Loyal readers of my column (Hi, Dad!) know that I often use metaphors to illustrate a point about how to communicate effectively.
For instance, there was the time I wrote about Julia Child to emphasize the importance of explaining everything. Or when I suggested that Kraft Snack Trios were a great role model for making communication shorter and more . . . well, snackable. Or mentioned Bon Appetit as a great role model for two important elements of successful emails: sender and subject line.
(You'll also notice a majority of my metaphors are about buying food, cooking food or eating food. Wonder what that means?)
So it should come as no surprise that I would turn to two metaphors (one of which is, of course, food) to share the secret sauce for appealing to any audience you need to reach. The sauce is quite simple--just two ingredients--but the delicious result gives people what they crave most in today's stressful world:
Ingredient 1: Comradery
Let's start by taking a trip to JOANN, the leading fabric and craft retailer with 865 stores across 49 states. A recent Marketing Daily article explains that JOANN has "launched a new retail format that blends tech, community and classes into a different kind of store."
The concept store in Columbus, Ohio, features a Creators' Studio, which includes a Starbucks kiosk. The Studio "is the heart of the store, whether someone wants to sit down with a cup of coffee and look at a design book, bring in a troop of Girl Scouts working on an activity for a badge, or makers who are using the space to livestream classes," says Steve Miller, JOANN senior vice president, marketing and e-commerce.
Miller says that the new format grew from research that identified a core psychographic groups that I'll call Sharers. The new store format is designed for this shopper, who "lives and breathes for sharing experiences with others," explains Miller. Sharers are "three times more likely to craft something and give it away, and far more likely to craft inter-generationally," he says. "For them, the joy is sharing the finished product."
JOANN's customers have always cared about sharing, says Miller, "whether it's about sharing what they make with other people, sharing a skill with a friend or family member and more recently, sharing socially. But the store hasn't kept up, and we've endeavored to build a more sharable experience in crafting."
The takeway: Look for ways to design communication that brings people together. For example, my firm has been helping many of our clients create employee forums or roundtables. They're not about presenting information, but about bringing employees together to address issues, explore an issue in depth and, most importantly, interact with their colleagues and leaders.
Ingredient 2: Comfort
My son Nick Viscomi co-owns a sandwich shop named Sauced in Hoboken, New Jersey. And although Nick has been known to rant about the trend toward serving everything in bowls ("Buddha bowls, poké bowls, ramen bowls, acai bowls, brown rice bowls . . "), guess what Sauced offers on its menu? Bowls, of course.
That's because bowls are, well, big. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Bee Wilson explains the appeal: "The rise of the bowl in our lives suggests that many eaters are in a permanently fragile state, treating every meal as comfort food. In a world of alarming news, maybe we all need something to cradle."
Of course, some (Hello, Nick!) would argue that the bowl craze has gone too far. Writes Wilson: "A good rule for modern eating seems to be: When in doubt, put it in a bowl. Gone are the days when bowls were used only for soup or cereal. These days, we put all manner of things in bowls that once had no place there, from poached eggs to smoothies. Even Prince Harry and Megan Markle chose to offer breakfast food to guests at their wedding in bowls rather than on plates."
There are lots of practical reasons why the bowl craze keeps growing--for instance, the fact that you can quickly assemble a meal in a bowl, and that bowls are very photogenic, which makes them great for Instagram. But Wilson maintains that the true appeal of the bowl is "emotional rather than rational. Alain Coumont, the Belgian founder of the café chain Le Pain Quotidien, which has been at the forefront of the bowl trend, has said that his fondness for bowls comes from childhood memories of visiting his grandmother, who would give him a bowl of hot chocolate that he used to warm his hands. It doesn't work quite so well when you are cupping your hands around a vegan protein bowl for warmth, but the idea is the same."
The takeway: Find ways to make your communication less formal--and more comfortable. Use a friendly tone. Invite audience members to participate and contribute. Offer how-to advice and recipes. The idea is wrap an emotional warm blanket around your audience members in a time when they may feel cold and in need of comfort.