Once again, Seth Godin has said something that sparked deeper thoughts. Bear with me, and I'll show you how it applies to your marketing:

When I'm on the bike path riding my truly weird recumbent bicycle, sometimes I pass someone else similarly outfitted. And I wave.


Of course, we're not waving at the other person. We're waving at ourselves.

At first, I thought, "yeah, that's right on!" But the more I thought about it, the more I shifted around to the opposite position.

If Seth is right, then in fact, we always only "wave to ourselves." On the other hand, maybe he discovered a kernel of truth and misinterpreted it completely. Either way, it's a good starting point for discussion.

Why do you go to the movies with friends?

Have you ever wondered why people go to things like movies and concerts together? If you're being considerate of others in the audience, it's certainly not for the conversation.

You might say it's for the conversation that you have after the movie. But if that were true, you wouldn't really need to attend the same showing or sit together to get the same level of enjoyment.

Have you ever seen a movie in the theater by yourself? Did you enjoy it as much as you would have surrounded by friends? Not likely.

What is it about doing things in a group that don't involve interaction that makes them so much more enjoyable?

When we do things together that do involve interaction, why do we enjoy that? I think it's for the same reason. It's the shared experience that creates connections between people.

What is communication?

Communication is the process of encoding one person's experiences or thoughts, transmitting the encoded message, receiving the encoded message, decoding it, and replicating the original idea as accurately as possible in another person.

Reader Comment:
Monte said:
I happen to live in a place where everyone waves to everyone. At first it annoyed me ... Then I started to think it funny & then I realized that I look forward to the greeting. I realized that each wave was building community within our community...
(join the conversation below)

When two people share an experience, the same end goal is achieved without the need for communication.

And when we've shared an experience with someone, whether through communication or experiencing it together in the first place, it creates a personal connection between us.

When we sit next to someone in a concert or movie, we develop a deep sense that we know something that's in their soul. They experienced the same thing as us, and we know our own experience, so we must know theirs too.

We're bound together by commonalities

When two recumbent bikers pass each other on the trail, there's an immediate assumption that they have something in common. If they didn't, they'd be riding normal bikes like everyone else, right? No communication is needed. They've already got the shared experience (or at least they assume so).

The same is true when two Caucasians meet in a small town in Japan (yes, I've experienced that), or any other time when people with unusual commonalities meet. Something is shared. The connection is automatic.

Opposites attract

Interestingly enough, I suspect that shared experience is also why opposites attract. If we can internalize the experience of someone unlike us, it expands our universe. That's a powerful experience. And sharing that powerful experience creates a powerful connection.

Of course, some differences repel. If we feel the other person is different in a wrong or bad way (and it's not a difference that we wish we could embrace...more of a secret similarity), we won't want to share the experience, and the connection will be weakened.

Who are we waving to?

Maybe Seth is right. Maybe we're waving to the little pieces of ourselves that we see in other people. Maybe we're enjoying the validation we get from seeing that someone else has chosen to internalize something that we value in ourselves.

I prefer to think that we wave to the connected other as an acknowledgement and celebration of the connection, because as social animals, the enjoyment of interpersonal connections is at the heart of what we are.

Have you ever been in a small town, where everyone -- stranger or friend -- acknowledged each other on the street? In some environments, the connection comes easily. And that's a good feeling.

Connecting to your customers

Bringing this all back to marketing, building connections can be a powerful force for motivating customers to "wave" their wallets at you, or potential partners to "wave" their influence your way.

How do you build those connections? By creating shared thoughts and experiences. You can do that through:

  • Communication: respond to comments in your blog, participate in discussions on Facebook or Google+, respond to emails, reach out through email or some other way...
  • Highlighting similarities between you and your prospects. Unusual similarities create the most powerful connections, but are, of course, useful for connecting to smaller numbers of people. Similarities connected to emotional issues are also powerful.
  • Sharing differences that expand their universe in an enjoyable way. Show them what it's like to do things they want to do, but are afraid to try. Show them how your product helps you live their dream (and can help them too).
  • Creating and highlighting shared experiences: meet at live events or on video chat, produce or recommend impactful content, talk about things you've experienced that your target market is likely also to have experienced (movies, TV shows, current events, etc.)

Any thoughts or experiences related to this topic that you'd like to share? Leave a comment below.