I really appreciate this article, and plan to incorporate your ideas into my next marketing piece. I especially like the part about focusing on ONE person!!!
Thank you for this valuable information.
I need to make a couple confessions:
1. Most marketing pieces I receive end up in the trash.
2. I'm bored easily by most websites.
Maybe I'm a snob? It's possible, but I don't think so. I have a feeling that I'm not the only businessperson sick of reading glorified brag sheets.
Too often, in my opinion, us small business owners and solo-entrepreneurs become too self-involved. We forget that while, yes, we're in business to make money and put food on the table, we're ultimately providing a valuable service to our clients.
The result? We start telling people how long we've been around. We boast about being the number one salesperson in the country. We name drop. Here's the thing: potential clients are savvy consumers, and they don't care.
On the top of every prospect's mind is one question: what can you do for me?
Before they buy, customers want to know how they're going to benefit from your product or service. They want to know what's in it for them. If you tell them, you'll be in business.
To cut through (the crap) and make an impression, you need to become an audience-focused marketer. Here's how.
Take stock of your current material:
If your marketing brochure or website sounds like a resume, you've got a problem. When is the last time you wanted to read a resume? Umm...never. Too bad many small business owners feel like they have to prove themselves by listing their credentials, years experience, and awards. With marketing, you really only have a couple of seconds to gain your audience's attention and make a point. Don't use this time to bore people with factoids. Instead, share how you're going to help them. How?
1. Focus on one person.
Too often, we try to pack everything into a small marketing piece or on one page of our website. (We want to appeal to as many people as possible because then we'll get more business, right?) Wrong. When you try to appeal to everyone, you really appeal to no one. When you craft your marketing pieces, try to imagine one person. This person must be your ideal client: they'll love your product, get the most benefit from your service, and will tell all their friends about you. When you speak to one person instead of the masses, your marketing gets easier. Your approach changes automatically: instead of spewing a rehearsed pitch, trying to please everyone, the conversation becomes personal. Your marketing message becomes accurate. (It's like playing pin the tail on the donkey without a blindfold.)
2. Tell a story, create a mental image.
Instead of writing something dull like "We've been in this industry for 20 years," use your marketing content to tell a story. Storytelling creates images in people's minds. People relate to stories, and when you use a story to show people how you help, they'll identify, create a mental picture, and seek out your assistance.
Stories don't have to be super long case studies or go into great detail, they just have to get people to relate, and create an image in their mind. For instance, on my website I have a "Call me when" section on my contact page. One of my favorite call me when lines is: "Call me when your website has been under construction for longer than six months." Is everyone going to relate to this sentence? No. However, those prospects who have not launched their website because they can't write their content will. In their mind, a picture of their "Under Construction" page will pop up, and they'll have the desire to take action. Those are the people I can help, and those are the people I want to call me.
Craft stories and create images for your business. When you do, you'll have motivated customers knocking on your door.
3. Features vs. benefits.
Ahh yes, here we go with the features and benefits rule again. I won't go into too much detail because I feel like I'm beating a dead horse (this topic has been discussed ad nauseam), but I'll do a brief re-cap because I wouldn't be considered a true professional otherwise.
Features are about you. Benefits are about your clients.
Example: Lawn Care Company
Feature: We're the area's best mowers.
Benefit: You'll have the area's best lawn.
To retain your prospect's attention, you need to talk about benefits. To make a prospect a client, you need to listen and then talk about benefits they care about. If you want more on this subject, I highly recommend reading the article "Benefits Don't Sell" by fellow Biznik member Paul Anderson. He does a brilliant job laying it out.
The lesson: stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about your customers. How does your business help them? How will they benefit? Once you know, you can craft marketing messages that won't end up in the trash.
Learn more about the author, Lindsay Berger.
I really appreciate this article, and plan to incorporate your ideas into my next marketing piece. I especially like the part about focusing on ONE person!!!
Thank you for this valuable information.
