A deeper understanding of your audience makes your marketing more effective and your job easier. Here’s an easy way to get it.
Chris Matyszczyk is a good writer and a smart marketer. I usually think his insights are right on the money. But I completely disagree with something he said in his latest piece for Inc. Magazine, about new alcohol offerings at Walmart:
“… it’s all about low prices, online shopping, same-day delivery, and pandering to the increasingly lazy, shut-in nature of Americans.” (source)
Americans aren’t lazy. Like people most everywhere in the world today, they’re time-pressed and stressed. Sure, we have habits that make it worse — living with our phones glued to our hands, connectedness to news 24/7, and the easy escape into the couch and our devices — but that doesn’t make us lazy.
To manage being overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of stimuli that is life in the 21st century, we have to make strategic choices about where to focus our attention. What’s important to us, and why, shifts depending on whether we’re at work or at home, our stage of life, what we want, what we worry about, and how much we have to do. Your customers aren’t any lazier than you are. If you can imagine their lives, your marketing will be much more effective.
Personalize, empathize, imagine
When creating ad campaigns and marketing messages, shifting your thinking about your audience from judgmental to empathetic makes it much easier to create advertising that resonates. Here’s why:
- You’re more likely to work harder creatively because you’re on their side. You’re not trying to break through the resistance of a force that doesn’t like you. You’re trying to communicate that you understand who they are, and that you’ve got a solution that can help them some way — solve a problem, ease their workload, erase a worry, etc.
- You’re not putting them in the bucket of “the other.” You’re remembering that you’re both human beings with commonality. That makes the target audience less scary, less mysterious, less difficult to imagine. And that makes it easier to come up with marketing strategies, tactics, and messages that will appeal to them.
Here are two examples of how banishing “otherness” made marketing better
Example 1: Women & Men of A Certain Age
A large healthcare company that was selling Medicare supplement insurance asked me to see what I could do to improve attendance at their education events. They thought they had a pretty good offer — a free first-run movie at a local theater, free popcorn and soft drinks, and a talk about insurance before the flick. The target audience was 64-year-olds. The events were held at 10:30 on Wednesday mornings.
What, they wondered, were they doing wrong? Did they need new invitations, a different creative approach, a different offer? Unfortunately for me, because I was being paid by the hour, I was able to identify their problem by asking a single question during our initial meeting. The question was this: “Where are most 64-year-olds at 10:30 on Wednesday mornings?” The answer, of course, is “they’re at work.”
How did such an obvious mistake happen? Medicare is a product for seniors, so the insurance company automatically imagined all seniors as retired. (Judging by the stock photos they use over and over again, they also imagine them as bicycling while wearing pastel sweaters. But that’s another post.)
One of the executives on our conference call groaned. “Boy, do I feel dumb,” he said. “I’m 64. Of course I’m at work on weekday mornings. I’m not planning to retire for three more years. Why didn’t I think of that?” The executive didn’t think of that because when he thought of his “target market,” he thought of them as “the other” — even though he’s one of them.
Example 2: People Don’t Actually Swap Personalities When They Arrive At Work
Trade show pros know that winning booths have an element of fun. Silly games, leisure-focused prizes, entertaining speakers, warm cookies, aromatic popcorn, and bright banners all help exhibitors to stand out in a crowded field of competitors. So why do we think that when we send these same prospects marketing messages at a distance, they need to be deadly serious, and written in dull and lifeless “business-speak”?
One big tech company had an excellent expo ground game, but their other marketing messages were the polar opposite — so stiff and formal that they banished all contractions from marketing materials, making ads, websites, emails, and direct-mail letters sound as though they were written by robots. For example, “Wouldn’t you like to spend less time troubleshooting your network?” became, “Would you not like to spend less time troubleshooting your network?”
It was a thankfully short-lived experiment. The target market still consisted of IT professionals and decision-makers. But they’re still people. When we loosened up the marketing and presented it in a livelier way, responses increased significantly. Your tone has to be on-brand, of course, and not all brands play well with lighthearted messages. But even serious messages about serious subjects should be interesting, well-written, and have human appeal.
Marketing Success Tip:
Before you start strategizing, brainstorming, or crafting art and copy, write two or three very short descriptions of your target audience. Write separate descriptions for each subset (for example, decision-makers and end-users, teachers and authors, single college students and parents of young children). Give them names and situations that make them real. Avoid using any words that trigger stereotypes from you — age, wealth, ethnicity, etc. — so that you can imagine and empathize.
Consider these two descriptions of the same target market for a casino:
Demographic “A” is men, 35-48, who come for game weekends and sports betting. They usually bring friends, book two rooms, and live less than a three-hour drive away.
Bob’s favorite thing about going to Towering Casino is the sports betting. An avid fan who would wear his team jersey to his own wedding if he could, he loves the excitement of big games, following his favorite players, and betting on the spread. Most of all, he loves hanging out with his four closest friends and fellow fans. A weekend at Towering Casino with his crew, a big game, and a steak dinner is the ultimate escape from a packed schedule and a stressful job.
Which description is more likely to help your team create effective and compelling ads? Which content will be livelier and more memorable? Which will help you craft offers that your target audience will really want and appreciate? Which sparks more ideas for upselling and cross-selling? Which will make your job easier, because it paints a picture in your mind?
Spend about 20 minutes doing that, and strategize, write, and design for THOSE people. It will be easier, better, and more fun.