Seth Godin posted this with more of a “consumer protection” spin on it, but I think it’s fundamental to marketing as well, so I’m going to quote part of the post here, and then elaborate on it a bit. Here’s the excerpted quote, but you really ought to read the entire post:
Here’s one reason we mess up [big decisions about money]: Money is just a number.
Comparing dreams of a great [car] stereo (four years of driving long distances, listening to great music!) compared with the daily reminder of our cheapness makes picking the better stereo feel easier. After all, we’re not giving up anything but a number.
The college case is even more clear. $200,000 is a number that’s big, sure, but it doesn’t have much substance. It’s not a number we play with or encounter very often. The feeling about the story of compromise involving something tied up in our self-esteem, though, that feeling is something we deal with daily.
Here’s how to undo the self-marketing. Stop using numbers.
You can have the stereo if you give up going to Starbucks every workday for the next year and a half. Worth it?
If you go to the free school, you can drive there in a brand new Mini convertible, and every summer you can spend $25,000 on a top-of-the-line internship/experience, and you can create a jazz series and pay your favorite musicians to come to campus to play for you and your fifty coolest friends, and you can have Herbie Hancock give you piano lessons and you can still have enough money left over to live without debt for a year after you graduate while you look for the perfect gig…
Do you see the connection with marketing?
Making numbers, or more commonly features, tangibly and compellingly real to the buyer is exactly what good copywriters are paid to do. And they do it the same way Seth does in that quote:
- By converting numbers and features to human-scaled concrete measures
- By identifying the benefits that really matter to the customer
- By dramatizing those same end benefits and creating identifiable scenarios around them
Telling me that this lightweight luggage is X pounds lighter doesn’t do much for me. It’s just a number, unconnected to anything I might really care about.
Telling me that the saved weight equals the combined weight of an extra sport coat, shirt, and pair of dress pants, basically an entire extra change of clothes without incurring any weight penalties, and I just might become interested in the luggage for an upcoming extended trip.
Remember, a number, unless it’s a dollar-figure that’s going into my bank account, doesn’t directly address the all-important What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) question. But a vision of me enjoying some tangible benefit does.
That’s the obvious part — the tactical practical, must-do part. So if you’re not converting your features into “which means” benefit statements, and then converting those benefits into dramatic, visualizable scenarios, then get on it… and start answering WIIFM with load, clear, and vividly dramatized benefits.
And then, of course, there’s the more subtle part: talking about what this or that feature or characteristic means not in terms of immediate benefit, but in terms of self-identity and shared values. It’s a bit less practical-tactical, but perfect for Theory Thursday…
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