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by Keith

How to Read Your Customers’ Minds

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You have a great product idea you can really get behind. Your spouse loves it.

Your friends, workmates, clients, and patients encourage you – they want to see more.

Your designer has never been more inspired.

And when it launches, it falls far short of your expectations.

What happened?

Less than enthusiastic response often reveals a mismatch between your product’s promises and your customer’s desires.

And more often than not, this disconnect occurs because you are not your customer.

And neither are those closest to you. Most of the time, friends and family, and even some of the clients you attract, are often just mirrors for your own enthusiasm. Who doesn’t prefer seeing you happy and engaged?

It’s not that you don’t care about your customer. Of course you do.

It’s just that you’re an expert in your field of interest.

And your readers and customers aren’t.

And often, your reasons for fervently believing someone “should” embrace your creation aren’t the same as their reasons for needing or even wanting your creation.

It’s human nature to project our desires and preferences onto others. And because our customer isn’t there in the room with us when we start designing that product or web site, everything we thought we knew about our customers seems to evaporate.

The solution is obvious: you’ve got to find a way to get out of your own head and into the heads of your audience.

How do you do this?

First, Envision the Transformation

Many creative souls love the beginning: the start up, the launch. Sadly, all that effort isn’t always connected to a viable end result: A satisfied customer.

So before you write your next post, create your next product, or launch your next big venture, I advocate skipping ahead to the end: What impact will your blog post, your product, or your web site have in the lives of your readers, buyers, or visitors?

To create an enduring brand, a great product, a compelling sales offer, or even a great blog post, you’ve got to identify the primary transformation for each of them. And then, you’ve got to be able to explain your promise in terms of how it changes or transforms the customer in some way.

What do you want your reader or buyer to experience when reading your posts or buying your products?

Does that experience change their lives in any way? The better you can explain that, the more buyers you’ll have.

Next, Translate the Transformation

So you’ve come up with compelling benefits – multiple ways your product will change your customer’s lives.

But what if your potential customers simply don’t agree they even need the change you prescribe? What if they completely ignore your best intentions and click past your message?

Thus the second half of the transformation equation: re-frame or “translate” your transformation into terms your reader and buyer not only understands, but also needs, wants, and genuinely desires.

That’s where “reading minds” comes in.

Then, Get Inside the Heads of your Customers

Here are three places to begin getting out of your own head and into the heads of your audience. There are more thorough and targeted methods you can use to gather this data – like surveys – but as a way to get started, the following have served me well.

Reviews

If you’re considering creating a product about a certain subject, check out Amazon.com and see if there are any titles on that subject – and then read the reviews.

I’ve seen a few goroos recommend simply looking for several popular titles on a particular subject to measure the viability of a product.

That’s not nearly enough data. You’ve got to dig into the reviews, uncover the reasons why people love or hate these titles.

A few reviews will be pure gold, and will be worth every minute you invest in dissecting them. Here, you’ll find what readers were looking for, and what they didn’t find – often using the precise words and phrases you can use to deliver exactly that to your customers.

Forums

Some of my best ideas come from spending time in any one of the several forums I belong to.

A lot of people join forums hoping to “network” and get new clients. I join to see what others are thinking, complaining about, and most importantly, are most fervently wishing for.

I take notes. I then write posts and create products that respond to those most fervent desires. In fact, this post’s topic stems from a “hot seat” experts panel I participated in a few months ago. I listened with the other panel members as each entrepreneur told of their sales and marketing challenges. One of them gave me my title when he sighed in frustration, “I wish I could figure out a way to read my customers’ minds before dumping a fortune into product development.” 

And what was the most common product-killing pattern among them? You guessed it: They hadn’t listened to anyone outside their own heads or echo chamber.

Comments

Pay attention to the comments, both on your own blog and on others – pay special attention to those who disagree with the author.

Search Trends

Can search trends and sheer number of searches tell you anything about the viability of your product or project? Maybe.

Here’s what can tell you more: surveying targeted subsets of those searchers. Asking them specifically what they were looking for and what they had hoped to find.

There’s a science to this, and we’ve used this process with dozens of clients to narrow in on their niche, positioning, branding, and marketing messaging.

Over to you . . .

What have you used to get inside the heads of your audience? Let us know in the comments below.

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{ 11 comments }

Craig October 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Dude, you totally read my mind ;-)
Seriously, I’ve had several launches that did OK, and I’m working on one right now, so this message is timely. And I get how we can get lost in the project and completely forget the customer, even if we started out focused on the customer. Happened to us more than once, easy to do.
My question is about targeting: How do you know (or how does anyone know, for that matter) if those reviewers, commenters, etc reflect your customer?
Maybe I’m over-complicating this?
Thanks for a solid post!
Craig

Keith October 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Hi Craig,

Great question. You aren’t necessarily over-complicating things, because there are levels to this sort of endeavor.

