How to Read Your Audience’s Mind

Relevance is a measure of how well your brand, messaging, and content connect with and speak to the top-of-mind pains and problems of your intended audience. This is vital if you are to gain their attention, earn their trust, and motivate them to take action and support your show.

Your content is operating in an attention economy where attention is the most valuable resource because it is the most difficult one to attain. Your intended audience only has so much attention to lend at any given time. Only a small fraction of what they are exposed to will even make it past the “spam filter” of their mind.

Primary Motivating Needs (Why People Will Really Pay Attention to and Support Your Work)

Because their time and attention are so limited, people won’t be interested in hearing your message until it clearly appeals to their self-interest. But what does that mean? How can we identify and describe your customer’s self-interest in a way that is more specific and meaningful when it comes to making strategic decisions for your business?

We’ve all heard about how important it is to emphasize benefits over features. But even benefits often fail to go deep enough.

What really motivates humans to take action is a desire to fulfill their most important needs. We all share common human needs that drive our daily behaviors.

For example, an iPhone has a long list of amazing features and benefits. But if you dig beneath the layers to understand the primary reasons a consumer chooses to buy an iPhone over other options available to them, it’s because they they see the iPhone as the best option for fulfilling specific needs such as belonging (because of the identity that is associated with being an Apple user) or connection (because of the myriad unique ways an iPhone empowers and enhances the user’s ability to stay connected to other people and the world). These are only two of the needs that potentially motivate an iPhone buyer.

The following is a list of the primary human needs that motivate our behavior. When you understand which of these needs are most important to your ideal audience, you can more effectively communicate how your content will help them meet those needs.










Peace and hope

Meaning and purpose

Mastery and growth

Shelter and sustenance

Fun and entertainment

Save time

Save money

Make more money

Reduce effort

Reduce stress, anxiety or hassle

Improve physical or mental state

Self-transcendence (contribution)


When producing content, focus on the needs that are most important to your ideal audience as it relates to your topic and message. This is something you’ll have to infer from conversations and interviews with the kind of people that make up your ideal audience. They won’t be able to explicitly tell you what needs motivate them most because they likely don’t think about their decisions in those terms.

Once you know what the primary motivating needs of your audience are, you can speak to those needs in your content. This will allow you to tap into the emotional core of your audience’s motivations.

There are two ways you can use the list of needs above. First, identify the top 3-5 most important needs that motivate your audience. These are the ones you want to speak to and emphasize most. Then go through the entire list of needs one by one and think about how your message and content can help your ideal audience to meet those needs in their life.

An Important Note About Needs and Manipulation

The concept of identifying, speaking to, and meeting needs with your business and brand is incredibly powerful. Developing your ability to do this is one of the most potent ways to elevate your ability to lead, influence, create value, and impact others.

It’s also very easy to communicate, market, and sell in a way that manipulates people’s desire to meet their needs. You don’t have to look far to find examples of this.

Whenever you choose strategies for marketing and selling, it’s important to ask yourself whether you are manipulating someone’s needs or fulfilling them in a healthy, life-promoting, and lasting way.

For example, I’ve seen sales campaigns for events or programs where there’s a strong messaging based on “not missing out” (FOMO) and “in crowd, out crowd” dynamics. This appeals to the need for belonging. It might motivate someone to buy and even give them a feeling of satisfying that need, for a time.

If the fulfillment of the need for belonging doesn’t last long past the action of buying, then the appeal to that need was in fact a manipulation. The the ends don’t justify the means.

Further Reading on Needs

When you are ready to go deeper into the topic of human needs and how they motivate consumer and listener behavior, I highly recommend this excellent article from Harvard Business Review, The 30 Elements of Value.

Finding Your Voice as a Thought Leader

As an entrepreneur with a goal of becoming an influential thought leader with a lasting legacy, it’s important to consider the body of work that you want to create.

The questions below will help you design your body of work. This is about you gaining mastery, growth, and fulfillment from your work while also creating the greatest possible contribution.

