What’s YOUR problem?

Today, people just expect more. It’s the way of the modern world. Now, I don’t (always) think it’s worth giving in when selling your stuff online but I do believe in a relentlessly other-centric focus when writing for content marketing.

Here’s why: When you write to your prospects in their own best interests, you find out what they want. You access the language they use in their own heads. Plus you have ‘ammo’ to use in your copy. This way, your copy can be all about “THE THEM”. The audience. The target market. The subject. The lead. You can convey to your reader that you’re able to provide whatever they need to solve their problems.

In practice, there are many techniques for achieving this but here’s my top one:

The “So what?” technique

So here I am, writing for you, my reader. I could tell you that my copywriting and content marketing skills have been awarded, that I’ve written five books, edited 12 and eaten my own body weight in Toblerone in the last 24 hours alone.

But so what? How does this help you? Spoiler: It doesn’t. It’s ego-centric puffery.

If I’m going to give you value, I need to demonstrate that any cred, kudos or rah-rah I might get only serves to underpin the fact that I understand what your problems are — and that I can, and am ready, to help you to solve them.

Let’s give this a try together.

Extrapolating the benefits

To derive a benefit from a feature, start by asking yourself “So what?”

If a feature of a hypothetical oven is that it preheats incredibly quickly… So what? This means that it’ll take less time to be ready to start cooking your lasagna… So what? This means that your family’s meal will get to the table sooner… So what? This means that your life will become less stressful. Less hanging around the kitchen waiting for the oven to heat up. Less whining from your kids. A less hangry partner…

Need I go on?

As you can probably tell from the oven example, real benefits connect to your customers’ desires. Most of the time, these are big, obvious things such as saving time, saving money, making money, being happier, being healthier, family time, etc. There’s a catch, though. You can only sell with real benefits if you know what your audience actually wants. I’ve found that the easiest method is to… ask them.

Want to know how I do it?

Here’s an example: I recently sent a short email newsletter to a small and well-segmented audience of freelancers based in South Africa. The subject line was: “What are you struggling with?” The body copy had:

I want you to respond to this email. Yes, really.

Hit Reply and tell me your biggest freelancing struggle right now.

It might be a concern, an issue, a pain point, a problem…

I want to know what it is. And yes, I really am going to read every response I receive. Because doing so will help me deliver emails that matter to you, on topics that actually affect your working life.

So let’s have it. Click Reply now.

Many, many people did. In fact, this newsletter got Open, Click and Response Rates that were approximately double what I’m used to from this list! More than that, I now know some things about my audience. In their own words.

  • The one thing we struggle with the most is the never-ending need to market
  • We can’t figure out how to delegate to or work with subcontractors
  • How the hell do we come up with ideas, especially for social media?
  • We don’t know if our positioning actually makes sense to our audience
  • We struggle to market our skills effectively because we feel so uncomfortable at the thought of having to promote our services
  • Not getting enough well-paying work in; we think our target clients can’t envisage how our skills translate into what they need

You might say that these answers have given me some valuable marketing ammo:

  1. I now know the vocabulary my target market is using inside their own heads
  2. I have a much clearer sense of what their real-world problems are
  3. Because I know their problems, I’m able to rethink how I present my solutions, so their problem-solving potential is completely obvious
  4. When marketing a freelancing course, talk or webinar, I can use my insights (my ‘ammo’) to clearly answer the “So what?” question
  5. Critically, I now have a list of future content for sharing with this group

I mean, it’s win-win, right? You know what they want and need, so you can direct your content marketing to satisfy those desires. Then, what you’re doing with your content marketing efforts becomes less about selling and more about serving.


Tiffany Markman is an international speaker, trainer and writer, known for her work on communication, messaging, marketing and more. She’s collaborated with over 450 brands worldwide — both big and small — over the last 17 years, encountering writing that ranges from the sublime to the absurd. She’s also delivered keynote addresses, created masterclasses and presented training in 14 countries. Markman likes her coffee strong and black, her paragraphing short and tight and her apostrophes in all the right places.