A Lucky Accident

mail1I got a note awhile ago from consultant Bob Serling

Bob writes:

“Years ago, I was using a print broker for some of my mailings. She had been referred to me by a direct marketing legend whose identity I’ll protect.

“At the same time the broker was sheperding my mailing, she was also doing a large project for “the legend”. The job was so large that she split the printing between two different printers.

“I was a seed name on the legend’s list and when I received my copy of his sales letter, it turned out that it had been stuffed with the pages completely out of order. I alerted both the legend and the print broker of the error. Checking with other seed names confirmed that one of the printers assembled and stuffed all their pieces out of order.

“But here’s the kicker: the piece that was out of order pulled a stronger response than the piece with the pages in the correct order! I told the broker at the time that I could only assume that having the pages out of order forced the reader to dig through the piece and pay more attention.

“Final point: The legend then had the gall to ask the print broker for a make-good on the improperly ordered pieces.”

Thanks Bob. Gotta love it when a mistake suddenly shows you something about the customer you never expected. And when one of my CR readers (if you haven’t signed up yet, drop your name in the email box to the right of this page) writes in with a great lesson worth sharing!

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How “Free” Really Works

In this season of giving, let’s look at that most sanctified of direct mail phrases…  “FREE GIFT!”  How does it work to boost sales? This is actually a very big topic.

Let’s try to tackle it first with a story:

It was lunch time in Paris…

I was crossing a square by the Pompidou Center. French merchants had set up stands to snare tourists and shoppers.  And most of those stands were ignorable.

 But one that caught my attention had two dozen bins of Italian chocolates.  I didn’t want chocolates.  I didn’t need chocolates. So how was it, just a few minutes later,  I walked away with a half pound of them in a bag? It started the moment I stopped “just to look.” The woman behind the counter wasted no time in holding out a chocolate caramel extended in my direction.  “Please,” she said, “Take and try. No charge.”

How could I refuse?  After all, it was “free”… right? And it was good. 

Suddenly, something changed. I felt I couldn’t leave without buying… something. The candy sample couldn’t have cost more than pennies. But I felt obligated now to shell out some cash. And I did. 

Sound familiar?

Why We Sometimes Feel Obligated To Buy

Colleagues of mine call it the “Krishna Principle.”  I’ve also heard it called the “Rule of Reciprocity.”

The idea is that, by giving something or offering to give something, you open up the customer to give you something in return. Does it work?  All the time. Take these examples from Robert Cialdini’s famous must-read marketing book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion“…

 Christmas Card Obligation: In a 1976 study, a market researcher sent Christmas cards to complete strangers.  What happened?  He got a flood of Christmas cards in return.  Not one questioned who he was or why he had initiated the relationship.

Gift-driven Supermarket Sales: Why do supermarkets have “free sample” tables?  Not just to lure you into the store.  But because they skyrocket sales.  In one small case, an Indiana supermarket put out a wheel of cheese and a cheese slicer.  “Cut your own free samples” said a sign.  Result: The store sold a 1,000 extra pounds of cheese over the next few hours.

Cornell University Study: In another small study, a researcher posing as a student was asked to sell raffle tickets.  To half the sample group, he offered a Coke before giving his pitch.  To the other half, he just started the sales pitch without the Coke.  The group that got the gift first bought twice as many tickets.  Sometimes more.

Door-to-door Sales: Amway Corporation’s career manual states, “… leave the free samples with the customer for 24, 48, or 72 hours… just tell her to try the products.  That’s an offer no one can refuse.” I don’t have to tell you how successful Amway is, thanks to that one technique. 

Giving Throughout History: Archaeologist Richard Leakey credits a social need to give and receive as key to the sharing of technology, food, and other survival skills among our ancestors… all the way back to the caveman.

Point being, when someone gives us something valuable — or even offers to give us something valuable — the sales pitch that might follow is much harder to resist.

Not so long ago, I edited a collection of some of the best direct mail sales letters of all time. 

How many focused aggressively on “free” giveaways in the offer?  Roughly 65% to 70%.

This doesn’t mean “free” has to be the centerpiece of every offer you right.

