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The Power of Telling Your Customer What’s at Stake

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The Power of Telling Your Customer What’s at Stake

What comes to your mind when you think of an infomercial?

You might see a person in black and white, struggling with a particular task or appliance, making a dramatic expression of frustration. The voiceover booms, “Are you tired of ______?”

The solution is then introduced in full color. The person who had struggled before is now using the revolutionary new tool with success, beaming with delight. More people enter the scene, excited to enjoy the benefits of the solution. The voiceover exclaims, “Now you can _____ without ______ !” Then you start to hear about everything else you can do with the solution as those options are demonstrated on the screen.

As hokey as infomercials can be, they’re still effective. One reason why is that they provide clear pictures of what success and failure look like. While it may seem like overkill to showcase failure in black-and-white imagery and exaggerated anguish, the contrast it makes to the full color reality and obvious enthusiasm triggers something in our brains. 

We think of how exasperating it is to deal with the problem. We remember how satisfying it is to have a solution — and experience benefits above and beyond what we imagined. We can see ourselves utilizing the solution and experiencing the transformation, just like the person on the screen.

To help your target market emotionally connect to the transformation they want to experience, you need to describe what success and failure look like for them.

You want them to visualize it in their minds in full color. You also want them to fully understand what’s at stake if they choose to ignore your solution.

Success and failure can be personal, but they can also be collective. The impact of your solution touches on what it would mean for you, your customers, and the world if your solution were widely adopted. You can also use that information when you’re crafting a message for your customers.

Start with success and failure on a personal scale. Your objective is to form statements directed at your potential customers that you can use in sales and marketing materials. Here are some templates to get you started:

What Success Might Look Like for Your Customer

  • You will no longer have to deal with [specific negative effect] of [the problem].
  • You will enjoy [these benefits] of [the solution].
  • People may start saying these kinds of things to you: [Example quote from a friend].
  • You can get up in the morning feeling [this particular way].
  • You will be able to [do this activity] without experiencing [this chronic problem].
  • You can finally be able to [experience benefit] after months or even years of [experiencing problem’s negative effects].

What Failure Might Look Like for Your Customer

  • You may continue to feel the same [negative feelings] that [the problem] has caused you.
  • You will have to hunt after more solutions, search through [lots of information / conflicting advice], and potentially waste a good deal of time and energy.
  • You will have to deal with [specific complications brought on by the problem].
  • You may miss the opportunity to [enjoy the benefits of the solution].

Now that you have a few statements to work with, get more descriptive so that they feel imminent and real to your customers. The key to being descriptive is asking questions like these:

  • What does it feel like?
  • What does it sound like?
  • What does it literally look like?
  • What do people say? What do their friends say?
  • What are the details that people experience?

It takes work to be as specific as possible, and customer language always helps with this. When people care about something or have a deep need, they don’t spare the intricate details of their emotions, their wins, and their complaints.

One quick note as you do this: Beware of getting too negative or personal when it comes to describing failure. You don’t want to be aggressive or threatening. In fact, it’s highly effective to use your target market’s language whenever possible, reflecting people’s frustrations back to them.

Define Success and Failure on a Collective Scale

Now that you’ve covered success and failure on a personal scale, it’s time to define success and failure on a collective scale.

You know what it looks like if a customer chooses your solution — his or her life will improve in certain distinct ways. But what happens when lots of people choose your solution? What does that do for the community? What does it do for the world?

There’s power in the collective, and it’s worth describing to your customer what could happen if the solution you offer catches on. They might not only want to purchase but also become an advocate with you in eliciting a greater future.

The message goes something like this:

When more people choose [solution], we all get to experience more of [transformation]. Together, we can end [problem] for good.

Similarly, you also have a chance to be clear about what happens if people don’t participate on a collective scale.

Your customers need to know what’s at stake when they get involved… and being highly specific about success and failure is a naturally compelling way to communicate that to them.


This is an edited excerpt from my book Mission, Market, Message: The Actionable Guide to Marketing for Small Business Owners, which you can purchase on Amazon.