What You Don’t Need to Get Ahead

mbaHere’s something interesting from AdAge.com: MBAs can be bad for your health. Your career health, that is.

 Yep. Turns out that a survey of marketing execs from 32 different consumer-product companies showed a distinct disadvantage for companies that carried a Masters of Business Administration grad at or close to the helm.

 And we’re not talking tiny companies here, either. General Mills, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Pfizer, Clorox Co, Cadbury, Energizer, Kodak, Dunkin Donuts… they all made the survey list.

 On the list, there were 18 underperforming companies (sales growth lower than 7% annually) that were twice as likely to recruit their marketing execs from fancy M.B.A. programs.

 Of the outperforming companies, far fewer M.B.A.s held top positions (about half as many)… even though sales at those same companies grew 6.2% faster than sales of the underperforming competitors.

 What’s more, job satisfaction at the no-or-limited M.B.A. companies was higher, office politics tended to crop up less often, and in-house training was both more prevalent and successful.

 Did all grad degrees in the study fail the test? Nope. Just M.B.A.s. Interesting. Boy, am I glad I spent my time in grad school studying philosophy and classical lit instead, eh?

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What Marketers Do When Recession Looms

What marketers can do in tricky times.I’ve written before about what marketers and business owners can do in rough markets. Looking at what’s going on right now, maybe I should trot out that piece and run it again. Meanwhile, I came across someone else’s ideas on the same.

I liked it so much, I just want to share a little of it here.

Here are some of the highlights, from writer and marketer Ed Adkins…

 

  • Don’t cut your marketing budget. Shuffle spending instead and pick up the slack created by panicked competitors.
  •  Be ready to justify each expense in your budget. Companies and clients are looking to cut back. But once budget elements get lost, you might not get them back again.
  • Keep on networking. This is the time to keep business relationships strong. The same goes for shoring up relationships with your most loyal customers. Reach out to them and acknowledge the rough time they’re having.
  •  If you’ve got the resources, use this time to snap up new advantages that your weakened competitors will neglect.
  • Use this time to speed up your workflow and become more efficient. This pays double dividends when things start to speed up again.
  • Change your marketing message to reflect the times. For instance, you might focus more on family, friends, and stay-at-home activities.
  • Don’t permanently slash prices. Instead, create special sales events and bulk discount deals. This lets you go back to business as usual during a rebound.
  • Re-visit what counts to your business. During fast growth, it’s easy to lose sight of the roadmap that got you started. During slow times, it’s vital to revive your core ideals.

 

Great ideas, all of them.

Yes, tricky times are here. No, they won’t last forever. But you and your business can, with just a little bit of foresight to see you through the storm.

 If you like the teasers above, check out this site, where you’ll find lots of ideas on recession-based marketing and business strategy.

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Copywriting Jargon… Once Difficult, Now Easy!

It’s come to my attention that you, dear reader, might be sorely lacking in proper copywriting “vocabulary.”

Possibly because you don’t read this blog enough. Possibly because I don’t use the terms enough. Or possibly because, well, who wants to sit around talking terminology all the time? Nonetheless, I thought I’d do you a favor and lay down details on the handiest of terms. As follows…

Bluelines – Either (a) the term for the first-run package “proofs” you get from your printing company or (b) the drug they must do in the design department to make them think it’s ever okay to put screened graphics behind printed text.

BRE – (a) A business reply envelope, provided to customers to make it easier to mail back the order form or (b) a funky French cheese that goes well with baguettes, but makes your fridge smell like sneakers.

Break-even – Either (a) the level of orders it takes to recover the cost of your advertising or (b) Hey, no joking about the showing a profit here, Buster!  This is serious!

Bottom line, the – (a) The money and how much you’re making or losing; also, (b) the second or third most common patient issue discussed in the offices of  Beverly Hills plastic surgeons, as in “Doctor, I’m worried about how my bottom line looks when I where jeans.”

Customer Retention – (a) How long you keep a customer after the initial sale; or, loosely defined (b) how long your customer will stay in the bathroom to finish reading your latest promo package.

Deadline – (a) The un-missable, absolute moment when copy must be turned in or (b) I don’t know… I’ve never really seen one, though I’m almost certain they make a whistling sound as they pass.

Full Bleed – (a) When the colors or pictures on a printed page run to the edge.  Expensive.  (b) What your forehead does when you can’t think of a thing to write.

Fulfillment – (a) Everything involved in making good on your promises, especially the sending of promised premiums and the product itself or (b) the thing you hoped for back when you thought you’d actually grow up to be a poet.  And now look at you!

Indicia – (a) Postal information printed on every piece that goes out (b) a small country somewhere in the Pacific where old copywriters go to die… or retire.

Johnson Box – (a) a paragraph or so of copy that appears above the body of the main promo letter (b) where copywriter Gabby Johnson was resigned to living after his control got knocked out of the mail.

