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Marketing’s First Principle Improves Your Writing, And Your Sales

earn moneyA guest post by Ellie Winslow

You’re a writer!  Your job is to write, right?  And like you, I am a writer, too.  I just want to get those words and the information down on the page and bring joy or satisfy curiosity or ease anxiety because I’m providing the information they need.

Marketing is for widgets, not words, right?

Well, maybe not.  Let’s take a look at some ideas peripheral to the world of writing.  I bring a specific perspective to this subject, because I write about marketing.

True, I write for a small niche audience of hobby farmers and homesteaders.  And they need to sell their animals and crafty things.  Selling a sheep or a jar of blackberry jam, a dozen eggs or an alpaca is far removed from what writers do.

Except, perhaps, when it isn’t so far removed.

Human nature

Let’s start by looking at some facets of human nature.  We’re all pretty much self-centered.  Though I can care about many, no one is more interesting to me than I am.  And you find yourself the most fascinating person, too.  Readers are also fascinated with themselves.  As a matter of fact, this fascination with self extends to all people pretty much in all cultures and times.  It is the nature of human psychology.  Because it is the nature of the beast, all religions, all philosophies the world over have some version of the Golden Rule in their tenets.  Humans need to be reminded that other people matter too, and to basically get out of our own heads to attend to them.

So here I am today, reminding you as writers, that you’re not the most interesting thing to your readers.  Even more, when you have to sell an idea, a book, or an article proposal, that agent, editor or potential customer just isn’t much interested in hearing all about you.  They are so wrapped up in their own stuff, their own needs and hopes, that what you say about you and your writing just isn’t very interesting to him.  Not very interesting equals not noticed, not hooked, not sold.

On the other hand, what you want (“your stuff”) might actually be the answer for what at least some want on their  horizon.

Another fact about humans, however, is that it’s hard work to think.  They might be able to do the thinking required to go from “I want an article that really brings in advertisers” to “Here’s a writer with expertise and a new slant on a subject that will attract X, Y, Z advertisers.”

But you can make it so much easier and set the hook when you short circuit the hard thinking job.  Tell them that he’ll get more advertisers with your idea and expertise—and tell them why!  Now, instead of just talking about your idea, you’ve applied it to what that customer is REALLY interested in—their own needs.

Features and benefits

What I’ve just described is the difference between features and benefits.  Features are facts.  Benefits are why the facts matter.  And the difference between presenting facts or presenting why the facts matter can make a huge, major, jumbo difference.  It can make a difference to your readers’ interest, but it can make an even bigger difference in how you sell yourself and what you want to write, i.e., in getting the job or in selling the manuscript.

Marketing is really just about good people skills (relationships) and persuasion.  The Golden Rule eases relationships.  This first and most important principle of marketing is a little like learning a new language.  In fact it involves translating from one language (me and my stuff) into another language (the others’ interests, hopes, dreams, needs, wants).  Like learning a foreign language, it takes practice.  I can say that with some confidence because I also teach seminars about marketing all over the US.

In these seminars, I have the attendees practice this skill.  I have them pick one fact about what they sell, then try to come up with one or more benefits (why the fact matters).  Why something matters depends on knowing who you’re talking to.  You have to get into his psyche to know what matters, of course!   After some practice, everybody seems to “get it” pretty well.

At the end of my marketing seminars, in exchange for their written evaluations, I offer a free short consult on a marketing project or ad they’re working on.  Without fail, when I hear from them for their free consult, they have written their marketing headline or article putting themselves and their stuff first.  Common;  it’s human nature.  It’s hard to translate.  It takes practice.  Sometimes it takes scripting.

Remembering to put the customer first

So here are some more ideas that I use to help people remember to put the customer (reader) first.

Imagine you are going on a fishing trip, figuring out what sort of bait to use to catch the fish you’re going after.  You may LOVE bananas on your cereal in the morning, but if you want to catch fish, you won’t be using bananas.  You have to use worms.  Marketing is about baiting the hook.  So next time you need to sell an idea or your expertise or a manuscript, ask yourself if you’re baiting your hook with bananas or worms.

Selling hope

Once upon a time, a guy named Max Factor was at a Hollywood party when someone asked him what he did.  His response is worth remembering.  He said, “In the factory we make cosmetics.  In the stores, we sell hope.”  Remember that you’re selling hope, too.

When you’re writing or talking to a potential customer (remember your reader, your spouse, your kids, your coworkers might be potential ‘customers’, too)  notice what pronouns are at the beginning.  When I see ads, headlines or letters that start off with “I,” “we,” “our,” or other personal pronouns, I know they forgot to put the customer first.  And the customer (unimpressed because it’s not relevant to himself) skips it or ignores it or never even notices.

Always assess what you’re writing or saying by asking yourself, “Who is this about?”  If it’s about you, turn it around so it’s about the listener/reader.

“I have a great idea for a story for you,” needs to be translated to “You’re going to be on the edge of your seat with this story.”

“My new book is the answer to most of life’s relationship frustrations,” could better put the customer first with, “Make your relationship frustrations a thing of the past, with this new book by….”  In these examples the information is the same, but the customer first (you at the end) is what gets his attention.

And the thing you’re selling isn’t what the buyers/readers actually want.  They wants the feelings they imagines they’ll  get when they read/buy your thing.  So talk to them about their feelings, not the facts.  Emotion sells (actually 95% of sales are closed on emotion)—whether it’s an alpaca or a book, a new car or a how-to article.

Feelings sell!  It’s the Golden Rule in action, and it really works!

