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Walk the Talk

By Steve Johnson


“When you walk with someone, something unspoken happens. Either you match their pace or they match yours.”

— Sidney Poitier, American-Bahamian actor, film director


That’s a good quote from Sir Sidney. It got me thinking about this marketing-communications business I’m in. Maybe you do some marcom too, either on your own or with an agency?

The parallelism between walking and communicating, I think, comes in the unspoken part inherent in both activities — it’s an implied contract if you will. Poitier saw it in a stroll. I now see it in the negotiated meaning that is communication. 

Essentially, is there an alignment between the marketing communications being produced and the way they are subsequently consumed? 

When the sender aligns with the receiver, that’s when we get the “aha moments,” light bulbs go on, and minds are moved to either buy or, in the absence of alignment, reject the marketer’s latest communiqué. As a message sender, either we match the receiver’s pace and headspace or we don’t. In the marketing and advertising “dance,” the onus of making that match resides squarely on the shoulders of the sender. 

So, fellow communicators, here are a handful of key questions we should be asking ourselves before we even put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

1. What is the message we’re trying to convey?

Advertising 101 says it better be about a benefit and not a feature. An ad should show how the product or service will make life better, rather than list a bunch of attributes or facts. Facts are fine, make no mistake. But benefits are better.

2. What is the proper pace of the message? 

Do we really want to be spewing words as fast as we can? Yes, we are often limited to 30 or even fewer seconds, 280 characters, or other such throttles. But might the product, say a $40,000 car or other sizable investment, be better represented by a slower, more thoughtful, and deliberate delivery?

3. Is our audience receiving the message in the way we intended?

These days, I watch a lot of video with the sound turned off. I might be chatting with someone or listening to music. If I’m doing that, chances are others are too. Maybe a lower third of the screen should be used for subtitles. It has worked for foreign movies all these years. Why not in marketing, too?

4. Are we even on the same page with our audience?

Have we talked — recently — to enough of our customers to know what drives them? What keeps them up at night? Or what their buy-buttons are? Market research is a great way to find out. Profile past customers, survey prospective buyers, or convene a focus group of both. It costs less to find out the answers up front than it does not to know. Undoing and redoing an entire marketing campaign is never cost effective.

5. Does our product or service walk our talk?

If the performance does not match the promise, everyone will be disappointed. Think about how that last online shopping experience went. If we order large and receive medium, sure, it’s easy enough to go through the return process. But we’ll certainly think twice now before ordering from that company again. Especially when the competition is just a click away. Or what about that new-to-town, unscrupulous health-care provider whose marketing is better than its medicine. Or whose bedside manner is worse yet. We all have choices. Today’s patients don’t have patience.

My marketing-communications tip of the day: Take a long walk with a good agency and see if its pace matches up well with yours.      

Steve Johnson is managing partner of Riger Marketing Communications in Binghamton. Contact him at

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