“Hello, I’m a Mac.”
“And I’m a PC.”
You remember Apple’s “Get a Mac” series of commercials that ran from May 2006 to October 2009?
The commercials were short vignettes featuring John Hodgman as the sweet-yet-bumbling PC and Justin Long as the creative, hip Mac.
Those 66 short spots were named the best advertising campaign of the previous decade by Adweek.
The success of the long-running campaign leads one to believe that Apple certainly knows who its ideal customer is. Of course they do … because they chose their ideal customer, right from the birth of the Macintosh itself.
That doesn’t mean that everyone responded favorably to the ads. While researching for this article, I ran across a commenter who maintained that the campaign had “backfired” because the PC character had actually been more appealing to him.
No, the campaign didn’t backfire (no one runs a series of ads for three years if they’re not working). Instead, Apple chose who not to attract as much as they chose who they hoped to convert.
Apple knew they were never going to get hardcore PC people to switch to a Mac. Instead, Apple used these 66 humorous little stories to target those who were more likely to “swing” toward Apple, after being educated about the benefits by the contrast between the two characters.
Sounds like really great content marketing to me. In fact, given the nature and duration of the Get a Mac campaign, it resembled serial online video marketing more than traditional advertising.
So, the first (and most important) step in our 3-step content marketing strategy is determining your “Who.”
Who do you want to attract and speak to, and just as importantly, who do you want to drive in the other direction? It all comes down to your values, first and foremost.
What are your core values?
Apple’s values were well reflected in the Get a Mac campaign — creativity, simplicity, and rebellion against the status quo. These core values were consistently present in the prior “Crazy Ones” campaign, and before that, the iconic “1984” ad.
Some feel that Apple has lost the ability to innovate since Steve Jobs passed. Whether or not that’s true, I think the perception of Apple has changed among those of us who were initially strongly attracted, because their advertising now, for the first time, tries to appeal to a more general audience.
Steve would definitely not approve.
Modern marketing is about matching up with the worldview of your ideal customer. Outside of a monopoly, there is no such thing as marketing that appeals to everyone, and yet, companies still try and routinely fail.
On the other hand, think of Patagonia. The founder of the outdoor clothing and gear company invented an aluminum climbing wedge that could be inserted and removed without damaging the rock face. This reflects Patagonia’s founding core value:
“Build the best products while creating no unnecessary environmental harm.”
Of course, not every company has a core value built into the founding story. Most businesses exist to simply sell things that people want, so it’s up to management to find the core values that they want to reflect in their marketing to attract the right kind of customer.
For example, there’s nothing inherently ethical about ice cream, beyond ingredients. So Ben & Jerry’s adopted the values of its two founders, which had nothing at all to do with ice cream.
Not everyone who likes ice cream necessarily agrees with reduced Pentagon spending and the fight against climate change, but the people who do care about those things turned Ben & Jerry’s into an iconic brand.
It doesn’t have to be all sunshine and light, either. If your core values fall in line with a “Greed is good” mentality, you’ll certainly find people out there who share this worldview. You just have to unflinchingly own it.
You need to understand who you’re talking to, yes. But you don’t just accept who you find — you choose who to attract.
What does your character look like?
In the Get a Mac campaign, Apple literally created a character that personified what their ideal “swing” customer aspired to be. It’s time for us to do the same.
You can call them personas or avatars if you like — I prefer character. That’s because the first step is the research that allows you to create a fictional, generalized representation of your ideal customer.
As far as fiction goes, we’re creating a character that will be the protagonist in their own purchasing journey that your content will help them complete. Since this journey is based on as much reality as we can glean from our research, it’s more like a fictionalized drama “based on actual people and events.”
When I say the prospect is the protagonist, that means the hero. Your content is a powerful gift that positions your brand as a guide that helps the hero complete the journey that solves their problem. If this sounds like Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to you, nice work — we’ll elaborate on this aspect in the “What” portion of the strategy.
This journey does not take place in the context of you wanting to sell more stuff. It’s understanding how the prospect thinks, feels, sees, and behaves in the context of solving the problem that sets them on the journey in the first place.
And don’t forget about instilling them with your shared core values. Why would this person choose you to assist them on the journey, out of a sea of other choices?
Because you already see the world like they do in an important way, and they’ll pick up on that shared worldview immediately upon coming across your content. Your core values are your secret attraction spell.
Instead of hiding your world views in the hope of never offending anyone, you now realize the power of being loud and proud — and attracting like-minded people who see you as the only reasonable choice.
Now, most people don’t end up using this representative character in their content, like Apple did with Justin Long in the Get a Mac commercials. It’s really a composite to refer back to so that you never lose sight of who you’re talking to, what you should say, and how you should say it.
On the other hand, the Get a Mac commercials were just two guys standing and talking in front of a minimalist, all-white background. If you’re thinking in terms of online video marketing, you could do a lot worse than looking to this campaign for inspiration.
