Content Systems Academy

Be an Authority by Understanding Your Audience’s Need

 In General, Series

It’s all gravy: out of the 1900s, marketing comes full circle

When my grandparents traveled from Italy to Boston in the early 1900s, they didn’t speak the local language, and Yelp and Google were decades away. Within this section of Boston, where many Italians settled, they were part of a community that provided each other with mutual support. For example, let’s say my grandmother was making a gravy (for the uninitiated, that is spaghetti sauce), and the pilot on her gas stove wouldn’t ignite. Without that gas flame, there would be no simmering gravy. Those Italian grandmothers felt as though they were placed on this earth for the sole purpose of feeding people, and this would have presented mine with a problem she couldn’t solve on her own. So, she would turn to her trusted community and ask one of her closest friends for a recommendation. All she needed to do was to walk down one flight of stairs onto the busy streets of Boston to find her friends. One of those friends who experienced a similar problem had her stove fixed by someone just blocks away. This person, let’s call him Enrico Pallazzo, had a reputation in this section of Boston for being able to fix any stove. In addition, he was known to be reliable and his fee was reasonable.

Enrico obtained work by relying on his reputation, which was shared by word-of-mouth. Knowing that his satisfied customers were doing his marketing, Enrico was motivated to provide consistent, high-quality work at a reasonable price. As times went on and more people experienced issues with their stoves, Enrico was top of mind because he provided value to this connected community of Italian immigrants.

But then things started to change.

My grandmother’s sister, sensing the city was growing too quickly, moved to a place where she and her family could have a little more space and some grass for her goat. This was the suburbs, or as my grandmother referred to it, “the country.” My aunt and her family moved north of Boston where they did get more land and trees, but they were no longer part of a connected community. Gone were the crowded streets of people who shared similar backgrounds, attitudes, and behaviors. She and her family were now basically isolated. If her stove didn’t work, who would she call to fix it? Enrico didn’t drive. And if he did, he wouldn’t schlep to the country to fix one stove when many other stoves within a few blocks of his shop needed attention. Enrico needed to stay put to serve his community. The Yellow Pages were around since the late 1800s, and that’s where she would have turned to find someone within her area to fix her stove.

The Yellow Pages wasn’t a meritocracy. The size and placement of an ad was based on the size of the payment made to the publication. So, there was my poor aunt, alone in the country with a stove that didn’t work, thumbing through pages looking for someone to help her. She’d struggle to make a wise decision based on insignificant details, such as design elements, motto and whether a business owner’s last name ended in a vowel. But being disconnected from her network created anxiety and brought risk into the equation. What if she was over charged? What if the fix only lasted a day or so? She would have no recourse. There was no way for her to alert others or to publicly draw attention to the poor service. She could have written a strongly-worded letter to the editor of her local paper, but it probably wouldn’t have been published, since the newspaper wouldn’t have jeopardized potential ad revenue even if it was just from a sole proprietor.

The power has returned to the people

Today, we’ve circled back to the days of connected communities thanks to social platforms. The same types of conversations my grandmother had on the streets of Boston in the 1920s are still taking place today, but they’re happening online. It no longer matters where you live, you can engage with people who share your attitudes and behaviors. You can now remain connected at any time and wherever you are to people you trust, people you can turn to when you have problems or people with whom you can share news or information. If your stove breaks, you can ask your trusted Facebook friends to recommend a technician or you can read through the ratings and reviews of local companies on sites like Google, Angie’s List or Yelp. Service providers are motivated to provide exceptional customer service at  low cost to ensure high ratings and positive reviews. And if a customer has a problem and posts a negative review, the service provider usually can respond to the complaint to make things right.

Okay, thanks for the history lesson, but where are you going with this?

While the world asks and answers questions, Google is watching. It’s listening. It’s trying to determine who is most reliable. And it punishes those who cheat the system by dramatically dropping their ranking or removing their site from its indexing. Why? Google is a product. You have a question, and it wants to provide you with the best answer. That’s Google’s sole purpose. That’s why it exists. It doesn’t want you to scroll through links, guessing which result is best. It wants the top result to answer your question. Google wants to be your trusted resource, as does Bing, DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo, and Bing. Bing really wants to be your trusted friend.

