Does Your Marketing Pass the “So What” Test?

Even if you are not the marketing director or a professional PR person, marketing skills are helpful for your career.  At some point, you need to market yourself to potential employers through your resume and cover letter.  Most jobs have some aspect that includes pitching ideas to superiors, writing copy for advertising, or some other kind of advertising.

Our natural inclination is to write headlines and copy that appeals to us and what we want.  This might include an organization writing “come to our conference” or “read our website.”  Additionally, personal marketing sometimes includes personal pronouns like “read my blog” or “subscribe to my YouTube page.”  However, this marketing does not pass the “so what” test that marketer Ted Nicholas describes in his work.  If you are a third party reading this headline or marketing material, how did you answer the question “so what?”

Let’s think about an example of the AFF Roundtable, a monthly program during which a panel of rising stars discuss a relevant policy issue.  We could market this by saying “Come to Our Roundtable” or “Hear Policy Speakers” or “Open Bar and Drinks.”  These statements focus on the features, not the benefits of the event and do not answer the question of “so what?”  Better marketing might include statements like “Meet New Friends,” “Learn More About Policy Issues from Experts,” “Hone Your Arguments About X Issue” or “Enjoy Drinks and Appetizers with Your Colleagues.”  These statements answer the question “so what?” and give potential attendees a better idea of how they will benefit by attending.

On the personal side, you need to answer “so what?” on your resume.  I sometimes see resumes that are simply a list of jobs, classes, degrees, and internships that do not spell out what the person accomplished and learned through those experiences.  Look at your resume from the potential employers’ standpoint and understand that he is also looking at 50 other resumes.  For example, let’s say you had an internship with X Policy Institute.  Under that part of your resume, you could list features like “Worked with X Scholar” or “Helped with policy events” or “Made phone calls.”  Instead, you should highlight unique points that stand out (benefits) such as “Published op-ed with X Scholar in New York Times that received 1 million views” or “Improved event marketing that led to 25% increased attendance for the summer” or “Spoke on the phone with major donors and convinced 32 new couples to attend donor retreat.”

Constantly think about your communications to analyze if they pass the “so what?” test.  Even your email headlines and conversations with peers usually include some kind of desired action for which you need convincing language.  You can distinguish yourself by always passing the “so what?” test.

Roger Custer is executive director at America’s Future Foundation.

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