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3 Strategies to Connect With Your Audience (Hint: Start With Mutual Truths)

“I thought I’d start off by telling you a little bit about myself,” the presenter begins.

“This is where I grew up. Beautiful, small, lovely.”

She shares details about her personal life and professional career. The introduction for Liz High’s presentation, Social Truth: Revealing What Truly Matters to Your Customers, at Content Marketing World, spans four minutes and 15 photos.

The vice president of customer experience insights and delivery at Metia Group has a point to make. “OK, so what have you learned about me? What do you think you know about me?” she asks the audience.

To answer, attendees relay facts shared by Liz (e.g., she founded a company). In addition, they make judgments. They take what they observed and provide an assessment or opinion (e.g., “You are ambitious.” “You are funny.”).

One person’s answer is different from another’s. And the observations may conflict with what Liz believes about herself.

To bring home the point, Liz shares this quote from film producer Robert Evans:

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”


Marketing: Finding the mutual truth with customers

Liz says the three sides in the discipline of content marketing are:

  • The brand’s.
  • The customer’s.
  • The truth.
3 sides in #contentmarketing – the brand’s, the customer’s, and the truth via Liz High @metia. Click To Tweet

The intersection of what matters to brands and what matters to audiences is the mutual truth, which Liz refers to as “mutual resonance”:

“You can never know the real truth about any customer or any prospect that you’re working for,” Liz says. “It’s your job as marketers to see that from many, many different sides. To make sure that anything that you are producing, is truly engaging and relevant to them.

In the rest of this article, I share Liz’s strategies on how content marketers can uncover this mutual truth with customers.

Challenge assumptions and explore the unexpected

Liz details a campaign she worked on for Mazda, which wanted to be recognized as a premium brand and be attractive to affluent millennials.

Conventional thinking – based on assumptions – might employ this sentiment (I’m paraphrasing):

Because some millennials have money, they want a premium experience. Let’s tap into their affluence to create exclusivity and prestige.

Liz and team set up a series of focus groups with their target audience of millennials. They sought to answer, “What does it mean to have a premium experience with a car and with an automotive business?”

In the first group, the team’s conventional assumptions were immediately challenged. A participant stood up and said, “I think telling anyone that they can have a premium experience based on how much they earn is bollocks.”

Other focus group participants reinforced the thought. “What we learned is when you look to these affluent millennials as a tribe, they all rejected that notion of premium,” Liz says.

Based on the millennial input, the shared sentiment was changed, according to Liz, to:

Everybody deserves a premium experience. It doesn’t matter who you are. 

Liz and team pivoted. They focused on “everybody” (e.g., all millennials) as their most important customer. Diving deeper with focus group millennials, Liz uncovered the importance of “these little moments where you really loved your car. These little moments in your life where your car facilitated something.”

Millennials talked about picking someone up for a first date. They talked about giving their dates a first kiss when they drove them home. They talked about moments of joy.

Liz thought, “How as marketers can we be in those moments of joy. How can we recognize them? How can we replay them to these millennials? Because this is the way that we can connect with them.”

Here’s a slide that summarizes the campaign:

The lesson? To find mutual truth with customers, dig deep, challenge assumptions, and explore the unexpected.

To find mutual truth, dig deep, challenge assumptions, explore unexpected, says Liz High @metia. Click To Tweet

Be data smart, not data driven

“I absolutely love data. But the important thing is not being data driven. It’s being data smart,” says Liz.

Data can help guide decisions, but it need not control. You should not be a slave to data. To understand people and see the whole story, look beyond the data.

To illustrate this point, Liz shares the fable of the blind men and an elephant. A group of blind men come across an elephant and each one touches a different part.

One man holds the tail and concludes that elephants are like rope. Another touches its legs and concludes that elephants are like columns. Each blind man, touching a different part of the elephant, draws a different conclusion.

Each blind man relies on “data” to draw a conclusion. The flaw is that the men look at isolated segments of data without seeing the big picture. A marketing campaign that assumes elephants are like rope would be a colossal failure.

Don’t isolate data so you fail to see the big picture, advises Liz High @metia. Click To Tweet

“For effective relationships with customers and the experiences you build for them, you have to understand every piece of the elephant, and the elephant as a whole,” Liz says.

Liz details a campaign she worked on for an exclusive, luxury travel brand aimed at affluent millennials.

She put on her anthropologist hat and traveled to private dining clubs, exclusive entertainment events, and luxury resorts. Liz observed the expected – millennials were attached to their phones and photographed everything.

Liz wanted to uncover the unexpected. “Don’t just look for the obvious. Don’t just assume an elephant is a piece of rope. Listen to the silences,” she says.

She found that millennials were capturing visual aspects of their experiences as a way to express gratitude. “They were using words like ‘gratitude,’ ‘honored,’ ‘feeling special.’ They were showing themselves as people who appreciated the world they lived in and the things that they saw,” Liz says.

That insight changed the way the brand communicated with this tribe. It was no longer about beauty and luxury. It was about showing unique images that would connect with them.

The lesson? “When you look at data to support your marketing, always explore the unexpected and get rid of your own perceptions and assumptions,” Liz says.

Evaluate multiple data types to get the picture

“To think about understanding that elephant, it’s important that you have multiple data sources and that you have the tools and the methodologies to analyze each one,” Liz says.

She likes to look at this triumvirate:

  • Linguistic data.
  • Visual data.
  • Numeric data.
To get the big picture, analyze linguistic, visual and numeric data, says Liz High @metia. Click To Tweet

Numeric and linguistic data is useful and commonly used. Marketers work with numeric data all the time – social media engagement statistics, Google Analytics, marketing dashboards, etc.

Liz often looks at linguistic data on social media platforms. She doesn’t do sentiment analysis but mines posts to mine for insights and audiences.

Visual data is less used, but powerful.

As you recall, Liz shared 15 photos during her four-minute introduction. Like the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” those images augmented her story in a more powerful way than spoken words can do alone.

Flip that equation. What if Liz asked the audience to share images to convey their feelings, thoughts, and points of view?

That’s what she did in a study of nearly 4,000 U.S. consumers, who were asked to post a photograph or source an image that represented a truth that brands needed to know about them. Each response paired visual data (i.e., the photograph) with linguistic data (i.e., words that the participant used to explain the meaning of the photo).

“The idea behind this study is to get to something different, by using a different data set and thinking in a different way,” Liz says.

Here’s an example:

The essence of the linguistic data is, “I’m creative. Your brand ought to follow suit.” But consider how much more is understood seeing the photo of the painted coconut. The linguistic data alone (i.e., “I painted a coconut”) only goes so far.

The photo captures the spotted head, the eyes, the mouth, the whiskers.

The lesson? Use a data triumvirate for a complete understanding of customers. Ask customers to share perspectives using new formats (e.g., visual data).

Are you ready to search for mutual truth?

Two people can watch the same two-minute video and draw different conclusions. The brand that produced the video can trigger reactions or interpretations contrary to its intent.

The key is to find the mutual truths with your customers.

Think about what truths you share with your customers. How do you communicate with them in everything you do and say?

Maybe you haven’t identified what those mutual truths are – that’s OK – many brands are in this position and even more haven’t considered the concept of mutual truth at all. If you’re in this position, reread Liz’s strategies on how to find that mutual truth. May the truth be with you (and your customers).

I’d love to hear from you – use the comments to share where you are on the journey to mutual truth.

Here’s an excerpt from Liz’s talk:

Want a linguistic and visual data experience in content marketing education? (And we’ll throw in some numeric data, too.) Register today for Content Marketing World Sept. 3-6 in Cleveland, Ohio. Use the code CMIBLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute