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People buy a hole in their wall, not a drill…

Diane Hall


Hole in a white wall exposing bricks and showing a waiting room

I used to do copywriting for small businesses a long time ago, when websites were still new-fangled inventions (I’m old, I know). I soon stopped offering this service as too many of my clients drove me crazy with their closed-mindedness and inability to look at their business from the outside in.

They wanted the copy across their whole website to talk about how long they’d been in business and how fabulous they were. Why they chose their office, what made them go into business…their entire life story. Don’t get me wrong, this is fine for a business’s ‘About Us’ page, but not across their whole site.

I’d enquire about their potential customers, and what we could add into the copy that would engage these people, to dispel their concerns, to persuade them to buy. But it was no use, the business owners just wanted to boast about all their achievements and give nothing to the poor customer looking for information.

At the time, I felt it was easier to stop writing web copy than try and educate my clients. This was in the days where marketing was a secret science; entrepreneurs are a lot savvier nowadays and understand that simply talking AT potential customers, rather than TO them, does nothing.

That said, some business owners still need reminding of this rule from time to time. The odd promotional post/content is fine. The ratio used to be 80:20, where 20% of your content is advertorial/promotional and the remaining 80% is used to educate, inspire and entertain your audience; however, it may be even more effective within today’s crowded webspace to aim for a 90:10 split.

Your web copy should predominantly focus on outcomes, because that’s really all your potential customers are interested in…i.e. how you can help them.

Will your product/service save them time? Will it save/make them money? Will it make them more attractive/stop them aging? Does it provide a shortcut to where they want to be? Will it help them impress others?

Will it satisfy their hunger/thirst? Will it make their life more comfortable or easier in any way? Will they understand more about a specific topic with your help and the product/service you offer? Will it entertain them and/or offer escapism from their daily grind?

A question mark at the end of a graffitied wall

A question mark at the end of a graffitied wall

What are they really buying? More time? Pleasure? A solution to a problem?

A customer wants to know the answer to these questions, not whether you’ve recently moved office or you underwent a rebrand in 1995…just what you can do for them, the benefit they will see if they bought your offering.

The thing is, to answer these questions, you need to think like your customer. You need to be on the outside of your business, looking in. You need to put yourself in their position and understand the sequence of events/thoughts that should lead to them purchasing.

A professor at Harvard coined a famous quote that is often used as an example of a customer outcome: ‘People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want to buy a quarter-inch hole.’

The drill they use may have 20 different functions, it could be charged using solar energy, it may even tell the time…whatever. It doesn’t really matter, because people don’t buy a drill for its fancy design or add-ons, they buy a drill because they want to create a hole in their wall…to hang a picture, mirror, shelf, to do some DIY, etc. They’d probably buy a musical lightsaber if it did the same job. A drill on its own is actually quite useless, it’s only when it’s applied to a surface that it provides an outcome.

Too much information about the workings of a product can actually confuse customers. Just tell them what your product/service actually does, the main benefit they will see. If they’re interested, then you can tell them about any additional benefits. If they’re hesitating, they may need even more information—maybe this is the opportunity to reassure them, by telling them how long you’ve been in business, your qualifications, etc.

Think about your product, then think about why someone would want to buy it. What are they trying to achieve? What are they looking to do/gain/eradicate/solve?

I wish I’d been able to describe to those early clients of mine all of the above…maybe that was me not spelling out the outcomes they’d see/the benefits of web copy that puts the customer first. Maybe I should have told those business owners what was in it for them if they simply listened to me and allowed me to write outcome-focused copy that talked TO their potential customers (I did try!). That was my lesson learned.

Now that the basics of marketing have caught up and there’s so much information around on the subject, I don’t believe it would be as difficult as it was back then to convince business owners to focus on their customer when creating content/copy.

You tell me…that is what this article is all about.

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