How a good brand speaks to your customers (but not necessarily to you)

You are not your target audience.

Okay, maybe you are. Maybe you buy all the same shoes you sell. Maybe you eat out every day at the same kind of restaurant you run. Maybe you personally rely on the very same technology you offer to your enterprise customers.

Maybe — but maybe you don’t.

If your clients and customers possess an age bracket, gender, and set of needs that are qualitatively different from your own, it’s rather important to put down your own glasses when you’re looking at your brand, and try on theirs.

Have you read the label?

Eight years ago, when I was just starting out as a copywriter, I stumbled across a handy little proverb that’s only felt more true the longer I’ve been in the industry:

“You can’t read the label from the inside of the bottle.”

People within an organization tend to be experts on what they sell, why it matters, how it works and where they want to take it in the future. They understand the features of their products and services very well; equally, they understand why their clients or customers should care. “Should” being the operative word.

The problem is that your audience doesn’t always behave the way we think they should. That’s why organizations hire copywriters to craft their message, so they can help their audience grasp what’s important about what they’re offering.

To create such a message, you have to get inside your audience’s head. You have to imagine your offerings not from the inside, where you live and work each day, but from the outside, where they’re standing. You have to accept that the most persuasive points in your opinion are not necessarily the ones that are going to register in a compelling way for your audience.

In other words, you have to know who you’re talking to — and talk to them. To borrow from another handy proverb: you have to point that podium of yours away from the choir, and start preaching to the congregation.

There’s a difference between “I like it” and “it’s working”

The same principle is as true for branding in general as it is for copywriting in particular. Branding, after all, is a complex, multi-dimensional message — and when sending a message of any kind, it’s your audience’s opinion that counts.

At Madison Ave Collective, we often give this example: you may love the color red. It may be your favorite color. But when designing your website, or the materials for your marketing campaign, or the packaging on that shoebox, red may not be the best color to use. In fact, it may be important to pick any color but red. If red carries the wrong feeling for your audience, it’s simply not going to work. It’s not going to communicate what you’re trying to get across. And your brand is nothing if not communication.

You can compare this principle to the service industry. When someone on your waitstaff is walking a platter of food out to a table in your restaurant, it doesn’t matter whether or not they happen to have an appetite for the food they’re bringing. They’re not doing it for themselves, after all. They’re doing it for the patrons.

Your brand has to serve your audience just that selflessly. Your audience is hungry for something; once you’ve figured out what that “something” is, your job is to deliver it to them as seamlessly as possible, with consideration for their desires, needs and tastes, rather than your own.

How do you figure out what they want, and how do you present that in a way your audience will respond to? How, in other words, do you read the label? Good questions. Those go to the heart of the branding process, and when you hire an agency to help you untangle them, the journey will begin with an exploration phase whose very reason for being is to unearth the answers.

Now, if you do happen to be your target audience, you may suppose you have a pretty good idea of what you’ll find. But the discovery process will most certainly yield unexpected insights — perhaps including, among other things, whether or not it’s a good idea to go with red.

This article is also published on Medium.

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