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: this has moved a few times, here’s the latest link that I’ve found] called the 60-minute naked truth sales letter, created by Dean Jackson and popularized by Michel Fortin. 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
- #1: Create a Human Connection
- #2: Don’t Be a Bad Boyfriend
- #3: Come Out of the Closet
- #4: Show Up
- #5: Pay Attention
- #6: Connect With One Person
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Flickr Creative Commons image by geeknerd99