How do you compete with “WII-FM”?

Over at Small Biz Survival, author Glenn Muske offers solid advice for aspiring small business owners – and, really, any of us already running a small business:

A good idea that offers benefits to the customer, coupled with a solid marketing plan and great customer service, can turn into a winning business idea.

This is where local businesses have such an advantage. The owners can fully understand their target market and what those customers want. The owners also can build on established relationships to connect with and use in developing an outstanding customer support network.

It is important that the business owner think of the idea in terms of the customer’s needs and wants. It is not the features that sells a product or service but the benefit to the customer.

I first heard essentially the same idea years ago in Communication 101: To succeed with what you’re offering you must first understand, then effectively articulate, how it meets a person’s need. A few years after Comm 101, my then employer engaged communication coach Joey Asher to work with our team on giving presentations. Asher told us that people are more inclined to tune in to “their favorite radio station” – WII-FM, or  What’s In It For Me – than the message we have for them.

You may want prospective customers to bring their car in for repairs, visit your boutique, hire your law firm or eat at your restaurant, but they’ve got other things competing for their attention, time and money. What is in it for them if they choose you over the alternatives?

Where we struggle

To paraphrase Muske, business owners oftentimes provide all the details but don’t effectively relate the benefit, e.g., they’ll provide the calorie content of the bread they’re promoting but fail to describe its taste. I can very much identify. I mean, what does a well-designed website taste like?

If I get questions at all about my services they tend to be functional in nature, so most of the time I guess at what potential clients want. The biggest benefits of working with me are ones I can’t seem to effectively articulate myself without veering into negative territory, so I mostly rely on word of mouth from past clients. Some of them have scary stories to tell (about prior experiences, of course). It would be better for prospective clients to understand these pitfalls rather than learning the hard way, but I haven’t yet found a way to broadcast Web Design 101 over WII-FM.

Is it just me?

Is your business in a niche that can be hard for people to get their heads around? Are there competitors in your market that capitalize on the uneducated? Or are you just having a hard time finding out how to tune in to your prospective customers’ favorite station? I’d be grateful for your thoughts.