…or why marketing is not so different from dating (apart from the messy breakup, that is)

Here’s a test for you. Take a piece of copy you’re currently using in your marketing and count the instances of the word ‘we’. Let’s call that value X. Now count the instances of the word ‘you’. Let’s call that value Y. Is X bigger than Y? If so, you’re in trouble. It’s like the corporate equivalent of the person who barely pauses for breath at a dinner party, before launching into another self-obsessed monologue. And yet what do all the networking gurus say? Ask questions. Find out things. Show interest in the other person. Appear engaged (even if you aren’t – you’ll become engaged if you just stick at it). Now I realise there’s a problem here, at least from the networking perspective. If both people are pumping the other for information, expressing interest and engagement, and asking lots of questions, then the conversation soon feels like a never-ending baseline game of tennis. But marketing is different to networking. It’s an unequal conversation, based on different motives. You have something your prospects want (value for money, service, cool stuff, fast delivery, the solution to a problem). They have something you want (money, but not just that – you also want loyalty, repeat custom and ideally an endorsement). So how do you both get what you want? Well, just like networking – or dating, come to that – you need to do a little planning ahead of time. Focus on your ideal customer and decide what you want out of the relationship. Make a list of nice-to-haves and need-to-haves. Work out what your minimum requirements are, and don’t compromise on them. If you’ve got a networking checklist, and a dating checklist, why not have a marketing checklist? It’ll make sure you get the customer engagement you want, and you may just end up with a marriage made in heaven. So what’s on your customer checklist (or, as importantly, prospect checklist)? Well how about:
  • Young, old, or middle-aged? I often ask people about their audience’s average age, and they say ‘all ages’. Well yes, that’s true, but ideal prospects tend to have a similar profile, and similar-ish age.
  • Looking for information, or solving a problem? The two are not mutually exclusive, but the first group tends to read more slowly, and deal with longer copy. Problem-solvers, especially if those problems are acute, want an answer right now. No waffle, no long lead-in. Just a quick solution, without the customary preamble.
  • Detail-focused or top-level? This is closely related to the last one. If your copy is on the web, keep it top-level to begin with, then let people branch off to find details if they want to. In print, you’ve got a bit more space, time and indulgence on the part of the reader, but not much. If in doubt, go short.
  • Amateurs or experts? How much do potential prospects know about your products, service, market, approach, competition and options? Do you need to do some explaining and educating first, before moving into sale mode? Or can you take a certain level of knowledge for granted?
  • Jargon or plain English? My default mode is always the second, though there are times when you want to show people you talk their language – and that lingo may be techie, detailed and impenetrable to outsiders. If you’re talking about an API (Application Programming Interface) as I did recently, then lead with benefits (save time and money, do more business, get things done faster/more efficiently) follow through with features (how you do that) and then, and only then, hit them with the technical details. Simple trumps complicated every time. And most of us don’t do details – but include them for those who do and you’ve got most bases covered.
  • How much choice? The received wisdom is that choice is a good thing. But too much choice is paralysing for most people. Would you like the Basic, Starter, Professional, Business or Light version of that office software, madam? The Comprehensive, Saver, Family, Multi-trip, or Essentials insurance cover, sir? The red, blue or black Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10? (That one I agonised over for a week. Blue, by the way.)
  • Price or quality? “I’m a Waitrose person,” said my yummy-mummy neighbour a while back. “You can’t go wrong with them. Especially their Essentials range.” The Essentials range? The cheapo, white-box, bottom-of-the-range product lines? The hacking-jacket equivalent of Asda’s Smart Price? Yes, that’s the one. We’re all price-driven in one way or another. Some see price as the ultimate badge of honour, and a guarantee of status and brand credibility (e.g. my friend-of-a-friend with his £14,000 Patek Philippe). Others balance price and brand (my £25 Timex). Others go for price alone. So what turns your ideal customer on? What’s the prefect blend of price and quality?
  • Top 10 things? Top 5? Top 3? Everybody wants choice, value, freedom, ease of use, good service, a hassle-free purchase, a simple returns policy, easy cancellation, flexible terms, prompt delivery, friendly interaction, fast response. Everybody. But something has to take priority. So can you whittle down the really important things to a handful? To just three, for example? It’s tempting not to, as you don’t want to miss any potential business. But selling to everybody is a lot harder than selling to somebody. A while back I wrote some copy for an insurance comparison site. They had exact profiles for each of their segmented target groups, and customised landing pages. The copy I wrote was tailored precisely to each segment’s needs, and the response was astonishingly high.
Which is hardly astonishing, really, when you consider it. All the copy did was to follow some simple rules. Give people what they’re looking for. Make it easy. Talk to them in a language they understand. Show them you ‘get’ them. Connect with them. Dating. Networking. Marketing. They’re all about asking the right questions, to find the right partner. And that partner is a lot closer than you think. Well for marketing, at least.
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