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Use Customers' Words to Persuade

by Marcia Yudkin

Marketing succeeds almost effortlessly when you use the words, categories and reasoning instinctively used by your most likely buyers.

Career counselor Joan Cousins of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, didn't leave this to chance. For two years, she kept track of the terminology employed by those who hired her services. When they called, they did not say, "I need career counseling." Instead, eighty to ninety percent used one of two other very specific phrases.

Cousins then composed an ad highlighting one of those key phrases. "That ad brings me an average of one very serious inquiry a week, which about eighty percent of the time turns into a multi-session client," she says.

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Bob Baker of St. Louis, Missouri, who helps independent bands and record labels with their marketing, says artful listening taught him a similar lesson. For a decade he published something called "Spotlight," on the local music scene. "Since it wasn't printed on slick paper, and it was tabloid sized, I called it a newspaper rather than a magazine. But readers kept calling it 'Spotlight Magazine.' Eventually I gave in and gave it the title people wanted."

In addition, Baker originally envisioned that the publication would appeal to a triad of readers: musicians, industry people and consumers or fans. He became frustrated to continually hear, "Spotlight? Oh, the musicians' magazine, right?" Finally he realized that his market was sending him a loud and important message. "Once I started using 'the musicians' magazine' as a selling point, I landed just about every music store and recording studio in town as advertisers," he says.

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Baker's experiences show that you need to not only listen to the words used by your customers, but also be receptive to what you hear. Sometimes you may wonder if the way customers actually worded their praise would have a positive spin for others.

When a group of women who'd heard me speak and invited me to speak to their organization distributed their flyer about my appearance, I was startled to see them describe me as "a soft-spoken marketing dynamo who is long on practical marketing solutions." Did "soft-spoken" dampen the other positives there? Other businesswomen reassured me that overall, the description was laudatory. Besides, I remembered, they'd written this intending to persuade their members to attend the conference.

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Interested in tapping into the wisdom of the marketplace? Besides simply listening with an open mind, try these actions:

  • Ask new clients or customers what prompted them to take action to buy when they did.
  • When you meet people who patronize a competitor, ask them what need prompted them to hire them.
  • If you have a new-client questionnaire, ask people what they're hoping to get from your business relationship.
  • Ask those who do business with you to describe you in five words or less.

"Listen to your fans," says Bob Baker. Even if you're not in the music business, your repeat customers are your best fans. Take advantage of their marketing intelligence!

Copyright 2009 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved. 

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