Part Three of Knowing Your Audience: What do they say about you?

This is part 3 of a 4 part series on the importance of – and exercises for – knowing your audience before developing your story. Yesterday we discussed the 5 questions to ask about your audience.

Part 3 to fully knowing your customer, member or client?  Know what your customers say about you to others.

Smart leaders know that what you hear on customer surveys and even focus groups isn’t always the whole truth. The subtle difference between what they say to you and what they really think and report to others can be the intelligence you need to make subtle shifts in your presentations, speeches or messages.

For many years, retail outlets have hired “mystery shoppers” where owners hired individuals to pretend to be a customer and then report back on their experience. (Did you know there is a Mystery Shopping Providers Association?) But, there are other ways to be the proverbial “fly on the wall.” A few include:

  • Monitoring social networks, forums and groups for your name or product name.
  • Setting up a Google alert on your organization (and yourself).
  • Monitoring the comments section on media and blog postings that discuss you and your organization or products and services.
  • Simply asking the people around them (other vendors and other customers or members) what they say.

Asking them yourself via direct visits and calls and market research activities is important. But, knowing what they say when you leave the room is priceless.

Part Two of Knowing Your Audience: 5 Essential Questions

Yesterday, I discussed how important it is to know your audiences deeper than ever before.

Today, could you answer the following questions about your prime target, your sweet spot customer, the group or person you need to influence?

  1. What are the top 5 things on their minds right now? What is keeping them up at night? (e.g. keeping their jobs, growing their company, completing a project? Something more specific?)
  2. And, what magic wand do they wish they had to resolve their concerns, issues or challenges?
  3. What are 3 things that motivate them? What is most precious to them (e.g. time, money, health/vitality, power, success/admiration, security, comfort, legacy, making a difference/contribution)?
  4. What tone of voice attracts them? (e.g. humor/entertainment, serious business/security, urgency?)
  5. What was their defining moment or defining experience that led them to possibly needing you and what you have to offer?

Whether or not you are about to make a sales pitch, are getting ready for a presentation or speech, about to launch a fundraising effort or other activity, knowing the answers to these questions will make your stories and presentations and messages much more powerful. Take the time to answer them.

What is a Compelling Message Anyway?

When developing a powerful message, there are three elements to include:

  • A compelling angle
  • A differentiating point
  • A truthful and accurate account

The one characteristic where I have found most people spend the most time is “being compelling.” After all, it’s the fun part. It is the element where you get to boast about the importance of your product or service and how exciting you are.

But, what does “being compelling” mean?

Hint: It’s not necessarily being flashy or having to set yourself on fire. Granted, showmanship may count during the Super Bowl, but during a normal business day as your customers and potential clients seek help or something to fit their needs, they are looking for relevance.

Providing a compelling angle means you can hold the interest of a potential customer long enough for them to understand where you fit into their world. It also should hold their interest long enough for you to have a conversation with them.

For example, the tag line of Earth Justice, an environmental organization, is: Because the Earth Needs a Good Lawyer. Not only does this point you in the direction of what they do (truth and accuracy) and how they might differ from, say, the Sierra Club, this message gives you a sense of their energy and how they feel about their work. This message would be interesting to anyone who believes the planet could use an advocate.

Think about when Apple’s Steve Jobs announced the iPad. His story was to the point, calling the iPad the world’s thinnest notebook. It differentiated the product from heavier, bulkier computer laptops and, as he held it up, you could see he was being truthful. It was pretty darn thin. But, also, how compelling is it to believe you could actually fit something in your briefcase besides your computer? He knows his audience – they want efficiency. They want “light” and productivity. And, he knew what would compel them to learn more about this new product from the beginning.

How compelling are your messages?

Do You Know What Your Audience Wants From Your Story?

I have sat around many conference tables in my 26 year career. Much of that time was spent talking about how the proverbial “we” were going to get some idea across to some people we were hoping would spend time and money with us. Over the years I’ve noticed an alarming trend. “We” tend to spend 95% of the time talking about what we want to say, and just 5 percent of the time talking about who was going to hear it.

