Grab people’s attention by the symptom, not by the cure.

We might think highly of what we’ve created. We might think we have a great, unique, and revolutionary solution for a problem. We want the world to know about it. We speak in witty form, touting our approach, and… No one comes. Actually, no one listens. They don’t even know what you are talking about it.

You heard the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. He didn’t build a faster horse. He saw a completely unique and revolutionary approach to transportation and he solved it. However, if he had taken an ad in a newspaper and announced “Buy an automobile to go places” people might have totally missed the point. “Automobile” was such a foreign concept. You have to tie into what people are looking for and are familiar with, either an existing solution you’re competing with (“horses”) or the symptom of the problem they are trying to address (“go places faster”). Below is the first advertisement for a car, from 1898.

Back to the Future

Here is a better example: Weight Loss. Weight Loss is the symptom of bad lifestyle choices. If you want to lose weight, you need to change the choices you make. But can you imagine someone advertising “Better lifestyle choices”? Unlikely. People look at a symptom they see or feel and go search for a cure for that symptom. They don’t know what the cure is most of the time.

Kurbo is an amazing startup focused on helping kids lose weight. Kurbo knows that weight is a consequence, in great part, of nutrition (and physical activity). So they need to help kids change their eating habits and the weight loss will happen as a consequence. If they took the high-road and never mentioned weight-loss in their advertising, the people looking for them might not find it. But they had a bigger problem, the symptom they are trying to cure (being overweight) carries a stigma with the user (kids), so they have to be even more careful about what they talk about in the description of their product.

If you build a product that people don’t want, it doesn’t matter what you do for marketing, you are screwed. But even if you build a product that people do want, you still have to get people to first find out you exist!

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.