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We all know by now that one of the keys to successful marketing is understanding your client. Not just listing off her demographics (though that's important too), but deeply understanding what she pays attention to, what she values, what she thinks about, what worries she has.

If you had a readily available source for discovering (and being regularly updated about) what your client is paying attention to, what she values, what she thinks about, what worries she has, and how you can effectively address those points, it'd be a no-brainer to use it.

Good news: you DO have that readily available source. You just may not have noticed it before.

One of the easiest and most overlooked ways of better knowing and understanding your client is to study the publications she reads.

The next time you're at the supermarket or perusing Amazon, rather than sticking to your usual selection of magazines or “industry” publications, pick up a few of the magazines or publications your client is likely to read.

To do this, of course, you'll need to know your client well enough to know what publications she's likely to read regularly. Just listing the possible publications can be a good exercise in better understanding your client, and perhaps highlighting what you don't know about her.

The value in reading over your client's shoulder

Metaphorically, please. If you try literally reading over her shoulder, that's likely to annoy her. And come across as a bit creepy.

Reading over your client's shoulder helps keep you in touch with what topics she's interested in and — just as important! — how those topics are being presented.

Take notes from the successful publications your client reads; you don't need to (and shouldn't) change everything about the way you write to match those publications. But you'd be wise to take notes on how they do things and try incorporating some of the principles you observe into your own ads, copy, and presentations. Test it out, and see how it works for you.

5 marketing boosters you'll discover by reading over your client's shoulder

  1. The article titles and styles

    What titles make it onto the cover or front page of the publication? What types of articles are popular (list articles, in-depth analysis of trends or recent discoveries, one-on-one interviews, business or individual profiles, summaries of hot topics, etc.)? The article styles can give you new ideas for your own articles or written products. And the article titles can give you ideas for your own article headlines, talk topics, or presentation slide titles.

  2. The table of contents

    Take note of not just the headlines but also the preview blurbs given for each article. Those preview blurbs are excellent models for crafting your own article introductions, SEO meta descriptions, or product sub-titles.

  3. Structure of articles

    Granted, people read print publications differently than they do online articles, so there's no need to try to mimic a publication precisely on a screen.

    However, the general structure of articles in your client's choice magazines still gives you some guidance. If the articles are very short, loaded with vibrant images and clever sub-headings, you may find success in structuring yours similarly. If the articles are text-ier, with punchy but more straightforward subheadings, try presenting yours similarly.

  4. The ads

    Don't just flip past the advertisements or disregard the response cards attached to the binding. Study them. How are they trying to grab their target market (i.e., your client)'s attention? Are they appealing to her desire to appear stylish, tapping into her stresses as a working mother, trying to solve her frustration with lack of time to pursue a hobby? What kind of persuasion techniques do they use (and which do they seem to avoid)?

    The companies placing those ads have loads of tests and research at their disposal to help them learn what's effective; you can learn a lot by taking notes on what they're doing (or not doing).

  5. Featured celebrities

    Depending on your client, the featured celebrities might be big names in pop culture that we usually associate with the word “celebrity.” But they might be the founders of a company making breakthroughs in sustainable flooring for luxury homes, a woman whose self-published cookbook just beat out Rachel Ray's for the top-selling spot ten weeks in a row, or the guy who developed a new fuel that gives NASCAR drivers an extra two laps before they have to stop to refuel.

    Know the celebrities in your client's world, and see what connections you can make between them and your business: for example, “Top 10 marketing lessons from the woman who outsold Rachel Ray” or “How the guy who's revving up the NASCAR world runs his business without ever using a smartphone.”

This list isn't meant to be exhaustive. It is, instead, a jumping off point for you to start exploring your client's favorite publications in a way that can directly improve your ability to know, understand, connect with and, ultimately, serve your clients. As you study the publications your client reads, you'll discover additional marketing strategies and tips… and when you do, make sure you write about them. Knowledge ripples!

To your savvy marketing success,