Lettershop – (a) the company that assembles, labels, sorts, and mails your stacks of promo letters (b) the people you blame when your “brilliant” mailing flops miserably.

List Broker – (a) specialist service that puts together your mailing lists, from selecting and sorting to deal-making to delivery (b) the people you blame for flopped mailings when the folks at the lettershop stop taking your calls.

Merge-Purge – (a) computerized comparison of mailing lists to sift out duplicate names and “dead” addresses or (b) what new employees do at your Christmas party – come together, get drunk, knock over punch bowl, apologize to toilet the next morning.

Personalization – (a) technique for dropping the customer name into the text or the headline of a package to make the pitch look more personal  or (b) the process by which copywriters take every critique of their “art.”

Response Device – (a) the card or coupon given to the customer so he can mark down his order, payment, and delivery information; gets mailed back to the seller (b) cattle prods, whips, knitting needles and other things used to speed up a sale.

Self-mailer – (a) A promo package that requires no envelope (b) as derived from the phrase, “What?  Does he think the d*mn thing is going to mail itself.”  Typically applied to marketing managers.

 That’s it for now.

Please memorize.  There will be a quiz!

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The Things Copywriters Wish Designers Knew

With online direct response giving good ol’ fashioned print direct mail a run for its money, you’ve got double the dealings with designers when it comes to getting  your copy seen by the general public. So what is it you’ll want any designer you work with to know?

First, the general rule is that good design can’t make bad copy work, but bad design can destroy the performance of good copy. So it matters. Just know how it matters. But what else can you do to make sure you get a “good” design for any sales pieces you write? To start, you’ll at least want your designer to know the following… 

  • Fancy design isn’t always good design. Your first aim is readability. Your second is to make sure the copy isn’t obscured by the design. Good design makes the copy feel easy to read. 
  • If you throw a designed piece of copy onto a table with other pieces of finished direct mail designs… and it disappears into the pile… you’ve got a problem. 
  • No screened images behind text. No screened images behind text. Did I mention? Please avoid screened images behind text.
  •  When in doubt, cut graphics before cutting copy. Really. By the time the designer gets a piece, the copy should be airtight. Or close to it. Graphics are less important than the written message. That’s just the way it goes.
  • Designers need to understand the motivations of the target market just as much as the marketers and copywriters. There’s no way to be a good designer when you’re working in a vacuum. 

One last thing, but very important: Always, always, always ask that your designer reads the copy. I’m blown away by how many don’t. And it shows. Boy does it show.

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How Woody Allen Would Write Copy

An interviewer asked Woody Allen how to write a joke.  Here’s what Allen said: “It depends on where I want it to take me.  First, I figure out where I want to end up.  Then I start asking questions so I can work backward to a beginning.”

Writing the end first is something a lot of novelists also do. Same for screenwriters.

So maybe it won’t come as a surprise to you that a lot of successful direct response copywriters to this too. For instance, I once asked great copywriter Bill Christensen how he gets started. “I write the offer card before anything else,” he said. “And then the sales close. Then I’ve got something to aim for in the rest of the letter.”

I was just getting started when he told me that. And I’ve done the same ever since.

Try it yourself. Especially if you ever feel unfocused or unsure of how to begin. Start writing by drafting a reply card and a sales close… and see if it doesn’t clarify your whole game plan.

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In Picture Ads, The Eyes Have It

eyeHere’s a quickie insight and useful tip:

The common wisdom is that everybody loves a pretty face, right? Not always so, says Bryan Eisenberg over at grokdotcom.

 Oh sure, the pretty face does attract attention. But that’s the problem. In ads, a real looker can pull a visitor’s eyes away from your message.

Heat maps showing viewer interest reveal that we impulsively go to the eyes first in a face.  This is especially true if it’s a head-on shot where the face in the ad is making eye-contact with the viewer. And that can detract attention from where you want the prospect’s attention to end up, which is with the content of your ad.

But when the model’s eyes look aside, the same heat maps show that viewers tend to follow the model’s gaze to where it lands. A good photographer knows this to be true, too. Portraits with someone looking directly at the camera have a very different feel from those where the subject looks off-frame or into an empty space.

For the marketer — even a copywriter — this matters when you choose stock photos or when you higher someone to take pictures for your promos? If you’re in that situation, ask the model to look in the direction of your product or headline instead.

(Or, in a pinch, use Photoshop to make it happen.)

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Short Words, Bigger Word Power

shortwordsIt’s brevity they say is the soul to wit. And If that’s true, I admit… sometimes, I can be a little soulless. I grew up loving what the nuns used to call “25 cent words.”

In high school, we called them “SAT Words.” These are the words, they told us, that make you sound smart. That win you respect, jobs, and the girl of your dreams. People who use these words, they said, can walk through walls.