Well, yes and no. I think a lot depends on the business. Yes, I want to know what you're going to do for my lawn, rather than how great a lawn company you have (I want to hear the latter from your customers, not from you.) But I also want to know about you, the solopreneur: your anecdotes, your successes, your failures and how you rose above them, the applications of your product or service to your own life. Tell me about that time you had embarrassing crabgrass dominating the lawn at your own outdoor wedding, to show me that you're human just like me...or the time you saved the day when all the other lawn mowers in town failed to deliver due to a power outage, so that I know you truly are the most reliable lawn-mower I can hire in Santa Cruz. The newsletters I receive that I don't trash, those I read from top to bottom, tell me something about the service provider. They're the ones I'm most likely to purchase something from as well. These marketers help me by demonstrating who they are and how they'll work with me.
It can even be a good schtick to tell stories that seemingly have nothing to do with benefits, or withme. I get a weekly newsletter called Writers Weekly from a gal named Angela Hoy. She knows her market, which includes many work-at-home mothers. So not only does she provide excellent service and value...she also writes about the questionably brilliant thing the baby said, or her teenage daughter's prom night, or...well, whatever the heck she wants. She also does the unthinkable: she toots her own horn...a lot. In addition to that, she does everything you're "supposed" to do when marketing a product or service: provides stats, testimonials, freebies, informative articles: the goods. You may hate or love reading about little Max's diaper rash when what you ultimately want is a reliable self-publishing package or a list of writers' markets, but since she's been doing this for many years in this "self-serving" way, I'm betting she has more loyal subscribers and customers than most of us will ever have.
@Dawn: I'm glad you found this article useful!
@Carol: I definitely agree, I want to know how my service provider solved problems for other people, and that's where storytelling comes in: you're showing people what you've done for others, how you solved their problems. Other potential clients will relate to the story and will want their problems solved, too. I don't mean to say that using personal stories as examples is wrong. It's not. And, like you said, it can help you relate to the person you're about to do business with. The problem, I think, it when we start writing a list of features (stats, numbers, etc.) that overwhelm and bore our audience. Benefits get closer to what we want our clients to learn about us: they're the result, what the clients get. So when your friend Angela toots her own horn because she solved a diaper rash problem, it's great. She's telling an interesting story, she knows her audience of work-at-home moms will want to know how she solved the rash problem, and her audience will relate to feeling triumphant in that situation. They'll also want to do business with her. Great points! Thank you for helping me clarify.
Thank you so much for the great article! I thought I was the only one who felt that way. I tend to rant but I'll spare you that and simply say I never trust any business the uses stock photography, describes itself as "full service", or insists I read a blog.
Not gonna happen.
I'll be checking and editing my website right away. Thanks for the great info. Nan Johnston Southern Staging & Redesign
I am very new at what i do for a living now, i am an Aflac agent and yes, i believe that knowing my future costumers is more important then what they know about me, that way, like you said, i can offer to them the exact thing that they're looking for without approaching them with overwhelming information that will just scare them away, i will let them know more about myself by providing a great service and by being there for them when they need me, ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THEN WORDS.
Thanks for the article.
Lindsay, I would say that you are correct and on topic about the "initial" message not being about you-the business owner. However, I would caution those who are reading articles like this to not run away screaming in the direction of taking yourself out of the marketing.
I agree with crafting the message to solve a specific problem. However I feel that a customer is next going to evaluate whether or not they want to do business with "you". That is where you want to have some place on your site that expresses who you are and a bit about why you are unique, talented and able to service the customer in the best possible way.
When searching for a provider for a solution I want to see 2 things.
Can you solve my problem?
Can you demonstrate or educate me as to why or how you have the skills, background, experience or education to solve the problem?
Personally, I am a bit cautious about the "great sales copy" telling me how they are going to solve my problem without knowing if they have the stuff to back it up.
