Listen to Your Audience – NO MORE DEATH BINDERS

Ditch the “death binders” and learn why listening to your customer can turn a profit. It did for Hamburger Helper in 2004: an 11% increase in sales after a decade of loss.


In 2004 Hamburger Helper was floundering. They were coming out of a decade-long slump, teetering on the edge of irrelevancy. That’s when they brought on Melissa Studzinski as the new brand manager. The 28-year-old was given three deathly heavy binders full of persona/avatar data on their target market. Pounds of paper outlining: Sales and volume information, advertising strategy briefs, product information, market research on customers, and more…

They were lovingly referred to as “death binders.”

It only took a few months to realize they weren’t getting anywhere with their assumptions. They decided that instead of imposing their artificial boxes on their audience, that they should listen to their audience and what they say they want themselves. They put the call out for mothers willing to have R&D or marketers from Hamburger Helper gawk at them and sit in for dinner for an evening. The team went out and simply watched and listened. Visiting up to 3-dozen homes, this experience made all the difference. Instead of imposing those boxes on people from the comfortable confines of their own marketing department office, they got to see and hear who they needed to understand in the context of their own lives. More than that, they got to experience it.

Assuming “our audience values convenience” is one thing.

Understanding through being told, and seeing, a parent carrying a toddler on their while flying through making dinner is an entirely different thing. It was in understanding this difference that the Hamburger Helper team was able to make the appropriate marketing decisions needed to match what their audience wanted – as their audience expressed it – increasing their profit in 2005 by 11%, after a decade of failure.

Invite your audience to the table, learn from them, and feed back the concrete examples of how you can improve their lives that THEY GAVE YOU when you asked them.

Listen to your audience. They’re happy to tell you how you can make them happy.

If you’re a brick & mortar business and customers come to your location, pay attention to how they refer to what you offer, if there’s a common theme, maybe you should change the name of that item and market it with the changed name.

Same deal if you provide quotes or estimates for different jobs, like a landscaper, electrician, or contractor – how do your clients refer to what you do? Pay attention to that, and start to refer to those things in the terms the customer uses. That’s called “mirroring,” and it’s a great strategy for getting people to feel “at home,” and know they’re talking to “their people/tribe” when talking to you. 

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