In a realm as vast and complex as communication, it helps to distill it into smaller, simple truths—adages, if you will, easily recalled and followed.
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In Episode 568 of Marketing Smarts, Mekanism CEO Jason Harris shares many of those valuable truths.
'Clear is kind': "We both have good intentions, we're not out here to take each other down or do something malicious," Jason says. "You start with that kindness, but you have to clearly communicate. You can't beat around the bush. You can't hold back. You can't expect someone to pick up what you're putting down if you're going around the point."
'Never be closing': "Never be closing doesn't mean you're not making sales, or you're not progressing, or you're not adding value," Jason clarifies. "Never be closing is that every interaction you have or every communication you put out there is an opportunity to build a relationship."
Be patient: "I think too often in marketing we lack patience. If a new person comes into a role, we see it all the time with our clients, if someone new comes into a role, they immediately want to scrap everything and start over. I think that kills effective communication very quickly."
For more on communication, wisdom about leadership, and the value of trusting your gut, check out Episode 568. You can listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
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George B. Thomas: I am super duper excited about today's episode because we're talking about decoding effective communication, maybe one of the most important things that we can focus on personally and professionally, communication. We're also understanding the essence of impactful connections, which may be one of the most important things that we can think about digitally and in the real world. We're talking about decoding effective communication and understanding the essence of impactful connections with Jason Harris. We're going to talk about what keeps him up at night, we're going to talk about the hurdles, the pitfalls, the potholes, what success looks like, and we're going to dive into some tips, tricks, hacks, frameworks and things that you can think about.
Jason Harris is the co-founder and CEO of award-winning creative advertising agency Mekanism, co-founder of the Creative Alliance, author of national bestseller The Soulful Art of Persuasion, and host of The Soul & Science Podcast. Jason works closely with brands through a blend of creativity and performance, calling this approach soul plus science. Iconic brands, including Peloton, Ben & Jerry's, Jose Cuervo, Alaska Airlines, Charles Schwab, and others. Under his leadership, Mekanism was named independent agency of the year by The Drum and ranked by Effie Index as a top 10 most effective independent agency in the United States. Mekanism has also been named to Ad Agency's A-List and twice to the Best Place to Work. Jason was named 2021 CEO of the Year by The Drum, a recipient of the AAAA's 100 People Who Make Advertising Great, and a 2020 Campaign US Over 40 Honoree for his noteworthy contributions to the advertising and marketing industry. His methods are studied in cases at Harvard Business School.
Ladies and gentlemen, with a bio like that, you know that when we talk about communication, when we talk about connection, and what you as a B2B marketer should be paying attention to, it's going to be valuable. To be honest, this might be one of my favorite conversations that I've had in recent days. Let's get into the good stuff.
Have you got your special decoder ring on today? We're going to be decoding effective communication. What do I mean by that? Hopefully, you're going to start to understand the essence of impactful connections. It's not just me, I have a sidekick along for the ride. Jason Harris, how are you doing today?
Jason Harris: I'm doing great. How are you?
George: I can't complain. Nobody wants to hear it anyway. Jason, as we dive into this, one of the things that I like to do on the podcast is ask some fun questions that get us into very interesting conversations. One of the ones that I love to start the podcast out with, and I fully understand it could be a nightmare, it could be a dream, but when we're talking about communication, when we're talking about impactful connections, what keeps you up at night pertaining to B2B marketers and this conversation we're having today?
Jason: There are two things that I think about when I think about impactful connections and communications. I think externally and internally. Running a company, first off, I think of every time I'm in a meeting or I'm talking to the company, or we're trying to build something to present to a client. I co-founded the company, I'm running the company, I always think about, did I say the right thing in that meeting, did I present it the right way, did I get people on board? I want to always be a leader and not a boss. I always second-guess. If we're pivoting or changing direction, I always kind of overanalyze if my message landed and if I was clear in my communication. That's on the internal side.
What keeps me up at night on the external side is when we launch campaigns or programs, we have this ethos of soul and science, which is we look at the data and the analytics for the clients that we serve and we analyze and do research, that's the science side. The soul side is trusting our gut, our ideas, and our creative. We blend those two together to make decisions to move forward with the work that we do. What keeps me up at night is when we're about to launch something, even when you do the research, even when you do the data, even if you've done a campaign with a brand or a client before and you sort of have a good idea of the outcome, you still never know if it's going to land.
