Emotion and Irrationality: Matt Heinz Talks Understanding Your Audience

Emotion and Irrationality: Matt Heinz Talks Understanding Your Audience

When was the last time you said something you really wish you could take back – be it at a party, an interview, or some other social setting?

We all mix up names, misremember personal details, or make an incorrect judgement occasionally. And although some of them are very superficial and minor, it’s tough to shake the feeling that the other person won’t forget the error, especially if it was a first impression. According to Matt Heinz, faux pas like these can come back to bite you in marketing, too.

Matt is the president of Heinz Marketing, an organization that focuses on strategic customer acquisition and retention strategy and execution. Basically, if you need to grow, this is the guy to know. (But definitely don’t ask him how he enjoyed his time at Washington State.)

We got the chance to sit down with Matt to discuss his approach to creating content that readers find meaningful and personally important. Read on to see what Matt thinks about knowing your audience, building a “recipe” for content resonation, and why it’s so hard for a lot of marketers to connect with their customers.  

As a marketer, how do you get to the point of knowing how to do the right things for your audience?

Well, it starts with anything and everything you do to understand foundationally who your target audience is. I think this is why talking to customers is so important. This is why relying on people within the industry is so important. I think you develop that foundation. You continue to learn and read and talk to those people.

I’m old enough now to remember when we had to do focus groups to learn more about customers and now there’s a daily real time focus group going on all around us if we are willing to listen and interpret and triage that information. So, I think it’s really important for companies to invest in that foundation of knowledge about the customer. Not only developing that knowledge, but sharing it.

Right, and that’s the big missing link. You’ve done all this research and tried to listen. You’re kind of going through the motions, but sometimes, this type of knowledge lives just in people’s heads, kind of passed around like campfire stories.

If it’s institutional knowledge in those people’s heads, you better hope that those people never get sick and they never get fired and never leave, because it’s going to walk out the door with them.

Say you’re a marketer who cares about resonating with their audience. How would you recommend they go about this change management process of getting the type of buy-in that they would need from their leadership or from their team to really focus on this stuff?

I think, inherently, it’s not something that a lot of companies will prioritize, at least in isolation. Increasingly, I think they are more before-and-after stories of companies that embrace that deeper customer understanding, as well as the horror stories, and the downside of not doing it in general. I can give you many examples of people that lost deals because they lower cased the ‘r’ in realtor. It may sound superficial and trite, but we all have things that are near and dear to us.

I went to the University of Washington, and our chief in-state rival was Washington State. Every once in awhile, someone from out of state will say, “Oh, so you went to Washington State,” just not even thinking about it. That’s like telling a Yankee fan that your favorite team is the Red Sox. Again, it’s dumb and superficial maybe, but it’s meaningful.

So, it would be great if we all made purchase decisions based on logic. Unfortunately, B2B buyers use logic but also use emotion and use politics and use a variety of irrational but important-to-them criteria to create preference and trust and to consummate relationships with vendors and others in a B2B context.

Do you think that there are certain pain points in the B2B marketing experience that the solution would be, “Oh, I need to resonate”?

I can’t think of a lot of situations where it isn’t a good idea to create resonance. Some of that has to do with simply both understanding your audience well enough to ask them the right questions, as well as, asking questions on the fly to understand how everyone uniquely thinks about the problem. It’s very likely that there are meta-trends among a particular target audience you’re speaking with on any given day. But any given week, any given month, or any given quarter, there are more specific pain points or obstacles that person is dealing with.

When you encounter resonant content out there in the world, do you see it as having a certain set of characteristics or a certain quantity of ingredients?

I think there are some foundational building blocks that make it a lot easier. Very few people take the time to build personas in a way that meaningfully articulate the challenges and pressures and needs of an audience in addition to the benefits of using your product. Operationalizing that understanding inside your organization is step two – making sure that your marketing represents it. It’s built into their templates. It’s built into their training so that they’re seeing it; they are practicing it; they’re comfortable with it. They sound natural with it. A third piece I think is just the ongoing education, the ongoing training, the ongoing research, the ongoing exposure to your customers directly.

Is this something that you think about day to day? Creating content that’s going to resonate?

Absolutely. We create a lot of content. We blog almost every day. And we do have an editorial calendar, we have themes that we care about, but I would say that fairly quickly we will adjust our editorial calendar based on something that we’re observing in the market, something we are seeing as a priority among our customers.

That means listening to what they are challenged with, listening to their questions, understanding where they’re roadblocks are. Not in general, not three years ago, not based on what I learned in MBA school, but based on what they’re saying right now. So for me to be able to create content that’s truly achieved that objective, it means I have to have that regular input from customers.

What are some of the questions that you ask your audience when you talk to them?

I go right back up to the top and say: What are your goals? What is keeping you from getting there? A simple way of starting that is often saying, “What numbers are you trying to achieve? What are you measured against? And what are the primary challenges keeping you from getting there?” What I like about that question is most people aren’t going to respond necessarily with the most important roadblock or challenge, they’re going to respond with the one that is most prescient to them right now.

Why do you think it’s so hard for marketers to create content that resonates or to focus on resonance as a goal?

The most common answer is that we can’t get out of our own way. We are so enamored with our own products and services. We are so enamored with tying everything back to a product or a failed message that we don’t have the patience or the longevity to stick with a message or a stream of the conversation that addresses the customer more directly.

All of us have things we want to sell, right? None of us need to shy away from it, but very few people go to the hardware store because they want to buy a drill. Usually people buy a drill because they want a hole, right? We’re going to be much more successful selling more drills if we can help people envision and understand the connection between what we’re selling and what they’re getting.

Do Your Homework

In order to best connect with your audience, come from a place of genuineness, and make sure to do your homework. It’s not the end of the world if you mix up Washington and Washington State, but be prepared to get a prompt tongue-lashing from alumni on both sides if you do.

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