Why Content Matters in B2B Content Marketing

As someone who’s been on both the writing and the operational sides of B2B content marketing, I’ve seen my share of successful content. I’ve also seen content at its worst. I’m not talking about typos and bad grammar (although there’s some of that, unfortunately). I’m talking about content that doesn’t do its job. 

That, of course, raises the question: In content marketing, what is the content’s job? 

There are many good reports available that offer insights into what formats for content work and when, and we’ll dive into that a little. This is great, useful information that’s readily available though sometimes ignored during campaign implementation. 

But I haven’t seen much in the way of what makes good content and why it’s important to have good content. 

Of course, anything that you put in front of a potential customer can be considered content, and it needs to look good — free of those pesky typos; crisp, interesting photos or graphics; a layout that’s easy on the eyes — whether it’s an infographic or an eBook. 

What I want to see is what makes content effective. Having slogged through some rather gruesome white papers, I’ve noticed a few common shortcomings. 

Who Are You Writing For and Why? 

We’ve all heard it: A writer has to know her audience. That means more than checking off a list of demographics. Knowing your audience takes a little imagination. 

Ann Handley, who has literally written the book (and articles and blogs) on creating content, says:

“When we speak with our customers with empathy, as their peers, we develop not just camaraderie but actual insight. They are no longer just ‘target markets,’ ‘personas,’ or ‘segments.’ They become real to us, and we understand their problems better — and that can help us to better engage with and nurture our audiences.” (MarketingProfs.com) 

Creating good content is about asking questions. To understand your audience, imagine you’re the reader and ask this simple question: What do I need to know to solve my problem? Not what should I know, or what should I know about a particular product. What do I need to know right now to make my job easier? 

The “Why” is a little more complicated. Yet how can we create something compelling if we don’t know why we’re creating it? Writing content for the sake of writing content is kind of a waste of your time. 

Do you want to build brand awareness? Generate leads? Is the content to be used in a nurturing campaign — is it the first touch, last touch or somewhere in between? Why will your audience want to read your content? Is it intended to solve a problem? Explain a strategy? Is it thought leadership or a hard sell? How will the content be offered? Through dedicated email? Telemarketing? Social media? 

Here’s a newsflash: All content is not going to appeal to all customers in all places at all times.

If you don’t know how and when your content is going to be used, you probably don’t know why you’re creating it. Which means you don’t know what format is going to work best for that particular campaign. 

According to Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute, blog posts and articles are the most effective type of content used in the early stages of the sales funnel. But let’s be honest, it’s hard to generate a lead with a blog post. Rose also pegs white papers for the middle stage of the sales funnel, and case studies for the late stage. It’s important to note that the opposite holds true, e.g., case studies don’t work well in the early stages. 

So why do marketers foist their content on unsuspecting potential leads at inappropriate times? Because they don’t have a content marketing plan that informs the development and release of their content. 

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together 

The most successful content marketers are far more likely than their less successful peers to have a documented content marketing strategy — 65% vs. 14% (B2B Content Marketing 2019 — Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.) 

Makes sense, right? As we like to say on the production side of things, it’s hard to build an airplane while you’re flying it. 

A strategy includes timelines, benchmarks and measurable goals and all that other yucky stuff, and it is absolutely essential 

Here’s another newsflash: If you’re trying to use content marketing to close a deal, you will likely be disappointed. 

That’s not content’s job. The top goals that B2B marketers can hope to achieve with content are, in order, (1) create brand awareness; (2) educate audiences; (3) build credibility/trust; and (4) generate demand/leads (B2B Content Marketing 2019 — Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.) Notice that “make a sale” isn’t on the list. 

But if your content isn’t going to result in a sale, what good is it? 

Quite a lot, actually. Your sales team will have more success if your prospects already have a positive image of your brand.  And nothing builds brand trust like quality, helpful content. 

According to Conductor, immediately after reading a piece of content by a particular brand, consumers were 131% more likely to buy from that brand than consumers who did not read any content. Immediately after reading a piece of education content from a brand, 66% of consumers had positive feelings about the brand. Significantly, a week later, 74% had positive feelings. Yep — those positive vibes actually increase over time. 

Content is powerful, and it should be used for good. 

Tips to Make Your Content Succeed 

Your marketing team is probably excellent at what they do. Which is marketing. They don’t develop content, right? That’s not their area of expertise. 

According to the Chief Marketer’s 2019 B2B Marketing Outlook report, content marketing was named the most valuable technique for lead nurturing. Yet some 80% of marketers are charged with creating their own materials (i.e., not an editorial team.) 