And think about your explainer videos. Wouldn’t a character that represents who you’re talking to give you an edge over competing marketing approaches?
At a minimum, contemplating the actual use of the character in your content will force you to get things just right. Let’s look at a method for doing that.
You are not your audience
Given that you’re seeking to attract people who share your values, it’s tempting to overly identify with your audience. While you’re going to have things in common, it’s dangerous to think your ideal customer is similar to you in other ways.
You’re a subject matter expert at what you do, for starters, and they are not.
You need to make sure you don’t fall victim to the curse of knowledge, a cognitive bias that occurs when a person with expertise unknowingly assumes that others have the background to understand.
This one assumption alone can sink your content marketing efforts. Plus, you don’t want to assume that the audience shares other characteristics that you have — you want to know, as well as you can, what they’re thinking, feeling, seeing, and doing.
In other words, for you to have the empathy to walk the buyer’s journey in their shoes, you must first see things from their perspective. Then you’ll be in a position to create the content that “coaches” them along the journey.
Let’s take a closer look at empathy, the definition of which consists of two parts:
- The intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
- The vicarious experiencing of those feelings, thoughts, or attitudes.
It’s often said you want to enter the conversation that’s already playing in your prospect’s head. By matching up values and worldviews, you’re also aiming to enter the conversation in the prospect’s heart, and that’s how your marketing triggers the right motivation at the right time.
The process we use for achieving this is called empathy mapping. At the foundation of the exercise is this statement: “Our ideal customer needs a better way to ____ BECAUSE ____.”
Empathy maps vary in shapes and sizes, but there are basic elements common to each one:
- Four quadrants broken into “Thinking,” “Seeing,” “Doing,” and “Feeling”
- Two optional boxes at the bottom of the quadrants: “Pains” and “Gains”
To get started, you can download and print a large version of an empathy map here.
The map allows you to easily organize all of your research and other relevant materials. The four quadrants represent the sensory experience of your ideal customer while in the prospect phase.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- What does a typical day look like in their world?
- How do they think about their fears and hopes?
- How do they feel about the problem your product solves?
- What are they thinking when they resist solving the problem?
- What do they hear when other people solve the problem?
- Who do they see as viable options to solve the problem?
- What do they see when they use your product? What is the environment?
- What do they say or feel when using your product?
- What are their pain points when using your product?
- Is this a positive or a painful experience for them?
- Do they hear positive feedback about your company from external sources?
- What do they hope to gain from using your product?
Jot down needs and insights that emerge as you work through this exercise. Then simply paste those notes in the proper boxes on the large empathy map.
At the bottom of your empathy map, you can also draw two boxes: “Pains” and “Gains.”
In the “Pains box,” you can put your customers’ challenges and obstacles. Ask, “What keeps my customer up at night?”
In the “Gains” box, include the goals your customers hope to accomplish. Ask, “What motivates my customer to solve their problem?” and “What are their hopes and dreams?”
Now … describe your character in detail
You’re now ready to create a written composite of your character. Some people do several paragraphs, or perhaps a page of description. You, being the smart person that you are, might consider taking it further by creating a character bible, just like novelists and screenwriters do.
In this context, a character bible is a detailed outline that lays out everything about your prospect in one place, so you can easily access their personality, problems, and desires. It may seem like a lot of work, but you’ll be happy you did it once you start coming up with the “What” and the “How” of your content marketing strategy.
Next, we’ll begin the process of figuring out “what” information your prospect must have to complete their journey with you. You’ll go from stepping into your prospect’s shoes to walking the buyer’s journey with them.
Reader Comments (20)
Geofrey Crow says
That’s a great post, first of all. It makes a lot of sense where you talk about the need to come up with a detailed description of what’s going on in your ideal customer’s mind. There’s always the need to enter into the prospect’s thoughts, but I like how your list of questions makes the process explicit.
Because there can be a temptation to let the process of getting to know your prospect and the process of writing run together. This way takes out a lot of the guesswork involved. Probably takes out a lot of the guesswork in the long term, too!
Jeff Korhan says
Brian – All great reminders, especially empathy and mapping that experience.
Can you explain why you link to the original content and the Copyblogger home page at the bottom of the post? What does that do that the post URL does not accomplish?
And now I that I say that I cannot find the link. Hmm…
Brian Clark says
I think that only happens in the RSS feed.
Jeff Korhan says
Makes sense as I was using Feedly.
Sometimes it is easy to forget how to properly start the construction process of great targeted content, your article really provides an actionable guide to stay on track and develop really meaningful and compelling content for your intended audience.
Thank you for sharing all this valuable insight!
Beth Hewit says
I love this, thanks so much for the empathy map!
Ravi Chahar says
I have read the documentation of Apple how they brought the concept of Mac and how they turned the campaign into something lucrative.
People should learn to whom they want to attract and to whom they don’t. It’s like filtration.
I always such questions to myself. What if I am going to be all alone? What if the business isn’t going to get the output as expected?
I learn new things and target the right audience.
