Sometimes, I don’t feel qualified to talk about writing. I didn’t study marketing or advertising at school, and I didn’t have any formal copywriting training until I was well into my first year as a junior copywriter.
As Ben alluded to in a post last month, I studied history. That’s what I trained to do. To read, research, and compile arguments.
Luckily, that translates well to writing the sort of words that win business.
And so does walking the ground.
In fact, I’d say that walking the ground is one of the most important things any business owner can do. But it’s something everyone seems to overlook.
I don’t mean wandering around.
In theory, book learning is great. But there’s no substitute for actually getting out there and poking your nose into things. Historians call this walking the ground.
You can read extensively about life in a six foot deep muddy trench. But that won’t prepare you for what it’s like standing in a preserved hole in Belgium, with rainwater soaking your trainers.
Two chapters about the plight of the working poor in a Lancashire milltown won’t give you as much understanding as two minutes next to a whizzing, spinning, steam-belching mechanical nightmare.
And even the fullest brief or most well written site report won’t give you as much insight into a business as going out and seeing what actually happens.
That’s not just valuable to a third party, like a copywriting agency who’ll speak to your clients and try out your products to get a feel for everything you do. It’s also worthwhile for you as a business owner.
There’s no substitute for experience.
One of our very first Tone of Voice workshops for a tech startup was for a company that could be summarised as Uber, but for stylists.
It’s genuinely a thing.
“Uber for X.” How Unique.
Like every workshop we’ve done before or since, we carried out an exercise with the company to find out what they thought made them special.
According to the C-Suite level people, their company was exciting. It was innovative. It pushed the boundaries of technology. It blew the market wide open and redefined the traditional user journey.
All true. All completely true, and all very exciting from a boardroom perspective, or from a development perspective, or even from a marketing perspective.
According to the stylists who were actually heading out to visit customers, coif hair, apply makeup and help people feel amazing before a big night out, the company was friendly, warm and helpful.
This wasn’t a surprise. If you’re inviting someone into your home to help you look a million dollars before a big date, you want someone who will be warm, friendly, and helpful. You’ll be more interested in whether they can put you at ease than whether they’ve made innovations in the traditional customer journey for the beauty industry.
It wasn’t a surprise. But it wasn’t what the C-Suite execs were thinking about.
Because they hadn’t walked the ground for a while.
Don’t forget to look at where you are.
That workshop didn’t just help Hampson Nattan Williams perfect a customer’s marketing message. It helped the company focus their culture on what was important. To think more like a style and beauty brand, and less like a tech brand.
Directors realised that they’d talked to tech investors, and app developers, and potential new hires. But for months, they’d not actually been out and chatted to a paying customer.
They were too focused on where they were going to take the time to look at where they are.
But by taking stock, walking the ground, and connecting with the people who mattered, they managed to refocus on what made them special, instead of committing to being yet another tech company. More interested in the code than the customer.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. But it’s an even easier one to avoid.
Just get out there and walk the ground.