‘Why’? It’s an important question. As copywriters, it’s something we ask relentlessly. Why should people buy this product? Why is it better than the other options? It’s also a much deeper question than I realized.
As you know, people buy things based on emotion or subconscious decisions, whether it’s fear, hope, greed or any of the other triggers we prod mercilessly. This is then backed up by conscious logic. Nobody wants to think they’re spending more on golf clubs because the logo makes them feel good.
This is basic sales psychology. But why are people open to such irrational persuasion?
Our brains have been evolving 500 million years, and the rational part is a recent addition
The human brain has been evolving a long time. For 500 million, give or take a few. This began with the lizard or primitive brain, which was just about kept us on life support.
Skip forward 250 million years and the limbic system is formed. This gave us memories, feelings and senses of fear and desire. All vital for procreation, learning new skills and avoiding saber-tooth tigers.
But it wasn’t until 40-100k years ago that the neocortex formed. This is what allows us to make rational decisions based on logic. So you see, our brains haven’t had a lot of time to address the rumbling emotions underneath. It’s why we’ll happily pay extra for products because of how they make us feel even when our rational brain is telling us we’re nuts.
Just look at the organised mob outside an Apple store whenever a new iPhone comes out, which makes calls and takes photos marginally better than the last one, and tell me there isn’t some clever mind trickery going on.
Do you want to swim in the red or blue ocean?
The red ocean is a dangerous place. It’s where products fight for survival among crashing waves because they haven’t found a way to distinguish themselves. They may be kitted out with all the right features, but they haven’t been able to create an emotional connection with buyers. Instead, they’re forced to compete on price alone. This just drags them ever deeper in a literal race to the bottom with their competitors. This is not where you want your client’s product to be.
The blue ocean is a serene paradise in comparison. The waters are calm, clear and inviting, with no competitors to threaten your survival. You’ve been able to find a unique USP, a heightened sense of quality or emotional resonance which sets you apart. Even if a competitor copied your product to a tee, it simply wouldn’t be the same.
Brands that buoyantly paddle through these waters include Apple, Harley Davidson, Nike and Beats headphones. I’m sure you’d like to join them? If you want to go from struggling for every breath in the red ocean to supping piña coladas on a lilo in the blue one, you have to discover your product’s magical ‘why’ factor.
Discovering your client’s ‘why’
A product’s ‘why’ are the underlying values that give it emotional resonance and make it more compelling. So much so that people will pay over the odds for it, even if a similar product does the exact same thing.
Apple’s ‘why’ is challenging the status quo and changing the world. Harley Davidson is rebellious freedom. Beats bring the cool ethos and entrepreneurialism of Hip Hop culture to a product normally sold on technical features alone. In little over five years, Beats has swallowed a 70% market share of the headphones market. It’s truly a poster child for the power of ‘why’ branding.
So how can you define your client’s ‘why’? This requires sitting down with them and unearthing the reason why they do what they do. It’s not about what their product does or how it does it. These aspects might satisfy the neocortex, but it’s the overpowering limbic brain we want to feed. Instead, you need to dig deeper. Why did they start their business? Why did they make this product? Was it just to make money? What’s the deeper reason for what they do?
The Golden Circle (from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why):
Once you’ve found out what it is you have a more powerful sales proposition on your hands. You have a way of giving a stale product a back story and a deeper meaning than what it says it does on the box.
Great marketing (and copywriting) starts with ‘why’. People don’t buy what you make, but why you make it. Find out your client’s underlying story is and you’ll then have a more powerful sales pitch that can differentiate their product and give it emotional resonance their competitors can’t replicate.
Your client can then look forward to basking in the warm waters of the blue ocean – a more satisfying place for them and their customers alike.
This post was inspired by a seminar by Lukas Hána from the GrowJob Institute. They help brands and businesses discover their underlying ‘why’ that can improve employee productivity, business performance and gain a nice boost in sales to boot.
Oh, and this TED Talk: