No wonder so much marketing is written for marketers, not members.

Your Members Aren’t You

To make an emotional connection with someone, you have to tailor your communication to their wants and needs, not your own. This seems pretty obvious — most people know that they should use simpler language and and talk about “kid stuff” when talking to children, and they probably shouldn’t use swear words around Grandma.

But changing your communication style to fit your audience is one of the very toughest possible tasks in the world of marketing. It’s abstract and distant — you don’t have a specific, real person in front of you with all their helpful nonverbal cues. Your window to someone’s world might be the half a second they spend glancing at your postcard as it flies to the trash.

No wonder so much marketing is written for marketers, not members.

Here’s a general example: Hands up — how many of us have run ads featuring a huge loan rate and little else except “Apply Today!” and a cloud of fine print? All of us, right? That’s a heartbreakingly common example of an ad written strictly for you and the ten or twelve other people in town who also work at financial institutions and who know and give a hoot exactly what the current comparable rates are. The product, media, message, and execution in these kinds of ads are based on what is familiar, easy and makes sense to us, not the target audience.

To truly connect on an emotional level, you have to develop a useful understanding of several kinds of people who aren’t you. What motivates them? What’s important to them?

One very useful way to do this is to borrow a technique from the world of fiction, and write out character studies.

Based on your own emotional intelligence, write out a description of one specific fictional member who is the perfect target for your product and message. Don’t make it someone you know, but base your character on several people.

What’s important to her? What does she do for a living? Where does she live? Is she proud of her kids? What are her parents like? Give them names. Who does she turn to for financial advice? What kind of car does she drive? Why does she need a new car? What kind of car is she thinking about? What kind of money worries does she have? What happened to her the last time she tried to buy a car? Why doesn’t she trust banks? What did her mother say to her last night when the kids told her mama’s car sounds funny? Does she even read newspapers?

Add more and more detail. Keep it real and authentic — don’t invent some ideal member. Invent a real, imperfect one. (As in my example, you can certainly place her at the point in life where she’s thinking about a car and a car loan.) If it’s working, at some point, your character will do or say things you didn’t really expect or plan. Many fiction writers have discussed the startling and exhilarating moments when your characters start to do their own thing.

To choose a well-known example, Stephen King mentions several times in his book On Writing that when things are working well, he’s just as eager to see what happens next as any reader — it’s the feeling of uncovering a story that’s already there. It’s not magic, but it feels like it.

In psychological terms, you’ve internalized your character well enough at this point that your subconscious fills in the gaps, and they become as well-known and complete as many of the real people you know. However you want to explain this process, when you understand your character well enough to understand her motivations, fears, dreams, and hopes, you are finally ready to send a message to her.

And you’ll likely find she has plenty of company.

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