Imagine a game in which you tap out the rhythm of a well known song: say, “Happy Birthday to You” or “The Star Spangled Banner.” Your partner’s job is to listen to your tapping and name the song.
What are the chances that they can figure it out just from your tapping, without melody or words?
In a 1990 experiment, tappers were asked, after tapping a song, the odds that their listener could correctly identify the song. The average prediction was 50%.
In fact, only 3 out of 120 listeners correctly identified the song. That’s 2.5% or 20 times worse than the tappers predicted.
The Curse of Knowledge
Chip Heath and Dan Heath cite this experiment in their book Made to Stick as an example of the Curse of Knowledge, which they identify as the main culprit when we create messages that don’t stick in the minds of our audience.
The Curse of Knowledge, in the tapping experiment, meant that the tappers couldn’t NOT hear the melody of the song they were tapping, so they couldn’t imagine what it was like not to have that melody in your head.
The curse of knowledge in your business means that you’ve lost sight of what’s in your prospect’s head.
You want to focus on nuance, detail, process, abstraction, pattern, and the distinctions you’ve made over years of experience.
Even though your prospect doesn’t care about any of that. Partly because they don’t know enough to get it. And partly because you haven’t told them why they should care.
Find the Honking Obvious Thing
The answer to “Why should I care?” is always a simple, obvious idea. What I call a Honking Obvious Thing (HOT).
Your job as a marketer – before you write a single ad, before you bid on a single keywords, before you create a web page – is to find the HOT for your business.
When you find it, everything else becomes easy:
Your ads stand out on the Google search results page.
Your visitors understand what you can do for them within seconds of arriving on your site.
Your business decisions make themselves as they pass through the HOT filter: “Does this support our HOT or not?”
On most sites, the HOT is buried somewhere, veiled by the jargon and the features and the white papers. Suppressed by the Complex Overly Long Details (COLD).
What School Superintendents Really Care About
Recently, I consulted with someone who markets educational technology that can improve the learning environment in a classroom. The website went into great depth about the problem, about distractible students, about the pricing and technical features of the technology. The reasoning: the more the visitor knows about the problem and the product, the more motivated they’ll be to buy.
Lots of information is good; don’t get me wrong. But that information can either be a daunting fire hose of facts and opinions, or relevant details that all reinforce the HOT.
To find the HOT in this case, let’s look at the main decision maker: the school superintendent. The superintendent is supposed to understand its educational value and spend the district’s meager resources on technology, instead of repairing the piano in the band room or not laying off a learning specialist or sending the biology teacher to Costa Rica for a summer enrichment program.
The website was full of facts. Kids learn better. Teachers have more control. It’s state of the art. And so on.
But buried on a third-tier page – meaning it took two clicks to get there from the home page – I found a case study. It said, an elementary school in Australia used this technology and their test scores went up 30% in 6 months.
Now that’s HOT.
And even better, the study was case-control, which means that another similar school didn’t use the technology and their test scores remained unchanged. And even better yet, the authors of the study were independent researchers unaffiliated with the technology company.
Now that’s really HOT: University of X discovers a simple technology that automatically raises elementary school tests scores by 30% – practically overnight.
I finally spluttered, “Why isn’t that the headline on the home page? Why isn’t that the headline of the Google ad? Why isn’t that the main theme of the whole marketing campaign?”
What makes it HOT?
In the US, test scores are the main way we evaluate schools. Schools with good test scores get more funding. Property values rise because people want to live in communities with good schools. More tax dollars flow to these schools. The No Child Left Behind law makes your life very unpleasant if you are the superintendent of a failing school system. You could even be taken over by the Federal education department if you can’t boost your students’ scores on standardized tests.
So when you highlight that benefit, you provide an instant answer to the question, “Why should I spend my money on this as opposed to all the other pressing needs?”
“The technology that increases test scores 30% in six months” is the answer to a superintendent’s dreams. Unlike curricula, which have to implemented by overworked and underpaid teachers, and unlike soft purchases whose effects can’t be tied directly to test score improvement, this technology is the silver bullet.
Get what you want most – higher test scores – just by installing our system and flipping the On switch.
Now you present all the ways the technology leads to higher test scores.
Now you present proof.
Now you share the technical specifications.
Now you talk about price.
Now you offer a call to action.
Communicating the HOT is like humming Happy Birthday to You before you tap.
Once your prospect knows the same tune as you, you’re ready to have a party.
As Buster Poindexter sang, “Hot Hot Hot.”
(Tapping yet? ;)
About the Author (and What He’s Giving Away This Week)
Howie Jacobson, PhD, is the author of Google AdWords For Dummies. He is offering an interactive home-study course, Traffic Surge, for folks who need more traffic to their sites, or who haven’t found their online market yet.
In Traffic Surge, you learn how to use free tools for quick and dirty online research (including the crucial question of whether a market is worth entering in the first place!), and how to apply that research to send qualified traffic to your site.
Click play below to watch the first class for free:
Howie hopes that you find it so valuable, you sign up for the whole course (launches in early October 2010).