Making Your Online Marketing Work: Sharpen Your Focus on This One Thing

Image of Blurry Eye Chart

You devour online marketing lessons. You feast on articles, reports, books, and ebooks.

Maybe you spend some of your precious time attending webinars and conferences, and you can’t help but join the conversation on blogs and social networks.

Good for you.

There’s a ton of information to take in, the landscape changes daily, and if you’re going to have success marketing your product, service, or idea online, you need to master a good many practices, techniques, and tools.

The more these ingredients get heaped onto our plates, the more the meal calls for a bowl and spoon. It’s digital soup, my friend.

Clarity is hard to achieve. So, pencils out. It’s pop quiz time …

What should you focus on to make your online marketing more effective?

  1. Content
  2. Social networking
  3. Search
  4. Analytics
  5. All of the above
  6. None of the above

Answer: (6). I told you this was a tough one.

If you answered “5” it wouldn’t be fair to give you an “F.” You studied the choices and decided it’s not all that effective to focus on just one ingredient in this complex recipe.

They’re absolutely interdependent, you’re right about that.

But you’d be wrong to focus on each of these items as tactics alone.

As marketers, we fall into this trap time and again. Right now, in offices everywhere, marketers’ pulses are racing with questions such as:

  • How will we produce video content?
  • What’s our Facebook strategy?
  • Should we revisit our keywords?
  • What’s producing the peaks and valleys in our website traffic?

These are good questions. I applaud you for asking them and agree whole-heartedly that they deserve thoughtful answers.

But you need to push these questions to the back burner until you answer one far more important question …

What does the customer want?

The customer — I chose the singular for a reason. The most effective online marketers have one thing — the word You — written boldly on a sticky note and forever attached to their frontal lobes.

“You” is a person your marketing strategy must focus on, a word your copywriter must use, the living, breathing person your designs need to appeal to and your social media specialist must connect with.

“You” has five senses. Can your marketing team state in no uncertain terms what he or she wants to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste?

“You” opts in or out. “You” follows your company or a competitor. “You” either does or doesn’t find your pages and posts via search. “You” affects your numbers, but is far more complex than a zero or a one.

So what’s wrong with “We?”

A week or so ago, I’m on the phone with a new client and his marketing team. They want my honest opinion about their home page, so I give it a quick once over and say, “It’s all so self-serving. The word ‘we’ is the subject of practically every sentence.

Someone on the other end of the line doesn’t like it. “What’s wrong with we?,” he protests.

If I was in the same room, I might have kissed him for writing such a great line for me. Though it’s the bane of copywriters the world over, in one form or another, clients have been asking this question since the beginning of time.

I go on to explain the website visitor isn’t there for we. He’s not interested in your company. He’s dealing with a challenge. That issue got him a-Googling, and lucky for you, it drove him to you.

If you feed him a steady stream of “we, we, we,” and start singing your own praises, he’ll bounce right back to the search engine and find someone who’s going to help him solve his problem.

That’s what’s wrong with we.

Now for a clinic in you.

The most effective marketers focus on the customer. While it may be the oldest lesson in marketing communications, all you have to do is read corporate websites to be reminded how often it’s forgotten.

How to forge your way down the more effective “you” path

  • Develop detailed customer personas — You can’t push your customer’s hot buttons until you know what they are. Conduct research by interviewing and surveying customers, observing social media behaviors, mining data, and asking the sales and support team for insights gained from their interactions. Armed with the answers to what makes your customers tick, document fictional bios or personas to represent different types of customers.
  • Find the pleasure and the pain — The act of buying boils down to a person striving to avoid pain or increase pleasure. Yes, even in business. Understand what hurts and what makes the prospect’s heart race.
  • Recognize the hurdles — What might derail the sale? Potential hindrances often include price, terms, competitive offerings, approval protocols, risk, time frames, and lack of urgency. Take a proactive approach to addressing common deal breakers.
  • Re-orient your language — As soon as you find your communications creeping back in the direction of what you do, what you make and how you do business, stop. Retreat. Turn features into benefits. Turn around first- and/or third-person voiced propositions into a “you” statement or question.
  • Remember, how to win friends and influence people

