Do you pass the ‘so what?’ test

Very early in my career I was told about the litmus test…the ‘so what?’ It was applied to everything, from new business pitches to selling in to a journalist, you should always be asking yourself, how will you answer if the other person sits there and replies ‘so what?’

Why should people care about what you have to say? What makes your message stand out above others’?

It’s hard to get to the ‘so what’ sometimes. Ideas become convoluted, time sheets need to be filled out and other priorities take over. You can end up churning. However after a weekend of R&R let me rekindle an interest in TED talks and get to grips with the ‘so what’ again. If you haven’t seen any TED talks yet, the concept is simple. Inspiring speakers talk for 20 minutes on their specialist topic – the talks are all online and they’re all free to watch. (I love the internets.)

If you choose to watch just one, choose Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action. I watched it again and it made the litmus test somewhat clearer. In the talk, Sinek talks about the golden circle, the inner circle is why, followed by how and what. If you try talking about what you do/sell and how you make it/sell it, people will buy it, but they won’t believe in it. E.g. “this great fridge is made by company x and it manufactured in a lean factory in southern Europe” is a weaker proposition than “company x believes in the style and heritage of southern Europe and bringing that into people’s homes and works using lean production to create affordable fridges’. The latter, he purports, is stronger, as the consumer can identify with the same core as the brand, the ideal of style of heritage of southern Europe.

In the talk he keeps repeating (a seasoned public speaking tool) the line ‘people don’t care about what you do, they care about why you do it.’

It’s true. Whilst he cites Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs, the poster children of having a passion, it’s easy to see that in current day PR and social media.

The brands that people want to ‘engage’ with, i.e. read about, click on, like and share, are the ones that have a why. They have a purpose that people want to be part of (remember membership vs. ownership?) and associate with. This month’s Wired magazine featured a great quote: “marketing messaging relies largely on inadequacy. This is out of step with the supportive and reassuring nature of social media.” Social media reassures us, gives us something to be part of and most importantly, offers a way for companies to help people feel a connection towards them. The trouble is, if you don’t have a core ‘why’, then what are you founding the connection on?

That’s the so what? If you’re a business that doesn’t have a why, whether it’s a founder’s dream, a collective’s aspiration, or a common cause employees believe in, then you’re not going to pass the test.

And if you don’t pass the test, you’re not going to resonate in modern day communications.

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