01/16/2013 04:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pay Attention to Get Attention: Insider Information Into Your Customers' Heads and Hearts

Hey! Did you see that? Up there! Look!

Gotcha, didn't I? If you want to build a business, share a message or even go as far as change the world, you simply must do one thing: Grab your audience's attention.

You don't have to shout through a megaphone or dress up in a pink gorilla suit to be the center of attention. All you need is a little insight into how people think.

And they think differently than just a few years ago. Marketing strategies that were once highly effective now fall flat.

There's a reason for this. People's values have changed.

That doesn't mean that the needs of your audience have changed. Your audience still has the same basic problems and challenges it always had, problems and challenges you already help them solve. Rather, because of a shift in societal values, you need to change the way you address those needs.

Your customers don't want hype and promises. They want what's real and down to earth. They aren't looking for perfection. They're looking for reality.

Roy H. Williams and I address such social shifts in our new book, Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future.

We've found that every 40 years or so, society's values and culture shift significantly. Society swings back and forth on an invisible pendulum, from an individualistic "me" cycle, such as what we had in the 1960s and 1970s, to a more civic-minded "we" cycle, the kind we experienced after World War II.

People in a "me" cycle value masculine displays of strength, individual achievement and personal prowess. This is why high-pressure push marketing tactics were so effective in the 1980s and 1990s. A megaphone and a pink gorilla suit would have boosted your bottom line in those days.

The most successful entrepreneurs in a "me" cycle are often aggressive. They value instant gratification and conquest. Think Donald Trump. Trump embodies the self-centered, results-at-all-costs mentality that was commonplace during the last "me" cycle. The massive bust-ups resulting from the oversized egos behind Enron, certain Silicon Valley ventures and the subsequent dot-com crash were grand finales to that cycle, because we always take a good thing too far.

Currently we are in a "civic" or "we" cycle, which began in 2003. Generally people in a "we" cycle tend to value more feminine displays of nurturing a community and working together for the good of the whole. People crave something that speaks to the heart. About a decade ago, we began to see mommy bloggers and crowd sourcing dominate the entrepreneurial playing field. The message became increasingly one of community, of opportunity that would benefit others.

A "we" cycle is the optimum time for people with a message who want to change the world through small actions and working together. People like my friend Kelly O'Neil.

Kelly's business focuses on helping women entrepreneurs achieve their goals through becoming powerful, genuine and spiritually centered leaders.

2013-01-16-coco_chanel.jpgBut Kelly's success doesn't come from selling false hope and telling her clients they too can be perfect, ridiculously wealthy and carefree in 30 seconds, the kinds of promises you might have seen during the last "me" cycle. Kelly's success comes from honesty and transparency. She openly shares her own challenges and what she did to overcome them. She's created a supportive community to help women work together to achieve their goals, one where women don't have to act like men to be successful or like ego-driven gurus to be noticed.

Her message and mission are well-suited to our current "we" cycle. She's capturing the attention of her audience because she speaks to their needs through these five "we" strategies:

  1. Speak directly to the needs of your audience.
  2. Avoid pushy sales tactics.
  3. Be open and transparent with your life and experiences so others can benefit from your mistakes.
  4. Clearly define what you're not and what you stand against.
  5. Create a community where people can work together to make the world a better place.

The best way to become the center of attention in today's market is to pay attention to your audience. If your current messaging still appeals to a "me" cycle, change it. Ditch the flashing neon signs and limited-time offers. Speak from your heart. Let people see your imperfections. And don't be afraid to rock the boat and boldly let them know what you stand against.

I'd love to hear from you. What changes have you seen in the messaging your audience responds to in your niche?