How to Craft an Exciting Marketing Message … Even for a Boring Product

image of man yawning

Most of us struggle to find the uniqueness, the interestingness, in our products or services.

The reason we struggle is because we’re looking for something exciting and new to show our clients and customers.

All we seem to come up with though, is how mundane and uninteresting our wares seem to be. A long list of boring features, a tired value proposition that one hundred other businesses offer.

I’ve come to understand that marketing a boring product or service online can actually a very exciting exercise — for you, and your customers.

You just need to know how to think correctly about it.

Let me explain …

The ‘Twelve Apostles’ of Australia

Australia has close to six million tourists moving through it every year. About 1.7 million of these visit the site of the ‘Twelve Apostles’.

Now before you get all reverential here, recognise the fact that there’s nothing very holy about this place.

The Twelve Apostles are just a collection of limestone stacks off the shore, as you drive down the Great Ocean road. It wasn’t even known as the Twelve Apostles to begin with.

The site was originally known as ‘the Sow and Piglets’ until 1922 — after which it was renamed to The Apostles for tourism purposes. The formation eventually became known as The Twelve Apostles.

What’s ironic is that there aren’t even twelve limestone stacks at the site. There are just nine, and one of those nine is eroding, so there will soon be eight.

But do those 1.7 million visitors care? No, they don’t. Because to them, that venue is unique.

Someone decided that in a continent full of wonders, they could isolate one attraction and draw millions of tourists to see these rocks. Yup, just rocks.

In effect, Australia took the mundane and made it extremely exciting.

The mundane Mona Lisa

The Louvre in Paris, France houses over 35,000 pieces of art.

While the Mona Lisa is certainly not mundane in and of itself, it’s just one of the many splendid pieces of art in that building. In that context, it’s fairly mundane.

So why does everyone rush to see the Mona Lisa? You know the answer already, don’t you?

At some point, someone decided to highlight the Mona Lisa.

In doing so, they played down 34,999 other works of art. That’s akin to having a product with 35,000 features and playing down all but one feature.

That’s how to get attention.

Your product or service has the same problem

If you look at a membership site — any membership site, there are a ton of reasons why you should join and continue to be a member.

Let’s list a few, shall we?

  1. Reliable answers to problems in the topic
  2. Timely responses, 24/7
  3. Access to the site owner
  4. Accountability
  5. Access to practical “how to” resources
  6. Access to a community of like minded people
  7. Access to helpful members
  8. A safe environment
  9. A getting-things-done environment
  10. Privileged access to courses and products

So what’s so interesting about that list?

There may well be some interesting aspects to that list, but it may also be very mundane. For example: Access to practical “how to” resources.

Now surely, that feature is very mundane.

Every membership site on the planet promises the very same thing. You sign up and you get access to all of these wonderful tutorials and goodies. That’s kinda interesting, yet boring, eh?

Not if you make it a benefit.

It could very easily be given the uniqueness factor by describing why these ‘how to’ resources are better than anything that you may possibly find elsewhere …

Let’s take a crack at it, shall we?

Here’s my take on electrifying this mundane benefit:

“How To” Resources at XYZ Memberships Site: If you join a membership site, you’re sure to run into hundreds of articles and tutorials. The difference between what you see in XYZ Membership site and elsewhere, is that the articles don’t just tell you ‘how’ to do something, but ‘why’ that something works.

Once you understand ‘why’ something works, you’re able to replicate that concept successfully across all your products or services — and know why it’s failing and how to fix it and make it work for to your benefit.

Here’s one more example …

Let’s say you own a tea company.

There are half a dozen — probably two dozen — reasons why someone should buy your tea. Well, which reason are you going to choose?

You’re more than likely to go for something that seems dramatic. But for the purposes of this exercise, let’s just choose the mundane.

  1. Tea must be pesticide and chemical-free
  2. Tea must be from this year’s crop
  3. Dry leaf should look fresh and shiny
  4. Aroma must be fragrant and lively
  5. Liquor must never be cloudy
  6. Mouth feel must have the right umami
  7. Teas must be priced appropriately

Now there are some exceptionally interesting, and some terribly mundane points in that list. But, they’re only mundane because of a lack of explanation.