    • Make your prospect feel important — Demonstrate appreciation and give encouragement.
    • Arouse an eager want — These are Dale Carnegie’s words. As are these: “The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.”
    • Smile — In copy? Why not? Use welcoming, upbeat, and friendly words and spread the love.
    • Personalize — Apply what you know to make your message as customized and personal as possible.
    • Talk in terms of the other person’s interests — There’s Carnegie again, delivering a copywriting 101 course.

    And, in Dale’s legendary guidebook, he writes,

    You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.

    This is a hard habit to break, but you must break it.

    Track the changes that really matter

    The “you” path tends to take unexpected turns. That is to say, if you create a map and follow it forever more, you’re bound to get lost.

    The goal is to connect with and meet the needs of your audience—people—and people change. Brian Clark reminds you of this in the Copyblogger ebook The Business Case for Agile Content Marketing.

    So, when you understand the need to be agile with your online marketing endeavors, it follows you’ll then stay perpetually tuned-in to the mindset of your target audience.

    As Pamela Wilson explains in How to Create an Agile Content Marketing strategy (and Stay Sane Doing It), you need to determine which content your audience responds to and adjust accordingly.

    Remember the one thing that doesn’t change

    You’re not going to dig into any deeply useful source about content that doesn’t get into search, about social that doesn’t get into content, and every other conceivable combination.

    These strategies are awesome. In this age dominated by all things digital, online marketing (done right) is more powerful than ever.

    But the landscape evolves faster than ever. In the field of marketing, the lines will continue to blur. The tools and tactics we rely on will continue to change.

    The need to focus on the customer will not.

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Reader Comments (49)

  1. says

    Great post, Barry. Thanks very much.

    I love the points made and I like your informal style of writing too.

    Only one criticism, I didn’t understand this sentence, “You’re not going to dig into any deeply useful source about content that doesn’t get into search, about social that doesn’t get into content, and every other conceivable combination.”

    • says


      Maybe I was a bit blurry. In that sentence, I was saying… If and when you start down the path to learn how to master any of the items on the multiple choice quiz you’ll discover that successfully applying what you know about that item demands you applying the others as well. Social, search, content, and analytics depend on each other. If set out to master one, you’re wasting your time.

      Appreciate the kind words and feedback. “Great post, Barry” made for a great way to start my day.

  2. says

    it’s always helpful to return to the well for a drink of “what does the customer want” nectar. Thanks Barry, I needed this to slap me back to reality.

  3. says

    What a great wake up call this morning :) I have to admit, I’m totally guilty of wasting time worrying about strategies, techniques and so on to the point where I lose my focus on my customer. Thanks for the reminder to keep things in perspective!

    • says

      Whoaaaaaa! And gulp. I hold Copyblogger and its authors in very high regard, so as you can imagine, that’s a very flattering complement. Danka Don.

  4. says

    Right on Barry.
    Taking this a step further, it is easier and more powerful to focus on the biggest need of your customer (that you fulfill excellently) and target that niche problem… yes even if you sell multiple products/services. Pick one point of pain (a big one) for your customer base and make it THE priority in your business to solve and you will find it a lot easier to focus, help, motivate, sell and speak to your customer.

    Here’s a mini case study on a consulting agency client that picked one need to sell to and is killing it in their industry (and yes they sell 100’s of services). All you need is a single door to open up to your customer to give you the ability to sell the rest of your stuff. It changed her business completely.

  5. Jordan Barrish says

    I always find Copyblogger to be such a great source for information, but this is one of the best articles I have seen. Thank you, Barry, for bringing back the focus and making it so plain and clear to see. I think we are all guilty of getting swept up in the tactics and forgetting how important the “you” is.