I have seen a number of articles and discussions about this lately and just wanted to chime in as a warning not to void your site of "about you" and some mild "tooting of one's horn" is a good thing.
Great article overall.
I have to say though that I totally agree with the comments Marc has left above. I too am weary of precisely word-smithed sales copy, and, like Marc, I'm also a bit weary of all the articles recently posted on the topic.
In addition to making sales, business is about building relationships. Ultimately, business is about people. It's important to communicate what you offer a client, but taking yourself completely out of the equation can be a mistake.
I am currently in the midst of redesigning my studio's web site. I've made the decision to include a lot more content, rather than focus primarily on our portfolio as is currently the case. I don't expect everyone to read everything we include, but it's there if they wish to review. Hopefully, the hierarchy we've created presents the critical "what's in it for you, the customer" message first.
I feel it is also relevant to establish one's credentials (especially in an industry like mine – design – where anyone with a computer can claim to be an "expert"). That's why on our new site, the bios of our principals will be included. But, they will be farther down in the navigation structure. Essentially, "there if you're interested", but not the main selling feature.
For us, personality is important, on both sides of the client/consumer relationship. Our work is highly collaborative, and personalities count. This is how we'll be addressing the subject on the new site:
Given the chance, any experienced and talented design firm can give you results. The question is: will you have fun during the journey? Life is too short to work with people that leave you cold. Do you need to like us personally to work with us? Well... yes. Just as we need to like you. Great design is the culmination of many things. Achieving a creative and effective solution not only requires creativity and imagination, but also a spirit of trust and mutual respect among people who inspire each other. If you like our work, and agree with what you’ve been reading so far, then we’d say we’re already well on our way to a successful collaboration.
Or, something along those lines. I'm still figuring it out :)
Thanks for sharing, and starting the conversation.
Ken Peters | Nocturnal Graphic Design Studio
Great article, i've been working on focusing on 'client benefits' for some time now and the difference has been HUGE!
Marc and Ken have done a great job of bringing balance to your very well written article and some very good points.
If marketing were all science and no art, one or two books/articles would be all anyone would need.
hey woman love the article. you are giving me work to do. i want to change up and get a better and targeted marketing plan. so thanks for the article.
Thank you for helping me get back on track! No matter how long I have been in the sales business it is an article like yours that gets me thinking about meeting my prospects needs and wants again.
Great points. I now have a website that gets a ton of visitors to the "about us" page. I was surprised. Very unusual to me. So I will rewrite this page to be dry and targeted to investors...to be more exciting...and targeted to consumers and buyers. Make it sound less like a resume...and provide the interesting story behind dna testing.
Here's the page I need to change... http://www.pathway.com/about_us/management Coupon code for $25 off: DNA25PG
I love the way you write...straight to the point. When I am ready to change my site, you will be my first call.
"Call me when..." is different and so fresh.
Thank you for all the wonderful ideas and great read this morning.
Sandy Rivers Civil Split LLC
As a graphic designer, I am always preaching the ideas of marketing to the audience and not marketing yourself. Clients just want to tell their stories and don't think about what the customer may want to hear.
This really comes up in websites. A lot of confusing navigation has been designed because the client was stubborn about what his main sections had to be. Not thinking about the visitor in web design is death.
Thanks for the post.
Love the article, especially the idea of the "one client". One extremely wealthy client is all I really do need at this time.... your timing is uncanny.
I do have to say I am often impressed by how long one has been in business and I do like to hear about the business owner.
Maybe it's just because I'm a woman but I'm not always in the mood for a story. I've already heard many and just not that into it....again, timing. Other times, love the story...hmm...go figure. Spontaniety. Did I spell that right? Close enough.
Cindy Chartieryoga guide
Great advice, and perfect timing. You've described succinctly something I've been thinking about, and have given me the ideal way to focus: on how my dealers will receive and benefit!
