“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’” –C.S. Lewis
When I was a kid, I wanted to get into comic books. This was in the time before the internet was part of our lives the way it is now, so that meant about the only way to really dip my toe in the water was to actually go into a comic book store. So one day, I did just that! I ducked into a comic book store and started to look around. The intimidation was instant. There were so many shelves and bins and I was overwhelmed with knowing where to start.
“Can I help you find something?” a teenaged employee asked.
“Uh, I don’t know. I’m just looking. Is there somewhere that would be a good place to start if I don’t know what I like yet?”
“Listen, maybe you should go check out the regular bookstore. This isn’t really girl stuff, you know?”
I looked around. Yep. Definitely the only female in there aside from Wonder Woman and her other two-dimensional pals.
“You too? I thought I was the only one!”
Years ago a friend gave me a card with that quote (from C.S. Lewis, see above) on the front and I loved it so much that it lived in a frame on my wall for years. I love that feeling that it conveys. The powerful spark of connection where you maybe least expected it. In an instant you go from the shame of feeling like an outsider to the elation of feeling known.
The need for connection is wired into the core of who we are as a species. We deeply need to feel seen and accepted. This is why finding our weirdos is such a powerful thing.
None of us fits perfectly inside a box. We all have idiosyncrasies, quirky interests and experiences that shape our identity. When we recognize evidence of these in others, it’s like a lightbulb lights up in our hearts: “Yes! They get it!” And seeing a bit of ourselves in someone else makes us feel more seen too.
This is how you make your weirdos feel. Seeing you reflect their own interests back at them makes them feel seen. They feel like they can connect with you — maybe even in a way they didn’t know they could. This is where your weirdos transcend just being consumers of your marketing materials and start on their journey towards being one of your hype people.
Customer and business connected: done and done, right? Marketing mission complete. But wait, what if something gets in the way of that budding relationship? What if this would-be weirdo is browsing your site, riding high on that “OMG-these-people-get-me” wave… and something stops them in their tracks, just like that teenaged gatekeeper did to me in the comic shop?
Now they are alone on the outside again, struggling to get in. And somehow that feels worse, because now it feels like a personal rejection.
Being weird is enough
Weirdos are a gift to your company; they shouldn’t feel like they have to prove their coolness or fit into a certain mold to join your circle. A “weirdo” is defined by their interest, not by their demographics. They should feel accepted for who they are, as they are.
Enthusiasm for the weird thing that connects you should be the only requirement to be your weirdo. That is what’s central. Everything else is just details.
I realize it’s not a perfect world, and there may be limits to how well you can accommodate every variable that could be a barrier, but you should definitely consider how you can better accommodate the ones you can.
Being “inclusive” is a very buzzy concept right now. The problem is, many companies see it as an item to check off on a PR/marketing to-do list. A couple of generic “we love everyone” social media posts, and they feel like they’ve done their duty and moved on. But being inclusive is an ongoing process, not a destination. You never get to “arrive” at inclusiveness. It’s something you have to internalize to your core and let guide you. It’s an active pursuit.
Inclusivity isn’t just passive acceptance. It’s actively taking stock of who you are in the world and breaking down any barriers you may have built. “Finding your weirdos” is not about building walls to keep “others” out, it’s about breaking them down and inviting anyone who wants to join you in.
The sign on your door to the world isn’t “[Our type of] Weirdos only” — it’s “You too? Come on in!”
So what are some considerations we can make so that we maximize the feeling of welcome that we exude to our potential weirdos?
- Listen. The most important thing you can do is listen. Listen to your customers, your weirdos, what’s circulating on social media. If someone mentions something that seems like it could be excluding, respect that and work to change it.
- Ask. Don’t just wait for people to come to you. Ask your audience what you could be doing to make them feel more welcome.
- Check your representations. What are ways you could show your weirdos that they are welcome as they are?
- Show up for their causes.5 If there is an issue that is affecting some of your weirdos, be vocal in your support of them. Ask them what you can do to help.
Diversities are just the beautiful wrapping paper weirdos come in
Stop boxing your weirdos in with demographics and traditional norms, and start celebrating them for who they are: beautiful humans who love the same weird things you do.
Imagine if when I’d walked into that comic book store, instead of telling me that I comics weren’t for girls like me, someone had shown me around — maybe asked me a bit about myself and shared a few suggestions based on my answers? I’d probably would have left that day with a bag full of exciting reading material. And I would definitely have come back for more.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What sort of demographics does our current presence in the world represent? How could we be more inclusive and diverse? (Here are some fun examples of how some big companies have addressed this.)
- What can we do to make our presence in the world a more welcoming one?
- How can we communicate, implicitly or explicitly, that anyone who wants to come along for the ride is welcome and safe?