Why Your PPC Ads Must Meet the True and Positive Needs of Prospects

This article by Howie Jacobson was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.

When you think about it, search is really one of the most fundamental human activities. Pretty much everything we do, say, and think about is a form of search: an attempt to scan our environment to get what we need from it. So if we want to become effective search marketers, it behooves us to understand the urge to search in a more global context.

Unmet Needs: The Engine of Search

positiveThe driving force behind search is the difference between our current reality and our present needs. When we need something that is different from what we have, we activate search mode. We go looking for it.

Whether it’s on the Internet, the supermarket, a riverside trail, or a conversation with a friend, we’re always acting to get our needs met. Everything we do is an attempt to meet a need. Every word we utter is an attempt to meet a need.

Understanding this core truth about human nature can be quite liberating. It can totally transform the quality and our enjoyment of our interactions with others. No matter how seemingly annoying, unpleasant, jerky, or evil someone appears at first glance, their motivation is always to meet an unmet need.

According to Marshall Rosenberg, creator of the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC), our true needs are always positive and universal. We need safety and security. We need connection. We need love. We need physical comfort. And so on.

Search Marketing Application: Harnessing Unmet Needs

Make a list of your prospects true and positive needs that can be met by your products or services.

For example, if you sell stop motion animation software, take a few minutes and think about your customers. What needs of theirs does your product meet? If you need some inspiration, peruse a needs list like the one published by CNVC here.

You might come up with a list like:

  • Creativity
  • Play
  • Self-expression
  • Ease
  • Inspiration
  • Growth
  • Competence
  • Clarity
  • Learning
  • Independence
  • Communication
  • Participation
  • Belonging

Now take a look at the SERP for your biggest keyword. Do any of the ads reflect back an understanding or appreciation for these powerful needs?


Two ads include the word “easily,” which reflects a universal human need to for ease, or the experience of creating without struggle. The need for independence is gently hinted at through the phrase “your own” in the bottom right ad. But none of the other needs are even hinted at on this SERP.

What ad copy might you test that would let a prospect know that some big need could be fulfilled by your product?

  • Independence (not needing help from anyone else): Everything you need to create your own movies
  • Belonging (feeling part of a community): Movies you’ll be proud to share
  • Creativity (encouraging new thoughts and bringing them to fruition): Get lost in your imagination, then bring it to life

And so on. The more you connect empathetically with your prospects, the more you can imagine the “wins” they are hoping for, the more clarity you can bring to your words.

Feelings: Mechanism for Feedback

The trouble is, we can get confused, and think that the feelings are ends unto themselves. Or that they are the prime motivators, rather than guideposts that enable us to meet our needs.

For example, if I have a need for belonging that isn’t being met, I will feel bad. The exact feeling may be something like apathetic, detached, or indifferent. Or perhaps I will feel shame, or vulnerability, or rage at the people I perceive are excluding me. Or some combination.

Most people don’t realize that their negative feelings are simply clues about unmet needs.

We generally don’t have the awareness to say, “When the three of you didn’t speak to me at the meeting yesterday, I felt angry because I have a need for belonging.” Instead, we fixate on the anger and look for reasons to focus our blame outward: “You three were being real jerks yesterday. I’m really mad at you for treating me like dirt.”

As marketers, we’re taught that people are most often and most powerfully motivated by some combination of fear and greed. So in order to “meet them where they are” (and to sell our stuff), we focus their attention on the various negative feelings that accompany their unmet needs.

While this tactic can be effective, it has serious limitations:

  1. Negative states are never as compelling as positive ones. They can get us to act quickly and decisively when we’re feeling particularly bad, but they lose their power to motivate us almost as soon as we start feeling better.
  2. Using negative states to motivate someone’s buying behavior points them away from a feeling rather than toward a goal. If you get me riled up with jealousy toward other online marketers who are making more money than I am, you’re getting me in motion, but not necessarily toward your solution.
  3. When we focus on negative feelings, we’re attracting a clientele who are motivated more by their negativity and emotionality than their positivity and aspirations.

I don’t know about you, but I’m heavily influenced by the emotional energy of the people in my life. I’m much happier when those people are positive, optimistic, and active than when they’re negative, pessimistic, and feeling victimized.

The Turnaround

I’m not suggesting we ignore the negative emotions and just focus on the happy-happy ponies and butterflies at the end of the rainbow. When people are immersed in a negative feeling, we need to connect with them at that level before we can help them translate that emotion into a positive goal.

And if we think that there’s something “wrong” with them for having the negative emotion, we’re being profoundly disrespectful. And that whiff of judgment will turn our prospects off before we can share our solution with them.

Sometimes, if the negative feeling is front and center, we need to connect with it in the ad. Then the job of the landing page becomes to show our prospect the ways in which they can meet their positive needs.

Often, search marketers do this backward. The ad is all positive, while the landing page agitates the negative feelings to where they become unbearable, and the only antidote is to buy.

Search Marketing Application: Harnessing Feelings

Make a list of some of the negative feelings that are driving your prospects to meet their unmet needs.

If someone is struggling to create stop motion animation using feature-poor or non-intuitive software, they might be feeling any of the following (taken from a list of feelings here:

  • Frustrated
  • Aggravated
  • Annoyed
  • Insecure
  • Overwhelmed
  • Bewildered
  • Hesitant
  • Discouraged

Write some ads that reflect back the negative emotion.

  • Frustrated: Frustrated at clunky software that gets in the way of creativity?
  • Insecure: Worried that you’re not good enough to make movies?
  • Overwhelmed: Stop motion’s hard enough without buggy software.

Notice in the SERP screenshot above, none of the ads address any negative feelings associated not being able to easily create stop motion movies.

The next step is to use your landing page copy to connect the negative feeling with the positive goals you identified in the “harnessing unmet needs” application above. To empathize with the feeling of frustration, and couch it in terms that make it both acceptable and – now – no longer necessary.

Of course you’re frustrated; you’ve got all these great ideas and imaginative visions inside you, and your current software doesn’t let them out. Imagine what it would feel like to clear a wide channel for your amazing creativity to run straight from your head to your finished movie.

This way your marketing, in addition to attracting customers whom you can help as they attempt to enrich their lives, also serves as a powerful alchemical catalyst for their own awareness and growth.

And the added bonus for us, as we market in this fashion, is that we get better at noticing when our negative emotions are keeping us stuck by distracting us from our real needs.

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