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Grab Your Audience by Focusing on Benefits

By: Tracy Peterson Turner, PhD

Dr. Tracy Peterson Turner works with businesses that want to improve communication among managers, staff, and clients. She is an expert in written and oral communication. Her presentations and workshops help individuals and corporations meet their communication goals. Find out more about Tracy and her company, Managerial Impact, by visiting

Have you ever chosen to pay attention to someone just because they were so self-absorbed they didn't even know you were in the room? Of course not! We pay attention to people who take an interest in us. If we want our readers to pay attention to us, we better pay attention to them!

The people we come in contact with through the course of our jobs are human beings with feelings, needs, wants, and desires. When we take the time to figure out how what we have to offer fills one or more of their needs, we discover the way to grab—and keep—their attention. After all, if we don't get their attention we can't expect them to read long enough to get our message.

Understanding the Need

Okay, sounds simple enough. But how do we get their attention? How do we figure out how to tune in to their needs—especially when we can't or don't want to know them personally? There's the challenge. Think in terms of what you'd want if the same offer were made to you. Would you buy your own product or concept if the marketing material for it focused on how the manufacturer ultimately benefits by your purchase? No.

For instance, think of all those advertisements you hear and see that offer you a variety of insurance. What is the reason those insurance companies are in business? To make money. After all, if they didn't make money on the products they sell they wouldn't be in business! But will you and I purchase their products if they told us they designed this great new insurance just so they'd have something else to sell? No way!

We will, however, buy that product if they can show us how it fills a gap we are currently experiencing—or if they make us aware of a gap that may occur in our futures. They focus, ultimately, on the benefit to us as the reason they developed this new type of insurance . . . because they know the benefit to us is what gets us to buy.

What if you have to notify employees of a change in a policy that affects them? Maybe it's not a policy change they're going to like, such as a reduction in the amount of personal time they can take. How are you going to find a benefit to sell that situation? Seems tough, but the benefits are there. Let's see if we can brainstorm a few.

Brainstorming the Benefits

To get at the benefit to your readers, begin thinking about the "why" of this policy change to begin with. Is it to save the company money by reducing lost employee work time? Let's say the answer to this question is "yes." In that case, what would be the downside or the consequence of the company leaving the personal time benefit as it is? Perhaps the current system is costing so much money that the company is considering laying off employees to reduce costs. If the personal time policy changed to reduce the amount of time available for employees to take at their own discretion, then when an employee did take time beyond the hours allowed they would be taken without pay. Therefore, the company would save money that would in the long run allow them to retain more employees.

In order to sell this policy change, the job becomes to convey this information to the employees so they understand the need to change the policy. Most resistance to change and most conflict arises from audiences not having enough information about the changes being imposed on them. Making them aware of the benefit to them of reducing personal time may help them to understand the policy change. Increasing their awareness, however, does not guarantee they will be happy with the change. But it does help us lay the groundwork for getting the change across while encountering least resistance.

Asking the Right Questions

When you begin writing your documents, consciously focusing on the benefit to the reader, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the benefit to the reader of reading this document or of doing what I'm asking?

  • What is the consequence if they don't?

Continue asking the consequence question until you dig down two or three layers into the topic to discover the truest consequence. Once the consequence is established, it's easier to begin looking for the benefit of doing what you suggest. Consider the following scenario:

We've developed a homeowner's insurance policy to cover roof repairs for our customers who live in the Northern Nevada desert. What is the benefit to them of this policy? The customer's roof will be repaired through insurance should it become damaged. Is that persuasive enough? I don't think so. So let's look at it from the consequences side.

Last year, 430 homes in the urban areas surrounding Reno were damaged by high winds. Of these 430 homes, only 23 were covered by policies that directly covered roof damage. The remaining 407 homes had no coverage. Consequently, their owners had to pay for their repairs out of pocket. Of these 407, 348 homeowners were unable to pay for the repairs without going into debt. The majority of them had to refinance their existing homes, take equity loans, or seek some other form of financing to make the repairs. This set them back in their goals toward reaching their retirement funding targets. It's estimated that 80 percent of these homeowners will have to work beyond the point at which they had planned to retire in order to repay the debt for repairing their homes. Should they remain uncovered by insurance for this type of damage and a similar event occur, they will sink deeper into debt—when an affordable addendum policy was available to them prior to the first event.

Putting it into Words

If we wrote a document marketing this policy to our clients, telling them this entire scenario would be manipulative and cheap. Most of our savvy readers would know what we're doing and quit reading long before they found any benefit to them.

Instead, we use this scenario to help us find the selling point in the scenario. The selling point is to buy the policy now so that their retirement income will be intact. Rather than running the risk of needing to take out a loan for home repairs, purchasing this policy will ensure that should the worst happen they will be covered and need only make a simple telephone call to speed help their way.

Wrapping it Up

Whether it's an insurance policy, a change in employee policy, an attempt to enlist support for an upcoming corporate event, coaching an employee to modify behavior, or pulling together a team for a project, focusing on the benefit to the individuals involved will more often encourage and create cooperation where before only resistance existed. Find the specific and personal benefit to your readers, and focus the document around that point. This will ensure your document has a reader-focus because you are focusing on what's important to them.

(NOTE: This article has been reprinted from with permission.)

© Copyright 2008, Tracy Peterson Turner, PhD

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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