People Are Desperate to Care About Something. Is It You?

NOTE: This post was originally written as a guest post for Jim Kukral, whose book Attention: This Book Will Make You Money features a prominent excerpt from my blog post “Stop Trying to Monetize What Isn’t Interesting.”

You have a product or a service to sell.  Maybe it’s a widget.  Maybe it’s a cause.

Maybe it’s you.

But why should anyone care?

Well, let’s start with something people do care about:

Birds.

Dead Pelicans Equal Cheap Media Buys

Tyler Cowen, who writes the deft economics blog Marginal Revolution, recently posted some sobering statistics about the estimated numbers of birds killed by the BP oil spill:

Number of birds killed by the BP oil spill: at least 2,188 and counting.

Number of birds killed by wind farms: 10,000-40,000 annually.

Number of birds killed by cars: 80 million annually.

Number of birds killed by cats: Hundreds of millions to 1 billion annually.

So why are we so inundated with images of (and concern for) spill-related bird deaths when the numbers of non-spill-related bird deaths are so much higher?

Because we have pictures of those birds, which makes them specific.

As Dan Ariely, author of the book Predictably Irrational, explains on his blog:

First, it is a singular event with a precise beginning. Second, while the tragedy was ongoing (and we are not yet sure if it has ended or not) it seemed to become more desperate by the day. Third, we have a single organization that we can villainize… And fourth, the Gulf is so much closer to home (at least for Americans).

So, in order to generate more public interest in a statistically marginal event (at least in terms of pure numbers), our frustration at the Gulf oil spill has been maximized by:

  • Specificity
  • Simplicity
  • Visual reference
  • Raw emotion
  • Relatability
  • Proximity
  • “Heroes” and “villains,” and
  • A ticking clock

In other words, the Gulf spill “works” because it’s a marketable issue.  (Or, seen another way, as a classic stage drama with a three-act structure.)

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of birds killed by traffic or windmills aren’t nearly as concise — or as easily-simplified — of an issue, which makes it much harder to convince us that those tragedies are somehow even more worth our attention.

How Does This Translate to Business?

Simple:

People are human.  We all want to care about things we recognize as being important.  And, even better, we want to engage in situations where we have a chance to make a difference.

If you’re passionate about a cause, how can you encapsulate that passion in one image that tells your story?

If you’re passionate about your business, how can you distill that passion into one answer to a question that’s on everyone else’s mind?

People are desperate to find things worth caring about.

But it’s up to you to make it easy for them.

Dig this blog? Subscribe and you’ll never miss a witty insight again.

  • Anonymous

    Justin, Got no gripe with this post – I think it’s dead-on, maybe even one of your best. I’ve also realized that people sometimes become so passionate about something (politics, religion, even social media) that they neglect what their main focus should be: their families and their business. Nice work.

  • Anonymous

    Justin, Got no gripe with this post – I think it’s dead-on, maybe even one of your best. I’ve also realized that people sometimes become so passionate about something (politics, religion, even social media) that they neglect what their main focus should be: their families and their business. Nice work.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Justin Kownacki - People Are Desperate to Care About Something. Is It You? -- Topsy.com

  • Anonymous

    Justin, Got no gripe with this post – I think it’s dead-on, maybe even one of your best. I’ve also realized that people sometimes become so passionate about something (politics, religion, even social media) that they neglect what their main focus should be: their families and their business. Nice work.

  • Pingback: Ryan C. Miller.com - Social Media, Design, Tech, Commentary - broadcasting from Utica, NY » Shared Items - September 6, 2010

  • Pingback: Link Building The Philanthropic Way - State of Search

  • http://www.theuniuni.com/ Payton_vege

    Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!