I’m not 100% sure, but I believe the very first email list I subscribed to was David DeAngelo’s Double Your Dating free newsletter. At the time I didn’t realize David D. was a nom de plume (fake name) and that the real person behind the newsletter was Eben Pagan, who I would later come to know as a leading Internet marketer.

In more recent years I’ve studied Eben’s work extensively, however it was my experience on his alter ego’s email newsletter all those years ago that I count as one of the most beneficial in my own career as an Internet marketer.

The reason why the Double Your Dating email newsletter was so valuable to me was because it was the only time I can remember studying an email list from the frame of two very important perception points in a completely “raw” state of mind –

  1. As a customer who was suffering the pain that the newsletter purported to help cure
  2. As a newbie Internet marketer studying how to make money online

When I first subscribed to Double Your Dating I was a young single guy struggling to figure out how to meet and date girls. I subscribed because the sales copy “spoke” to me. The benefits struck an emotional cord with my own desires. It was as if this person understood where I was coming from and where I wanted to go.

Like many young men at the same time as I was looking to gain experience with women, I was also looking for ways to make money and establish myself as a business man. In this case, the Internet was my chosen landscape to build my fortunes and I was studying what those who already had made money online did to build their wealth.

Given Eben Pagan created one of the most effective (and substantial – each email was MASSIVE) email marketing sequences in existence today, the foundation for a twenty million dollar dating empire, I had happened upon one of the best resources to study, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

Unfortunately in some ways, from that point forward as I became more familiar with Internet marketing, I found it increasingly difficult to fully engage with any online studying materials because I was constantly analyzing the “how” of what they did (the meta-analysis), rather than engaging with the “what” of what was being taught.

The Customer Avatar

I’ve been going through the recordings of Eben Pagan’s Get Altitude training, a high level coaching program for entrepreneurs who want to take their business to greater success.

One of the fundamentals that Eben teaches is to truly understand where your customer is coming from. This is not just knowing the needs and wants of your ideal customer, but understanding who they are, how they live, who they associate with, what their general attitude to life is – AND, more importantly, what are the underlying emotional conditions driving the actions they take.

To facilitate a deeper understanding of your customer, Eben teaches a concept known as the Customer Avatar.

An avatar is a representation of a type of person, including all the characteristics that person possesses. The best example of an avatar that I can refer you to is that of characters you create in video games. In games you can often define appearance (include fine detail attributes like eye and hair color), strengths, weaknesses, associations, and all manner of conditions that make up your character in the game. You play the avatar in the game world and its characteristics influence what you experience in the game.

In this case, the avatar Eben talks about is a representation of the person who purchases the product or service you sell. Eben suggests giving the person a name and then going through and defining their demographics, but also going further than this, including the emotional framework that your avatar operates within.

This can be a tremendously powerful activity because it helps you to enter the mind of the person who is coming to you for help. When you have a deep emotional awareness of why they are there, you can better adjust all aspects of your marketing – in fact your entire business – to appeal to your avatar’s deep rooted emotional motivations.

I’ve always been aware of the importance of understanding where your customer is coming from, but Eben’s training takes it to a whole new level. He really considers this the absolute key to success and hence spends quite a bit of time focusing on knowing your customers on an intimate level. In fact you really shouldn’t call them customers, these people are like friends because you need to know them that well.

Becoming Less Like You

Bloggers, or any entrepreneur who has leveraged their own experience as a self-made success story, face the challenge of growing so far beyond what they used to be that they no longer understand what it was like being who they were.

I might have lost you there, so let me clarify…

When you are a beginner, you understand what you desire because you still haven’t achieved what you want. Eventually you gain experience and if what you are doing is something you are really passionate about, you reach the point where you are considered an expert. It’s at this point that you’ve spent so much time studying, learning and immersing yourself in the subject that you’ve lost your ability to empathize with a beginner, because you stopped being one long ago.

As an expert, it’s often the beginners who you spend most of your time teaching, so if you can’t remember what it’s like to be a beginner anymore then you’ve lost a critical insight.

This is a very typical situation for any person who’s leveraged the years they’ve spent doing something as the basis for a business. Even if you sell a product or service that is not based on teaching, if you solve your problem with a product that you then want to sell, as soon as you no longer personally suffer from the problem you begin to distance yourself from understanding where your target customer is coming from.

In my case, I started blogging when I had a strong desire to learn how to make money online. I wanted to be one of those guys who sends emails and makes money, or writes blog posts and makes money or perhaps the guy who started an online service like eBay that just happened to take off and become huge.

At the time I started my blog I was none of those things and my motivation was squarely focused on experiencing those outcomes. That’s why years ago I read books and blogged about companies like eBay, PayPal, Napster and Google. I followed and reported on what was going on in the blogosphere and lapped up the stories from guys like Darren Rowse and Jason Calacanis who were making a killing with blogs. Later I began studying and writing about Internet marketers like Mike Filsaime, Jeff Walker, Rich Schefren, John Reese and Frank Kern.

Along the way I managed to figure out my own niche and start making money. As I passed each income bracket and reached each new milestone I moved further and further away from what I used to be. I forgot what it’s like to not know what SEO is or how to do it. I can’t remember what it’s like to not “get” how email marketing works, or how PPC fits in, or even what the difference is between “hosting” and a “domain name”.

Most importantly though, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to focus intently on making enough money to live off like your life depended on it. This is so important, because most of my customers are still suffering from this pain, and my ability to empathize and deliver solutions that specifically solve the very subtle elements that make up that pain, is critical to my success.

Staying Connected

Although you can never go back to who you used to be, you can always do more to understand where your customers (or, your friends you want to help) are coming from.

Surveys are a great way to gain insight into where your customers are coming from. Other forms of online research can also shed light on what unique conditions are influencing the actions of your people, including reading blogs, in particular the comments, reading discussions in forums, and one of my favorites, actively listening to what your current customers tell you on live teleconferences.

Keeping a connection with your customers is a lifetime activity as long as you remain an active part of your business. You can never understand your people “too much” so the more you know, and more importantly, the more you can empathize with your people, the better you will be able to communicate with them, satisfy their wants and of course, make more money too.

It’s important whenever you are considering any aspect of your customers that you look to them as people. This is not about raw demographics like age, weight, height or income bracket. This is about understanding that a new mother feels unattractive because she is overweight for the first time in her life, or the dad that is lacking self worth because he can’t afford to feed his family organic food. It’s about understanding the situation and the raw emotional response to the situation.

This is similar to the difference between features and benefits in sales copy. Although both are important and have their place in marketing, talking about emotionally driven benefits (that people will enjoy) will always sell more than stating the features of what you offer.

Ultimately what I’m talking about here is good communication. You can’t expect to communicate effectively until you have the same frame of reference of the person you are communicating with. Take steps to enter the frame of your customers to as deep a level as you can, and you will be well equipped to communicate exactly what they want to hear. Then all you have to do is make sure what you sell actually delivers what you claim it does, but that’s another discussion entirely.