You may be the hippest hipster who ever sipped a soy latté in Brooklyn. Or a Silicon Valley marketing genius who eats only free-range kale in his kitchen overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

But you'll never really win your customers unless you do this: Love them with all your heart.

Of course, being the smart-aleck that you are, you've long realized that "know your audience" is one of the oldest tenets of communication. The principle is that the better you understand the needs and preferences of the people you're trying to reach, the better you can design products and services to meet those needs.

It's certainly a sound concept, but it doesn't go far enough. In order to break through today's noise and nonsense, you have to go well beyond simply knowing: You have to love your customers.

Your love has to be real--not manufactured or manipulative--and unconditional. You have to clearly see your customers' faults, but love them anyway. Your love has to be unwavering, despite inattention, inconstancy and even infidelity.

And it doesn't work if you "appreciate" your customers, but secretly sneer at them. Yes, they may drive a Hyundai, watch Duck Dynasty and microwave frozen chicken fingers, but that doesn't mean they're not as smart and sophisticated as you are. Like you, your customers work hard, are dedicated to their families and make a difference. They're just different than you are.

One method I use to understand my customers--employees at large organizations--is by creating profiles of typical audience groups. What makes this such an effective tool is that the emphasis is not only on abstract data--"47 percent of our customers drive minivans"--but also on the specific character details that bring an audience to life and helps you connect with its needs.

For example, people in corporate headquarters often have a very vague idea about what "real life" is like for employees in the rest of the company: They really think that everyone who works for the company wears expensive suits, walks on plush carpet, eats in a restaurant-quality cafeteria and parks their cars in a covered lot.

To deliver a dose of reality, I took feedback from focus groups and other employee research to create a profile of a "typical" employee--someone who's out there sweating and doing real work (not this frou-frou intellectual stuff).

That's how I created "Bob," a factory employee at a consumer products company. Ever since he graduated from technical school 17 years ago, Bob has worked at the company's manufacturing facility in Oklahoma; his dad also worked for the company, so Bob has deep roots in the organization.

Bob is proud of the job he does, but he doesn't feel that his work defines him. He is a big fan of NASCAR, and every year he goes to Texas on a duck-hunting trip with his buddies. Bob uses technology in his job, and his kids have a computer at home, but he doesn't really like computers. His smart phone, however, is a different matter; he enjoys playing several games his son loaded onto his device.

See how it works? The more you know about Bob, the better you can design products and pitches to appeal to him. Your target customer is not a demographic with a debit card: He or she is a person with real needs and concerns. By creating a character sketch of your intended audience members, you'll connect with them more effectively.

And that's where the secret sauce comes in: Only by truly loving your customers can you deliver in a way that's truly about them, not about you. The leap to loving brings you in touch with what matters to people. Suddenly you're able to communicate in ways that profoundly connect. You're not on the other side of the chasm from your customers: You're right there next to them, talking softly, saying what they've always wanted to hear.

Published on: Aug 27, 2017
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of