If we were to choose the concept of ‘cloudiness’ of tea, for instance, we could go on and on about how the tea liquor needs to be clear, how a pure leaf will create a translucent, almost shimmering cup of tea, why a cloudy liquor is often a sign of low quality — and hence, not so tasty tea.

Highlight the benefits, not the features

The key factor isn’t the feature.

You could take a mundane feature, give it a little oomph, and it’ll force your audience to take notice. The beauty is that you can do it with any feature.

Yes, you’re more likely to be tempted to use the best possible feature, but in reality there is no ‘best’ feature. Any feature, no matter how mundane, can be given the spotlight.

What makes the feature stand out is the story behind the feature; the reason why that feature is so very important.

When choosing or creating the uniqueness factor for your products or services, you may work long and hard to find something amazing.

It’s a simple formula

Look for the mundane.

Elevate that ‘so-called’ boring feature to one of great prominence by describing why that feature is so very important.

That will get you one step closer to uniqueness.

What are some of the more ‘mundane’ aspects of your product or service? Let us know in the comments …

About the Author: Sean D’Souza offers a great free report on ‘Why Headlines Fail’ when you subscribe to his Psychotactics Newsletter. Be sure to check out his blog, too.

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Comments

  1. Love it Sean. Reminds me how Huntington Hartford bought the Hog islands in Bahamas and made them extremely popular. He just renamed them to Paradise island.

    Repackage the mundane and make it shine. Pretty good advice.

    (The Mona Lisa becoming famous… that has a whole another reason behind it. In 1911, some one stole it from the Louvre – which experts had said was impossible. This bought the painting into highlight. Especially because Pablo Picasso was named as a suspect in the investigation. Created a lot of buzz. When it was found 2 years later, folks flocked to see the painting. It then hit the Paris Hilton effect. Mona Lisa is famous for being famous. No one remembers the theft – which was the tipping point to make it famous in the first place.)

  2. Speak for yourself Sean… there’s nothing boring about my wares I can assure you!
    However, a great article, thanks. As a Copywriter I found myself having to try to get excited about the most extraordinarily dull things imaginable in order to successfully/effectively write about them. Since I’ve started working (solely) with Startups this hasn’t happened once!
    Is passion the key?

    • You’re probably very excited with your stuff. Most people aren’t. They see a feature as just a feature.

    • I agree with Sean, it can be fatally dangerous to assume your customer is as excited about your product as you are. :)

      • Apologies. I should have placed a wink icon after my first sentence. Serves me right for commenting thirty seconds before dashing out of the door!
        I think I was probably only saying how enthusiastic I personally have to be about a client’s product (ie rocks) in order to write their copy. Many client’s think that their ‘rocks’ are very interesting. Often they are not. As a Copywriter you must surely always make your client’s rocks shine?
        Making the mundane seem extraordinary and exciting has been my work for a good few years now. I promise I do understand the DNA of your post!

        My clients

  3. “Highlight the benefits, not the features”

    Excellent advice! Don’t just tell your audience what it does, tell them what it can do for them! You need to make it more tangible and show how it impacts their life.

  4. Earlier this week, I happened to write a post about how listing “good customer service” as a feature of your business is not enough. It’s not enough because no one is looking for bad customer service. Things like good service, being helpful, knowledgeable are expectations, not what makes one unique (at least in most cases).

    One of my readers left a comment about how she changed the phrase customer service to something more catchy, which I thought was good. In addition, she also described in more detail what she meant. I believe that made the biggest difference in helping her stand out as you talk about here.

    I’ve been following your Uniqueness series and it’s been both enjoyable and insightful so thank you for that and for this post as well.

  5. Well said. Great article!

    You made your point clearly and it was an enjoyable read! And I thought I was going to be so bored!

    The image of the guy yawning was a real turn off. I usually go for an interesting and intriguing lead image of my own “taking” to draw attention to my blog posts.

    Thanks for the surprise. I love surprises. The examples of the Mona Lisa and The Twelve Apostles are what brought me in and kept me there until the end and got me thinking. It’s great when you make people stop what they are doing or plan to do and change their day with something you’ve created. And the change is for the better. Thanks! Inspiration needs to be renewed time and time again. Especially for a writer. It did me good today.

