Breakthrough Marketing Is About ‘Reflecting’ … Not ‘Inventing’

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What’s the secret to breakthrough marketing?

Most of us would be tempted to answer: creativity.

Wrong. And I can prove it …

Legendary director Ron Howard recently appeared on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, one of my favorite “guilty pleasures.” Around minute 36 of the interview, Maron asked a question that might at first appear to having nothing to do with marketing:

“When you say ‘build a character,’ how does one do that? What have you witnessed?”

Howard’s response was one of those “Ah ha” moments where suddenly the interconnectedness of one person’s genius in an area of work foreign to your own breaks through. The story Howard told was about Robert De Niro’s preparation for the movie Backdraft:

 

“[De Niro] said, ‘I’d like to meet some arson investigators.’ And he did. We connected him with a guy, one thing led to another, and then he said, ‘Oh, can we push off my shooting for a week because I’d like to work on it a little more?’”

“[De Niro] had to go to New York … and I thought he just had to go get an award or give an award or buy a building or something. But he’s Robert De Niro and we’re thrilled. So sure, we can rearrange the schedule.”

“He went to New York and spent the whole solid week dug in with these [arson investigators]. And I saw that what he started doing was he took the posture of one guy, the cadence of another guy, the cocky attitude and a couple of the wise-ass qualities of another guy and he reflected, he was giving back what he had learned.”

“I realized, he was not a guy who invented. He was a guy who reflected.”

 

Suddenly, the light came on.

The way De Niro connected with his character — and by extension, his audience — wasn’t so much a testament to his “creative” genius. At least not in the way we’re used to thinking about “creativity.”

De Niro’s success wasn’t about how inventive he was. Nor was it about his imaginative, innovative prowess. It was about reflection. De Niro was a sponge, a gold miner digging through the dirt. He was an explorer looking to discover rather than a scientist looking to invent.

And the truth is … the same principle should be exactly how you yourself approach marketing.

 

Audience-Centered Marketing from the Past

Old-school marketers have known this for years. In his uber-classic, Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz — arguably one the best copywriters of all time — began with this universal truth:

 

“The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy.”

“Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product.”

“This is the copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire—but to channel and direct it.”

Notice the emphasis: the power of advertising does not come from the advertisement itself. It comes from the people it’s trying to reach.

Another one the greats, Gary Halbert, posed this question in The Boron Letters, “If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?”

After working through common answers like superior meat, buns, location, and pricing, Halbert reveals what he calls “the only advantage I want”:

“A starving crowd.”

“What I am trying to teach you here is to constantly be on the lookout for groups of people (markets) who have demonstrated that they are starving (or at least hungry!) for some particular product or service.”

Again, the point is not to start with you or your product. It’s not to invent who you think that product would reach. The point is to start with the market that already exist, to go to them and connect your product by reflecting who they really are.

Perhaps Peter Drucker said it best:

 

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

And today, things haven’t changed one bit.

 

Audience-Centered Marketing Now

In answer to the question, “So how does one become a good optimizer?” the first two of Peep Laja’s “inalienable truths” reflect the very same ethos:

 

“Your opinion doesn’t matter.”

“You don’t know what will work.”

That might sound harsh, but if “your opinion” doesn’t matter and “you don’t know” what will work, who does?

That’s right. Your audience, which is why ConversionXL’s entire approach to optimization is about “them” — the people out there, i.e., your audience — and not “you.”

Joanna Wiebe from Copyhackers takes the same approach:

 

“Copywriting is NOT an art.”

“Sorry, let me rephrase: Effective copywriting is not an art.”

“It’s a science, first and foremost.”

As a “science,” effective copywriting begins with two steps meant to do one thing: get you out of your own head and into your market’s:

 

audience-centered marketing

 

To drive this home, Joanna explains:

 

“You shouldn’t write copy.”

“You shouldn’t look inside your head for the messages that will convince your prospects.”

“You’re not your prospect. So how the hell could you know what they need to hear? It’s vanity to think you could.”

“Instead of writing your message, steal it. Steal it directly from your prospects.”

At the risk of taking Joanna’s advice a bit too literally, the process of stealing — of crawling inside your market’s mind and unearthing (not creating) messages that “convince” — is the cornerstone of my own landing-page optimization process:

“The only reliable way to speak to your audience’s needs is to steal from them. To unearth, mine, polish, and regurgitate their own words.”

 

The primary way I do this is through review mining through user-generated sources like blog comments — both on your own site, but primarily on your competitors, YouTube comments, Amazon reviews, social media, forum sites, customer FAQs, qualitative surveys, and email responses.

With mining you’re able to create a repository of verbatim comments directly from your audience, like I did here through both social media posts and reviews on car seats:

 

“The only reliable way to speak to your audience’s needs is to steal from them. To unearth, mine, polish, and regurgitate their own words.”

The primary way I do this is through review mining through user-generated sources like blog comments — both on your own site, but primarily on your competitors, YouTube comments, Amazon reviews, social media, forum sites, customer FAQs, qualitative surveys, and email responses.

 

audience-centered marketing

Image credit: Klientboost

 

The Fundamental Mistake

The fundamental mistake many marketers — especially email marketers — make is thinking that great marketing is an exercise in invention.

We all know connecting with our audience is vital. We build customer personas, we identify their hopes and dreams — their heavens and hells, as I like to put it. We even give them names, faces, and back stories.

Unfortunately, all this hard work is often for nothing because rather than build it as a genuine reflection of our audience … we create it ourselves.

Instead, start with the real people you’re trying to reach.

Ron Howard was right. The genius of Robert Di Niro didn’t come from him, it came from them. And your own genius as a marketer should come from the same place: your audience.

 

Over to You

Where do you get your inspiration for marketing? Does your audience or customers play a role? Share your story in the comments below.

 

 

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