Today’s companies offer an amazing array of products and services. Surprisingly, the best way to promote those products and services is to stop talking about them.

No, I’m not advocating that products should sell themselves, or that marketing efforts are useless. Quite the contrary. What I’m saying is that so often, companies become so focused on their products and services that they forget why those products and services exist.

No matter what you sell or provide, ultimately it exists to serve people. Sure, your accounting firm may offer auditing services, but you deliver those services to company owners and executives who want to be certain that their books are accurate and legal. Your company may produce an insecticide that’s deadly to cockroaches, but that insecticide is purchased directly or indirectly so people won’t have to worry about having brown bugs scurrying around their homes. Maybe you manufacture ball bearings that keep industrial machinery spinning at tens of thousands of RPMs, but their real reason for existing is so the owners of that machinery won’t have to worry about breakdowns.

Most companies are proud of the products and services they offer, so they figure the best way to promote them — whether through ads, a website, social media, or any other channel — is to tell everything about them. They tend to list as many features as they can. And they like to use words that make the products and services seem even better, like “top-quality” and “world-class.” Isn’t that what marketing is all about?

Well, not really. In simple terms, effective marketing is about finding a need, developing a way to fill that need, making the person in need aware of it, and convincing them to buy it. Simply talking about all the features and saying wonderful things about your company is the equivalent of standing there and shouting, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!”

So what should you do instead of talking about your products and services? Start by getting to know the people who need them. Then help them understand how your product or service will improve their lives, lower their stress, save them money — whatever its advantages may be. And do it in language they’ll understand.

Rather than say “our veeblefetzer uses a three-segmented fribjit “ — something the engineering team is deeply proud about, but is meaningless to customers without an explanation — tell the customer that “you’ll core radishes in less time, because our exclusive fribjit holds the radish in place.” Those two sentences give you a comparison between a feature and a benefit. A feature is what makes your product different; a benefit is why that’s important to customers.

Most of all, though, instead of talking to customers about what’s important to you, talk about what matters to them. Someone who processes radishes is concerned about handling as many as possible, with minimal waste and downtime. If you talk about those factors, and then show how your product achieves what they need, you’ll make it clear that you have a genuine interest in helping them be more productive and successful.

The best way to explain how well your product or service fits the bill is to put it in the form of a story. Instead of forcing the prospect to guess at what using what you offer can do for them, share a story that shows what it did for someone else. We relate better to messages that are in the form of stories, whether we call them case studies or testimonials.If you tell me that Roger’s Produce Processing was able to increase their throughput of radishes by 34 percent and cut waste by 12 percent using your product, it’s easy for me to envision what that kind of performance could do for my radish production lines. But tell me that your world-class veeblefetzer uses titanium zimzams, and I’m not sure why that should be important to me.

Not sure what your customers want to hear or how they say it? Spend some time in the field with your sales staff. Talk to people at trade shows. Hold focus groups with your current customers to develop a better understanding of what’s most important to them. Then use what you learn to transform your ads, your website, your brochures, and all those other materials to language that means more to your customers than to your internal team. That’s what’ll get customers talking about you.

Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing.

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