You’re first searching for patterns/trends that confirm there’s an interest in or need for your product or subject.

And that could be called the first “level,” and where reviews, comments and forum comments do come into play.

For most products, in an “agile marketing” economy (HT Brian Clark), that’s enough to take the leap and see if something flies.

And for products that are purely digital, don’t require lots of investment up front, this approach might be enough.

For those folks who want to really connect at a deeper level with actual representatives of their audience, you would be talking with people directly to discover if your flavor of product/subject matter is appealing to them. That’s where the surveys come into play.

Hope that helps clarify?
Thanks for reading.
Keith

Craig October 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm

It does clarify, thanks!
You gonna’ write more about the survey approach you use?

Keith October 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm

If I can figure out a way to simplify the topic enough to make it usable to the most readers, I certainly will.

Thanks for your interest, Craig!

Craig October 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Ahhh – I’m having a faint recollection of Google surveying using adwords as part of your original coaching package way back when, is this what you’re referring to?

Susan October 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Hey Keith…it’s good to see your writing in my inbox again. In a small devil’s advocate way, I’m reminded of the TV show “House.” The main character who is a doctor frequently points out, “patients lie.” So do those potential clients in forums and definitely in Amazon reviews. People *say* they want a lot of things they actually won’t pay cold hard cash to acquire. Or they’ll only pay $20 for a book on the topic (or .99 for the Kindle version).

So what you think you’ve found in the customer’s mind may not be accurate or worse may be misleading. If that’s the case, you have to do what Dr. House does: make a diagnosis based on more than just what people say. You need to take into account what you see and feel as well.

Keith October 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Susan!

Great to hear from you – and with “House,” you’ve really found the perfect analogy for the whole question/answer dynamic of surveying.

Indeed people lie, or rather, are sometimes a bit disconnected from what they want and what they’d actually pull out their wallets for.

Your thoughts bring up a few of my own – see what you think:

1. The above is one reason I get so much value out of the (usually) unprompted consumer feedback you’ll find in book reviews, forums and sometimes, comments. If it’s untainted by someone’s poorly framed question, sometimes one can really get inside the mindset of a frustrated (or happy) consumer . . .

2. That human tendency you mention is yet another reason to be careful about how one frames survey questions in the first place. We *try* to ask survey questions that lead to honest feedback, which leads to . . .

3. As you point out with your “House” analogy, interpreting the answers *always* requires an intuitive diagnosis based on what the questioner sees and feels.

4. And finally, as much as I enjoy the click-thru I get from titles like “how to read your customer’s mind,” to some readers I suppose, this implies there are ways to “guarantee” a product will succeed. Don’t we wish! After all the analysis is done, launching a new product still – always – requires a leap of faith. It’s still trial and error – we just hope we’re a *wee bit* closer with the data . . .

Thanks, Susan!
Keith

Ski n' See the West October 17, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Hey Keith,
I believe it was Kilstein who advocated checking out the best-sellers on Amazon to verify a product’s viability. I found that approach woefully inadequate – so it’s nice to read that you add a deeper level to that.
Question: You refer to a survey, can you tell me more about what that entails? Is that something we can do on our own, or does it require some expertise?
Thanks
Mark

Keith October 17, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Mark,

Yes, Harlan was one of those who advocated doing product intelligence through Amazon. Thanks for sharing your experience with that.

And yes, someone could conceivably run surveys on their own.

In order to perform the kinds of surveys we use, one would need a degree of expertise in:

1. Keyword research: Researching search engine search trends and uncovering the most likely patterns and trends that support your project

2. Writing Google Ads: Creating at least two ads and “split testing” them against each other until you find a clear winner (number of people clicking thru). These are all about the success of the headline.

3. Creating short surveys: Once you’ve defined your “stream” of responders, send them to a survey page with a few carefully-crafted questions designed to uncover what’s missing for them (so you can deliver on those pressing needs.)

4. Create a system for interpreting the responses and formulating a strategy from that — and as Susan mentioned earlier, there is a certain level of intuitive “art” to this whole process.

Does that help frame it for you?
Thanks for reading, Mark.
Keith

Ski n' See the West October 17, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Yes, it does, thanks Keith.

Sounds intriguing. I’ll contact you to ask if this approach could be a fit for one or more of our projects.

Thanks again!
mark

Keith October 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Craig,
You recall correctly – we do most of our surveys after deep Google Adwords analysis, and survey the folks who click on the targeted ads we create.
And, the difficulty in writing about this process is it does require a certain level of understanding of search engine advertising and how to frame questions to get decent responses.

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