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. One group (enterprise) has a unique set of circumstances and faces unique day-to-day realities and aspirations. The other (anyone) is a bit harder to pin down.
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 have to be willing to develop that focus.
Some of our 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,
- wanting 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 (for a few ways to focus on opening the right doors, watch the video below).
Who Do You Work With?
Now, imagine the entrepreneur who hears the question, “Who do you work with?” and boils their answer down to “people who want (the product/service I sell).” That answer indicates someone who knows their offer, but doesn’t know their best-fitting customer and may have trouble communicating in a relatable way.
If my business, Soulful Brand, were to answer that question in a non-relatable way, it would sound like this: “I work with businesses who want brand strategy.”
Just writing that makes me feel stiff and tense, bringing me back to all the times I did say things like that. I didn’t understand what a compelling presence or communication felt or sounded like. Or that business is not just about what catches people’s attention, it’s about connecting with them. At that time, I didn’t know how to connect with others.
Today, what I typically say to the question, “Who do you work with?” is something like: “I work with aspiring thought leaders who want to convey how they’re unique in the marketplace.”
￼Notice I didn’t say “brand strategy” at all there—what matters first and foremost to me is the human beings I’m serving, not my method or technology. For me, and the kind of work I do, this approach feels more clear and compelling. Better still, I feel like more of a human being when I say it.
Focusing on the Mindset of Your Audience
When we speak of mindset and circumstance we’re in the realm of psychographics—the internal, subjective data that’s linked to our feeling brain. If we were focusing on their age or gender or job title, we’d be in the realm of demographics—the externally available, objective data that’s all about our logical brain.
Neither is better than the other, but in our culture, we’ve tended to lean on demographics (which are easier to find and measure) and not get very deep into psychographics. One reason for this, I believe, is that our culture is challenged when it comes to intimacy. We’re spending more and more time in connection with screens than we are with each other. Being willing to uncover psychographics is akin to making sustained eye contact—it can be uncomfortable, but the deep need for that real connection is undeniable.
When we help clients uncover the mindset of their best-fitting customers, they’re putting themselves into the hearts and minds of others. It’s not just a good business practice for refining your message—it also happens to be a great exercise for becoming a more thoughtful person.
For the sake of comparison, notice the difference between these two extreme statements, the first featuring only demographics and the second only psychographics:
- Demographics: “I hear you’re an architect with a family of four, living in Portland, earning over $250k/year. Let’s talk.”
- Psychographics: “I hear you’re looking to invest in some socially responsible mutual funds, but are a bit skeptical about the market these days. Let’s talk.”
Again, neither is better than the other. These are all gateways to finding customers and how we ￼might connect with them more meaningfully. Let’s look at the realm of psychographics, the one we tend to shy away from…
Four Questions to Understand your Audience’s Mindset
Here are some questions to get you started that we’ve found useful. They’re all mindset-based and intended to put you into the shoes of who you want to connect with in your marketing:
1. SKILL LEVEL.
Consider the problem you solve and who needs that most: What level of skill do they have relative to solving that problem now? Are they beginners or advanced?
You will speak to and educate them differently based on this answer.
Example: “We solve the problem of miscommunication between freelance designers and their clients. They are mid-level when it comes to communicating project expectations and updates.”
What do you believe that your potential customer would also need to believe about your area of expertise (or the world) in order to resonate with why your offer matters? Do they consciously believe that now or are they almost there and simply waiting for you to make a distinction for them?
Example: “We and our customers need to believe that a person can be strong, fit and independent at any age.”
If your product or service is a stepping stone for them to get from where they are now to a new place, then how would THEY describe where they are now? What is going on for them that makes their current problem a problem?
HINT: To use language that they would use, try using “I” statements and pretend to answer on their behalf.
Example: “I am feeling disconnected from friends and family and unable to engage in ￼conversations that feel meaningful.”
What is your product or service going to enable them to do?
Make sure that it’s something they can’t do currently on their own AND that they would say they want. Go beyond the goal of using your product or service. In other words, after using your product or engaging your service, what do they gain or achieve?
Again, try using “I” statements on their behalf here.
Example: “I’m connected to others in my organization and feel like an integral part of a cohesive community. We spend less time arguing and more time being curious about each other’s perspectives.”
Everyone is not (yet) my potential customer.
With the belief that everyone is a potential customer, I have too many choices to sift through for where to put my marketing time and dollars. If I could go anywhere and put my message in front of anyone, how do I know where to begin? And when I’m there, how will I relate?
Remember, what makes a message compelling is not just about clarity and powerful language. You can craft some phrases that seem to make your product shine, but if you don’t truly understand who you’re speaking to, then you’ll only be able to talk about what you’re selling.
This is a crucial rule of any great communication: know your audience. Get to know their mindset and convey how your offer may fit into their lives. In this way, you can practice a more authentic form of connecting in the marketplace.