Marketing is not something you do to people; it’s something you do for people.

When honest it brings clarity to the truths that a customer needs to hear:

  • Their existing situation could be vastly improved.
  • Your product is the best fit to solve their problems (real benefits, genuine outcomes).
  • Making the change to your product is a rationally sound move (no fear, no uncertainty).
  • Their reasons for sticking with their current solution aren’t as compelling as they think.

Marketing is the transfer of enthusiasm to the customer. Expecting customers to get excited about your product without your help is expecting too much.

Let’s talk about that. What can you do to make your offer emotionally compelling? It’s easy to describe but difficult to do: paint them a before and after picture.

The Push and the Pull

Even in consumer products, the call of lethargy drowns out most avenues of progress. It took me years to switch to Evernote—and switching is exactly what I was doing—because I didn’t want to give up my “genius” scattered notebook system. I didn’t even like the solution I had, but staying static was more appealing than making a scary change.

Why is this? In his famous Harvard Business Review article, Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers, John T. Gourville describes why most “better mousetraps” are routinely rejected: customers overweight the status quo by a factor of three, and sellers overweight their product’s benefits by a similar factor of three.

The 9x Effect From Eager Sellers, Stoney Buyers.

According to Gourville, “It’s not enough for a new product simply to be better. Unless the gains far outweigh the losses, customers will not adopt it.”

You influence how customers perceive these gains and losses. One of the best ways to demonstrate value is to contrast life before and after your product. Life with; life without. Motivation is key at every stage. “Okay for now” is what you’re up against, and beating the status quo is a herculean effort.

Contrast Leads to Conversions

A while back, I was talking with someone about the perils of Gmail vs. support software like Help Scout, and why even small elements like tags were necessary for any support department.

The discussion turned into a friendly “sell me on it” debate, and I gave my best efforts.

One of the sections in my reply was the following:

Why rely on “It feels like we spend a lot of time on this…” when tags and reporting can easily eliminate the guesswork? This is actually an important, overlooked issue in support: too much focus is given to the frequency of issues over the average handle time for each.

Rather, that is your world before support metrics. Your world after is clicking the “Time Tracking” tag and having immediate access to data that tells you how many emails you receive about the feature, as well as how long it takes your team to handle these conversations.

The line of particular interest to us here is, “that is your world before support metrics.” Inadvertently, I’d created a mental contrast. Later I would realize how recurring this theme is in marketing.

The before and after picture allows for a comparison instead of an evaluation. Reminding customers of where they are makes where they could be all the more relatable and real.

The impact is only as strong as the contrast. Like stepping in from the cold to a warm living room with a crackling fireplace, it’s the contrast that makes the transfer so enjoyable.

“This is your world before our product, and this is your world after.”

But you can’t just slap up a new headline and call it a day. Great marketing is great communication, and communication cascades to every level.

Full-Spectrum Persuasion

If we accept that both buyers and sellers start with an exaggerated perspective, we recognize that it is marketing that bridges the gap by bringing people back to reality. Imagine that.

The fix is creating this before and after narrative, but you'll have to make a concerted effort to weave it in.

The mistake to avoid is trying to rush the process. Customers buy when they’re ready to buy. As Samuel Hulick says, “The secret to successful customer acquisition is realizing that you don't acquire customers—they acquire you.”

Let them acquire you with a multi-faceted approach.

Show other customers making the leap. Nothing gives clarity to “your world before our product and your world after” quite like letting customers share their stories. When writing about how InVision uses Help Scout to solve the needs of over 700,000 users, we talked to Scott Markovits about the horrors of life before Help Scout before we touched on a single use-case. When you share that next testimonial or do that next interview, know that the goal is to share the journey from before to after.

Take care to approach different verticals. Not every switch to your product is the same. You have customers with different problems and different jobs to do. We don’t just have software companies switching over to Help Scout; we also have many ecommerce and online retailers making the leap. Change isn’t the same for them, so we don’t communicate with them the same way. We also dedicate time and effort into making sure we showcase the companies they can relate to the most.

Use content as customer success. Do you know what finally convinced me to use Evernote? The book Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly. Only then did I feel like I had the tools and training to switch. Remember that content can serve as hand-holding for holdouts. We’ve always viewed the Help Scout blog as another channel for customer success—we’ll help you reach inbox zero, get proactive with help content, and write helpful, crystal-clear support emails. The product helps you get the job done, the content ensures you won’t go it alone.

The first step to meaningful marketing is recognizing how hard it is to change. The second step is knowing that even a 10x product won’t sell itself without the right framing. You cannot control perception, but you can influence it. The path to take is the one which reminds customers of the muddy swamps in which they now reside and the green pastures that await when they move to your solution.

“This is your world before our product, and this is your world after.”

Gregory Ciotti
Gregory Ciotti

Greg is a writer, marketing strategist and alum of Help Scout. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.