Mud on my Face, and a Marketing Revelation

image of coal
This is a guest post by Pamela Wilson

Last summer, in Boston for a few days on vacation, I wandered into a local mall.

I ended up in a store that specializes in soaps and bath-type products that look handmade, and have very basic packaging.

Here’s what happened.

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What Makes Marketing Hard?


I’ve been spending more time lately teaching folks who are new to marketing, and I’m finding it really fascinating.

The same themes come up again and again. These are people who had an interesting idea for a product to sell or a service to market, but they run up against a horrid scary intimidating wall: marketing.

(And even scarier, its evil twin, selling.)

It seems impossibly hard. It seems like something for “other people.” It seems like they’d need a personality transplant to make it work for them.

And I totally get this, because I used to feel exactly the same way.

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Sing with Your Own Voice


Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
~Dean Hunt &, apparently, Oscar Wilde

I was chatting with the smartest marketing princess on earth the other day, and we were talking about how few products and services are actually unique.

All marketing advice is basically rehashed John Caples and Claude Hopkins, sometimes with a few Gene Schwartz refinements tossed in.

House painters are house painters. Web designers are web designers. PR people are PR people.

Absolutely, there’s a spectrum of “seriously good” to “seriously incompetent,” and we all have our specialties. And that’s significant, I don’t mean to downplay it. It’s well worth your time to carve down your own little corner of the universe and make it perfect.

But there’s a more important differentiator.

No one else gets to be you

Let’s take it as a given that you’re very good at what you do. If you aren’t, either get better at what you’re doing, or do something you’re better at.

We’ve all been given amazing gifts, and we can all study and improve, so I am 100% confident you can be superb at something.

(Something useful. I’m not belittling your career as a nose-flute virtuoso, but you’ll also need to do something that’s of use to other people.)

With that as a given, what can you add that would take that “very good” to a magnificent new level?

What can you offer that’s dazzling? How can you find a unique message in the cacophony of advertising that’s deafening us all?

How do you find your own village of loyal customers who love you more than anyone else, and will support you in style for the rest of your days?

Sing with your own voice

I have two friends who help people get unstuck.

One is a yoga teacher with a duck. The other is a money guy with a sport coat and a (somewhat) more traditional resume.

They both do great work for clients. They’re both incredibly dedicated and committed. They both speak with an authentic voice.

They don’t offer the exact same services, but even if they did, you’d never need to ask how to decide which one to work with. The answer is obvious.

Havi is for Havi-people and Gary is for Gary-people.

So yes, work on your positioning. Work on your USP. Understand your relationship to your market, find your winning difference or your purple cow or your rightful share of customer.

But don’t let any of those slow you down.

Because beyond what you know and what you’ve learned and how you specialize, what you have to offer is you. It’s as simple and as complicated and as wonderful as that.

P.S. (Speaking of the smartest marketing princess on earth, we’re cooking up some coolerosity for you. Stay tuned.)

Things You Can Learn from a Nancy Boy

I wish I could remember who turned me on to Nancy Boy.

I’ve never been to their shop, never met them in person, although I have every plan to make a pilgrimage one of these days.

All I can remember is that someone said, “You like all that email newsletter stuff, you have to get Nancy Boy’s. It’s . . . well, it’s amazing.”

And it is.

Here’s a quote from their most recent edition:

But the most excruciating social prevarication occurs during the dental hygienist interrogation. “You signed under oath in 1987 that you brush twice a day with prescription toothpaste, floss after each meal, use the Proxabrush and Stim-U-Dents nightly and gum stimulator every other night do you still swear it to be so?” My eyes roll back in my head as I dimly recall meaning to buy floss at duty free when we went to Martinique in 2002 but I smile brightly and exclaim, “Now I’m doing the gum stimulator EVERY night,” a bootlicking lead-in to the nitrous score. Yes of course just for the cleaning for anything serious like a cavity I have Madonna’s private anesthetist.

