Communication sucks. Especially when it’s not actually happening. When everything that should be expressed is kept in the deepest holes of one’s soul.
It’s like when you’re watching a movie and there is a story between two people. They obviously love each other, but their lives are littered with obstacles. They have a problem with everything regarding their relationship. You watch it, you feel for them and at some point you get annoyed.
For fuck’s sake, people, why can’t you just talk?
I get the same feeling about your products and your content marketing. Why have you put so much time, money and life energy into building a cool product, yet failed to learn how to talk about it?
Communication Is a Part of Your Product
Yes, it’s not BS that marketers are trying to sell. Communication is the heart of human interaction, so if you don’t want to build a sociopathic product addled with childhood trauma, try to be human while building it.
As a communication geek, I’m fond of social anthropology. By this, I mean that obtaining knowledge about the historical, cultural, political and economic backgrounds of different social groups helps me to understand them, analyze them and, as a result, give them what they need. It’s also helpful for participating in different discussions on social issues, in which I love to be right.
I’m not saying that everyone involved in building communication and content marketing should have a critical mind and an endless desire to explore. Despite the fact that they do. If you have no idea why your potential customer hates chewing gum, there is a possibility you’ll never sell this person an application in blue and white colors.
I exaggerate here, but what’s really important is to start considering your product communication before putting all your effort (and money) into the engineering part and making it look pretty. Because terrible can happen: no one will like you and your product.
Make Me Like You: Understand Your Target Audience
Imagine you’ve been involved with a person for a week and the birthday came up. You basically don’t know much about the person, but you’re not going to look like the Birthday Grinch – so what will you do?
Probably, you’ll start asking your friends. Because we know that friends are the most reliable source of information about people they don’t know. Anyway, you’ll have a long discussion, which will end up generating useful ideas like, “You should buy a book about knitting with a cowboy on the cover.” Super helpful! Cheers, folks.
The next step will be either to talk to some of the person’s friends (if you know any of them) or to become desperate and call your mom in tears. Then you’ll remember you have internet and will presumably go and explore all of the social accounts. You might discover that your new friend, for instance, is a huge fan of cooking – and now you have some direction. That means, if you fail with your present, you fail being cute – because you’ve done your research.
It’s the same for your product. To be realistic, it’s not like you always have perfect data about your target audience. But you always have friends, friends of friends, the internet and your mom. And if you didn’t completely hit the target with your first attempt, you’ll have another chance, because your first move was insightful.
That’s what I call the research. If you implement this approach in real life, don’t get too enthusiastic about it – stalking is still a crime in some countries.
So, how do you conduct research and start building an effective communication for your product?
I’m being super-helpful right now, I know. But take a closer look: the formula is actually that simple. The hardest part is everything in between.
“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
I always keep these words by Kurt Vonnegut in mind, because they help me kill generic ideas before they’re born. For sure, the rule applies not only to literature – it’s a blueprint for any kind of customer persona you want to relate to in your work, whether you’re writing a script, composing a concept album, masterplanning a book or concocting a marketing plan. Your target audience is always human, so make your customer persona as real as possible.
How To Make Your Customer Persona Real
First of all, try to use your critical mind and observation skills to comprehend that humans are complex. They have innate characters, desires, fears and quirks, and if your product doesn’t fall within their scope, it might fall and break its head.
Like many marketers, after years of working with different TA’s, spheres and digital channels, I’ve managed to become the Billy Milligan of communication: I can switch from mother of two to teenage boy in 10 seconds. But I don’t neglect the need to work on customer persona and spend some time with it. I know I might find some crucial insights.
I usually use this handmade scheme, based on several approaches that involve both content marketing along with script writing techniques.
To be clear, developing this persona doesn’t abolish customer interviews and gathering all the required data for product development. I recommend that you use this one for communication purposes, to make your customer persona as real as possible so you can appeal to your audience through your content. Also, it’s just fun. Once, with my copywriting students, we came up with a depressed middle-aged guy living in Paris, who owns an Opel but is considering switching to a Mercedes. His main fear is getting older and the biggest part of his expenses is treating his daughter like a princess. By the way, he looks like John Oliver.
