I blew it.
Completely and totally, just missed the mark.
I was riding high. The world belonged to me.
I took my new-found confidence with me and started sharing my successes with some close friends. Then I ran into Phil. Phil and I were friendly, but didn’t know each other well. He had overheard me sharing my story and was intrigued. He asked if we could get together for lunch to talk about it, which I immediately accepted.
Later that day, at Panera, I laid out my core strengths. I showed him my business model. I explained how I could transform a business’s marketing. I even wrote a quick blurb about myself that he could include in e-mails to send to his friends.
Years have passed and I haven’t heard back from him or any of his friends.
Because I broke one of the most fundamental laws of marketing. A principle so basic that it will cause a marketing message to succeed with a lousy delivery, or fail with a great performer.
The Law That Will Break You
I talked about myself instead of focusing on the prospect’s needs.
I didn’t uncover his needs or the needs of his friends in the business community. Rather than identify their needs, goals, and opportunities, I kept harping on what I could do, because I thought I was the answer, even though I didn’t know what I was the answer to. I should have been asking strategic questions to determine what the needs actually were.
Stupid. Rookie. Mistake.
I should have known this. If you want me to hire a string quartet to provide some live ambiance for your
(*No, it isn’t.)
If there is one mistake I consistently see small businesses make in their marketing, it’s this one: they talk about themselves:
— The MRI center talks about their state-of-the-art equipment.
— The nutritionist talks about her new cookbook.
— The auto parts store talks about their huge inventory and knowledgeable staff.
All very nice. None of it helpful.
If you want my business, you have to demonstrate that you solve a problem that I know I have. If you don’t do that, I won’t remember.
Now, there are some marketers who have become very proficient at showing me a problem I didn’t know I had and using it to keep me up at night, but you have to work really hard to accomplish that. For most of us, your product/service/idea is only helpful if it solves a known problem.
The question at the heart of successful marketing is your answer to your customer when they ask, “what’s in it for me?”
Your marketing has to be about them — their needs, their desires, and how you can help them get what they want.
I Don’t Want A Fishing Boat, But…
I’m not in the market for a fishing boat at the moment, so the commercial screaming at me about powerful Johnson outboards is going right through one ear and out the other side. I don’t need one, I don’t want one, and I can’t afford one, so if you ask me later what I thought about your ad, I likely won’t remember it.
So, what do I need?
What about a dentist? I could use a dentist right now, but I don’t know which one will meet my needs. I’m new to the area and there are twenty of them in my little town. Each of them has their strengths, weaknesses, and niche. How do I know which one to go to?
Let’s look at their websites. I used to look at their phonebook ads, but who even does that anymore?
I mean, really.
Most dentists’ websites are the same: they are basically business cards with too much information about the practice, stock photos of models smiling, and maybe a photo of the dentist…or maybe the staff (if the dentist cares about showing off their staff).
Here’s the problem with that:
- Your pedigree doesn’t solve my problem. I’m glad you went to dental school, but I don’t know which one makes you a better dentist, according to my needs.
- I don’t care about your equipment. Aside from the drill and the vacuum, I’m pretty clueless about how much the other tools work. Do they hurt?
So far, we’re not winning any business.
We’re trying to answer the question: why should I come to your practice/restaurant/store/office? What’s in it for me?
What Are Our Needs?
A good marketer asks lots of questions of their audience before they present their message. They get the clients talking about themselves. They look for needs and problems they can solve. They look at what the clients want.
For example, by asking questions in normal conversation around town, a dentist might find out that:
- People are tired of cramped waiting rooms, grouchy receptionists, and crappy overhead music.
- People are afraid of the pain people typically associate with dental work.
- People have stereotypes and misconceptions about dentists that keep them away.
So, their marketing will set out to do a couple of things:
- Put people at ease, using soothing colors, testimonies of happy people, and easy-to-understand answers to common questions.
- Answer objections people have. Answering objections preemptively is always a better way to address them.
- Show that their practice is a safe, friendly, comfortable, and/or affordable place to get their dental work done.
In order to do all this, they might focus their marketing on one specific need or objection:
- If they want to target professionals, they might tailor their ads to focus on shorter wait times or convenient evening hours.
- If they want to reach fearful people, they might emphasize their gentle approach.
- If grumpy staff is a prevalent problem in their area, they can hire nice people, emphasize customer service in their office meetings, and advertise how friendly their staff is.
Those are some simple ways that a dentist could differentiate itself from the crowd of other area dentists. At the same time, it may be that none of those things are important to people in their area, so they can’t assume.
