One sunny morning, JC walked into my office and sat down quietly. I was struggling to write a marketing blurb for a software product and so buried in it that I didn’t see him walk in.
“Good morning!”, he finally said when he realized I was coming up for air. “What’s got you so focused?”
“I’m trying to write some ad copy for an import utility that reads data from Microsoft Project into a mindmapping tool called MindManager. I just don’t know what the heck to write.”
He leaned over and read copy from my screen which I recall was something like - “Import Microsoft Project files into Mindmanager. Read Microsoft files and keep them in sync with your mindmap”.
I intuitively knew it was terrible, but I couldn’t think of what else to say, I knew some engineering facts about the product — the file formats it could read, the data that it could transfer, and how that data would appear in the mindmap — but my ad copy sounded like something an engineer would write, not like something you’d actually want to buy.
He suddenly got very animated and almost yelled ”Quick — what’s your favorite radio station?”. I told him I personally liked CBC 2. He said, “no, everyone in the world only has one favorite radio station — it’s WIFM”.
“Quick, what’s everybody’s favorite radio station?”
“Um…WIFM, I guess…but why?”
“Yes, WIFM, It stands for “What’s in it for me?”, he twinkled. “So, what’s your favorite radio station?” …. (Radio stations in the USA on the east side of the country often start with a “W”, so he was using that as a mental aid).
“Yeah, JC … (this was starting to get annoying) okay WIFM…now how does that help?”
“People are really only interested in hearing about things that benefit them. Your engineering information is nice to know but doesn’t really tell people how your product will help them. You need to convert your technologic information into clear benefits that will directly help your customers.”
“Take your statement ‘reads microsoft project files’, how will that help ME?”, he queried.
“Well, those files are the industry standard and if you read them into mindmanager you’ll see the data in a whole different way, in a mindmap that you can brainstorm with”.
“So, you want to be saying something like - “See your project data in a whole new way so you can brainstorm with it?”.
“Yes!”, I said excitedly, “that’s it… that’s the whole point of this”. A light bulb had gone of in my head, he’d turned an engineering feature into a reason to buy the product.
I quickly typed that in. What followed deflated me in an instant.
“Well that’s nice… but so what?”
“What do you mean, ‘so what?’”
“So how does that help me? Will seeing the data in a different way that I can brainstorm with help me?”
“Sure it will, you’ll be able think about what’s important in your project and easily edit without the constraints of Microsoft Project. You’ll see the relations between each task in the project in color and drag and drop tasks from branch to branch, easily”.
“That’s nice, but so what?”
“I just told you!!!!”.
“Everything you said is nice to know, but you haven’t hit any core reason, anything unique anything that helps ME as a human being.
You need to ask ‘so what?’ over and over to test every benefit statement you write anytime in your life until you find the gem, the core, the reason, the purpose that will truly resonate with your user”.
“Tell me about your customer who will use this, what does he do for a living?”.
“Well, it would typically be a project manager who has meetings with people in teams and he or she has all this data they’ve been collecting in Microsoft Project and they want to show it to the team in a non-boring way that offers more discussion in a meeting, and which allows them to focus on each item. Mindmaps are great for that, you can really focus on one topic, and then pull it apart into pieces.”
“So, will that… save time?”
“Yes, it will!”
“And that will save the company money?”
“And is the mindmap easier to use than Microsoft Project”.
“Yes, and infinitely more fun”.
“Then perhaps, perhaps….you may have found a few key benefits - Save time, save money, easier to use, have more fun… that is sounding close to a core benefit, the ‘whats in it for me?’.
Now, stating that blatantly is a bit dry… save time, save money, perhaps you could inflect that in a way that is unique to your product? Of those 3 - time, money, fun…which one is the most important?
“Probably time….things go faster”.
“Speed up your project meetings with Project LInk, or whatever you call it - that’s starting to sound like something I might be interested in. I like saving time, I hate to waste time…Now, can we go a bit farther?”
“First, why don’t you take all that dry technical stuff you wrote down before I got here and transform it all into benefit statements. Then once you’ve done that, let’s go have some spaghetti”.
I took each line of technical information I had on the product and dutifully converted it into benefit statements.
“Reads Microsoft project formats” became “Don’t worry which format you’re using, our software will read it”.
“Project tasks show up as a mindmap tree” turned into “Clarify your project’s objectives and brainstorm tasks in seconds when you see it in a mindmap”
The copy was still pretty awful, but something changed — I was no longer writing ABOUT the product, I was starting to write about the USER, how was I helping his or her life? What was the realworld use? And by testing it with the “So what?” test, the text was getting crisper and more meaningful. I was starting to zero in on what people really wanted.
Something changed in my brain too, I saw that the products we were developing had to change lives, had to change the way people lived their lives, for the better.
“What’s your favorite radio station, Charles?”….. “WIFM, JC”.
Good, now lets go get some spaghetti and we’ll talk about your USP.
“USP - its easier to explain over lunch”.
Anyway…I’ll get to that story, but “what’s everybody’s favorite radio station?”, he asked me that question over and over again for the next 5 years so it stuck in my head. You could make the argument that some people are more concerned with benefits to others, than themselves, but even in that case, I could see writing an ad such as “Help the world” as a WIFM for those benevolent angels that live among us.
I’ll never forget it to my dying day, and no business person in the world should ever forget that - we sell products to help, to benefit, and if your product has no benefit, then your wasting people’s time.
So, what’s your favorite radio station?
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