Don’t Tell Me What I’m Thinking: Does Your Messaging Miss the Mark?

It’s funny when television mirrors reality so closely.

Recently, I watched an episode of Mad Men, the AMC series about 1960’s-era advertising executives.

(I miss Mad Men.)

Their client, Playtex, needed a new advertising campaign. It was up to Sterling Cooper to create a compelling campaign about bras.

The company assigned just one woman to the advertising team.

The rest of the group were men — who assumedly have never tried to squeeze their man-breasts into a push-up bra.)

The group (without the woman’s help) developed a campaign around the assumption that women wanted to either be like Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy, and all advertising should center on those two female icons.

The problem is, the men didn’t ask any women if they related to either Jackie or Marilyn.

They didn’t ask the opinion of the lone woman working on the campaign.

In fact, they even dismissed her opinion after she disagreed with their ideas.

Just like what happens in hundreds of companies and ad agencies every day, the men of Mad Men ignored the real data in front of them and chose to make assumptions about their target audience.

And that’s not smart.

Fast-forward to a recent conversation I had. When I asked the marketing executive why the benefit “free shipping” was considered their top benefit — even if all their competitors offer the same thing — her answer was, “Well, we think people like free shipping.”

Had they done studies to prove this? No.

Does their customer feedback back this up? No.

They just “assumed people liked it because shipping was free.”

The problem is, faulty marketing assumptions means that your messaging – and your SEO content campaign – is always off the mark.

Sure, “free shipping” may be a benefit statement. But what if the customer cares about personalized assistance and customized solutions? Instead of satisfying your customers’ needs, you’re telling them what to think (free shipping is the most important benefit). And that’s not good.

Much like a relationship where one faulty assumption can cascade into five years of costly marriage counseling, assuming what your prospects are thinking can have disastrous effects. And just like the advice you’d get during marriage counseling, if you want to know what your prospects are thinking, the solution is simple.

Just ask them.

Don’t roll out new messaging campaigns hoping you’ll “connect” this time. Don’t create something sexy because you’re sure that your idea will work. Just open your mouth and ask:

“What are you thinking? What do you care about? What do you need?”

It’s that simple.

Here are some things you can do, right now:

Follow-up with customers with a survey or phone call after their purchase and find out what they liked — or didn’t like — about your service.

Although this personal approach can be extremely time-consuming, the conversations you’ll have will be worth their weight in marketing data gold. You can easily fold this information into upcoming SEO copywriting campaigns and test responses.

Invite a small number of your customers to participate in a focus group, and ask them questions about what they currently like about your company — and what they’d like to see.

Listening to a group of people talking about your product or service can spark some great feedback.

If you’re too “close” to your data, hire a content development consultant to comb through your feedback forms, talk to your customer service department and retool your marketing messaging.

Outside experts are great to help get you out of your marketing head, see your services in a different light and rewrite your SEO content to match your new messaging.

Talk to your customer service agents and ask what feedback they’ve heard about your products.

Your CSRs are your front-line people, and they hear it all — good and bad. These folks know what your customers are thinking, what they’re worried about, and why they chose your product or service.

Finally, don’t be afraid to change.

Your customers’ comments may make you feel defensive, edgy — or plain piss you off. You may rail about how “they don’t understand” and “how could they even think that about your product?”

Shut up and listen.

Yes, it IS hard to do. Because no matter how snarky some feedback can get, there are always nuggets of gold buried within. Learn from them. Don’t take them personally (even if they’re dissing on your campaign, dammit!). Make the necessary marketing tweaks and move on.

Change, in this case, is very good — and your messaging will be better for it.

What do you think? Leave your comment below!


2 replies
  1. clare wade says:

    Heather’s view that listening to your consumer is pretty important is spot on. While some companies and organisations are very good at this and have well planned research strategies built in to their marketing plans, far too many others regard customer feedback as a cost rather than an investment and convince themselves they’re managing fine without it – or they’re paying lipservice to the idea and doing it as cheaply as possible and therefore badly.

    There is little substitute for a good round of well moderated focus groups/depth interviews to really expose what people think about your product or service. The real strength of qualitative research however is that as well as telling you what people think it also tells you why they think it, which provides the all-important understanding of their behaviour and what you can do to change it through your marketing.

    Which research method to use is another whole debate and depends on the research objectives and available budget. The main options are focus groups and depth interviews conducted face-to-face, or carried out online which is usually more cost-effective and convenient for all concerned.


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