What Do You Really Sell?

hole in the wall image

Image thanks to: gravityx9

What are you selling your clients?  Holes? or drills?

You may think this is an odd question. Hardware? This is a marketing blog, why in the world is she talking about home improvement projects? What’s gotten into Jodi today? Has she forgotten to drink her morning tea?

Nope. I had the tea (Russian Caravan).

The reason for the hole is there’s an old marketing saying which says, “sell the hole, not the drill.” In other words, the solution, not the means of getting it.

What you really sell


“Why, I’m in the design business!” Or, “I’m a writer, I sell words.”

Well, you are. But, you’re also in the solution business. A writer isn’t really selling words. Nobody buys a vowel in everyday life.  What writers are really selling is products, or magazines, or web site visits. A graphic designer is selling visual and emotional appeal (which helps sell more products).

What people really buy

Is a dentist selling teeth whitening? Not really. White teeth don’t work better than yellow teeth. But they do look better. What the dentist is actually doing is selling patients on the idea that they’ll feel better and attract more positive attention from men/women if they have nicer looking teeth. It’s not health they’re selling, it’s sex appeal.

A tour company that specializes in trips to the South Pole isn’t selling a vacation. They’re selling a rugged adventure that appeals to people who want unusual experiences.

Likewise, teachers aren’t selling education or memorizing facts and dates. If she’s a good teacher, she’s selling problem-solving, leadership, and the ability to think for yourself.

When you talk to potential clients or customers what do you tell them? What’s the problem you solve? Do you think this is important? Or, do I need another cup of tea?

12 Ways to Turn Your Failed Marketing into a Gold Star Winner

gold star
(This post is a continuation of yesterday’s post: Top 12 Reasons Your Marketing Failed).

1. Choose your list carefully

The list/audience is the most important part of your campaign. The best list isn’t the cheapest list, it’s the one that most closely matches your ideal customer AND contains names of people who have previously responded to similar offers. For example, if you are promoting an event, you’ll want names of people who have attended (and paid for) similar events. Banking CEOs will read different blogs, Web sites, or magazines than executives in the trucking industry. Don’t try to reach everybody; just the people who fit your ideal customer profile.

2. Offer something appealing

The more appealing the offer, the better the return. It should reflect your audience’s problems (and offer a solution). If you sell water filters, offer a free tap water analysis. Why this works: 1) free is always good; 2) it gets you an appointment to meet the prospect; 3) once people see what’s in their water, they’ll be more convinced they need a filter system.

3. Make it easy to respond

Keep registration and sign-up forms simple. The fewer fields, the better. Put your contact information (online and off) on your Web site, your brochures, and your postcards. When you get questions or inquiries, answer them quickly and personally. Avoid canned responses.

4. Use the right medium (or fish where the fish are)

Twitter or texting is great for youngsters, but older people are more likely to respond to a television ad or a magazine. Research the demographics of your audience and adapt your campaign accordingly. For example, Hispanics are more likely to open direct mail than non-Hispanics. If you’re not sure, see #6.

5. Write copy that offers benefits

A guarantee is great if it’s specific: Guaranteed. Period. Or, if it offers a clear benefit: risk-free guarantee; use it for 60 days, if you are not satisfied, we’ll return your money. More on this in #12.

6. Pick two or three channels

A small business doesn’t have the time or the resources to use every possible marketing medium. Besides, your customers may not be in all those places. Instead of going “wide”, go “deep.” Focus on two or three; test to see which gets the best response. Or, survey your customers and ask how they prefer to be contacted.

7. Create an emotional selling point

You may think you’re selling say, water filters, but you’re really selling safety, purity, and peace of mind. Focus on that, not how many particles per million your system filters out.

Put it in terms that speak to your customers about their hopes, aspirations, and dreams. What do they want? To save time? To feel better? It doesn’t have to be complicated. An employer with chronically late employees may dream of someone who comes in on time.

8. Talk about your customers’ problems (not your 25 years in business)

Instead of discussing what you do, or how long you’ve done it, reframe the discussion to focus on the customer. Understand their headaches, and offer them a painkiller.

For instance, trade show exhibitors often have to pay high shipping and delivery fees to transport their exhibits. The fact that your exhibits are 28% lighter may seem obvious to you, but it will be a godsend to your customers.

9. Stand out from your competitors

What makes you special or remarkable? Is your service worth talking about? Your guarantee? Your biodedegradeable detergent bottles?

Some examples:

  • Tumi guarantees their umbrellas. If it’s broken, they’ll replace it. No questions asked, no arguments, no filling out your name, phone number, and mother’s date of birth. Just guaranteed.
  • AppleCare will fix your Mac; even if they have to send someone to your office to do it.

10. Write a great headline

Many “award-winning” ads have failed in the marketplace. Why? Because the judges read every word, knew the industry, and were familiar with the contestant’s work. The public doesn’t do that. They’ll glance at the headline, and if it’s appealing, they’ll skim the rest. Here are some tips forwriting headlines that sell.

11. Specify exactly what your customers get by using your product

There’s a reason that Ivory soap is marketed as 99 44/100% pure. It stands out more than nearly 100% would. Many years ago, brewers advertised that their beer was pure. Big headlines proclaimed each brand’s purity in ever increasing type sizes. Then, Schlitz started showing a plate glass room with beer cooled in filtered air, describing how each bottle was washed four times in live steam, and how the brewer drilled down 4,000 feet for pure water.

The truth was that ALL beer was made that way, but nobody said so (since it was “obvious” to the brewer). It wasn’t to the audience though. Beer sales shot up and Schlitz went from 5th to #1 in a few months.

The pictures made the brewing process look different, the copy demonstrated that it WAS pure, and the ads created an emotional reason to buy the beer.

12. Demonstrate you solve problems the customer worries about

Use their language (not industry jargon). Small business owners won’t know (or care) that your computer security software has automated secure offsite incremental backup, redundant connection methods, and intrusion prevention with automatic addition of entries while under attack. They will care if you tell them that it cuts down on the threat of viruses, drastically reduces junk mail, and automatically keeps data safe from attack.

Photo: porcelaingirl (feelslikeceleb)

Top 12 Reasons Your Marketing Failed

fail test1. Sending a mailing to the wrong people.  A free set of steak knifes won’t get a response from vegetarians.

2. Offering something nobody wants:  free dog poop!  Or, a bra dryer!

3. Making it hard to respond.  Nobody can find the telephone number, see the buttons, or take the time to answer 23 questions.

4. Using the wrong medium.  You’re using Twitter to reach senior citizens.

5. Writing boring copy:  “We’ve been in business 25 years.  We guarantee our work.  Please buy from us.”

6. Trying to use every medium (direct mail, email, speaking, magazine ads, directory listings, articles, and banner ads) and spreading your message and resources too thinly.

7. No emotional selling point (not what your product does, but how it makes people feel).

8. Talking about yourself (see #5), instead of about your customers.

9. It’s indistinguishable from your competitors.

10. Great copy, but a poor headline, so nobody looks at the headline or reads the ad.

11. Being too vague; promising great results without specifying what they’ll be.

12. Failing to show how you solve a problem the customer cares about (maybe a way to quickly clean up all that dog poop?).

Tomorrow, 12 ways to turn your failed marketing into a winner.

Photo adapted from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/92239147@N00/462868700/ elginwx