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Customer Theory: How to leverage empathy in your marketing (with free tool)

Think about every marketing message you saw yesterday. Every newspaper ad. Every email. Every sign being twirled around on the side of the street.

Did you stop to read each message? Watch every commercial? Think about the message? Decide if you should go for the call-to-action?

No you didn’t, did you? You ignored the vast majority of the messages. A few you actually noticed and rejected. You consumed less of them. And maybe acted on a handful.

And the reason is, when you saw most of those messages, you probably weren’t waiting to be sold. You were busy doing something else. Maybe something related. At best you were probably looking for a solution to a problem. Or maybe something totally unrelated and didn’t even notice the message.

Now flip the script. That’s how you act as a customer, but when you’re the marketer, account executive, copywriter, art director … how do you approach each piece you create? You likely have a deep understanding of the product, the copy, even little details of the ad. Perhaps even a deep affection for the product, the landing page or the ad — after all, many marketers end up entering their work into awards shows because they’re so proud of it.

Bridging the customer-marketer divide

As a marketer, you need to do the seemingly impossible. You need to bridge this divide for your entire team. The divide between the customer and the marketer.

I found myself in this very situation recently while working on a video script for The BairFind Foundation, a nonprofit that uses sports marketing to raise awareness for missing children. MECLABS Institute has taken BairFind on, pro bono, as a Research Partner to use our conversion optimization methodology and practices, which we usually apply to business challenges, to help this nonprofit meet its own goals.

BairFind has signs in 151 Minor League ballparks across the nation, with pictures of missing children. It was recently featured in USA Today. League and team presidents were hungry for a video to play in their stadiums about the nonprofit organization, and it was my job to deliver.

So this was a quick-turnaround project, and I had little familiarity with the intended audience of the video. Ever find yourself in this situation? Here’s something that might help …

Free customer theory development tool

I took what I learned from  University of Florida/MECLABS Institute Communicating Value and Web Conversion graduate certificate program and began to build a customer theory dossier. I’ll show you how I used it in just a moment, but first — you can download a free version of it as well, and use it as a tool on your next ad, campaign or marketing initiative.


Step 0: Identify as many distinct customer profiles as necessary

Before you can even start building a customer theory, you must determine which type of customer you’re building that theory for.

Here’s why this pre-step is so important. If you’re building an ad or other marketing pieces with a strong, unique value proposition, it will speak very directly to a specific type of customer. Boom. Hit them square in the chest, so to speak.

You can’t do that if you try to be everything to everyone, if you’re blandvertising.

This is also important. While there are certain types of customers you shouldn’t try to serve because you aren’t the best solution for their needs, there are other types of customers you can serve.

Some marketing communications will speak to all those types of customers at once. But more likely, for most of your marketing campaigns, you’ll want to zero in on as unique and homogeneous a group as possible.

As an example, here are the possible customer profiles I listed for BairFind Foundation.

  1. Parents at a Minor League Baseball game
  2. Grandparents at a Minor League Baseball game
  3. Children at a Minor League Baseball game
  4. Adults with no children at Minor League Baseball game
  5. Marketer from a retailer or other potential corporate sponsor
  6. Minor league team presidents
  7. MiLB league presidents
  8. Marketers at MiLB teams
  9. MiLB baseball players
  10. Sports and other local and national media

For the video script, I chose to focus on parents at a minor league baseball game. If you watch the video (embedded at the bottom of this article), you can see why that choice is important. I sought to grab their attention from the very beginning and hit them hard with something they could easily relate to.

I couldn’t have done that if I tried to write a video for all 10 of BairFind’s customer profiles. Even just adding a second customer profile would have made that harder.

This doesn’t mean that customers in those other profiles won’t be able to understand and perhaps act on the video. But it means I wrote the video with those specific people in mind.

Step 1: Create a list of preliminary customer insights

For my selected prospect profile, I began to list out some basic insights about the ideal customer — parents at a Minor League Baseball game.

