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James Parnwell

James Parnwell

6 Steps to Understanding Your Customer

One of the key things in your marketing efforts is to really understand your customer. You need to go deep into knowing who your customer is, what their problems are, and how your product or service is going to solve those problems. The more deeply you know this, the better your marketing will be.

Maybe you’ve tried to get leads but it didn’t turn out well. A common reason, we find, is marketing that doesn’t resonate with actual humans. Instead of looking for leads, look for people you can genuinely help with a fair exchange of trade.

This is the thinking behind our tagline, ‘Digital marketing that puts people first’.

Marketing is a people business, and the technology – all the posts, clicks and analysis – comes second. We don’t want to get so deep into technology that we forget about the very real people who are looking at our website or our posts.

‘Icky marketing’ and what NOT to do

We can all recall ads that don’t seem to understand their customer. Typically, these ads ask for business straight away: “Buy now! 20% off storewide! Sale ends on Sunday!” It’s all push and somewhat like proposing marriage on the first date. You’ve sat down, had the first drink and then, boom!!! “Will you marry me?”

There’s perhaps a place for marketing that shouts, if you want to capture people who are super price sensitive. But really, is that the quality of customer you want, someone who is also driving your price margin down?

Most consumers don’t want this in-your-face advertising. We know this just from being human; after all, who likes being yelled at? But you would also know it from understanding your customer. Your marketing should be looking at the best ways to do this, and we’d like to share six points to help you do it effectively.

Point 1: Tell a story

This comes from Donald Miller’s book, Building a Story Brand, more often referred to as just
Story Brand. The idea is that marketing should follow a story arc, and the book goes through the
process of developing this arc.

As humans, we have been telling one another stories since the dawn of time. Think cavemen sitting around a fire, sharing stories about what happened during the day. We’re just hard-wired that way.

A story has four basic elements:

  • There’s a hero, living his or her life
  • Something goes wrong
  • Most of the story is about resolving that problem
  • There’s a conclusion

Most movies you have watched will roughly follow this arc. For instance, in The Hunger Games,
Katniss is the hero. She gets thrown into the Hunger Games and the question is, will she live, or will she die? That’s her situation or problem. The rest of the movie is about how this is resolved, and then there’s a conclusion.

We apply this approach to business: we tell stories when we’re talking about a product or service. There’s a business which has a problem and it’s your job to bring a resolution.

Point 2: In your business story, focus on the hero

The thing to keep in mind is that the hero of the story is never you or your product, but your customer. Your customer is always the hero.

This is a very easy mistake to make, and you can make it subconsciously at every turn, talking about yourself and your product. True, you may need to talk about yourself a little bit to establish your authority. But it’s like putting salt on your food – too much salt and you wreck your meal. Too much of yourself, and you wreck the story.

Here’s how we made a client at The Online Co the hero of a story. For privacy reasons, we’ve made this a composite of a few clients. There’s a chiropractic practice (the hero) with two business owners. The senior partner wants to retire, and the junior partner wants to buy him out, but their billing hours are down year on year. That’s the problem. They come to us, The Online Co, to help with a resolution.

After booking a chat, they do a Digital Marketing Playbook and implement a solid multipoint marketing campaign. They grow their bookings back up to full. The senior partner can retire, and the junior partner buys him out. We’ve resolved the story with a happy ending.

That’s a story of our customer. Your story of your customer is going to be completely different, depending on the business and industry they’re in.

Point 3: Write the story out

In our Playbook process, we take the client’s story and write it out. We do the usual thing of creating a client persona (age, gender, location etc) and then we take it a step further. We write out the story so that the business gets a clear idea of who their customer is.

Let’s look at another customer of ours, and we’re free to share this story. Amy and Evan have a commercial plumbing business and we did a Playbook process with them. We asked them to describe their favourite customer, someone they’d like replicated a thousand times. Obviously, there are going to be customers who are far from this ideal, but when you’re writing your story, talk about the customer you’d like to have.