Boy, did they get that wrong.

No sooner did I slip into the world of the written word, to discover that bigger, Latinate vocabulary doesn’t improve the accessibility of your cogitations, rather it obfuscates it. (That is, big words can make you sound dumber… simply because you’re tripping over yourself to get your message across.)

Which is why I was thankful when longtime copywriting buddy David Deutsch sent me a copy of “Short Words Are Words of Might” by Gelett Burgess.

It’s not a book, per se. In all it’s 16 pages. And SMALL pages at that. What’s really impressive, however, is that the entire essay is written with one syllable words. (Talk about practicing what you preach!)

Burgess’ essay originally appeared in “Your Life” magazine in 1938.

Here are a few juice quotes that reveal the core idea:

“Short words must have been our first words when the world was young. The minds of men were raw… Their first words were, no doubt, mere grunts or growls, barks, whines, squeals like those of beasts. These rough, strange sounds were made to show how they felt. They meant joy or pain or doubt or rage or fear…

“But these sounds came, in time, to grow more and more plain as real words. They were short words, strong and clear. And these first short words, used by our sires way back in the dark of time, still have strength and truth. They are bred in our flesh and bone. We may well call such words the life blood of our speech.”

“Short words, you see, come from down deep in us — from our heats or guts — not from the brain. For they deal for the most part with things that move and sway us, that make us act… That, I think, is why short words tend to make our thoughts more live and true.”

In other words, says Burgess, in a point that’s often ignored, short words have power. In poetry, sure. But also in sales copy too. “Never put a policeman in an automobile,” said someone much smarter than yours truly, “when a cop in a car will do.”

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Sleep, The Ultimate Writing Tool

snoringIn a 2004 study from the University of Luebeck in Germany, 106 volunteers showed they could do three times better on a simple test than those who had piled up LESS than 8 hours of sleep.

 Sleep, it turns out, gives your brain time to “repack” the day’s collected memories for longer-term storage. In the process, your powers of creativity get a boost. The more you sleep, the faster it seems you’re able to sort through all those ideas and make the connections you need to come up with something new.

 For the same reasons… sleep works as a writing tool too.

Think about it…

Have you ever fell asleep with a problem on your mind, only to wake up with the solution.Countless writers, businessmen, musicians, and other creative types make similar claims.

 Per psych Professor Richard of the University of Hertfordshire, England, “In our dreams we produce unusual combinations of ideas that can seem surreal, but every once in a while result in an amazingly creative solution to an important problem.”

 How to take advantage of these findings?

Here are some ways…

 1. Skip “must-see” TV. In fact, throw out your television altogether. Studies show television disrupts sleep even if you’re NOT staying up late to watch Conan or Letterman.

 2. Give late-night net surfing a pass too, if you have trouble sleeping. As well as answering late-night email. I’m working on these two bad habits myself.

 3. Go easy on late-night sugar or caffeine. That double coffee-ice cream mocha fudge sundae with espresso bean sprinkles might sound delicious after dinner, but you’ll be sorry come 3 am.

 4. Go easy on workaholic behavior too. Working until 10 pm every night might feel righteous and good, but it’s not only hard on family life, you deny your body time to ‘untighten.”

 5. That said, if you do have a tough problem to work out, give it a 15-minute review before going to bed. You just might wake up with the solution.

 6. Exercise, they tell me, helps you sleep even more deeply. So do breathing exercises before bed (like the ones where you inhale and exhale using only your abdomen).

 7. Sleep late? Not hardly. It turns out one of the best ways to guarantee a good night’s sleep is to load up on sunlight the preceding morning, the earlier the better.

 8. Besides, say early-risers, you really do get more done when you start early. Even, by the way, if you work the same number of hours as the night owls. Nothing helps you sleep better than knowing you’ve gotten a lot done.

Yes, they’re just tips on getting better sleep. But I can tell you, as a parent of two kids under age five, there are the nights you get no sleep… and the nights you get plenty… and there’s a world of difference. In every way, including in front of the keyboard.

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“They Laughed When I Stopped Shaving…”

My Petit Mo.jpg What’s this on my lip? Nothing less than the unfettered whiskers of a man determined (if not a little deranged).

Yep. For the month of November, I’ve pledged — along with the other men in our family and hundreds of thousands of others worldwide — to grow a “mo.”

In case you don’t know, “mo” is slang in Australia for a mustache.

Now, I’ve never been to Australia. But the cause behind this is so good, that doesn’t make a fizzlewob of difference.

See, it turns out, that “mo” growers everywhere… yours truly included… are risking mockery and taking donations, all in the name of research in the fight against prostate cancer.

Sure, there are plenty of other worthy causes.

But this one sits close to home.

One out of every six men will get diagnosed with prostate cancer. One of them is my father, who right now is battling the later stages of this disease.