But when it does, there are a few rules you’ve got to keep in mind.

For instance… 

1) If you have premiums, ask yourself if they’re really worthwhile.  How well do they represent your client’s product? How tightly do they link your prospect’s needs to the benefits the product has to offer?

 2)  If the FREE part of your offer is indeed good, then ask yourself this:  How well featured are your premiums featured in your sales pitch?  You might try polishing that emphasis with a few earlier mentions and more prominent sidebars.

 Of course, questions about how the offer and FREE gifts work will have to be negotiated by marketing managers, not just copywriters. But make sure it’s something you work out before you start writing your first draft.

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14 Ways to Make Your Prospect Relax

chill pill.jpg I’m not unveiling any big secret by telling you that a lot of what you’ll do when selling is all about emotion. And it has to be that way.

Why?

Because we humans — the thinking animal — are perversely also designed to be jumpy, reactionary, over-zealous, anxious organisms. If it were ever in my character to use the term “hot mess,” this is where I’d use it (but it isn’t.)

However, if there is absolutely a time in any selling “event” where you cannot afford to let your prospect’s emotions get ahead of you, it’s on the order form. Yet, too often, exactly that can happen. Your prospect can become too nervous to pull the trigger and place an order.

Fortunately, this too is something you can learn to control. Today, I’ll give you fourteen things you could try.

Keep in mind, as you read through, that this list is by no means complete. Nor is it a checklist. You can try one of these things… all of them… or a mix.

And remember, the goal for each is to simply help your prospect scale that last wall of anxiety he or she might have before pulling out a credit card to order…

1) We all know putting a guarantee box on your order form can help ease worries. But in today’s age of online marketing, what about using a recorded “video guarantee” instead? Right there on the form.

2)Are their trade organizations or guilds related to what you’re selling… or if the product pitch is local, is there a trade union you could join? If yes, pay your dues and put the logo (with permission) right there on your order form.

3) Along those same lines, this is an oldie but a goodie… try adding more or larger “secure offer” icons (e.g. not just “Verisign” but “McAfee Secure” and “BBB” and a whopping big, well-designed “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” icon). Aim for at least five icons per reply page.

4) Test placement of these trust logos from the last tip. Some research says that the single best place isn’t at the top of the page or at the bottom, but rather right under or next to the “Place Your Order” button.

5) Try putting a callout box containing a testimonial — with photo — right next to submit button on the form.

6) In fact, if you’re selling online, try putting a recorded video testimonial or testimonials on the side of the reply page.

7) Here’s a twist on the “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” that might work with mid-priced items and higher: “100% + a Buck.” That is, offer a total refund if requested, plus a dollar. It’s just an extra and not too costly twist to up the ante on your guarantee.

8) If your current order form has a lot of “buy now” urgency in the language, try testing it against a “Take your time to decide, there’s no pressure — that’s what the full money back guarantee is all about” version. Urgency is good, but not so much it forces paralyzing panic.

9) Try posting a box on the order form that lists shipping/other service costs… then slashes through them in red and says prominently “Please do not worry about shipping or other service costs. We will assume that responsibility entirely.”

10) Try the same as in the last tip, but even simpler, with a callout logo that says “Free shipping on all orders, guaranteed.”

11) If there’s a discount on the offer, show it graphically and make it actionable. e.g. Instead of just saying “Get 20% Off!” before detailing the deal, say something like “Click Here to Get 20% Off” or even more official “Redeem Your 20% Savings By Clicking Here” and maybe even add a better deal with “Redeem Your 25% Savings By Clicking Here” as a second option.

12) Again especially for online offers, but when the reply page opens — or on the page, in a box — flash a callout that says, “Use this discount code to get 10% off on a two year order: LS4736.” And then auto enter that code on the order form, as though someone typed it in for your buyer.

13) Again with the reply-page testimonials, try testing between reassuring testimonials about the product… and ones directly about the shipping process, e.g. “I got my reports instantly, minutes after I ordered” or “When my order arrived, it was all there as promised… and I really liked the bonus gift you included.”