  6. says


    I got it wrong every step of the way, and I like how you guided me down that road to see my errors. Thank you for an insightful post that digs deep into the basics of marketing and winning people over.

    Darin L. Hammond

  7. says

    This is something that’s always bugged me, so I’ll get it off my chest now. I agree absolutely with what Dale Carnegie says, but only if the interest in others is sincere. If it’s part of a marketing strategy only, it sucks. Even if it works, pretending to be interested in other people sucks.

    • says

      How’s your chest feel now? You make a valid point. Carnegie interjected words like “sincere” and “genuine” for a reason. I don’t believe he’d endorse pretending to be interested in others. Clearly, you won’t win friends that way. Keep it real, Rob.

      • says

        Okay, here I take issue (and you know I love you Barry).

        Sincere? Genuine? Any business owner cares about the needs of their client only to the extent that they can address them (and therefore sell stuff). There may be some deeper rooted empathy beneath the surface, but this is about business folks, not dating. There IS an ulterior motive here.

        Does the grocery store owner REALLY care that you have become a vegetarian and have high blood pressure? NOPE – but he DOES care that in light of that development you may be more inclined to buy produce and reject Oreos. Is the shoe salesman REALLY interested in your corns and bunions? Doubtful – but he might care if it means that his tootsie-friendly solution can ease your discomfort and put money in his pocket. Is the therapist losing sleep at night because you and your teenage son have been arguing about his messy room? No way! But I betcha she cares to help you solve your problem, because otherwise, you might put an end to your weekly sessions.

        THIS IS ABOUT BUSINESS. And business owners should care about what their stakeholders want and need, because simply put – it’s good business practice! If you are not addressing your customers’ needs and solving their problems, they won’t buy from you. Period.

        So as long as we are understanding the notion of ‘genuine’ and ‘sincere’ within that context, I agree.

  8. says

    I like it 😉

    I like to think of you and to use the word ‘you’ when writing, but I think when you say the word ‘we’ there are actually two types of we. If you mean ‘we’ the company (I think this is also sometimes referred to as ‘the royal we’) then you’re absolutely right, but there’s another type of we which refers to you and the reader, i.e. like you’re having a discussion, and I think that’s OK (because that’s still got an element of ‘you’ in it – it’s you and I)

  9. says

    YOU know what is most brilliant here? Oh YES, you have made some excellent points for the YOU that you hope to engage and educate that would be US. What really works here is the way you LINK your thoughts and recommendations directly to sources that expound on them. By George, your post is a terrific “toolbox” to follow, save and share. Thank you.

    • says

      Please do share and save this piece. As for the brilliance, that compliment goes to Copyblogger, whose excellent editors give a daily lesson on maintaing a tight editorial focus and putting essential “markup” tactics to work for the good of its readers and its online properties. Oh yeah, and also on delivering loads of the WWW’s hottest content.

  10. Elwin says

    Hi Barry,

    Great article! Always focus on the customer, solid (and timeless) advice!

    If you don’t mind, I have a question for you. I see that you are a copywriter, and I am aspiring to become one. 😉 I read Copyblogger like it is a bible, and try to read as much from the ‘old’ direct response copywriters as I can.

    Soon I will start the AWAI course (at the best of my ability, I guess I wont be able to do everything since I live in the Netherlands). My question to you is: when do I know I’m ready to start a copywriting side-business of my own. Even after tons of reading, courses, etc. I don’t think I will feel confident enough to know that I am offering my client great copy.

    Do you have any tips or pointers regarding that aspect?

    Kind regards,

    • says

      Flattering you ask me. Happy to help too. Not sure this is the place, so let’s take that one over to my site. Here, for a short answer, I’ll say (1) If you don’t feel confident, no, you’re not ready. (2) Show stuff you feel is almost there to a handful of pros. You might find (a) you are ready and (2) the confidence you need.