Amy and Evan have three kids, and they have spent their lives building a plumbing business with a focus on hard work, good quality and good customer service. They have 70 staff, they love the work they do and are super busy, with a lot of repeat business.

However, new leads from their website and socials were low.

So, we did an SEO review for them which showed quite a few things they were doing incorrectly. After an in-depth discussion, they took the time to complete a Digital Marketing Playbook. They put into place our recommendations for SEO, Facebook PPC, Google Ads and social posting, and now, five years on, Limcora has become a market leader. They’re smashing their competition with their strong online presence, and they get a consistent stream of good strong new leads.

Amy and Evan have time to focus on business growth, knowing that for the technical aspects of their marketing, their business partner TheOnlineCo. has them covered.

This is just a single example, and in our blog posts and our podcast, we want to talk with and help more people just like Amy and Evan.

Point 4: Pinpoint your actual customer

There’s more that you can put into the story of your customer beyond the usual ‘persona’ which is the traditional method of identifying a customer. This covers age, gender, occupation, location etc which give you a large, vague, fuzzy picture. It tries to gather everybody and make all of them feel as welcome as possible. It’s non-specific and describes a group.


To define this picture further and to really understand your customer you need to know their pain points. What is their need or problem? What do they want and not want? What would drive them to make a purchase, and what are the barriers to that happening? Who are their key influencers, like their friends and family? What opportunities are there for your business to reach them? What keywords do they use when they are searching online, which would help with your SEO?

These are the sorts of questions that TheOnlineCo. will prompt you to think about in terms of understanding your customer. It’s a big picture view of knowing who your ideal customer is, and if you could have more of them your business would be awesome.

You can get invaluable insights from talking with your actual customer, maybe even informally like over the phone. People are usually willing to share feedback, and it can really change your business. You may even get a few testimonials out of the feedback.

Point 5: Persona

So that we don’t remove anyone too early in the process we ALSO come up with that broad, fuzzy, wide-angle persona.

We want to gather everybody we possibly can and then get down to the pointy end as we mentioned before for specific elements of your business.

The general process of gathering information on your persona is mentioned in step 4, starting with gender and age and moving through to WHO this person is – are they the business owner? Or the marketing manager – such as Amy who we talked about earlier.

For you, this will depend on who your customer is. Who the group of people is you will be targeting your marketing toward in hopes of catching the right kind of customer in the right kind of net.

Try not to close the net too quickly in this part of the process. You WANT it to look too big and not quite focused. You never know who you’ll find there by keeping things a bit fuzzy.

Point 6: Combine the big and little picture for maximum effect

You’ll want to combine the big picture (the persona/hero) and the little picture (the story) for maximum effectiveness. It’s powerful when you weave in between the two, and your different marketing tactics will use them differently. The persona will be heavily used in Google Ads and Facebook PPC, covering targeting, broader messaging and pain points. The story will be used for writing blogs, posting social content and LinkedIn messaging. There will of course be some crossover.

So, combine the big picture and the little picture to make sure you’re effectively speaking to people as well as appealing to the broader market.

Puzzle pieces

When you’re setting Facebook PPC campaigns, for example, go back through the Playbook, and read through the story and the persona profile to capture both sides. Keep referencing back to your story and your persona in all the marketing you do, just to make sure that you’re continually trying to hit the right person with your marketing.

Can we help you further?

If you’ve found this informative and would like to take some next steps, we’d like to help you with our Digital Marketing Playbook, our premier planning process. We’ve developed it over 10 years to put together digital marketing strategies that can actually help you grow.

Why not book in a chat?

Book a Quick Chat

We’d love to learn more about you, help you understand your customer and tell your story – and yes, with your customer as the hero.

James Parnwell
James Parnwell

James is the Managing Director and resident strategist at TheOnlineCo. He is clever and creative with a flair for making complex things sound simple. He has been in the marketing game for over 2 decades and has watched the landscape slowly shift. James has his finger on the pulse of every aspect within TheOnlineCo, meeting with all clients as well as every core team member and strategising a specific plan tailored to each client.

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