Finding the roots of your reader’s desires.
When coming to write copy, many people have a great topic but stumble over the headlines and content generation. Sometimes it’s easy to get blinded to how to write about your subject – be it a service, product or opportunity – if you are too close to it.
Most people revert to a default setting and talk about all the features of their offering. How it can show the time in four different continents, increase comfort on long journeys, process transactions quicker than a rival product, or even sell your services for you.
It’s just a list of facts. While these are useful to know, they don’t tell the reader how the offering will affect their lives. So, the more savvy business owner will extrapolate benefits from these features the help the reader understand how the product will make life easier for them.
They might talk about how it means they will know exactly when their contact in Australia will be in the office, or feel less back pain in the car, see money land in their account more quickly, or spend time with family rather than chasing leads.
This is getting a lot better. We can see stories starting to emerge and situations where the target market will be able to picture themselves having a problem solved, endearing them further to the product.
But we can still go deeper. People make decisions based on emotions, not logic, and by digging down into the core reasons for people to act we can appeal to their real motivations.
Why you need to keep asking why.
I expect you will have read Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Obviously his book relates to business philosophy and how conveying your core reason to exist in everything you do will help inspire both your workforce and your customers. People don’t just buy what you sell; they buy why you sell it.
In a smaller way, asking ‘why’ is also the perfect strategy for connecting with the reader. You can try to emphasise the reasons and benefits around a product or service, but by sticking with the question you can get to the centre of why they would want to buy it.
I find this tactic particularly useful when generating tag lines, headlines or sub-headers. They need to touch a nerve with the reader and keep them reading, and I prefer to use something different to the common ‘bucket brigades’ like: ‘And there’s more…’, ‘But the best part?’, etc.
The story of the quarter-inch drill bit
The common folk-tale around this question concerns trying to sell a quarter-inch drill bit. This is a story much-told in copywriting 101 courses.
The drill bit could have many noble features the marketer could shout about – its toughness, compatibility, diamond tip, respected brand name, ease of use and maybe also cheap price.
But in the end, these are all mere features. The customer is not buying those; in fact, it could be argued they’re not buying the quarter-inch drill bit at all. What they are buying is a quarter-inch hole in the wall. That’s the end result they want, it’s why they are buying it. This is also where the story usually finishes, and we feel the satisfying tingle of understanding an interesting thought experiment.
But then one marketer took it a stage further: it’s not the hole in the wall they’re buying. It’s the feeling of love they get from seeing the photo of their kids, or parents, or grandchildren hanging on the wall. This is really what inspires them, and why they are buying it.
In simple terms, we could start the advert or article about the humble quarter-inch drill bit with: “Finally – bask in the warmth of your grandchildren’s smiles.” For a hardware ad, it would certainly attract attention, tells a story, gives the prospect a nudge, pulls heartstrings and encourages the sale.
What happens when you keep asking why.
To get to the core reason a customer might want what you’ve got to offer, you have to keep asking why. It’s never the first, logical reason.
You could keep asking why until there are no whys left, but I’ve found that it usually takes 4 rounds of ‘why’ to get to the point I need. Some people advocate going to 7 or even 9, but by that time we could be pondering the Zen of existence itself…
So, here’s an example (for a company selling training in Xero accounting software):
‘Why do you want to get trained in Xero?’
– To understand how to do accounting better.
‘So, why do you want to be better at accounting?’
– To be valuable at work, and get things done.
‘Why would you want to get things done better and be valuable?’
– To score brownie points with the boss
‘Why would you want to score brownie points with your boss?’
– To get a promotion or a raise.
And there’s our line: ‘Get yourself first in line for a raise with our training.’
Here’s another example for a line for a painter’s website:
‘Why would you buy this painting?’
– Because it brings life and colour to my wall.
‘Why would you want life and colour on your wall?’
– Because it makes me feel adventurous and dramatic
‘Why do you want to feel adventurous and dramatic?’
– Because there’s more to life than these four walls
‘Why do you want more to life than these four walls?’
– Because I need something enriching, something spiritual
Which leads to the lines:
‘Windows to worlds beyond your four walls’
‘Images that are both enriching and spiritual’
This may all seem very obvious to you, looking at it on your screen, but those times when I’ve been searching for solid ideas for headlines I have found it an enormously useful exercise to do.
An alternative to asking Why is to ask ‘What is it about [X] that appeals to me?’ And then keep asking it again about the answer to each preceding question. The result is the same.
Ah, but don’t forget…
Of course, benefits and features still matter. Any promotional material still needs the logical stuff to back it up: tell the reader about the facts of the service and how it will do a great job, in exactly the way they need it to.
But only do this after you’ve established the emotional reason why the customer will need to buy. The customer might want to buy for the emotion we have identified, but they will often need to rationalise their decision so they can justify it either to themselves or someone else.
Why? Because other people might not approach the product or service with the same emotional connection that your customer has. We’re all individuals after all.
This is how sticking with why can give you all the lines you need. There are other ways to generate headings and sub-heads, but I’ll save that for another post!
Want help with your headlines and website content? Drop me line via my contact page and we’ll be able to talk about what I can do for you.