Want to get more customers? Use the four-ears

By Andrew McDermott How To, Research

You’re at a dinner party.

The food is ready, everyone’s seated. The other guests have started eating when one of them exclaims, “There’s something green with wings in my soup!”

Everyone freezes.

The guests look at each other. Some check their bowls, while others put their spoons down.

There’s a subtle shift in the room.

Food is now the last thing on anyone’s mind. How could the words, “There’s something with wings in my soup,” create so much tension and discomfort?

The four-ears model is to blame.

It’s a fundamental part of communication that most businesses are completely in the dark about.

They’re in the dark so they push customers away

Some of their marketing sends messages that hurt, infuriate or reject customers. Many convey neediness, insecurity and desperation. Other times the message is distant, condescending or rude.

These messages are consistently negative.

But entrepreneurs, for the most part, aren’t trying to send these negative messages to their customers. They’re trying to do everything they can to take care of them.

The four-ears model states every message has four sides

This model shows that communication is multi-layered, every message has four layers or sides to it. Four things you’re passing on to the recipient.

The four sides (four ears) model

  1. 1 Matter: truth, data, facts, etc. Stating reality, telling it like it is.
  2. 2 Self revealing: the sender tells the receiver something about himself (e.g. values, motives, emotions, etc.).
  3. 3 Relationship: how the sender communicates what they think of the receiver and how they get along.
  4. 4 Appeal: also known as “call to action”, the desire, advice, instruction, effects, etc. the sender is looking for.

When it comes to interpersonal communication, most people understand this intuitively; but for some reason, they abandon it in their marketing. This is where the trouble starts.

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You’re already using four-ears, whether you like it or not

You can’t share a message without sharing all of the other layers as well. And that’s the problem.

Businesses use four-ears accidentally

When they should be using it intentionally. So they end up sending messages like this:

I’d be happy to work with you, please contact me right away.

Seems harmless enough, right? What’s the big deal? Let’s deconstruct the layers and take a look.

  • Matter layer: I’d love to work with you, please contact me right away.
  • Self revealing layer: I’m desperate, I need the money.
  • Relationship layer: You have all the power.
  • Appeal layer: Hire me, please.

Context is a huge part of communication as well. This exact message, in a different context, would send a completely different message. Imagine that message was between two long time friends, same words different context, what would that look like?

  • Matter layer: I’d love to work with you, please contact me right away.
  • Self revealing layer: I’m excited to work with you.
  • Relationship layer: You’re desirable to work with.
  • Appeal layer: Let’s get started quickly.

See how much of a difference context makes?

There’s two sides to context

This makes marketing especially tricky. When it’s handled poorly, customers end up with a message that’s different than the one you intended, like this:

Sender(what they intended)

  • Matter layer: I’d love to work with you, please contact me right away.
  • Self revealing layer: I enjoy my work.
  • Relationship layer: You’re a good fit.
  • Appeal layer: Let’s work together!

Receiver (what customers hear)

  • Matter layer: I’d love to work with you, please contact me right away.
  • Self revealing layer: You’re desperate, you need the money.
  • Relationship layer: I have all the power.
  • Appeal layer: Hire me, please.

The sender didn’t intend to sound desperate and needy, yet that’s the exact message customers are getting. And what do most customers do when they receive this kind of message?

You guessed it, they head for the door. The ones who decide to stay are often more likely to take advantage and abuse.

You want all-star customers to stay

So you’ll need to ensure your message uses the four-ears model to send the message they want to hear.

This isn’t about pacifying customers or people pleasing. It’s about ensuring there’s a solid fit between you and your customers. That you’re solving the problems they want you to solve. And your attention is directed to the right area.

All-star customers focus their attention

They choose to work with businesses that understand their problems; once you have their attention and you’ve established yourself as a contender, they go through the process we outline in Hook.

But it all starts with grabbing their attention.

Hit or miss marketing uses the four-ears model accidentally. Maybe you get lucky and maybe you attract customers but it comes at a high price.

These marketers spend huge amounts of time and money to attract a larger group of the wrong customers. The majority of them arrive then leave, never to return.

All-star marketers use four-ears intentionally

They achieve amazing results from their marketing because they start with the target profile interview.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’m a big believer in target profile interviews.

They choose a person of interest, an ideal customer that fits the demographics and psychographics of their target audience. Then they go out, find a real person and they interview them.

They discover what their ideal customers want.

How they think, what they want, what scares them, etc. This research tells them exactly how they should market to their customer. There’s no guessing, no wondering about whether you’re on track with your marketing.

Experienced entrepreneurs already know this

Here’s the part they often miss. They don’t show their marketing to their person of interest. There’s no feedback from their ideal customers.

But this feedback is important.

It gives you a chance to test the message, to gauge your customer’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions about this. What message are they hearing? Does it match the message you’re trying to send?

Don’t believe me? Take a look at these logos.

Rising Sun Sushi (or the Institute of Oriental Studies)

logo fail institute of oriental studies or rising sun sushi

Arlington Pediatric Center

logo fail arlington pediatric center

National SafePlace 

logo fail safeplace

The Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission


Computer Doctors

logo fail computer doctors

When we see these logos we do an immediate facepalm. “What were they thinking?” we exclaim.

Any one of their customers could have told them about the message their logos were sending. A little customer feedback could have prevented the infamy, shame and embarrassment that followed their decision.

See how much of a difference feedback makes? It’s the same with your message.

What we say isn’t always what customers hear. Most mistakes aren’t as dramatic as the examples I’ve used here, but they’re still mistakes.

So what kind of mistakes are we talking about?

Spending your marketing budget on the wrong problem.
Creating the wrong product (or a product no one wants).
Offering the wrong solution to your customer’s problem.

These mistakes are devastating to your cash flow and your profits. And the part that makes it worse? Customers aren’t quick to volunteer any advice. Most leave long before they get to that point.

A few may tell you if you ask, but they’ll water their advice down if you don’t know how to ask.

Here’s how you use four-ears to win customers

Step 1: You find your ideal customer; the all-star you’d fight to keep. The one that behaves the way you’d like all your customers to.

Reach out to them. Let them know they’re one of your best customers, that you’d like to interview them; set a date and time for your interview.

Step 2: Download our target profile interview questionnaire (no opt-in required). If you have specific questions you’d like to ask, add them to the list.

Step 3: Once you have the information you need from your ideal customer, create your marketing pieces. Take it back to that same ideal customer and get their feedback. Reach out to other customers for anonymous feedback.

The goal here isn’t really about whether they think the marketing piece will work or not (testing will answer that question). It isn’t even about whether they like it. It’s about the message they’re receiving.

What do they think you’re saying?

If the message they hear is one you’re trying to send, you’ve won the battle. Keep fighting to win the war.

You can’t control what customers think

And that’s not really a great goal to pursue. It’s not about control, it’s about alignment. You want to align things in such a way that customers receive the same message you’re trying to send.

But customers don’t care about the message you’re trying to send.

They only care about the message they receive. That’s not something you can control. It’s something you can direct. Take away the confusion, modify your message and you’ll find the right message.

The right message depends on four-ears

The message you’re sending isn’t always the one customers hear. Make a mistake and you alienate customers, pushing them away for good. Do it right, and you draw them in.

No confusing messages, no green wings in your soup.

(NOTE: Get an unlimited supply of customers, for free. Download The Dragnet Method.)

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  • Aman Kanwal Sidhu

    WOW! Brilliant Article!

  • Areianna Goehrs

    I had similar feelings with wording before, and know a bit about wording right, but this goes into all the helpful details! Excellent article!