Despite years of practical experience and many expensive courses, I’ve realized the best marketing tip I ever got was in my High School English class.
This tip provides the basis of a simple and scientifically-proven system for quickly and easily creating persuasive marketing material and convincing business presentations. It was framed in the following words penned over 100 years ago by poet and writer Rudyard Kipling (perhaps better known for creating ‘The Jungle Book’).
“I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.”
Years later, I’ve discovered that Kipling is more than just a master of pretty words.
Secrets from the Scientific Research
More recently, extensive academic research into effective communication has come up with almost exactly the same formula for success.
And it shows very clearly why most business communication and marketing fails to have the desired impact.
After studying the learning style of different people for more than 25 years, educationalist Bernice McCarthy developed the 4MAT teaching system to reflect the four different types of learning style that she identified. The system works just as well for communication and marketing.
In brief, it splits people into four types:
- ‘Why‘ people: need reasons and relevance before they will listen.
- ‘What‘ people: information junkies; want to know all the facts.
- ‘How‘ people: pragmatic and practical; they seek usability.
- ‘What If‘ people: visionary, interested in the future possibilities.
Most of us have elements of all four types but usually one of the four ‘buttons’ is particularly ‘hot’.
For example, you can provide a ‘why’ person with all of the facts you like but they will not even listen unless you satisfy their ‘why’ first.
If you are giving a presentation or writing a marketing leaflet, the only safe assumption is that your audience will contain people of all four types.
Where Most Marketing Messages Fail
And that’s where most marketing messages fail – they don’t pay enough attention to all four buttons. Most often communication misses out the crucial first button – giving people a good reason ‘why’ they should pay attention.
If you don’t hit that one, many in your audience won’t even listen to what you have to say. Typically people rush straight in to the facts, the features – the ‘what’ part. While this is important, it is not enough on its own.
This is not a new problem – legendary advertising man John E Kennedy wrote the classic ‘Reason Why Advertising’ on this subject around the same time that Kipling wrote his poem.
And, often, messages are stuffed full of information but don’t make clear how it can be put to practical use.
The ‘4mula’ for Successful Persuasion
So, whether you are writing a 200 word letter or a 60 minute presentation, try taking a piece of paper, splitting it into four quadrants and answering these four questions.
Why should my audience be interested in this message?
- Brainstorm as many reasons as possible why people will benefit from what you have to say or from buying your product or service
- Choose the best reasons and tell people about them first
What information do they need to make a decision?
- Give them the facts that they need
- Explain the features of your product or service
How will they use it?
- Tell them what they need to do next
- Give them an action plan they can implement
What will happen in the future?
- Point out the risks they face if they don’t take your advice
- Paint a great picture of how things will be if they do as you suggest
Then use that information to write your letter or brochure or deliver your presentation.
The amount of words or time needed for each segment will vary depending on your purpose but remember to give adequate time to all four – and cover them in the above order.
Cover ‘why’ as early as possible – though you might need a brief introduction to your topic first – and make it powerful. Then give them the information they need but make sure you explain ‘how’ they can make it work.
And finally, give a vivid picture of what will happen if they do (or don’t) follow your advice.
And, while you use this scientifically-proven system for persuasion, don’t forget Mr Kipling’s other honest serving men; you need to think about ‘who’ your audience is and tailor the message to them; and you need to consider ‘when’ and ‘where’ to deliver it to get maximum impact.
But you can use the ‘4mula’ of ‘why/what/how/what if’ as the basis for creating powerful marketing messages quickly and easily.
If you choose not to hit these four hot buttons, your message will miss a large chunk of your potential audience and you will lose out on many possible customers.
Or you can choose to use it as the basis for crafting your marketing messages and see how much easier it becomes to create powerful marketing material and to deliver persuasive presentations. Then, as your marketing message hits the mark with a much bigger audience, just watch as your business begins to grow.
(Footnote: Naturally this article follows the formula – it starts with a reason why you should read on (after a brief introduction), it then covers the facts and goes on to explain how you can use the information. Finally it says what will happen in the future if you do or don’t listen to this advice. It makes writing so easy!)