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The real answer to your binary questions

So many commercials, especially local commercials, begin with binary questions. Think along the lines of “Are you in the market for…” or “Do you want to shop somewhere that’s friendly, convenient, etc.” Some call this prospect qualifying. I call it a waste of time.

These binary questions are supposed to either get someone to say “yes” or draw attention to a problem they may not have considered. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, it may even be detrimental to your entire advertising campaign.

What’s so frustrating about this is that marketers can fix this so simply by changing the way they think of their audience. Here’s how.

If You Have To Ask, The Answer’s No

When you ask binary questions, you want your audience to say yes. What if the answer’s no? What happens then?

Most marketers haven’t thought of this possibility because they’re hopeful everyone will say yes. However, by asking a yes or no question, there’s a good chance you’ll hear the answer you don’t want. In fact, if you’re asking and haven’t built a case for yourself as the answer to your customer’s problems, then you might as well assume the answer will be “no.”

Why? Because your audience is busy. They don’t know you, nor do they have the time to pay attention to what you’re saying. They’re certainly not giving much thought to the very problem you’ve just posited.

It may not exactly be a virulent “No!” It may be more of a “Sorry, not interested.” Still, why even give them the option? Command their attention with a powerful value proposition and take it from there.

Singling Out Would-Be Customers

Binary questions sort your customers into two groups, those who say yes and those who say no. Anyone who answers your question with a “no” has completely tuned out the rest of your message.

After all the money you spent to deliver that message to a prospect, whether it’s through a TV commercial or a digital ad, why would you want to exclude a portion of your audience from even considering buying from you, simply because they answered “no” when you asked them?

This hurts your message both immediately and long term. First, if they tell you they don’t need your business before you’ve even made the case for yourself, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Flip the order and you’d have better results.

Even then, if the customer responds “no,” you’ve gotten them to tune out the rest of your messages. If they ever do find themselves “in the market” for your services, then they won’t remember you, all because they already disqualified your message well in advance of ever needing you. Your recall will plummet, as will the long term value of your advertising campaign.

Skip Binary Questions for Better Strategies

When you open a spot with a binary question, you’re really looking for a rhetorical way of introducing your value proposition. Why don’t you just build on that value proposition with your story, demonstrating examples of how you can impact your audience’s lives? Show, don’t tell. Prove your value before asking the customer to consider you.

To do this, simply rephrase the question you want to ask as a sentence, then work backward and answer the who, why and how of what you do that’s special. Then turn that into your ad copy. See, not all questions are bad. It’s all about how you use them.

You also could sub binary questions out with open ended questions that inspire thought and reflection. I mean, I’ve asked 4 of them in this article. They’re a handy rhetorical device that can actually increase recall in the long run. Prospects are people, after all, and people like to think.

There are other ways to avoid using binary questions in your marketing messaging. Just make sure you’re not disqualifying a good amount of your audience well before they even have a chance to consider buying from you. It’s wasting everyone’s time.

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