Think of your brand as the blueprint of a house. Before you apply that first coat of paint, you need to define the dimensions, materials, layouts, installation methods and techniques needed to build the house. You have to reckon with an investment that reaps no return other than to ensure the roof doesn’t collapse on your head as soon as you enter it. But you’re the sort to worship at the ROI altar. You light performance marketing candles. You pray to a photograph of Gary V.
This is the moment when you might roll your eyes, ball your fights quite emphatically, and shout PFFFT! I’ve built many a house. I don’t need no blueprint! Let’s hang these curtains and get this party started. You’re handy with a jackhammer. So, you build the house. It looks good enough until you throw a party and everyone falls through the floor straight down to Hades and your Diptyque candles torch the joint. You’re dead, covered in plywood, plaster, and the wallpaper you didn’t like as much as you thought you would.
But it doesn’t matter because you’re dead and everyone’s broadcasted the collapse of your house and everyone in it. Random teenagers film TikToks in response to your demise. You are forgotten within days.
All because you didn’t rely on a blueprint.
When I build a brand, I immerse in my 3C Discovery process; I become a CIA operative when it comes to your business. I analyze your company, competition, and most importantly, your customers. And you’d be surprised how many founders don’t speak to their customers before, during, and after they’ve launched their products. They often claim, I’m the customer, or they’ll interview a handful of friends and call that research. When I prod and ask when was the last time they got on the phone with their customers and you’d think we were on the set of a Western with the tumbleweed barreling through the conference room it was so quiet.
While there are many complicated reasons for launch and performance marketing failures, the biggest brand black hole comes down to not knowing your customer. Talk to your customers.
I realize this is scary and might hurt your fragile ego. Deep breaths.
Why is becoming a CIA operative when it comes to your customers important? Because you’re operating a business, not a hobby. Connecting with your customers will tighten your messaging and positioning, and help you craft stories, products, and experiences that actually matter to them. Knowing your customer makes your marketing effective and efficient, ensuring you deliver the kind of service that exceeds every expectation.
Let’s hone in on pivoting your messaging, and how using a combination of customer intel and shouting your shine can architect stories that are clear, concise and compelling. Copy that stops them mid-scroll. Words that convert them from passive fans to megaphoning evangelists.
Dig Deep Into Their Wants & Needs
What underlying desire do your products or services fill? What are the benefits and outcomes of using your products and services? Don’t skim the surface — go deep. Go to the places most customers won’t reveal initially, consciously, or out loud.
Let’s say you sell a course teaching people how to build courses. You could message prospects on the pragmatic benefits of the product: how taking your course removes the guesswork from building one. They’d save time, money, and energy they’d otherwise squander trying to DIY it on their own. Maybe that drives some revenue, but nothing earth-shattering.
You want to dial up the cash money heat.
So, you get on a Zoom with the kind of people you want buying your product. You don’t ask them, “Would you buy my product?” Rather, you want to understand the context of their purchase, their deeper “why”. Maybe they need the security of an additional income stream or the flexibility of having additional income so they can focus on taking care of their loved ones. Perhaps they want freedom and control over how they spend their days.
Now, you have something with bite. A Beyoncé-level message with practical benefits serving as back-up dancers. They’re important to the overall performance, but it’s Beyoncé that closes the deal and steals the show.
Earlier this year, I worked with a bespoke menswear brand. They made high-end custom suits and casual clothing. Their products, styling, and models were on-point but their messaging wasn’t cutting it. They interviewed upwards of fifty of their top customers. From these informal conversations we understood their purchase journey, which revealed a trend. It wasn’t about how the guys felt in the clothes — yes, that was part of it — but it was feeling as if they were prepared for important occasions (e.g., wedding, first date, promotion, etc.) that was key.
Their “why” was bound to a “when.” They wanted look and feel good in quality, tailored clothing on an occasion that required them to step up their look. Being prepared gave them confidence going into the event. We pivoted our messaging to focus on suiting men for the milestones, occasions, and events in their lives.
