Imagine this – You see your neighbor in his shorts, with a protein shake in his right hand, ready to hit the gym. You rush to him and say, “Good morning. Did you know that going to the gym every day is not recommended? Instead, you should do Yoga twice a week. And oh, btw, I teach Yoga. Would you like to join?” 

The neighbor will either smile politely or give you a weird look. Or maybe not talk to you ever again. 

It doesn’t really matter if your advice is right or wrong. At that moment, you couldn’t get your neighbor to abandon his gym and register for your Yoga class. 

We enforce our ideas

This is exactly what Coaches, Creators, and Freelancers do. We want to win our audience with our big idea, be impressed, enter our world, and buy our product. And yet more often than not, we try to shove our message down their throat, when they are not ready. 

Selling ideas is hard

People are attached to their existing beliefs, and when these beliefs are challenged, they feel threatened. In the book ‘Story or Die’, the author, Lisa Cron, teaches us that when our beliefs are challenged, our brain takes that as a threat to our survival. This obviously makes us uncomfortable, and the easiest thing for us to do at that moment is to just reject that belief altogether.

Telling people they are wrong is not a great strategy, as you are challenging their deeply held beliefs.

How do we sell our ideas?

What I am going to lay down is a structure that I have learned from my Marketing heroes like Jay Acunzo, Seth Godin, and Billy Broas. None of them teach the exact thing I am going to say, but it’s sort of an amalgamation of all their teachings. 

To pull the audience towards our idea, we need to build a bridge. I am calling it the Cause-Symptom method. If there exists another name for this that is already created, please let me know. 🙂 


How do we build this bridge? Let’s dig in. 

  1. We start with empathy

The first pillar of the bridge consists of the audience’s existing beliefs. This is where you show empathy and understand your audience’s deeply rooted desires, ambitions, fears, and so on. Here we answer questions like –

  1. What pain is the audience feeling?
  2. What desires do they have?
  3. If they had a magic wand, what would they change?
  4. What is their problem?
  5. What is the job to be done (Functional/Social/Emotional)
  6. What existing beliefs do they have?
  7. What existing solutions/mechanisms are they using to solve their problem? Why?

Remember, right now, we are not thinking about our product or our idea. We are simply understanding our audience and empathizing with them. 

Before this starts getting too abstract, let’s jump into an example.

Let’s say you help coaches who sell online courses

Specifically, you help overwhelmed coaches who are trying to sell their online courses, but struggling to do so.

After some audience research, you realize that these coaches are hustling to sell their online courses, leaving no stone unturned. Right from paid traffic to organic channels like YouTube, Instagram, Linkedin, Email Marketing, tik-tok… they are doing it all. The worst part, it’s not really working.

Frustration and overwhelm are creeping in. There is confusion and a subtle restlessness. All of these are the symptoms we identify. 

To get out of this frustration, the coach is putting in even more work. “Maybe I am not doing enough,” they tell themselves and add more platforms to their strategy. 

At this stage, our messaging should empathize with the audience. Make them feel seen and heard. We are not proposing any solution. When we empathize, we are able to grab their attention, maintain their interest, and create some healthy tension. 

  1. Cause

After identifying the symptoms, the job of our messaging is to convince the reader that the symptoms are not the real problem. The real cause behind these problems is different. 

Let this sink in because this is powerful. 

You are convincing the reader that the ‘problem’ is not really the problem. They have been looking at the wrong way – the symptoms are not the cause. 

The real problem, the one thing that is the cause of all these problems, is something entirely different. This moment is crucial, because not only does it make the reader feel heard and understood, but it creates a magical moment of unburdening.

“Oh, it’s not my fault. I am feeling this way because my strategy and my approach have been wrong. Oh, this makes so much sense”. 

You have given him the tools to make sense of all the chaos. You have clearly pointed out that he has been solving the wrong problem. 

Let’s continue our example. 

We are convincing coaches that the problem is not really – “I am not doing enough.” The real problem is that they are doing too much. And this is causing overwhelm. 

Overwhelm, frustration, confusion… all of these symptoms are being caused by a single cause – Doing too much. 

Yes, that is what we will call this cause – “Doing too much.” This is the name we will give to the old game. Naming the old game is crucial btw. It’s important to categorize the symptoms in one bucket and give that bucket a name. And then throw stones at this old game. 

Finally, you move on to your big idea.

  1. The big idea

This is the 3rd and final element of the bridge before you make the product placement. 

Just to quickly recap, the first pillar was empathy, where we pointed out the symptoms.  The second pillar was the cause of the symptoms. The 3rd pillar is the big idea. 

The big idea is a possibility – a possibility of doing things differently. A different approach that you are suggesting. Something that your audience has been missing. 

Continuing the example of coaches

The old game was “Doing too much”. The big idea could be “Go deep, not wide” or “Strength-based Strategy”. You are suggesting your audience an alternate path – Instead of doing YouTube, Instagram, Linkedin, and a podcast; how about choosing a medium that aligns with your strength? 

This big idea creates a light-bulb moment, as your audience realizes that they indeed need to be mindful of their strengths. Choose one or two mediums that align with their strengths, and then go all-in on those mediums.

It goes without saying that the product you sell has to be aligned with the new game you are proposing. 

How Jonathan Stark does this with hourly billing

Jonathan Stark has been using this method for a while and has built a successful business. Jonathan helps “independent professionals how to make more money without working more hours.”

He criticizes the old game of “Hourly billing” and points out the symptoms associated with it. You can read his manifesto here.

Jay Acunzo does it well, too. He empathizes with the pain of “wanting more reach,” criticizes the old game of “More reach will give us better results,” and then finally suggests the idea that “Resonance is more important than reach.”

To summarise:

Selling our ideas is hard. Changing the beliefs of our audience has to be done in steps. We start with empathizing, point out the cause and then suggest the big idea.

This applies to everything. That neighbor I told you about? He is doing Yoga right now.