Are Customers Hearing You?

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I am fascinated with the art and science of communication. It simply astounds me how human beings with all of our differing experiences, knowledge and emotional baggage that filter what we hear and how we interrupt, can ever effectively communicate with each other.

Because of this fascination, I bought the book, “Words That Work” written by Dr. Frank Luntz to understand how to more effectively communicate. I haven’t finished the book yet, but here are some powerful insights that are worth paying attention to:


Dr. Luntz’s core advice is, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” And more importantly (and also where the real difficulty emerges in my opinion) is further explained by Dr. Luntz in explaining:

“You can have the best message in the world, but the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, preconceptions, prejudices, and preexisting beliefs.”

Wow! Think about that statement and the complexity involved in effectively communicating your value proposition or explaining the benefits of your product or service. You may think your copy is brilliant, it may read brilliantly yet your customers (the people who matter most to your sales success) might be scratching their heads and saying “So what? How does that help MY problem?”

Dr. Luntz provides a remedy. He states, “The key to successful communication is to take the imaginative leap of stuffing yourself right into your listener’s shoes to know what they are thinking and feeling in the deepest recesses of their mind and heart.”

I know you have heard the cliché a million times about “walking in your customer’s shoes” but maybe it is what’s missing from your advertising or website in order to take your sales performance to the next level. As Dr. Luntz explained further, “For me, the people are the true-end; language is just a tool to reach and teach them, a means to an end.

I find that a majority of web businesses view their customers in an aggregate form even referring to them collectively as “traffic” or “visitors.” By referring to the aggregate it inherently blurs away the individualism that enables marketers to connect to the “emotions, preconceptions, prejudices, and preexisting beliefs” of customers..

Certainly it is no simple task “to know what they are thinking and feeling in the deepest recesses of their mind and heart.” If it was easy to accomplish we would have a Brave New World situation where advertisements would cause customers to open their wallets and spill out the cash in a Pavlovian fashion. But there is a proven (specifically by Dr. Luntz’ success politically) in digging into our customers’ minds and developing communications to speak to their minds and hearts.”

Imagine the increase in sales if you could communicate more effectively with just 5% more of your potential customers to help them clearly realize how your product or service will solve their problems? Maybe an average conversion rate of 2.9% for e-commerce companies is an indication that most web businesses aren’t communicating effectively with their customers?

I found what I believe is a truly profound quote from an anonymous source. Really think about this when you are planning your next website redesign, writing new PPC ad or working on your new website copy…

People have meaning and words are simply tools that we use for trying to convey meaning that is idiosyncratic to one person into the idiosyncratic meaning system of the other person. One of the difficulties with words is that we attach to them different experiential and emotional connotations. It is often said that words have meaning only in context; it can be better said that words only have meaning when they are associated with people in context.

Take the time to study your customers. Ask them questions. Conduct some surveys. Talk to your sales people or customer service staff about their customer interactions. Find out what words your customers use to describe your product or service. What do they call your product? What keywords do they type in to find your type of product or service? How do they speak in forums, on blogs, or in reviews? What problems do they solve using your products or services?

Putting people central to your communication strategy sounds obvious, but is it really? It’s difficult but well-worth the return if done sincerely, appropriately and persistently. And small businesses – if you want a competitive advantage against the industry leaders, try getting closer to your customers. You have a serious sustainable advantage if you can accomplish it.

About the Author

Kevin Gold is Director of Internet Marketing at iNET Interactive, a social media company operating prominent online communities for technology professionals and technology enthusiasts. Kevin is a frequent contributing author to multiple publications including Search Marketing Standard, Practical eCommerce, DIRECT, Entrepreneur.com, ConversionChronicles.com, About.com, and On Target (Yahoo! Search Marketing newsletter).

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