Do you know what your prospective customers want?

One of the key tenets of direct marketing is Bob Stone’s 1968 framework: list, offer, creative. Do you have the right people? Do you have a compelling offer? Do you have a solid creative?

Do you know what your prospective customers want?

When I talk to marketers, they spend so much time obsessing over the creative while ignoring the vastly more important list and offer side. Creativity is irrelevant when you’ve got the wrong audience, or when you have an audience and nothing they want.

So, do you have what your prospective customers want? Broadly, we all want to save money, make money, and save time. We all want to avoid pain and seek pleasure. But beyond those generalities, we’re not always skilled at creating compelling offers.

I was talking with a client yesterday who was assembling an ad campaign, and I asked what the offer was. It was an invitation to a free webinar. You know what no one really wants, 69 weeks into the pandemic? Another webinar. I’m sure you’ve seen performance decline on your virtual events; we certainly have, at our own and definitely at other people’s events. One event that I speak at regularly has lost 75% of its live audience in the last year because everyone’s over hanging out on more Zoom calls.

Every sale is a series of micro-transactions, of micro-sales leading up to the macro sale. Our first sale is attention. We’re bartering something in exchange for attention, and yet another webinar isn’t something people are clamoring to buy with their attention.

So, what’s the solution? Two things. First, when was the last time you asked your audience what they want in an open-ended format? This is the first, best way to understand what your attention offer should be – if one person’s asking for it, there are ten people who aren’t feeling bold enough to speak up but want exactly the same thing.

You don’t need to be a data scientist or a machine learning engineer to ask people what they want and carefully listen to their answers.

Second, once you’ve gotten the substance of the attention offer down, figure out the container – the creative. This is where you think creatively, where you use the non-math part of your brain. What formats are available to you? What talent is available to you, either in-house or at your agency? Step past the things you’ve always done – what are formats you have never tried, or perhaps never even seen in marketing, such as:

  • An animated web series
  • A comic book
  • An interactive game
  • A print magazine for the coffee table
  • An archery target with the customer’s problems on them and safety suction cup arrows plus a kid’s toy bow
  • A bag of custom-branded coffee
  • A custom line of hand soap
  • A hand-written poem
  • A commissioned piece of original fiction

Can you imagine putting your marketing copy on a bottle of soap? Why not? Printed properly you can cram close to 500 words of copy on a soap bottle.

Capturing attention is always about what’s scarce. Another webinar is not scarce. Physical goods are scarce. True customization is scarce. Showing that you put real effort into something is scarce. Go ask your audience what they want, then find original ways to give it to them, and you’ll earn their attention.