You may be thinking, wow, that’s wordy. And kind of insane. And it uses the word prevarication, they’re gonna get some unsubscribes with that one.

It’s a little like horehound candy, or stinky goat cheese. A lot of people don’t like it. Maybe most people don’t like it.

But the people who do absolutely crave it.

The competition is ugly

Nancy Boy sells soap. Well, soap, lotion, shaving cream, that kind of thing.

Nancy Boy, in other words, is competing with about half the universe.

Everybody sells soap. Safeway sells a hundred different kinds of soap, with billions of dollars in advertising to get you to pick Dial over Dove. Whole Foods sells expensive pretty stuff by the pound, funky little chunks that smell good. Boutiques sell it wrapped in adorable packages, or in the shapes of robin’s eggs, in beads and bombs and bath fizzies.

There is too much soap. The market is entirely saturated. Even if you have the fanciest organic handcrafted virgin yak-butter soap on the face of the planet, there’s too much of the stuff.

No one needs another vendor of soap. No one.

Even worse, the Nancy Boy retail shop is in San Francisco’s trendy Hayes Valley. There are probably eight stores on their block alone where you can buy fancypants soap.

And soap isn’t like a dinner in a good restaurant. No matter how much you like it, you still don’t buy it 30 nights in a row.

Soap is the worst business in the world.

Unless you’re Nancy Boy.

A star, a story and a solution

That’s an old Gary Halbert formula for product success.

Nancy Boy has a good story, about an advertising exec who vowed never again to shill cosmetic products that needed their 900% markup to pay for their advertising.

They have a good solution—a high-quality, locally produced collection of products.

But what Nancy Boy really has is a star, in their newsletter writer, Eric.

Eric takes nice soap and turns into a cult. Eric is Nancy Boy.

If you’re into Eric’s writing style, reading his newsletter is exactly like getting a personal email from a witty and insane friend. It’s likely to involve anxiety attacks, mood-altering substances, public humiliation, jokes that are so bad they’re good, and an attitude that is euphemistically called “very San Francisco.”

It may be a euphemism, but it’s not inaccurate. Email from Eric makes me miss home.

And, of course, I forward Eric’s email to my friends. Who forward it to their friends. And everyone buys soap.

Stars aren’t perfect

When I say Eric makes himself a star, I don’t mean he puts himself out as being particularly handsome, smart, rich or talented.

Eric makes himself particularly himself. Or at least, a more boiled-down, vivid version of himself.

Everyone who reads gossip magazines (something tells me Eric falls into this category) knows that nobody loves perfect people. We love Lindsay and Britney and good old Liz Taylor. We love train wrecks and bitches. We love the lost, because we’re a bit lost ourselves, and they make us feel better.

Just like a great story in the tabloids, Eric’s monthly newsletter gives you a little drama, a little glamour, and a good dose of “good lord did he really say that.”

Sometimes, all you have is you

You might be in what’s called a “commodity” business, like house painting, with lots of other vendors competing with you on price.

You might be in a crazy competitive market no one in their right mind would choose, like real estate. Or soap.

Maybe the answer is you.

Obviously you’re not going to be the next Nancy Boy. There’s already a Nancy Boy.

But you might be the wacky yoga/business/life coach who talks to a duck.

Or the small business marketing guru who swears like a sailor.

Or the alternative relationship coach.

Or the lazy surfer/millionaire.

The more you think you’re too flawed or messed up or just plain weird to put yourself forward as the star of the business, the more promise you have.

Go for it. If it can sell soap, it can sell anything.

Flickr Creative Commons image by akaporn

Objection Blaster Series #3: Dakara Nani?
(So What?)

Once you have your foot in the door and you’ve addressed the First Great Objection (I don’t have time to talk to salespeople), you’ve got no more than a few seconds to prove you’re worthy of keeping that attention.

You’re coming up to the Second Great Objection, which is Why am I spending time listening to you?, also known as Who cares?

