- Feb 20
How One Guy's Financial Mess Could Change Your Certification Marketing
On September 22, 1988, Dave Ramsey, a once successful Tennessee real estate broker, signed bankruptcy papers to forestall the seizure and sale of his home furniture scheduled for the following day.
During the previous 30 months, Ramsey had nearly succeeded in paying back $3 million in mortgage loans that had fueled his house-flipping business.
On the day he filed for bankruptcy, the remaining balance owed to creditors was $378,000, but he had run out of time, energy and loan extensions. Bankruptcy was his last legal option to avoid the humiliation of a court-ordered sale in the front yard of his home.
Today, Dave Ramsey is the "get out of debt" expert advising 17 million weekly listeners of The Dave Ramsey Show, broadcast daily via 600 radio affiliates across the United States. He is a four-time New York Times bestselling author. Three million people have completed courses through his Financial Peace University.
In 2019, his parent company, Ramsey Solutions, posted annual revenue of $239 million and was named The Best Place to Work by the Nashville Business Journal.
What Dave Ramsey can teach us about marketing messages
According to Don Miller, author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Building a Story Brand, Ramsey's marketing message is not based on a story of personal redemption.
It's based on clarity.
Ramsey went bankrupt. He then helped thousands of people get out of debt. And he can help you, too.
That simple story is an empathy statement followed by an authority statement.
He got into a financial mess of his own making just like thousands of other people. His former problem is now the point of connection (empathy) with the current problem dogging his listeners: too much debt.
He learned firsthand the devastating impact of being overleveraged and, years later, the liberation of savings, investments and cash flow. He took his contrarian message of debt-free living to the airwaves and found the third-largest talk-radio audience in history. He's the authority, the guide with the solution to get people solvent again.
The importance of guides, heroes and clarity
Certification sponsors are guides because their certification solution solves a problem for the hero, the certification prospect.
The prospect's problem could be limited opportunities for career advancement or an unfulfilled desire for the credibility or recognition that certification confers.
A certification program's empathy statement could speak to the unfairness of a stalled career or the injustice of overlooked talent. This strikes a chord with the prospect hero.
The program's authority statement could position the certification sponsor as the expert with the solution (the exam) that opens the door to a better, more rewarding career for the hero.
Invoking axioms from Hollywood screenwriting, Don Miller says there are two important reasons why the certification program is not the hero:
- The traditional hero is often weak or flawed until the climactic moment, which, in this case, could be passing an exam. Troubled by self-doubt and slow to take action, the hero is a project under construction. That's not the certification program.
- If the certification program were the hero, there would be no room for prospects to also see themselves as heroes. Prospects aren't looking for another hero, they want a guide with a solution to their problem.
So, when wordsmithing the marketing message of your certification, consider a screenwriter's approach and position your program as the trusted guide with the solution.
Simple empathy and authority statements, like those of Dave Ramsey, create the clarity that engages your prospects and calls them to action.
According to Miller, people don't buy the best products and services. They buy the ones they can understand the fastest. Clear and simple messaging wins every time.