      Must say tho… Good for you to have that type of humility and care enough to ask this. At the risk of pissing off my kin, most copywriters that aren’t ready fake their way through the confidence part and are eager to waste their clients’ money.

  11. says

    To my surprise, my customers have been way more interested in me than I ever would have thought.

    Sally Hogshead says that if I make my business fascinating then my customers will buy because they feel it will make them more fascinating.

    Your client’s problem was likely the sin of being boring, not self focused.

    That’s why I think this advice is overblown.

    • says


      I believe you WANT your customers to be interested in you, especially if you are the product. And I believe your clients ARE interested in you. My clients are interested in me too. I’m not going to tell you why. I wrote an article about it here at Copyblogger.

      I’m a fan of Sally. By all means, take her advice.

      My client’s problem actually is “the sin of being boring” (as you put it). The reason why? They want to talk abou themselves. If you attempt to engage with a “me/me/me” approach, you will fail. This advice is not overblown. This is marketing at its essence.

      I don’t doubt your clients are interested in you. However, if they are, it’s not because of how cool you are. It’s because you have interested them by answering the question “How can I help you?” Notice the use of the word “you.”

    • says

      I don’t think it’s either/or. Yes, you want to fascinate your audience, because without that you don’t get to communicate with them, they’ll drift off to someone more interesting.

      But when it’s time to sell them something, it has to be something they want to buy. If it isn’t, they can find you as fascinating as the two-headed baby of Kim Kardashian, but they still won’t buy anything.

  12. says

    It’s always good to read an article that comes just in the nick of time and on point. I’m quite certain we all have been guilty of focusing on our own issues and goals. I know I have. So thank you, for delivering one of those articles that drives a point home that should not be forgotten.

  13. says

    Thanks! It took me awhile to direct my content to my readers by using you. I was used to writing in imperative format, avoiding the use of “you”. But I have changed my writing style to speak directly to mu audience

  14. says

    loved the headlne of the article:

    it drew me in but when you tell people to forget about all that stuff in your quiz, and rather focus on the word ‘you’, it’s a bold love but that word ‘you’ must be used somewhere in all those tactics and strategies.

    That said, I agree with you Barry on using that word.


    • says

      Glad we agree on “that word.” I can’t agree or disagree with the rest of your comment because I don’t understand it. I see it contains the phrase “bold love,” so +1 for that. Thanks for joining the convo.

    • says

      Thank you. You’re likely to find articles here by yours truly once a month or so. If you need a steadier diet feel free to boogie on over the and dive into my deep blue blog, The Point. Sometimes I make good points there.

  15. says

    Great post, Barry! There is such a glut of garbage content marketing info out there right now….great to see the thought process and clarity from concept through creation and right on to analysis. Do I see some old-fashioned writing and copy approaches here? Just goes to show you that the foundational principles of copy, seo and social marketing. never change, just adapt to the landscape. Awesome article, thanks.

  16. says

    Great post. Sometimes I don’t know what to believe. But you have made one point very clear to me, and that is, to focus on the customer. To me the customer always comes first.

  17. says

    Definitely one of the best posts I’ve come across on Copyblogger. I’m deep in the marketing focus of ‘you’ and this couldn’t have come at a better time. Thorough, thoughtful and clear. You’ve made it so easy to understand compared to what’s going on in my head (i.e.:uncooked marketing pizza)

  18. says

    Hi Barry!
    This is just what I needed to read this morning. I was thinking about writing and marketing and literally asking myself this question when it comes to what I’ve been putting out there, ‘do my customers care?’ Your steps on forging down the ‘you’ path are very helpful :)

  19. Archan Mehta says

    Staying close to your customers is a key ingredient of success.

    In the spirit of entrepreneurship, find a need and fill it.

    Listen with empathy to your customer and then give your customers as per his or her needs.

    Thanks for the reminder. Wonderful post, as usual.

  20. says

    Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon
    on a daily basis. It will always be interesting to read through content from other authors and use something from their web sites.

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