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Persuasion, and persons from Porlock

May 21, 2010

“So many doorsteps, so little time…”

Today’s hot weather has brought the doorsteppers out in force. Come to think of it, May has certainly been a very merry month indeed for our doorbell. Although now the General Election is over, it’s a little quieter on the doorstep here. (By the way, did anyone else have a bizarre pre-Election visit on Polling day itself? At lunchtime the doorbell rings. Three chaps in suits and rosettes beam at me. “Why, hello there. We’ve come to ask if you’ve voted yet.” I have indeed, so smiles all round and away they trot. It only occurred to me later: what would have happened if I’d have said no? Would I have been frogmarched through the streets, dragged down to the polling station by the scruff of my neck?)
My heart always sinks when I answer the doorbell and it’s not the postman with packages of yarn and suchlike, but two or three over-smartly dressed people with clipboards. Some people don’t mind cold callers. I know people who’ll invite them in for a cup of tea and a good natter. I’m not one of them.

“Have Dior clipboard, will travel…”

To me people on the doorstep trying to sell me things or persuade me to think or act a certain way is spam in human form. And the worst kind of spam, because it can’t just be deleted with a click, or sorted for recycling. When you work from home, there’s nothing more annoying than pointless and unwelcome interruption (remember the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his Person from Porlock?). Perhaps I should point out though that I’m always polite to doorsteppers. Possibly too polite, as there’s always far too much preamble about the weather (you are not fooling me AT ALL because I know what’s coming, and here’s a hint: if I have to ask if there was anything I could help you with, you need to cut to the chase a lot quicker).

“Person from Porlock? No, I’m from Birmingham, actually.”

All this got me thinking about marketing, and persuasion. For it seems to me that persuasion is a gentle art, and marketing can only work effectively if your target is in at least a semi-receptive state. If they’ve already expressed an interest in your product (whether it be double glazing, the Green Party or God) or have made a tiny step of interest towards you first. Otherwise you’re just actively repelling people (or anti-marketing, I suppose).

“What a nice doorstep you have!”

So, likewise, I try not to be too evangelical about knitting and sewing or how vintage patterns can change your life with people I’ve never met before. But if interest is expressed, or a question asked, then I’m definitely happy to wax lyrical. Have I converted anyone to the glorious causes of knitting or sewing? I don’t know, unless reassuring people that knitting isn’t “incredibly difficult” has borne fruit. Sometimes there’s negative interest, along the lines of sewing and knitting is “that stuff old ladies do”. Where there’s a closed mind (or that closed door) I might not persevere in banging my head against it. (Although I might consider wearing one of those T-shirts with a sewing machine on the front and the slogan “think of it as a power tool with thread” underneath.) But where the mind is open, and the metaphorical door is ajar, that’s another story. For maximum impact an approach tailored to the individual listener works best. A historian or history buff might double-take at the fact that the ancient Egyptians were fond of knitting socks, and examples still exist to prove it. A GP or doctor might be interested to hear about the increase in the production of heart valves and other medical textiles using knit structures. And an engineer might like to muse on the fact some aircrafts are made out of knitted composites for flexibility and lightness, but have fake rivets because not many people would like to think that they’re travelling in a knitted plane. (Yes, I know. Perhaps a T-shirt with “Knitting Geek” on it would be better.)

“Is that a flying pig? Or is it just a knitted plane?”

But perhaps I’m being narrowminded about the lovely cold callers who ring my doorbell? For isn’t the fact that they’ve made it to my doorstep an expression of interest? Perhaps their lives need enriching through stitching? Maybe I should get some pamplets printed out on the health, mental, environmental and other benefits of knitting, sewing and crafting. “Nevermind about my immortal soul” (crikey, I almost wrote “to Hell with my immortal soul” there) I might say to the next batch of doorsteppers, “have you ever thought about…. knitting?”

“I’d like to tell you how Lanvin changed my life…”


Vaguely gratuitous images from L’Officiel de la Mode, 1960

One Comment leave one →
  1. bakertoo permalink
    May 21, 2010 5:13 pm

    You are pretty funny! ” Doorsteppers” is a good term. We don’t have an official name for people who come to the door here, who solicit magazines or housepainting, or tell us about the fall of the wicked and what hideous things await you if you aren’t one of the ones floating heavenward. And unfortunately, in some parts of the United States it isn’t a very safe occupation still, so it wouldn’t really matter about the weather as a way to break the ice. I do like the floating capes and hats the women are wearing, and I would talk to them, if only to stare at those outfits. And it must be pretty tricky to walk over those big rocks in those shoes! Thanks for the post.

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