14) Before we show the reply page, flash a box that says simple, “Before we help you process your order, what name would you like us to call you during the process?” and then personalize the order form that follows according to the name they provide.

Again, just a few ideas.

Feel free to add to the list using the comment email address in the footer of this issue.

Hope you find ’em useful!

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The Procrastinator’s Creed

Somebody wrote this, somewhere. But as far as I can tell, he or she never got around to signing it. So how about we just run the following under the byline “anonymous”…

1. I believe that if anything is worth doing, it would have been done already.

2. I shall never move quickly, except to avoid more work or find excuses.

3. I will never rush into a job without a lifetime of consideration.

4. I shall meet all of my deadlines directly in proportion to the amount of bodily injury I could expect to receive from missing them.

5. I firmly believe that tomorrow holds the possibility for new technologies, astounding discoveries, and a reprieve from my obligations.

6. I truly believe that all deadlines are unreasonable regardless of the amount of time given.

7. I shall never forget that the probability of a miracle, though infinitesmally small, is not exactly zero.

8. If at first I don’t succeed, there is always next year.

9. I shall always decide not to decide, unless of course I decide to change my mind.

10. I shall always begin, start, initiate, take the first step, and/or write the first word, when I get around to it.

11. I obey the law of inverse excuses which demands that the greater the task to be done, the more insignificant the work that must be done prior to beginning the greater task.

12. I know that the work cycle is not plan/start/finish, but is wait/plan/plan.

13. I will never put off until tomorrow, what I can forget about forever.

14. I will become a member of the ancient Order of Two-Headed Turtles (the Procrastinator’s Society) if they ever get it organized.

Any of this sound familiar?

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Does Sex Really “Sell?”

3D0B602E-F0D3-41E0-9CA2-F5EFE30307C5.jpg Does sex really sell?

Not necessarily.

In a poll that showed up on BizReport.com, the older the prospect you’re targeting, the more likely they are to dislike s*xy ads.

I say that, by the way, thinking it’s more complicated than people being offended. After all, a lot of men told the Adweek pollsters that they wanted to see more skin, not less.

But that doesn’t mean the ads themselves will be more effective. Just more fun to look at. And there’s a difference.

Here’s another way such copy/marketing decisions can be complex: I remember years back, hearing from some marketing consultants that worked with a clothing catalog company.

The target customers were older men of means. Golf wear, cruise wear, and the like. On the cover of one catalog, they showed a 60-or-so year old guy in his sailing clothes, on the deck of a sailboat.

As a test, they tried putting a trim and shapely 30-something woman at his side. She was, in a word, a babe. Did it help sales?

Quite the opposite. Response plunged.

Why? The consultants asked customers and got back the answer that (a) it was the wives of the men who did most of the catalog shopping for their husbands and (b) those wives thought the woman in the photo looked like a mistress.

Whoops.

The company tested the cover again, this time with an attractive woman of a more appropriate age. And maybe, if I remember, standing a little closer to the helm.

It boosted sales considerably.

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The Two Best Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

twriterAn interviewer once asked me, “How do you tackle writer’s block?”

“Writer’s block?” I said. “What’s that?”

Seriously, I don’t much believe in writer’s block. Oh, there have been times I don’t know what to write. And even times I’ve felt a little desperate about that. But I’ve never been afraid or unaware of how to plow right through it. Why? Because I don’t think blocked writing is where the problem originates.

See, most of the time, I believe what stops a writer from writing isn’t a lack of output at all. It’s a lack of input.

When I find myself losing steam, I stop and read. Then I start taking notes. Before I realize it, I’m chasing a new and original idea all over the page. And more often than not, an idea that doesn’t appear at all in the thing I first picked up to read for inspiration.

That’s the most immediate “cure-all.” Then, like any ailment, there are long-term steps you can take. Some include other ways to get more input. Like making sure you stick around people who will talk intelligently about what you’d like to write about. Pick up the phone, raise the topic in the right company, invite smart people to lunch and get them chattering.

But one of the best “curatives” many writers overlook is to simply try writing — anything — more often. How’s that? So many writers, especially newbies, imagine they get blocked when they pour out too much of their best stuff onto the page. They think of the well containing a limited quantity of ideas.

