Why Your Marketing Generates Yawns, Not Sales

by Scott Martin

Last updated on November 29th, 2017

My mentor in this crazy world of direct response copywriting was Andrew Wood, also known as “The Legend.” An excellent marketer and copywriter, Andrew hired me to write some copy and he gave me a checklist…

One item:

Always answer the most important
question the customer is asking:
What’s in it for me?

As a novice copywriter in the late 1980s, I made any number of “rookie” errors. The most egregious: thinking the reader would be impressed with the following:

  • Technical features
  • Educational qualifications of company principals
  • Prizes and awards
  • Public speaking engagements
  • Stories about the company
  • Long explanations about how the company makes their product

Today, I regularly read copy that includes the above. My question:

So what?

Here’s an example of “SO WHAT?” copy from the “About” page of a large advertising agency’s website.

(To protect the innocent, I changed the name and have not included a screen shot. But the agency bills well over $60 million.)

“Our award-winning creative group ingeniously brings each brand’s personality and positioning to life. By creating just the right look and feel, crafting the messaging and determining the customer’s experiential path, this diverse group finds the best ways to engage customers and build valuable brand relationships.”


But worse, the marketing manager at a large company is reading this and asking, “What’s in it for me?” The answers from the agency copy:

  • The right look and feel
  • Valuable brand relationships
  • An experiential path
  • An award-winning creative group

Is that what a decision maker wants? I doubt it. An executive vice president of marketing wants, if they have an ounce of marketing know-how, increased sales!

A few examples

Let’s bounce over the world of direct response marketing and you’ll discover that agencies and gurus clearly answer the “what’s in it for me?” question. Here’s some copy from the Legendary Marketing website.

sample promo that doesn't tell wiifm

In the first two paragraphs, the reader discovers that Legendary Marketing promises:

  • Leads
  • Sales
  • Profits
  • Viral marketing
  • Page one of Google

Now that’s more like it!

Creative Direct Marketing Group is a direct response agency based in Torrance, California. Take a look at their home page and note the direct headline.

Sample copy showing wiifm

What’s in it for the client? YOU’LL LEARN HOW TO INCREASE YOUR PROFITS…

Reading the copy, you’ll also see a focus on:

  • Growing a company
  • Increasing profits
  • Dramatically boosting response rates
  • Strategies and techniques that will increase your response and direct marketing profits

Let’s take a look at the website of long-time marketer Dan Kennedy.

Dan Kennedy promo shows wiifm

Here it is again, a bit more readable—with the answers to “what’s in it for me?” underlined.

We Provide Information, Training, and Coaching to Help
Entrepreneurs Rapidly Grow Their Businesses

GKIC offers killer strategies for business owners to grow their business through direct response marketing. You’ll discover how to attract more of your ideal customers and clients, get them to come back more often, have them spending more on each visit and send you more referrals than you ever thought possible. These strategies are revealed every month to our Insider Circles Members, at live workshops and through offline and online resources so you can get started immediately.

Each bullet answers the “what’s in it for me?” question.

  • Build a seven-figure income from zero
  • Attract and retain your IDEAL customers
  • Create extreme competitive advantage
  • Skyrocket your sales and multiply your profits in ANY Economy
  • Put cash in your pocket NOW
  • Become Top Dog in your Industry, Niche or Marketplace
  • Remove ALL obstacles to wealth
  • Get more done in less time

Compare the direct response copy to the limp copy from the branding agency.

It works in email too

Yes, I’m mostly a direct response copywriter but I occasionally write some “creative” copy for Sir Edmond Halley’s, a local’s restaurant and bar in Charlotte, North Carolina, my adopted home town .

Here’s an email I sent to the database just after the birth of the Royal Baby.

email showing wiifm

Below this, I remind everyone about the “free dinner on (or near) your birthday” promotion and introduce a special menu to celebrate the royal birth. Even in these “pithy” emails, I answer the magic question.

What’s in it for recipients of this email? A free birthday dinner and new dishes to taste-test.

Direct response marketing requires a thick skin because you come face-to-face with your results every day. However, I have never believed that direct response marketing needs to be complex or difficult.

The key to simplicity?

Start by answering the “what’s in it for me?” question.

If you want to simplify the creative process, take these steps…

  1. Make a list of everything your potential clients or customers could ever want.
  2. Pare down the list based on what your company or service provides.
  3. Based on the new list, put yourself in the shoes of the potential customer and answer their key question: “what’s in it for me?”
  4. Use the answers to prioritize your benefits.
  5. Test so you discover the benefits that resonate with your potential customers and clients.

One Final Key

Yes—you can answer the “what’s in it for me?” question, but it’s vital to back up your answer with proof. You can provide testimonials, social proof, and scientific studies. A product demonstration can be effective. And in the B2B world, case studies are almost mandatory.

Take a look at these from Australian digital marketing agency, Marketing Results.

simple promo that answers wiifm

Note the specificity of the copy and the results.

“From 5-10 Leads Per Week to 5-10 Leads Per Day!”

If you’re unsure or confused about your marketing or you’re just starting out, simplify your approach by being laser-focused on answering the key question: “What’s in it for me?”



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Scott Martin

Scott Martin is a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has also written or edited 18 books including The Book of Caddyshack: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Greatest Movie Ever Made. Scott provides free resources for marketers including direct response checklists.


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  1. February 26, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Scott: Thanks for the informative post on something so “simple” and yet so overlooked!

    • February 27, 2014 at 10:20 am

      Yes — marketing is a lot easier when you focus on this. Thanks for the comment.

  2. October 16, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Man, oh, man. Scott! Such a great post on such a simple (but hard to master) concept. Great reminder that we’re all a little selfish and really just want to know, “what’s in it for me?”

    I’m going to use the 5 steps you outlined to focus my marketing and copywriting so I can directly answer my customers’ what’s-in-it-for-me question.

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