As CoreDNA puts it so bluntly and beautifully:

“You need writers, video producers, graphic designers, audio producers, content optimizers and distributors, communication experts, and analytics experts. Show me an organization that has one guy for all that and I’ll show you one that will fail in the coming years.” 

Even if you go outside your company — and perhaps you should — that doesn’t mean you can shrug off all your content responsibilities. You’ll still have to define your audience and come up with a plan for how you’ll use the content. Otherwise, your writer will not only be trying to build the airplane, he or she will be flying it totally blind. That airplane will crash, right at the doorstep of your sales department. 

As you begin to conceptualize what your content is going to be and how it’s going to be created, remember: There’s no better way to put off a potential customer than not to deliver what you promised — namely, relevant, practical content. 

There are two words to home in on here. Relevant and practical.  If you can’t describe your content with these two adjectives, it isn’t ready to be produced. 

I’ve seen a number of B2B lead generation campaigns executed (poorly) using a marketing slick or a product description. In my experience, neither of these could be defined as relevant and practical. Unless you just happen to catch that one person at the right moment when he needs something on which to blow his nose. 

The best and first tip I can suggest is to ask a question. The question can be asked in a variety of ways:

  • If I have a problem with X, how can I use Y to solve it?
  • How can Y strategy save me time and/or money?
  • What does a blueprint or framework of a Y strategy look like?
  • Why is Y a better solution than Z — in terms of saving me time and money?
  • What are the steps to achieve X?

There are several valuable words in these questions — problem, strategy, blueprint, framework, solution, steps. These are useful words whether you’re creating a white paper or a webinar. Use them not only in your titles but also as a way to organize your content. 

And if you have to talk about your product, which you usually do, tuck it neatly into the solution you offer. If your product is the only solution, then you should try to ask a broader question. Otherwise, you’ll produce a marketing slick. Which is neither practical nor relevant. 

Is content important? According to LinkedIn, 71% of B2B buyers prefer to conduct research on their own, talking with a sales rep by phone or online chat only when needed.  

So, ask yourself, if 71% of your potential customers come in contact with your brand via your content, will they research you further? Will you make the shortlist? Will it prompt a call or a web visit? Good content can cause all these things to happen if you know your audience, have a plan and ask the right question.

Need help creating and executing a B2B content strategy? 

Contact WordsFresh for a creative approach to meeting your business goals.

How to write binge-worthy marketing copy

We’ve all been there.  

Lounged out on the couch, wrapped up in blankets, snacks scattered across the coffee table. Your favorite show automatically plays one after another on the TV. Netflix has the gall to ask if you’re still watching. You glance at your phone and it tells you it’s 1 a.m.  

1 a.m.? How did that happen? You just couldn’t look away from the screen. It’s that good.  

Marketing copy can be just as compelling, especially when you borrow these three tips from the small screen:

1) Appeal to emotion 

If you’ve never had a physical reaction to a TV show, you’re not watching the right ones. (I’m looking at you, “Scandal” and “Orange is the New Black.”) The best shows stir something up in you, whether it’s a gasp or happy tears. 

Good marketing copy will connect with audiences on an emotional level. Studies have shown that advertisers have more success when they appeal to emotions rather than logic. By the numbers, 31 percent of advertisers report significant profit gains with emotional campaigns, versus 16 percent with rational campaigns. 

In general, some of the best emotions to invoke include belonging, trust, competition, fear and guilt.

2) Charge up your language 

You don’t have to go R-rated just to trigger an emotional reaction among your target audiences. With some carefully chosen words, you can build emotion into your story, and improve the effectiveness of your advertising.   

A quick and easy rule to follow is to use shorter, more basic words, rather than intellectual ones.  

For example, change additionally to there’s moreConcerned to worriedDifficult to tough or hard. These common words carry more emotional weight, and are proven to be more successful when getting consumers to act on their emotion.  

Other powerful words in marketing copy include: you, new, save, love, results and guarantee.  

3) Throw in a plot twist 

An unexpected plot twist never fails to catch people’s attention and get them talking. This was the case in “How I Met Your Mother” (still not over it), and it also holds true in marketing copy.  

One of the first lessons copywriters learn is how to take a well-known phrase and give it an element of the unexpected. It’s a clever way to get the reader to notice your message.  

For example, a straightforward line for an anti-drunk driving ad could be: 

“Be responsible. Don’t drink and drive.” 