Nonetheless, he’s rallied to grow a November “mo” of his own (“It’s like grass,” says my four-year old daughter).

And he’s inspired us to get in on the cause too.

There’s nothing saying you can’t also play along.

Just go here and either join up or donate…

http://us.movember.com/mospace/959346/

Hope to see your name on the list!

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Which Sells Best, Stories or Stats?

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“Simplicity is the peak of civilization.”
– Jessie Sampter

Do this: Write down the word “baby.”

Now, how does that word make you feel?

Try it with another baggage-friendly word like “family” or “war.” Or any other phrase that gets your inner emotional stew simmering.

Done? Good. No, dear reader, you haven’t stumbled into a 1970’s sensitivity training group.

There will be no hugs here. And no massaging your chakras (I mean, really… who does that in public?)

Rather, I’m just trying to warm you up for today’s issue. See, I’m still reading that book I mentioned, “Made to Stick.” (Okay — listening to it as an audio book, during the morning run. But in print or audio, I recommend you get a copy too.)
And this morning, the book gave me a shocker worth sharing.

So now that I’ve got you “primed” to receive (I’ll explain what I mean in just a second, let’s begin…

Which Works Best, Stats or Stories?

Carnegie-Mellon, says the book, did a study. They invited participants in to take a survey. The topic wasn’t important — something about tech products — but what mattered was the small payout. Each participant got paid with five $1 bills. They also got an unexpected letter and an empty envelope. The letter asked for donations for an international charity called “Save the Children.” But different groups got different letters.

One letter dripped with grim statistics. In one African country, it said, 3.2 million stand on the brink of starvation. In another, 2.4 million have no easy access to clean water. In a third, almost 4 million need emergency shelter. Each problem was gigantic and serious.

The second letter had only a story. “Rokia,” it said, “is a 7-year-old girl from Mali, Africa. She’s desperately poor and faces a threat of severe hunger or even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift. With your support, and the support of other caring sponsors, Save the Children will work with Rokia’s family and other members of the community to help feed her, provide her with education, as well as basic medical care and hygiene education.”

Which worked better?

Now, dear reader, I know your momma raised no dummies. You’re going to tell me that the Rokia letter cleaned up. And you’d be right.

On average, Rokia’s letter took in $2.38 in donations from the test group. The stat-soaked letter took in only an average of $1.14.
But that’s not the big surprise, is it? No, of course not. (What kind of storyteller do you think I am, after all?)

See, the study didn’t stop there…

How Less Really Can Mean a Lot More

The researchers then called in a third group. You’ll get paid for taking this survey, they said again.

Only this time, instead of giving the participants only one letter with their cash — everybody got both the story AND the stats together.

Great, you might say.

Heart AND head. A real one-two punch. Wouldn’t that net you both the bleeding hearts and the brainiacs, all in one sweep?

As it turns out, no.

Not only did combining both approaches fail to gas up the giving engines… it doused the pitch-power of the story-only approach with ice water.

The combo group, on average, gave almost a dollar LESS than the story-only group alone.

Just $1.43.

Isn’t that amazing?

I thought so.

But even more amazing was the last part of the experiment. This time, just to make sure of their conclusion, the researchers invited in a fourth group.

This time everybody would only get the stronger Rokia letter. But beforehand, they would complete an exercise.

Half the group would finish some simple math problems. The other half would answer a word challenge like the one I gave you at the start of this issue: Give word, write down feelings.

What happened?

Incredibly, the group that got “primed” with the emotional exercise gave an almost equal $2.34… but the analytically “primed” group AGAIN gave less, for an average of just $1.26.

These were unrelated calculations. But somehow just putting on a thinking cap was working like one of those tinfoil hats that crackpots wear to block out alien mind-reading waves (I’ve got to get me one of those).

Nearest the researchers could figure is that, while analytical thinking can shore up beliefs or activate a reader’s capacity for focus, it actually stymies action.

To get someone to act, they need to go beyond beliefs to the feelings they HOLD about those beliefs. Feelings inspire action.

And I don’t just mean that in the “touchy-feely let’s all hug a kitten and light a vanilla candle” kind of way. All persuasion works best when it focuses most on core emotions, not cerebral abstractions.
I know this charity, “Save the Children,” pretty well by the way. My wife and I have a Danish friend who works for them.

She’s a talented photographer.

Whenever there’s a crisis, her boss dips into the funds and puts our friend and her camera on a plane.
Burned out post-war zones, post-tsunami and typhoon disaster areas, dirt poor African villages — she’s been there, capturing a personal, eyewitness view.

Why?

Because in the charities well-tested experience, those individual on-the-scene images raise more money than a boatload of shocking statistics ever could.

I know that I’m going to try to work more of the “story of one” effect into my future promos. Maybe you should too.

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