To answer the questions, use your superpowers, experience and the magic of the internet.
- Use what you know. Never forget that you’re human, and you know stuff. Use your life experience, play with it, embrace it, extend it, transform it and share it in a new way.
- Go to Quora. While building your product communication, one of the key tasks is to understand how people think and talk about the sphere/topics you’re interested in. You need to know what problems they share, what questions they ask, even which words they use to describe their concerns. Also, some of the personal stories they share might have a significant impact on your further communication.
- Go to Reddit. This may be the most incredible source of insight for bright human minds and dark souls. And a favorite spot for content marketing efforts. You can both talk to communities here and keep being a student of human behavior. Because Reddit is anonymous, people share their deepest fears and desires, which can be super-useful for defining customer insights and your product storytelling. Attention: don’t spend too much time here, you might go wild (or mental).
- Talk to the relevant communities. If you have something to do with the IT crowd, ask them some questions on GrowthHackers or Indiehackers. Research how people talk about the specific topic, then try to be human and do the same. Sometimes, just collecting info is enough, but usually, it’s better to ask for feedback or help.
Human-Centric Content: Bringing Value to People
Nobody wants your product if it doesn’t appeal to their insights, demands, desires, values and fears. Every time you think: “I’ll build this cool product, place it on Producthunt and become king of everything. People will wake up whispering my name.”
The problem is, humans don’t work like that.
Even if you make your product useful, even if you’re the winner of the customer development race, it doesn’t mean you can talk about it in a way that makes people want to listen.
While I was writing this article, I got a comment on my Instagram photo:
First of all, if something doesn’t have a real name, I don’t perceive it as human. “I would love your feedback” – sure, but what are you? And don’t love my feedback, please. It’s still innocent.
All right, I open the account and see 25 k subscribers. Cool. But why are I all these photos of a random woman doing exercises with cheesy quotes on the images there? Because it has nothing to do with me. They presumably found me via #solotraveling and gave me what they thought I needed. Which wasn’t even related to their product.
What should they have done to grab my attention?
- Defined the purpose of their comment. If they wanted feedback, they should have provided a link to the product directly in the comment on behalf of a real human account. If they wanted me to subscribe to their Instagram account and appeal to me as to a solo traveler, they should have had completely different content in their account.
- Written “I” with the upper-case letter. Because it just annoys me.
What they did was taking several minutes of my precious time, adding to the informational noise and not giving me any value.
How to Give Value With Your Product Communication
Because I can come up with a relationship comparison even when the topic is “how do owls see in the night”, take one more slice of it.
Let’s say you’re out to the dinner with your partner’s family. Suddenly, you start talking about your one-night stands from the past. Or you simply narrate a story of how coconut yogurt is made by people in Thailand, while giving a toast to your partner’s father’s retirement. You sounded like a douchebag, right?
So why do you allow your product to be an asshole among products? Well, maybe not you, but someone else (it’s always someone else, right?). Every time I see an ad, receive a newsletter or see a headline which I’m supposed to like according to the targeting, and I do not like it, I drop this product into my imaginary basket of assholes, along with some of my ex’s. They all have a chance to restore my trust, but we all know it will probably never happen.
What you did at that dinner table was inappropriate, arrogant and indifferent to the people around you. Does this remind you of anything?
Bringing value to your communication means doing the opposite. It means bringing an emotion or solution your customers are seeking, at the moment they can interact with it. It means matching up with their life choices, being on the same page, becoming a friend they want to drink a glass of wine with.
If you have a persona, conducted research and answered all the questions – you have all the chances in the world to succeed. Or you know other secrets that help you communicate like this:
Do you think I subscribed to the Klientboost newsletter because I’m their TA and I’m supposed to do it? Yeah, you’re sort of right. But I keep following them, because:
- They make me laugh
- They write about PPC and CRO on their blog in a way that makes me want to read
- Their communication represents their attitude to work and life. It aligns with mine
- I want to grab a glass of wine with them
If you manage to build a human face for your product, don’t forget about some common features we humans share. We’re not always sure what we want. Or how to get what we want, or how not to forget to want. We don’t like wasting time, being annoyed or bored. We’re not perfect.
