Statistics vs People – Are You Reaching Your REAL Audience?

Do statistics define our audience?

Most marketing depends upon stats to measure effectiveness. But do stats show the whole picture? And how do we fill in the gaps? Lynn Serafinn shares her thoughts.

These days everyone in marketing talks about ‘identifying your audience’. Everywhere I turn I see words like ‘niche’ and ‘target audience’ (which are related, but not exactly the same thing). Traditionally, identifying our audience was done by means of demographics, such as:

  • Geographic location
  • Gender
  • Age range
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Income
  • Personal habits

For example, if you go onto Alexa.com (a site that many Internet marketers use to analyse their audience), this is the kind of information you’ll find out:

Alexa stats for the7gracesofmarketing.com

But while these stats are useful, at the end of the day they are just stats. How much does this actually TELL us about our audience? What does it really tell us about what they’re really seeking? What they most desire? What they’re ready for?

Answer: nothing.

Stats, Stereotypes and Manipulation

Old-school marketing is all about stats. And stats are all about measurement. But when we start to measure people–real, living, breathing, feeling people–we begin to generalise. We begin to stereotype them. We begin to quantify them. We begin to compare them. I believe the majority of television advertising is created by interpreting stats. Marketers make assumptions about what people in a particular demographic want, and they manipulate those ‘wants’ either by creating uncomfortable feelings of ‘not having’ that ‘want’ met, or by creating feelings of desire for it.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, there was a television show in the United States called ‘Queen for a Day’. I watched it every now and then when I was very little (I was born in 1955). But even though I was a tiny child, whenever I watched it, it made me feel sick and depressed (which is probably why I didn’t watch it very often). Today, with the wonders of YouTube, we can see historic episodes of this show online. Here’s one full-length episode that aired in 1958:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwunZq8H1s0[/youtube]

If we think of the stats that probably went into designing this show, as well as selecting the contestants, it probably looked like this:

  • Geographic – US
  • Gender – Female (nearly 100%)
  • Age range – 25-40
  • Education – High School (at best)
  • Occupation – housewife
  • Income – low to moderate
  • Personal habits – home during the afternoons, except when they go shopping.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I watched this show again after not having seen it for 50+ years, I was shocked by a number of things. The first was that the entire show was really nothing more than a glorified 45-minute television commercial (which were being sold at a then-premium rate of $4,000 per minute, which is roughly equivalent to $32,338 in today’s money), as an endless parade of prizes passed before the audience’s eyes.

But the second thing I found shocking was just how manipulative AND depersonalising the show was. While they presented the show in the guise of sharing these women’s personal stories and misfortunes, their stories are just the ‘hook’ to reel in the viewing audience. If you listen to how the host speaks to the contestants, he’s actually really condescending. You can almost hear him say, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little head about things.’ They are also stereotyped, where the assumption is that as ‘housewives’ they are only interested in household appliances and the occasional feminine luxury. Throughout the show, the producers build and build upon the gap between what the contestants don’t have and what they are offering to them as prizes (which are really just advertisements). It is really visible how uncomfortable these women feel, as they experience a sense of ‘lack’ or even failure. It’s tragic.

And what the producers were counting on is that it would have the same effect upon the viewing audience.

This show is a classic example of ‘old-school’ marketing at its most blatant. By stereotyping their audience (the women who watched the show at home and/or participated in it as a contestant), they reduced them to a set of stats, created a strong sense of lack (using what I call “The Deadly Sin of Scarcity” in marketing), and then parading a bevy of items that would supposedly fill the emptiness that the advertisers had created in the first place.

But while this show was made over half a century ago, the current state of television advertising isn’t a whole lot different (or better) today. It’s just slicker, cleverer and subtler. The exact same kind of stereotyping and manipulation is present in just about every advert you see, but their entertainment value, sophistication and glossy high-tech presentation mesmerises us and makes us unaware of how we are being ‘played’.

Really, if you think about it, there’s no WAY television advertising can be anything BUT based upon stats and stereotypes. It’s going out to a wide audience–what I call ‘casting a wide net’. It’s the exact opposite of what online marketers mean when they talk about ‘niching’ or ‘defining your target audience’.

So what’s the deeper side to reaching our audience? How do we move beyond stats and generalisation and get to the REAL people? And even if we can do that, how does it change the way we do marketing?

Meeting People Where THEY Are

The key difference between old-school stats thinking and the new paradigm of marketing is the way we think about and relate to our audience. Instead of depending upon stereotypes and statistical averages, the new paradigm is about bringing the humanity back into the process of marketing. The first ingredient in that process is seeing our audience as whole human beings, with complex tastes, dreams, experiences AND desires.

The other element that is crucial to the new marketing paradigm is that we see (and connect with) people where they ARE rather than manipulate them into being where we want them to be. I wrote a bit about this in an earlier article on ‘Calls to Action’, but the issue goes much deeper than what I covered there. ‘Meeting people where THEY are’ means not just seeing our audience as whole human beings, but speaking to them from the place of those complex tastes, dreams, experiences and desires we know they have. What this means is that we need to shift our focus away from what WE think is best for them, to what they actually think, feel and want.

Related Article:
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But how do you do that? I remember when I was a brand new coach and my mentor was trying her best to get me to define my ‘niche’. But it just wasn’t landing for me. In fact, I felt that the process we were using was all too theoretical and ‘in my head’. It verged on being very similar to the old-school ‘stats’ process. To be fair to my mentor, I don’t think I actually COULD define my niche back then, no matter how much we tried. In hindsight, I believe the reason for this was because I was too much in my own process–thinking too much about how to define my audience, rather than hearing and answering someone else’s cry. In other words, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was focused on objectifying my audience so I could GET more clients.