Step one for anyone seeking to build a business narrative, organizational story or even a simple message is this: Answer how well you know your audience.

In the book Transformational Speaking, author Gail Larsen brilliantly offers one way to categorize an audience, if your goal is to move them into action (versus just entertain or educate).

The four buckets:

  1. Is your audience seeking information? Is your audience moved by data? Do they just not know much about your topic and they want to know more?
  2. Is your audience seeking insight? Are they just looking for what to do? Are they looking for someone to lead the way?
  3. Is your audience seeking to expand their imagination? Are they seeking to make something new happen?
  4. Is your audience seeking to be illuminated?  Are they seeking to be changed at a deep level? Do they want to be moved?

By knowing where you audience falls in the above four categories. you may now set the tone that gives them exactly what they want. And, when they get what they way you probably will, too.

One Way to Confirm Your Suspicion Company Messages Are Being Ignored by Staff

Do you have a gut feeling that your team members have their own ideas about how they should describe your company, your products or service or your vision?

One quick exercise to get those disagreeing ideas out into the open is having staff contribute to a “good word-bad word” list. Laugh if you must. But, this very simple exercise will showcase opposing ideas quickly and efficiently. Nothing gets differing opinions on the table faster than to get people to admit what words they believe should always be associated with your organization and which words should never be associated with your company.

What to do:

  1. Get everyone around the conference room table. Or, bribe them with a free lunch or a late Friday afternoon wine and cheese party. But, get as many folks from your company around an easel or white board as you can.
  2. Draw a line down the middle of the blank space. Write “good words” on one side. Write “bad words” on the other side.
  3. Now ask everyone in the room to start calling out words that they believe everyone should use when sharing your company’s offerings (good words). Also, have them share words they believe should never be used (bad words).

Encourage people to avoid over used words such as “professional” and “excellent” on the “good word” list. Rather, seek more powerful, differentiating words like “formidable” and “catalyst.”

For the “bad words” encourage people to identify jargon (e.g. “solutions”). Have them identify words someone might use, but you would rather they did not (e.g. you are a nonprofit but people might assign you the “trade association” label and you’d rather they didn’t). Resist the urge to write down words that simply are opposite of what is on the “good word” list.

Now, watch the sparks fly as the Chief Marketing Officer throws out the word “creative” and your Chief Financial Officer’s eyes grow wide with surprise. Creative? Doesn’t that mean risky? the CFO may ask. The CMO may respond, it’s what sells. The CFO then retorts, There is selling and then there is staying in business. You get the picture.

Open the discussion to talk about why certain words are important to use and the words that are important to avoid. By having an open dialogue, you can get prejudices and default language out into the open. From there you can address disconnects and inappropriate language that may be causing confusion or a misinterpretation of who you are in the marketplace.

This exercise also helps boost your messaging by throwing out the old tired words and forces everyone to seek out some really differentiating and special words that only you can claim.

At first blush this exercise appears to be far too simple. It is simple. But, it could be one of the most eye-opening things you do around messaging.

Message Process. The External Look.

Once you have taken an internal look, which includes auditing your current messaging, interviewing staff, board members and other stakeholders, and analyzing your materials, you are ready to take the second step and look outward.

A proactive messaging process should include assessing competitors’ messaging. We’ve discussed analyzing your competitor’s messages extensively here.

But you also should conduct as much market research around your customer base as your resources allow. By checking in with your current and potential customers you will avoid developing your corporate story and messages in a vacuum.

First, do you know who they are? Identify as much demographic information as you can.

After figuring out who you are trying to attract investigate what influences them and why. Besides conducting customer surveys that ask what they thought of you be sure to ask them plenty of questions that get to the heart of their world. Hundreds of revealing questions exist, such as:

  • What tone of voice resonates with them the most? (e.g. humor, sincerity, outrage) And, why?
  • Who do they pay attention to? (e.g. celebrities, peers, academic experts) Who else is influencing them?
  • Do they use social media? (e.g. topical forums and message boards, Facebook, LinkedIn?) Or, are they more apt to use more traditional channels? (e.g. evening news broadcasts, radio shows, newspapers, trade journals)
  • What are their pain points? What do they wish was different, better, more?
  • Where do they spend their time, and why?
  • What are their values?
  • What causes them to part with their resources (e.g. time, money, attention, referrals)

Making sure your messages work means making sure they work for your audience and not just look good on paper.

