all marketing currently on the planet.

So many marketers use the “Deadly Sin of Distraction” to capture the attention of their audience. Humour is one of the biggest distractive tools in modern advertising (think back to the class clown), along with sex, glitz and glamour. I work a lot in the mind-body-spirit market, and they’re just as much distractive language there as anywhere else. In the New Age world, distractive marketing is all fluffy and “pretty”. In the personal development world, it’s buzz words like “transformational” and “life-changing”. But serious damage is done when we use Distraction to get attention of the crowd. First, we come off as being disingenuous, which makes us feel untrustworthy to our audience. Secondly, we are not giving any real substance to our audience to enable them to make up their own minds about our products or services. And lastly, we are hiding ourselves within our distractions. We are covering up our true qualities–of ourselves, our products, our services and our values. None of these factors help to strengthen our brand, inform our audience or help us feel understood.

As a marketer, I believe lack of attention to the Grace of Directness is one of the biggest reasons some businesses do not attract customers. The Grace of Directness must be an integral element of our branding and marketing. Without it, they are like cotton candy: all fluff and no substance, full of sweetness but without any nutritional value whatsoever. But falling back on “The Deadly Sin of Distraction” to mask a multitude of cultural and personal hang-ups can be a tough habit to break.

Related Article:
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So which of these cultural “Directness Styles” is your default marketing comfort zone?

  1. The New York Style
  2. The Hollywood Style
  3. The British Style
  4. The Legal Style
  5. The Avoidance Style
  6. The New Age Style
  7. The Personal Development Style

Once you’ve identified your default style, take some time out to ask yourself these personal enquiries:

  1. Which of these styles most describes you in your personal life?
  2. Which most describes your marketing?
  3. How does this impact your marketing message?
  4. What needs to change?
  5. What one small thing will you do this week to start bringing the Grace of Directness into your personal life OR professional practice?

I hope you’ll take on this challenge this week. If you do, it would be great if you would share your reflections below.

How do we learn how to “get real” and bring the Grace of Directness into our marketing at a practical, real-world level?

That’s the topic I’ll be discussing on this blog in several articles I’ll be publishing over the coming weeks on the 7 Graces blog. In each article, I’ll be giving you a short, easy “to do” list of practical things you can do right way to improve your “Grace Factor” by bringing more Directness into your social media (including ideas from my book Tweep-e-licious), your blogs, your marketing letters, your radio broadcasts, etc., so you can bring Directness into your marketing with ease and Grace.

Subscribe to the 7 Graces blog to make sure you’ll receive all the articles in this series (and others to come).

AN INVITATION

JOIN US for our monthly 7 Graces Global Community call, which will be all about the Grace of Directness on Tuesday February 12th, 2013 at 7pm UK time, 2pm EST, 11am PST. You can attend either via webcast, phone or Skype. The call is 90 minutes long. NO email signup is required. Just join our MeetUp group and RSVP. If you cannot attend the live meeting, you can listen to the replay for up to 30 days.

The ideas in this article were adapted from my book The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell. Buy the book or paperback and recieve over 10 hours for free audio with 24 world-renowned authors and speakers on the topic of ethical marketing and business practice.

Please share your thoughts, comments and questions and suggestions for topics you’d like to see me include in the upcoming articles.

If you enjoyed this article please SHARE it with your network.

~ Lynn Serafinn
11 February 2013


Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of MarketingLYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She was recently named one of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. In her work as a promotional manager she has produced a long list of bestselling mind-body-spirit authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.

Be sure to subscribe to this blog for more articles on ethical marketing and to receive news about the evolving 7 Graces Project.

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3 Responses to Directness in Marketing Pt 1 – The Cultural Communication Gap

  1. Julie Musial says:

    Nicely said in a very direct way. I live in Wisconsin, in the USA, the people here do not know what direct is either. I cringe every time I hear innovative or cutting edge. Direct works in social media. You couldn’t be more right on.

  2. Pingback: Directness and Transparency in Marketing – a Vital Interdependence | The 7 Graces of Marketing - ethical marketing for social entrepreneurs

  3. Pingback: Why expressing Anger matters to create a compassionate society | #circlesfordialogue

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