“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s the dreaded question that can make a child quiver.
“What do you mean, be?
Am I not good enough? Do I need to be something or someone else?
Who says I want to grow up? Grown-ups are boring…”
Some kids know exactly how to answer that question, though.
They have dreams of becoming an astronaut, a fireman, or a movie star.
At the age of eight, I knew what I wanted.
I wanted to be Uri Geller. Remember him?
In the seventies, this spoon-bending Israeli mentalist first appeared on television, performing mind over matter tricks. I was fascinated by his psychokinetic powers. Geller claimed he could fix household appliances through the strength of his mind. How useful!
Like thousands of other viewers, I took my broken watch and placed it in front of our television set, waiting for Geller to work his magic. This man was a miracle!
Inspired by Uri, I spent countless hours staring at a pencil, trying to make it move with my mind. I don’t think I ever grew up, because I still find myself waiting for a red traffic light, trying to make it turn green by using the power of my brain.
Sometimes it works, and I take all the credit. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I blame technology.
In all seriousness, these are not just mind games. This type of behavior raises a few fundamental questions:
• Can we manipulate our environment, and even the people around us by using our mental powers?
• Can we make objects and people succumb to our will?
Traditional advertising seems to believe so. Well, at least as far as the people part is concerned. The mad men of Madison Avenue spend millions and millions of dollars trying to manipulate our minds into buying stuff we don’t need and don’t want.
As a voice-over professional, I’m part of the plan. If you go to a Dutch toy store, there’s a great chance you’ll hear my voice blasting out of the speakers, selling U.S. made skateboards.
I’ll try to make you buy Turtle Wax® at the local Auto World, or futuristic fluid to super grease the chain of your mountain bike. “Now on sale in aisle 4. Must hurry. Supply is limited.”
Do these campaigns actually work? Are people really that susceptible (or dare I say: that stupid)?
As a freelancer, my mailbox is filled with offers for seminars like:
“Learn how to Dominate your Market in two hours”
“Making Money with your Voice, guaranteed”
“Success Secrets to Winning Auditions”
“7 Easy Ways to turn Prospects into Buyers”
My efforts to move pencils, the ad agency’s efforts to move product, and the seminar’s promise to turn me into a dominator have one thing in common: they feed our natural need for control.
Somehow, in some way, we believe that with the right ingredients, training, and campaign, we can part the waters of the Red Sea and walk across to the Promised Land.
A mistake of biblical proportions…
Can we really move the minds of the masses by slogans, websites, billboards, and -dare I say- blogs?
Haven’t we become immune to the endless avalanche of marketing messages, sales pitches, and empty promises?
I have a confession to make.
During the first half of my life, I honestly believed I could change people. It gets worse. I even believed I could change G-d. I used to pray:
“Dear G-d, if you help me get a good grade, I promise to go to church every Sunday and not embarrass my parents. Amen.”
Later in life I learned that if I don’t do my part and learn my lessons, G-d isn’t going to bail me out. That would defeat the purpose of being on this planet in the first place.
As an investigative reporter, I thought that if I would publicly expose some grave injustice, people would rise up and do something about it.
Then I learned that, if it’s not in their back yard or has any impact on their lives, people care more about their favorite sports team, game show, or pet rabbit, than about the hungry, the sick, and the homeless.
In intimate relationships, I tried to influence significant others by withholding love and affection if they didn’t change into the people I wanted them to be. Guess what? In the process I ended up ruining relationships instead of rescuing them.
As a voice talent, I think I’m still trying to make people hire me: “Just listen to my demo. Go to my website. Read my blog. I’m brilliant. Isn’t that obvious?”
No, it is not.
They just hire someone cheaper, younger, older, sexier, or John Hamm.
But don’t worry. When things don’t work out, you and I can always go to our social media friends, cry out loud that life’s unfair, and ask ourselves: “Why is it so hard to get hired? Why don’t people do what we want them to do?” Life would be so much easier!
Now listen up, and listen carefully.
This desire for control has nothing to do with others.
It’s all about You and it’s mostly based on fear.
The fear of losing something you never had in the first place.
The thing is: people rarely do things for your reasons.
They do things for their reasons.
Altruism has left the building a long time ago.
Most people have a hard time controlling themselves, let alone others.
If self-control were that easy, very few people would smoke, all of us would maintain the perfect weight, and prisons would be empty.
The idea that you can control all aspects of your career is based on the myth of magical thinking. It’s not some silver spoon you can bend at will. You don’t hold all the cards. Perhaps you only hold the Joker.
Yes, you can set the stage, learn your lines and lessons, and strive to be the best you can be. But you can’t force feed your target markets, especially if you don’t know what they’re hungry for.
You can be the most succulent steak ever, but if your client’s a vegetarian, s/he won’t bite. Of course you didn’t know that, because you never cared to be curious. All you did was give this client reasons why he should pick you.
If you really want to move your career forward, you need to give up your need for control and your urge to make it about you. Especially when your product happens to be…. you.
Stop pushing, and start listening.
Don’t offer a solution before you know what the problem is.
Don’t try to brainwash your prospects with an email blast, or by singing your own praises again and again and again. You worked on that nice looking newsletter for hours, and within a matter of seconds it ends up in the trash.
Here’s my advice:
Turn your monologue into a dialogue.
Invest in building a relationship first. People ain’t buying if they don’t trust you. And they won’t trust you if they don’t know you.
The best way to show them what you’re all about, is by putting them first. Believe me, once they get that, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell your story.
So, is traditional marketing as dead as a Dodo?
“Brains on Fire” is a book and a blog about word of mouth marketing. It’s narrated by a Dutch voice-over and blogger. The authors quote a revealing study by Copernicus Marketing Consulting and Research. According to Copernicus, the average ROI of TV advertising campaigns is 1 to 4 percent.
The Brains on Fire team also cites a 2009 Yankelovich Study. 76 percent of people believe that companies lie in ads, and people’s trust that businesses will do the right thing has dropped from 58 percent in 2008 to a dismal 38 percent in 2009 (2009 Edelman Trust Barometer).
Be honest. Would you become a buyer from a liar?
Meanwhile, Uri Geller no longer seems to tell the world his mind triumphs over matter. In the November 2007 issue of the magazine Magische Welt (Magic World) Geller said:
“I’ll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer. I want to do a good show. My entire character has changed.”
His critics have replicated some of his tricks by creating the illusion of spoon bending by using misdirection. That’s another term for distracting the audience.
And in case you’re wondering, my old watch never started ticking during Geller’s television appearance. It just needed a new battery. Not a psychic.
As I grew older, I realized a few things.
Living is learning.
I can’t change others. I can only change myself.
If I don’t like the way the wind is blowing, I can always adjust my sails.
It’s okay to be out of control. Control is an illusion. I can plan. I can practice. I can participate, and I can even ignite a spark.
Whatever happens next is one of life’s delightful and mind bending mysteries.
It’s not linear, it’s not logical, and it’s certainly not playing by our rules.
It just is.
People still ask me:
“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
These days I answer:
“I want to be a good person.
A helper. A tour guide.
Someone who is caring, kind, and a bit silly.”
How mental is that?
PS Be sweet. Please Retweet!
About the author
is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."