Sometimes you need to help your customers to overcome challenges, be there for them. Often they expect you to be smarter and more knowledgeable. But sometimes the greatest value you can bring to your product communication is simply being useful and making them smile.
For God’s Sake, Don’t Be Boring While Building Your Content Marketing
The concept of marketing communication has changed. People have access to information, to choice, and they are the ones who dictate the rules. This especially applies to digital products – the way we consume them is a totally new experience for humanity. They are not just something we buy, using them is basically how we live.
As I mentioned before, I teach copywriting, and usually, the hardest lesson for my students is to start writing like humans. Not like copies of real people made of copies of real people.
Fortunately, this problem can be remedied.
Tips and Hints on How To Build Human-Centric Product Communication
1. Stop freaking out.
If you’re not broadcasting your content to kids, talk the way adults do. It doesn’t imply that you should cuss everyone off. However, you shouldn’t underestimate how much closer one slang or curse word can bring you to your customers.
For instance, Petcube talks with their key target audience – pet parents – in a super-sweet way, adding some slang and even making up words. I hope pet owners don’t actually pronounce things like ‘’furkids” or “Santa Paws”, but they do use it all over the internet. I enjoy Petcube’s newsletters, even though the only pet I have is my imaginary golden retriever in my imaginary house.
In a meantime, you need to adhere to a specific tone of voice in all your communication channels. Otherwise, it’s unlikely that your product will become a well-recognized brand.
2. Use real-life stories
Some social and behavioral patterns have become so prevalent that when marketers try to implement real-life stories, they use what is supposed to be true, not what’s actually real.
For instance, I say, ”Imagine a truly happy family.” What do you see? It must be a white male and a female with two kids (male and female, of course). They’re living in a big but cozy house, the sun is shining, the dog is barking, the kids are playing in the yard. (If you have a totally different image, then you’ve won the game of life, and I applaud you.)
Anyway, this picture is such a bullshit. It doesn’t even appeal to the most of the world’s population. And does it really represent my image of happiness?
Well, no, it doesn’t. Nor do most of the scenarios I see in brand communication. That’s why I encourage you to pursue something like this:
3. Learn how to entertain. Or find someone who can do it for you.
This one is my personal request to all you copywriters and marketers out there. Yeah, not everyone is a comedian, but if you’re eager to build trustworthy relationships with humans, you need to find a way to be a bit entertaining. Remember the thing about going to the bar with your product? Do people want to meet someone to get more grumpy? Maybe, if they’re drunk poets who meet others to be sad together. Or the main similarity between your TA representatives is being dead insight.
4. Don’t be an asshole.
I’ve already used that same A word three times. So I truly mean it. In this case, being an asshole also includes using exclusively “he” or “she” (even this one is super-rare) to refer to all genders. Or sharing something like “She looks like a fragile woman, but she’s actually a Team Lead.”
Here should have been a joke about sexism
I’m not even mentioning domestic racism. F*ck it.
It might seem obvious, but trust me, not even the half of products are accurate in their communication. So don’t make me put your product in my basket of assholes.
5. Experiment and change.
If you’ve conducted your research and developed a persona, it doesn’t mean it’s enough. I do research every time I work with a new channel, type of content and, for sure, audience. Sometimes one sentence of text requires brand new research.
When it comes to product communication, you must be ready for a change. Create an approach – test it. Wrote an article? Test it. Sent a newsletter? Write a different one and test in on the same audience.
Marketing is an experiment. If you’re not ready to put money into making mistakes, you’ll never truly understand your customers.
So, What Do I Want From You?
Long story short: don’t make your product sound like a sexist-racist sociopath, and you’ll be fine.
Do some reality checks when you’re designing your product communication. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing or drawing communication pieces with your bare hands, or you’re running the whole thing.
Keep in mind that what you have in common with your target audience is that all of you are human.
All the meaningful and hilarious jokes are created by me and my precious visual mind – Olha Bakan.