“Hurrah boys, we’ve got them! We’ll finish them up and then go home to our station.”
— Infamous words reportedly said by General George Armstrong Custer shortly before being killed.

Today, I received an e-mail from a local B2B service provider. They appear to offer a good product. They seem to know their niche very well. And, they’ve been around long enough to suggest they’ve had measurable success. There’s only one thing wrong: they’re a competitor of mine.

Earlier this week, I got a phone call selling advertising opportunities to support the local high school football team. The rates seemed fair. It might not get our business the right type of exposure, but it’s for a good cause. There’s only one thing wrong: they’re in a different school district. My kids would never forgive me.

I recently attended a presentation given by a former local politician. The topic of discussion was supposed to be about business opportunities in the wake of an impending corporate expansion. Well, that’s what I expected. Nor was I the only one.

The guest opened his presentation with a 15-minute, and very partisan, political rant. It was totally inappropriate. This was a business forum, not a political one. Whether or not I agreed with his views, this was neither the place nor the time for politics. I immediately sensed a huge disconnect between the speaker and portions of the audience. This presenter assumed his audience agreed with him because we’re all business owners. It never occurred to him that small business owners and those who have large corporate interests don’t necessarily share the same daily challenges or world view.

What’s particularly unfortunate about this event is that the organizer has been courting Millennials to join their group. It’s a worthwhile objective. Millennials can really benefit by getting involved with the local business community and learning from those of us who have been through it all. And, we can certainly learn a lot from them. Furthermore, many of them are entrepreneurs.

But, Millennials have been dealt a hand of uncertainty from a dysfunctional government. Far too many have been saddled with mountainous college debt. They are unsure if the protections of our social structures will be there when they’re ready to retire. Essentially, they feel they are on their own. For the most part, they blame politicians. From both sides of the aisle.

Never Make Assumptions about Your Audience

That seems like an obvious rule, right? But, we all do it to some degree. It’s human nature. We follow our gut instincts. We proceed without having the data to back up our actions. Remember New Coke?

When you think about it, we are all marketers. But, to be successful at it, we need to understand how our market sees the world. We need to identify which emotional buttons to push. We need to speak to them in their language. There are countless stories about those who had a great product, but took a “build-it-and-they-will-come” attitude. They assumed people would immediately get it. They assumed the product would sell itself. And a good portion of them ended up in bankruptcy court.

It simply doesn’t work that way.

Empathy Can be Your Greatest Marketing Tool. Use it.

Without genuinely understanding your audience — sharing their concerns, knowing their fears and feeling their pain — how will you be able to address their needs? How can you begin to manage and fulfill their expectations? How will you be able to connect with them on a practical, or even emotional, level if you don’t REALLY know them?

We all tend to get too close to what we do and fall into the trappings of our own subjectivity. Therefore, it’s vital that we extract ourselves from the “bubble” to gain perspective. Doing so enables us to meet our market at their level, whether it’s up, down or lateral. We should enter THEIR SPACE instead of trying to pull them into ours. Moreover, it helps to realize that our audience is far broader than our immediate sales prospects. There are influencers, analysts, potential investors, colleagues, recruits and even friends and family who deserve to know what we stand for, what we offer and why it matters.

If you’re unsure about your audience in a particular setting, try elevating your message. Instead of delving into specifics about what you do, offer higher-level insights that everyone can use. When you think about it, most challenges are rooted in some of the same fundamentals. So, even if you don’t make the sale, by educating your audience, you’ve still made a valuable contribution. You shouldn’t be direct-selling 100% of the time, anyway.

For example, the politician can speak about getting things done in the face of fierce opposition. The marketing firm can share communication tips from which any business can benefit. The local high school… well, they’re the enemy. But, you get the idea.

Today’s markets are more diverse than ever. And that’s not going to change. Yet, we still have much in common. You can choose to stubbornly resist it, narrow your market and seal your fate. Or you can embrace it, identify the things we share and determine where you fit in. And you do fit in. Just NEVER make assumptions about people and risk alienating them. Your business cannot survive without them.

Remember the old saying, “When you ASSUME…”?

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