Messaging Matters: How to Attract Your Ideal Customers

Want to attract more of your ideal customers? Do you know which words and phrases resonate most with your prospects?

To explore how to come up with the right messages to attract your preferred customers, I interview Jeffrey Shaw on the Social Media Marketing Podcast.

Jeffrey is a brand message consultant who helps businesses attract their ideal customers. He’s the author of the book, Lingo: Discover Your Ideal Customer’s Secret Language and Make Your Business Irresistible, and host of the Creative Warriors podcast.

Jeffrey explains why certain words are more powerful than others in your marketing messages, and shares how to research your customers’ emotional triggers to develop messaging that appeals to them.

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Attracting Your Ideal Customers

After attending photography school, Jeffrey returned to his hometown of Hopewell Junction, a small town a few hours north of New York City, with aspirations of becoming a high-end portrait photographer. One day, a woman came in to inquire about a family photoshoot.

Jeffrey pitched all of the things that he would do as a photographer and stressed the importance of preserving children’s moments and having photographs to hand down from generation to generation. The woman looked at him and said, “That’s great and all, but I don’t have the luxury of worrying about my children’s memories. I don’t know how I’m paying my rent this month.”

Jeffrey realized in hindsight that he should have known better. This was his hometown, which was a small, middle- to lower–middle-class community. He had been promoting his core message of long-term thinking: the importance of preserving life’s moments and having portraits to hand down to future generations. This interaction made him realize that if someone is struggling to pay their rent, the last thing they’re thinking about is anything long-term.

That’s when he learned the importance of matching messaging to the audience.

Jeffrey had been saying what seemed like the right things to him based on his own values and priorities. There was nothing wrong with those messages. There was just a mismatch: He was saying the right things to the wrong people. He realized that he could either change who he was and what he believed in, or he could find the people who valued what he had to offer. He chose the latter and has made a career of spreading that message to other businesses.

This is how to define your ideal customers: Find yourself and then discover who would love that. Jeffrey decided to unpack the affluent community because he realized that the only people who could afford his offer had the discretionary income to plan ahead.

Years after his photography business became successful, people began hiring Jeffrey as a speaker to teach them how to do what he had done. Once he was on photography stages, other people started hearing his message, and he saw the value in broadening his message beyond the photography industry.

In 2018, Jeffrey published his first book, Lingo: Discover Your Ideal Customer’s Secret Language and Make Your Business Irresistible. He uses the phrase “secret language” because lingo isn’t necessarily jargon. It’s simply the words you need to use to capture your ideal customer’s attention. To truly understand the lingo of your ideal customers is to understand the unspoken essence of who they are.

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Jeffrey has found many parallels between photography and brand consulting. A photographer’s role is to understand the subject, capture their essence, and put it on display in the form of a portrait so that people who view it feel a connection to the people in it. Someone who’s looking for a family portrait is really looking for the photographer to create something that stops them in their tracks and gives them a feeling of connection to that moment in time with their family.

Brand message consultants do the same thing. They help businesses understand the essence of their ideal customers and capture that in brand messaging. Once you do that, your brand message will swoop up everybody else of a similar ilk and value system in a way that’s guaranteed to be broad enough to build a successful business.

Why Getting the Right People’s Attention Matters

Jeffrey feels that strong, clear brand messaging is especially crucial in our current culture. To get anybody’s attention and to be noticed by your ideal customers, you have to say a lot in very little time. It’s one thing to say the right things to the right people but Jeffrey helps businesses say the right things to the right people in as few seconds as possible. It all comes down to helping businesses create amazing brand messages.

Jeffrey doesn’t buy into the theory that humans have devolved to have shorter attention spans. He believes the problem is simply that not much in branding and marketing is worthy of attention. For the past several years, many businesses have focused on standing out by being louder, crazier, more annoying, and more different. But that doesn’t work because it stands out to too broad an audience, which doesn’t really serve anybody.

When Jeffrey speaks to companies or large audiences, he often asks how many people feel they’re working exclusively with their ideal customers. Hardly any hands go up. When he asks for a percentage, most feel that about 30% of their customers are ideal—meaning the most profitable and the easiest to work with. And 30% just isn’t good enough.