Chris Johnson says
When I was reading this, I said “boy, whoever’s writing Copyblogger these days sounds a lot like Brian Clark…used to…”
“The professional has to throw down a 360 tomahawk jam from time to time, just to let the boys know he’s still in business.’
Values before empathy mapping helps a lot Sir. Thank you very much Brian.
Great post Brian. I think it was genius that Apple targeted a specific audience for these commercials. The “hardcore” PC group who build their own computers is small – so it wouldn’t have made sense to try and market to them.
Don Purdum says
Messaging is everything! It drives the entire business and yet the majority of businesses have no core, relevant message other than, as you said, they sell something somebody wants.
The challenge with that is; so does someone else. Ultimately, this pigeon holes a business to competing strictly on price instead of on message.
Ben & Jerry’s is a good example. They are not, in my opinion, the best tasting ice cream. But, they have a message for a core audience.
I’ve been in digital marketing since 2005 and it’s obvious who has a relevant message from those who don’t.
In one piece of content do their either solve one problem, meet one need, or fulfill one desire; for on person. And, does it share the one, consistent core message that can be found throughout the site and in off-site marketing like social media, etc.
I like the quadrant, but I think there is a step before that…
We teach five questions that literally changes a business and how the attract a specific audience:
1. What problems are you passionate about solving?
2. What tangible values do your customers experience and how do they feel about those experiences?
3. What “specific” problems do you solve for each tangible value?
4. Who are you “specifically” solving each problem for?
5. What business are you “really” in…
Thanks for exposing this problem Brian. I believe it’s the greatest barrier to success for any business and yet it’s the most neglected.
Susanna Perkins says
Excellent point, Don! Our world would be a better place if companies like Exxon, for example, would realize they’re in the energy business, not the oil business. . .
I’m asking myself “what business am I really in” currently, as I attempt to pivot my business.
This is great. I enjoy doing the customer avatar exercise. It’s cooler when I think of he or she as a character instead.
I love the idea of making the prospect the protagonist & me the guide in the Hero’s Journey. Just thinking of it in this way now has given me some great ideas.
Personas throw me off. I like this much, much better. Create a character of the target audience. It combines a little bit of creativity with data.
Adding to my resources.
Lauren Owen says
Thanks, Brian. Really helpful content, especially with the forms included for the exercise. I’m working with some colleagues on coming up with an elevator speech for their company and this will be good groundwork for this work.
Antoniya Zorluer says
Thank you for the inspiring and actionable post, Brian!
You’ve managed to put everything one needs to create a useful character. It’s very useful to see all of this knowledge and tips in one place.
Many clients I work with are often challenged to decide who they won’t serve but from my own experience this is so liberating! As soon as you know who is NOT a good fit, you can focus all your efforts on the ones who are.
The notion of choosing who I want to serve sits very well with me. I really liked the idea that it’s not about finding out who wants your product but about choosing your character deliberately. It turns the gameplay around a bit and I really liked this perspective.
Thanks for coming back to writing for Copyblogger for our enjoyment 😉
Daniel Nyairo says
Interesting post on how to define the ‘who’ in content marketing. Weeks ago an idea that marketers have to be good at tapping into confirmation biases of their targets came into my mind. I would love to hear what you have to say about that.
Is knowing how to elicit confirmation bias part of the craft?
Rachel Toalson says
This is such a great post, Brian, and something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I love how clearly you laid out your suggestions to figuring out your audience. Thank you so much for your simplification.
I do have a bit of a complicated question. I’m an author. I write a variety of books–memoir, nonfiction humor, poetry and fiction for all ages. But the bulk of my time (and the most enjoyable part of my time) is spent writing fiction for kids. So far I have created a different “character” for each of those genres I mentioned. But I’ve struggled with the fiction for kids piece. My biggest core value for writing kid fiction is to help kids–particularly boys–fall in love and stay in love with reading, because I believe that literature can create a better world by educating, inspiring, and equipping kids to change their circumstances. The biggest problem I have is that the audience for whom I’m writing my fiction books–kids–is not the audience to whom I’m marketing–their parents, grandparents, teachers and caretakers. This makes things really complicated, and I’m not sure how exactly to handle it. I’d love to know your thoughts about it.
(Just so you know, some of the core values I have posted to my desk that inform my writing include helping kids (especially boys) forget they live in a video game world; empowering readers with hope, love, joy, peace, knowledge and the necessary tools to make a better tomorrow; helping readers build a habit of reading; helping families bond around meaningful stories; writing the books that matter; empowering kids to read and fall in love with reading; fostering a love of language in an increasingly technological, diluted, automated world; and becoming a literacy movement. I’m just having a little trouble connecting that to my “character,” but maybe I’m not thinking hard enough.)
This is great. One of the things I always struggle with is figuring out who I am actually catering to. It’s so important, but I always seem to miss the mark. This information definitely has helped give me a new perspective. Cheers
This has been the best thing i have read all day. I love it.
This article's comments are closed.