    Tell me a story to prove your point. It works every time. Your examples were great.

    I don’t spend one second of the day thinking about what’s mundane or boring about my product or services. It’s usually my job as a writer to get rid of that stuff. I actually enjoy reading my own stuff. It’s the boring stuff that needs help that people bring me to fix that can make me stumble and scratch my head. Until I realize, I have to toss a lot of it and rethink it. That’s often how I get work.

    The only mundane and boring stuff I think about is getting the house work and yard work done as quickly as possible!

    Cheers.

  6. As a longtime copywriter for catalogs and e-commerce (as well as the high tech industry), making a product interesting is key to success, not just for my own business but for the clients’ revenue as well. Lands’ End is a master at this: they once devoted an entire page to how they sewed buttons (diagonally, not straight across), making it seem as if they were the only company that paid attention to this detail. The first product I ever wrote copy for was for an outdoor pet toilet. What I wrote had barely anything to do with how it worked. My headline was something like: “how to prove you have the smartest dog in the neighborhood.”

    • See? That’s such a cool point!

      ========
      Lands’ End is a master at this: they once devoted an entire page to how they sewed buttons (diagonally, not straight across), making it seem as if they were the only company that paid attention to this detail.

  7. I loved the story about the Twelve Apostles. That really got me to thinking – I mean, that they are just ROCKS and all, and that there are not 12 of them! Funny! I’ve always known to highlight benefits not features but this was a new take. Thanks, Amy

  8. Love this article… Like they say, no boring roles, just boring actors. The more mundane, the greater the challenge! And as writers, we should welcome that…

  9. “Making something boring, interesting” is a subject many of us have huge amounts of difficulty getting our heads around. I’m one of them and you see time and time again people failing at it. It takes a great article like this to really pad out and highlight the ‘how to’. Bookmarking, printing and sticking this to my wall. The examples top it off nicely and really make the concept come to life.

  10. I have a question: When you highlight that one feature, do you normally mention the others, kind of as additional points, or do you leave them off altogether (at the time)? My main product (Vacation Bible School materials) has lots of “the usual” (stories, worksheets, games…), but with a twist (a conservative Christian approach). So far, I’ve usually listed all the usual stuff rather briefly and tried to emphasize what the difference is.

    Is Sonia’s comment regarding not assuming your customer is as excited as you are meant to imply that we need to put some effort into convincing our customer–giving them an idea of what we have to offer? (Or am I missing something there?)

    Okay, I guess that was a few questions…Anyway, thanks. You guys (and gals) always get me thinking. :)

    • Yes, yes, you do.
      I don’t know if there’s a follow up article scheduled with Copyblogger, but in one of the articles I do talk about the rest of the features.

      The star in a movie demands the bigger role. And uniqueness demands a bigger role too. But sometimes the star can take over the entire movie.

      So for instance, in Volvo, their uniqueness came to dominate their marketing. You heard about safety and safety features on a consistent basis. With Domino’s Pizza, there was no ‘supporting cast’ at all. All you ever heard was ‘30 Minutes or it’s Free’.

      And though Apple didn’t give Siri too much mileage on their sales page, their TV advertising is dominated by Siri. And so, in effect, Siri has taken the lead role and the rest of the features on the Apple iPhone 4s are just ‘supporting cast’.

      So why bother giving the uniqueness a bigger role?
      Clients can’t always figure out a uniqueness by themselves. If it’s something really dramatic, then yes, a customer will work out the uniqueness. But in many cases, the customer doesn’t know the uniqueness. So when you give that uniqueness factor a lead role and emphasise it in great detail, then you’re highlighting the uniqueness to the customer.

      Customers need to quote the same uniqueness. If you’ve got a squillion dollar budget and lots of patience, then it’s okay to hope that eventually all your customers will sing from the same page. The chances are you don’t have the time or the money. So it’s crucial to highlight the uniqueness by giving one feature the biggest role of all.

      If everything has exactly the same status, then you’re not driving home the uniqueness. To drive home the uniqueness, one feature must have the lead role; the spotlight.

      Every movie you’ve ever watched has a common factor.
      You have a star. And you have the supporting cast.

