Let’s say you’re going to sell a parachute to a penguin (stay with me on this) and all you know is that a penguin is a bird. That is 100% fact. You strike up the conversation like you’re talking to a sparrow or flamingo or seagull; after all, you’re talking to a bird.
You start by asking how his morning flight was or when his favorite time to catch a worm is, or how long his wife incubates on the eggs before they’re hatched. The penguin has a couple of options. He can ignore you, correct you politely, tell you bluntly what his life is like or go along with you anyway, but despite his choice of response, he’s not in a position to embrace the parachute you’re trying to sell.
Why? Because you didn’t take the time to learn about the penguin, you brought to the conversation your understanding of birds.
If you had learned about your audience, you would know that, even though penguins are birds, they don’t fly, they spend 75% of their hunting time under water and the male holds the egg on his feet to hatch while the female scavenges and brings back food.
This isn’t to say you couldn’t find an opportunity to a penguin that needs a parachute in case he fell from the top of an iceberg or needed to jump off the end of a cliff to escape a hungry seal. After all, penguins can’t fly. But until that penguin knows you understand him, he’s not interested in what you have to sell. He’ll assume you don’t understand his needs and can’t then provide a solution. Even with facts in hand (A penguin is a bird. It’s a fact) don’t assume you already know.
The same thing happens when we try to communicate to an audience we don’t understand. Whether through advertising, creating a guest experience, speaking to a crowd or building a friendship, fundamentally, you have to understand the penguin in order to sell him the parachute.
The best way to get to know him? Ask.