Or, in Presentation Zen ubergenius Garr Reynold’s nicer way of putting it, Dakara Nani? (It still means who cares, but it sounds more polite in Japanese.)

The Depressing Truth

You’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into building something great. You handcrafted it from sustainably gathered bald eagle feathers, baby tears and triple-distilled titanium. You spent every spare hour working to make it the most perfect product the world has ever seen.

And no one cares.

At all.

Potential customers are looking to answer a couple of key, self-oriented questions right away. If you don’t get to the point, they tune you out. Yes, you bought some time with your wonderfully tasty chips and salsa, but that time is not unlimited. You need to get in there and make yourself relevant.

Your prospects and readers need to be saying at least one of the following things as soon as they see your stuff. Otherwise, they’ll just drift away into the sea of ADD we’re all floating around in.

I’m in the Right Place

One of the biggest challenges of Web design is making sure that a new customer immediately grasps that she’s in the right place.

You offer what she’s looking for. You solve problems she has. Your customers look like her. And all of this is instantly communicated by your graphics. Which probably means your site looks more like Google and less like MSN, because only robots can assimilate that much information at a glance and glean anything useful from it.

A very useful little eBook I found on this topic was Ben Hunt’s charmingly snarky and highly readable Save the Pixel . It won’t turn you into a graphic designer, but it will give you the concepts and understanding you need to talk with one intelligently, or at least tweak your WordPress theme so it works better for your readers.

This Is for People Like Me

Remember when we talked about understanding who your ideal customer is? Pitch to everyone and you’ll sell to no one.

When you distill your message to focus on the people you can help the most, you start to pop out from the background of clutter. For example, when I see an ad (for anything) featuring a model who looks like Paris Hilton, it immediately becomes wallpaper to me.

My conscious mind doesn’t have to do any work, because my unconscious has already thrown that ad into the bucket marked irrelevant.

On the other hand, when I see an ad with a mom and a toddler (even more so if the mom isn’t 22), my attention gets drawn. Hm, this looks like it’s for people like me. And I investigate further.

Out of the 6 billion people on earth, figure out the handful you can do the most good for, that you can reach readily, and who have the money to buy what you sell.

Figure out where those folks hang out when they’re thinking about the kind of thing you do. Then let them know with complete clarity that what you have is for people like them.

Hey, That Would Fix My Problem!

Without pain, there is no marketing.

If we were all perfectly evolved beings who rose effortlessly above suffering and desire, there would be no such thing as advertising or marketing. There would only be Making Useful Things and Making Pretty Things. We would all trade them around as we needed them, and gradually dissolve into the effortless bliss of nirvana.

I don’t see that happening any time soon.

People have pain. They have insecurities. They have fears, both reasonable and unreasonable. They want what they don’t have. They want what they can never have. They long for certainty and stability, even though the very nature of the universe is change. They feel dumb and they want to feel smart. They feel fat and they want to feel skinny.

Selling to Problems, Selling to Desire

There are real problems (my back is killing me, my job is killing me, my kids are killing me) and then there are the problems we manufacture because we want something (not having an iPhone is killing me, not going to Paris is killing me, not having that triple bacon cheeseburger is killing me).

Desire can be a stronger force than need. When the death camps were liberated at the end of World War II, rescued women prisoners craved lipstick even more than they craved food or safety. The thing they wanted most was to feel human again. Was that a need or a desire?

You could make the case that desire is what makes us people and not just really clever monkeys. Desire is a longing for something greater than need. Desire is a quest for something that may not even exist yet. Art and music and beauty and truth are about desire.

So don’t be ashamed to market to desire. Desire is the source of a lot of human wonderfulness.

Making Your Promise

At the end of the day, getting past Who cares? is about delivering a promise to solve a problem or fulfill a desire.

Most of us know about benefits, not features. (If you don’t, make learning about it a priority for yourself. It’s one of those keys to all marketing and sales success kinds of things.)