Nothing could — or at least should — be farther from the truth.

What really happens when you write often, preferably on a fixed schedule, is that you get more accustomed to the habit of writing and your brain is mixing and matching all those inputs you come across, in constant preparation for the next scheduled session in front of that blank, blinking screen.

Try it. You’ll be surprised.

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Why Your Customers Lie

Every one of your customers is an untrustworthy, fraudulent, false-hearted, cheating, calculating, double-dealing… (deep breath)… crafty, duplicitous, disingenuous, untruthful, scheming… stinker. Well maybe not a stinker.

But liars they are. How so?

Such is the proposition made in “All Marketers are Liars,” by Seth Godin. Don’t be fooled by the title. Godin makes the case not that good marketers lie, but that customers do — to themselves. Even the smart ones. In fact, we all do it.

Everybody has his or her own “world view,” says Godin.

That sounds a little granola crunchy, so let me clarify: We all have something we believe about how the world works. For the sake of efficiency and security, we’ll reshape reality until it can accommodate those beliefs. Even if we’ve got to twist facts into pretzels to make it happen. The little fibs — stories — we tell ourselves make life easier. Sometimes, they make life even more enjoyable.

Example: Godin tells us, in the book, about a glass blower named George Riedel. George is a 10th-generation glass blower. He’s a nice guy. And he makes wine glasses. As well as scotch glasses, beer glasses, and just about any other type of beverage-specific glass.

See, George and his customers believe every single beverage needs its special glass, or it just won’t taste right.

A $100 St. Emillion Grand Cru is dishwater, for instance, compared to how it would taste in a proper Bordeaux glass. Meanwhile, if you’re going to use the same glass to sip a vintage wine from the Cote de Beaune, you might as well drink it from your shoe.

Robert Parker, the best-known and arguably most powerful wine critic in the world agrees. And the glasses George Riedel makes, he says, will give you the best tasting experience humanly possible. Millions of wine-drinkers around the world buy Riedel’s glasses. And in taste tests, expert and amateur tasters alike — when tasting identical wine in two different glasses — almost always pick the wine in the proper Riedel glass as the best.

Yet, in double-blind tests where the shape of the glass is perfectly hidden…

The predictability of which glass a taster will choose falls to zero.

Not only does the shape make no difference in these tests. The value of the glass makes not a difference either. A $1 glass and a $20 glass have exactly the same non-impact on the results of the taste test.

Please, if you’re about to write to tell me about how wrong this test has to be… don’t bother. Because I’m with you. Even though I know science can easily nullify my beliefs. Heck, I’ve got a dozen balloon burgundy glasses and a dozen Bordeaux glasses lined up in my own cabinet. Right next to the pilsner glasses.

Why perpetuate the self-deception?

Because, clearly, it’s something I want to believe. Even more, believing it somehow makes it so. Maybe I feel smarter when I use the right glass. Maybe I feel worldlier. Maybe it’s just an excuse to justify buying better wine. I don’t really know.

All I can tell you is, science be damned, the proper glass just makes wine taste right to me. Somehow believing that makes it so.

Is that so wrong? Not at all.

Godin points out that Riedel, who sells the glasses, is just as devout a believer in the different-glass theory as his customers. If he were not, he wouldn’t be able to sell millions of dollars worth of glasses per year. In fact, he’d probably end up working somewhere else. As it is, his belief in the importance in the shape and quality of the glasses is what helps him make such a good — and popular — product.

Godin calls Riedel an “honest liar.”

Scientifically, the glasses don’t do diddly for the wine. Until, the person using them believes they do, and there it is. Right glass equals better taste. Voila. Like we said, his family has done this successfully — and virtuously — for 10 generations.

So when is it wrong for marketers to tell a fib?

When the fib is an outright fraud, told to pass off a belief that nobody at the origin holds as true. A fraud works solely for the benefit of the marketer. And worse, when found out, alienates the customer.

Take Cadillac. Cadillac cars used to be, well, considered the Cadillac of American automobiles. “When the new Cadillacs come in,” was something you waited for. When you “made it” in business, you bought yourself a Cadillac.

