Harder Than You Think: How to Write Customer-Focused Copy

by | Dec 18, 2019 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

Think you’re writing customer-focused copy? Think again!

What does it mean to write customer-focused copy, anyway? If the copy you write is about the customer’s product or service, isn’t that customer-focused copy?

Not quite.

Enter The Curse of Knowledge, an ambiguous term which Chip and Dan Heath introduced in their book, Made to Stick. This phrase/concept refers to any time when your knowledge works against you. Put another way, you can be your own worst enemy when it comes to writing customer-focused copy.

The Heath brothers were interviewed by NPR and demonstrated the Curse of Knowledge by using a table to “tap” out the “Star-Spangled Banner” to see if listeners could name that tune. They were trying to illustrate how a similar experiment was carried out at Stanford.

According to Chip Heath, as cited in the NPR interview:

And when you’re tapping it out, you hear the entire instrumentals, you hear the vocal accompaniment… And so, the tapper is hearing the whole message. And the listeners were lousy at this.

Out of 120 songs tapped out in the experiment, they only guessed three. That’s the Curse of Knowledge. The tapper is hearing everything and what the listener is hearing is a disconnected set of Morse Code, dots and dashes.

In a real-life example, the Heath brothers referenced a manufacturing firm that produces the complex machinery used to make silicon chips. To build such machinery, cross-departmental collaboration was needed between the engineers who made the machinery designs, and the manufacturing personnel who “fleshed out” the engineers’ ideas.

The Curse of Knowledge takes place here when, as the Heath brothers mentioned, something unexpected happens on the manufacturing floor. The manufacturing personnel point out what’s wrong with the machine, and the engineers reference their blueprints to fix the problem.

The issue here is that the engineers are responding to the manufacturing people in language they know (the blueprints), but not the language the manufacturers can relate to (physically showing them what’s wrong with the machinery).

Consider this the Curse of Knowledge personified.

Of course, you’re not just writing copy so readers understand it. You’re trying to sell a message. In order to do that, you need to write copy that speaks directly to a customer’s pain.

Here is a list of resources where you can gather more tips for writing copy that your clients will understand and relate to.

Get Specific

As a marketer, you’re trained to respond to a customer’s pain points both in a way that makes sense for the client, and makes sense for your company.

But you can’t address a client’s pain if you don’t know who they are or what they struggle with on a regular basis. Marketing without somebody in mind means marketing to everybody.

And that’s a recipe for disaster because each company faces unique challenges. Delivering customer-focused copy requires a precise identification of those specific hurdles.

As Michele Pariza Wacek outlines in Love Based Copywriting Method (Volume I), if you market to everybody, you actually market to nobody:

First, if you’re trying to sell to everyone, you’re probably getting pretty generic. And the more generic you get, the less people are going to recognize their SPECIFIC problem in your generic description. Remember, your ideal clients live in a world of specifics—their problem is very real and very specific to them. In fact, they may even go as far as to say “but MY situation/problem is different/unique etc.” They only see what makes them unique, not what they have in common with others who have their same problem.

Clients look to you for clear direction to solve their specific situation. It’s critical to keep this in mind when creating customer-focused copy—it’s all about them, so use “you” more often.

Consider the following example:

  1. Marketers face many issues when determining the annual marketing budget, forcing them to compromise in order to make the best of their available resources
  2. You face many issues when making out the annual marketing budget, which causes you to sometimes compromise in order to make the best of your resources.

This example shows the power of using “you” to directly involve your customers more. Other words that signal customer-focused copy are:

  • Because
  • Why

This is because these two words explain. Customers love specificity. It makes you sound more persuasive and authoritative because you know the reason why the customer is having trouble.

But How Do You Actually Write Customer-Focused Copy?

For that, I send you in Robert Collier’s direction. His book, The Robert Collier Letter Book is a collection of letters used to demonstrate marketing tactics and principles. Among them, he mentions using specific words that will make people want to buy a particular product or service.

As Collier explains,

“the ability to do that is perhaps the most important factor in a successful letter, for it means describing your proposition in terms the reader knows.”

When writing customer-focused copy, the language has to be familiar to the prospect.

For example, if you’re writing for a client in a very niche vertical, it’s okay to drop a word or two of industry-lingo to show you have knowledge of the vertical. But you don’t want to use that trick too much–you might put readers off by forcing them to overthink.

Collier also encourages you to enliven your descriptions with drama, thrill, and emotion. But you’re only able to do that if you listen and address your clients’ pain points. Clear, intentional listening produces better copy.

For instance, in SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackham, the whole purpose of asking a client probing questions about their specific problem is to get a precise answer based on pain point feedback from the client.

In effect, prospects and clients are selling to themselves while they’re focused on the solution.

In one of the sales calls Rackham observed, an experienced salesperson used questions based on customer feedback to get them to sell themselves on the salesperson’s solution:

SELLER: (Problem Question) You’re getting too many mistakes?

BUYER: (Implied Need) Some…

SELLER: (Implication Question)… Does this mean some of those mistakes are causing you difficulties in the documents you send out to clients?

BUYER: Sometimes…

SELLER: (Need-payoff Question) Suppose you didn’t have to spend that time proofreading. What could you do with the time you saved?…

BUYER: You’re right.

What you can take away here is that you can get prospects to want your product or service by describing it in terms they know. That, coupled with asking a client insightful questions, is a big part of writing customer-focused copy.

Language, specificity, strategic word choice, and listening go a long way toward understanding clients as you become a more efficient marketer–one who is better able to create solutions to their pain points.


In turn, this produces customer-focused copy that will help you–and your client–get to where you want to go.

What is the most successful practice your business uses to make customer-focused copy? Drop us a message in the chat below to tell us about your experiences or any additional best practices you have with writing customer-focused copy.

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