The world is so noisy that it’s hard to get people’s attention. You want to make sure you’re getting the attention of the specific audience you want to reach. And that’s where brand messaging that’s zeroed in, that speaks the lingo of your ideal customers, becomes imperative. You’re not standing out to a broad audience, you’re standing out to the people who feel like you get them, which is a much narrower focus. When your messaging isn’t fine-tuned appropriately, you’re probably attracting the wrong kind of customer.

Assessing Messaging Using the Lingo Review

Jeffrey says most messaging boils down to the home page. He goes through a process he calls a lingo review. The client first fills out a form so Jeffrey can hear what the company thinks they’re saying. He reads what they’ve written on the form and then he goes to their website. After reviewing hundreds of websites, Jeffrey can confidently state that approximately 98% of websites aren’t saying what the businesses think they’re saying.

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The business owner or the company may have an idea of their ideal customer. But when Jeffrey starts unpacking what that customer’s values are, their lifestyle and behavior, he often finds that none of that’s coming across on the company’s website.

Brands think that because they’re standing out, or because they’ve done buyer personas and avatars, that they’ve somehow narrowed it down. But in today’s world, just standing out in itself is too broad. You don’t want to stand out to everybody or even just a large group. You really want to stand out to the people you resonate with.

If you can get your messaging right, then you can send a signal to those ideal customers that you’re for them and they’re for you. That’s going to increase the likelihood that you’ll attract more of those ideal customers.

Another factor that often gets overlooked is the use of mobile devices. More than 70% of people visiting your marketing materials, particularly your website, are on mobile devices. Behavior on mobile devices is entirely different. Technology became responsive but marketers forgot to respond to the behavioral difference. People on mobile devices don’t switch pages. They tend to sit on the home page because it takes too long to load interior pages.

But most companies have their juiciest and best messaging on the interior pages. They’ve treated the home page as an old-style gateway. But on a mobile device, that home page is everything.

Jeffrey believes that going forward, every page on a website will be a distinct home page. Jeffrey is a consultant offering a variety of services and he’s also a speaker. When someone inquires about speaking, he doesn’t send them to JeffreyShaw.com. He sends them to JeffreyShaw.com/speaking so that speaking page is now the home page to them.

He doesn’t want to confuse them with the general information on the home page; he wants them to get exactly where they need to go. The messaging on each page needs to be specific to the audience you want to speak to and the services you’re offering.

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Understanding the Language of Your Ideal Customers

Most businesses have been built backward. Because we’re now such a content-rich world, the way businesses tend to be built is that somebody has an idea, they build a business, they have a logo designed and a business card printed, they launch a website, they fill it up with words and messaging, and then they spend years trying to hunt people down to fit them into the box they’ve created.

The right way to build a business is to deeply understand your ideal customer—not just any customer, your ideal customer—and then build all those marketing materials that speak their lingo so they’re drawn in.

Understanding your ideal customer is accomplished through five primary emotional triggers—perspective, familiarity, style, pricing psychology, and words—and they have to be considered in that exact order.

Perspective

You simply cannot resonate with anybody—you can’t understand anybody, have empathy for them, trigger them emotionally, or understand their lingo—until you understand their perspective, how they see the world.

Jeffrey grew up in a middle- to lower–middle-class community and ended up being the photographer for some of the most affluent families in the country. He was able to do that because he understood their perspective. It didn’t matter that he didn’t come from money. Any business can serve anybody if they take the time to understand the perspective of their ideal customer.

Jeffrey needed to understand what his ideal client’s lifestyle was and what they valued. He studied this for months. He went to high-end brands, not so much to study the brands but to study the behavior of their customers. He explored how he would feel if they were his ideal customer: What triggered them, what were they seeing?

That’s what he means by perspective. He defines it as deeply stepping into—not a projection, not an assumption, but to literally experience—the life of your ideal customer, preferably in ways that have nothing to do with your business. How do they live their life, where do they go, where do they hang out, what do they value, what’s their behavior, and what’s familiar to them?