I started with my own gut and intuition, and expanded using some basic internet research. This was, of course, a very small project. And a pro bono one at that. But if you have a larger, higher profile project, you might want to conduct deeper research to get these insights — social listening, focus groups, interviews, surveys, etc.

It helps that I’m somewhat in this demographic. (I am a parent, although the last time I attended a MiLB game was before I became a parent.) But this exercise is all the more important when you’re not in the target customer profile. Marketers often fall into the trap of “I’d want this” or “I’d want that.” But if you’re not the ideal customer for that product, the actual customer might want something very different.

So this tool helps you get as close as possible to a fundamental insight — not what you’d want if you were in the customers’ shoes, but what the customers in those shoes actually want themselves.

Here are the insights I came up with:

  1. Parents age 21-54
  2. Have children 0-16
  3. Limited external funds for entertainment
  4. Focused on having fun at the ballpark, not really thinking about other issues at that time
  5. Family oriented
  6. Diverse level of education
  7. Diverse ethnicities
  8. Don’t have much additional spare time to help community
  9. More likely than the general population to have smartphones
  10. Community minded

Step 2: Categorize these preliminary insights

Next, categorize these preliminary insights into attributes, context, desires and fears. As you do this, it will likely inspire you and your team to come up with new insights you hadn’t considered before.

The context is an important reminder. For example, you may view a print ad in isolation, nicely mounted on a piece of blackboard. However, the customer will view the ad in a newspaper with many competing articles and ads trying to get their attention. In addition to what’s in the newspaper, they may be reading in a crowded coffee shop or subway, or perhaps they’re at home with children who are trying to get their attention.

In this case, we would view the video in a studio on a nice hi-def superwide Apple monitor with superb audio speakers. However, the customer may be viewing it on a washed-out screen in a noisy stadium between innings.

In addition to the context, it’s important to understand your ideal customers’ desires and fears. We all move toward pleasure and away from pain. What are they trying to achieve? What are they trying to avoid?

You’ll note in my example below that not everything I included directly relates to the BairFind Foundation, missing children or the call-to-action. It’s very easy for us as marketers to only focus on what we want customers to do, or the tiny sliver of their life that relates to our product or ask.

However, real human beings aren’t two dimensional. And their experiences in life are much broader and deeper than just those that relate to your product.

And at the end of the day, all those perceptions ultimately affect how they regard your message. After all, as the Talmud says, “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

Attributes (Demographic Characteristics)

  1. Ages 21-54
  2. Diverse education level
  3. Diverse ethnicity
  4. Moderate household income, however, 29% HH income $100K+
  5. 78% own home


  1. Family of four can see ballgame for $62
  2. Some fans attend just a few games per year; some are season ticket holders
  3. Between innings, they are distracted
  4. Receive many promos throughout the game
  5. Children will be going back to school soon
  6. Likely watching on a washed-out screen in a noisy stadium

Common Desires (Moves Toward)

  1. Experience budget-friendly entertainment
  2. Create happy memories together
  3. Be a part of the community
  4. Be the hero to their kids
  5. Be a good parent
  6. Be an upstanding member of the local community
  7. Relax with family
  8. Escape pressures of life
  9. See a future big leaguer
  10. See the local team win
  11. Have a story to tell their friends the next day
  12. Watch the mascot do something funny

Common Fears (Moves From)

  1. Something bad will happen to my children
  2. I can lose my job, and I won’t have enough money to support my family
  3. The home team will lose
  4. Will my kids throw a temper tantrum if I don’t by them cotton candy at the game?
  5. Crowds and traffic leaving the game
  6. Violence will come to my country/my town/this baseball game
  7. Will this game get rained out?
  8. If I text a donation, will I be continually sent text messages
  9. What if I think I know the missing kid, tell the cops, but I’m wrong
  10. Will my kids need a nap at the game?