The Message Process. Looking Inward First.

The first step in our message process involves taking an internal look at the company or organization.

Knowing how you are currently portraying your organization and what you are saying will lead you to the reputation and image you have already created. You may find you’ll need to unravel, change or re-direct a perception that was self-created due to confusing or unclear messaging.

What messages do your materials send?
Audit your web site, printed materials, PowerPoint presentations, press coverage, even your e-mail messages sent to customers and other stakeholders. A few things to note include:

•  What is the overall positioning being delivered?
•  What are the top 5 main messages?
•  What is the tag line (including the informal ones that seem to crop up in e-mails and PowerPoint presentations because a staff member just likes it)

What is the common thread amongst them? Are those the message you wish to send? What is clear or unclear? What is compelling and what is not? What differentiates you from your competitors and what does not? What speaks the truth? Where are you stretching it?

What message is your staff sending?
Secondly, identifying what your people believe is key. Why? They are sending a message – whether or not they know it – about who you are and what you stand for. If you don’t know what your own employees or partners are saying, then you know only half the story that is being told about your firm. Your own people have default language and a default elevator pitch. Find out what they are.

This self perception analysis should include interviewing staff, board members, committee chairs and key partners, investors, and other stakeholders.

Ask them the following (and more):
•  What are the top three public perception challenges that your organization is facing? If these three viewpoints were changed, you would meet your goals and objectives. These barriers can relate to any of the organization’s functions or needs.
•  Who do you believe is our organization’s primary target audience (include qualities or characteristics)?
•  What do you believe is an untapped market for the organization?
•  What do you believe our customers and clients are driven by?
•  What do you think our customers and clients say about us when we are not in the room?
•  What barrier needs to be removed to meet our customers’ needs?
•  What qualities (e.g. creative, dedicated, etc.) would you assign to our organization?
•  If you could tell a potential customer or client one thing about us, what would it be?
•  What is your greatest concern about our reputation or image?

One Basic Positioning and Message Process. Use, Copy, Consider…

We are committed to better storytelling for and by everyone, so we are freely sharing some of our Four Leaf positioning and messaging processes.

Many methods exist for companies and organizations to craft their stories and narratives. Below is one simple course that can put order to the process of developing more powerful messaging.

In the coming weeks, we will discuss various parts of this process in more detail. But, for now, consider asking are your messages working for you? When was the last time you took a deep dive into your messaging? And, when you did were your decisions based on research, analysis, anecdotal evidence or your gut feelings?

Positioning & Messaging: One Basic Process

Step one: The Internal Look. Who are you and what do you believe?

  • Conduct a current message audit. What are you currently saying or sharing with your audiences?
  • Engage in a self perception analysis. What do you believe, think and know about yourself?

Step two: The External Look. What does your audience hear or see? What are you up against? What is the noise we are trying to cut through?

  • Conduct a competitive message analysis. Who or what is your audience choosing over you and why? What are they saying that is so compelling?
  • Engage in target audience research. Who are your customers, anyway? What do they think or know about you?

Step three: Message Development. Develop a series of messages in a planned message summit or series of meetings, including:

  • Target audience description
  • Concept pyramid (What are you trying to get across and what are the priorities?)
  • Good word, bad word list (What words do you always want associated with you? Which ones, not so much?)
  • Positioning statement
  • Elevator pitch/10 second story
  • Tag line
  • Power bites. (Answers to the top 10 questions you know you’ll get asked.)
  • 3 Take-away statements
  • Corporate boilerplate
  • Value messages

Step four: Testing and refreshing. Spend a few weeks testing your messages with trusted and loyal customers. Do they resonate or fall flat? Revise as necessary.