It’s solid and concise, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it to catch the reader’s attention.  

Instead, see how this turn of a phrase is more effective:  

“This one’s on you. Don’t drink and drive.” 

Instead of telling readers to follow the rules, it walks an entirely different line. It inverts the jolly bar phrase “this one’s on me” and turns it into something more tragic. (Plus, it plays on the ever-motivating emotion, guilt.) 

Whether you use one or two of these techniques or go for all three, emotionally charged copy will bring you better results. All you have to do is borrow from the small screen.   

Need help elevating your copy with engaging techniques? Contact WordsFresh for a creative approach to meeting your business goals.  



Build a better trade show booth by assembling the right team

You have the opportunity to participate in a trade show, and you want your booth to stand out. But how? The answer may become clearer when you consider that trade show booths are most impactful when they don’t look or feel like booths.

Booths are more likely to attract visitors when they break out of their boxy shell. After all, who wants to be trapped in a closed-in space that’s as drab as a beige cubicle?

So what are some alternatives to standard booth displays?

Many booths are feats of tension-fabric engineering and have large brand walls that are curved or uniquely angled. Others resemble a high-end retail environment, complete with digital displays and comfortable lounge seating.

You can go in any number of directions that are refreshingly unbooth-like.

Before you move down any particular path with your booth design, your best step is to begin assembling a team that can develop a strategic marketing plan for your event and execute it, staying within a specified timeline and budget.

1. Start with a strategist.

You have goals for your booth, and the right marketing vendor can work with you well in advance of the show to map out an effective strategy to achieve those goals. This vendor should be able to do a lot of heavy lifting that doesn’t involve plywood frames (see number five).

The strategist will lay the foundation for a lead-generating booth by thinking about all the necessary elements involved in getting prospects to your exhibit and enticing them to see what you have to say.

The strategy should include creative ideas for communicating your brand story in a way that connects with your target audience. Each idea should be supported with tactics that can be carried out in phases, including pre-show, during the show and post-show. Among the key areas of focus for the tactical plan is how to engage prospects and convert them into purchasers.

2. A copywriter tells your story.

A copywriter can define the messaging for your booth and make sure it’s in alignment with your prospects’ needs and interests. The messaging includes high-level headlines and more detailed bullet points, as well as content for social media posts.

If you’re working with a technologist (see number four) to create an interactive display, the copywriter can help with the script for that experience.

Once the show wraps up, the copywriter can support your team in immediately following up with prospects through a series of content marketing emails and maybe a traditional direct mail campaign.

Here’s a bonus should you go with a writer from WordsFresh for your project: At WordsFresh, your writer is also your strategist. This stems from our belief that a solid strategy starts with clear, audience-directed, on-brand words.

3. A designer adds impact.

A great design can be a powerful lure in drawing prospects to your booth. Ideally, you’ll work with a designer who has experience in creating large-format graphics for trade show booths. Beyond considering what might look good on a 12-ft.-wide exhibit, the designer needs to think about how the overall booth design will grab attention from different angles and viewing distances.

The designer on your team should also be comfortable working with precise measurements. For instance, the designer will need to coordinate with the builder to make sure any products you plan to display will fit within the booth walls.

4. Consider adding a technologist.

So in this age of digital ninjas and Chief Amazing Officers, you might be asking yourself what exactly is a “technologist.” A technologist is an expert in experiential or immersive technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and gamification.

If you’re exhibiting at a high-profile event like the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), you know that the bar is high for delivering an element of the magically unexpected. This means your costs might be on the high side too.

Even if you’re not showcasing your brand or product on “the global stage for innovation,” you have an opportunity to stand out through the delivery of a technology-based experience.

The good news is you can select from a bells-and-whistles-light menu and still make a lasting impression on prospects.

For a tradeshow booth planned on behalf of an engineering solutions client, our WordsFresh team partnered with Jason Latta of Amazing Robot & Sons Interactive to develop a dual-monitor installation that functioned as a product selector. This setup gave visitors the chance to explore custom options for products, and passersby could see selections on a wall-mounted display screen.

5. A builder brings the booth to life.

If you’re planning a custom build-out for your exhibit, you’ll need an expert in trade show booth construction. The vendor should be someone you can rely on to choose materials that meet your design and budget requirements—and help your team conform to venue specifications.

You’ll also want the assurance that the vendor is capable of rising to expectations days before the show, when the pressure is on to get the booth up and running.

