You should be talking about people, not products

I’m certain your company offers outstanding products or services. I’m just as certain that the best way to promote those products or services is to stop talking about them.

I’m not suggesting that marketing efforts are useless or the products or services should sell themselves. What I am saying is that too many companies become so focused on their products and services that they forget why those products and services exist.

Whether you offer mediation or cotter pins, what you provide ultimately exists to serve people. Your CPA firm may offer auditing services, but you deliver those services to company owners and executives who want to be certain that their books are accurate and legal. You might produce ball bearings that keep industrial machinery spinning at tens of thousands of RPMs, but they exist so the owners of that machinery won’t lose sleep worrying about breakdowns.

Because companies are proud of their products and services, they often assume the best way to promote them — whether through ads, a website, social media, or any other channel — is to tell everything about them. They try to pack in as many features as possible and add gee-whiz words like “top-quality” and “world-class” to seal the deal. That’s marketing, right?

Not really. Put in simple terms, effective marketing is about finding a need, developing a way to fill that need, making the person in need aware of it, and convincing them to buy it. Putting all your effort into saying wonderful things about the features of your product or service is the equivalent of standing there and shouting, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!”

So what should you be doing? Start by getting to know the people who need your products or services. Then help them understand how your product or service will improve their lives, lower their stress, save them money — whatever its advantages may be. And do it in ways they’ll understand.

You could follow the engineering team’s advice and say, “our veeblefetzer uses a three-segmented fribjit” (because they’re really, really proud of that fribjit). But that information is probably useless to the customer unless you let them know why it’s important. Suppose you instead said something like, “you’ll core radishes in less time, because our exclusive fribjit holds the radish in place.”

What I’ve just done is shifted from talking about a feature to describing a benefit. Features are what make your product or service different; benefits are why they’re important to customers.

Instead of talking to customers about what makes your team proud or what’s important to you, talk about what matters to them. Someone who processes radishes is trying to handle as many as possible, with less waste and downtime. If you talk about those factors, and then show how your product accomplishes that, you’ll demonstrate a genuine interest in helping them be more productive and successful.

A particularly effective way to do that is in the form of a story. Instead of forcing the prospect to guess at what’s in it for them, share a story that shows what it did for someone else. We relate better to messages that are in the form of stories, whether we call them case studies or testimonials.

Tell me Roger’s Produce Processing increased their throughput of radishes by 34 percent and cut waste by 12 percent thanks to your product, and it’s easy for me to compute what that kind of performance could do for my radish lines. But tell me that your world-class veeblefetzer uses titanium zimzams, and I don’t know why that matters.

If you’re not sure what your customers want to hear or how to say it, spend some time in the field with your sales staff. Chat with folks at trade shows. Gather current customers into focus groups to develop a better understanding of what’s most important to them. Then use what you learn to transform your marketing into language that meaningful to your customers. That’s what will get those customers talking about you.