This week I am in New York for a copywriting conference.
I have been to this city before, but every time it is an incredibly thrilling experience. Walking down streets lined with towering giants of glass and stone, every corner offering another iconic view. Street food vendors, yellow cabs, an ever changing wall of people rushing past. It’s like no other place I have ever visited.

What always strikes me when I travel is how amazed one person can be by another person’s everyday life. To me, walking into Grand Central Station is a fascinating experience of inspirational architecture. But for the native New Yorker, it’s just another stop on the way to the office. As a first-time visitor, I would never be able to see that building in the same, fleeting way that the daily commuter does – even though we’re both looking at the same walls, the same gorgeously marbled floors and sculpted archways.

This reminds me of how marketing communications work. In order to engage with someone, we need to understand their world view. We need to pick out the aspects of their experience that really matter – otherwise we just become background noise.

Promoting Grand Central Station as a tourist attraction is an entirely different task to selling it as a transport hub for the stressed suburban business traveller. It’s still the same station, but the critical selling points will be worlds apart.

The commuter doesn’t care about the ornamental bronze carvings or the 42nd street facade feature sculptures of Minerva, Mercury and Hercules. They just want to know the quickest way from Yonkers to Chinatown, and if they can grab a bagel on the way.

How often do we sell the wrong story to our clients? Do we truly know what they are actually interested in, and what matters to them?

The only way we will become better at understanding the needs of our audience and using those needs in our communication, is by stepping out of our own shoes for a moment and looking at the world from their vantage point. Ask questions. Investigate. Listen. And there in the murmurings of that virtual crowd rushing across the concourse of your marketplace, you will hear the voices that help you define your message.

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Photo credits: Peter Pesta, Travel & Leisure