6. Don’t forget your salespeople.

Your salespeople are essential to delivering a memorable booth. A well-designed booth with a strong strategy foundation will draw people in, but it’s the sales folks who do the important work of getting face time with prospects and closing the sale.

Need a fresh perspective on your trade booth strategy? Contact WordsFresh for a writer-led plan that gets you to your goals. We can also assemble a team of experts to match your needs. Tell us about your project.

How much? How to keep costs low and creative quality high

As a communications agency, we spend considerable time blue-sky thinking, brainstorming, sketching, concepting and imagining. But in every creative project there comes a point when lofty ideas must be tethered to what’s known the world over as The Budget.

The Budget must be estimated. The Budget must be approved. The Budget must be met.

Since budgeting is an integral part of every project, it’s a wonder more attention isn’t paid to how to get more from it. To help you get the most cost-effective, highest-quality communications work possible, I offer the following tips and considerations.

1. It’s true: Time is money

No one has invented a better way to do it, so most agencies essentially base budgets on time. Estimates are based on hourly rates multiplied by how much time a project is expected to take, based on our experience with similar projects for the same or similar client. Of course, there are additional variables. If the client is known for requesting many revisions, the estimate will reflect that practice. The reverse is also true. Some agencies use a single “blended” rate for all employees (basically, an average), while others apply different rates for different services.

2. Beware of comparing hourly rates

Comparing the hourly rates of various agencies can be misleading. Without a project estimate, there’s no way to know how long an agency will take to complete a project, so you can’t compare final costs. An agency that seems to have low hourly rates may take twice as long to complete work or use inexperienced personnel who need a lot of time-consuming guidance from you. Another agency may have a higher rate but provide a competitive project estimate because employees are highly experienced, and they have efficient processes and technology in place. When comparing agency costs, it’s best to ask for project estimates.

3. What is the true value?

Consider the underlying reason for the project and how that will impact your budget. An annual report may really be a tool for recognizing key stakeholders and require many more interviews and features than is typical. Planning for a big internal event may be used as a team-building exercise that stretches over many months. A website rewrite may actually be a branding workshop with the leadership team. In all these examples, the process of engaging teams and facilitating collaboration is as important as the final product. Process can be highly valuable, and the budget will need to reflect the time required.

4. Write a creative brief

A creative brief – a summary of your project’s key points – may not be a necessity, but it increases the likelihood that the creative team will hit the bullseye in a shorter amount of time. And less time means lower cost. At the very least, be sure everyone on your team agrees to the answers to these three questions: What’s the goal? Who’s the audience? What’s the key message? There will be more questions than those, but that’s a good start.

5. Use the right tool for the job

You may need a commercial-quality ad to run on national TV. Or you may need a bare-bones video of how to assemble a bedframe for your social media channels. It’s most likely you need something in between. Make sure the partner you’re using provides the appropriate cost-to-quality ratio. When it comes to quality, you generally get what you pay for.

6. Don’t let meetings sabotage your budget

Some meetings are needed to keep projects moving and on target, so a budget will generally include a reasonable number. However, when there are too many meetings, or meetings are used in place of planning, or meetings are routinely long and poorly managed, costs add up fast. Meetings may be the No. 1 enemy of your budget.

7. Collate feedback and revision requests

If several people on your team will have input into the project, gather the feedback from all team members and deliver it all at once. Otherwise, the time it takes to sift through oftentimes conflicting feedback from various sources will drive up costs.

8. Finalize copy before design or production

It’s quick, easy and inexpensive to change text in a Word document. But many clients want to “see” the copy in design (or worse, in video production) before reading and gauging its effectiveness. That’s a costly preference. Once text has been placed in design, changes to copy are time-consuming and open the potential for serious errors if the writer is no longer closely involved. It’s much wiser to do a careful review of the Word document and then make only minor changes if needed in design.

9. Share budget restraints

Good communications partners want to help you meet your goals. If you have a budget already set for a project, share it up front. They should help you plan how to get the most from the money you want to spend.

10. Invest time

The time you spend up front to bring your partners up to speed and familiarize them with your goals is time well spent. They can help in ways you might not have considered. And later, when you have an urgent need, they can jump right in.

11. Get budget planning help

When it’s time for annual pre-budget meetings in which communication goals and projects for the upcoming year are considered, be sure to circle in your communications partners. That’s the time to put creative minds to good use helping you create effective plans for the year ahead and gathering the budget numbers you need.