For each of the following questions, write as many answers as you can think of. It’s best at first to capture anything that comes to mind. Don’t edit yourself. This is about uncovering possibilities and innovative ideas.

  1. Recognition: What do you want to be known for?
  2. Opportunities: What kinds of opportunities and experiences do you want to enjoy?
  3. Achievements: What accomplishments, awards, or other milestones do you want to realize?
  4. Collaboration: Who do you want to partner or work with?
  5. Body of Work: What do you want to create? what ideas or value do you want to leave behind?
  6. Change: What change(s) do you want to create in the world (or your community or industry)? Are there behaviors, best practices, or ways of thinking that you want to transform?

Voice: Your Message and Perspective

In order for you to influence how people think and behave, you have to first earn their trust. Before you can earn their trust, you have to get their attention and keep it long enough for them to decide two things:

  1. Does this person have my best interests in mind – Likability
  2. Can this person’s content help me bring about my best interests – Credibility

We often assume that credibility is the most important of these two. However, research tells us that likability has more bearing on whether people want to listen to us.

Your voice is a reflection of who you are, how you think, and what is important to you. This is one of your greatest tools for demonstrating likability so that you can gain and keep the attention of your audience and earn their trust. Then you can influence and have an impact on the audience you serve. Without developing your unique and authentic voice, your message will fall flat and get ignored. It will be lost in the noise.

It’s important to understand that one for the primary reasons people will follow and support you is because of who you are, how you think, and how you make them feel. This is your voice in action.

When everything you do and say is founded in and congruent with an authentic voice, you will feel more invested in your work. Not only that, but you will feel more engaged and effective. When you use your authentic voice, people will respond in ways that are very energizing and fulfilling. This will further fuel your work. If you create content with an inauthentic voice, your creativity and motivation will wane.

Discovering and leveraging your unique and authentic voice can feel like a nebulous process. It’s not a checkbox that you tick off or a destination you arrive at. It’s an ongoing process that only moves forward by continually doing, creating, and sharing.

That said, there are a few specific things we will take a look at now that will help you understand and articulate important elements of your voice.

The 3 Whys

When you communicate a clear reason why your content exists, your audience will resonate more deeply with it. To help you do this, answer the following questions that I refer to as the “3 Whys.”

  • Why is it important to you to produce the content you do?
  • Why is your content important to those who see it?
  • Why is your content important to the world (or to your industry/community)?

Together, these three questions justify why the world is worse off if your content doesn’t exist. While that may sound like a grandiose way of thinking, it’s important to believe that you have something to say and that there are people in the world that need to hear it specifically from you. When they do, their lives will be improved to some degree simply by hearing your perspective.

When your audience understands why it is important for them to listen to you, they have a reason to continue listening. They know what the payoff is for investing their time and attention.

When your audience understands why your content is important to you, they come to understand that your motivations go beyond personal gain. This in turn gains their loyalty and trust.

When your audience understands why your content is important to the world, they gain a sense that by supporting you they are part of something that is bigger than them. This turns your content into a movement.

The “3 Whys” make for excellent content to include in your inaugural content. Even years down the road, people who discover you will want to return to your first content to discover where it started.

Your Origin Story

Your origin story is another powerful tool for demonstrating likability to your ideal audience. In a wider sense, storytelling is very effective at conveying your content in a memorable and impactful way.

Make a list of experiences, stories or anecdotes that have shaped your work and give it meaning. Here are some questions to help you.

  1. When did you first feel a strong desire to do the work you do now?
  2. What experiences have resulted in life lessons, changes in your world view, or ah-ha moments that now fuel your work?
  3. What are the biggest challenges you have been through in life? How have they informed your work or point of view?

It’s even effective to use these stories more than once. This ensures that more people hear them and integrate the underlying message into their thinking.

How can you integrate the 3 Whys and your origin story into your current body of content? If this inspires you to go create a new video, blog post, or podcast episode that will better allow your authentic voice to shine through, let me know! I want to see it.

