What’s the Big Idea?

Normally, when someone asks you “What’s the big idea” they’re ticked off about something. When I asked my client Carlos that same question, he knew exactly what I meant.

The 30-page document he’d just sent me didn’t have a Big Idea. It had a ton of amazing concepts, many good ideas, and some excellent advice. It also meandered all over the place and didn’t have any kind of central theme to tie it all together.

In Carlos’ mind, it made sense because it was “what they should learn.” As a potential customer, I’m not interested in learning. I want to solve my problem, heal my pain, or gain some awesome result.

What’s the Big Idea? If you’ve been following AWAI, and in particular Michael Masterson for any length of time, you’ve read quite a bit about the Big Idea.

Copywriter John Forde defines the Big Idea as an “idea that can be sorted, absorbed, and understood instantaneously.”

I believe that the idea must also hint at solving the customer’s biggest problem.

To understand how this works, I dissected the process that Carlos and I went through to get to his Big Idea. As you’ll see, you end up with an “equation” that stands a better chance of creating a sale.

Step 1: Start At The End

Your client will want to lead with their product. Carlos wants to “teach” his customers how to become strategists. Carlos’ thinking went like this:

“If I teach them certain concepts, then they will be able to grow their businesses.”

I asked Carlos to tell me stories about some of the work he’d done with his clients. What I looked for was the kind of emotions his clients exhibited when his work with them was complete.

His stories let me to understand that his clients felt “relieved, at peace, and excited about their future.” This told me that they’re worried about the future and uncertain of their ability to succeed.

The end result of our equation became “They want security, certainty AND business growth.” That is, the customer is thinking:

“I want to feel certain about my future, stop worrying, and know that I can keep our business growing.”

The key emotions they are experiencing are: worry, fear and doubt.

Step 2: Define the Starting Point

Defining the start is easy. What is your client selling? In Carlos’ case, he’s selling a home-based study course on developing a business strategy.

Sounds boring, doesn’t it?

His customers don’t want a strategy. They especially don’t want to learn how to become strategists.

However, ultimately, we want them to have an “aha” experience in which they suddenly exclaim, “Eureka! I get it!” … “If I learn how to properly strategize, I’ll never have to worry about my future again!”

Our job is to lead them down this garden path … a path filled with obstacles.

Step 3: Define the “In Between” Steps

Carlos’ prospects aren’t going to leap to the conclusion that taking a home study course will get rid of their worry and fear, and give them certainty and peace of mind (and wealth).

They’ve got to be led there … backwards.

Carlos and I came up with the following (simplified here):

Home Study Course →
Customer Value Proposition →
Create a Business Model →
Develop a Strategy →
Become Unique →
Security, Certainty & Growth

Those are the steps they go through to get to the end result they want.

Step 4: Reverse the Order

Now, we want to think of this from the perspective of the customer.

  1. “I want to stop stressing out about my future and to feel more secure.”
  2. “I understand that for this to happen, we’ve got to be unique in the marketplace so that our customers think of us first and foremost.”
  3. “We need a plan for this to happen …”
  4. “But if we’re going to be unique, we can’t do things like everyone else. I guess this means we need to stop and come up with a different kind of strategy …”
  5. “But a good strategy has to be based on something … That must be the business model …”
  6. “Oh … I get it now … If I can figure out how to create more perceived value in the minds of my customers, I can base my business model on this value proposition, develop a strategy, plan around the strategy, and this will make us unique, different, and better!”
  7. “Hmmm … I should learn how to do all of that.”

Step 5: Developing the Big Idea

Remember that the Big Idea is “an idea that can be sorted, absorbed, and understood instantaneously,” and hints at solving the customer’s biggest problem.

We have to translate our equation into a statement that can easily be absorbed and understood, and hints at solving the problem. It’s no easy feat, and I readily admit that ours still needs work.

That said, here’s what we came up with:

“As the global economy shakes itself out of the recession, the ONLY way you can be certain about your future is to give your customer exactly what he or she wants BETTER than and DIFFERENT from your competition.”

If we can get the reader to instantly agree with this statement, we can begin leading him backwards down the path to the conclusion that “I need to learn how to do this …”

That is: “If I learn this stuff from Carlos, I will stop worrying and be certain about my future.”

Notice that the statement doesn’t say anything about developing strategies or business models. That comes later in the body of the copy as you lead them down the path.

The entire 30-page document works from and through the Big Idea, offering proof that it’s true and ideas they can use immediately to experience it for themselves.

What I’ve discovered as the key to this process is to drive in reverse. Start with what the customer most wants (emotionally) and work your way backwards … letting him or her come to the conclusion that to “get to Z, I must start with A.”

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 4.0
Published: July 20, 2009

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)