Are You Ignoring The Most Important Question For Copywriting Success? August 30, 2013

One of the major shortfalls that companies with ineffective marketing copy have in common is not approaching the product or service from the perspective of what the customer values most.

Instead, they focus on the features and specifications that make their product or service different from their competition. At its core, these companies let their egos get caught up in trying to one-up their competitors, and instead of writing marketing copy focused on getting their target audience interested in what they have to offer, they create their campaigns only to try to show off the differences they have with their competition.

Companies that market their products this way highlight the characteristics that supposedly make them the best choice of all the companies in their field, but they fail to address every customer’s number-one question: “What’s in it for me?”

Companies that make this mistake are behaving as if their customers need to buy their category of products or services; so all that matters is standing out from the competition. But this is almost certainly not the case. Companies that focus their copy exclusively on their competitive differences fail to acknowledge that the first question a prospect asks when beginning the buying process is “why do I need any of you to begin with?”

Companies that only market their competitive differences don’t acknowledge that the customer also has the choice to buy nothing. Keeping this in mind, the best copywriting then starts by selling the prospect on the idea that they need the entire category of goods or services that the company provides, and then only afterwards will they try to sell them on why they are the best option in that category. In his book Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore outlines how to follow this process by creating both a “Product Alternative” and “Market Alternative” in order to effectively answer the question “What’s in it for me?” and close the sale.

The “Market Alternative” shows the prospect that your category of product or service is the best choice for them. So if you sell word processing software, you would show all of the advantages it has compared to using a typewriter. This is the “What’s in it for me?” step of the sales process. After the prospect understands what makes word processing software superior to a typewriter, only then would you go into the details about why Microsoft Word is a better program than Corel WordPerfect. This is where you can finally talk about the stuff most companies cover in their marketing materials, skipping the first step all together. Things like how your software is easier to use, or has better customer service to navigate the transition from typewriters to word processors, or costs less.

But if you don’t take the time to convince the prospect that they need to upgrade to a word processor, they will happily just continue using their typewriter.

Let’s look at another example of a car company marketing a sports car. If your competitor has 350 horsepower, you will probably be tempted to build a car with 400 horsepower and then focus all of your marketing around that. This sounds like a great strategy — but it’s not, because 400 horsepower is an emotionless specification that was created by your engineering department. It doesn’t do anything to connect with the target audience’s core desires or what moves them emotionally.

Instead of focusing on the horsepower, marketing copy that approaches the ad from the customer’s number-one question of “What’s in it for me?” would focus on the excitement of driving a fast car, the adrenaline rush of taking a tight corner at top speed, and the thrill of feeling like you’ve been shot out of a gun when you hit the accelerator. Those descriptions are emotionally charged and will make thrill-seeking customers who are looking to buy a new car pay attention. You can back up these claims by giving them the horsepower specifications after you appeal to their emotions to prove your car will deliver the performance you promise.

If the hypothetical car company from the example above bases their copy around the sports car’s horsepower, they are essentially assuming that the customer has already made up their mind to buy a sports car and now is trying to compare the different options to make the best selection. This might be effective in capturing the small segment of the target audience where a sports car is all they are interested in. However there is a much larger segment of the market that hasn’t made up their mind yet about exactly what kind of car they want to buy. A customer trying to decide between a luxury sedan and a sports car doesn’t need to be sold on horsepower. They need to be shown why they want to buy a sports car instead of a luxury car, and only after that do they need to be shown why your sports car is the best on the market. In other words, you need to sell them on your Market Alternative (sports cars vs. luxury cars) before you sell them on your Product Alternative (Lamborghini vs. Porsche)

The question “What’s in it for me?” is at the center of a customer’s purchase decision, and now you know how to craft better marketing copy that doesn’t ignore this question by first presenting the Market Alternative before showing your brand is the best option as the Product Alternative.

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Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.

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