Years ago, Jeffrey went to Bergdorf Goodman, a one-of-a-kind exclusive department store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, just to see what it would feel like to be there. He noticed a lot of designer names. At the time, his photography business was called Light Images. That changed once he realized that in the lingo of the high-end brand identity, having a designer name had value. So he changed his business name to his own name, which, for Jeffrey, was the beginning of personal branding. He made Jeffrey Shaw a brand name.

Another difference Jeffrey observed was word usage. The word “discount” means nothing to higher-end consumers; discounts don’t motivate them to buy. But if you throw an upgrade at them, they’re all over it. That’s the entire basis for airport lounges: free food, free cheese, free water. In his photography business, Jeffrey did an annual promotion where he offered his clients the option to prepay.

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This idea actually came from Starbucks. When Starbucks first introduced the Starbucks Card, it wasn’t originally thought of as a gift card. You preloaded it with money to buy your own drinks. That fascinated Jeffrey. They already had higher-priced coffee than anybody was used to paying for, and now they were convincing customers to pay for it ahead of time, before they even ordered the drink, with no discount. Where was the value in that? It made people feel cool, like they were part of an exclusive club.

Jeffrey took that idea and offered his clients an upgrade: If they prepaid several thousand dollars as a deposit for a portrait session to be used anytime in the upcoming year, he would upgrade them an additional 10%. If they wanted to pay $5,000, he gave them an extra $500 on their account. Instead of giving them a discount, he gave them a freebie, which, in this case, was more of his valuable service.

Understanding the lifestyle of your ideal customers is key to speaking their lingo. Jeffrey offered this upgrade every February when he knew his Wall Street clients all got their bonuses. His hook was, “If you want to be photographed this year, and you let me know which month, I’ll contact you 10 weeks before to make sure you get the ideal appointment because I have an 8-week waiting list.” This way, he guaranteed business with and for his best clients.

The other key component of this offer was that it honored loyal customers, which is an essential part of the relationship when you’re working with high-end customers. Many businesses on the lower end are only throwing discounts at new customers. That would be disastrous on the high end because those customers are all about building relationships.

Jeffrey didn’t assume that he understood his ideal client’s perspective. Instead, he went to places that allowed him to experience what it was like to be them, and he took cues from that and applied them to his business. Years later, Jeffrey has actually become an ongoing loyal customer of Bergdorf Goodman. He loves that he first went to the store as a poor 23-year-old to learn how to speak the lingo of the affluent market. As a result, his business became successful enough that he became one of Bergdorf Goodman’s customers himself.

Familiarity

Familiarity is one of the most powerful human emotions because we’re drawn to what feels familiar. Familiarity is so powerful that we’re sometimes duped by our own expertise.

When Jeffrey moved to Miami, he scouted out a few different neighborhoods. People kept talking about a neighborhood in Miami Beach called South of Fifth. Jeffrey didn’t really want to live in Miami Beach but everybody told him to check out this neighborhood, and when he did, he immediately fell in love.

There was a beautiful park in the center of the community with 180-degree views of the ocean. Smith & Wollensky, a high-end steakhouse with a well-known New York location, was also there. The fact that he was already familiar with the quality of their food helped Jeffrey be all-in.

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He went to his new accountant and said, “So much for saving money moving to Florida—it’s just as expensive. My rent is the same as it was in Manhattan.” And the accountant said, “Well, you’ve chosen a neighborhood geared toward attracting New York money. The park is modeled after Battery Park and there’s a Smith & Wollensky steakhouse. That neighborhood was architecturally designed to attract New Yorkers with money.” Jeffrey felt duped.

Jeffrey ended up disliking living on the beach and later moved to downtown Miami. But the point is that the power of familiarity was so strong to him that he felt like he was at home and that he’d found exactly what he wanted. That’s a powerful thing for businesses to get to know about their ideal customers. Who are they already doing business with? What’s the culture of those businesses?

