Put Customers First: Avoid Self-Centered MessagesBragging doesn't work

Put Customers First: Use Customer-Centric Messages

Create a powerful strategic message by putting your customers first. Customer-centered messages work!

Remember: a message that sounds too self-centered is dangerous for your brand — like a braggart you can’t stand.

Use More You, Less We

It’s surprising how many brands approach their messages from the wrong point of view – putting their own selfish interests first. Their self-centered messages focus on we, we, we. Chest-thumping messages like these don’t work because people loathe a braggart.

Many technology companies are guilty of this sin. Their messages brag and boast, “We are the world leader in innovative widgets, with shiny new technology X.” They want to hog the limelight and talk about their favorite topic – themselves.

The problem is that most people don’t care about you, your brand, or your technology. They care about themselves and what you can do for them. That’s why customer-centric messages work. Instead of bragging, a great customer-centric message always answers the customer’s first question first: what’s in it for me? WIIFM?

WIIFM? Put Customers First: Use Customer-Centered Messages
Quickly answer buyers’ first question first: what’s in it for me? WIIFM?

Here’s a simple test to find out if your message or your competitors’ messages are self-centered or customer-centric. Go to each company’s home page. Count up the number of times each brand refers to customers by name, or by using the pronouns you, your, and yours. Add them up to get a total number of customer references.

Then count the number of times each competitor refers to itself by its company and brand names, or the pronouns we, our, and ours. Write down the total number of self-references.

Do the math. Subtract self-references from customer references. Companies that get a negative score talk about themselves way too much. They’re clearly self-centered. Companies that get a positive score talk about customers more than themselves. They use customer-centric messages.

B2B Marketers Admit: We Have a Messaging Problem

In business-to-business (B2B) marketing, most messages are far from customer-centric. A Forrester survey of B2B marketers, Customer-Centered Messaging Motivates Buyers to Act, found that:

  • 88% of marketers admit their home pages talk primarily about themselves.
  • Only 28% mirror the language of audiences and decision-makers.
  • Only 13% use a narrative story, walk buyers through a persuasive argument, or show empathy for customers.

No wonder these marketing messages never break through to customers.

When you’re up against self-centered competitors, don’t be tempted to mimic them or, worse, try to outbrag them. Competitors who cling to self-centered messages are telling their stories all wrong, opening the opportunity for you to shine by making your customers the heroes of your story.

Make Customers the Heroes of Your Story with Customer-Centered Messages

To create your customer-centric message, use the right storyline. It’s the one you may recall from Star Wars, a narrative known as the Hero’s Journey. Mythologist Joseph Campbell discovered that the Hero’s Journey story has been told for centuries across many cultures. It’s a storyline that lasts because it’s so good at delivering what people expect from a story.

Customer hero: Put Customers First: Use Customer-Centered Messages
Create content users will share by making your customer the hero.

In the hero’s journey story of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker starts out with a problem – the villain of the story, Darth Vader. He meets a mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, who gives him guidance, teaches him to use a light saber, and enables him to succeed. In the end, Luke and the universe are transformed by his journey.

Now, let’s apply this storyline to your brand. In your customers’ minds, they are the heroes of their own movies. They find themselves up against daunting problems – the villains of their stories. They meet a guide, your brand, who gives them a plan, teaches them the right skills, and enables them to succeed. In the end, your customers transform themselves and their world. All because they chose the right guide – you.

When you assign the correct roles to customers and to your brand, there’s no danger of creating a self-centered message. Brand storytelling becomes easy because your stories follow the storyline of the Hero’s Journey. They’re all about how you help customers overcome their problems to transform their world.

Remember: your customers are always the heroes. Your brand is not the hero. Your brand plays the role of a mentor, teacher, or guide – the one your customers need to avoid failure and achieve success.

Customer stories bring your message to life, so collect them avidly. You’ll want to add customer-hero stories to your Message Map as you scale up your message to 2 minutes or 20 minutes.

