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By Steve Harrison, author and former creative director

Instead of thinking about how you can sell a product or service, or how to get your reader to buy into your idea, start by looking at it from their point of view. 

Think about what’s in it for them?  What need of theirs will it fill?  What advantage will they get? As far as your message is concerned, these are the only things they are bothered about.

In fact, the best way to get their attention is to ask yourself these two questions: 

What is the problem being faced by my prospect at the moment?

What is the solution provided by the product or service that I am selling?

If you are writing a white paper, a proposal to a client or a colleague, a think piece or anything which involves an idea that you want people to adopt, just substitute “idea” for “product or service”.

If you cannot answer the "Problem/Solution" questions then there is no point in writing anything. The prospect will never notice your headline, subject line or strapline because there’ll be nothing in there that might grab their attention.

Learn from the world's most successful brands

This Problem/Solution dynamic is at the core of all effective marketing communication. Indeed, the biggest and most successful brands can attribute their success to their single-minded commitment to solving a key problem in their customers’ lives.

For example, which brand has achieved global domination by meeting this need: “There is so much information out there on the internet that I just do not know where to start”.

Yes, that’s right, Google. Since the day Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded the company, its mission has been to  “Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

Hence not just Google Search but also Street View, Maps, Flights, Auto Correct and Translate.  All these proprietary tools are simply there to deliver the original mission statement.

Problems and promises

Let’s take a look at another power brand that, early on its existence, set out to identify and then address a key customer need.

In this case the problem can be paraphrased as: ”I strive to be the best I can be at [insert sport] but I’m just not cutting it.”

And the answer can be summed up by Nike’s long standing promise “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

Here's another example from a successful brand that was actually created from its founders' need to find a solution to a problem they'd just encountered.

Back in 2008, two chaps were at a conference in Paris. After an evening out, they tried to grab a cab back to their hotel.

As anyone will tell you, you've more chance of handcuffing a ghost than flagging a friendly cabby in that town. To make matters worse, the heavens opened as they set off walking back to their hotel.

Upon arrival, Garrett Camp said there must be a solution to a problem like this. So out came Travis Kalanick's Moleskin notebook - and thus Uber was born.

When you are trying to work out how to get people to take an interest in your message, follow the lead of these brands and others like Trip Advisor, Airbnb, Apple, Ebay, and Amazon.  All have worked out that people will be interested in what you say when you promise them something useful.

And, while most use digital tools of increasingly sophisticated capability to fulfil that promise, they also know that their success is rooted in a consumer insight and not in the technology used to deliver it.

So, before you start writing, get digging.

Multi-award winning former creative director and author Steve Harrison will be running an AWARD Creative Masterclass in Sydney on March 3 and Perth on March 9. He’ll be covering how to write good copy, creating headlines, as well as writing a clear brief, and better copy overall. Visit awardonline.com for more.