It's funny because when I was doing advertising research, I often worked closely with copywriters. I would interview customers to learn how they responded to different messages and report back to the creative team. Sometimes the copywriter or art director would have questions they wanted me to ask my focus groups. So I got to know the writers and their work pretty well.
Yet, when they went back to their desk to actually create the message, I had no idea how they came up with the words that moved customers to action.
Customer-Focused Story to the Rescue!
Turns out like any professional, copywriters have systems. One such system that has made my writing life infinitely easier is the Customer Focused Story: A six step process that helps you develop a message that inspires action on the part of your readers.
[ Note: I am grateful to marketer/copywriter extraordinaire, Mark Silver, who developed the Customer Focused Story process and taught me how to use it. Learn more about Mark at www.heartofbusiness.com ] The power behind the Customer Focus Story is this: before people are ready to take action, it is absolutely critical that they feel safe to do so. By "safe" I mean your copy addresses two, usually unarticulated questions:
(1.) Do they feel that the business making the offer understands the problem they're struggling with?
(2.) Can the business help THEM?
If your copy helps them answer "yes" to those two questions, chances are very good your customers will take the next step.
Applying the Customer Focus Story: A Real Example
My client, Judy Rotunda of Pilates for Life, specializes in helping women who want to get fít but whose physical limitations make it difficult to use standard options such as fitness centers, aerobics classes, etc. Judy offers private and semi-private classes that enable clients to safely progress at their own pace. In this way clients get stronger and fitter without risking further injury.
Here is how we developed the Customer Focused Story for Pilates for Life:
STEP 1. Name the Who and the Problem with which They're Struggling.
The first thing you want to tell readers is "this is who I help and what I help them with." The point is to elicit a strong "Yes, that's me," in your ideal prospect so they will want to keep reading.
In the case of Pilates for Life, the who and what are:
" Women who are suffering from chronic back pain. Oftentimes, the pain is so bad it makes it hard for them to do things most of us take for granted ."
STEP 2. Specify the Solutions They've Tried which Didn't Work
I know when I first began using the Customer Focused Story, I resisted this step. Why wouldn't I immediately launch into my wonderful solution?
Here's why. Two little words: "Yeah, but." No doubt you've experienced this when you've talked to prospects. You tell them about your product or service and they respond to every claim you make with "Yeah, we tried that but it didn't work." This is normal. They don't want to buy something they already know doesn't work.
The best way to deal with "yeah buts" is to simply acknowledge the solutions they've probably already tried--the ones that didn't work.
" They've tried the usual fitness options: low impact aerobics, yoga, and weight training but often those options just make things worse ."
STEP 3. Explain Why Those Solutions Don't Work
When you not only acknowledge what your prospects probably tried but go on to say in effect, "Hey, what you did was perfectly understandable. That's what most people would have tried. I tried those things and my customers have tried those things." You're demonstrating empathy.
You are also letting them know they don't have to feel embarrassed or ashamed for trying and failing. That they are not the only ones who have struggled to find a solution to their problem.
Pilates for Life example:
" The problem with most mainstream exercise programs is the instructor's lack of experience working with back injuries and chronic pain. An instructor who is unfamiliar with these conditions may push for progress too quickly. Or they may assume persons with chronic back pain can do each movement in the same way as everyone else. Often times, this can strain the back muscles even more, cause more injury, and make the pain even more severe ."
STEP 4. Talk About What They Need to Do to Solve the Problem
Your reader is probably thinking, "Okay, I understand why what I tried didn't work. So what DOES?" Here's where you get to address their question.
Pilates for Life example:
"A successful fitness program for persons with chronic back pain requires three things:
(1.) a fitness trainer familiar with the physiology of back injuries;
(2.) private or semi-private classes so the instructor can make sure the participant is doing the movements properly; and
(3.) a significantly slower pace to allow the muscles to adjust to new movements."
STEP 5. Tell Them Why You're Qualified to Deliver the Solution That Works
Finally, you get to talk about your solution! Specifically, you are going to write about how you are qualified to deliver a solution that works (which you just wrote about in Step 4).
Qualifications you want to refer to can include your personal experience, formal training and education, success stories about how you've helped your customers, and testimonials.
Pilates for Life example:
" For over twenty years, Pilates for Life owner, Judy Rotunda, suffered from chronic pain due to a childhood back injury. She looked everywhere to find an exercise program that would improve her strength and flexibility and, she hoped, provide some relief from the constant pain. When a fríend suggested she try Pilates, she was skeptical but after just two sessions, she was a fan. In fact, she was so convinced that Pilates was the answer for persons suffering from back injuries and chronic pain that she decided to become a certified Pilates instructor. Today Judy owns her own fitness service, Pilates for Life, which offers private, closely supervised exercise sessions for persons for whom standard exercise programs just don't work ."
STEP 6. Tell the reader Exactly What the Next Step Is and How to Take It
At this point, a reader who is an ideal customer for you, is probably feeling hopeful and excited about learning more about what you do. So you are going to tell them exactly what the next steps are.
Pilates for Life example:
The ideal customer for Pilates for Life is a woman who is in chronic pain due to a back injury. Because they are in so much pain so much of the time, they are highly motivated to find solutions. There are two actions they could take:
" (1.) Go to the Pilates for Life Web site and complete a short assessment to help them determine whether Pilates is right for them.
(2.) Call Judy to talk about how Pilates might help them."
Putting It All Together
Once you complete Steps 1 through 6, you have all the pieces of your marketing message. The very last thing to do is to write it using "you" instead of "the customer" so it speaks to your customer in a personal way.
You may also want to do some light editing to make sure the separate elements flow well as a single written piece.
I see so many small business owners struggle with creating a strong, to the point marketing message that inspires customers to take action. The Customer Focused story, in my experience, is a common sense, straight forward solution to this problem.
About The Author
Judy Murdoch helps small business owners create low-cost, effective marketing campaigns using word-of-mouth referrals, guerrilla marketing activities, and five-star strategic alliances. Download a free copy of the workbook, " Where Does it Hurt? Marketíng Solutions to the problems that Drive Your Customers Crazy! " . You can contact Judy at 303-475-2015 or firstname.lastname@example.org .