The Most Important Marketing Acronym: WIIFM

How often are you asked a favor? How do you decide whether or not to extend the favor?

You probably decide based on:

  1. The relationship you share with this person (or organization)
  2. WIIFM, or: What’s In It For Me?

When it comes to marketing yourself or your work—or building your career—you have to assume there is no such thing as altruism. You must always identify & convey how the other person will benefit/gain by doing what you ask.

Here’s what separates the classy people from the not-so-classy: Even when you have an excellent relationship with someone, a consummate professional (and a friend, too) will always position requests or proposals so that there’s a gain for everyone.

Successful people have an excellent way of involving—early on—others who can have an impact on their success, and making them feel special, included, and benefited in some way—which results in future favors (or offers) when none have been requested.

An example of what I mean:

Let’s say you run a blog where you interview authors or review their books. If your recommendations carry weight in your community, and you highly and repeatedly recommend a certain author or book, you’re offering support and publicity without being asked.

If the author notices and conveys gratitude (which they should), they will likely get in touch with you, and possibly open the door to a relationship or future requests.

But: Even if not, later on, you’ll be much better positioned to ask this author for a cover blurb, or a referral, or some other favor in the future, assuming it’s a good fit. (Sometimes these things are ALL about fit, or timing.)

In the burgeoning social media community, the simple tenet of WIIFM can be forgotten. And as a result, you get a lot of people bashing social media.

So, never forget that relationship building comes BEFORE favor asking. And there has to be a much bigger and better WIIFM when you approach people cold, without a solid relationship.

That said, sometimes people will offer favors if they are charmed by you, or like you, or are just in a good mood. But given how overwhelmed most people are these days, they usually appreciate and respond well to clear propositions with a straightforward action attached—and a benefit. Otherwise, you just become part of the noise.

P.S. This is why I hate press releases. There’s never anything in it for me. They’re not even addressed to me. The press release is dead, unless you can follow-up like a pro, or have a relationship to draw upon—in which case, why send a press release?

Photo credit: Gino

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16 thoughts on “The Most Important Marketing Acronym: WIIFM

  1. Karen Cioffi

    Thanks for sharing this. I agree, many people are getting annoyed at the amount of "noise" on the internet. One of my biggest peeves is that most marketers send you to landing pages that are 3-5 pages of ramblings – you have to search through to the bottom to find a cost. Tell me simply and clearly what the deal is, don’t waste my already limited time.

    The social networking is becoming overdone. Most marketers are just promoting their affiliate products, or their own products.

    I think I read or heard on a teleconference that a good rule of thumb is to provide 75% valuable content and 25% promotion.

  2. K.Victoria Smith


    It is wonderful to hear WIIFM outside of the corporate environment. While I am a novice writer, I am a 25 yr financial services professional. I have espoused the WIIFM for years. A client will not agree to a proposal because it benefits you, only because you have first demonstrated that it benefits them. It is not always the financial benefit that tips the scales. Sometimes it is convenience, simplifying their life, etc. I also teach my people that their clients are not just external(for the writer:the reader). We all have internal clients and we must be just as cognizant of their needs and goals in establishing the relationship (for the writer: agent, editor, publisher, …..). I tell my people to reach their sales goals: Take care of your clients and the numbers will take care of themselves.

  3. Jane Friedman

    @Isaiah – It all goes back to the quality of the relationship, and the medium you’re using.

    So, for example, some people think it’s OK to use Twitter and Facebook to blast pleas along the lines of "Buy my book, buy my book," — and not pay any attention to the relationships there except insofar as they serve a sale. This will annoy people.

    However, you can still use Twitter/Facebook to introduce people to ideas or (free) things you’ve written that can be beneficial to them or that have value (e.g., free daily tips). And if they’re really interested in that, then they may be interested in something more (something they actually purchase).

    Generally, I advise against using social networks for hard sells. It’s great for breaking through to new audiences, building awareness and visibility, learning more about and interacting with your readers, and opening up doors to new & valuable connections, but unless you’re a big business like Dell (that’s known for promoting great products at high discount via social media channels), most people are not really interested in what you have to sell. They’re interested in what you stand for and what you can do for them.

  4. Isaiah Campbell

    When you said: "In the burgeoning social media community, the simple tenet of WIIFM can be forgotten." Did you mean "tends to be forgotten" or that it is "permitted to be forgotten?" I’m not asking for semantics sake, but because I’ve been trying to find the balance between marketing and networking. Too much selling can drive people away from your social network, but not utilizing your network to sell product is a major waste. Where is the balance?

  5. Hallie Sawyer

    I absolutely think there should be some sort of relationship built before a favor request. For one, you need to make sure the person you are trying to connect with has the same values as yours. It goes back to school days when your friends did something bad, everyone assumed you were in on it, too. I want to make sure the people I need to rely on to be there for me are there for the right reasons.

