Here’s a GEICO commercial you’ll never see:
INT. OFFICE – DAY
Our proprietary actuarial calculations help us pinpoint risk more precisely than other insurance carriers. Moreover, our efficient system of claims assessment increases the number of damaged cars our employees can inspect in a day. Finally, our automation reduces the cost of customer interaction by lowering the number of customer service agents we need to employ, especially during peak hours. All this taken together means we are able to undercut the premium price of most other carriers.
I know you hated that. But you’ve written that way yourself, even if you don’t realize it.
When you know something that the audience doesn’t, you’re itching to explain it. Call it expert’s disease, the desire for other people to “get it” just like you do, and to explain it until they do. It’s natural. We enjoy the feeling of mastering a subject, and we want other people to feel it, too. Maybe we even want to show off a bit. So we explain what we know in detail, confident that this is how to get someone interested.
But that’s not how you gain someone’s interest, let alone change a mind.
Here’s how many GEICO commercials begin, and how all of them end:
In just fifteen minutes, we can save you money on your car insurance.
Here’s the takeaway for writers: audiences don’t care much about how something will be done. They care most that the thing in question benefits them. So tell them the benefit first, last, and often.
GEICO may have an amazing business model, but you won’t find a GEICO customer who even knows it exists. GEICO customers did not buy in because they love GEICO’s management style. They bought in because in just fifteen minutes, this company is going to save me money on my car insurance.
When you write op-eds and speeches, begin with the benefit. Simply state how your idea makes someone’s life, business, or career better and easier. Be specific – don’t just say “better” or “easier.” Tell us about saving time, cutting costs, driving up income, or trimming red tape. How it works is of secondary importance, and sometimes it’s not important at all. Explain methods and models to the extent they are required to create confidence, but no more than that.
Short of criminal activity, you don’t really care how GEICO keeps those prices down. You just want to pay less for insurance – and that’s enough to close the deal.
Audiences seek explication, but they won’t be interested until they know they know there’s a benefit to hearing you out. Focus first on what’s in it for them, not how it works.
Mike Long is a speechwriter and author who teaches writing at Georgetown University.