Understand where your ideal customer is going. Where are they shopping? Does your ideal customer go to Costco, Publix, Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods? Without a doubt, we can all agree the vibe and what feels familiar in each of those brands is very different: Costco feels entirely different than Whole Foods.

The power of familiarity is in uncovering what they’re already experiencing. Recapture that in your brand message, brand image, and in the customer experience, and they’re in.

A common challenge for B2B businesses is figuring out how to create something familiar when they don’t necessarily have a community that clients can walk into. Jeffrey says we need to break down the division in our minds between B2B and B2C. B2B tends to think that everything’s different for them. But at the end of the day, businesses are all run by humans.

If your ideal customer is another business, that business has a culture. That business, and whoever the decision-maker is, has a personality. So you can still look at it the same way.

To learn about his ideal clients, Jeffrey went to brick-and-mortar places such as Bergdorf Goodman because the internet wasn’t really around. In some ways, it’s easier to do this research today because we have access to so much information on the internet. Where’s your ideal customer? What blogs are they reading? What books are they interested in? Where are they spending their time—either inside or outside their home?

Video in particular emphasizes the importance of the things we talk about and the way we say those things. Our audience is going to relate to what we’re saying or not, and that’s part of familiarity as well.

Jeffrey often shows a video clip of Taylor Swift during his B2B talks. A few years ago, Taylor’s team followed about 100 members of her core fan base on social media for a year to learn everything possible about their lives. At the end of the year, Taylor sent Christmas gifts to those fans. They were based on pretty intimate details. In the video, you see a gift tag that says, “Congratulations on your acting gig.”

When the fans received these gifts, can you imagine how blown away they were that a star as big as Taylor Swift took the time to understand not just their perspective but also the tiniest of details of their lives? That’s lingo through and through, knowing what’s familiar. We can find out so much of what’s familiar to people by just looking at social media.

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Jeffrey sometimes questions the accuracy of direct surveys because people will often give you the answer they think you want to hear. But if you do it almost secretively—if you go through somebody’s Facebook page and just find out where they’re checking in to eat, for example, it can tell you a lot about the style of restaurants and their price point.

Familiarity is putting yourself in your customers’ position and asking yourself about the things they have in common or the things that are normal and familiar to them. What they have in common is a little tricky because you don’t want to stereotype people and throw them into a single bucket. But the fact of the matter is that there are similarities among large groups of people.

Jeffrey’s ideal customers were affluent families and there are common denominators among that clientele—but there are also nuances. To visualize this, the way money is displayed in the Northeast is quiet and subdued, versus in a place like L.A. or Miami where people are more inclined to show off what they’ve got. Jeffrey photographed these clients differently.

In the Northeast, he would never photograph a family with the big house on the hill, but in California, he would. A New England family would never send out portraits to their family members putting their wealth on display. But in Miami and L.A., that’s the primary objective.

Understand who they are but also understand those nuances. Don’t throw everybody in the same bucket but try to understand a broad audience by knowing the commonalities.

Style

Style is the decision-maker and a lot of people don’t take it seriously enough. If you’ve ever shopped at a TJ Maxx or Nordstrom Rack or any other discount place, all of the medium shirts are in one section. What gets you to stop when you’re flipping through the hangers? The style. There’s something about that shirt that makes you more likely to take it off the hanger and say, “Wow, this is so me.” Something about that style speaks to you.

That’s an important understanding when it comes to getting people to visit your website or open an email. Understand what style resonates with your ideal customer that’s going to cause them to stop in their tracks. That’s how you get their attention.

Style is represented by brand voice—degree of humor, degree of formality versus casualness, storytelling, even right down to font and colors—because all of those elements give a feeling based on that style. Comedians do this really well. They’re not trying to appeal to everybody, nor should any of us. They know their audience has a similar sense of humor.

Style is about understanding what resonates with your ideal customer so you can stop them in their tracks. That’s how you get people to open emails: It all comes down to the subject line. Does that subject line capture them and make them feel like you’re speaking to them in their style?