I'm always up at night, filing my fingernails, watching reruns, and not sleeping very well, wondering the day before a launch if it's going to work or not. You really never know. You think you know, and you can use software to predict and you have a good sense, but you still never know until you hit go. Those are the two areas that I perseverate on, I would say.
George: I love this idea of the calm before the storm, whether it be a storm that you want or a storm that you're not going to like as far as the external. I love the idea of soul and science, too. The internal one, I do want to go off the beaten path. This is about connection and communication, and you brought in this internal conversation that I want to dig into.
I believe that every person listening to this, even though they might not be in the C-suite, can be a leader. You said something about you want to be a leader versus a boss. Can you unpack that for just a little bit before we move on in the podcast?
Jason: Of course. I'm glad that you asked. I've run Mekanism, our advertising agency, for about 16 years or so. I think as people, we change and grow. I like what you mentioned because you're a leader whether you're in the C-suite or you're part of a team, everyone is a leader in the company. You change.
I think when I started, I was much more of a boss really trying to herd the cattle and get people in line with the vision, but it was much more get on board or don't be here. I evolved because that methodology did not serve me well. I was younger and more naïve. Then I transformed into, a lot of people can be bosses by an org chart, or they can be a boss because of a title or because they're attached to certain revenue or a client. But to really effective, you have to have people follow you and you have to be inspiring, and that is when you become a leader.
Some of the most inspiring people at my company do not have C-suite titles. It's their work ethic, they always come with an opinion, they collaborate really well, everyone in the organization wants to be part of their team. Those are hallmarks of a leader. In order to really grow and have an effective company or an effective role in a company, you have to put on the leader mindset and not strive to be a boss, because bosses won't last, the company won't grow, and they'll be finding another job. Leaders will always survive and do well.
George: I love this so much. For me, I've called it ownership mentality, but is very much the same as what you just described of a leader versus a boss.
Jason: One thing on that. This is something you can think about when you're working at a company. You can be entrepreneurial, but not be an entrepreneur. It's what you just said, you just said it in a different way. You can create those hallmarks of entrepreneurs are resourceful, they take risks, they bring people along. You can take those traits at any job and be entrepreneurial without risking the farm and starting a company on XYZ. Those entrepreneurial traits are leadership attributes.
George: As we continue a little bit deeper, one of the things that I like to do level-set. I could say a word, you could say a word, we would mean it completely different and the people listening would think that it would completely different. As we move forward, when we're referring to the concept of effective communication, how in the world do you define it? In other words, how should they interpret this conversation for the rest of the podcast when we're talking about impactful communication, what should they have in their brain?
Jason: There's kind of two ways that I think about it. Are you talking about business results, working with a company?
George: Honestly, I'm talking about wherever your brain goes.
Jason: My brain goes to impactful communication means at the outset of a project you have clear objectives and goals. Those goals can be awareness, conversion, acquisition. You know this from all of your HubSpot work. Without that clearly defined objective, you will never know if it's effective or not.
You need to set up those KPIs in advance so that you can measure the result of what you're intended to do. Whatever the outcome you're trying to get is will change the way you think about your strategy and your approach. Effective communication all starts with, to put it simply, a clear goal that is measurable, and then you measure the result at the end of the campaign, the project, or whatever it might be, and you have to see if it hit the intended result. That's how I think about effective communication in the big spectrum.
The other way I think about it is in a marketing or advertising world, without measuring against goals. Effective communication is simple, number one. Number two, it's ownable or unique to the personal brand, the brand, the client, whatever it might be. It's simple, it's ownable. You can do a drill of, if this other competitor did this campaign, would it make sense for them? No. Then it's ownable. If it's yes, then you have to scratch it and start over.
Simple, ownable, and consistent. Too often, people change their message or change their tactic, they don't give it enough time. When you're inconsistent, you're always starting over communicating your product or service to the end audience. You're starting at the bottom of the mountain every time when you aren't consistent. When you're inconsistent, no one knows what you stand for.
My rules on effective communication are simple, ownable, and consistent.
George: I love this so much. I actually want to go off the beaten path. One thing that I'm learning about you is you look at things in different directions and you have a one, two, three to things. You talked about the campaign and the idea of effective communication, overarching business. Where does your brain go if we think about the singular individual human being and effective communication?