      The star gets all the lines. The star gets to do most of the work. The star is the focus. So what does the supporting cast do? The supporting cast comes in from time to time. They have smaller roles, fewer lines. And they have to do less work.

      Every product or service has several great features and benefits. And you’ve always been afraid to choose your uniqueness, because it would mean that you’d have to slaughter and sacrifice the rest. Technically yes, the slaughter and sacrifice is needed, but only while you’re making sure the uniqueness gets the star role.

      Once that role has been established, you can bring back the rest of the features and benefits to play their role as supporting crew. And that makes a good movie. And a good sales page. Or a good presentation, brochure, booklet, web page etc.

  11. Interesting piece, Sean. While I strongly insist that a really bad product can’t be made better, regardless of the marketing, I absolutely agree with you that a “boring” product, on the other hand, can, especially using these insightful tips you shared in this piece. Well written!

  12. The magic question your reader wants answered is always, “What’s in it for me?” If you nail the answer to that question, your product or service immediately becomes exciting to that reader. And if that reader is your target market, you’ve made a sale.

    • Well, yes, technically. But the issue here isn’t so much about ‘what’s in it for me’ but more about uniqueness.

    • I agree, but like Sean rightly pointed out – sometimes people don’t even know that. You have to draw it out for them… and extolling the BENEFITS of using your product or service works well, :)

  13. Enjoyed your article, though I must confess I had to read it twice because the first time I got hung up on your examples of Australia and Mona Lisa … I’ve been to Australia a dozen times working with the local travel industry and wasn’t even aware of the Twelve Apostles … I really think the Sydney Opera House is a much bigger draw. I’ve also hiked through the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa, but not because it was a ‘must see’ it was more like ‘well I’m here, can’t say I came all this way and missed it’ … anyway, don’t want to get hung up on details away from your point but then maybe that is the point – we can’t make assumptions about what our audience will consider valuable content.

    • Yes, the Opera House is Australia’s best known landmark (and it was almost not built because of politicians). But if you head out to Victoria, you will run into the Great Ocean road and the twelve apostles.

  14. hey sean, I liked the post. I even tried to see how I would perform by looking at the mundane tea examples and tried to bring it out.

    One of the mundane things about my product is “Thinking, character development” Sometimes I feel as if I’m telling people to go excessive because it’s good for you.
    Not too many people get fired up with character development, thinking, skill development. For me it’s like the hub of making being successful.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • You need to list features.
      ‘Thinking, character development’ doesn’t sound like a feature

      • Ok, I’m going to try again.

        * subscription for 1 year
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        to go with the workbook
        * Access to other members in the course
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        • So pretty much any of those, well expanded, could be a uniqueness. This article is about uniqueness—and less about the product.

          If you can expand (and I know you can) about the feature in detail, you can drive home the uniqueness.

          • Cool, I got It. I work as a business model consultant and can also do this as well for other clients whom have a mundane product and weak on there uniqueness. Thanks for the short convo, and help.

  15. Sean, being a Victorian myself (formerly English but I’ll claim it ;-) I LOVE the Twelve Apostles, it is a stunning location that you arrive at after driving along (in my opinion) one of the most spectacular roadways in the world.

    The Great Ocean Road. That’s not a bad name is it.

    I also think there is something to be said about brand promise here. Sure, tell a great story – but the user experience needs to encounter what the brand is telling you it will do (benefits) otherwise you’ll break the brand promise. No matter how sexy your product marketing is, they won’t come back.

    • Of course your promise has to match. Otherwise it won’t work. No one is saying you’re promising something and delivering something else :)

      But I can tell you the Mona Lisa breaks the brand promise. It’s quite underwhelming. :) And on the other hand, the Taj Mahal is far more amazing than you’d imagine it to be. So there are variations of perception too.

      • Having seen the Mona Lisa a few times now I would agree with you. The bulletproof glass and hoards of people kill the experience.

        Haven’t seen the Taj Mahal.

        My point was often people when they are marketing a boring product give in to the temptation to go just that little bit too far in it’s marketing to make it more appealing. I wasn’t suggesting that is what you meant.

        I would also say that being boring can actually be an asset with the right product. ;-) There are some things we don’t care about until they break down. Those are the kind I’m talking about. Boring and reliable.