Now it’s your turn. Have you been able to apply Ellie’s Golden Rule of marketing, even if you didn’t call it that? What gets in your way? What tricks do you have to remind yourself to put the customer first? Let’s talk about this in comments.

Ellie Winslow,lives and writes from Gaylord, Oregon where she grows and writes about about  exotic plants and superfruits. She also teaches marketing through books and workshops to hobby farmers and homesteaders at http://beyondthesidewalk.com and about aging and wellness at http://mindingthemiddleagedmiddle.com

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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • I am an AWAI Certified copywriter, and I can tell you, Anne, this is one of THOSE genuine posts that hit the nail right on the head.

    Keep up the great work, Ellie!

    If you have time, do visit and comment on my blog. I would like you to come and see it. Ron.

    • Ellie does know her stuff for sure.

    • Thanks for the nice words, Ron. Joined your notification list. Thanks! Nothing like having to teach copywriting to make me learn it thoroughly! Would love to talk more…

  • More things to remember and bookmark. 🙂

    Thanks for this, Ellie; the bananas / worms thing is a great visual to help me remember this. And Steve, for even more insight in comments. Love that “So what?” thing, ha ha. I have a hard time with this–not a salesperson or marketer, and I’m a so-what’er.
    Elizabeth West recently posted..2012 in Review- Happy New Year!My Profile

  • Thanks for these great marketing tips!

    It is essential to put the customer/reader/audience first instead of your ego. It’s not about you. It’s about how you can solve whatever problems your client and or reader has. It helps if you’re vulnerable. Be open and honest with your client and reader. Let them know that you’ve been where they are and that there is a light at the end of tunnel. There is hope.
    Amandah recently posted..One Simple Lesson Will Boost Your Non-Profit Organization’s Donations and SupportMy Profile

    • “you” is probably the most powerful sales word there is.

  • I totally agree with you Ellie. I strive to achieve it whenever I’m writing, though I never called it a golden rule. A couple days back I was reading a report on the art of writing headlines and there was a section: 10 Hottest Money Making Words for Your Headlines”. Guess what, the word ‘You’ was used 31 times in 100 most popular headlines and ‘Your’ 14 times. Interesting, right?
    Ali | Writers Blog recently posted..5 Little-Known Reasons Why Writers Should Use GmailMy Profile

  • Alejandra Pettey

    Yes now a days original and SEO oriented content is the best way to do the internet marketing.

  • This is something we all know inately but it’s harder than it looks to implement. Thank you for the practical advice and the good exmples! It might also be a good idea to have a few friends or family members, representing your customer base, to bounce marketing ideas off of!
    Kimberly Jones recently posted..48 Tips for Persuasive CopywritingMy Profile

    • Kimberly, we often bounce ideas off each other in the 5 Buck Forum… if you’re interested… http://aboutwritingsquared.com/join2.html

    • Hi, Kimberly.

      Features are easy; benefits, not so much. To be really effective, you need to drill down the the core benefit, the one that really matters. Use the “So what?’ principle to do this.

      When you think of a feature and/or benefit, ask, “So what?” Answering that question will drive you deeper into the real benefit. Keep your target market in in your mind’s eye when you do this.

      For example, you’re going to sell me, a grandpa, a riding lawnmower. It has a 60 inch cut, larger than any on the market.
      So what?
      It cuts more grass in one pass than other mowers.
      So, what?
      You get your lawn cut in half the time . . .
      Better, but so what?
      You get your lawn mowed before the grandkids show up . . .
      Better still, but so what?
      You’ll have more time to spend with them, going to the zoo, the park, the waterslide, the . . .
      I’ll buy it.

      Probably not the best example, and could be given more thought. But, I think you can see the process. Again, get your target market firmly in mind. If you don’t know who they are, what they think, what makes them tick, you won’t know how to sell to them.

      Describe them, build a profile. Give them a name. Once you can “see” them, you will know how to write your copy.

      Steve Maurer recently posted..What Your Writer Needs to KnowMy Profile

      • One other thing I’d like to mention.
        Be careful about asking friends and family. Make sure they give you a straightforward answer.

        Mom thinks anything I write it gold. I write amazing copy, according to her.

        My brother in Hawaii, different story. He is also a businessman and will give me an honest, well thought opinion. I often bounce ideas off him because we’ve always had a history of honest brainstorming. That’s the kind of person you need to bounce your ideas off.
        Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

        • Good to have an honest look at your writing… I have one son who writes and I’m always honest with him.

      • Pretty good example, actually.

        • I can’t take credit for the technique, though. That’s actually an excercise taught in several of the courses from American Writers and Artists, Inc.

          Take each feature separately and write it on a piece of paper. Under it, start your series of So What benefits. Put anything down that comes to mind. When you start getting silly ones, you’ve probably hit the core somewhere in that list.

          Do this for each feature. Not only do you have the core benefits for each one, but now you have a marketing strategy for each type of customer that you’ll market to.

          Do this because, taking the mower example, you will market differently to a 55 year old grandfather than you will a 26 year old dad. Or a sports fanatic, hunnter, fisherman, a young mom or a person with a lawn mowing business. Fit the message to the target market, knowing that you may need to create different marketing copy for each type.
          Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

          • Geeze, this is good stuff, Steve. Thanks

  • Ellie,
    Fantastic article reminding us that our products and services and marketing should focus on our readers’ need, not on our own.
    Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

    • Thanks, Steve. Ellie knows her stuff for sure.

    • Thanks, Steve. Personally I can never get too many reminders to get out of my own head, lol, and I teach this stuff!.
      Best wishes,

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