In times of crisis two things are true:
- Everything seems to be changing
- Some things never do
When you’re the person responsible for figuring out how to make your message relevant in times like these, those two together represent both the problem and the solution.
Everything is changing, at least on the surface. Both people and companies are changing their day-to-day actions and behaviors in response to what’s happening in the wider world. And yep, that’s a problem, especially if you’re trying to figure out how to make your message — or you — relevant, and you should.
It can be easy to get distracted by all those surface changes and think those shifting behaviors are what you need to respond to. That way lies tears, though. Why? Because if you keep pivoting your business or your message with those daily shifts, you’ll end up confusing yourself and worse, the market.
The solution to all of that, though, lies in the fact that some things don’t change, at least not quickly. At the top of that list? Beliefs. And beliefs drive behavior. If you can keep your message focused on what’s driving the behavior you’ll not only have a more solid foundation for your message, it will also be more relevant. Win!
Which beliefs should you focus on? You can’t possibly know every last thing your audience believes, but then again, you don’t have to. Remember that your message should always start with what your audience believes they need, and you can simplify your task.
While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has both fans and detractors, at the very least it can give you a framework of thinking through the different kinds of needs your audience may be experiencing. Maslow’s hierarchy is usually shown visually, as a triangle or pyramid sitting on its wide base.
At the bottom are the needs for basic physiological survival, things like food, water, warmth, and rest. Questions here would be things like, “How can I get the resources I need to survive?” It’s fairly rare for business messaging to operate in this territory, but it’s very much where social action nonprofits and many government agencies operate.
Next come “Safety” needs: stabilizing and securing the resources, employment, health, family, etc. people were worried about at the bottom of the pyramid. Audience questions there would be things like, “What can I do to keep my job?” or “How can I stabilize my income?” Those are followed by needs for love and belonging (“How can I find my tribe?”) and then by “Esteem,” both of self and others (“How can I get the recognition I deserve?”). Needs related to purpose, fulfillment, creativity, and the like are all part of “Self-Actualization” at the top (“How can I find my purpose?”).
Those needs apply for when you’re talking to individuals, but what about companies? Well, since I run into that question all the time with my clients, I developed my own business version of Maslow’s Hierarchy, which could help you think through potential audience needs, as well. It looks like this:
This hierarchy works the same was as Maslow’s, and the categories are meant to correspond to Maslow’s as you move up the pyramid.
When you’re thinking about businesses’ needs, the questions from the bottom of the pyramid relate to what’s necessary for business survival. I put questions about determining basic offerings — having something to sell — and getting capital into that category: “How can we the money we need to survive?” “How can we get more customers?” “How do we find customers?”
When you move up this “business” hierarchy, “safety and security” questions often show up as questions about systems and processes. At that level, your Audience questions might be things like: “How can we make sure we retain our customers?” That’s a slightly higher-level question, because your audience isn’t trying to survive. They’re asking those kinds of questions because they already have clients and a secure foundation: you can only retain customers you already have them.
As you continue up the hierarchy, the questions would continue to change. After questions about systems and processes, likely come questions about getting (or keeping) customer and employee loyalty (the equivalent of “love and belonging”), then awards and recognition (“esteem”), and then finally about market and industry leadership (“self-actualization”).
- DO THIS: Using the hierarchies as your guide, brainstorm audience questions for each level
- DO THIS: Choose the Audience question that best serves your and your audience’s needs
Note that each level represents a potentially smaller audience. It’s a triangle for a reason; there’s more people at the bottom than there are at the top. You will capture fewer people with a Goal from higher up the hierarchy. So, when in doubt, go as low on the hierarchy as you reasonably can go.
Circumstances change, but your idea — whether product, service, or concept — doesn’t. So rest easy. No matter where your audience is on the hierarchy, even if they’ve just moved there, you can help them find the path to your idea.
If you can keep your message focused on what's driving the behavior you'll not only have a more solid foundation for your message, it will also be more relevant. Click To Tweet
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