The Best Way To Engage Your Audience Is To Help Them Kick Ass

by nils  - February 18, 2014

I’ve been reviewing competitor websites recently for an enterprise software client who needs to improve their value proposition and market positioning. It’s been interesting, primarily for how terrible these websites all are. (Not to say that they aren’t pretty, or that the companies aren’t successful – but with a few exceptions the marketing is not great.)


Most of the sites, the more enterprise-oriented products, have very similar messages. 90% of the marketing content on these sites is interchangeable.

The basic benefits claims are of the form:

  • [Product] is a [category] to provide [business goal]
  • [Feature] does [X] to provide [business goal]
  • [Business problem] is bad. Use [product] to prevent it {using [feature]}

These sites talk a lot about “you” – but “you” on these sites means “your business,” not you as an individual user or role. Even though the CIO is often the purchaser of these products, it’s never the CIO’s interests that are addressed, much less an IT manager or operator, but the business’s.

Likewise, all the goals and benefits mentioned are to the enterprise or business, not individuals.

Bottom line, these sites focus on “business goals” – be more efficient, sell more, reduce downtime, increase availability.

Talk About Practical Goals To Be More Human-oriented

However, some of the sites get more personal, and start to bring in what Alan Cooper calls “practical goals” and “personal goals” in his book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum. Roughly, you can think of practical and personal goals as follows:

  • Practical goal = make one of the things in your job description easier – e.g., “see all the data you need in one window.”
  • Personal goal = address something that gives me (or takes away) job or personal satisfaction or motivation – e.g., “be a hero” or “we automate things so you don’t have to figure them out.”

These sites and products are less oriented to enterprises, which is not a coincidence. While none abandon business goals as “benefits”, some of them mention practical goals as benefits as well, usually in the form:

  • You can achieve [a practical goal] using [product]

The other big change on these sites is that “you” often means the developer, tester, or ops person, rather than the business. These changes definitely make these sites more engaging, but adding in personal goals is more powerful.

Personal Goals Are The Most Engaging

The bright spot was one site that actually talks about personal goals (sometimes):

  • You can achieve [a personal goal] by using [product]
  • [Feature] addresses [a personal pain point]

This site actually used the “Be a hero” line, as well as describing a set of features that let you “kick ass.”

Customer success stories

I was fascinated to see that all the characteristics of these websites carried through into their customer success stories as well. If the website focused solely on business goals, then so did the success stories. If the website talked about personal goals, then the success stories did as well. In fact, there seems to be a more powerful effect – not only were the success stories oriented around achieving personal goals, but they also did a much better job of talking about differentiators, such as order of magnitude improvements and better ability to link to other business processes in the company.

What can you do today?

Here are two things you can do immediately to start improving your messaging based on these observations.

  1. When you find yourself writing down a benefit in the form of a business goal (“[Feature] does [X] to provide [business goal]”), ask “Why?” five times to drill down until you discover one or more personal goals. And then use the personal goal as part of the benefit.
  2. When you are interviewing a customer for a success story, look for how the customer achieved a personal goal, eliminated a personal pain point, achieved an order of magnitude improvement, or can now work better with other organizations. You can use questions like:
    • “What are you no longer worried about now that you are using [product]?”
    • “What unexpected benefits did you get when you started using [product]?”
    • “How has [product] changed the way you interact with other organizations in the company?”
    • “Compare your work life for me now that you have [product] versus how it used to be”


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Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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