12. Ask for budget updates

At any point in a project, ask for an update of how work is coming along relative to the budget. At WordsFresh, our digital time-tracking system allows us to check on the status of a client’s budget in real time, so we can foresee budget issues and act before they become problems.

13. Bring them to the strategy table

If you trust your communications partners, be sure to bring them to the strategy table.
That’s where you can get tremendous value from their ability to strategize, plan, ideate and engage your stakeholders.

A great communications partner should share your goal of producing the most effective work possible for the investment the company wishes to make. If you’d like to explore partnering with WordsFresh, let’s talk. It won’t cost a thing.

Throw Perfectionism Out the Window

Three ways your perfectionism hinders your writing process and how to kick the habit.

Hi, my name is Faith, and I’m a recovering perfectionist. Whew. Feels good to share.

I feel the need to tweak, fine-tune and tinker with words, until time completely slips away from me.

Sound familiar? You might be a perfectionist, too.

Chances are, whenever you’ve been told you’re a perfectionist, the subtext was that it’s a good thing.

“Perfection is what drives you and motivates you to do your best work,” they say.

In many ways, they’re right.

Perfectionism only becomes a problem when you approach the peak of productivity and go too far, tip over the edge and roll (quickly) down the other side.

Here are three ways that perfectionism can hinder your writing and some steps you can take to prevent it:

1) You focus too much on the details and not enough on the big picture

When writing, it’s important to mind the details. However, sometimes you can get too in the weeds and lose sight of the overall strategy of the piece. It’s easy to get hung up on individual words, even the articles like “the,” when trying to find the perfect language to connect with your audience.

Although healthy amounts of tinkering can help hone the message, it can have the opposite effect when done in excess. When you double- and triple-guess your word choice, you potentially move farther from the target with each change. Your language becomes too formal or clunky. It may also veer away from your brand voice.

The solution: Write your first draft like you have the world’s best editor who will mind all the details for you. Don’t worry about changing one word three times to get the exact meaning across, or if you should move a sentence in the middle to the top. Just write.

Once you have everything down on paper, take a break and revisit it after a few minutes. Then, become your own world’s best editor. With the full picture in view, it will be much easier—not to mention quicker—to make the nitty-gritty decisions while staying true to the strategy.

2) Your creativity takes a hit

When you feel the need to get everything just right, you start to lose perspective. Your mindset shifts from “I can do all this” to “I can’t do it, at least not today.” This negative perspective will seep into your writing, and your words lose their impact.

The solution: Once your piece is in the editing stage, take a moment and ask yourself if it passes the “Toddler Test.”

Often when talking to toddlers, you have to compete with a million different stimuli for their attention. Sometimes you have to explain one concept a few different ways to win their focus. In this same vein, you can review your piece by asking questions like:

What will get the audience’s attention?

When I have it, will I keep it?

Do I need clever words to draw them in?

Is the message strong enough on its own?

Asking yourself these simple questions will help you think about your writing in fresh, new ways. Your words will pop from the page in ways they didn’t before.

3) You start to miss deadlines

The more you dissect your words and reformat your piece as you go, the longer it takes you to arrive at a first draft. By that time, your deadline is likely to have already passed or is quickly approaching.

The solution: Give yourself mini deadlines and one overall deadline for the piece. Structure your writing process so that you only allow so much time for writing, editing and proofreading.

Start off by writing two or three hours, depending on the project. Then, take a break and move into editing, and give yourself about the same amount of time as the writing phase. Once you have your draft where you like it, allow time for one last proofread.

If it helps, you can set a timer for each step to keep yourself accountable. By setting individual deadlines at each stage, it helps keep you on track and motivated to hitting your overall deadline.

Perfectionism is a hard habit to break. The impulse to tweak and tinker won’t disappear overnight. But with practice and some handy tricks, you’ll be able to focus on the big picture, stay on top of your creative game and hit those deadlines. You’ll be able to approach peak writing productivity time after time, without tipping over the edge.

Just don’t have time to take on writing responsibilities for your marketing project right now? Contact the WordsFresh writing team for compelling, audience-focused content that works for your schedule. Get started today.

How technical prewriting is like building a house

You’ve spent many weeks or months (or years!) on an engineering or other technical project. But how do you communicate your work to others? In the end, all of your hard work will be judged on the quality of your ability to explain it. Now it’s time to write your whitepaper, business brief or report, but where do you begin?

You can start by doing a little groundwork, or “prewriting,” by outlining your ideas. As you create your outline, imagine that you’re building a house with several important elements, including a structural frame, foundation, rooms and a roof.

