Give the People What They Want: Aligning your message with what your customers actually care about


Things you probably didn’t know (or care to know) about me. I love Richmond native D’Angelo. I also love—to a lesser degree— writer Rembert Browne, who in my opinion is one of the funniest music/pop culture writers out there. So you can imagine my excitement last week when this happened. (Browne wrote about D’Angelo. I know, right?!?)

I was expecting to read about how amazing D’Angelo’s newest album, Black Messiah, is live. What I got was a lesson in corporate branding. Stay with me.

The criticism around how corporate SXSW has become isn’t anything new. And Browne, lover of all things fresh, was apprehensive about the fact that D’Angelo’s show had a corporate sponsor—Samsung. But after years of in-your-face look-at-us branding, Browne was relieved to see Samsung take the back seat at the event, realizing people cared about D’Angelo, not Samsung.

Most companies don’t have the resources to sponsor an A-list musician’s concert at one of the biggest conferences in the country, but that doesn’t mean Samsung’s insight should be lost on us.

They’re not coming for you, specifically

Whether you’re pitching a reporter, writing a blog for your website or sharing an article on your Facebook page, ask yourself one question: is this what they want from us?

At its most basic level, PR, communication, marketing—whatever you want to call it—can be summed up in these four points:

  1. Know who you’re trying to reach.
  2. Know what they want (or need).
  3. Figure out how your company can meet that want/need.
  4. Get out of the way.

That last step is where we often stumbled. It might because we’re drinking the Kool-Aid or maybe just desperate to show some traction – I’ve been guilty of both many times. Whatever your motive, remember that your customers don’t so much care about you, but how you can make their life easier/better/more enjoyable.

That four-step process I outlined before is admittedly much more complex in practice, but the fundamentals shouldn’t be ignored. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you stay out of your way.

  • Take time to research your customers: It’s tempting to want to get things going as quickly as possible, though from my own experience, not taking the time to figure out who should be targeting and what their pain points are that you can help solve will only lead to some costly frustrations down the road.
  • Show don’t tell: Sorry to go all 9th-grade English teacher on you, but it’s true. Saying that you’re innovative doesn’t make you innovative. Give people specific examples of how you’re innovative and how doing so makes you better suited to help your customers. (Bonus points if you can do this without actually using the word innovate—or all the other business jargon everyone hates.)
  • Keep listening: This isn’t a one-time exercise. People change, and as a result, so do your clients. Regularly take a pulse on what they are saying, what their needs are and if you need to change your offering and how you talk about it.

Yes, this can be a time-intensive process. But not doing so, and as a result coming off as tone deaf to your customers, can have a severe and costly impact on your brand and customers’ loyalty.   

Editor’s note: In researching this post, I saw The New York Times wrote about the same thing over the weekend. For the record, I had already pitched this idea to THP co-editor, Tony, so basically I’m as smart as The New York Times

(Photo by Anthony Quintano)

Greg Surber

Greg Surber, APR, is a public relations strategist through and through. He works on a variety of accounts, leading research projects and content strategies, but he also has extensive experience with more traditional PR efforts including national and trade media relations campaigns.

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