Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

The Supreme Rule of Marketing Writing You Need to Know.

with 7 comments

Whether you’re selling crime fiction, pitching an idea to your boss, or hawking toupees, you need to let an audience know that what you’ve got is available. But that’s not enough. You need to say, “Hey, this is for sale and here’s why you care.”

And that last part is key.

So here’s my Supreme Rule of Marketing Writing:
It’s all about the benefit to the customer.

I know it’s deceptively simple, but think about it. When you make a pitch through an ad, a cover letter, or whatever else, the person on the receiving end knows you’re trying to sell them something. And what’s going on in their head boils down to one thing: Why do I care?

Well, it’s your job to tell them why they care. And don’t confuse features with benefits!

Features vs. benefits using toupees:
“The Fabrico 9000 hairpiece is made with the ultimate in gluing technology and hyperhirsut synthetics.”

Those are features … completely made-up features, sure, but still features. It’s what’s in the product. If you want to sell it effectively, you need to look at those features and ask yourself who gives a damn and why. Then you’re left with something like:

“Look and feel confident for years to come with affordable, life-like hair!”

In this case, the benefits are the confidence and the savings you’re offering your customer. This is the stuff they really care about.

The first sentence says what the product has that makes it special. The second tells your audience what that special thing means to them. Too often, people who are doing the selling are so close to the product it’s hard to see the basic benefits it offers. You can use the ultimate in gluing technology until your eyes pop out, but if you don’t clearly translate it into a benefit for your consumer, who cares?

To sum up:
To get the most out of your marketing, you have to tell your audience how it benefits them. It saves time. It makes them more attractive. It makes them smarter. It makes all the dog poop in their yard disappear. Even if you’re querying an agent about your novel, remember that he’s not interested in your book because you’re the next William Faulkner; the agent’s interested in it because he can sell your novel and get 15%.

Let me put it this way: Would you rather read a weekly blog on writing? Or would you like to take your writing from boring to brilliant in just 500 short words a week?

Perhaps I should post about the dangers of overstating your benefits. But that can wait for another week. ;-)

© Nathanael Green and 500 Words on Words, 2009.

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Written by Nathanael Green

January 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the great tips, Nate. It makes me think of Apple’s marketing. They don’t talk about their specs very much – they tell you how their products will make your life easier and more productive.

    Like you said, it’s a simple concept, but it’s the kind of thing the general public doesn’t pick up on. Could this trick be considered subliminal?

    Nicklas Hughes

    January 23, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    • Apple is a great example. It seems to me that they focus on real benefits not just in their advertising, but also in their product development.

      But I don’t think I’d consider it a subliminal trick to tell people the benefits. I think if you’ve got a good product, it’s just a matter of communicating clearly. It’s up to them whether the benefits are worth the price, after all. But if you’re just pushing features, you’re asking your audience to do some extra mental legwork that’s unnecessary and might hurt your chances of finding someone who actually wants what you’ve got and doesn’t know it yet.

      Nathanael Green

      January 23, 2009 at 9:55 pm

  2. Nate,

    This does clear a lot up for me, but I do have a few questions.

    Whenever I hear something like “This product will change your life…” or other such benefit-like claims, I’m the kind of person who usually thinks, “okay, this is BS.” On the rare instance that a claim like this grabs me, the first thing I want to know is how and/or why, which is where the features come in.

    Am I in the minority of people who think this way? Because for me, the features are what really sells a product.

    And also, are you suggesting that you use the “benefit” line of writing as the hook and then bust out the features when you have someone’s attention?

    Brian O'Rourke

    January 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    • Good questions, Brian. My quick answer is that you’re right: the features are what sells a product, but only because the features enable the benefit.

      Any marketing piece is like a resume. It’s great to talk about you and what you’ve done, but the best ones show how your experience translates to helping your employer. You lived in Zimbabwe? That’s a feature of your past that might make you interesting at cocktail parties. But you lived in Zimbabwe where you learned how to handle the legalities of importing and exporting first-hand? That translates your experience to show just what makes you valuable to the company … but only if they import and export.

      And that brings me to the next point. You said when some benefit does grab you, you want to know more. That’s because that product is offering something that you view as potentially enhancing your life. And one of two things is going on: A) they’ve communicated a real benefit to the audience they intended, or B) they made up false claims to get your attention.

      So then yes, it’s a matter of supporting the benefit claims with the features. Not every benefit applies to every person, so it can be kind of a crap shoot in the first place just to reach the right people. But when you do, I think it’s important to make sure they get the message you want them to have. And considering people are hip to marketing, you don’t have a lot of time to do it, so don’t make them make the mental leap from features to benefits; give them benefits supported by features.

      You can use any hook that gets people’s attention, but I still suggest getting to benefits quickly.

      Of course, there are millions of ways to approach any marketing writing. And often I need to give examples of features to support the benefit claims. But no matter what I’m working on, the very first thing I do is outline what the exact benefit is to the audience. If I don’t know exactly why someone would want to buy something, how will they know?

      Nathanael Green

      January 24, 2009 at 7:26 pm

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