1. Build a general framework

Begin by creating a loose outline of ideas. Organizing your thoughts before you actually start writing can greatly simplify the process. If you spend half of your writing time giving yourself a framework for what you’re going to say, the actual writing of your document will undoubtedly be easier.

As you start to create your outline, don’t concern yourself with expressing your ideas in full sentences. Instead, capture all themes, relevant details and conclusions in just a few words to begin giving your story structure.

Whether you’re working on a laptop or using old-fashioned index cards or sticky notes, the prewriting stage is where you can identify and prioritize which points you want to cover.

2. Lay the foundation with a strong opening

It’s important to introduce a central theme in your opening paragraph that supports everything else that will be built on top of it. This is where you give your reader the “big idea.”

Again, don’t worry about writing in sentences. Simply jot down the ideas you may include, such as a brief sketch of the reason you are writing this paper in the first place.

What’s the business idea, what problem does it solve and how does it fit into the marketplace?

Or, how would you define your project, what tasks did you complete, and what were your findings upon completion?

3. Start planning out your rooms, or topics

Now you can begin to brainstorm all of the potential “rooms” you may want in your “house.” This is the time to consider all of the topics and findings you may want to discuss.

Think of each room in your house and what details might go in each room, and don’t worry about scaling back on the number of rooms. Editing can come later.

Plan your rooms with your readers in mind. Think about who your ideal readers will be and all the details they will want to know.
You don’t have to include every little piece of research you did or every interview that took place if those elements wouldn’t be key to your story. Focus on educating your readers by providing them with information that’s most meaningful and helpful to them.

4. Make sure you have a solid roof

The “roof” of your paper is the conclusion. It’s the overarching structure that will encompass all of your ideas and support your “big idea” in the opening paragraph. Since this is still part of the prewriting stage, it’s best to simply list the top two or three points you’d like to state again to drive home your main idea.

Prewriting is not just a good idea—it’s mandatory. Starting with an outline will help you see that technical writing is not a mystery when you think of it like a plan for building a house. By giving yourself a blueprint, you are less likely to get stuck when starting to write the actual paper.

After all, the hardest part of your project shouldn’t be producing the written document that tells its story.

Need help with drafting a blueprint for your technical report or whitepaper? Let WordsFresh help. Contact us today.

The one benefit you may not be selling

Sell benefits, not features. It’s Marketing 101. No one wants to buy a new truck with four-wheel drive. They want to buy the exhilaration they feel on an outdoor adventure – and probably the thrill of being the envy of every guy on the block.

Okay, we agree on that. Here’s where it gets dicey.

Whether you’re selling trucks, accounting services or a new wellness program to your employees, you need to know which benefits your audience values. And let’s face it, many communications projects don’t have the budget for extensive focus groups. So typically, marketing pros make some informed assumptions about people being primarily self-interested. It’s human nature, right? How can this product, company or initiative make me thinner, richer, healthier, safer, more successful, more popular, more fulfilled…? Copywriters and other communication experts often build messages around those personal benefits.

It’s about me. But maybe it’s not all about me.

If you have the need to sell, influence, persuade or otherwise move an audience, it’s worth considering some research in behavioral science that calls into question whether people are really as self-interested as we once thought. Consider research conducted by Adam Grant and David Hofmann, reported in Psychological Science. Hospitals are plagued by diseases spread when healthcare professionals fail to wash their hands. Researchers compared the effectiveness of signs encouraging people to use the hand sanitizers at the door of each room.

One sign appealed to the self-interest of readers:


The other sign made a more altruistic appeal:


If anyone had asked me which would work better, I honestly would have guessed the first, self-interested one. But I would have been wrong.

One word made all the difference

Researchers measured the amount of hand sanitizer used and covertly observed behavior. The results showed that changing one word – from “you” to “patients” – made a huge difference. The hand hygiene of healthcare professionals increased significantly when they were reminded of the impact on patients but not when they were reminded of the impact on themselves.

Admittedly, we’re not all trying to get busy nurses and doctors to use hand sanitizer. But it should give us marketers pause. These results, duplicated in similar research into the effectiveness of environmental messages and even car-buying, may point to an under-used tool for motivating behavior change – appealing to a person’s innate interest in others.

So the next time you’re thinking about how to motivate people to buy, act or change behavior, don’t abandon Marketing 101. It’s still all about benefits. But consider if a key benefit could be providing your audience with an opportunity to help someone else.

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