Photo Credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Your marketing needs more mayonnaise.

A freelancer named Joe asked me recently how freelancers can market themselves effectively.

I think it boils down to delivering the right message to the right people at the right time — nothing unique to me — and so savvy marketers (and savvy freelancers) pay attention to all three:

  1. Messaging
  2. Audience
  3. Timing

I shared thoughts on how to fix your messaging in another post, so today, I’d like to talk about audience.

Who are you selling to?

I’ve gotten my audience wrong, wrong, wrong on multiple occasions.

At my first and only agency job, I worked as a copywriter and account executive. One of our clients was a company that owned and managed several restaurants in Knoxville, including the most popular sushi bar in town.

Nama had gained a reputation for inventive flavor combinations and maki, which was no small feat considering that Knoxville diners aren’t known for their progressive palates.

The agency where I worked was assembling the advertising campaign, and being the resident writer, I was tasked with writing headlines for billboards.

I always was good at connecting dots in unusual ways, so I thought I had a winner when I wrote down “Sushi Couture.”

French couture. One-of-a-kind high fashion garments that have to be sown onto the models. Couture seemed to fit sushi rolls with ingredients like orange juice and jalapeño peppers.

Boom. Done.

I strutted over to the creative director and shared my stroke of genius.

He didn’t blink before saying, “Yeah, that’s not going to work.”

“What do you mean?” I said. “It’s perfect. Couture. You know, one-of-a-kind. Unique sushi creations. What word could be more accurate? And describing something as ‘unique’ has become cliche.”

He raised an eyebrow. “We’re in East Tennessee. Nobody knows what ‘couture’ means. I wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t just told me.”


I had a perfect gem of messaging, a pearl I was about to cast before swine.

Now to be fair to East Tennesseans, some of them would know what “couture” means. And who knows, maybe the use of a more obscure French word from the world of fashion might have piqued people’s curiosity.

Be that as it may, that particular headline probably would have confused lots and lots of sushi lovers with money in their pockets.

Confusion generally doesn’t sell well.

I heard Sean D’Souza say something this year that begs repeating: “The purpose of marketing is to alienate most of your customers.”

It’s true. But there’s a difference between purposefully alienating the wrong customers and accidentally confusing the right ones.

So as you think about your audience, scrutinize the words in your web content, social content, and marketing materials.

Good marketing cleans the window instead of dirtying it.

Conspicuous vs. Memorable

Literature dork that I am, I once read a gentleman’s etiquette guide written in the 1800s in Great Britain.

One thought stuck with me: The mark of a superbly dressed man is that his clothes don’t draw the attention. They get out of the way so that the attention is on the man himself.

We human beings make snap judgments. Clothing can be so rich and conspicuous that people focus on the plum-colored velvet coat or the garish colors in the necktie. Whether we know it or not, we often decide that the man is a bit of a peacock. His penchant for flashy haberdashery suggests that he needs attention.

Or a man can be so slovenly dressed that we think he has no sense of style, no money, and no self-respect.

Of course, I’m making generalizations here, and most people will be more sympathetic in their judgments, especially if a pleasant conversation with the person in question contradicts that first impression.

I hope you see the point of this rabbit trail, however. People do make snap judgments, and we often don’t have much time to make a good impression.

You want your marketing to be memorable, not simply conspicuous.

Everything you can do to direct that person’s attention to the real offer — in Nama’s case, delicious, memorable sushi — instead of a weird, distracting word or confusing

Brands die by a thousand cuts, and they grow by a thousand kindnesses.

So you must learn your audience’s preferences. You must learn them.

When in doubt, put the emphasis on what is important to them, not what you think is clever or cool.

How do you learn your audience’s preferences?

You talk to them.

Time and time again, what my audience prefers and values surprises me.

So it’s best to not assume even if you are a member of your own target audience. (Often, we’re not members of our target audience, but I can still make the mistake of believing that every freelance writer thinks and acts like I do.)

I once helped a prosthodontist write content for his website, and he kept injecting the word “dentition” into my drafts. He insisted on this word because it was the right word, the textbook word.

I had to look up the word “dentition,” and sure enough, it had the right denotation: “the arrangement or condition of the teeth in a particular species or individual.”

I still fought the choice. I reasoned that most of this specialized dentist’s would-be clients wouldn’t know the word, and besides, it stopped short of the implications of healthy teeth, gums, and bones:

  • Eating without pain
  • Eating tricky foods like corn on the cob or candied apples
  • Being proud of one’s smile
  • Being confident in one’s physical appearance

We can make choices in our messaging and marketing that are technically correct yet totally off the mark, in terms of drilling down to an audience’s emotional drivers.

People don’t get expensive dental work done because they want “healthy dentition.” They get their teeth fixed because it’s embarrassing when your dentures fall into your soup at a nice party.

Marketing falls flat when we fixate on features instead of opening up those features’ benefits to the end user.

I love this headline.

I saw a fantastic example of good harmony between messaging and the target audience’s emotional drivers just this morning.

The founder of, Laurent Perrier, reached out to me, so I took a gander at the website. Here’s what I saw when I scrolled down the Home page…

Do you know what has frustrated every freelancer and business owner ever?

Waiting to get paid. Worse yet, getting paid late.

That headline — “Our invoices get paid in 23 hours and 6 minutes on average.” — works because it speaks directly to a common frustration.

Would you like for your clients to pay every invoice in less than 24 hours?

I know I would!

Simple Invoices promises to make one of my primary pain points go away. That one line got my attention, so now I want to investigate further.

I want to investigate even though I have used Harvest for years and have no less than a thousand other options for my invoices.

Laurent clearly took the time to get to know his target audience’s pain points. And then he took the messaging one step further by using numbers to punch my certainty button.

(Check out this article from Neil Patel on how numbers in headlines contribute certainty, and we human beings gravitate to certainty.)

So I’ll leave you with some homework.

  • Get to know your audience by talking to real people in your audience.
  • Identify their primary pain points.
  • Craft language that focuses on making those pains disappear.
  • Keep the focus on the better future for your customers, not your cleverness or coolness or background as a blindfolded trapeze audience.

Don’t guess at what matters most to your audience. Do the tedious, non-scalable thing and schedule conversations (or, interviews) with real people.

These conversations will surprise you because you will discover that your assumptions about their biggest frustrations are often wrong.

They don’t want sushi couture. They want the best sushi in town. They want fish so fresh they’ll slap their mamas. They might also want mayonnaise dressed up as “Fantasy Sauce” drizzled on everything.

If your marketing is going to be effective, you must focus on their preferences, not your own—even if those deep-fried, mayonnaise-splashed preferences make you cringe.

Your audience wants their problems to disappear. They want a better future. They want more mayonnaise, or rather Fantasy Sauce.

Would you like some free help with this?

I’ve got a nifty worksheet that will enable you to ask the right questions and identify your target audience’s true pains and desires.

Click on this link to share your name and email address, and I will send you the download link.