Jason: Like one-on-one conversation?
George: Yes. The marketer to the marketer, or the marketer to the C-suite. Where does your brain go if we drive this right down to the individual human?
Jason: I love that question so much. My brain is kind of going in a lot of different directions, but there is one prevailing thought. Whenever you're trying to land the plane, I kind of close my eyes, what's that one thing that's overarching coming through? I think the idea is effective communication in the office, personally, or whatever, I always think of this idea of clear is kind. Clear is kind is really, start with a framework of good intentions.
We both have good intentions, we're not out here to take each other down or do something malicious. You start with that kindness, but you have to clearly communicate. You can't beat around the bush. You can't hold back. You can't expect someone to pick up what you're putting down if you're going around the point.
I always think about that as effective one-to-one communication, this notion of clear is kind. That always comes to mind. When I have good news, bad news, we're going to start over news, I always think about it that way.
George: I love that so much. I want to ask this next question, but I also think that I want to level-set again. In the title that the marketers clicked, we talked about impactful connections. When we use those words, impactful connections, what does that mean to you?
Jason: Impactful connections with people, because I think you're going down that path. I think impactful connections with people really comes down to a couple of attributes. One is are you always who you are, are you always yourself? I always go back to that. You can tell the way my mind works I have these quips and these thoughts, almost like mantras that I always think about. Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. That to me is impactful because you should always show a little bit of your idiosyncrasies to other people and really be who you are.
I think not being afraid of wearing your personal idiosyncrasies on your sleeves and communicating that to people makes you stand out and is impactful. They remember you. I remember you, George, because you're wearing a Marvel shirt, you have the Hub Heroes hat on, and before we started, you showed me your lair. That's one part of you, but we sort of had something to push off on because you put yourself out there with things that you like and where you might take inspiration or entertainment.
I think that's a good example of being memorable and being impactful. Knowing the things you like, putting it out there, and being yourself.
George: I love this so much. Marketing Smarts listeners, if you haven't heard the episode that I did with Sally Hogshead on Different Is Better than Better, then you definitely need to go listen to that two-part episode, because it was completely amazing.
Because we level-set on what impactful connections is, I want to go into this next question. What are some of the key aspects or elements that B2B marketers should prioritize when it comes to enhancing their communication strategies to equal these impactful connections?
Jason: Are you talking about business-focused?
George: Yes, we can do business focused this time.
Jason: I want to go wherever you want to go. I'm on your show. What do they need to keep in mind?
George: What are some key elements that B2B marketers need to prioritize when they're enhancing their communication strategies to equal these impactful connections that we're talking about?
Jason: Thinking about if their marketing for their company or their brand, whatever you're building, whatever you're doing, whatever you're selling, wherever you're working, think about the purpose and the reason behind what you're doing and what you're selling to be more impactful. Of course, you can sell results, you can sell services, and you can sell products that do this and that. Think about the outcome of what that will deliver and try to go higher order, try to go a little bit above that so that it's not just about—even though I said earlier about measuring KPIs as effective, sure, but there is a layer above that when you're building the power of brand.
It's B2B, it's B2C, it's anything. What is the reason why you exist, what you're doing, and what is the purpose behind it that it delivers? You can talk about the results and numbers, we'll move you from here to here, X to Y, or whatever it might be. Always try to go above that. Think about that as a baseline that you can weave into your impactful comms. I think going higher and putting that in some of your communications is really important.
George: So good. I love where this conversation is going. One of the things that I love, it's like a guilty pleasure, is Mythbusters. I could watch that show forever.
Jason: I didn't think you were going to say that. I was scared with what you were going to say.
George: We have to keep it PG for the Marketing Smarts Podcast. Fast and Furious, let's throw that out there, too. I could watch Mythbusters forever, so one of the questions that I love to throw in for the Marketing Smarts listeners is, what are the myths or common misconceptions about this idea of persuasive communication? If we're talking about effective, some people might make the leap. When you think about communication, effective, persuasive, all the things, what do you want to debunk right now about this conversation on the Marketing Smarts Podcast?
Jason: Are you an Adam or Jamie fan on Mythbusters?
George: Jamie, without a doubt.
Jason: Okay. I like Adam.
George: There we go. Marketing Smarts listeners need to let us know what team they're on.
