By paying attention to nonverbal cues, you can learn volumes about what a client, a CEO, or division leader is really saying. We all have the capacity and skill to do this; it's been bred into our bones since the first caveman stopped his enemy in his tracks with a mere grimace. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, suggests that we all have the innate ability to distinguish cheats. Psychologist Jennifer Voigt Kaplan concurs with its findings: "Prehistoric humans had a better chance of survival if they could identify cheats so that they were not robbed out of food, mates, supplies, and so forth. The humans who survived possessed this quality and handed it down to their kids. So from the angle of using instincts to size people up," she concludes, "you can make a case for why we should listen to our instincts." Brand expert Randi Dorman remembers working on the design for Red Zone antiperspirant, a high-performance product by Old Spice. "Instead of listening to all the research stuff about the deodorant business, we decided to see who is able to get through to men," she recalls, "because men aren't as sophisticated at the drugstore or supermarket as women." They decided to look at business that did speak successfully to men. "We looked at everything from car batteries to fishing line to lights to socks. We looked at the colors and textures that they like, from sports cars to diamond-plated steel to Mack trucks, and we used that for inspiration." The resulting logo is macho brushed silver with rivets in it, with a background that echoes the design at the end of a drill bit. "These are textures that speak to guys, and made Red Zone relevant to its target audience."
When you are meeting with a client, whether the client is in-house or from another company, it's crucial that you be aware of what isn't said. Of course you must pay attention and listen to the information, but you must also heed your inner voice. That is where you may find the inside story that needs to be told.
Truth on Tap
When I was at Wells, Rich, Greene, we were invited to pitch Heineken to win its advertising business. During our briefing meeting, when the Heineken management was telling us about the company, we were given loads of promotional materials and statistics, all of which we hoped would be helpful in developing a campaign. As the presentation got under way, Michael Foley, the president of Heineken at the time, started walking around the room, spouting off facts about the hops and the barley and the special Heineken yeast that had been around for a hundred years.