In 2013, I learned a tough lesson about what happens when businesses don’t answer the “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) question in their copywriting…
I was a Senior Business Transformation Consultant in a group with a mandate to modernize the Ontario Public Service.
That’s right, ‘modernize’. It sounds vague and a bit daunting, and it was both.
But we were making headway. We were leading things that had rarely been done in the public service…in fact, that few people in the ministries even understood.
To be clear, it wasn’t for lack of marketing that we weren’t understood.
We ran content marketing, video training, event marketing and more. Every chance we got, we told people that we were helping create a ‘modern government’, a ‘transformed government’.
Sounds impressive, right?
And yet, we missed the mark.
What’s really in it for your customers?
One of the Deputy Ministers hit on a chilling truth when he said our group was “the best-kept secret” in the ministry.
How could that be when we were working so hard to market ourselves?
We made the all-too-common mistake of marketing the wrong benefits. We marketed the benefits we thought clients should want. Not the benefits they really wanted.
It didn’t matter how much noise we were making. As long as we were trumpeting benefits that felt cold and distant, our value went unrecognized.
This is true for any business. If you aren’t tapping into the real motivations of your customers, you’ll be the best-kept-secret of your industry.
Instead, we needed to convey ‘what was in it’ for executives.
WIIFM is a deeply personal question… so make your benefits personal
Sure, execs liked the ring of ‘modern’ and ‘transformed’. They liked the idea of strategic planning, project management and continuous improvement. But those concepts were too abstract. Too impersonal.
Day to day, leaders are under pressures that have nothing to do with lofty outcomes. They needed to hear that working with us would:
- Solve painful problems with unions
- Improve embarrassing scores on employee surveys
- Meet performance commitments that made them sweat over their ever-shrinking budgets
- Get ahead in their careers and earn performance bonuses
- Impress their bosses (without requiring extra effort)
Those would have been invaluable benefits for execs.
Could we have promised those things openly? Hard to say. Corporate culture encourages coded, impersonal, indirect language.
Assuming we had some freedom to break those norms…
If we’d used copywriting to nail those egocentric, specific, and deeply emotional “WIIFM” motivations, things may have turned out differently.
When it came time for department cuts, executives may have said, ‘No way. We need those guys.’
WIIFM gets to the core of persuasive copywriting
At the time, I was astonished. I didn’t get how the measurable value we’d created could be dismissed.
It wasn’t until later when I really came to understand the essence of persuasive sales copywriting.
You see, I came from a communications background. I did an MA in Communications and then went straight to working in PR, which is about impressions, not conversions.
Sure, I knew how to embed persuasive elements, but it was a far cry from copywriting.
When I left government consulting and started studying copywriting for an e-commerce client, it clicked: your audience will only give you seconds to answer the WIIFM question.
This is true today more than ever.
You can communicate like crazy. You can push out content with great regularity. But if you’re not using the psychological insights of a sales copywriter, you won’t sell.
Ask “WIIFM?” from the perspective of your customer
Too many smart businesses fail because they’re not tuned into what really motivates their customers. Or, because they don’t know how to articulate what matters in persuasive copywriting.
Getting it right isn’t easy, and it’s especially hard when the business is your own.
Sometimes you need an objective outsider to tell you the hard truths; to pull you back from the marketing precipice when you’re about to write your entire website around features and benefits that mean nothing to the people you serve.
And you absolutely need to base your answer to the WIIFM question in deep, voice-of-customer research. It’s the only way to be sure you understand your prospect’s motivations, doubts, fears, dreams. And it’s the only way to nail the right benefits.
Copy that nails the WIIFM question can fail-proof your business
Over time, I’ve learned how to hone in on the motivations that matter. It takes effort and research. We don’t guess. But ultimately, this is the work that will fail-proof your business.
It’s work that will:
- Help your ideal customers immediately connect your business to their needs
- Shorten your sales cycles, because you’ll spend less time selling
- Create more customer satisfaction, because you’ll have made your value clear
- Turn customers into ambassadors who know exactly how to communicate your benefits
Whether you’re offering a service, a product, or Software as a Service, getting your business benefits right will create more growth and resilience, and give you better results for your marketing investments.
Get help communicating what’s in it for your customers
You may be wondering, how did I go from being a management consultant to running a copywriting business?
When I left the public service I knew I had to acquire marketable skills, stat. It had been nearly a decade since I’d worked in private sector communications. Things had changed…but little did I know how.
It all clicked when I discovered conversion copywriting. It was the missing link between communications and results that make people care.
Today, I consult and write conversion-optimized copy for businesses around the world.
With each, I dig deep for audience insight before I write a line of copy – and I don’t let up until we’ve nailed the benefits that will make their ideal customers perk up and take notice. It’s the foundation of our services.
Contact us to learn more.