Step 3: Unanswered questions about the prospect

Generate a list of the most important unanswered questions about the customer’s identity and behavior.

Unanswered Questions about the Prospect (Parents at a Minor League Baseball game)

  1. Will they be too distracted to pay attention to a video between innings?
  2. Will the donate message make them more or less likely to look at the sign?
  3. Do they understand how to text to donate?
  4. Is $2 the right amount to ask them to donate?
  5. Is a video the right way to ask them to donate?
  6. Would they refer a friend to donate?

These first three steps are part of the MECLABS Seven-Step Customer Theory Development Framework that is taught in the University of Florida graduate program. The full framework also includes conducting experiments to build a robust customer theory discovered from customer behavior to answer some of these questions.

In the case of this project — a simple video for a nonprofit — we were unable to go full on through all seven steps and conduct experimentation. However, I still find this step helpful because it instills humility as part of the process. As much as you have certain assumptions about the customer, it forces you to admit there’s still a lot you don’t know.

It also doesn’t hurt to look back at these questions when you’re working on the next project, see what the results of the previous project were, and continue to build a base of knowledge about the customer.

Getting everyone on the same page

In addition to helping the creators of the advertisement (copywriters, art directors, video producers, etc.) get in the minds of the customer, this tool helps everyone working on the project — from an account coordinator to the vice president of marketing, on the agency side and the client-side — get on the same page about which customers will (and won’t) be talked to and what is important to those customers.

This can help reduce rework, and lay the groundwork for successful creative pitches to clients.

Which is what happened in this case. After I filled out the Customer Theory tool, I sent it over to Dennis Bair, Founder, The BairFind Foundation. I asked him for his perspective on the ideal customer as well, before writing the first word in the script.

Once I was able to incorporate his insights, I wrote a script and sent it over to Dennis, and he loved it, providing only minor feedback. Here’s the result:

It’s just an example of how successful copywriting is about so much more than just great writing. So much fantastic writing never sees the light of day because it never gets the green light.

Successful copywriting requires customer intimacy, but it requires client intimacy as well. Get on the same page with everyone you must collaborate with, and have the client share their key insights about the customer before you begin the creative process.

And the same is true in reverse if you’re on the brand side. Be proactive and make sure your internal or agency creatives have the same understanding of the customer as you do. As Sun Tzu has said, “Every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought.”

If you’d like that free tool to use with your own clients, agencies and marketing projects, here it is again …


You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content, MarketingExperiments, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

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Customer Theory: What do you blame when prospects do not buy?



The post Customer Theory: How to leverage empathy in your marketing (with free tool) appeared first on MarketingExperiments.

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What Content Marketers Can Learn From an Adept Dungeon Master

Content Marketing Lessons from Dungeons & Dragons

Content Marketing Lessons from Dungeons & Dragons

It’s probably not news to you that 91% of B2B brands use content marketing to attract, engage, nurture, and convert their audience. However, it might be surprising to learn that only 9% of those brands rate their content marketing as “sophisticated.” Sophisticated meaning that their content marketing is successful, scales across the organization, and provides accurate measurement to the business. This puts a lot of pressure on content marketers to elevate their game and provide more worthwhile and valuable content experiences.

Patrick PinedaAs an adept Dungeon Master (DM) of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) games, TopRank Marketing’s Motion Graphic Designer, Patrick Pineda, can relate.

It might sound a little odd at first, but Dungeon Masters and content marketers are more alike than you think. Responsible for creating meaningful and memorable experiences through content that takes people on a journey, you can see the similarities arise. Just like content marketers need to help guide people through the buyer journey, the Dungeon Master needs to guide players through a journey of their own.

After serving his friends as the go-to Dungeon Master, Patrick has learned a thing or two from creating lengthy campaigns—some successful, some not—that are both engaging and challenging. Discover Patrick’s lessons from the dungeon and how you can apply them to your content marketing campaigns and programs down below.

