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:
HAND HYGIENE PREVENTS YOU FROM CATCHING DISEASES.
The other sign made a more altruistic appeal:
HAND HYGIENE PREVENTS PATIENTS FROM CATCHING DISEASES.
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.
Need help with messages that motivate people to buy, act or change? Let WordsFresh bring strategic thinking to the table.