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.
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.
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.
98% of websites aren’t saying what the businesses think they’re saying.
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.
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.
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.
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