How to Position Your Content as a Thought Leader

Positioning is how your content is perceived in the mind of your ideal audience and the marketplace. Positioning greatly affects how quickly your content, whether it’s a course, a podcast, or an ebook, will gain traction and produce results.

Ideally, you want your unique content to be positioned in the marketplace in a way that will attract your ideal audience, gain the trust of your ideal customers, and drive forward your most important business and thought leadership goals.

While you can’t ultimately control your position in the marketplace (because it’s based on the perceptions of others), you can certainly craft a content production strategy that will increase the chances that you’ll gain a position in the marketplace that you desire.

This requires being clear about what you want to achieve with your content, and how your content will serve your audience. Let’s take a look at the insights you need to uncover to help define a strategy that is in alignment with your desired positioning.

Positioning Venn Diagram

This diagram is from my Thought Leadership Business Model design process. It describes how I help my strategy clients plan and align the next evolution of their business model. We can apply this same approach to any content you create to find the “sweet spot”.

This is important so that you can:

  1. Stand out in the marketplace and gain attention
  2. Keep attention and earn trust so that your audience grows
  3. Support the body of work you want to create and the thought leadership goals you want to achieve
  4. Align with your unique vision, perspective, and strengths so that your content feeds your energy, fuels your creativity, and is fun to create!

Your ideal positioning falls in the cross-section between the three circles of the Venn Diagram. The most important elements to delve into first are those contained in the circles labeled You and Your Ideal Audience. We’ll dig into those next week!

How to Identify Your Strengths as a Thought Leader

I took an assessment today and got some shocking results.

I’m sure at some point you’ve taken at least one of those assessments that promises insights into your personality, behavior, career choice, or Hogwarts house.  While it seems quizzes and assessments are as plentiful as my excuses for not folding the laundry the same day it comes out of the dryer, there are only a small handful that I recommend to my clients and students — assessments that is, not laundry excuses.

How to identify your strengths as a thought leader

The best assessments offer truly useful insights and are backed by sound research. (In case you were wondering, the Meyers-Briggs is not one that I recommend. While it can be interesting and entertaining, it’s usefulness is as limited as the science that backs it up. If you’re curious, I’m an INTJ for what it’s worth.) On the other hand, I’ve used an assessment called Strengthsfinder 2.0 with my clients for almost a decade.

SF2.0 is an assessment based on a 40-year study that cataloged 34 talents and led to a truly powerful quiz that reveals your top five talents. When you focus on leveraging your top five talents you will experience more flow, satisfaction, and efficacy in your work and relationships.

Perhaps you’ve taken SF2.0 before. What many don’t know is that there’s a completely different type of report you can get based on your top five strengths — a leadership report. This second report tells you how you can be most effective as a leader. It offers specific insights about how you can best inspire, influence, and earn trust. The Strengths Based Leadership report tells you exactly the kinds of things you can do to express your most powerful leadership and influence qualities.

When I took the same test two years apart, I was shocked to get very different results the second time. It turns out that in some cases, strengths can shift. Rather, strengths that were always there are finally able to fully express.

New levels of self-awareness and mastery have allowed strengths that were already there to finally emerge at the top. This new set of strengths feels more resonant now than the the results from five years ago. In hindsight, this makes a lot of sense. The two years between tests had been pretty transformational (read: some of the friggin’ hardest moment of my life but I learned a hell of a lot of things about myself). I would go as far as to say that I’ve unlocked gifts and parts of my identity through serious amounts of coaching, exploration, and mindset shifts.

In any case, the point is not so much that I got different results (though you might take it again if it’s been awhile…just to see).

The takeaway is this. You will do your best work as a leader, gain the most trust, and have the most influence when you are aware of and fully leverage your inherent talents and strengths as a leader. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Strengths Based Leadership. The book comes with a code to take the assessment online. It only requires about twenty minutes. You don’t even need to read the entire book, just the sections relating to your top five talents.

You’ll get some amazing insights. Focus on the things the report outlines for you and watch your influence and leadership soar! So far, my leadership report has been dead on accurate in describing how I best lead and help my clients. For example…

Your innovative yet methodical approach will be critical to the genesis of a venture because it will keep its creators from developing counterproductive tunnel vision.