Then Cadillac cut corners.

They cheapened their cars but still sold them under the Cadillac brand. But the new models weren’t as plush, as classic, or as authentically “Cadillac” as the old models. The new models betrayed the old promise. Cadillac quickly sunk in status. And scrambled for years to take the tarnish off their image. While other luxury cars like Lexus took up the slack.

The trouble with fraud, says Godin, is that besides being just wrong, it’s a self-dooming business strategy.

Fraud does more than put dents in a customer’s wallet. It’s also a body blow to the customer’s ego. They feel the fool for having trusted you.

The secret, then, to telling tales that sell is to tell the most honest and accurate stories you can — the most authentic stories — and tell them as well as you can too.

Godin has a test. Look at your product, your position, your pitch, he says, and imagine the customer asking you:

1) “If I knew what you know, would I still buy?”

and…

2) “Will I be glad later on that I did?

If you can honestly answer yes to both questions, you’re on the right track. If not, go back to the drawing board. You’ll be glad you did. And you might sleep a little better at night, too.

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The Science of Love and Persuasion

kissQuick — what do testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin all have in common? They’re the chemicals of “true love.”

 Yep, some jerk has reduced romance to a science.

What’s this got to do with selling? Plenty, it turns out.

Just ask Prof. Robin Dunbar of Liverpool University. Dunbar — according to the BBC — spent the last half of the 1990s studying personal ads. And no, not because he was lonely.

Rather, Dunbar discovered that the copy used in all kinds of personal ads, from people of all different kinds of backgrounds, shared a strikingly similar subset of “hot button” words. And virtually all those words fell into just five categories: Wealth, Commitment, Sexiness, Social Skills, or Attractiveness.

These are, of course, some of the same basic drivers we lean on when we write copy for “products” other than a date with a significant other (“Double Your Income in Less Than a Year,” “Win Friends and Influence People,” “Look Sexier This Spring”… and so on).

 But here’s where Dunbar’s research gets even more interesting…

Once Dunbar had the categories, he then asked 200 men and women to rank the appeal of ads that contained a mix of the most common buzz words.

 Women responded most to “Commitment” heavy ads. Then, in order, ads that emphasized Social Skills, Resources, Attractiveness, and — last — Sexiness.

 Men put attractiveness at the top of the list. Perhaps no surprise. Was sexiness second? Not at all. Instead, they focused on ads that suggested Commitment followed. Then Social Skills, Resources, and — last again — Sexiness.

 Surprised? Other than men putting “attractiveness” at the top of the priorities, the lists are virtually the same. And even the ad copy personal ad writers created for themselves — to attract mates — reflected that, pitching the traits they instinctively knew would be important to their prospects. But then, in follow-up interviews with the men and women in the study, Dunbar found deeper shades of difference.

 For instance, both men and women in the study placed high value on “a sense of humor.” But to each gender, it meant different things. Women said it meant they wanted someone witty and quick to make others laugh. The typical man, however, said he mostly wanted someone who could get his jokes so he would seem like a funny guy.

 Which actually works out well for both parties.

 Likewise, the average woman wanted a man about five years her senior. The average man, on the other hand, wanted women that at least looked younger — with smooth skin, glossy hair, and the like. Not coincidentally, say the researchers, they’re all signs of high estrogen levels.

 But here was something surprising. Older women that looked younger had a better appeal to men then women with a fresher birth certificate. Possibly, say the researchers, because the younger looking women just seemed like they came from a better gene pool.

 (Hey, I’m just reporting the results here!)

 There’s more…

Younger guys, in general, have less wealth to offer. They also seem to have lower requirements than older men. Likewise, older women polled suggested they were more open to less handsome or wealthy men. But younger women, on the other hand, have lots of youthful beauty as an asset. And, it happens, end up being the choosiest of all.

 And all this, it turns out, adds up pretty neatly to creating ideal conditions that work best for cranking out offspring. Which is, after all, how the species survives. Cold, perhaps, but that’s over a decade of research doing the talking. Kinda puts a different light on that romantic candlelight dinner you had planned for tonight, doesn’t it?

