Is Your Customer Too Paralyzed By Worry to Hear Your Message? Here's What to Do …

"An undefined problem has an
infinite number of solutions."

– Robert Humphrey

What keeps your customer up at night?

When he sits on his bed, one shoe on and staring out the window … what's he thinking about?

When he looks in the mirror, half-shaved … when she dials the doctor … when the mail comes, marked urgent …

What sound buzzes between your prospect's ears, so loud that your sales pitch drowns in the din?

Could it be the un-payable bill … the unruly child … the rosy red zit on the tip of his nose … or the gray hair she found this morning?

Maybe it's a nagging ache … or last night's awkward date. Maybe it's a car that pings when it shouldn't … or a job in a cubicle that's going nowhere.

Heck, maybe it's all those unreadable road signs dotting the path to total enlightenment.

If you're not sure, maybe it's high time you find out. And today, I hope to show you why …

How to Unlock a Worried Mind

While you watch, I'd like to do some deep thinking on a concept I'm sure you're familiar with, called the "problem-solution lead."

This, I'll bet you can gather, is the persuasion technique where you identify a prospect's problem … then imply you've got a quick and painless way to solve it.

If you study advertising at all, you've seen this at work many, many times.

For instance, the ol' classic "Are you ever tongue-tied at a party?" is just one of many blockbuster examples.

It was a hit because it identified an emotionally drenched issue … the fear of knowing what to say in a social situation … and implied, just by the asking, that there's a way to escape that embarrassment.

Another great headline, "Do you make these mistakes in English?" works almost the same way. Yes, say the grammar-challenged, I might make some mistakes and I worry about that. And what makes this opener even stronger is that it implies you're probably making more than one mistake, too. It ups the ante before also implying there's a solution.

Of course, not all great problem-solution headlines have to be stated as questions.

"When doctors 'feel rotten' this is what they do" is a great example. For one, this is a rare example where being general about the problem works – because it's the unidentifiable aspect of simply 'feeling rotten' that's at the core of the worry.

What's also brilliant about this one is that it's not only sympathetic – just 'feeling rotten' is a common worry – but that the doctors who know what you're going through are also the source of the solution.

And all that happens in just nine words.

Though, for all their differences, you'll still find that these and all great problem-solution headlines and leads track pretty much the same formula.

First, set aside your big benefit. Make it time to talk about the reader, and let him or her know you're doing it … by giving a name to the elephant in the room. It could be a big problem; it could be one that's embarrassingly small. The key is that it's deeply felt and emotionally unresolved.

Feel their pain. Let them know it. And let them feel justified for feeling that way, too. Never mock or make light of their worries, unless you're laughing with them at the awkwardness of feeling a certain way – as a means to drawing the problem out in the open.

Then imply a solution. Either by saying or showing outright that you've got the answer … or by hinting a solution exists. Even just seeing lots of copy below a "have-this-problem" headline could suggest as much.

What Else Works in Problem-Solution Headlines?

Simple as they are, there are lots of random secrets to making a problem-solution copy lead work.

Stick with me while I work them out:

  • If you identify the prospect's problem with a question-based headline, naturally you're gunning for a "yes" answer or anything else that opens rather than closes the door on a discussion.
  • What are some other great problem-solution headlines that you might recognize?
    • From a famous book club ad: "How often do you hear yourself saying 'No, I haven't read it – I've been meaning to!"
    • From a parenting-product ad that uses the open-question technique: "Whose fault when children disobey?"
    • From a pre-Prozac era drug ad that broke ground by inventing a name for a condition: "Have you these symptoms of 'nerve exhaustion?'"
    • An old investing ad that might resonate today: "Have you a 'worry' stock?"
    • A classic non-question example that I'll bet still gets your psyche to vibrate: "To people who want to write – but can't get started"
    • And two more that state, not ask – in both, it's in seeing the ad copy below that a solution is implied: "Little Leaks That Keep Men Poor" and "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride … "
    • One more bonus example: "For the woman who is older than she looks … "
  • Here's a great quote about advertising in general that applies especially well here: "You're not selling, you're solving."
  • What works isn't targeting gigantic problems. Rather, you want to aim for the one that's most deeply felt and persistent. Emotional engagement is always the key.
  • The best solution isn't always the biggest, either. Usually, it's the easiest, the cheapest, the fastest, the most widely accepted, the most precious … or some combination of the above.
  • While every problem-solution lead needs to offer answers, you're always keeping something back until after you've made the sale.
  • That hidden thing might be the name of the solution itself. Or it might be a last or most essential step that you'll reveal for a price. It might even be something you promise never to share, like a secret ingredient or formula.
  • If you claim to have answers, you'll need proof. Some of the problem-solution ads do that with the "before-and-after" setup you see so often in ads for all kinds of health products.
  • You could even say testimonials – either quotes, success anecdotes, or customer profiles – are some of the most powerful kinds of proof any problem-solution ad can give.
  • The reason why testimonials work so well in a problem-solution ad is not just because they show a solution in action, but because they also do the "I feel your pain" work that's special to this kind of lead.
  • If you've got kids or you're married, you've got yet another angle from which to get how problem-solution ads work – all too often, people want to make sure their concerns are being heard and are regarded as legit. Only then do they open up to hearing about how to fix things.
  • Another reason problem-solution headlines work? Humans are just hard-wired to fix stuff. Even problems we don't have ourselves, we want to be the smart guy in the room who knows what to do. At least, that's going to be true of some of the prospects you'll draw in.

I could say much more. And believe me, I will at AWAI’s upcoming Bootcamp.

For now, let's leave it at this:

If you find yourself writing to a prospect that's so focused on his problems he can't quite hear your promises … this could be the way out that you're looking for.

Let him know you hear what he's worried about. Give it a name. Justify it. And THEN watch doors open to your solution.

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: October 4, 2010

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