Two common questions I hear:
- How can we connect with our potential customers?
- How can our message be more compelling?
At their root, both questions can benefit from the same inquiry—understanding the mindset of one’s audience.
I recently went to an event where speakers were sharing their business innovations. One startup founder rattled off a laundry list of problems that his product solved. One or two of the problems were interesting to me, but he kept going and I couldn’t keep up. I felt he really wasn’t speaking to me—that I must not be his core audience because I didn’t hear him say anything I was trying to solve for my own business.
He spoke widely, avoiding detailed examples that I might relate to. As I see it, the main problem ￼with his communication:
He couldn’t relate by giving relatable examples
because he didn’t know who he was trying to relate to.
It seemed as if this speaker came into the event asking himself, “When I talk about my product, what resonates most with this crowd of people?”
Not a bad start. However, that frame assumes that everyone in the room is a potential customer. For most marketing campaigns, this is rarely the case. This false assumption often comes with the entrepreneurial mindset (one that thinks big and wants to act big now).
For example, I recall a very bright young woman telling me about her idea to replace WordPress by offering a hosting platform that would make websites load faster. When I asked who her customer was, she said “anyone with a website.”
But the real question is, “What kind of customer will care the most?” In a very brief conversation, we narrowed down from her previous spectrum, which included mom and pop websites, to just enterprise level, where speed might make a difference. Imagine the difference in messaging between a new product for “anyone with a website” and a new product for enterprise-level businesses. Those two groups are in unique circumstances and facing unique day-to-day realities and aspirations.
The message gets quickly muddled when we try to appeal to such a broad base—as the saying goes:
If you’re talking to everybody, you’re connecting with nobody.
Let’s pretend we’re the product owner of the fast-loading sites innovation, and we ￼want to connect to our potential enterprise-level customers with a compelling message — the buyer needs to know that we share their intentions for their business. If we understand their mindset, they’ll feel we “get them” when they hear us name certain promises and examples that relate to their circumstances (i.e. “shaving 4 seconds off the page load time might help us retain the group that seems to leave the site in the middle of page loads—that’s about $7k of lost revenue each day!“). In this way, they understand the value we’re offering, for them.
Back to the original speaker I mentioned—the one with the laundry list of problems I couldn’t keep up with. Rather than coming with the question of “What resonates with this crowd?” I would suggest he holds a different question, to first determine which event to speak at:
“What resonates with my best-fitting customers?”
Right away, I’ve posed a problem—he needs to know who his best-fitting customers are to check what resonates with them. And he’d had to be willing to develop that focus.
Some clients have a resistance to narrowing their audience. It’s not that they don’t value focus—it’s that before we can get to some fair assumptions about who their best-fitting customer may be, we need to address what’s keeping them from getting that clarity. Here are a few common issues:
First, they don’t want to narrow their customer group because it feels like reducing the sales pool. They may assume, “Isn’t it better to play a large numbers game by starting with a big pool and getting a percentage of that group?” If the aim of marketing is to gain traction and create a long-lasting relationship with people, I believe a smaller group is an easier way to get started.
For example, ever heard of Crocs? This footwear company makes lightweight sandals out of an odorless and cushy material.
It’s easy to imagine them selling to a wide audience today—but they didn’t start out so wide. One of their steps along the way (pun intended) was to address the footwear needs of nurses. Once Crocs got in with nurses, they’d proved that if their shoes are comfortable for someone who stands for 12-hour shifts, they’ll probably be comfortable for the rest of us.
My business did the same thing, as a service-based consultancy. In our first two years, we were focused primarily on serving coaches who wanted an authentic message for the marketplace. That focus gave us the traction we needed to build trust, word of mouth, and test our offers with a group that we knew well. Since then, we’ve expanded to social entrepreneurs—yet no matter who we’ve worked with, they all share the same mindset:
- a vision for shifting the paradigm in their industry,
- an aspiration of staying true to themselves in their marketing message,
- a way to build resonance with the right customers, team members, partners and/or
Back to that finicky resistance, which says: “But I don’t want to close any doors.” From my experience, what lies beneath that concern is harder to admit: “I don’t know how to open the right doors,” because opening doors requires deeply understanding the people you’re connecting with (to do this, watch the video to find examples of questions to ask yourself).
Next week, I’ll cover four more questions to understand your audience’s mindset, so you can better connect with them in your marketing.