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Did you ever think a Soviet dictator could help you grow your business?
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Marketing Lessons From a Die-Hard Communist

I love writing clickbait-y headlines that grab your attention and draw you into whatever story I’m about to tell. It’s especially fun when you look and wonder, “how on earth is he going to turn this into a lesson about taxes/marketing/business development?” How’s this one working so far?

At first glance, it’s ridiculous to think a die-hard commie could have anything to say about “marketing.” The very word itself derives from the same Latin word “mercatus” that underlies everything the communists want to eliminate. Ironically, though, communists need to be great marketers to con their citizens into supporting a philosophy that ignores human nature so profoundly. “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need” may sound great in theory. But think about it for more than a second or two, and you’ll realize most of human progress comes from people’s quest for more than what government tells us we “need.”

So today’s lesson comes from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who ran his empire with a brutal fist from 1924 until 1953. Stalin had a busy career, purging dissidents, exporting communism, and overseeing the deaths of 20 million of his own citizens. But he also managed to get credit for something he may or may not have actually said: “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.”

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So . . . let’s say you want to raise money for starving Haitian children. It shouldn’t be a stretch. Start with the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Now throw in a presidential assassination, an earthquake, and a hurricane, all in the same month. It ought to be easy, right? And if you show, say, an adorable eight-year-old girl, with big sad brown eyes and a stricken look on her face, you should do well for your cause.

But give the girl a little brother – just as sad, just as hungry – and your donations will actually go down. Give her a whole family, and your donations will drop even further. Finally, talk about her village, or throw out some statistics on the country as a whole, and your donations will dry up and blow away as fast as that little girl’s hopes and dreams and aspirations.

The lesson, of course, is that one starving girl is a tragedy, but a whole starving country just another statistic. And while the country ought to draw more contributions than the single girl, the sheer humanity of the single victim makes a stronger emotional appeal to our hearts and wallets.

The lesson for your business flows clearly from Stalin’s cynical observation. Personalize everything you do for your clients. Humanize the value you deliver. Use testimonials and success stories in all of your marketing. Happy client faces. Don’t say, “we give our clients top-notch savings and service,” say “we give you top-notch savings and service.” Nobody cares what you do for your clients, they only care what you do for them. And when it comes to marketing, “you” is the most powerful word in your vocabulary.

The Briefs is a weekly column on marketing and business planning for tax professionals and financial advisors looking to better serve clients and grow their business. 

Edward Lyon

Edward Lyon

Edward A. Lyon is CEO of the Tax Master Network, where he's coached tax professionals to add planning and financial services to their business since 2005. Go here to join the network. Go here to upgrade your membership or discuss opportunities in financial services.
Edward Lyon

Edward Lyon

Edward A. Lyon is CEO of the Tax Master Network, where he's coached tax professionals to add planning and financial services to their business since 2005. Go here to join the network. Go here to upgrade your membership or discuss opportunities in financial services.

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