But those benefits have to solve an actual problem or fulfill a true desire. Otherwise, they’re what Clayton Makepeace calls fake benefits. They don’t scratch an itch anyone actually has.

Always remember that demographics, markets and targets don’t buy. People with problems and desires buy. Think about people, make solutions for people, talk to people, and make your promise to people.

Be relentless with yourself. Who cares? So what? What’s the point? Keep asking yourself these questions when you’re putting your communication together. Be tougher on yourself than any reader ever will be.

Who cares? They will.

The Objection Blaster Series

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Flickr Creative Commons image by Pixel_Addict

Objection Blaster Series #2: The Zen of Selling


This is the second in a six- or seven-part series (maybe more if I come up with a bunch of great ideas) on overcoming sales objections. But before I start in on today’s post, I want to be sure you know what objections are.

Basically, every sale has two major components. The first part lets prospects know what you have to offer, and on what terms. The second part addresses the reasons your prospects don’t want to take you up on it.

If you’re selling face to face, you can deal with these as they come up. But when you’re marketing online or with direct mail, you have to blast through objections another way.

This series will walk you through the overarching objections that just about every client has, as well as giving you some techniques for dealing with objections that might be specific to your product or service.

What’s Keeping Your Customers from Buying?

It’s very helpful, before you try to answer this question, if you have an extremely solid idea of who your ideal customer is. Don’t bother trying to sell to not-ideal customers, they’ll waste your time and keep you from optimizing your business for the folks who really matter.

With an ideal customer in mind, brainstorm as many things as you can think of that might keep that person from pulling the trigger. This is a great time to wallow in a little creative paranoia. Is your stuff too expensive? Is it hard to understand? Will it take a lot of time to install? Is it going to break in two weeks?

Think about every hesitation your prospect might conceivably have about buying your stuff, no matter how weird or far-fetched. Don’t assume that your brilliant marketing has already laid this hesitation to rest. Just list everything.

How to Create an FAQ

The FAQ is a misnamed creature. It really should be FRO–frequently raised objections.

Every objection you can think of should be on your FAQ, answered in a calm and logical way that puts those fears to rest. The underlying fear to nearly all objections is what if I feel like an idiot for buying from you?  So keep that in mind when you put your answers together.

Don’t overpromise. Don’t hype. If there’s not-perfect stuff, either solve it or admit to it. (Admitting to minor not-perfect stuff is an excellent way to build a real relationship.) Just answer the questions in a way that shows you give a damn.

A Fantastic Example

I tend to assume that everyone who reads Remarkable Communication also reads Ittybiz, so you may have seen this already. But if you haven’t checked out Havi’s terrific FAQ for the Non Icky Self Promotion class (I’m taking the class and it seriously rocks, I don’t know if you can still sign up, but you should if you can), go do that.

Havi, in her adorable hippie marketer brilliance, goes through six significant objections in a respectful, thoughtful way. She doesn’t promise that her stuff fixes every problem. She doesn’t say that anyone’s objections are wrong or stupid. She just gives you an alternate way to look at them.

She’s not going to sell to everyone who reads the post. She doesn’t need or want to. The post is targeted directly at the people she can most help, and who are going to go back to Havi and Naomi and buy everything they ever put out. They’re creating their 1,000 True Fans with this kind of respectful, benefit-based marketing. It’s a great model, and one you can adapt today for your own gig.

Zen Selling

The Zen master Suzuki Roshi might have said, “Selling, not selling. No difference.” (He never did say that, but in the spirit of the thing, that doesn’t matter.)

I know a fair number of kazillion-dollar salespeople. They all have one thing in common–they don’t seem like salespeople at all. They don’t use weird closing techniques. They don’t have handshakes that could crush rocks into gravel. They’re just nice (often soft-spoken), friendly people who have a knack for creating trusting relationships.

They can close half-million dollar deals (and do, several times a week) and leave their customers thinking, “She’s such a nice person, she didn’t sell me at all.”