What Is a Dungeon Master?

For the unfamiliar, a Dungeon Master is the organizer for the wildly popular, 40-year-old tabletop role-playing game, “Dungeons & Dragons.” Not only do DMs organize the game, but they are also responsible for the game rules, details, and challenges. According to Patrick, the player experience hinges on a DM’s ability to create meaningful content that’s fun to explore.

One thing Dungeon Masters are not responsible for, however, are the players’ actions.

Like the self-directed buyers of today, D&D players are able to choose their own paths. As a result, DMs are challenged to make sure players finish the game. And just like your audience won’t read every piece of content you put in front of them, the same happens in a D&D game. Certain story elements DMs put together will never see the light of day because every player has a different play style, completes tasks in different orders, and takes different actions.

“The best Dungeon Master doesn’t just create a good story, but they also help players reach their goals,” Patrick claims.

Does any of this sound familiar? It certainly resonated for me.

5 Content Marketing Lessons From the Dungeon

Having created D&D campaigns that ruled and bombed, here are Patricks top five tips for developing content that resonate with your audience.

#1 - Your audience values originality.

If Patrick creates a campaign that plays to common tropes like a damsel in distress or small town disappearances, the story becomes predictable. But worse than that, the players feel condescended to as the game starts to feel dumbed down.

“Cliches and stereotypes will make players groan. It’s important when creating a campaign that I shake it up and play against common conventions,” Patrick says.

When examining your content and the story you’re trying to tell, it’s just as important to stay original and play with your audience’s expectations. For example, listicles with social media tips are a dime a dozen. Your audience might be more interested if you flip the idea on its head with social media mistakes. In changing it up, you’re giving your audience something new that they haven’t read before, capturing their interest.

[bctt tweet="When examining your content & the story you’re trying to tell, it’s just as important to stay original & play with your audience’s expectations. - @aleuman4 #ContentMarketing" username="toprank"]

#2 - Appeal to curiosity.

When it comes to creating an adventure for players to navigate, the DM has a seemingly impossible job. They need to create a unique and compelling world that is able to hold players’ attention—something not easily done. In fact, campaigns have taken Patrick days to put together. But that doesn’t come without its drawbacks.

“I’ve spent hours upon hours creating content for a campaign. But 80% of what I create may never see any playtime. It’s ultimately the players’ choice as to what tasks they want to complete and what quests they want to go on,” Patrick points out.

While the D&D world needs to have a unique and compelling narrative, it also needs to appeal to a player’s curiosity to ensure they keep playing the game and play the parts of the game that you want them to.

How does this apply to content marketing? Well, as you know, just because you’re producing content, doesn’t mean that your audience will find it. To find the answers they’re looking for, they might scour the internet, social media, and trusted experts for more information. Having an integrated content strategy that has multiple touch points throughout the buyer journey and an omni-channel approach, helps ensure you’re reaching your target audience whenever and wherever they may be searching.

Weaving SEO, social media, and influencer marketing into your content marketing strategy helps improve the reach and engagement of the content you’re producing. Through SEO, your organic rankings and click-through-rates will start to rise, improving your organic traffic. Social media messages that are well written and value-based help attract larger audiences from their social feeds. And, finally, tapping into industry influencers exposes your content to a wider network of like-minded individuals, as well as adding authority and credibility.

#3 - Avoid corraling your audience.

Nobody likes to be told what to do, including D&D players. While the DM writes the game and serves as a referee, they cannot influence a player’s actions. And if a DM attempts to, they could quickly lose a player’s interest.

“As a DM, it can be tempting to intervene and make sure that your players are playing the game the way you intended. But this is the one thing you cannot do.” Patrick emphasizes.

This is true in content marketing, too, as making calls to action (CTAs) with zero context can be a turn-off for your audience. If you insert a CTA before your audience can learn what’s in it for them, whether it’s downloading an eBook, listening to a podcast, or subscribing to your blog, they’re less likely to do it. In fact, QuickSprout found that placing a CTA above the fold on a page decreased their conversion rate by 17% and attributed it to their audience not fully understanding why they should complete the action.

