Focus on the Why, Not the We

Years ago when I was starting out as a copywriter, I had just finished writing a television script for a well-known department store. After patting myself on the back, I couldn’t wait to read it to my creative director.

My idea was to communicate that the company cared about their shoppers, how the company felt and what they believed in. You know, things like…

“We at (name of company) think that you work hard for your money. That’s why we believe you deserve a break, and why we’re bringing you savings, because we care …”

I delivered a heartfelt read to my boss and waited for my kudos, but what I received was a life-long lesson and a deeper understanding of what it means to be a marketer.

“Who cares what WE think?” my mentor bellowed (sans expletives). “It’s not about what WE think. It’s about what THEY think! You know what that spot is? Corporate we-we.” (He had a way with words.)

Corporate We-We. That has stuck with me to this day, because aside from the tongue lashing, he was right: I had taken the voice of the customer completely out of my thought process.

Had I offered a reason to care?

Was the spot relevant to the audience?

Did it help them solve a problem?

Would they feel smart for using our product or visiting our store?

Would they believe it?

And most importantly — Had I given them a reason to buy?

Don’t get me wrong, not all We-We is bad. Consumers and shoppers want to hear what brands have to say — but in a way that’s relevant to them. And in this day and age of a thousand and one choices, global competition, up-to-the-minute social media and shrinking budgets, focusing on the “Why” instead of the “We” is a good place to start.

The next time your strategy meeting starts with “Here’s what WE want to do” or “WE think we’re different because” or “Why do WE need to pay for account planning,” take a deep breath, and if you’re brave enough, ask the following questions. They may seem like a big duh, but you’d be surprised at what a lot of marketers aren’t thinking about.

What does the target think about the brand of product or service and where does it fit in their lives?

Before you can be relevant you need to gauge how they see you now. If your target only bakes on the holidays and you want to sell more baking supplies, how can you make baking relevant other times of the year?

What is the most common hurdle to buying the product or service? What are your target’s pain points?

Understanding what’s happening in your target’s life is a crucial step in understanding how your brand can help them, whether it’s something functional like understanding what motor oil they want to buy or something deeper like feeling confident when they apply for a job.

What are the cultural trends affecting your target?

If things that worked five years ago aren’t working anymore, understanding the why and being willing to change your strategy has never been more crucial. For example, while paper usage has changed, there is still a place for paper in this world. The where and why may be different.

Recently, there was a quote on Seth Godin’s blog that makes being relevant simple to understand:

A marketing-driven organization is run by the marketing department. It revolves around what marketers do.

A market-driven organization is driven by what the market wants, regardless of what the marketing department feels like doing.

“We” think that sums it up nicely.