If your thesis was used as the paradigm of American business overall, we wouldn't be in the current economic condition. General Motors, AIG, Smith Barney all were guilty of the 'its all about us' mindset. They (along with the majority of businesses) not only marketed from a 'who we are' and 'we're the experts' orientation, but operated their businesses from the same belief system.
When we address the desires, interests, and potential to benefit of the customer, we create systems, products and services that create a constant stream of commerce. Hooray Lindsay!!
Thank you all for the kind comments and additional insight! I'm glad this topic has started a conversation and got people talking about their marketing (and, it turns out overall business paradigm).
A few points I wanted to clarify, quickly.
While this article is sort of in-your-face, I do believe that there is a time and place for your personal story, your credentials, and your experience. Your About page on your website is a perfect place for this information, for instance. I do not feel that you should leave yourself out of the picture completely! However, I do feel this information should take a "supporting role." (Not on your home page, necessarily.)
Like Marc mentioned above, marketing content without real-life experience and hard work is just a bunch of words. Meaningless. So, you have to be able to back up what you're claiming you can do for your customers. I don't think this was clear in the article.
Storytelling is not necessarily make believe. This is where the examples of how you've helped people in the past should come into play. If a potential client asks you if you've ever worked with someone in their industry before, for example, tell them. In addition, show how you solved that client's problems and how that experience will help you solve your prospects problems, too.
Again, thank you all for reading!
Thank you so much for this. I have been telling one of my clients who has his own business often about nobody cares about him, but what he can do for THEM and he refuses to believe it. Meanwhile, his monthly newsletters are all about him. I have also mentioned he might want to tell a story so that his future clients can identify with him. He should tell a story about what one of his dogs or kids did; people can relate to pets and kids.
I learned how to tell a story in my marketing pieces from a By Referral Only program and it literally helped me sell millions of dollars of property while only spending $14.95 per month. It is the most amazing technique ever and I find it very easy to do because it goes along with what I do everyday anyway. Telling stories suits my personality.
Thank you for sharing this valuable piece. It has reminded me to rewrite a new web site I have going up -- too many features and not enough benefits for the user.
These are great ideas, but I tend to disagree a little. Things like telling everyone how long you've been around and name dropping tend to lend some credibility, don't they? I'm not saying that's my main selling point, but who I am and how long I've been around DOES matter, does it not? But I do think the idea of focusing on one client is BRILLIANT and I will starting incorporating that concept into my marketing. Thanks!
@Cathy: I'm glad you've found this article helpful and are helping others tell their story in a way that relates. Good luck revising your website, let me know if I can help in any way!
@Lisa: Telling people how long you've been around and name-dropping (client list) are not completely taboo and in fact do lend credibility. I know my article seemed a little slanted against that, but my writing was strong to make a point: this type of information should be used in a balanced and measured way. Like you said, this information shouldn't be your leading marketing message or dominate a conversation. This info is best used in a supporting role, or when a customer asks for it. Thank you for your insight and best of success to you!
Enjoyed reading your article and kudos to your title! Often times the title is what really grabs someones attention and makes them want to read your content, website, blog, or brochure. To me this is just as valuable as your article! Business is all about relationships now more than ever and your section about telling stories is one that I need a constant reminder on! Often as we do the same presentation over and over again we start to do less story telling and more just going through the motions of the presentation. For me I always reach a point where I realize I am not connecting with my clients or prospects and then the bright light flashes and I realize I stopped telling stories... Thank you for being my reminder this week!
I skip - read articles that are too long or take too long to get to the point, but not this one. It is short and pricise...i like the tip of thinking my client as one person.
Thanks for sharing all the good ideas!
Good article with some excellent points often forgotten by small business owners.
I would be curious to know whether this was written with the B2C sales/marketing in mind and not B2B.
My background is in industries with large barriers to entry. In many cases, customers would want to hear about what was going on in our company more than what they had to share about theirs. There would be a sharing and exchange of information from both sides before any negotiations would begin.
In all of these cases, the customer really did care about us as their own success depended on it.