Whenever anyone asks how I convinced my ex-wife to move from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Buffalo, New York, so I could start a new life with a new lady, I always give the same answer …
My aptitude for dark magic aside, we weren’t always that agreeable. Among our differences, I didn’t jump into getting a divorce with as much enthusiasm as she did.
The decoupling I could manage. But we had a two-year-old. And with equal custody, time with him until his eighteenth birthday would be slashed in half.
Eight years wiped out with the stroke of a pen.
And so began the daily ritual of appreciating what I had instead of mourning what I lost.
Turns out, I had a great deal.
I hurled myself into parenting with the aim of being double the dad in half the time. Not even the sub-zero Minnesota winters could hold us back.
Among our favorite places to hole up was a furniture store called Room & Board. Because what toddler doesn’t have an affinity for mid-century modern design?
The truth is shopping with small children is usually a nightmare for everyone. The torment, the tantrums, the tears … never mind what it’s like for the kids.
But relatable truths are where some of the best ideas are born.
So, recognizing the potential for meltdowns, Room & Board got ahead of it by staging a welcome area at the front of the store with warm cookies, bottled water, and kids’ tables where little ones could color.
It’s like they knew exactly what we needed without having to ask.
Is that how your audience views you? In other words …
Do you know the conversation going on in your customer’s head?
As marketers, we need to be mind readers so we can connect with our audience on their terms. Because nobody jumps out of bed looking forward to your ad, your email, or your social post.
You are arriving in your customer’s life as an unwanted guest.
If you want to be invited in, you have to meet them where they are—not where you want them to be.
A part of this has to do with knowing your audience’s stage of awareness, which I’ve already squawked about here.
But if you can go deeper and tap into someone’s hushed, hidden desires, you’re then able to practice what content marketing expert Ann Handleycalls “pathological empathy.”
In her best-selling book Everybody Writes (pure gold even if you’re not a writer), Ann says …
“Understand their habitat. A focus group in a generic conference room or user experience testing in a lab isn’t ideal. It’s better to visit people who use your products or services at their homes or at work or while they’re waiting in line for coffee.”
For Room & Board, their customers’ “habitat” was their own store. When they saw a parade of frustrated parents with impatient children, they knew offering discounts or financing options wouldn’t solve the problem.
Instead, they led with empathy by reshaping the shopping experience around their customers’ reality.
I’m not telling you to shelve focus groups and other means of data collection for customer ride-alongs.
But if you invest some time in getting to know your customers’ wants when they’re in their most natural—and sometimes most vulnerable—state, you won’t just be a good listener …
You’ll be a hero.
(That bit about the continued value of focus groups was also to prevent our research team from wrapping all my office furniture in aluminum foil.) 😅
See you next time. — Matt
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