Or maybe you think you need to spend thousands of dollars on content marketing to court prospective customers.
Nothing wrong with either one of those scenarios.
Except that if your message doesn’t resonate with your audience, all the marketing genius (or budget) in the world won’t save your content from certain digital death. (You can spend millions of dollars and still creep people out — just ask Burger King or Netflix.)
Making sure your current and future customers and supporters relate to your message is actually quite simple.
Here are some ways to do it:
1. Be the hero to someone else
You may have the greatest new widget since the printing press but no one gives a flying toaster unless you answer one question for your customers: What’s in it for them?
Marketers know this yet too often, many are still fixated on all the shiny new parts of the product or service and not on what matters to the users.
Testimonials are built on this idea but they’re frequently more like the white noise created by advertisements — people’s eyes tend to gloss over them. Commercials attempt to do this too but as we all know, commercials are designed to peddle the widgets rather than tell an authentic story.
I’ll never forget the first short documentary I produced, for a class during my master’s program. We could feature any business or nonprofit as long as the film was based on a character and showed conflict. I selected a nonprofit that had an innovative transportation program in my area, and my great idea was to do it through the eyes of the founder, whose feat I was personally familiar with.
My instructor strongly advised me to tell the story from the point of view of someone affected by the service. I was a bit crushed but I made the detour — and found a great story.
The nonprofit was still the hero, but no longer a self-proclaimed one. And many people could relate to what the film’s character was going through.
Don’t tell your customers how great you are — show them through the eyes of someone else.
2. Make it personal
Your company is run by human beings who have a passion for what they do. Share that passion.
I wrote an article once about a builder who pursued an “aging in place” certification because his brother was wheelchair-bound and had a difficult time finding a contractor. If I were marketing the builder’s universal-design services, I would highlight that story — it not only shows why he’s passionate about aging in place, but also shows (without telling) that he personally understands his customer’s pain points.
Do you have a personal story about why you got into your industry, why you started your business or founded your organization? Are you following a family tradition? Were you inspired to solve a problem by someone you know personally?
Tell that story. Your customers will relate to the fact that you’re doing something bigger than yourself.
3. Use humor — but proceed with caution
We all appreciate a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Even government agencies are trying to harness the lighter side of social media — check out these examples from Washington State Department of Transportation).
Digiorno is a great example of a brand that uses humor to relate to its customers. It works well because its Twitter style is an extension of the brand’s voice and personality.
Just keep in mind that humor is a fickle thing.
I remember when I first watched “Wayne’s World” as it came out in a movie theater. I was new to the American culture and the movie might as well been in Chinese — all I heard was blah-blah-blah.
I have the same dumbfounded stare these days when my teenage boys show me some memes that they find hilarious. I just don’t have the same context as they do.
Humor only works if you know your customers and it aligns with your brand’s voice.
But you don’t need to use over-the-top humor to show your lighter side. It doesn’t take much to make someone else smile.
4. Show your pain — and be honest
We’ve all done something in our lives to overcome adversity or achieved something despite our circumstances. Accomplishing those feats makes us stand taller and feel pride in our abilities.
Did you make a mistake that caused you to detour or rethink a strategy? Did you come close to giving up, but pressed on despite the challenges? Are you struggling with what seems like an impossible problem?
Showing your pain is not easy. You’re admitting your weakness.
But we’re all human and imperfect by default — and sharing some of the struggles proves to customers you’re honest.
I’ve seen this work for a small construction company that decided to take the leap into development — and failed, losing a lot of money in the process. When the owners were ready to announce their rebound, they wanted me to write a press release that was open about that failure.
A couple of newspapers used it nearly verbatim for articles. The builders used their story about their costly mistake to reposition their company as going back to its roots to build high-end custom homes.
When you’re honest about your struggles, your customers will support you. If they like your business or organization, they want you to succeed.
5. Just be yourself
Have you ever been helped by a customer service agent with a fake friendliness that made you want to use mouthwash?
An inauthentic brand voice leaves the same bad taste in a customer’s mouth.
For an example of an authentic brand, read the short book “Anything You Want” by CD Baby founder Derek Sivers. He makes no apology for the quirky way he ran the business, including sending lighthearted emails to customers.
Sivers’ personality and passion were reflected in the way his employees treated customers. He was just being himself, and as a result he created an original and fun brand.
That sort of brand personality wouldn’t work for Apple or Dell — and if they suddenly started sending humorous emails, customers would be confused.
You already know what kind of business or organization you are — you just need to be yourself.