In my high school English class, I learned how to write (as we call it here) bullshit. I can now, reliably and without much effort, spout off minutes or pages of words with almost no meaning at all. It’s a very useful skill, and I’ve used it often, especially in graduate-level classes when I realized that my professor wasn’t reading our papers anyway.
But it was in my high school history class that I learned how to write. That is, how to write analytically, clearly, and persuasively. And one of the lessons I remember best was from Dr. Carter in sophomore or junior year. He insisted that, when we write a persuasive essay, that we include all of the counterarguments that would seem to defeat our main thesis.
Confusion. Outrage. (How dare this doctoral professor tell us 15-year-olds that our way of writing was wrong?)
Doing so, he said, provides two benefits:
- Credibility No one believes that your argument is clear-cut and that there’s only one side. (If it was, why would you have to write an essay to persuade people of it?) So if you try to claim that there are no counterarguments, all you do is convince people that you’re lying, or ignorant, or both. By including the counterarguments, you establish that you are an intelligent and thoughtful person who is aware of the larger picture.
Rebuttal If you’ve selected your thesis wisely (and assuming that you are an intelligent and thoughtful person who is aware of the larger picture), then you must be aware of the potential counterarguments, and there must be some reason that you believe your thesis in spite of them. By including the counterarguments in your essay, you have the opportunity to explain those reasons.
Using counterarguments to boost sales
Since sales is simply a matter of persuasion, your sales and marketing methods can use the same technique. You know all the reasons someone might hesitate to buy your product; include them and explain why customers should buy anyway. Doing so reassures your customers that you’re being honest (sales copy claiming that a product is perfect is automatically dishonest), and helps them work through any objections they may have.
- Example: Board Games When I worked at a board game store, I would mention the downsides of any given game to a customer that was considering buying it; and if they didn’t ask, I would look for a way to work it into the conversation.
- Me: Now is it normally just the two of you, or will you usually have others to play with you?
Customer: No, we have two boys, 13 and 16
Me: Oh, OK. In that case, it’s great. Bohnanza sucks with just two players, but it’s awesome with three or more.
Or, to a customer looking at Descent:
- Me: Now the downside to any Fantasy Flight Game is that it’s going to take you a couple of hours the first time to learn how to set it up and play it. But once you’ve gotten through that, you can play it forever and never get tired of it, because it will be new and different every time you play.
Your product isn’t for everyone
Someone in my Twitter feed (and I’m so sorry that I don’t remember who!) recently said “You can’t make a product that anyone will love without making a product that someone will hate.”
Fantasy Flight Games are a good example of this: they have a very devoted following, and I know several people who buy everything they put out. They’re the people who don’t mind taking a few hours to read through a rulebook and learn how to play. They’re the people who hate hate HATE to have any element of a game repeat ever. And they are more than enough to keep FFG in business. But they are less than 5% of the population.
Odds are good that your product has downsides. Your target market doesn’t care.
As long as they don’t know what the downsides are, they’ll be too scared to buy. But if you tell them what your product’s weak points are, many of them will say, “Oh, is that all?” and hand over the money.
Summary and Action Steps
Telling your customers about your products’ downsides can make them feel a lot more comfortable about buying from you.
What are the bad points of your product? In what situations do you feel that your product is worth buying anyway? Why?
Are the people in your identified target market in at least one of those situations? If not, how can you change your product or your target market to bring them into alignment?
This article was cross-posted at my business blog, NeoAgora Marketing, where you can find more information on marketing if you’re interested.