Ad and marketing creatives

For Effective Copywriting, Focus on Your Customer, Not on Your Company

A while ago I ran across a website written by a management consultant whose target audience included high-level executives. The home page copy was full of "I, I, I," as in "I do this, I do that, I was educated here, I've worked for these companies," blah, blah, blah.

Here's the plain truth: no one cares about you or your company.

In their book The Elements of Copywriting, Gary Blake and Bob Bly advise:

Don't talk about yourself. Don't tell the readers what you did, what you achieved, what you like or don't like. That's not important to them. What's important to them is what they like, what they need, what they want. Make sure your copy discusses facts that are relevant to the reader's self-interest.

It's natural to think that what you find important — namely your company's achievements, processes, and mission — will also be important to your customers. As a result, many product brochures sound like this one:

Founded in 1950, Widget Company has been producing high quality products for industrial and electronic applications for half a century. Our experienced work force is dedicated to producing products, which exceed customer expectations. In addition, we offer unmatched customer service and technical assistance.

What's the typical response to this type of vague and boring copy? Yawn.

Besides, all companies say they produce high quality products, employ an experienced workforce, and exceed their customers' expectations. And who doesn't offer unmatched customer service?

What's the solution to this problem? Differentiate your company by describing the benefits of doing business with you.

One company I worked with wanted to incorporate new messaging into its collateral and wanted everything, from the catalog to the website, to feature the phrase, "new state-of-the-art equipment."

After listening to the marketing communications manager talk for a few minutes, I finally asked, "Why is it important for your customers to know that you have state-of-the-art equipment?" "Oh!" she said, "our parent company purchased new equipment for our plant. Would you like to see our manufacturing facility?"

I love factory tours and while admiring their new equipment, I asked, "Why did your parent company completely redo your manufacturing plant?"

The marketing manager replied, "Well, now we can make our products onsite. Before, we had to outsource everything. Our quality has improved now that we're in control of our manufacturing processes, and we've been able to shorten shipping times and lower prices."

Ah ha! Instead of focusing on the company's equipment, we ended up developing a new tag line, "New Energy, New Drive, New Focus," and in all marketing materials stated how the company had lowered prices, decreased ship times, and improved quality. Sales went through the roof that year.

In short, what your customers really want to know is, "How will your product or service benefit me and why should I use it?"

To develop copy that tells them what they want to know, use the following strategies:

  • Focus on the benefits of your product — Keep in mind the problems your customers routinely encounter and be specific about how your product or service can help solve or eliminate them. Move company-focused information to the back page of brochures and other materials, and off the home page of your website.

  • Give prospects quantifiable details about products and services — Will your product or service reduce overhead? Eliminate downtime? Save money? State this type of information using percentages, numbers, dollar amounts or research statistics.

  • Watch for features masquerading as benefits — Don't assume that readers will intuitively understand the benefits of your product. A sentence that reads, "Acme Software features a unique built-in server for remote control operation," is vague. "Unique, built-in server" is a feature and "remote control operation" isn't really a benefit. You can hear your prospect saying, "So what?"

    Instead, clearly state the real benefits. Changing the sentence to read, "You'll spend 33% less at time at the computer with Acme Software's new remote control capability," will have your prospect saying, "Tell me more!" because the sentence gives a quantifiable benefit.

Writing benefits-oriented copy that answers the question, "What's in it for me?" is a proven strategy for increasing sales response. Connect with your audience by understanding their pain points, tell your story with a fresh perspective, and eliminate vague and boring copy. You'll add power and punch to your marketing materials, and the resulting copy will address your customers' real needs ... and in the process, will help you increase leads and/or sales.

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Dianna Huff is a B2B marketing communications consultant and copywriting expert. You can subscribe to her e-newsletter, The MarCom Writer, at the DH Communications website. To download her latest free e-book, "Five B2B MarCom Strategies to Increase Sales Now," visit MarCom Writer Blog. Click here to read more articles by Dianna Huff.

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Comments from our users:

Monday September 15th 2008, 6:42 PM
Comment by: Dr. Don (Brentwood, CA)Top 10 Commenter
That was encouraging and instructive (and I don't even write this kind of copy very often).
Wednesday September 17th 2008, 3:16 PM
Comment by: Dale P. (Portland, OR)
So true. Thanks for the reminder. We forget that our products and services are not at the center of the Universe for anyone but us marketing folk. With tighter deadlines and fewer resources every day, this lazy writing style creeps back into copy over time.
Thursday September 18th 2008, 7:57 PM
Comment by: Mz_K (Tampa, FL)
Read this article at just the right time. I just rewrote nearly my whole website, thank goodness it hadn't launched yet!
Monday September 29th 2008, 3:36 PM
Comment by: Jane P. (Portland, OR)
Do you have strategies for doing this same kind of thing when it's difficult to really know what a tangible benefit is? In other words, what if something isn't easily measurable?

Is your only option to find out a way to measure something so that you can describe the benefit? Or is there another way to approach this?
Saturday April 4th 2009, 6:40 PM
Comment by: A. Z.
So true! This was an amazing article! And just in time! Luckily I wasn't bound for a disaster if I hadn't read this.

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