To gain a competitive edge in a prospect’s mind, you need to demonstrate that you understand a problem people commonly face or a meet a need they have, but the point is, it’s all about THEM.
What problem do you solve for THEM?
Features And Benefits
I’ve alluded to this a couple of times, but it bears mentioning. Most people do not care about your equipment, your inventory, your degrees, or your location. What they care about is how those things help THEM.
Having a large inventory is nice, but it’s better if you can be assured that the part you need is always in stock and easy to find, so they can get back to their normal life quickly. The large inventory is a feature, but people only care about the benefits those features provide.
Having an expensive new MRI scanner is nice, but it’s better if you can demonstrate that it will make them more comfortable, or assure them of faster or more accurate results. The scanner is a feature, but people only care about how it benefits their lives directly.
The Best Marketing
It also brings up the point that a good experience is the best marketing. If your employees are mean to people (or each other), get them some coaching or fire them. It’s not worth the damage a grouchy employee will do to your business. If you’re a pompous jerk around people, fix that before you run yourself out of town. People don’t care what you know, but they do care how you make them feel. If you solve their problem, but treat them poorly, you will not keep them. Time spent hiring and training people who take care of your customers is a better investment than a television ad. Every time.
If your office/showroom is a pigpen, clean it up. A fresh coat of paint, a clean floor, organized shelves, and clear walkways make a huge difference. Clean up your desk. Hire someone to organize your paperwork. Make your place of business a nice place for people to work. You might even find you like it better yourself.
If you make someone want to come back and refer others, you win. If you don’t, you lose.
What Was In It For Someone Else?
Really sharp businesses share success stories and testimonials.
I could tell you all day long that I am great at what I do, but that doesn’t satisfy the typical person’s need to know that I can solve their problem. It’s more effective to have someone else tell them what a great job I did for them. And if you REALLY want to hit the sweet spot, the testimony should LOOK like THEM.
What do I mean by that?
That means that I should have a testimony of another time that I solved the same problem they have. When I talk to a chiropractor about marketing, I talk about the other chiropractors I’ve helped, not the churches or software companies (although there are some commonalities).
If I own a car parts store and you don’t know much about cars, then the testimonies I show you should include people who don’t know much about cars. Rather than having a booming male voice-over telling you:
“We have the biggest inventory of premium brand-name parts in town.”
It would be better to have a person like you say:
“My car was making funny noises, and I didn’t want to pay a fortune to a mechanic, but I didn’t really know what to do. I came to Chad’s Auto Parts. They asked me questions about my car, found the exact right part I needed, showed me the difference between the more and less expensive options, showed me step by step how to replace it, and made me feel like I was competent to do it myself. And it worked!”
People can relate to that. Most people don’t know the difference between expensive “premium” parts and cheap parts, and many don’t care. A good testimony demonstrates that my auto parts store addresses several needs at once:
- We know how to diagnose and solve your problem.
- We know the best parts to use and the difference between price points.
- We treat you with respect, patience, and kindness.
- You can feel safe here.
- We empower you to take action for yourself with confidence.
Isn’t that the kind of place you would want to shop?
Extra points for using testimonials that physically resemble the audience you are trying to reach. Want to bring more women through your door? Have women in your testimonials. Trying to reach out to the Hispanic community? Have Hispanics in your testimonials (a bi-lingual receptionist is also a good investment for that).
Also, use video as much as you can for your testimonials. Professionally-produced videos are best, but if you put your iPhone on a tripod (stand it sideways, not tall) and position it about 2-3 feet from their face with decent lighting, it will work just fine. Some people are snobs about that sort of thing, but I produce videos for a living and I will tell you the iPhone is fine for most things. For your print materials, include a screen shot form the video and a transcript of what they said. It’s easy and effective.
Give Them What They Want
We’re all human, and we all want to talk about ourselves. We want to get people’s attention. We want to get our important message out. We want what we want. But at the center of that need is ego – self-centeredness – and you can’t be a massive success if you’re always in the way.
Get yourself out of the way. You are not the issue here. The other person wants to be the center of attention, too. Make the other person the center of attention and you will be successful.
Whether you’re a business, a performer, a non-profit, a school, or a government agency, you have a message you want to get across to people. If you want to reach people with your message and have it stick with them, you don’t need a gimmick, you just need to meet the other person’s need. Find out what people really want and find a way to give it to them, even if it’s just to pay attention to them. Show them that you can give it to them, and then make the experience so outstanding that they want to come back again and again.