Quickstart, visionary, big idea entrepreneurs and innovators turn to me all the time for insight because I see what they don’t see because they raced right past it like the Roadrunner leaving Coyote in the dust.

Meep! Meep!

I’m the one that can point out the cliff before they find themselves in mid-air with their feet dangling below them as gravity finally pulls them into the canyon below.

(SIDEBAR: Is the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon an American-centric example or is that pretty universal?)

This is just one of MANY insights in my custom report from just one of the five strengths.The question is, what inherent talents do you have and how can you turn them up to eleven to produce amazing results and gain influence with those you guide and lead?

Which assessments have you found most helpful when it comes to your professional and leadership pursuits?


How Thought Leaders Cut Through the Noise

What has changed the most since you’ve been marketing online? What’s coming up next in online marketing that entrepreneurs need to know about to stay ahead?

I get asked these two questions a lot in interviews. People are curious to hear my answers because I’ve been creating and marketing brands on the Internet since 2003. I’m going to answer both of those questions for you now.

This brings me back to the idea of the The Long Tail of Influence from my last post, How Thought Leaders Rise to the Top of the Market

Let’s dig into that diagram now.


Each of the red lines on the left side of the chart represents a person or business of influence. The taller the line the more impact, influence and income that influencer generates.

Remove all the blue lines and dots, and the chart is a snapshot of what this diagram would have looked like twenty years ago before the Internet as we know it really became a thing.

Notice that all the red lines are grouped to the left side and eventually stop. This is because twenty years ago there were only a limited number of opportunities to get enough visibility to build an influential brand. Back then it required having access to mainstream media like TV, news, bestselling books, magazines, etc.

The Age of the New Influencers is Born

Then the Internet happened — forums, blogging, podcasting, YouTube, social media, social networks, and on and on. Suddenly, anyone could build a platform, gain visibility, and share a message. This is where the blue lines come in. There was an explosion of media makers and content creators each with their own perspective and story to share. Consumers learned they could find just about anything to fit their exact needs and preferences.

This was the dawn of the long tail of influence.

This provided an amazing opportunity to anyone looking to make more money while also making a difference with their expertise, experiences, and point of view. As a result, every stripe of marketer, entrepreneur, leader, and opportunity-seeker flooded the Internet looking to gain attention. Some created real results and value. Others were just looking to make a quick buck. The Internet went from having 100s of thousands of blogs to millions of blogs, from thousands of podcasts to 100s of thousands of podcasts.

The Biggest Change Affecting Your Brand and Business

That brings us to today. The game has changed again. Now the graph includes these little noisy dots at the end. The most important thing that has changed in my 14+ years online is that it has gotten exponentially noisier.  We now live in an attention economy because attention is the one thing you need most and it’s the hardest thing to gain. Consumers have gotten really good at tuning everything out except the stuff that is most relevant and interesting.

This has made it incredibly hard for even legitimate influencers and entrepreneurs to get seen and heard. Many never move out of the noise floor and simply get ignored. And then there are others who have succeeded in getting seen and heard enough to build a lifestyle business that provide a decent income as well as freedom and flexibility.

But now they want more. They want to move up to a higher level of income, influence and impact. They want to go from a lifestyle business to one that creates and leaves a legacy.

The problem is that there’s a force that continually push against their efforts to rise to higher levels of reach and visibility.  Noise constantly pushes against your business keeping it from growing to the legacy and industry leader level.

And it’s not just noise in the marketplace. In fact, there are two other types of noise that threaten every day to keep your business small, pushing it to the right towards the noise floor and oblivion. Until you can clear away all three types of noise, your business cannot grow to be an industry leader that enjoys all the visibility, income, resources, influence, impact, recognition and more that go along with reaching that level.

And once you get to that level, it’s much easier to shield your business from noise and competition and remain a leader.

Is it important to you that your business provide more than just lifestyle and freedom for you? Do you want to make a mark on the world with your brand and business?