Whether your product is an object someone can hold in their hand, or it’s a service you provide, there is greatness within it.
The key is to find and reveal what I call your product truth.
You see, there is a truth to your product, just like there’s a truth to you as a person. Most people undersell themselves. So do most products.
Most products are like unpolished gems. They have potential waiting to be unleashed. When that occurs, people will stop and take notice.
Here’s one of my favorite examples of what I’m talking about. It’s a perfect example of finding and revealing a product truth.
(Plus it has the added benefit of combining two of my favorite topics: classic advertising and beer brewing)
The copywriter and the brewery
This story is about the legendary advertiser, Claude Hopkins, and his visit to the Schlitz Brewery in the early 1900’s.
On his visit, he was stunned to discover the lengths to which Schlitz went to ensure high-quality beer:
- The filtering pumps and pipes were cleaned twice a day
- The beer bottles were sterilized four times before being filled
- The water came from a 4,000-foot deep artesian well
Hopkins was blown away. He said to his clients, the Schlitz people, “This is incredible. You go to such great lengths to brew high-quality beer. Why aren’t you talking about it?”
The Schlitz people shrugged it off. “It’s no big deal, really. The other breweries do it too.”
To which Hopkins replied, “Perhaps, but none of them are saying it.”
After his brewery visit, Hopkin’s sat down and wrote ads explaining the Schlitz process. When they were published, the public loved them. And went out and bought Schlitz beer like crazy.
Because of these ads, Schlitz jumped from 8th in their industry to 1st.
I know how Hopkins felt as he toured the brewery. In interviewing clients for a project, I’ve had many of these moments. Moments where I say, “Wow, you’ve gotta say this.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s most products don’t need to add new features. They already have what they need. It’s simply a matter of finding what matters most, and floating it to the surface.
What are the steps in this process?
There are only two steps.
- Uncover your truth
- Express it to the world
This is easier said than done, of course.
Uncovering your truth is difficult because it can be difficult to know where to look. A big reason why it’s so tough is because you’re so close to your product. This is often called “the curse of knowledge.”
This is why when doing this type of work, the phrase Hopkins uttered to the Schlitz people — “Why aren’t you saying that?” — is so common. We don’t realize it’s special because we’re so accustomed to it.
The expression step is how you convey that truth to the world. We all know when trying to make a point, it’s not enough to tell someone something directly. In order for them to “get it,” they have to discover it themselves.
This is the world of storytelling. This is what copywriters, graphic designers, and people like myself get paid to do. But it’s not hard to learn, as we’re all naturally wired for it.
Those are the steps. Uncovering and expressing a product truth. They’re simple, but not easy. The best way to learn is through examples. You’ll see a great one in the Volkswagen ad later in this article
Relevant truths only
You might be asking, “So what you’re saying Billy is I’m supposed to reveal everything?”
Not at all. This is where discernment plays an important role.
As people, we pay attention to what matters. Read that sentence again, it’s critical. There is far, far too much data in the world to take in everything at once. To understand more about this, watch the famous selective attention test, which in my opinion is one of the most important scientific studies ever conducted.
This is why when I teach copywriting, students often get confused by this advice: “Share stories about yourself, but also focus on the reader.”
It sounds like a paradox. It’s not. It’s entirely possible to tell stories about yourself and keep the copy focused on the reader. The key is to tell stories that are relevant to the reader, all while stripping away any details that don’t support your goal.
To understand this concept of relevant truths, think of art. Art is the perfect example. When you experience a great piece of art — whether it’s a painting, a novel, a movie, or a play — there is nothing extra. In one of my favorite movies, Whiplash, every scene is perfect and belongs. No scene is fluff.
The Russian playwright, Androv Checkhov, wrote about this idea of relevance. It was so profound that this concept is now called “Checkhov’s Gun.”
“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
What you choose include when you express your truth depends on what is most important and relevant. Which is really at the heart of my marketing approach: helping the customer determine what’s most important, so they can make the right decision for them.
Just as in your personal life, you may have a knack for being irreverant and cracking jokes. This may be a wonderful personality trait to express at a friend’s birthday party. But at a funeral, not so much.
