On Drills, Holes and Copywriting (Or Why Nobody is Buying Your Stuff)


Ever heard of the saying, 

"People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole."

- Theodore Levitt, fancy economist and low-key marketing guru

I can't get enough of that quote.

As a copywriter, I find myself explaining this idea to my clients - a lot.

Sometimes I even chant it quietly over my coffee mug as I get ready for the day. 

... I may even get it tattooed on my forehead in an empowering, hand-written cursive font.

Because when it comes to writing great copy - the kind of copy that grabs people by the guts and won't let go until they click or buy - you simply cannot forget the hole.

Why holes = more sales (I promise this isn't dirty)

Unless you want your customers to hit snooze on your next sales message, we need to talk more about holes... ahem... your customers' holes (that is, their problems and what they actually want)...

...instead of what most people do: talking about yourself, your business, and your process/unique method/fancy expertise.

Hint: this isn't good. And it's the reason nobody is buying your stuff. 

Because here's the real talk: nobody cares about your brand story.

[Tweet that]

Nobody cares about how you can help them find fulfillment, or step into their power, or heal holistically.

Nobody cares about the years of experience you have or the really cool process you've developed. 

Not yet. 

I say "not yet" because it's not that these things don't matter. They do. Your brand story and your experience and your you-ness (a real word that I definitely did not just make up to illustrate my point) are all a huge part of why people will decide to buy from you. 

But not until your prospective clients understand, in no unclear terms, exactly what that means for them. 

And what problem your really cool and meaningful brand story helps them solve. 

(Maybe Theo should have said, "People don't buy brand stories unless they have a hole to put them in.")


Tim the Tool-Man Taylor and I don't just share a surname. We also like to talk about holes and drills. (And we're both from the 1990s.)

Why holes get all the attention (still not dirty)

Make no mistake: when your potential customers are thinking about buying from you, they are trying to solve a problem that they have in their life. 

Usually, they're thinking about their problem in a slightly different way than how you'd naturally talk about what you do. 

... Which means if you're banging on about how you help people "find expansion" (what you might do) instead of "get the courage and support they need to quit their soul-sucking job and find a career they love" (perhaps a common theme amongst your best clients), then they're going to scroll right past you and find someone else. 

To illustrate this point, here's a rapid-fire drill vs hole smackdown.

Round 1: 

Drill: I'm a website developer who builds custom-coded and mobile-responsive websites for Wordpress and Drupal. I have over 10 years of coding and back-end web development experience.


Hole: I build custom websites for entrepreneurs who want to stand out from the crowd and get more clients online. When you work with me, you get a website that looks great from the front and runs smoothly on the back-end, which means you'll rank well in Google, customers will stay on your site longer and they'll actually want to buy from you.

Round 2: 

Drill: I'm a Naturopath with a focus on holistic healing. I help people live their best and healthiest lives.


Hole: I help career-driven women stop feeling crazy, bloated and sluggish by addressing hormonal imbalances they might not know they have - so that they can finally lose the extra weight they've been losing (and gaining) for the past 10 years.

Round 3: 

Drill: I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in Acceptance and Commitment therapy. I believe strongly in the power of mindfulness when it comes to facing the challenges that life throws at us.


Hole: I help busy couples re-ignite their relationship after having children. I work with couples who are stressed out and at their wit's end (and maybe they've thrown around the "D word" a few times already) reconnect with each other and find fun in their marriage again. Second honeymoon period? Heck yes!

If you were a customer dealing with any of these problems, which version would get your attention and assure you that this service-provider really gets you? 

It was the hole-y version, right?

When you start listening to your people's problems, and speak in that language... magical things begin to happen (cue unicorns and fairy dust).

(Becca Tracey over at Uncaged Life has a similar comparison here, which immediately struck a chord with me and inspired me to expand on her ideas in this blog.)

How to find your customers' holes

Just listen. It's like putting a seashell up to your ear so you can hear the ocean. The end!

I was kinda joking, but not really. You do need to listen if you want to find out about the mythical holes I've been speaking about in this blog. Here's how I help my clients do it: 

  1. Speak to previous clients and ask them about what made them want to get in touch with you. What was the tipping point? What are some examples of the frustrations they were experiencing that pushed them into seeking out help? (Pro-tip: work this into your client onboarding process and you'll have a goldmine of copy to work with for future marketing campaigns).
  2. Get your digital-stalker hat on. Peek your head into Facebook groups, conversations your ideal clients are having on social media, and how they talk about similar products and services online. What types of concerns, problems and struggles come up again and again? 
  3. Turn those problems into selling points for your product or service. Seriously - take the exact words and phrasings your ideal clients are using, and put them to work on your website, in your newsletters and in your sales pages. 

Magical things happen when your sales message matches up with what sent your ideal client out looking for help in the first place.

Once you've got a clear handle on how your customers think about their problems, wants and deepest desires, it's safe to start venturing into writing sales copy. Because if you want to hook someone online, capture their attention and create desire, the best way to do it is to start by holding up a mirror. 

(If there's one thing we all have in common, it's that we can't help doing a double-take when we catch a glimpse of our own reflection.)

You need hole-y copy. I can help.

Your emails, your sales pages, and your website all need to speak about your ideal clients' problems, needs and wants if you want them to pay attention to you. 

Fortunately, I'm very good at helping people do just that. If you want help turning your drills into holes, I'd like to show you my tool belt (OK, that was maybe a little bit dirty on purpose, and I'll put that metaphor to rest now).

But really, get in touch, and let's talk about how I can help you craft copy that speaks the right language so that your business gets the attention (and sales) it deserves

Here's how we can work together. 

To not-so-holier-than-thou copy,