Your Brand Is Customers’ Guide

When you tell stories about customers as heroes, customers buy into them completely. They see that your brand exists to help them and people like them.

customer-centered messages
Content marketing from your brand can serve as a customer’s mentor or guide. Does yours?

In fact, there are many ways brands help customer-heroes succeed, such as:

  • Increasing their revenues or income
  • Lowering their expenses
  • Raising their social or financial status
  • Making products that are easier to use or faster to install
  • Building long-lasting products with high-quality designs and materials
  • Offering products with a lower initial price or lower lifecycle costs
  • Selling products that make users’ lives or jobs easier
  • Delivering better customer experiences.

When you apply the Hero’s Journey storyline, your message sparks a conversation all about What’s in it for me, the customer? That’s exactly the conversation that you want to begin.

Let Competitors Brag and Boast about How Great They Are

It’s ok. Bragging never helps them win.

By bragging, your competitors’ salesperson starts off on the wrong foot. They focus on us the seller rather than you the customer.

Their endless PowerPoint presentations address things they care about, not what customers care about. They focus on things such as:

  • How their company is the industry leader
  • How many years their company’s been in business
  • Does their company have the most innovative products
  • How their company has the best customer service
  • How many offices do they have
  • What is the number of people they employ
  • How many awards they’ve won
  • Who their well-known customers are
  • What you should buy from them
  • Why they’re the best choice.

Me, me, me. During a presentation like this one, customers are silently checking email, looking for ways to escape the pitch. Perhaps you’ve seen this movie before.

Self-Centered Messages Consistently Backfire

Research on bragging shows that the sender likes bragging, but the receiver doesn’t. Braggarts consistently overestimate how much people enjoy hearing their brags.

On the Internet, bragging becomes even worse. The added distance of being online shrinks the self-promoter’s empathy and cuts the recipient’s pleasure.

Bragging doesn’t work, online or in real life. The brutal truth is: that people don’t care about you, your company, or your message. People care most about themselves – and how they can take advantage of what you have to offer.

That’s why your message needs to lead with empathy for customers and clearly state the real benefits they will receive. Messages that reflect your customers’ point of view have the best chance to be remembered.

As President Teddy Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

A Self-Centered Message Makes a Crisis Even Worse

Self-centered messages are even more inappropriate in a crisis. In any crisis, three characters emerge: the victims who suffer harm, the villain who caused the harm, and the hero who fixes the problem.

BP CEO Tony Hayward
Testifying before Congress, Hayward’s evasions multiplied the harm to BP.

In the wake of the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP CEO Tony Hayward proved unable to see his audiences’ point of view or express any empathy. Even worse, he shrugged off BP’s role as a villain and pretended to be the victim instead.

In fact, Hayward asked BP’s executive team, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?”

Weeks later, he uttered his famous last words as CEO: “I’d like my life back.” To Hayward, the crisis was all about him. He saw himself as the victim, ignoring the real victims – the wildlife, environment, and people the accident destroyed.

His persistent self-centeredness cost Hayward his job and reputation – and damaged the BP brand for decades to come. More than a decade later, BP is branding new gas stations under its Amoco brand, which had disappeared from the U.S. market.

In a crisis, a smart CEO takes a much different course – pivoting quickly from the media-assigned role of villain to become the hero who helps the victims and fixes the crisis. Yes, in a crisis your brand can switch to the hero role — but only in a crisis. (Otherwise, the hero remains your customers.)

In a crisis, smart CEOs acknowledge the problem, take responsibility for it, apologize to the victims, launch an investigation quickly to pinpoint root causes, and do everything possible to resolve the crisis immediately. Further, they take actions to head off the possibility of similar problems recurring in the future.

Remember, your message should always focus on topics your customers care about. Not what you care about. Use customer-centered messages. Make a message that shows customers how they will benefit when they rely on you as their guide. We’re here to help you create a better marketing message.

This blog is the fourth in a series on marketing messaging pitfalls. Here are blogs on pitfalls one, two, and three.

Put Customers First: Avoid Self-Centered Messages