Car Talk

(Listen to this post, here.)

I’m a long way from what you would call a “car guy.”

I don’t care how fast they go – my wife is always accusing me of “dawdling” on the highway.

I don’t care about cargo space – I own nothing that needs moving.

I don’t care what they look like – I’ve got bigger appearance challenges.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that my car of choice for the past 15 years has been the Ford Focus. Reliable, inexpensive, easy to spell.

In keeping with my minimal level of vehicular interest, I have never, in all the years that I have owned cars, paid to have one “detailed,” a process in which a vehicle is professionally cleaned, inside and out.

But the Groupon ad caught my eye.

Specifically, it highlighted a quote from a recent customer that said: “My old car feels and looks brand new!”

That simple statement happened to align perfectly with a thought I’ve been having lately: My car, especially the interior, is looking dirty and feeling kind of worn.

I went ahead and bought the detailing.

Which brings me to today’s question for you … Why?

Why did I buy something that’s been available for decades, but that up until now, has never even made it into my consciousness, let alone compelled me to take out my credit card?

The answer, I hope you’ll agree, is need.

I had a problem (dirty car). Someone came along and, in just a few words, offered a matching fix: a car that feels and looks brand new.

Your Marketing Is Missing The Point

I spend a lot of time interacting with professional service providers.

That’s who my clients are, that’s who my colleagues are, that’s who many of my friends are.

And so I have the opportunity to hear lots and lots of people describe their work. Those descriptions tend to focus on one (or more) of three things:

Why they are qualified:

I bring more than 25 years of financial management experience.

What they do:

I help people tell their stories and amplify their point of view by ghost writing.

How they do what they do:

My proprietary, “six-star strategy development program” combines onsite and virtual learning.

All perfectly fine – none of the words above are doing any damage. And sure, it’s important to let people know what you do and why you are qualified.

But if that’s all you talk about, you are ignoring one critical element of the marketing equation: specifying the problem that you solve.

In other words, what’s your version of, “I will make your car feel and look brand new”?

But wait a second, isn’t it pretty obvious what the professionals in the three examples above do?

Pretty obvious, yes. But understanding what you do and making a move for my checkbook are far from the same thing.

I’ve understood and known about “detailing” for as long as I can remember. But it was not until the solution being offered matched up with a problem I was carrying around that I made a purchase.

Here’s the bottom line.

Nobody hires professional help until they have a problem they can’t (or don’t want to) fix by themselves.

At that point, they want a solution to appear – the simpler, more obvious, and more closely matched to their problem the better.

Your priority, in talking/writing about your work, is to understand what your prospects’ problems are and explain how working with you will make them go away. (The problems, I mean.)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever looked dirty and felt kind of worn? Give examples.
  2. What do you care about most in choosing a vehicle?
  3. What specific client problem(s) do you solve?

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13 thoughts on “Car Talk

  1. Teg Rood

    Did the detailing work? Does it feel like a new car? I’ve thought about it, but at 21 + years and 431K miles, I think it’s gonna be hard to wash away the gray.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Teg, It did work well! Biggest improvement was the hubcaps and the little place where you toss the coins.

  2. Beth DePoint

    Always enjoy and learn something new from your e-newsletter. To your point about solving problems, I think one of the best commercial taglines I’ve seen in a while is for a product that keeps leaves out of gutters (especially important at this time of year in the Midwest) — “Retiring ladders since…” YES!! I want my husband to retire the &%#$ ladder and sit safely on the porch watching the leaves fall and not end up in our gutters for him to risk life and limb to clean out! That solves my problem.

    And to your car question, I only care about what color it is.

    In my work, I spent much of my time writing, posting, producing stories of people who have disabilities as well as refugees and immigrants who are working hard to take their rightful place in our community through meaningful employment, affordable housing, and life enrichment ventures. I believe their stories give hope and inspiration to others who are also struggling and their successes encourage and prod employers to give people they might not have otherwise considered hiring a good job. I love giving people their ’15 minutes of fame.’

    1. Bruce Horwitz

      Beth – I hope for your husband’s sake (assuming he is the one who cares about price) that you wait to ask about the color choices until the price has been negotiated. Nothing lights up a car salesperson’s life like a customer who is asking about the color, since that means the sale is almost assured. Particularly if you ask “what are the color choices for my car” :^)

    2. Michael Katz Post author

      Agree on the gutters. I have a client whose company does exactly that, and the safety issue is a big selling point!

  3. Brianne vdNeut

    I feel & look dirty and worn every Tuesday – up at 4:30 am and work until 9pm

    I’m not a car person. Four wheels and a good price (plus a cute colour).

    For my clients, I unravel the mysteries of their prospects. I understand how people tick – more than I’d like. Using the right words to make boomerangs, they keep coming back 😉

  4. Charles Alexander

    1. Good lord, have you met 2020:)?

    2. Reliability, mileage, price. But mostly price.

    3. Financial Advisors and Insurance Agents look, walk, and talk the same boring language so it is difficult to explain what they do differently and to stand out in a crowd. I fix that problem with a cool Explainer Video.

    And great example and reminder on this specific topic Michael!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’ve always thought your problem statement was super-clear, Charles.

      Good point on 2020! My recent favorite question for friends is to ask how far ahead they would fast forward their life if they could. Answers so far range from “as bad as it is now, not at all,” to “March of 2022.” Interesting!

  5. martin

    For a car to be successful, it’s name has to be an alliteration:
    Ford Focus
    Mercury Montego
    Dodge Dart
    Chevrolet Camaro
    Humber Hawk
    Vauxhall Velox
    Daf Daffodil
    Look what happened when Ford named a car a Pinto?

    1. Bruce Horwitz

      oh, like Toyota Camry? At one point Toyota had a fixation on “C”. Camry, Corolla, Celica (best car I ever owned), Cressida (worst Toyota I ever owned)


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