How many book titles and webinars (especially from the late 2000s) have you seen with those words in their title?

In my experience, a lot of niching exercises are not all that much different from the old-school approach. As long as we are focused on what we want and where we want to take people, we are NOT ‘meeting our audience where they are’. Our niching (and our business) becomes a dry, academic exercise because it’s coming from a place of Disconnection (the first of the ‘Deadly Sins of Marketing’), rather than Connection (the first of the ‘7 Graces of Marketing’).

Stepping into Our Audience’s Shoes

The only way to begin to meet people where they really are is to learn how to step into their shoes (if not slip into their skins!) and feel what they feel. This is at the very foundation of the Grace of Connection.

For example, just the other day I was doing a marketing strategy with one of my new clients. She’s been in business for many years and has a well-established training practice, but she has never engaged in social media or written blog posts before. We started exploring possible topics she could write about in her blog over the next few months. At first she asked if she could just use sections from her new book. I told her that wasn’t a good idea, for many practical reasons (I’ll go off the topic if I list them here).

To try to open up her thought processes, I asked her what people were SEEKING when they first come to her. She answered by telling me all the benefits people receive from her training. While being able to define the benefits of what you offer is certainly crucial to your marketing, taking about benefits is not ‘meeting people where they are’, but rather talking about where you want to take them. Talking about benefits does not step into people’s shoes in the present moment. And when people come to your blog, you have to remember that they are not seeking benefits so much as answers to something as yet unanswered for them. They might not even know WHAT they are looking for; but when they find it, they’ll know.

So the key to stepping into our audience’s shoes is to reframe our questions and go a little deeper. We need to really get into the Grace of Connection and FEEL what they feel. And for that, we need to ask new, more powerful questions, such as:

  • How do they FEEL in their day-to-day life?
  • What are they utterly TIRED of?
  • What are they bursting at the seams READY for?

How Asking Powerful Questions Opens Channels of Connection

‘How does your audience FEEL in their day-to-day life?’ When I first asked my client this question, there was of course an initial reaction of ‘Wow. I don’t know.’ So, I asked her to envision one memorable person who came to one of her weekend workshops. I asked her to see this person as they entered the room on Saturday morning. How were they standing/sitting? How were they holding themselves? How were they communicating? It was less a process of trying to remember what the person has said than how they were being.

Every time she replied with what I believed was an analytical answer, I kept inviting her to feel what the other person was feeling instead of trying to explain it. With time and space, she began to shift her focus from what she thought she knew (in her head) to what she ACTUALLY knew (through her inner knowing and intuition). She started to connect to the feelings to which she had been witness, whether she had paid attention to them or not.

Next, I asked her to fast-forward to Sunday morning. In my experience, most participants in a weekend workshop (or a multi-day retreat) make some sort of shift overnight in between sessions. Very often, a feeling of conviction (or even anger towards their current situation) arises. I asked her to envision how they looked and felt that morning, at the start of the day. This is a great time to ask the question, ‘What is this person utterly TIRED of?’ This question can reveal so many passionate emotions that their audience might not even have known they had until that ‘can-of-worms’ had been opened during the first day of training.

Next, we fast-forwarded again to the END of the weekend, where my client’s trainees had just completed the full experience, and were ‘completing’ before they went out the door. I asked, ‘Thinking of that moment, what is that person bursting at the seams READY for?’

Related Article:
Do We REALLY Still Need to Talk About Ethical Marketing?

That was the question that opened the floodgates of feeling for my client. She started bursting forth with rich, insightful, energetic responses. They weren’t only about the one person she had been focusing on, but about everyone in the room. It was all I could do to keep up with typing her responses.

At the end of this exercise, we had come up with 16 really juicy blog topics for her to write about–that spoke exactly to where her unique audience was. How much better these topics were than the ideas about writing about ‘her’ book or ‘her’ work!

Taking these topics, and then speaking to the audience from where they are, establishes the Grace of Connection, but it also brings in two of the other 7 Graces:

  • The Grace of Inspiration: because it has come from the intention of ‘breathing life into’ our audience rather than sucking life out of them
  • The Grace of Invitation: because by treating our audience as whole human beings rather than ‘targets’ to be won, we create an open space for engagement.

Closing Thoughts

If we are to shift the paradigm of marketing, one of the first things that needs to change is our relationship with our audience (one of the ‘7 Key Relationships’ in The 7 Graces of Marketing). Sure, go ahead and use the stats as a guidepost. Go ahead and define the ‘benefits’ of what you do. Both of these things are useful. But be sure that your primary focus is on stepping into your audience’s shoes, and finding that deep Connection with them. Feel what they feel. Feel what they really want, rather than ‘thinking’ about how to get them to want something you want to sell. To flip marketing on its head, we need to revolutionise the relationship between marketer and customer.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and got some value from it. As usual, I always welcome your comments, experiences and feedback, and hope you’ll follow this blog by subscribing above.

And, of course, if you’d like to dive more deeply into the ‘7 Deadly Sins’, the ‘7 Graces’ and the ‘7 Key Relationships’, I invite you to check out the book The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell.

Lastly, if you’re an independent business owner seeking to develop a deeper online connection with your audience, check out our services above, or drop us a line via the contact form on this page.

Lynn Serafinn
4th October 2013

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/7GracesMarketng
Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/7GracesGlobalGarden
MeetUp: http://www.meetup.com/7-Graces-Global-Community-London
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

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