 One last thing: The one thing both men and women wouldn’t stand for in the ads… but encounter all the time… was lying. Instinctively, match-hunting advertisers know what prospects want. They will even bend the facts to promise it. But it almost always backfires in the end. Just like it would in any other kind of advertising.

Do I personally believe love and romance are as cold and scientific as all that? Well, let’s just say I would LIKE to believe it’s not so simple as all that. The heart, said Pascal, has its reasons which reason knows not of. And Dickinson, the fact that love is all there is is all we know of love.

 I’ll agree… but can’t promise you that it’s not just the oxytocin talking.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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The Positioning Myth

Sponsor: “Then They Handed Bob a Check for $60,000…”

You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

What does it mean to “position” a product? According to Harry Beckwith, author of “Selling the Invisible,” it doesn’t mean a thing. He writes, “‘Position’ is a noun, not an active verb.”

So what is it  then that other marketing mavens the world over keep babbling about? No doubt, the process of establishing a product’s “positioning” matters big time for marketers. But, if you listen to Beckwith, there’s a misconception about how to go about that. The good news is, getting a product’s position right can mean doing LESS work rather than more.

But before we get to all that…

The Big Mistake Many “Branding” Pros Make

In the classic marketing book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” authors Trout and Ries made it clear. In any marketing challenge, you often get one shot at staking out your territory inside your customer’s cranium.

You’re done for after that.

Either you’ll get it right and have loyal customers lined up at your back door, ad infinitum… or you’ll blow it and spend a fortune trying to re-invent their perception of you, possibly for years to come.

It’s a sound insight.

And the so-called art of “branding” products claims to be built on that bedrock. But here’s where a lot of “branding” pros have gotten a wrong idea. A lot of brand-based marketers think their job is to build from the ground up. To force some idea on the customer where it never existed before.

But as Beckwith’s book points out, this is backward.

What you’re really doing, if you’re doing it right, is leveraging the mental positioning you’ve already got.

Four “Branded” Building Blocks

So what makes for unshakeable, effective positioning? Here’s how Beckwith boils it down…

1) To sell well, you need to decisively occupy a single position in your prospect’s mind

2) That single position must be stripped of complexity and ambiguity. Simple is best.

3) That single position has to be different from the position your competitors occupy.

4) You can’t be everything to everybody. You have to sacrifice claims on what lies outside the position you occupy.

You can see the thread that runs through this. When faced with the challenge of product positioning, what Beckwith says to start with is not so much to complicate customer perceptions by adding something new…

But to simplify your pitch so it focuses on what’s already there, defining what’s most fundamental and unique about it.

Isn’t it a relief to know that, when you want to sell more, sometimes doing LESS is actually best? 

Why Simple Sells Best

Last weekend, I taught a writing class, as part of a seminar. We did one exercise where, in small groups, we critiqued each other’s writing. What was the one most common mistake, above all others? A failure to answer a single, simple question. And, by the way, it’s a question you have to ask yourself every time you sit down to write…

“What is this about?”

I had a similar experience a week earlier. An old friend and mentor sent me a promo written by another copywriter. The copy had many problems. But it’s primary weakness, above all others, was that it also failed to ask — and answer — the question: “What is this about?”

Don’t get this message wrong. By simplicity, I’m not saying “short copy works better.” Or anything even close to that.

 Rather, the key is relevance.

 You can say plenty — and often get better results doing it — as long as every syllable is relevant to what your prospect cares about.

Finding What Matters, Ignoring the Rest

Beckwith offered seven clarifying questions that help marketers define a product position. For the sake of space and — well — clarity, I narrowed that list even further.

In short…

Who are your customers?

What do they want?

And finally, how does that match a primary benefit only YOU can deliver?

Your “product position” depends on how well you answer those questions.

Miss the mark, and the gap between what they see and what you want them to see will run wide. Nail it and suddenly selling everything gets simpler. Easier said than done?

Two words: Look closer.

Often the difference between a creative and non-creative answer to a problem is simply exposure. The deeper you’ve got your arms in the details, the more you ‘get’ what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to.

 It’s really that simple.

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