Pricing Psychology

Jeffrey’s observations when he went to Bergdorf Goodman were eye-opening because it was such a departure from what he was used to. Part of the reason why he’s able to do what he does as a brand message consultant is that he’s lived life on opposite sides of many fences, having grown up lower middle-class and then serving wealthy people. He can see definite differences.

The key to pricing any product or service in any market is to base it on how your ideal customers see themselves in the world. We have all chosen not to buy something because it was inexpensive for us; therefore, we perceived it as cheap. Somebody else saw that very same price and it might have been too high for them.

As consumers, we see pricing based on how we see ourselves in the world. You want to carefully position your pricing psychology to match your ideal customer. When it’s off, it can be one of the biggest breaks in business. That’s why you get situations where you’re trying to convince someone that what you have to offer is worth it and they don’t see it. Or they find themselves in a situation where they thought they could afford something and suddenly it’s a lot more expensive than they thought.

Jeffrey says that disconnect is almost always the business’s fault because they didn’t accurately portray their price point to match how their ideal customers feel positioned in the world.

At Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey observed that all of the prices were rounded off; there were no prices that ended in 97. Many people come to Jeffrey for help with their businesses and complain that their customers are trying to nickel-and-dime them. He looks at their pricing structure and sees that they’ve priced everything at $19.97, $4.97, $9.97. They’re the ones drawing attention to the fact that 3 cents matter so why are they surprised that customers are nickel-and-diming them?

If you’re selling a higher-end product to a higher-end audience, you should just make it $1,000 instead of $997. Round it off and keep it vague.

People contact Jeffrey for photography and ask how much he charges for his services. Jeffrey responds by asking them how many homes they have. If they have three homes, Jeffrey estimates about $15,000 because he’s found that his clients invest about $5,000 per home. He lets them know that it’s going to be a minimum of $5,000, up to $15,000, depending on if they’d like portraits in each of their homes.

Walmart’s pricing psychology is down to the 100th of a cent so their cost-conscious customers know they’re not paying more than 1/100th of a cent more than needed.

Most of us underestimate our value and price too low. It’s worth testing and seeing what works. If you don’t have anybody complaining about your prices, you’re probably too low. There has to be a certain percentage of people who are objecting; otherwise, there’s room to go higher.

Words

Once you’ve got perspective from your customers by trying to understand their lives, understanding what they are and aren’t familiar with, knowing their style, and beginning to grapple with their pricing psychology, now you’re finally to the point where you’re talking about saying the right things to the right people in as short a time as possible.

As you’re going through these stages, keep track of repeating phrases and words that you’re going to use in your copy and hooks like “upgrade” instead of “discount.”

One thing Jeffrey discovered while working with bedding company Ogallala was that their bedding materials were actually made from milkweed, which is a hypoallergenic substitute for down. It’s also extremely breathable, which makes it a better material for anybody who gets too hot under a big fluffy comforter. Milkweed also grows profusely in the Midwest so there’s more than enough of it available.

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But here’s the really cool thing. Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch butterflies lay eggs on—and they’re close to extinction. This was important. The company knew they wanted to capture the Millennial market. Millennials are very mission-conscious. Jeffrey was able to help change the company’s brand messaging: Not only are you getting a great product, you’re actually participating in saving Monarch butterflies.

They didn’t really have much brand messaging before. Like a lot of websites, it just felt like a brochure saying, “These are your options.” But now when you go to their website, ogallalacomfort.com, their brand message is, “Bedding that breathes and saves butterflies.” You’re getting that right up front. The retention rate went up around 147% and time spent on the website and sales increased by 33%.

Key Takeaways From This Episode:

  • Find out more about Jeffrey on his website.
  • Read Jeffrey’s book Lingo and watch for his next book, tentatively titled First Page Impressions.
  • Listen to Jeffrey’s Creative Warriors podcast.
  • Fill out the Lingo Review for tips to realign your own messaging.
  • Check out Social Media Marketing World 2020.
  • Watch exclusive content and original videos from Social Media Examiner on YouTube.
  • Watch our weekly Social Media Marketing Talk Show on Fridays at 10 AM Pacific on Crowdcast.

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