Tara Gentile is a very smart entrepreneur who’s just published a short, affordable book on one of my favorite topics – listening. It's a critical skill for developing products and services.
Once I got into the product and software game, I started with an audience, rather than the product or service. This gave me a group of real people to listen to and learn from even as they learned from me.
Whether you start with building your own audience or not, you’ll need to learn the art of observation. Tara chats with us today about her own processes for and experiences with listening to win.
The Show Notes
Listen to Win: How Actionable Observation Provides Profitable Answers
Tara Gentile: I'm Tara Gentile. I'm a business strategist for idea people and I am unemployable.
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Brian Clark: Hey, Everyone, welcome once again to Unemployable. I’m your host, Brian Clark, and today we're going to talk about one of my favorite topics, even though it tends to perplex people to a certain degree. And it perplexes me, because sometimes it can be very difficult to explain the methodology such that there is one for what we're talking about here.
What I'm talking about is the simple act of observation and being able to watch what's happening, whether it be from a research standpoint, from an interaction with your prospects, your audience. Just seeing what's indicated out there as far as: what products and services should you build next? How should you change your messaging? What content should you create in order to not just reach or attract people, but to truly engage with them?
If you hang around inside our company to any degree, you'll hear people say, “Doing what's indicated.” It almost sounds quasi spiritual, but it couldn't be more grounded in just reality. What's actually happening? What should we do that's the best thing for the people we're trying to serve? As opposed to, perhaps, just whatever it is we feel like doing that day. And that's an important distinction.
Today, I want to have this conversation with Tara Gentile, because she's very good at this and she's even written at length about it.
What Is Your Background?
Brian Clark: And I think with that maybe I should just kick it over to you, Tara. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got here today.
Tara Gentile: Sure. Well, the way I got here is a very circuitous route. I was a religion major in college, which I think is why I'm so interested in the subject to begin with. I love watching people and figuring out what they believe, why they do the things that they do, which is what got me interested in religion. And which later, like now, turned into a really great skill for building a business and doing marketing that's not just promotion, but instead is really creating content and ideas and products and promotional ads that resonate with my audience, instead of just kind of blare in their face.
I've been in business for about seven years now. I primarily work with what I call “idea people.” They are people who maybe they've been coaches, they've been doctors, they've been therapists, they've been writers, but now they've got an idea that they really want to turn into a product, a program, a service, something that is a little bit more leverageable, something that's a little bit more scalable, and turn that into really a full business model.
And that's exactly what I help them do. I help them turn it into a business model, turn it into marketing that resonates and then turn that into money that is more than what they've thought possible to this point.
The Art of Observation
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. So, it's been almost a decade now that I've been trying to teach people certain fundamentals related to what you just spoke about and also things that have worked for me. Some of that I was really good at communicating.
Do you ever get that point in your career that you have to get over where you're like, “And then you just do X and it's fine.” And X for me was “Watch, observe, listen.” And then people would be like, “Yeah, exactly. How do you do that?” And I'm like, “What do you mean? How do you do that?”
That's one of those things I think we all have to get by, which is the curse of knowledge thing, where, “Well, it works for me and I don't know how to explain it.” But I've been trying over the years to explain the art of observation.
And I think you’re, at least, tackling that in a way that provides a methodology, if you will, to people. Can you run through that a little bit?
Tara Gentile: Yeah, absolutely. That's exactly the problem that I had.
I told people, “Okay, now's when you just pay attention and you listen and you watch and you see. What are people telling you? What are they struggling with? What are the things that they're doing on a day-to-day basis to solve the problems that they have that maybe aren't the best solution? What's your alternative? How are you going to help them go from before to after to accomplish the goals that they really want to accomplish?” Just like you said, people would say, “Okay, but how? What does that look like?”
And that problem was something that stuck with me for a long time, because I see it as probably the biggest thing that's keeping people from creating marketing that really works and products that sell easily and sales processes that don't feel slimy, which is another complaint that we hear all the time.
So, I've been working on this methodology for quite a while now. I wrote kind of a mini-book about it that I call The Observation Engine. And The Observation Engine is really an attempt to systematize how I go about watching my audience and turning that into marketing, sales and products that aren't just part of the normal guessing game that I think entrepreneurs feel like they're in.
The Target Conversation
Tara Gentile: This idea is kind of based on five different parts. The first part is the target conversation, which comes from the book, The Cluetrain Manifesto. And the opening line in The Cluetrain Manifesto is, “Markets are conversations.” And this is another thing where people just — it goes right over their head even though it's so important in the social era that we find ourselves in.
We're not just looking to market to a target market. We really need to think about a target conversation. Who are the people that are having this conversation and what are they actually talking about? Because often, they're not talking about the things that we wish they were talking about. They're not talking about life coaching, they're not talking about copywriting. They're not talking about how to fix their relationships even. They might be talking about different things, even though the core problem is the thing that we want to solve.
So, what are people really talking about and how can enter that conversation so that people are willing to pay attention to us as business owners?
Brian Clark: Yeah, and really they're talking at the level of problems and desires, which is a gold mine if you can parse that out and then extrapolate. Whether that be to the correct message, which doesn't feel sleazy, it feels like solid empathy, because I would argue that's what it is if you're really paying attention and trying to connect with that person on that level.
Connecting the Dots
Brian Clark: So many people, they'll say, “Okay, so someone has X, Y, Z problem. I can't get from there to what the solution is. That is something my company can provide.” I mean, what's your advice when people get stuck there?
Tara Gentile: I think that's a process of connecting the dots. And I think this is really what people fail to do. They think the problem leads directly to the solution or the problem needs to lead directly to the solution. And it doesn't.
Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, the problem has a meandering set of dots. They're all the realizations that we've had as professionals, as people with lots of experience, as people who have passed through these problems ourselves over a long time.
Our customers haven't done that. They're at that level of acute problems, acute desires, the things that are on their mind right now, what I call “their present reality.” And that's kind of the second part of the system.
When you find out what that present reality is, then you need to start connecting the dots. Maybe there's an assumption there that they're making that isn't true. Maybe there's a misconception, maybe there's a missing piece of information.
So, you have to connect the dot from their present reality, what they're thinking about right now to that next dot. And then you find the next one and then you find the next one. And finally, that leads you back to the actual service that these people need, that you can see that they need, but they don't know they need yet.
And all of those different connections are what I call “the relevant ideas.” These are things that are actually going to click with the people that you're talking to.
It's not just about your product or service idea, but it's really about these relevant ideas that allow them to make the jumps that they need to make to get to the product, the solution that you have to offer.
Talk to a Real Group of People
Brian Clark: Yeah, you point out something important there and I think it's almost universal. Again, we talk about this thing of curse of knowledge, where you're sitting here and you think everyone knows that. And that's exactly the wrong mindset and starting point.
I talk about this in the sense that people – “Well, you need to create content and provide value and build an audience.” And they're like, “Yeah, but I'm not an expert.” That's always where people get stuck. And I'm like, “You don't have to… In fact, don't call yourself an expert. Just be helpful. And if you're two steps ahead of your audience on the journey, you're still a leader.”
I mean, do you find that resistance? What advice do you give to people to at least begin the process of talking to a real group of people as opposed to some abstract notion of a market?
Tara Gentile: Yeah, I think that you have to fill in the blanks. When you look at real people with real problems or with real desires, they've got blanks. There's something missing that isn't allowing them to accomplish what they want to accomplish. It's sort of like if you think about before and after. I like to tell people to think about a makeover show, where they've got the ugly duckling in the before and then they've got the glamor girl in the after.
That before and after is exactly what our customers are wanting to achieve. They know where they're at, most of them know where they want to go, but there's sort of like a locked door between that before and after. The information that we have, whether it's just that we're two steps ahead of them or whether we've got years of experience, whatever it might be, that locked door, we've got insight into how to open it up, how to unlock it.
Those insights are the things that allow people to see that that after is actually possible, to help them see themselves in that new reality. That's how we can really start to understand what is it that our customers or our prospects need to know to be able to even be prepared to buy from us.
I think the other thing that's going on here too is that so often we look at the people who are our ideal clients and think only in terms of early adopters. We don't know that we're only thinking in terms of early adopters, but that's what we're doing. The people who are most likely to jump on what we're offering, because they know that that's exactly what they need.
But there are like 90% more, or 90% of the market doesn't know what they need. And when we can fill in those blanks, when we can unlock that door, then we get access to that whole 90% of the market that's otherwise off limits to us.
So, that's another thing to think about too when you're trying to figure out what kind of content you're going to be putting in your blog or your podcast or your Periscope. You want to think about the 90% of the market that doesn't know they need what it is that you're selling. What are their assumptions? What are their misconceptions? What's their missing information? And fill in those blanks.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that's very well-put. There's a ton to unpack there. But, yes, it all kind of ties together in the sense that it's not that you're the world's foremost expert, but you are being helpful as long as you don't make assumptions about… Yeah, leaving yourself in the 10% side of the pool and not realizing that that 90% is constantly replenishing.
I’ve found this over the years. Sometimes it can even be frustrating, because you feel to a certain degree like you're talking about the same old thing, but to these people, this is not the same old thing. This is the vital starting point to becoming educated enough to do business with you.
Tara Gentile: Exactly.
Hints for Copywriting
Brian Clark: Okay. So, I love the way you write. You remind me of our mutual friend, Chris Guillebeau, in that I see you write copy, and I know you know what you're doing, and yet you come across so perfectly conversational and natural. People don't realize how hard that is.
So, give us some of your hints. When it comes time to write copy or do a promotion, what's your approach? Or are you already so well-steeped with the audience that it isn't that hard for you?
Tara Gentile: Well, first of all, thank you.
Second of all, my best tip for copywriting is to feed your customers' words back to them. And I think that's a favorite of yours as well. That's really where watching and observation and listening comes in. If you can feed your customers' words back to them and then provide a response to it, they're going to be willing to pay attention to that so much more than if you're simply saying, “Hey, buy my new course.” Or, “Hey, I'm launching my new book today.”
They want to know that you've actually thought about what their problem is. So, I'm promoting this new book, The Observation Engine, and I'm not just saying, “Hey, The Observation Engine is out.” Sometimes I say that, sure, that’s straight to the point. But most of the time, there are actually two taglines that I'm using for it, or two headlines that I'm using for it.
One is “Stop Promoting, Start Resonating,” because I have heard my audience say over and over again that they just wish they didn't have to spend so much time promoting their business. And they don't have to, which is great news, and it's this really clear starting point for my marketing.
The other one is “Take the Guesswork Out of Marketing,” because the other thing I hear from my audience over and over again is that they feel like they're just guessing all the time. They're going to put up a new sales page, they're going to write a tweet, they're going to write a blog post. And every time they do it, they're just guessing what's going to resonate with their audience. And you don't have to guess. That's the good news, you can create a system behind this.
So, instead of just saying, “Hey, my new book's available,” I lead with those two points of contact. Those two ideas that I know are super relevant and super resonant with my audience.
Right now, I'm on a cross country road trip moving from Oregon to Pennsylvania, and I've been watching billboards the whole time. I'm very lucky my boyfriend has driven all but 10 miles of this trip. We're about 2000 miles into it right now. And so, I've just been watching billboards and watching to see how often billboards do exactly what I just described — start with that idea that someone's got in their mind while they're driving along.
One of them that I saw yesterday, super simple, was a billboard for Shell Gas stations. They had four Shell Gas stations at the next four exits, so all they had on this billboard was four exits they were going to be at. And then just the simple headline, “Clean Restrooms.” What is it that you're thinking about while you're on the road in the middle of nowhere, Kentucky? You're thinking about where can I go to the bathroom that it's not going to be disgusting, right?
Brian Clark: That's like the McDonald's principle. Apparently, that was one of the ways that McDonald's was able to spread nationwide, because the consistency of the experience, including those clean restrooms. I think Ray Kroc made a special point to say, “Keep the restrooms clean.”
Tara Gentile: Yeah, and so now, you've got in two words, you've created this immense point of resonance. So, if I need to go to the bathroom, where am I going to go? The Shell gas station. And in doing that, in using that free service, I'm probably also going to fill up my car and I'm probably also going to buy some snacks for the road. So they've used this point of resonance that's not even about them making money to lure you in to their place of business, which is perfect.
Then I've seen plenty of billboards that are like, “Repent,” and, “Jesus loves you. Do you love Him?” These things that have nothing to do with what's on my mind. I'm not having this existential crisis while I'm on the road and considering where I'm going in the afterlife. And those billboards, I would imagine, are not very successful.
But that's exactly what I see people doing with their copy all the time, is putting these in your face messages out there that have nothing to do with what customers are actually thinking about or worrying about or asking themselves.
So, every time I sit down to write copy, which is a task that I absolutely love, I try and think about: what are the things that I know my people are thinking about right now? What’s the last complaint that I heard from a prospect about their business?
And I take that and I make that my headline or I make that the core idea of my sales page and weave my message into that. So, I've created this point of connection, this point of resonance before I ever, ever, ever even mention that I have a product for sale.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that is great. And I love your restroom — that's such a great example of giving value tied directly to what they are top of mind about, whether it's in your best interest or not, and yet, commerce is the conclusion that happens just in that case from the proximity of relief, if you will. That's excellent.
As far as what you said about weaving through copy, yes. I've tried to explain that concept with the idea of the premise. That the premise is the thing that resonates with your prospect, whatever that may be in the sense, so you weave it. That's the golden thread throughout the narrative, and yet, your goals, your business objectives, whatnot, the art of tying those two together in this very flowing natural way.
Again, I think that's what you are really good at. It feels like you're having an experience that doesn't feel like you're being sold to. And I think, ultimately, often that's the thing that keeps people from bolting.
Don't we all have that? Our radar is up. As soon as we start feeling that hard push, unless it's just really something we desperately need, there's a good chance we're going to split.
