Everyone, no matter what, should have an answer to the age-old question, “So, [your name], what do you do?”
Preferably a damn good one.
It’s the inevitable question that comes up at any social function. Yet for all its commonality, it’s incredibly rare for someone to have an uncommon answer.
“Me? Oh, I’m an engineer.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m a DJ down at the Juke Joint.”
“I’m a roofing contractor.”
“I’m a mortgage broker.”
The list goes on and on. We get asked this question all the time because it’s an established friendly sociable thing to do when getting to know new people. It’s accepted and expected, especially in today’s world where one’s job increasingly defines their life.
And even though you are in fact NOT your job (your job only defines a very small part of your life potential), it is still a socially smart use of your energy to think about what you REALLY do for a living, and then telling people about it when they throw you the old “So whaddya do?” line.
The effects of this technique are life-transforming… at least, socially. With your new answer to that question, immediately you’ll notice a change in how people perceive you. What was once dull and boring will burst with life into a new sense of identity and purpose. People will admire your passion and determination for endeavors that, under normal circumstances, would seem tedious and unfulfilling.
And best of all, you don’t have to be James Bond or Hugh Hefner to pull it off…
Here is what you do:
First, think about what you do for a living. Not your “title” or your “occupation”… none of that. Instead think about what you actually DO for people throughout the course of your day.
What service do you provide?
What benefits does this service provide to people?
Dig even deeper.
What emotional reaction do people have when they experience these benefits?
Deeper still, ultimately what will your service and these emotional benefits end up producing for people in the long-run? What meaning will it give to their lives that would not have existed otherwise?
“But Greg,” you whine, “I don’t do anything special like that. I’m just a [...insert name of supposedly boring profession here...]
You’re not thinking hard enough. I don’t care if you’re a computer programmer, a shelf-stocker at Wal-Mart, or some guy who tallies points on Bingo night at the old folks home, THIS CAN WORK FOR YOU.
As an example, a long time ago I used to tell people “Oh, I’m a copywriter.” Quickly I discovered most people have no idea what a “copywriter” actually is, let alone enough interest to delve any further into it. More often than not, they’d either just pretend to know what that was and move on to another topic, or they’d make some comment about copyrights and trademarks.
“Hmm, ok, so ‘copywriter’ doesn’t work because no one knows what it is. So I’ll come up with something different,” I thought.
“I write ads.” or sometimes… “I write advertising.”
Yup, that’s what I do. “I write ads.”
This worked a little better, but still I could feel the boredom and, sometimes, disgust creep over their faces in short order. Very seldom would anyone outside the industry who wasn’t into “marketing” ask much else about it.
Another dead end. Back to the drawing board.
Then, one day I was reading “Breakthrough Advertising” by Eugene Schwartz, one of my personal heroes – not only in marketing but life in general. And it hit me – copywriting, the act of formulating words into a persuasive symphony of ideas for the purpose of motivating someone to buy something, change a belief, or whatever, was FAR more than merely “writing ads.”
Hell, I was doing the whole profession a disservice by summing it up like that. And by extension, I was robbing myself of much needed direction and purpose. I had grown jaded and needed something to attach to and believe in again.
So here was my first change. It went something like this:
“I’m a writer, but that’s only a small part of the story. One of the things I do is travel around to see different places and experts in different subjects, interview them, and then compile their knowledge into an easy-to-read, sometimes entertaining, book or report. Then I write the advertising that sells the book or report to the subscribers to my newsletter and also to a new set of people who have never heard of me before. Then I take those new people and they also become subscribers to my newsletter. I repeat this over and over with a lot of different subjects; basically anything that a particular group of people are desperate to learn or know about (like strange ways to cure a disease or how to avoid tax problems with the government, how to get the best deals on exotic travel, etc) Stuff like that.”
This got an immeasurably better reaction from just about anyone, most importantly of whom were attractive girls who were genuinely interested in me. This kind of answer only served to fuel the interest to greater levels.
But after reading Gene’s book, a new world opened up to me in this profession I only vaguely knew existed before:
The force that creates sales, that powers our present economy, is desire. Mass desire, spread among millions of men and women. And the art of salesmanship, fundamentally and primarily, is expanding this desire. Expanding it horizontally, among more and more people.. and expanding it vertically, by sharpening and magnifying it – by building it to such a pitch, it overcomes the obstacles of skepticism, lethargy, and price… and results in a sale.
As John E. Kennedy and later Claude Hopkins famously said, “Advertising is salesmanship in print.” Therefore, above everything else, advertising is the literature of desire. It is society’s encyclopedia of dreams… our modern-day Book Of Wishes. Advertising gives form and content to desire. It provides it with a goal.
These desires, as they exist in the mind of the prospect before the ad, are indistinct. They are blurs – hazy, ambiguous, not yet crystallized into words or images. In most cases, they are simply vague emotions, without compulsion or direction. And as such, they have only a fraction of their true potential power.
Because of this, MY JOB IS TO FILL OUT THOSE VAGUE DESIRES WITH CONCRETE IMAGES – to show the prospect every possible way they can be fulfilled – to multiply their strength by the number of satisfactions I can suggest to achieve them. I am literally a script writer for human dreams. I am the chronicler of an individual man or woman’s future. My job is to show them in minute detail all the tomorrows that are possible… if only they purchase my product.
In fact, if I don’t sell and present all the benefits and emotional realizations WITH ALL MY MIGHT… I am doing my ad’s readers a huge disservice.
This is the core of advertising – its fundamental function. To take unformulated desire, and translate it into one vivid scene of fulfillment after another. To add the appeal of concrete satisfaction after satisfaction to the basic drive of that desire. To make sure the reader realizes everything he is getting – everything he is now leaving behind – everything he may be missing.
The sharper I can draw these pictures (using words and the occasional image) – and the greater the number of them I can legitimately present – the more the reader will demand the product, and the less important the price will seem.
This is what I do for a living. This is the purpose of my job. And it sure feels a helluva lot better than saying “I’m a copywriter” or “I write ads.”
In fact, one time I even came up with this:
I want you to imagine you are at a very high class cocktail party in the city. And a gorgeous young woman is there who is being courted by almost every man at the party. Each of them chat her up to the best of their ability. They are all trying to figure out what appeal they could use to attract her to them so they could establish a relationship with her.
One guy talks about his show business connections and how he could get her jobs as an actress in several different movies.
Another guy tells her that he represents models and she is so beautiful if they worked together, he could almost assure her she would be on the cover of almost every popular magazine in America.
Several other guys try to impress her with how much money they have. They talk about the companies they own, the yachts they have as play toys, the Ferraris, Lamborginies and Rolls Royces they drive, and how their wealth is so obscene, they and anybody connected with them, will never again have to worry about anything to do with money.
A couple guys are just drop-dead good looking and they try to attract her with their wit, good looks and animal magnetism.
None of this seems to work on her very well.
Then a youngish, somewhat average man walks over to her and whispers a few words in her ear. Her face brightens with a 1,000 megawatt smile she says, “Yeah! Let’s do it!” and she gets up and walks out of that party arm-in-arm with that lucky man.
What did he say to her? Well, that’s sort of what my job is like when I’m writing an ad…I have to know exactly what to say and only have a limited amount of space (usually) in which to say it. So it has to be good, or none of it will work.
What you need to do is get deep inside the matter, and figure out what it is you’re really giving to the world. What is your role? How do your actions ripple outward and affect the lives of other people?
Maybe the computer programmer works for the government. Perhaps in aeronautics. Forget your function. Think about your benefit in a new and interesting way. Now the phrase “I’m a computer programmer” can become “I work with the government on the stealth bomber project.”
Now the phrase “I’m stock shelves at Wal-Mart” can become “I make sure people can always get the food they want. That Hot Pocket you’re eating right there? That’s all me.” (that line’s good for a laugh in a group)
And even my somewhat silly example of the Bingo hall score counter can transform into “I help elderly people have fun and get more out of their time every Wednesday night.” (go for the “aww” reaction)
Ok, you get the idea. It’s all about perception. And perception is reality. You just gotta give it some thought!
Do it right now with your own job, really think about it… and then try it out the next time someone asks you “So, what do you do?”
When you hit it just right, you’ll be amazed how people react to you, now and for the rest of your life.
P.S. So exactly what DID that guy say to the beautiful woman?? Well, as it turns out, he knew something about her no one else at the party knew; the fact she was a coke addict. Knowing this, all he had to do was walk up to her, whisper something like “Hey, I got some really great smack outside in my car, wanna come?” And boom, she was there.
P.P.S. Ok, so realize that maybe wasn’t the fairy-tale answer you had hoped for. But hey, c’mon, it’s a fictional story and its purpose was instructive. Besides, these things really do happen in real life. So get over it