If you know someone who fits that description, even if they’re not a professional salesperson, sit down & have a conversation with them around your stuff–what you have to offer, and what kinds of objections come up. Ask them how they’d talk about your FROs. Scribble down or record what they say, capturing as much of that low-key, friendly flavor as you can.

Learn the art of directly but gently addressing prospect objections, and you’ll start converting more sales. Not only that, you’ll build repeat and referral business from those customers, which puts you on track to exponential growth. It works, and you won’t need a shower afterwards.

The next post in this series will help you blast through another giant general objection: “Who cares.”

The Objection Blaster Series (So Far)

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Objection Blaster Series #1: Capturing Attention

It would be nice if we could just tell people how great we are and they’d then buy our stuff, wouldn’t it? Annoyingly, it hardly ever works that way. Prospects have an irritating collection of reasons they don’t want to buy, don’t have time to talk to us now, and don’t take their credit cards out of their wallets.

Fortunately for us, human nature tends to be comfortingly consistent. There are actually five recurring objections that virtually every prospect needs to be brought through before they’ll become customers.

This series will walk you through how to get past each one of them in turn. The truth is, you don’t have to be a “born salesman” to sell, you just have to learn the techniques that work.

The first barrier to blast through is the toughest one for most people . . . managing to get a prospective customer to spend two minutes looking at our stuff. It’s the equivalent of getting your bright shiny rocket off the ground–you’ll spend most of your energy just overcoming gravity.

How often have you heard the following sentence? (How often have you spoken it?)

I Don’t Have Time to Talk to Salespeople

Is there anyone, anywhere, who does have time to talk with salespeople?

One of the 50 things your customers wish you knew is that we absolutely hate to be sold to (even though we love to buy). Is there anything more annoying than that person you met at a networking event who calls and calls after the event, even though you have no interest in her product? Even worse, you might have actually been interested, but the incessant nagging makes her product about as appealing as taking out the trash.

When you nag prospects, you associate yourself with the feeling of being nagged. Bad idea.

Pestering or trying to guilt-trip customers into paying attention is a poor use of your time. The mean ones who yell at you or rudely hang up are actually doing you a favor–they’re unambiguously letting you know that they’re not going to buy. It’s the “nice” prospect who lets himself get nagged into talking to you who’s the problem, because he’s not going to buy either.

Attracting Attention in a Sea of Clutter

Every advertiser knows that ads are becoming a mass of white noise. Customers will tune in if you’ve got something they want, but breaking through the clutter gets harder every year.

My copywriting hero Gary Bencivenga gives the best advice I’ve found on this: your advertising must be valuable in and of itself.

Is a blog advertising? It is if you’re using it to build your business. And in fact, a blog fits Bencivenga’s advice to a tee. Build lots of great, valuable content and you’ll attract attention, build loyalty, and establish yourself as an authority. You put yourself into the category of “good, useful guy” instead of “bloodsucking ratbag salesman.”

(I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m just saying that’s how it is.)

Remarkable Communication is based on the idea of using useful, friendly communication as the “something valuable” in your advertising. Newsletters, whether they’re paper or electronic, fill the bill. So do blogs and email autoresponders, or a terrific series of articles hosted on your Web site. Direct mail pieces like “magalogs” or other freebies with good content are a great example, although they take more resources to put together.

If you’re facing a lot of “Sorry, I don’t have time to talk now” from prospects, see what kind of valuable free chips and salsa you can put together. And if you’re not quite sure where to begin, sign up for my free email and content marketing class to get started. (Will I hit you up with dozens of high-pressure offers or rent your email to Romanian pharmaceutical spammers? I will not.)

The Objection Blaster Series (So Far)

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How Tasty Are Your Chips and Salsa?

chips and salsa

One of the great things about going out for Mexican food is getting that free chips and salsa. Of course, it isn’t really free. The cost gets folded into the price you pay for your carnitas tacos or the killer chicken enchiladas. But it feels like a great free gift, which is part of what makes it so enjoyable.