Instead, make sure that your CTAs have plenty of context and explain what the audience will gain by filling out your form, reading another blog post, etc. This helps ensure that your content satisfies your audience’s quest for knowledge.

#4 - Customize content for your audience, not the other way around.

As we mentioned previously, the players are in charge of their actions and how they choose to play the game, making it impossible for DMs to have control over the game experience. This makes it important for DMs to know their audience ahead of time, so they can include important sought-after details into different game components.

“I’ll ask players before we start what they hope to get out of the game, whether it’s take down an enemy or just to have fun. Knowing this ahead of time, I can tailor the game to what each player wants to have happen,” Patrick says.

For content marketers, this lesson should hit close to home. You need to know your audience well in advance in order to deliver personalized content. If you create content and worry about your audience later, chances are you aren’t engaging the right people.

After taking a look at your own audience’s characteristics and interests in Google Analytics, create unique personas for each of your audience members. This allows you to create content that is tailored for each person you hope to attract and engage. For example, if one of your target personas is a Director of Business Development, creating custom content that addresses a unique pain points like identifying new business opportunities or tips from the experts on how to strengthen their existing client relationships.

[bctt tweet="If you create content and worry about your audience later, chances are you aren’t engaging the right people. - @aleuman4 #ContentMarketing" username="toprank"]

#5 - Chart your course.

There is a lot going on in a D&D game. And for the DM, that number is amplified as you have to remember every detail about your players, what’s been completed, and what could come next.

“To make sure I’m on top of the game and can portray characters well, I chart the game’s relationships instead of story elements. If I focus on the story, it could quickly become useless as players might do things out of order or in a non-linear fashion. By focusing on the relationships and where they fit in the narrative, the game becomes more fluid and flexible for the players and I can keep track of their journey,” Patrick says.

Tracking the journey isn’t the only thing Patrick notes, however. He also documents player strengths, weaknesses, and stats as the game progresses.

“I keep a character sheet that details each player’s play style. For example, if a player is investing their skill points in intelligence, I can tailor future encounters in the game to focus on problem-solving instead of combat. The opposite is true for a player who invests in raw strength,” Patrick notes.

Through detailed charts, maps, and grids, Patrick is able to make sure that his players have a personalized, seamless experience for every campaign they play, regardless of how they play it.

Customer Journey & Dungeons and Dragons Journey

By taking the same approach with your content marketing, you can identify opportunities for customization and develop a strategy for weaving your content into the buyer’s journey. For example, by knowing which pieces of content attract a larger audience or drive more conversions, you can use that information to inform your content development and map your content to different stages of the funnel (see below).

Grid Assigning Content to Buyer Stages

To collect this data on your content and audience, review your Google Analytics behavior and conversion dashboards to find our which pieces of content excel at attracting, engaging, or converting your audience. Metrics like page views and entrances are good indicators for attraction, whereas time on page or number of pages per session can help you understand engagement. And, finally, the number of conversions through conversion tracking is the best way to find your top converting content. Armed with this knowledge you can create content plans that are tailored for your audience’s unique buyer journey.

Your Audience Is the Hero

A good Dungeon Master enables players to become the hero of the story through a personalized game with a compelling, original narrative. As a content marketer, it’s your responsibility to create content that transforms your audience into heroes as well, helping them solve seemingly impossible problems with your expert, best-answer advice.

Through an integrated content strategy with originality, personalization, and “best answer” content that’s mapped to the buyer journey, you can become the perfect Content Master for your audience.

For more ideas on how to become a masterful content marketer, check out these 25 content marketing tips, including how to tackle writer’s block, repurpose content, utilize storytelling, and more.

The post What Content Marketers Can Learn From an Adept Dungeon Master appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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