Turn Your Faults into Assets

At 4:00 p.m. last Saturday, a serious latte craving struck. But the line at my local Starbucks stood 10 deep. And the barista behind the counter moved like molasses.

While I waited, my eyes scanned the non-coffee items Starbucks decorates their counters with. A case full of pastries. James Brown CDs. The daily horoscope. Quotes from staff members. And on the blackboard behind the counter, this little tidbit (more or less):

“From Now Until ALWAYS – If you order espresso, service may be a little slow while our barista hand-makes your drink.”

A little clunky perhaps. But this tiny fragment of marketing copy was telling those of us in line that the barista’s maddening slowness would ultimately benefit us. It implied that if she weren’t moving so slowly – taking such deliberate care to hand-make our drinks – our beverages wouldn’t be as good.

This is an example of what ad legend Eugene Schwartz calls “redefinition.” Basically, you take a problem with your product – in this case, slow service – and redefine it as a benefit for your customers.

Your goal with redefinition, says Schwartz in Breakthrough Advertising, is to “remove a roadblock to your sale – if possible, before the prospect even knows it exists.”

Schwartz mentions Lifebuoy soap, which had an off-puttingly strong medicinal odor. To combat people’s objection to the smell, Lifebuoy copywriters redefined the smell as proof that the soap had “the odor-destroying power to make a longshoreman acceptable at a society ball.”

Now we’re not saying that you should put a positive “spin” on something that makes your product sub-par. You should always strive to have the highest-quality products possible. But if your product has something – a high price, a complicated mechanism, an unpleasant smell – that might turn your customers off, see if you can redefine it into a benefit.

[Ed. Note: You can redefine a product in three major ways. Learn about all three – and discover dozens more techniques you can use to make your advertising copy more powerful – in Eugene Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising]