How the SO WHAT? test can boost a lot of your writing

Updated January 27th, 2020. Although I devised the SO WHAT? test originally to test the content effectiveness of elevator pitches, actually you can use it to test almost any promotional statement.

Here’s how it works…The basic idea behind the SO WHAT? test

Given that almost any promotional writing, statement, headline, and other written or spoken marketing content needs to focus on “what’s in it for you” and also “solutions for problems,” you simply start with your initial thought and then role play the part of a reader / potential customer by asking “so what?” and then tweak your initial thought so it answers that question.

After that you repeat the SO WHAT? question as often as you need until then answer to “SO WHAT?” is a very appealing solution and/or product/service offering.

Let’s take another look at how I drill down my own 60 second elevator pitch…

“I help people get their books published”
So does a printing company. OK, try again…

“I help people get their books written and published”
Getting warmer, but ‘their’ books? Do I care about other people’s books?

“I help you get your book written and published”
There’s certainly more of an interesting promise there, but where’s the fire and inspiration? Is getting my book written and published really just as boring as ‘I help you get your oven cleaned and polished?‘ Let’s keep going.

“I help you write and publish that book you’ve always wanted to write”
Not bad! But a little bland. Come on – writing a book is a Big Deal. Can’t we match the emotion somewhat better?

“I make your dream to write a book come true.”
So that’s not bad, because it’s now – finally – appealing to the emotional what’s in it for me that serious authors feel about becoming, well, authors. But it could do with a little softening. How about…

“If you’ve always dreamt of writing a book, I can make that dream come true.”
That’s much better if only because the rhythm of the words is far better and emotive, and goes straight to the key emotional need. Yes, many of the books concerned will be nonfiction business or self-help books and so not exactly Gone With The Wind in romantic terms, but to the author who really wants to do it that will be the proverbial music to their ears.

Now, how about writing the headline for a blog post?

Blog post headlines have a dual job to do, in theory at least, because they need to attract readers and attract search engines. Fortunately now with Google offering intuitive searches (now you can search by asking Google a question rather than using a list of keywords), a headline that works for the “what’s in it for me” reader should also work for the search engine. That’s because the headline should be pretty close to the question an interested reader might ask.

“Interesting facts about pruning roses”
There is hardly any incentive for me to click on that. What’s in it for me? “Interesting” just isn’t enough.

“Useful advice about pruning roses”
Whose roses? My neighbour’s? I don’t care about anyone but me.

“Useful advice on how to prune roses”
Mmmm, perhaps, although it still doesn’t mention my roses. Pretty weak. And “advice” sounds a bit patronising.

“Useful tips on how to prune your roses”
Getting better. At least we’re talking about my roses now. And tips sound shorter and snappier than “advice.” Now, though … what’s in it for my roses?

“Useful tips on how to prune your roses for healthier plants and blooms”
So now I’m getting interested. Come on, one more tweak and I’ll click on it …

“10 handy tips on how to prune your roses for healthier plants and blooms”
So I’m in – (that number at the beginning is a well-known way to pull in readers) and the addition of the word “handy” makes the tips seem easy to use.

By the way: “Interesting facts about pruning roses” has returned 568,000 Google search results, whereas “10 handy tips on how to prune your roses for healthier plants and blooms” returned 205,000,000 results. ‘Nuff said.

Other uses for the SO WHAT? test

Taglines. These are quite special because they have to be very short, so the SO WHAT? test usually needs to focus your mind on implied benefits rather than the spelled-out variety.

Recruitment ads. Notoriously bland, boring and often horribly patronising (e.g. do you have what it takes to work for US?) … When using the SO WHAT? test on a written headline and body copy keep reminding yourself that if it’s all boring and self-congratulatory with no spark of incentive for the candidates, what quality of candidates are you going to attract??

Nonfiction book titles. Long gone are the clever-clever titles people used to use for nonfiction books and today titles, as well as the accompanying taglines, are what get potential buyers to your book on Amazon and other online retailers. Using the SO WHAT? test when writing a title and tagline for a book leads you to the search results you want.

Website home and landing pages. Congratulations: you got your prospect to click through. Now you use the SO WHAT? test to write the words that will keep them there … to make your website “sticky” and keep them clicking through. Similar principles apply: never lose sight of “what’s in it for me.”

Promotional material for workshops, conferences, etc. When you’re asking people to shell out a good chunk of money to attend an event like this, you had better make sure they know what value they’ll get very early on. The SO WHAT? test keeps your writing focused. More on that topic here.

…And so the list goes on.

What further uses for the SO WHAT? test can you think of? Please share!