The other day, I was walking the aisle of a big box store, grabbing items on my wife’s shopping list and tossing them into the cart. I was just about to throw a box of fabric softening dryer sheets into the cart, but I paused. I recalled an article I read indicating that the chemicals used in dryer sheets could be harmful. I asked Google, “Which dryer sheets are safe?” The answer magically appeared, and it changed my purchasing decision on the spot.

Google has a name for this. They call it Micro-Moments. It’s the moment when people have a need to learn something, buy something or do something and turn to their phone (or computer) for instant answers. It happens immediately and without thought. I’m faced with a problem or question and I want the correct answer now. When is the last train from Boston to Reading? How many calories are in an apple? How old is Tony Bennett? My expectation of getting accurate results immediately are usually always met. According to Google, 91% of smartphone users research information on their phones while in the middle of a task. What is error code E25 on my dishwasher? How do I reset my Powerbeats 3? Instant answers. Problems solved. Most of the time, Google even speaks the answer. It couldn’t be any easier. I don’t need to read anything or scroll through a list of links and click one that may have what I’m looking for. Of course, in exchange for this free service, you pay with your data, but we’ll save that for another blog.

So, what’s going on here? I ask my phone a question and it gives me the answer I’m looking for. The answers are typically featured snippets, a selected search result that immediately answers a question. Google has determined that its answer to your question is accurate and provides value. Within Google, featured snippets appear in a box at the top of a search results page and there is a brief summary, list or table PLUS a link to the page where the information was extracted.

Having your organization’s information appear as a featured snippet is every marketer’s dream. Google doesn’t share definitive search stats, but as of 2018, Internet Live Stats estimates Google processes 3.5 billion searches a day. Google also doesn’t disclose how it determines which page it pulls from for featured snippets, but it’s most likely several factors, including SEO, long-tail keywords and domain authority. This automated process is designed to work at scale, and it takes into consideration qualities that are difficult for mortals to measure and understand. Countless sites are passed through shape-shifting algorithms that factor relevance, popularity, quality and freshness to deliver the best results.

I’m sure there are some teenagers out there trying to circumvent Google’s algorithm so they can cheat the system, but a better way to race to the top is by solving your audience’s unaddressed problem. Serve them. Become their trusted resource. Your niche audience may represent a range of demographics, that is, young and old, male and female, etc. But, psychographicially speaking, they should share the same attitudes, opinions, and values. And, if so, they probably share the same needs. If we were to bring those two elements together, psychographics and needs (which we will do in the next post on creating personas), it gives us some insight into our audience’s pain points.

When I talk about pain points or problems, it’s important to filter out the wants from the needs. I want a Lambo versus I need a car to get to work. A want is a desire, something with perceived value that reinforces or improves our status. A need, on the other hand, is essential for life or quality of life. You need food, water and oxygen. Those are critical, life sustaining needs. Once those fundamental needs are meet, we can start taking care of our other needs. If we examine our niche’s psychographics – the shared behaviors, opinions and values – we can uncover needs that are important to that group. For example, in our autism project, we discovered that our niche audience (parents with autistic high school students) valued a college education. This audience shared the opinion that a college education for their autistic student would result in employment and independence. To a parent, employment and independence mean that their autistic child will be able to earn a living to pay for food and shelter. Therefore, we determined that for a small group of autistic high school students, the need was to obtain a college education. How did we learn this? Of course, we reviewed forums, social platforms, blogs and articles.  But, through firsthand discovery—qualitative audience research—we observed behaviors and patterns that confirmed what we read. We walked college hallways with students, we sat in their classes, and we visited their homes. We talked to our audience one-on-one. We verified the need.

Now that we knew our niche valued a college education and the need was for college enrollment and retention, the next step was to perform due diligence to determine if this need was being addressed.

How did we do this and what did we look for? We listened for complaints because complaints equal opportunity.

But, I’ll save that for the next post.


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