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It’s Not You, It’s Them

One of the quickest ways to bore me is to tell me all about the dream you had last night. You were walking somewhere, it was dark, there was a giant talking fish …  yawn. Sorry, don’t care. But if I happened to be in the dream–well, now that’s something different altogether! Please, tell me everything.

Human beings are fundamentally narcissistic in nature. Not in the pathological sense, but in the “I’m more interested in things that are relevant to me and my life” sense. So our challenge as marketers and communicators is to figure out how to make our message more relevant to our audience. It sounds like an obvious suggestion, but it’s actually the opposite of what many businesses do. “Acme Company announces innovative new health widget” is a typical boring business headline. What if instead it read: “New Acme widget improves health for seniors”? Better, right? But what if we took it a step further: “Acme widget saves local grandmother’s life”?  The difference between the first and the third versions is the difference between someone caring about your news or ignoring it entirely.

This reversal is something any business can do. Figure out what impact your product or service has on real people. If possible, identify real-life examples of that impact. Start by interviewing customers who have already bought from you. Ask them about the challenge they faced and how your product or serviced solved it for them.

This works for both B2C and B2B communications, because even in B2B you’re still talking to another human. People want to know–above all else–what’s in it for me? That means you should always lead with benefits, not features. While features are important, what will truly hook your audience is focusing on how your product or service will impact them. Once you’ve got their attention, it’s much easier to enumerate the features that set your product apart.

All too often our writing comes from the wrong place. We’re trying to please the CEO, marketing team, product developers, sales reps – as if pleasing all of those audiences could somehow result in writing that resonates with customers. The only logical way to create copy that our customers will respond to is to focus on those customers in the first place.

Here’s an easy test for whether you’ve created audience-centric copy: compare the number of “me” references (we, I, us, our, my) to the number of “you” references (your, you’re, yours, their). The ideal balance is at least two thirds “you” to one third “me.” Less than that and you probably aren’t connecting with your consumers in a meaningful way.
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, ask not what your copy can do for your business. Ask what your copy can do for your customers.