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

Although the SO WHAT? test originally was written to test the content effectiveness of your elevator pitch, actually you can use it to test almost any promotional statement. Here’s how it works…So what test for all your marketing on HTWB

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 drilled down my own 60 second elevator pitch…

“I make people’s written words work harder for their business”
What difference does it make if the words work harder? Who cares how hard they work, when what really matters is what they achieve and the solutions they provide? OK, try again…

“I make people’s written words work harder for their marketing”
Hmmmm, OK, getting a bit warmer, but even though this may conjure up images of thousands of little words beavering away to build text for a web page doesn’t exactly say “what’s in it for you.” For all you know all those little words could be compiling themselves into Gettysburg Address.

“I make people’s words work harder to get them more business”
There’s certainly more of an interesting promise there, but if you know anything about the advertising industry you’ll know that the wrong kind of business is about as useful and welcome as a chocolate tea kettle. Let’s keep going.

“I make people’s words work harder to get them more business and make more money”
Not bad, but a little blunt for the more genteel of business networking events. Great stuff for companies selling firewood or sacks of manure, but it’s far too in-yer-face for the spiritual coaches and yoga teachers.

“I make people’s words work harder to get them more of the business they want”
So that’s not bad, and ideal to use with people who tend towards the vocational/professional side of business rather than the straight commercial. For them, how about…

“I make people’s words work harder to get them more profitable business”
So that tells me right away my words could be making businesses more money. As that’s what I do, I’ll leave it at that for now.

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??

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!