Here’s the best way to ensure that your customers don’t pay attention to your brochures, ads, web sites, press releases and sales presentations: Talk about your products and services and about how great your company is.

Seriously, in your life as a customer, are you ever impressed by other companies’ self-congratulatory, chest-beating marketing copy?

I’m not. And I think I’m a pretty typical customer.

Sorry, but your customers don’t care about your story

One of the most important principles marketers need to recognize is that customers don’t care about companies’ stories. Customers care about their own stories.

If your company, in its marketing communications, spends too much time talking about its products and services, your customers will spend very little time paying attention to what you have to say.

Ultimate Copywriting #1: Talk about your customers, not about you

If you want customers to pay attention to what you have to say, talk about them, not about yourself. Since they care a lot more about themselves than they care about you, doesn’t it makes a lot more sense to talk about what your customers care about?

What does this mean, “talk about your customers, not about you?”

It means that your copywriting needs to focus on the impact your products and services have on customers, not on who your company is, or what it does. I just saw a TV ad where Delta Airlines claimed to be one of the biggest airlines in the world. So what? What good does that do for me?

Look at 100 websites. Their copy will be highly focused on the company behind the website, not on the impact they have on their customers’ lives or businesses. “About” pages, a reflexive staple of modern web design, are typically filled with self-centered braggadocio that is soporific for all but the most caffeinated readers.

In the next issue of this newsletter, which will be published on June 5, 2012, I will share a tool that Yastrow & Company uses to focus a company’s story on its customers. It’s called theBrand Pyramid. Stay tuned.

Ultimate Copywriting #2: Have your customers talk about you

It’s obvious that a customer’s comments about a company will be much more credible to another customer than any comments that company makes about itself.

For years, our best tool in this area was the customer testimonial. Now we also have the social web. As Paul Adams writes in his new book Grouped, websites are evolving to be less about content delivery and more about people’s interactions with each other. “The social web” is becoming “the web,” as Adams writes, catching up with the way our offline world works, where people spend a lot more time listening to each other than they spend listening to what companies have to say.

To maximize the effectiveness of your marketing communications, do everything possible to make it easy for customers to talk about you. Make customer comments and reviews as easy as possible for other customers to see. Make it possible for customers to connect with each other. Ask customers if they would agree to be references for other customers.

If the previous paragraph scares you, then you have bigger problems! In this day and age, your customers are more powerful communicators of your message than you are. Raving fan customers are the key to effective marketing communication, as long as you are able to enlist those raving fan customers to be part of your “marketing department.”

Ultimate Copywriting is a goal; get as close as you can

Of course, it’s not always possible for you to focus all of your copy on your customers and for your customers to do all the talking about you. But it is a valuable goal to strive for.

Look at ultimate copywriting as a gold standard, at which you are aiming. At any point in the marketing communications development process, look for opportunities to shift the content of what you say about your company to the impact that you have on your customers. And also be looking for opportunities to have your customers be the ones praising you.


  • Pradeep Henry
    May 22, 2012 - 10:30 am

    In fact, folks, you could use the idea at personal level, too. What’s your personal IMPACT SCORECARD? How are your stakeholders impacted by your “products,” that is, contributions? Hopefully, my Impact Scorecard at illustrates Steve’s advice at the personal level.

  • Glenn Street
    May 22, 2012 - 12:31 pm

    A company rarely mentioned that has always had an interesting blend of talking about themselves and letting customers tell their stories is Patagonia. When talking about themselves their copy is a blend of highlighting their quality products, what they are doing to make their products more environmentally friendly, and introducing you to their employees – many who are outdoor enthusiasts like their customers. They also have channels for customers with inspiring stories about themselves. (storefront) (being a good corporate citizen) (stories about employees, friends, and customers) (what Patagonia is doing to make their supply line more carbon friendly)

    Why Patagonia flies under the radar of marketing pundits is beyond me. Patagonia’s approach has even made an occasional customer like me a rabid fan. What Patagonia is doing must be irresistible nectar for a die-hard outdoorsman who share similar values.

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