Good content marketing uses free content in the same way. Really great free content whets the appetite and it shows off your talent at creating something tasty. Whatever your regular “main course” product is, a nice appetizer of chips and salsa can strengthen your relationships and boost your business.

Chips and Salsa Get You Ready for the Meal

Have you ever been ravenously hungry, but you didn’t quite realize it until you put the first bite into your mouth?

When you start out with some chips and salsa, you get your tastebuds in the mood for a great dinner. You get started down a path and realize you want to keep going. A few bites of something really yummy leave you primed to enjoy the full meal that’s to come.

In the same way, free content like email newsletters, blogs and autoresponder content are tasty appetizers that make your prospects hungry for something more substantial. They create an enjoyable early experience of consuming your stuff, and set up the right conditions for a great, enduring relationship.

Great Salsa Shows a Great Cook

Salsa isn’t actually very hard to make. You chop up some decent ingredients, put them together in the right ratios, and there you have it, delicious salsa.

But customers don’t know that. The assumption is that if the free salsa is out of this world, the paid main course will be even better. Free salsa is a relatively inexpensive, low-work way to make a great impression on the customer and sell her on the exceptional quality of the main course.

A great email autoresponder works the same way. When you deliver knockout content for free, your reader can’t help but ask herself, “If this is the free stuff, how amazing is the paid product going to be?”

To make free content work, be smart about it. Use the salsa model: create a PDF, an autoresponder, or another vehicle that doesn’t cost too much money or work to send out. Save free consultations, physical samples and other more expensive or labor-intensive freebies for later-stage prospects.

Salsa-and-chips content should, like their namesake, be zesty and not too filling. You want to tease the appetite, not satiate it. Which leads us to . . .

Don’t Wait Too Long to Serve the Meal

If you fill up on chips and salsa while you wait 40 minutes for the meal, what happens? Your needs have already been met. You aren’t hungry any more. You don’t devour your delicious dinner, your experience isn’t completely satisfying, and you’re not as likely to come back.

If you have something to sell, try to make an offer quickly after you put the chips and salsa on the table. You can literally offer a paid product right on the page that thanks your reader for confirming her email subscription. Or you may want to put an offer in your first message, along with that valuable chips-and-salsa content that’s got your reader’s appetite going.

If you deliver nothing but free chips and salsa for months on end, you run the risk of training your customers to expect that everything you offer will be free. Those customers can still build your business—a cheapskate who raves about you all over town is well worth cultivating—but obviously it’s better business to get as many customers as possible paying their way.

Hungry For More?

I have not one but two free and tasty e-classes, delivered fresh and delicious straight to your email box. Sign up today!

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Relationship Marketing Series #6, Connect With One Person


Even though (with any luck) you’re marketing to lots and lots of people, no one wants to be a faceless speck in a crowd.

Maybe it’s a result of the industrial age. Yes, we like to be in tribes, but tribes are small, intimate things. A tribe might be 8 people or 80, but it’s not 80,000. The greater the scale we have to deal with in our jobs, our commutes, our grocery stores, or even our churches, the more we look for one-to-one relationships.

We’re born alone. (Even twins can’t manage that one side-by-side.) And we all secretly think we have problems that no one else has. We want someone who really gets us. Someone who speaks to us, and just to us. Someone who listens to our problems and fears, and then makes those go away.

Know Who You’re Talking To

Marketing 101 tells you to know your market. Too many marketers confuse that with demographics. “My customers are married women 26-40 with one or two children, who subscribe to Redbook and Parenting, and carry a MasterCard.”

Demographics are collections of traits. They come in real handy if you’re buying a mailing list or deciding where to advertise, but demographics aren’t people. They’re just a collection of patterns.

If you have something to sell to that demographic, you need to be thinking about Cynthia (who hates to be called Cindy), who’s 33 and a little bored at work, has a four-year-old named Ben and a six-year-old named Ruby, reads Parenting even though it makes her feel guilty and her mom got her a subscription to Redbook but all she reads are the dessert recipes and articles about dieting, and yes she knows that makes no sense but she does it anyway, and yeah she has a MasterCard, because she got mad at the bank that issued her Visa so she cut it up.

