brand story & messaging

How to fight complacency and spark action: hit a nerve

Sandra Stewart | October 30, 2014

Marketing gurus often talk about speaking to your audience’s “pain” and showing how you can make it go away. That advice draws on a larger principle: when you hit a nerve, you get attention. That’s true whether you target pains, desires or aspirations. Communications that generate an emotional response put people in a frame of mind to listen to your rational case.

Doing this well and consistently requires truly knowing your audience—what motivates them and what drives them crazy; what hems in their choices and what brings them rewards. Be cautious about assuming that you and your colleagues “get” your audience in this way: even if you are demographic doppelgangers, you’re operating with the tunnel vision of insider knowledge. Do some digging: research that’s as minimal as structured interviews with five tar­get audience members will put you in a much better position to hit a nerve.

Our client Sage Consulting found its market’s nerve by working collaboratively with the first group to go through its training program for healthcare workers. Sage asked participants to talk about the reasons they entered the field and the factors leading to burnout. The resulting conversations were intense and emotional—and revealing. The company incorporated that process into its training programs as a way of opening people up to a new approach; it also used this audience knowledge in its marketing to address objections to the program that people might not state directly.

Want to hit a nerve? Remember these three rules:

  • Find out what people do, not just what they say. What people act on is the true sign of what motivates them.
  • Speak directly to your audience. Your pitch is about them, not you.
  • Address the emotional component—how this problem (or desire) makes them feel, and how they will feel after engaging with you.

Find more ways to energize your brand communications in Thinkshift’s Strategy>Shift guide: 9 Ways to Make a Powerful Impression.


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