Jason: Exactly. Team Adam or Team Jamie. Okay. The thing that I would debunk is I think we have this notion in persuasion that has been around for a very long time, I'm sure you've heard it a million times, ABC, "always be closing." I think always be closing is taking on a real transactional mindset. It's that transactional mindset of I didn't close this deal, or this one went bunk, so I'm going to move on to the next one, move on to the next one, on to the next one. I closed this one, great. You keep going, so forth and so on. I think the always be closing mentality needs to shift, so I'm debunking that.
I'm shifting into this mindset of never be closing. Whatever business, whatever you work you do, you should be thinking about never be closing. Never be closing doesn't mean you're not making sales, or you're not progressing, or you're not adding value. Never be closing is that every interaction you have or every communication you put out there is an opportunity to build a relationship. Relationships go up and down like the stock market, but over time you build them and you stick with them, and they'll be successful.
Having a never be closing mindset instead of always be closing allows you to think of every interaction as a potential sale or relationship that could lead to referrals or some other business growth, but it doesn't have to be transactional at that moment. You either get it or you don't. You have to play the long game. I think too often when we think about persuasion, we're thinking persuasion in the moment versus relationship and network building over time.
I think that's a big myth that I would debunk. I don't believe in ABC.
George: I love this so much. I feel like we're brothers from another mother. I always say conversions are actually conversations and leads are actually relationships in the making. So, I am totally down with what you're talking about right now.
Jason: I love that. Conversions are conversations. That's great.
George: Let's dig in a little bit deeper. I'm about to throw all the words at you because I like to help the Marketing Smarts Podcast listeners. Do you have any practical tips, techniques, templates, frameworks for the B2B marketers that they can employ to improve their communication skills and start to create more impactful connections as they move forward?
Jason: I have a specific technique that I do, I call it Connect Four. That came to mind because of your conversation idea. Yes, of course, a lot of the work happens online. You're sending a template from one computer to another. That's part of it, too. But there is the conversation and there is the relationship piece of it.
When I think of connect four, it's a bit broader than a template. I do this four days a week, Monday through Thursday. In my calendar, I schedule 25 minutes a day, 25-minute blocks, where I will reach out to a lapsed mentor, advisor, friend, or someone I did business with in the past, and I will reestablish that connection. I do four people a week. You have to schedule it, though. It's just like anything in your life, if it's not scheduled, you won't get to it. You have to block it out on your calendar. Make a list on Sunday night or Monday morning of who you're going to talk to and reconnect with that week, and you do four people a week during the work week. You don't do it on Friday because you're ready to call it by Friday.
Reestablishing those connections and those conversations is really important. One way to do that is to think about something you learned about that person, they love Marvel, or they love Disney, or they love cooking. You can connect with them without trying to close a sale, you're connecting with them on a human relationship level. You would be blown away when you start doing this how many people you have in your network that you have let that relationship drop to zero. When you let a relationship drop to zero, over time it's just dust. You have to driving network, which will lead to prosperous growth. Scheduling it and doing it in these blocks really helps, it makes you concentrate and focus on it.
George: I love this idea of connect four. I think it's really interesting, too, programming or scheduling yourself into being the person who is doing the reach out, who in the perceived value is the one who cares about keeping the relationship going, because so many humans are in the "what's in it for me," and this connect four philosophy goes a little bit against the grain of what's in it for me, it's I'm going to try to add value to their lives and keep the relationship going. Love it so much.
Let's dive in. You've been paying attention to this and talking about this. Based on your observation, what are some of the potholes, hurdles, obstacles that B2B marketers often face when trying to communication, but more important, enhance their communication and make it effective?
Jason: I love this question. There's no easy answer. You can't count how many hurdles there are. The main overarching hurdle when you're thinking about from B2B marketers is we are in an attention war. Most of the population didn't have ADHD before. We are now in a technologically forward and social-first life that it's impossible not to have it in some form. I think we are in an attention war.
When you're thinking about your communications, always think that you're trying to be an attention thief in your job to get people to pay attention to whatever you're trying to communicate. When you have that in mind, and attentions are getting shorter, and you're trying to get that attention, you have to think about how to communicate in the most impactful, streamlined, clear way to get some interaction or outcome that you want. I think too often we see in B2B marketing whatever your product, service, or offering is, you want to list out a checklist of bullets and how great this thing is. It's great for you, but someone you're trying to talk to doesn't give a shit about all of those details.