Talk to One Person

Whether you’re writing a blog or an email newsletter or a set of postcards or a yellow pages ad, you need to be thinking about Cynthia.

What can you help her out with? Why is your stuff the perfect match for her problems? Does your gym offer really great childcare, so she doesn’t feel like a rat for parking her kids there for an hour? Does your product respect the fact that she’s pulled in 20 directions as a working mother, and help clarify her choices so she can focus on what she needs to do? Does your carpet-cleaning service use nontoxic solvents, so she can quit worrying about poisoning her kids and the dog just so her mother-in-law will quit making that face when she comes over?

What’s not working for Cynthia right now? How can you make that work better?

To get started on that conversation, I found a nice resource on a copywriters’ forum [note: now moved to Michel Fortin's blog, the link's been updated] called the 60-minute naked truth sales letter. Even if you never intend to use any kind of sales letter, the things you’ll discover with this exercise will help you find the right messages for Cynthia. You’ll get a good, high-level grasp on what you really need to let her know about.

How Do You Find Cynthia?

You’ll be able to find Cynthia by paying attention.

First, make sure Cynthia loves your stuff. She’s your perfect customer. She’ll buy anything and everything you have, because your solutions line up exactly with her problems.

If you realized you’ve imagined a Cynthia who’s just not that into you, start from scratch. Your Cynthia needs to be the person who loves what you do and how you do it, can afford your products and services, and is someone you can figure out how to reach. (In other words, you could buy a mailing list of Cynthias, or you can find a joint venture partner who’s got an email list of Cynthias.)

Talk to the customers you have, especially the ones who love you. (You also want to pay close attention to the ones who hate you, but that’s another exercise.) What’s going on with them? What’s freaking them out right now? How do they feel about the economic situation? What’s going on in their personal relationships? Is this election a big deal for them? Do they think it’s going to change things, and if so, is that good or bad, from their point of view?

If you’ve got a bricks and mortar operation, spend a lot of time on the floor hanging out with customers. Watch them. Listen to them talk to one another. Ask them questions.

If you’re online, go to forums where your customers hang out, and listen to what they gripe about. Set up Google alerts about the kinds of problems you solve. Send out surveys, to both existing customers and potential customers.

Make it very easy to give you feedback, and pay close attention. Look for patterns. Try to figure out the underlying problems and worries that are beneath people’s words.

Speak Her Language

One great thing about all this paying attention is that it lets you discover the language of your customers. Maybe they talk like Katharine Hepburn, and maybe they talk like Roseanne Barr. You’ve got to listen before you can find that out.

Use the phrases, metaphors and examples that your customers use. Describe their problems the way they do. When they give you testimonials, don’t clean up little grammar errors or odd turns of phrase. Keep as much of the original language as you can. A little imperfection shows that it’s real.

Obviously, to make this work, you have to get to a point where that language is natural to you. Parody makes for lousy advertising. If you’re Roseanne and your customer is Katharine, find someone who’s more like your customer to read through your stuff and help with the tone. You can’t make a real connection in a language that’s utterly foreign to you.

One giant advantage you have over Coca-Cola or Johnson & Johnson is that you can create a true sense of personal connection with your customers. Not every customer wants that, but you can find the ones who do.

The worst mistake small-business marketers make is thinking their market is anyone with a pulse. Find your Cynthia, and just write for her. (Even the non-Cynthias will respond to this, because your tone will be personal and genuinely friendly.) Have a cup of coffee with Cynthia when you sit down to write a blog post or an email newsletter article. Let her know what you can help her with today.

When you spend your time thinking about what else you could be doing to make Cynthia’s life better, you’ll start to see some very exciting things happen in your marketing.

So who’s your Cynthia? Let us know in the comments . . .

The Relationship Marketing Series

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