Communicating With an Anxious Audience

Dogs being trained in Parque Mexico, Mexico City

How to Apply a Dog Trainer’s Tips to Gain Trust and Attention

The novel coronavirus hasn’t just affected the way we live our lives. It’s affected the way we communicate. With everyone’s nerves frayed and their hopes and dreams on hold, our audiences have changed. People may not be as receptive to the messages that once elicited enthusiasm. They may be skeptical of claims that promise to improve their lives. They may be too distracted to pay any attention at all.

As marketers and communicators, we can’t assume that the audiences we spoke to before March 2020 are the same today. We need to redefine our audiences and then reintroduce ourselves. For everyone but the most loyal followers, we need to re-earn respect and trust.   

So, how do we do that?

5 tips we can learn from dogs

To find some answers, I turned to my dogs. They are the ones who’ve seen me through this crisis, at my side through thick and thin, day and night for the past eight weeks. No matter what my mood or what mistakes I’ve made (like forgetting to fill the water bowl or take them on a morning walk), they continue to wag their tails and trust me to be here for them.

That got me thinking about dog trainers and how they establish trust with anxious dogs. I wasn’t surprised to discover that the tactics they use for dogs work just as well when it comes to communicating with humans in a crisis.

So, with thanks to Cesar Milan, I have amended his training insights for my colleagues in marketing communications.  

  1. Stay calm: You should never approach a new dog with excited energy. It can result in a flight or fight reaction or an unwelcome response. You don’t, for instance, want to be jumped on and knocked over. In today’s wary environment, people are just as likely to be unresponsive or hostile to an overly enthusiastic pitch. If your products or services are essential, they will almost sell themselves. (If not, this is a good time to take a break or reinvent your business for the current times.)  Your best action is to introduce or reintroduce your brand and regularly send gentle reminders that your services or products are available to meet their needs.
  2. Respect their space: Cesar recommends “no touch, no talk, no eye contact” when it comes to working with anxious dogs. Well, this tip won’t be hard to enact, since we’re all practicing social distancing anyway. But this is also a reminder to keep your messages simple and brief, respecting the fact that everyone is already overwhelmed and can’t focus on complex messages. If you have a lengthier presentation or piece of content you want to share, start by presenting a brief overview and let your audience request more. (This gives you a great way to keep the conversation going.)
  3. Get on their level: With dogs, you want to get on their level, making sure that your body language is non-confrontational. With people, you want to get on their level too. Do that by demonstrating empathy. Let them know you understand how they feel. Address their concerns or pain with communications that explain how your solutions are effective and reliable—showing more than telling how they work.
  4. Let them come to you: According to Cesar, a dog will let you know if he or she trusts you by sniffing and/or licking your hands and staying calmly in place. You can assume that if the dog turns away, she isn’t interested. You’re not going to buy respect by running after her. It’s the same with anxious business prospects (or patients in the healthcare industry). For the immediate future, you’re unlikely to make a convert through aggressive pitches. Just keep sending those gentle reminders with valuable insights, articles or newsletters and wait for them to come to you.
  5. Go for a walk: Walking a new dog helps you earn trust as your dog learns how well you direct and protect her. In the human world, when prospects demo your products or begin working with you, they quickly form opinions about the quality you provide. You earn trust and build your reputation when your message matches the quality and effectiveness of your products or services.

That final tip — walking — is as critical for our mental health right now as it is for marketing. I find that going for a walk in the middle or end of the day clears my head and opens space for creative ideas to start flowing. (It’s even better when you have a dog to walk with!) So, don’t just do it metaphorically. Get out and get some fresh air! And when you get home, please remember to wash your hands. 🙂

For some great examples of how healthcare organizations are creating connections and building trust with their audiences, download a free copy of:

 9 Examples of Empathy in Healthcare Content Marketing.

One comment on “Communicating With an Anxious Audience

  1. Very good ideas and content, Lisa. Admirable insight that I will be integrating into my business.

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