That's why I was talking about that higher order idea. Always try to break things down to the most clever, simplest way you can say something, because the attention spans are not what they used to be, and they're getting shorter and shorter. So, your communication has to get simpler and simpler, clearer and clearer. It's kind of obvious, but I think we overlook it often. That's the biggest hurdle is attention.
George: I don't know how many people wake up in the morning and ask themselves, "How can I simplify the complex? How can I not worry about sounding smart but just be understood?" The fact that you talk about this attention war and you said you're an attention thief, my brain was like yes, and then I had this thought of how do you communicate in a way that they give it to you versus you needing to steal it. I think that ties back into effective communication.
Here's the thing. One of the things that I like to do is what's the bullseye, what's the success point, how do we know that we're at the communication Olympics on the top panel and we have the gold medal around our neck? How can we determine success in this realm of communication, we know that we're doing it right because?
Jason: That question is how long is a piece of string, because it really depends what business it is, what the goal is, what you're trying to achieve. I think you'll know it when you're getting the results that you're looking for. You have to keep trying different ways and different techniques until something lands.
I'm not really answering your question that well. When they put, "I don't know what pornography is, but I'll know it when I see it." I forget what that was from, it was some Senate hearing a long time ago in the '80s, I think. You'll be onto something when you know in your gut it's starting to get traction. But that's not the best answer you want.
George: No, but it's interesting because the answer ties back to your belief structure. I think that success is going to be determined on what you are believing and thinking. What I mean by this is literally your answer was the mix of soul and science. We started with that earlier. It's your gut. It's the science of the effective communication and the soul, your gut, understanding if it feels right, if you feel like it's taking you to the right place, if the goals and KPIs are aligning out to where they should be.
Jason: I love how you brought that back to soul and science. Your gut can tell you it's right, but the data is telling you it's not working, or the data can tell you it's working, but your gut is like something is off and I don't feel like this is representative of how I want to communicate. You have to align the head and heart, and that's when you know you're in the bullseye.
George: It's funny. Since the beginning of this episode, I've been interested in asking this next question. Your answer to what you just said, aligning the head and the heart even doubles down that I'm excited to ask this question. What's funny is historically I've even said if you can align the head, the heart, and the wallet, that's the place you actually want to be in life.
Jason: I forgot the money part. That's good. I always forget the money part.
George: Your brain works in an interesting way. I have been able to tell that about you over the last 30 or so minutes. You're on a journey, I'm on a journey, we're all on a journey. Along the way, we learn these nuggets of wisdom. What are the words of wisdom or valuable insights that you would like to share with the Marketing Smarts listeners? It can be about communication, it can be about marketing, or it can be life itself. What words of wisdom do you want to leave for the listeners?
Jason: I would sum up maybe words of wisdom with one word, which is kind of a theme in our conversation. Patience. That's my one word that we haven't hit on. When I say patience, I mean in getting effective communication and connection. You have to go through trial and error, you have to go through if you're hitting on something, sticking with it, being consistent with it, and seeing it through.
I think too often in marketing we lack patience. If a new person comes into a role, we see it all the time with our clients, if someone new comes into a role, they immediately want to scrap everything and start over. I think that kills effective communication very quickly. Patience in I'm trying five things and one of them worked, now I'm going to try that one thing plus four others.
I think it takes longer than we think to be successful in whatever endeavor we're doing, and the wherewithal and the patience will get you there over time. Back to our attention span is very short. I think we need to give ourselves a little more grace and a little more patience, because over time it will work.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk James Tennant about maximizing the reach, key concerns in promoting and amplifying your content, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on October 19, 2023
Jason Harris, co-founder and CEO of award-winning creative advertising agency Mekanism, co-founder of the Creative Alliance, author of national bestseller The Soulful Art of Persuasion, and host of The Soul & Science Podcast. Harris works closely with brands through a blend of creativity and performance, calling the approach Soul + Science. Under his leadership, Mekanism was named Independent Agency of the Year by The Drumn and was ranked by the Effie Index as a top 10 Most Effective Independent Agency in the United States. Mekanism has also been named to Ad Age's Agency A-list and twice to their Best Places to Work. His methods are studied in cases at Harvard Business School.
LinkedIn: Jason Harris
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