Uncover & Combat Their Reasons to Reject You
Marketers are so fixated on understanding their customers’ motivations, pain-points, triggers, wants, needs, habits and behaviors, but rarely do they want to stew in discomfort. Rarely do they want to know why their customers wouldn’t buy them.
This is where I say PFFFT! because I want all the information so I can proactively combat their objections and assuage their fears. Consider a few potential purchase roadblocks:
- Price: Is your product not worth its value? We’re not talking about ideal customers who can’t afford your product — they’re simply saying it’s not worth it.
- Quality: Quality is a nuanced conversation because sometimes we’ll sacrifice it in favor of value or convenience. Maybe we’ll get the meh Thai food because they deliver in 30 minutes versus the delicious Thai that costs twice as much and takes twice as long to get to our doorstep. Understand your customer’s quality threshold, how much it matters, and how it factors in context to value, convenience, etc.
- Complexity: Are you selling the IKEA furniture of products? Do your customers need a master’s degree to figure out how to use them? Examine your systems and processes when it comes to creating your product and how your customer uses it and whether they’re any addressable barriers.
- Convenience: Last year, I worked on a customer segmentation study for an upscale salon chain, and their customers balked at their hours and locations. If the salon didn’t offer flexibility (i.e., early morning/after work appointments) or wasn’t close enough, they would switch to a competitor. Some customers were loyal to their stylists, naturally, but people who weren’t or those who were prospects prioritized convenience. When DryBar launched they messaged on convenience because they targeted women who worked long hours at high-profile jobs.
- Experience: Is your return process a nightmare? Does it takes a month for customer service to respond and do they act like bots? Customers remember the experience they have with a brand above all else. If your products are stellar but the experience is below-the-floor, customers will bolt. It may not be sexy to hear feedback on packaging and fulfillment — but this is what your customer cares about.
Sometimes, it may not be about you. Maybe your customer isn’t ready to buy and it’s a matter of uncovering why so you’re able to market and messaging accordingly — whether it’s giving them comfort to try or being there for them until they’re ready.
Know & Shout Your Difference
Unless you’re creating a product or service that’s never existed, you’re likely to have a pile of competition. What’s useful about this is leveraging point of parity — you don’t have to sell a customer on the “what” because they already know the what, whether it’s website design services or a power drill.
Customers go through an evaluation phase — comparing you to your competitors — so it’s vital to be clear, concise, and compelling about your point of difference. You’re answering the question, “Why you?” If someone has been using a brand for years, what about your product, service, and experience will make them switch or, at the very least, add you to their consideration set?
Your unique difference, or positioning, comes down to how you do or make something differently or better than the pack. It could be your process, methodology, approach, or personality if you’re a service provider. Maybe you have a specific industry expertise or results in a particular aspect of your field. Perhaps it’s the pile of accolades, awards, and years of experience. If you sell products, maybe you have a technological advantage or innovation. Perhaps it’s your heritage, social proof, testimonials, results. Or, do you have a geographic advantage?
The “how” encompasses the totality of the customer experience — not the product or service they purchased.
I’m a brand strategist and marketer by trade. I have brand and agency perspectives. I’ve worked across industries, company sizes, and sectors. But what really sets me apart is my process and personality. I’m an educator and that’s embedded in how I collaborate with clients. I’m also a traditionally-published author so I come at brand development from both a data and storytelling perspective.
When prospects evaluate me against other consultants, they may not select me because of my quirky personality or plain-spoken approach (translation: I speak English, not marketing jargon to my clients). They may shirk over the fact I’m not a “yes” person and I side-eye most “gurus” in my space.
When it comes to crafting compelling messaging, you need to first build your blueprint and that blueprint originates with your customer and you. It’s about understanding them as a living, breathing, complex and complete person who has fears, wants, needs, desires, and challenges. And it’s about how you meet and solve for those challenges and deliver a memorable experience along the way.
Show up as a flawed, wonderful human who actually listens to your customers, nods your head, and says, I got you. And means it.
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