A Simple Equation to Get Your Product Narrative Right


By Sarah Ryals
Published by: Colorado Springs Business Journal

You’ve probably heard the old marketing adage, “nobody wants to buy a drill, they want to buy a hole.” Some take that a step farther and say, “nobody wants just a hole, either – they want a cool treehouse for the kids.” Whichever version you find more compelling, the core truth is this: to market successfully you must know what emotions will motivate someone to buy what you’re selling. Emotions are at the heart of most purchase decisions. Even car purchases, which are often heavily influenced by technical specifications, are ultimately motivated by emotion, such as the desire for speed, safety, or esteem. My 75-year-old, freeway-fearing mom once bought a turbo-charged sedan because it was red and she loved the color!

But while emotion may be at the core of many purchase decisions, data is at the core of smart marketing decisions. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore emotions when you create a marketing strategy. To the contrary! In a marketing scenario, your prospects’ emotional drivers can be a targeting metric, just like their age, household income or zip code. Are your prospects motivated most by a drill, a hole, or a treehouse? Do they just buy the same brand of drill their dad did? Are they passionate for precision? Or, do they want a light, easy-to-use tool that will ensure they get the treehouse built this weekend?

The only way you’ll know for sure is to ask. Ask the customer what excites him or her about your product … what magic words inspire trust and make them reach for their wallets. This is the science of finding reasons and speaking the language of emotion … it’s the marketing equation of why + how = connection. Find out why they buy so you know how to market and make a successful connection.

To do this, good marketing methodology is required. Oddly though, many owners or managers who would never dream of operating their accounting practice or security system based on guesswork, will accept a marketing effort run on gut feel. The reasons for this could be due to perceived cost savings, not knowing how to go after marketing insight, lack of regard for marketing as a serious discipline, or simply not realizing that marketing can (and should) be just as data-driven and methodical as other parts of their businesses.

In a recent example, we applied some simple “find the why” methodology to help a new local client reverse a downward sales trend. As a result, instead of touting their industry credentials as they had been doing, we used our survey findings to shift this client’s marketing focus to their customers’ top three concerns: time, cost, and location. Once we were able to discover why customers chose them, we were able to show this client how to market effectively to prospects, speak to their emotions and make a connection. The client company didn’t change its product … they changed their product narrative and found success.

Some may believe that this kind of strategy is not necessary or even feasible for a small- or medium-sized business. In reality, fact-based marketing strategy doesn’t need to be costly, mysterious, or time-consuming. More importantly, small-to-medium businesses need customer insight and information just as much as any international corporation, not just for marketing direction but sometimes for operational purposes as well. For example, a regional manufacturer we know couldn’t figure out why he successfully sold products nationwide…but not in his own county. Prospect inquiries revealed that it was this company’s lack of local delivery that drove them to competitors. The solution? A delivery truck to serve local customers.

Simply asking shoppers, prospects, or customers questions about their buying process can reshape how you perceive your product and help drive success in marketing and operations. So, exactly how do you go about getting the why information you need? In the second part of this three-part series, we’ll talk about some simple techniques to obtain “why” data for your business as well as some reasons that you should consider doing so.


Sarah Ryals is Strategy and Account Director with Andrew Hershberger Creative, a local marketing agency that specializes in customer insight and the Pikes Peak region consumer. To participate in the most recent quarterly AHC community survey, visit www.ahershbergercreative.com and take this fast, fun survey with a serious purpose.