How to Encourage Uncomfortable Discussions Using Marketing

As consumers, we tend to do two things that make marketers’ jobs harder.

First, we actively avoid getting bombarded by messaging. As Ryan Holmes, co-founder of Hootsuite, mentioned in a LinkedIn piece, a whopping 86 million of us actively block the roughly 5,000 ads we see daily.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we also have an annoying tendency to shy away from talking about topics that make us feel uncomfortable.

In other words, if you’re a marketer tasked with representing a brand focused on an awkward subject, you have your work cut out for you. Not only will you have to break through the regular noise, but you’ll have to hold people’s attention despite their innate discomfort. That’s a tall order.

Fortunately, it’s quite doable if you select the right tone for your marketing vehicles. If you’ve found it challenging to broach a difficult topic with users, try a few techniques to make starting tough conversations easier.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Being upfront is a tried and true method brands can use to shatter barriers.
  • Humor never fails to lighten even a serious subject. But when you do get serious, use empathy in your messaging to share the pain with your audience.
  • Consumers connect more easily with a known face than a brand. Project your values and characteristics via a celebrity they identify with.

1. Get to the Point

The more sincere and transparent you are, the more users want to join the discussion. Plus, you’ll lower your audience’s defenses and increase the likelihood that they’ll view your product as the answer to an unasked question.

Take women’s reproductive health. It’s a subject that’s medical, social, cultural, and sometimes political. Yet sites like Nurx, a telehealth company that connects patients with providers to secure contraceptives online, presents its copy in a straightforward, authentic way. Their blog, The House Call, even tackles serious issues such as domestic violence and sexual assault, making their company an unapologetic resource that leaves no stone unturned.

Instead of trying to hide behind what could be considered an awkward theme, Nurx uses their website and marketing collateral to urge patients to think and talk about sex, safety, and personal wellness. You may be able to follow suit by maintaining a forthright approach with your marketing.

2. Use Humor

Everyone likes to laugh, especially when the mood turns a bit uncomfortable. Hey, we’ve all chuckled at cringeworthy moments. As a marketer, you can double down on the “giggling” effect by turning your awkward topic into something that cracks consumers up and lowers their resistance to being “sold.”

A good example of tickling funny bones to sell a decidedly awkward product is the Squatty Potty website. Its pages are set up to teach individuals the proper way to eliminate the bowels. But its inventors don’t miss the chance to make jokes at the products’ expense. The Squatty Potty got a head start on Shark Tank and took off from there, yet it never lost its cheekiness.

Neither did Poo-Pourri. Its flagship video clocks in at more than 43 million views. And what’s kept the company moving along has been its ability to hit a raw nerve through laughter. The humor gets the brand in the door, but the truth behind the humor encourages people to buy despite the discomfort of talking about unpleasant—albeit natural—bodily odors.

3. Build Bonds, Not Just Connections

Marketing professionals learn early in their careers that storytelling helps drive a message home. And if the story includes some poignancy, it will get, and keep, people talking.

When dealing with tougher subjects, you may want to put on your storyteller hat. Think of the best way to illustrate your messaging while tugging at the heartstrings of your viewers. As a video produced by Silverado Care shows, giving an audience an insider view of a world they might not know or feel comfortable about can have far-reaching effects.

The Silverado Care piece focuses on a real couple coping with Alzheimer’s, and the video’s comment section reveals just how deeply the storyline touched viewers. Those comments indicate sincere engagement, which allows them to overcome natural hesitation to dive deeply into uncomfortable subject matter.

4. Work with a Celebrity

Another method to promote difficult discussions is to get someone on your side to be a brand influencer and advocate. Ideally, the person will be a recognizable figure, like European footballer David Beckham. A few years ago, UNICEF and Beckham coordinated on a public service announcement campaign to address violence against children. The topic wasn’t a happy one, but the press moved the subject into the mainstream.

By spring boarding off the popularity of a celebrity, you can open doors so consumers feel less hesitant to involve themselves with your brand. Of course, you might not have a budget to command a Hollywood star, major athlete, or well-known musician. However, you may get the same bump by working with someone recognizable locally or to your specific audience base.

5. Position Your Brand as the Authority

Still trying to figure out how to build buzz even though your subject matter is touchy? If you can set your brand up as an expert, you’ll take away the stigma from the uncomfortable.

Start by creating a robust website filled with educational pieces and answers to common questions. Then, flesh out your role as an authority by writing guest articles for other sites, blogging routinely, giving speeches, making public appearances, and having a lightning-focused social media presence.

The more you talk without shame, the more others will do likewise. Whether you’re discussing something embarrassing, confusing, or controversial, your attitude will help drive people to listen—and perhaps further the conversation themselves by joining in.

Not all products, services, and causes are simple to market. Many take a dash of tact mixed with high-level strategy. If you have something uncomfortable to sell, you owe it your best effort. With the right techniques, you’ll break down figurative walls and make the splash your brand deserves.

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