Tara Gentile: Yeah, absolutely. I've had people share my sales pages as content before, which to me is sort of the ultimate affirmation.
Brian Clark: That’s pretty nice.
The Key Insight
Tara Gentile: Yeah, so the way I think about it, to go back to this kind of before and after and the closed door between them, the way I think about it is that locked door, that missing piece of information that people have, I call that “a key insight.” And that's what I make all of my sales pages, even blog posts and maybe even a talk from stage that I'm doing.
I make the whole talk about that key insight, because that's my opportunity to bring my expertise and my experience and my know-how directly into what is most important to my prospects right now. And that's the big disconnect — that sometimes we know what's most important to them and we know what we want them to know, but we can't bring those two things together.
So again, it's really understanding where they're at right now, which is the before. Really understanding where they want to go and knowing why they can't get from before to after. And then that's where I inject my expertise. So that's why my sales page can feel like just another piece of content marketing, because they're learning something. As they're reading, they're figuring out, “Oh yeah, okay, so that's why this isn't working for me. That's why my business isn't making enough money. That's why my marriage is on the rocks,” whatever it might be.
Once they've learned that, not only are they better prepared to buy what it is that you're selling, but they're also much more trusting of you. Because now, you've given away the secret. But the good news is that your product is actually infinitely more valuable than just that “secret.”
A larger percentage than not is going to want to buy. But, at the same time, you've given up this wonderful thing that allows them to trust you. It creates a great context for them making a buying decision and using your product. And it just makes your sales page really valuable in and of itself, which is a really great goal or a really great end result.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. There's some old advice that's been around when you're selling books or courses or whatnot, dates back I think to a guy named Eugene Schwartz. He would give away the best part of the book and he would sell truckloads, because you still need the context. But you're giving away value and that's what works.
Now, if you're a service provider, give it all away. I mean, if you're not better than them at what you do, then there's probably a problem there. So, don't sweat some do-it-yourselfer, takes what you tell them and does it themselves. Okay, who cares? Did you get more clients than you would have otherwise? That's all that matters.
Observation Engine, it's less than $5. I think it's a very wise investment if you're struggling with trying to get inside the heads, and more importantly, put yourself in the shoes of the people you're trying to reach. This is an excellent methodology. Even if you’re doing pretty good with that, you can always do better. That's why I wanted to talk to Tara. I'm always fascinated by this subject.
Tara Gentile: Before we go, Tara, I want to talk a little bit about Quiet Power. That's intriguing to me and I don't know a lot about it, but this is a big part of your business.
Tara Gentile: Yeah, this is the main part of my business and Quiet Power Strategy was actually a book that I released in January of this year, but it's also a program that I run twice a year with business owners. And it's all about creating a strategy behind your business that's based on what's uniquely effective and compelling about you.
So often, what I see is entrepreneurs struggling to squeeze themselves into other people's business models, other people's marketing techniques, other people's marketing systems. And those systems and models may be fantastic, but if they're not uniquely suited for the business owner that's using them, they will still fail.
After noticing all of that frustration, I wanted to really help people figure out what was going to be right for them, to make the right decisions. Should you be blogging or should you not be blogging? Should you be podcasting, should you not be podcasting? Should you go for that million dollar course launch or do you want to sell a $10,000 service a few times a year?
That's what Quiet Power Strategy is all about. Essentially, the end results of it is that you have a business that can really break through the noise. Because what I like to say is that the opposite of quiet isn't loud, it's noise. And we are so hungry for those crystal clear voices that break through the noise.
When you have a business that's uniquely suited to you, when you're offering a product, a service, a solution that's uniquely yours, then you can really break through the noise. You can be that crystal clear voice for the people that you're offering. So, that's what Quiet Power Strategy is all about.
Brian Clark: Yeah. It sounds like an exercise and positioning from a marketing standpoint, but you're going into business model and processes and all that. That's fascinating.
Tara Gentile: Yeah, absolutely. It is a lot about positioning, but it does also really bring into play: what are the right kinds of products? Then, for this positioning: what are the right prices for this positioning? How do you build a team that really plays on your strengths instead of just looking like everyone else's team? So, it really pulls together all the different parts of your business and looks at them through the lens of your quiet power.
Brian Clark: Nice, we will link that up in the show notes along with The Observation Engine. Tara, thank you so much for taking time out to talk to us today. I know you're right in the middle of a cross-country move, and yet, you were super generous with your time, so I appreciate that.
Tara Gentile: Well, thank you, Brian. It's been great.
Brian Clark: All right, Everyone, that's it for this episode. Have a great week. Take some of what you've heard today and figure out how you can apply it to whatever it is you're working on right now, whether near term or long term. But regardless, keep going.