Again, we come back to this idea of subtracting, not adding. Less is more. In your marketing, subtract what is unimportant so that only the essential remains. Chip away the stone until you find the angel. That is art. That is truth.
So where do you find your product truth?
To be clear, I don’t want this concept to be too in the clouds. I want it to be practical. Actionable.
And although I don’t see this work ever ending, I have enough experience through my years in marketing to point you in the right direction.
To take a step back, we are searching for your product truth. Because when we find it, we find what makes you most unique. And that which makes must unique (personally or in our products) is our most valuable asset for thriving in the world. It’s a true win-win. It’s best for us, and also for the people with whom we share this planet.
Okay, to find our product truth, we need a place to look. Here are three areas I’ve found that usually reveal the gold.
Your personal backstory is an often overlooked area to find your truth. Again, we’re too close to it. We don’t think it’s important.
“Why should my personal story matter when selling my product?” we ask.
Except it does matter. Think about all the “It started in a garage… ” stories we hear about entrepreneurs. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk. Think of Ben Franklin and the kite.
Don’t overlook the power of your story. It’s unique. And unique is the gold we’re looking for. Ask yourself…
- Why did you build your product?
- What problem were you trying to solve?
- What challenges did you overcome during your product development?
These are truths about your product. Uncover them, and share them with your customers. It will lead to more sales, I promise.
Technology is how your product works. When I say technology, think broadly. I’m not just talking about the iPhone.
I’m talking about fire. The wheel. Antibiotics.
The ads for Schlitz Brewery? They were centered around technology. Claude Hopkins uncovered and expressed the Schlitz brewing technology. How the yeast was filtered, how the bottles were cleaned, how the water was extracted from the artisanal well, etc.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- How is our product made?
- What pains and costs did we incur to bring this product to market?
- What goes into making our product that competitors can’t claim? Or that we’re both doing, but they aren’t saying?
In marketing, the top copywriters know that you can make promise after promise until you’re blue in the face. But when you’re in a competitive industry, everyone is making the same promise. That’s why the top copywriters will switch the focus of their ads from the promise, to how the promise is achieved. In others, how the product works. The technology.
This is the area that holds the most gold. It’s also the most difficult to find. It takes the most digging. The most creative thinking.
To search this area, ask yourself these questions.
- “What pain is possible for my product to relieve?
- “What incredible new future is possible with my product?”
Just as we don’t know the limits of our own, personal potential, we don’t know the limits of our product’s potential. Many products were created for one purpose, then found a much larger, much more lucrative use.
Viagra was originally designed to lower blood pressure. Coca-Cola was originally created to treat morphine abuse. Frisbees were originally pie containers.
Sometimes, the use stays the same. And what changes is the way the product is perceived in the minds of the prospect. A perfect example is Volkswagen’s Think Small campaign for the Beetle.
The Think Small campaign expressed a truth about the Beetle that had never before been expressed. Customers saw this newly expressed truth and bought the car in droves.
When I teach about product possibilities, I often reference the title of my favorite Dr. Suess book. “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”
What are the places people can go with your product?
If you want to use this idea of product truth, these are the three areas where I recommend you begin your search. Your story, your technology, and your possibilities. I hope you find the gold, because it’s sure there.
What’s your product truth?
If you’re like every company I’ve worked with, there is something about your product you’re not saying, and if you did, good things would happen.
My mission — through my consulting, writing, and teaching — is to help find and express the product truths that align most with customer wants & needs.
How to go deeper into my work
Here are some signs what I write about can help:
- You sound too much like your competitors
- It takes forever to explain what you do
- You know your product is awesome, but have a hard time getting your point across
- You want to market what you do in a way that feels aligned, authentic, and genuine
- You hate the idea of using hype and pushy marketing tactics
If any of those sound like you, I can help. Below are some options for going deeper into my work.
- Join my email newletter
I send a few short emails each week with marketing examples, as well as my own stories from the trenches. Both the good and the ugly.
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2. Read my articles on this site
I love to write and you’ll find a collection of articles on this site. They all relate back to messaging about your product. A few recommend next articles are below.
3. Hit me up
To work with me, hire me to speak, or to simply say hi, head to my contact page.