People Don’t Know What They Want… And What it Means for Your Messaging and Promotion

When I was helping clients with dating and social skills, I came across this issue all the time. Both men and women say they want one thing in a partner or relationship, but their behavior indicates a completely different desire altogether.

People who scream all they want is a nice, dependable partner, nevertheless get involved with bad boys and bad girls time after time.

Meanwhile, others who claim to just want casual fun and parties, inevitably can be found embracing stability and predictability in the form of boring, steady relationships that last years.

You have to understand your audience to serve them. But how do you figure out what they want exactly?

It’s valuable to ask them directly. They will often tell you straight out. And you can get clues as to their true desires by how they talk to you.

But often, their behavior and actions will betray a different, if not wholly opposite, set of priorities.

This video below, of Malcolm Gladwell giving a TED talk, is one of my favorite videos. He illustrates this concept with the food industry in the 1970s and 80s.

It turns out that what consumers actually spent hundreds of millions of dollars on was very different from what they said, verbally, in focus groups and surveys.

It’s not because people are lying or intentionally trying to make things harder for the marketers. It might be because they literally don’t know what their options are.

They don’t know what else is out there, or that there may be a product or service that is better than what they have now.

Even if they have a sense of what they really want, they may not be able to articulate that when asked and put on the spot. And even if they can articulate it, it may not be articulated in a way that is intelligible or logical to the business.

So how do we deal with this problem? How do we understand our audience when asking them directly is of limited value, or even counterproductive altogether?


Observation is a key principle I stress in my work with clients. Observation is extremely easy to do, and yet so many small business people just don’t do it.

When we get out of our own heads, and try instead to get in the heads of the customers, we learn things we never expected.

You can observe your audience in many ways:

  • Create a product or products and see how much demand or interest you get
  • Go to parties or events and watch them, listen to them, and notice what types of clothes and accessories they’re wearing, what kinds of phones they have, what apps they are using and which foods and drinks they prefer
  • Look at the kinds of products and services they are already spending money on–this reveals a lot about their preferences and priorities
  • Observe the content they are patronizing: Youtube videos with high view counts, Facebook and Instagam posts with lots of likes and shares, blogs that get lots of traffic and comments
  • Look at your own social media and blog posts to see which messages and topics seem to get more search traffic, more views, more comments and more shares
  • Entertainment: Notice which TV shows, movies, sports teams, singers, musicians and celebrities are popular with your audience, what they are talking about and sharing with their friends, and think about what this reveals about their preferences and lifestlye
  • Just as important: notice what is NOT popular with your audience, and try to figure out why that is

Put the audience at the center of your thinking and you can’t go wrong.

They have all the answers you need, if you will just listen and pay attention to them.

By all means, talk to them directly and hear what they say to you with their words. But don’t ignore the critical importance of behavior and actions. It could make or break your success.

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