Your audience wants to know: what’s in it for them?

Jul 5, 2010

I was recently helping a client get ‘unstuck’ in his creative process. He was struggling with microsite copy for a video contest based on raising awareness of poverty-related issues.

During our brainstorming session, I realized that he was getting stuck on a problem common to many non-profit organizations: forgetting to tell the audience what’s in it for them. His language spoke only to those already engaged, which was missing the point of the contest. What we were trying to accomplish was raising awareness; therefore, the goal was to bring in new, unaware or unengaged audiences.

I realized that my client’s language was covering why readers should care, instead of why they would care about entering the contest. So I reached into the copywriter’s bag of tricks and pulled out the tried and true ‘Features and Benefits’ list.

Here’s what you do; any time you are trying to write persuasive copy, make a list of the product or service’s features and benefits. I’ve used a reusable shopping bag as a very simple example here:


Features                                                Benefits

Long-lasting canvas material                 You won’t have to buy another bag for years!

Wide shoulder strap                               No more sore shoulders

External pocket                                      Easy to throw in/find your wallet and keys

Environmentally friendly                         Feel good about not creating waste


Your features list is important, but the benefits you establish really serve as a source of compelling body copy.

In the case of our contest, we unearthed benefits beyond ‘being heard’ ‘making positive change’ and ‘getting involved’. Given the nature of the video contest, the prizes to be won and the judges involved, we realized that we had a wealth of incentives for participation, including:

  • ‘creative inspiration’,
  • ‘having your creative work published’,
  • ‘building your portfolio’
  • ‘having a chance to win gear for your next project’, and;
  • ‘getting feedback from leading creative minds’.

Effective copy depends on communicating benefits – and it’s really not that difficult. Start with your features list, which will likely come easily. Then put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and spend some time really thinking about why they should care. It will be time well spent!

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