    Once the relationship is estabished, based on respect and trust, I think it is fair to ask the favor. Chances are they will volunteer anyway or ask "What can I do to help you get to where I am?" because that is what a good person just does. They pay it forward.

  6. Kendra Bonnett

    Jane, this is an important issue you are raising but I would go even farther. First of all, I tell anyone who takes a marketing workshop with me that "It’s not about you." And what I mean by that is deliberately look for the benefit to others. When marketing to consumers, talk about the real benefits to the prospect. Don’t hawk the product, your development process or features. When writing a press release, focus on both the audience of media you are targeting AND the audience that they are trying to reach. Write a press release that you know is targeted to the audience of the person(s) you are pitching. Do your homework, first, and know what the ultimate audience wants. And then develop a press release that helps your target media do their job.

    It’s never about you…not if you want to succeed.

  7. Cathy Shouse

    I agree with your points, Jane. I also think there are intangible benefits to helping others in your field so unless it’s too demanding or time-consuming, I will try to do it. As a free-lance journalist, I’ve taken every opportunity to write about authors and have gotten an education by just being around them. So much can be learned by associating with people in one’s industry, when they will share the highs and lows and insider tips naturally in conversation, and sometimes "off the record."

    For example, my book "Images of America: Fairmount" releases in July and I’m making plans to avoid the problems writers have shared with me over the years about glitches in having books on hand at signings and such.

    Regarding press releases, I have seen many and most of the time, they miss the point of what is actually newsworthy. That’s why I find them useless. Saying "I’ve written a book" doesn’t interest anyone and when I’m given the opportunity to pursue details, I will usually find something fascinating to write about which would have made a great press release. Editors are looking for stories. The release writers often don’t know how to spark interest, unless a charity is involved or a "hot" topic is obvious that the editor immediately wants to pursue, which does happen.

  8. Caroline Clemmons

    Jane,I always enjoy your posts, although I have never commented. Today, I agree with both you and Patricia’s #1. It’s nice to have the reputation of helping people with nothing personal to gain–at least I hope that’s my reputation. At the same time, when you approach someone to ask . . . oh, for a book endorsement for instance, you have to consider what they have to gain or lose. Are you someone with whom they want their name associated? That’s where Patricia’s #1 comes in.

  9. Jane Friedman

    @Patricia – EXCELLENT points, thank you so much. I can especially vouch for point No. 1. You never, ever know!

    (And besides, my life would be much less rich, interesting, and fulfilling if I only helped people I thought I’d benefit from later.)

  10. Patricia Volonakis Davis

    Jane, as usual you make valuable points. I’d love to add two comments, if I may:

    1) Even if there appears to be nothing in it for you, if you CAN,if it’s not too draining, help anyway…because you just never know where the person you help for ‘free’ will be in two years. Especially in this business.

    2) There are some people who will figure out very quickly that you are helping because you can gain from it, or you might hope to gain from it. And they don’t like it. The reason for that, is that they have already decided for whatever reason they will NEVER want to help you. Don’t waste your time on those people. Go for those who are open and willing to evenly exchange.

  11. Benjamin

    I honestly thought WIIFM was referring to a gaming system broadcasting over radio–like my ipod hooked up to my car stereo through fm frequencies. I like your blog. I may even like you, Jane. But instead of asking WIIFM, I ask WWJD.

  12. Benjamin

    I honestly thought WIIFM was referring to a gaming system broadcasting over radio–like my ipod hooked up to my car stereo through fm frequencies. I like your blog. I may even like you, Jane. But instead of asking WIIFM, I ask WWJD.

  13. David Rozansky

    Press releases are very useful, and I like to read them all the time. Really. But not as a letter unto itself. When I need information about a company or product or event, the press release is a document that I know comes from the company in question, and has their official information for release to the public. And it includes all the links and contact names I need to pursue a story or business idea.

    We also publish press releases ourselves.

    The best use of a press release is to publish it on your press-information page of your website, or to include it in your media kits. This way, the search engines can pick it up for those seeking the information, and is in the proper place where journalists and reviewers can find the information they need to write their stories without having to waste time online or on the phone.

    Mailing press releases or posting them to newswire services is rather worthless. This is how one used to get the news out, but now, it’s just noise and rather antiquated (and the last thing you want your news to be is "quaintly distributed").

    But without a press release bringing all the pertinent information together for the interested writer or reviewer, it becomes harder to convince them to cover your news item.

    But I agree, as a form of first contact, it is merely noise. At best, it is second contact, as in "Can I email the press release to you?" Or, perhaps, as an attachment to a rather engaging email.

    –David Rozansky
    Flying Pen Press