        • Steve, What comes to my mind with your point about boring sometimes being an asset is Perdue chickens. The company’s original commercials featuring he late CEO, Frank Perdue, never used the word boring, but had him deadpan his line, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” That his appearance was so opposite the image of tough was funny. He made no effort to come off as a dynamic person; he came across as the epitome of boring. There’s not much exciting about chickens; it’s inherently a commodity. But his lack of personality and the fact that his face looks like a chicken, made his chickens fun. Very cool! And Sean, not to sound boring myself by repeating what so many previous posters have said, but your column is A-1, on target!

    • Leanne Shawler :

      Yeah, those limestone stacks are anything but mundane. The fact you have to drive for over four hours out of Melbourne to see them … You’re not gonna drive for 4 hours and back to see some pigs. :) And it is sooo worth it. (Especially if you take a tour bus and don’t have to do all that driving.)

      Good points in your article though!

  16. Thanks a lot for posting this interesting article. Now all of us are getting an idea about many things or features of websites that are interesting yet mundane.

  17. This was great advice. I am working on building a page for my day job and we are trying to come up with different ways to make what we do stand out and take notice. With so much competition doing the same thing, it can get pretty boring seeing companies dish out the same lack-luster verbiage on why they are better. Boring! I see now that it’s not about the product, but, “what’s in it for me”. for the customer. What makes what we do so special and why should they care.

    Thank you for reminding me that I need to show the benefits and how our features can help their business. Great post Sean.

    • Mostly its never the product that’s boring. It’s always the people were trying to sell the product. They think that the only thing that is exciting about a product is reducing the price before offering it to the customers. If you do a good job of making a product unique, you can increase the price.

  18. Having found little, if any, competition in my niche, I have been struggling with how to present something that is, in and of itself, unique. I’ve been working around the premise that ‘The best product out there is the one I don’t yet know I need.’ If this is working, it’s doing a slow job of it.
    Now, of all the research I’ve been doing, the landslide of email newsletters from business coaches, marketing experts, and writing mentors, I understand that it’s okay – no preferable – to focus on just one aspect of the product. So much easier to sell that one idea than the whole concept. You’ve given me great food for thought. After a half hour of reviewing your post, scribbling ideas, and peering at the ceiling, I think I’m leaning toward something to do with ‘convenience.’
    It’s just a matter now of making that sound fabulous!
    Thanks for the post!
    Alex.

    • If your product is indeed wonderful, there is even more urgency to make it unique. This is because once the product is wonderful, the competition just rushes in like a bunch of locusts.

  19. Your comment was even more useful than your post!. It’s so obvious, yet I’m sure I’m not the only person who gets carried away and misses your very valuable point, namely “If everything has exactly the same status, then you’re not driving home the uniqueness. To drive home the uniqueness, one feature must have the lead role; the spotlight.”

    Lesson learnt and understood! Thank you Sean.

    • I also agree with your comment about people getting carried away. Often people are so keen to just comment on a topic that they don’t realize what’s specifically being considered in that topic. In copywriting and marketing, topics can often look quite similar. This is why it’s important to read into what the writer is trying to convey before just dashing off an answer.

  20. Yes the comment was indeed more useful than the post. And that is because the post was an overview of the topic while the comment went deeper and was more specific. Most topics need a starting point — which is an overview. Once you get deeper into the topic the specifics bring out a greater richness.

  21. This post is jampacked with awesomeness.

  22. Great article! Loved the examples you used, especially the Mona Lisa. These are definitely some tips I’ll have to remember in the future.

  23. This was a very helpful article. I am the Marketing Specialist for a Water Treatment Company. We are trying to move more into sales for water treatment equipment, like Water Softeners, Neutralizers, etc for well water problems, like iron staining, odor in the water, and acidic water. I find it is difficult for this type of product to be exciting!! I know the benefits are great, for example no more cleaning stains out of your bathtub, kitchen sinks, toilets. And its better on your skin, hair, and for everyday use. I know our products have great features such as Digital display and high backwash, but most people have no idea what that means, how these systems work, or what they even are! So advertising the features doesn’t work..we must advertise benefits. But how to make the benefits unique when all competitors’ products provide the same benefits!!!? That’s my struggle…