Why should they care?

tl;dr I’m frequently asked for my opinion around books (doing two reviews now, in fact, both of which look really good and worth reading—more on that later), presentations, marketing efforts, and sometimes, startups themselves. In almost all of these cases, I find myself frequently asking the same question as a bit of Quibb clickbait I ran across recently. (It also helps to answer why I’ve taken up the habit of doing the “tl;dr” thing at the front of each of my blog posts recently.)

First of all, go check out the original link for comparison purposes. It’s not a particularly long piece, and it is, unfortunately, pretty slow to get going, but it centers around a particular point:

Somewhere along the line, we marketers became infatuated with the tools and less concerned about what we put inside them.

Yup.

(There’s an argument that developers fall into the same category–more infatuated with the tools and less concerned about what we put inside them or what we’re using them for, but that’s the subject of another blog post another day.)

Here (ironically, it comes earlier than the above) is really where the rubber meets the road, though:

For the rest of the morning, we focused on answering one simple question: “Why should my customers care?”

That e-newsletter you are sending out. Why should they care?

Your Facebook post? Why should they care?

Our job, as marketers, is not to create more content. It has never been about that. It’s about creating the minimum amount of content with the maximum amount of behavior change in our customers (hat tip to Robert Rose). For that to be possible, what you are creating has to be valuable, useful, compelling and, yes, different.

This is a lesson that cannot be overstressed, nor is it limited to just marketing.

Suppose you are writing an article for a magazine or developer portal. If you don’t spend the first paragraph or two answering that question—“why should I care?”—then you’re not likely to get much in the way of reader response.

In a presentation, this is often answered by presenters who put an “Objectives” slide up (shortly after their bio, which is also a huge waste of time most of the time, quite frankly). The idea is that the audience will see the Objectives listed there, and infer for themselves.

“Um…. Ted?”

Yes?

“Infer what for themselves?”

That’s a really good question. What should they be inferring?

Never lose sight of value

Too often, presenters, writers, and marketers seem to believe that the audience or target market will be able to figure things out for themselves. “All I have to do is show off this cool new framework, and the developers will line up in droves to use it!” Or sometimes, “All I have to do is demo it”. Or even “All I have to do is put the charts up showing the drastic reduction in time required”, or…

Look, first and foremost, any time a thought crosses your mind that starts with “All I have to do is…”, you’re already treading dangerous ground. Nothing is ever that simple. There is never a single, simple solution or act that will mean the difference between “success” and “failure”. We keep forgetting that, over and over again, probably because we want to believe that there’s a single-size solution (or pill, or candidate, or whatever) that can make the most hideous of ugly problems go away. This is true across so many different aspects of our lives that talking any further on it would take this blog post off into entirely tangential directions. Let’s leave that for now.

More importantly, your audience—be they readers, the target of a marketing effort, or an actual presentation audience—is implicitly engaging in a contract with you. In exchange for their time (and possibly money), you will provide them something of equal or greater value. Insight, perhaps. New knowledge. A different perspective, perhaps, that leads to the audience being able to better solve certain problems or even solve certain problems at all. You get the idea.

The key aspect here is “value”: the targets have to walk away with something of interest to them. While that word “value” gets overused a lot, particularly in the startup world, it really boils down to a single question, when you strip all the other hyperbole away:

Why do I care?

Three of those four words carries emphasis here.

“Why”: What are the reasons? What are the logical sequence of steps that lead to the conclusion at which you want me to arrive? What leads me to come to the same conclusion to which you are leading me?

“I”: This is about me, people. Not you, the presenter or the author or the startup. Me. Whatever your rationale, or your argument, or your perspective, or your history or your whatever, I don’t care unless that is somehow brought around to be about me. Yup. Selfish to the last. But if you want my time, then you need to remember that this has to be about me, or I’m going to get bored right damn quick. This is what the presenter-trainers talk about when they say, “Know your audience.” It’s about understanding who the “me” is, and more importantly, what they care about.

“care”: Interest. Pique. Intringue. Attention. All of these are synonyms, and all of them reflect that I am now willing to put some kind of emotional and intellectual energy into whatever it is you’re offering. You need to be bringing me into this so that I have some level of emotional and/or intellectual investment in this, though, because if you’re not, you’ll be joining the long list of things that I sort of cast aside either physically (by walking out of the room before your presentation is finished, putting your book back on the shelf or returning it tothe store for a refund, opening up my email client on my laptop or playing on my phone, or any of a dozen different ways of passive-aggressively getting my time back under my control) or mentally (by forgetting entirely everything you said or did).

Why do I care?

The problem with the “Objectives” slide in most presentations is that while it certainly serves as a table of contents for the remaidner of the presentation, that’s not the same thing as saying what value the audience will get out of it. Sure, you’re going to cover the Foo, Bar, and Baz frameworks—but what value do I get out of the experience?

Similarly, in a book, if you haven’t “hooked” me on the idea or subject by the end of Chapter 1, there’s a pretty good chance I never get to Chapter 2 or 3. Some readers will give you longer, but very few readers will go read the book entirely before weighing in with a judgment.

And in a startup? C’mon, this is obvious: if you haven’t sold me on your value proposition within the first couple of seconds, I’m not buying whatever it is you’re selling, regardless of how much that value proposition might have been.

Why do I care?

Answer that for me, instead of just listing out a table of contents. “You care because using the Foo framework will save you time when trying to access the Bar database.” Or “You care because Foo, Bar, and Baz all take different approaches to solving this particular kind of problem, and using the wrong one for the wrong purpose will waste all kinds of time.” Or “You care because Foo is better than Bar in these particular cases for these particular kinds of problems, and using the wrong on will cost you in cognitive complexity.”

Notice that I don’t just say “You care because Foo is better than Bar.” Better how? For whom? Sure, if you’re selling Foo, it’s better than Bar because if I buy Foo, you get to take home a paycheck. Fair enough. But why is it better for me (your audience)? What do I get out of it?

Why do I care?

It’s your job, as presenter, author, or marketer, to make that value proposition explicit, obvious, and impossible to avoid or miss. The better you can describe that, the easier it will be for me as your target to understand what it’s supposed to be. Yes, sometimes that will result in me opting-out of your message. That’s good! That means that you have now whittled down your audience by one to people who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer. More importantly, it’s a potentially negative reaction that just removed itself from the playing field—that’s a negative presentation review, or book review, or “hard sell” that you don’t have to waste time trying to convert, and they just removed themselves from your consideration/focus.

Whenever you do something that involves other people, you need to have this focus.

Why do I care?