A couple weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke to hundreds of thousands of people, mostly young people, who gathered in Poland for World Youth Day festivities. His message was powerful, but not because he weaved scripture into his address or brought people to tears with emotional anecdotes.
His message was powerful, at least to me, because he came about as close as a Pope can come to telling kids to get off their lazy asses and do something with their lives.
I don’t know if I was more inspired as a father of two young girls, or as a marketing nerd who appreciates relatable, everyday language.
I dug up the full text of the address delivered by Pope Francis. A bunch of quotes appeared in various publications, but I wanted to see these quotes in context. Here are a few examples of the language he used to connect with a younger audience and, in some cases, their parents.
But in life there is another, even more dangerous, kind of paralysis. It is not easy to put our finger on it. I like to describe it as the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa. In other words, to think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa.
A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of videogames and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear. A sofa that allows us to stay home without needing to work at, or worry about, anything.
Sofa happiness! That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, since little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull while others – perhaps more alert than we are, but not necessarily better – decide our future for us. For many people, in fact, it is much easier and better to have drowsy and dull kids who confuse happiness with a sofa.
The times we live in do not call for young couch potatoes but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. It only takes players on the first string, and it has no room for bench-warmers.
Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to vegetate, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed. We lose our freedom.
Maybe it’s me, but that doesn’t sound like a 79-year-old Pope talking. It sounds like a regular person speaking directly to teens and parents in terms they understand, using metaphors and analogies that reinforce his points and further clarify his message.
That’s exactly what we should be doing as marketers. Speak to your audience instead of talking over them. Focus on saying something meaningful that motivates people to act instead of trying to impress them with big words and empty platitudes.
So how do you speak to your audience in a way that keeps them engaged and interested? How do you prepare? Pope Francis was asked the same question in a press conference after the World Youth Day festival. Here’s what he said.
I like to speak with the youth, and I like to hear the youth. They always put me in difficulty. They tell me things that I haven’t thought of, or that I’ve partly thought of. The restless youth, the creative youth, I like them! And thence I take that language. Many times I have to ask myself, “What does this mean?” And they explain what it means! They explain to me what it means. But I like to speak with them. They are our future, and we must have a dialogue. This dialogue between the past and the future is important.
If the Pope has time to speak with the youth of the world and, more importantly, can learn from them, can’t we as small business owners do the same with our clients and prospects?
Talk to them about something besides your product or service. Instead of assuming you know their pain points and desired outcomes, find out for sure. Learn from them. If you’re confused by their explanation, ask for clarification.
This is the most basic marketing research we can do. It’s also the most effective. It helps us develop and deliver a message that resonates with the people who need to determine if what we’re offering is worth their investment.
If you’re not prepared to put forth this effort, these comments from Pope Francis might apply to you.
It pains me to meet young people who seem to have opted for early retirement. I worry when I see young people who have thrown in the towel before the game has even begun, who are defeated even before they begin to play, who walk around glumly as if life has no meaning. Deep down, young people like this are bored – and boring!
For the record, I’m not Catholic and I’m not overly religious. I just happen to admire Pope Francis for a lot of reasons, including his ability to communicate.
I’ll read this message from the Pope to my daughters when they’re a little bit older. And I may just read it to some clients who are more interested in trying to sound smart to their target audience instead of helping them.