“Hey Fred, why should I give a sh#t?”

That was what the voice on the other end of the phone said to me almost 30 years ago.  I was working for an organization that built housing for the homeless in New York.  We were pitching a community in Westchester county, one of the more expensive collection of zip codes in the country, for permission to build a facility for homeless women and children in a wooded area on the outskirts of town.

My boss at the time had a friend who was a very accomplished ad industry veteran.  He asked me to share with this friend the copy and design for a promotional brochure about the proposed facility.  I thought the piece did a great job outlining all the ways this facility was going to create a safe, clean environment to help women and small children achieve independence.

I was not prepared for his response, which I quote directly in the headline of this blog post.  He was looking at it from the point of view of the neighbors to this proposed facility.

While I didn’t consider myself a markerter back then, I learned one of the most fundamental lessons of the craft that day.  Anytime you ask for someone’s attention, let alone their engagement or investment, they need to know what’s in it for them.

Almost daily we are flooded with messages about new products and services.  And all too often the messaging focuses on all the shiny new features and attributes the advertiser believes makes their offering the superior choice.

Yet focusing on the features, how a product or service works, just says “let’s talk about me.”  Talk to much about yourself and people will think you’re a huge bore.

Great marketing focuses on the benefits or outcomes for the customer.  Most people, with exception of hard core fans, don’t get excited by features.  They get excited by finding something that makes their lives better.  It’s the old adage that people don’t buy drills, they buy 3/4″ holes.

Benefit driven messaging is a simple concept that every marketer knows.  But it’s not always easy to execute, particularly in large organizations where there are heavy doses of group think about what makes them special.  The pressure to talk about what years of product R&D investment has yieled can be enormous.

My advice, of which admittedly I’ve needed reminding over the years, is to make sure you always have someone who can look at your campaign and ask why they should give a sh#t.

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