Category: Scientific Selling

Time to Get in Touch With Your Inner “Snooki?”

48EBEF9C-0C63-46AD-9A2A-A4F14F0AA24C.jpg Let me just preface this second bit by saying, I
don’t know diddly about reality TV.

You know I say that, in part, because I’m subconsciously trying to say something about myself… “I’m not the reality-TV-watching type.”

But also because, if you happen to be a fan of same, I want you to forgive me if I get some of these facts wrong…

There’s a show, apparently, called the “Jersey Shore.” Maybe you’ve seen it. I haven’t, but I’m wondering if I should.

Partly because I can’t begin to tell you how many people made a reference to it when they heard we were about to rent a house for a week in Ocean City, NJ.

Growing up, my Philly-based family spent lots of time at the Jersey shore. And while it wasn’t exactly like
the “yo, yo, yo” kind of big-hair experience I understand you can find on the hit TV show, I’ve got
to admit that there’s something unique to “summering” in Jersey.

Each beach town is decidedly different. But overall, it’s a place you go to meet “regular” people. The
Mediterranean cost this ain’t. The bubbly on ice is beer, not champagne. And cookouts trump caviar, by a long shot.

Nor is it, as a recent Slate article pointed out, “The Hills” — another reality show, apparently (how
is it I know nothing about what’s on TV these days?), that was all about the high and fashionable of
Beverly Hills.

What Slate pointed out is that the slick, plastic-enhanced face of “The Hills” plunged from popularity
along with the economy… as the raw earthiness of the “Jersey Shore” took its place.

I don’t know if I can go as far as Slate did in romanticizing the trend. But there does seem to be
something you can take away from all this.

When the going gets tough, the tough get real. It’s a metaphor. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s
an interesting one.

But it’s absolutely relevant to marketers. The face of the crowd is clearly changing. You’ll want to make sure your marketing efforts change with it too.


The Curse of the Modern Age

3DD92E8C-7CDE-4F5A-8C69-C3B6EA13D930.jpg “For a list of the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life,” says Alice Kahn, “please press three.”

I’m sure you know what she’s talking about.

And even if you don’t, let me ask you this: How often do you, you know, do “it?” Maybe once in the morning… and again in the afternoon?

I’ll bet. Or maybe you like to do “it” just before lunch… or just after lunch… or before and after and during? That wouldn’t surprise me either.

And then there’s your coffee break… what else are you going to do while waiting for a pot to brew? Not to mention just before meetings… or during meetings… and as soon as one ends.

Yep, you do “it” all the time. You just can’t stop yourself. Sadly, you’re not alone. Because the rest of us probably do “it” too often too.

Of course, I’m talking about checking your email… your tweets… your texts… and your Facebook alerts.

Not so long ago, it was a non-issue. Now every computer in the world seems to ding all day with new message alerts. And if not the computers, it’s the cell-phones. Or even iPods and iPads, since they connect too.

It’s everywhere.

You can even log in on your way to the bathroom… or IN the bathroom… (please tell me you’re not reading this in a stall).

And how about that quick download before dinner… or during dinner… or just before drifting off to sleep?

How about in the elevator… at a stop light… or in motion. Maybe even over the shoulder of your loved one, during a warm but, let’s be honest, not so time-efficient embrace.

If any six of the scenarios above sound familiar… or if you’ve wondered if a Ziploc bag could protect your iPad in the shower… you might have a problem. And you wouldn’t be alone again, you wouldn’t be alone. Or so says Matt Richtel, a tech-writer for the New York Times.

Maybe this comes to you as no surprise.

This is, after all, the age of high tech multi-tasking. Or is it? Not according to a handful of studies cited in one of Richtel’s recent articles.

And if you’re wondering why you feel busy all the time but you don’t get anything done — this might be the reason why.

In short, our brains just aren’t built for the perpetually “plugged in” lifestyle. It may, in fact, be costing you.

Now hang on there, cupcake.

Yes, I DO realize the irony.

After all, I’m a direct response copywriter. My bread and butter relies on people opening messages, including email. And yes, I also write an e-letter, which is delivered by email and in which this article originally appeared (sign up in the box to the right).

But between you and me, have you noticed your relationship changing at all with your inbox? Mine certainly has.

Case in point, in the beginning days of Compuserve, I could barely get enough. I too was a serial email reader. I must have hit the “get mail” button a dozen times a day, eager for contact.

Not so much anymore.

I now have, for example, 778 emails sitting waiting for an answer. Some are dated from last summer. I want to answer them. I feel compelled to answer them.

But I won’t. I’ve even actively decided not to.


Like anything, it’s complicated.

I recently heard a radio host sum up at least one part of the problemlike this: each email is a moment on someone else’s agenda. Tell me this, answer me that, find and send me this info.

How true.

And yet, she said, she can’t resist knowing if anything new has come in. So she checks — just for a second — and finds herself lost, an hour or more later.

Sound familiar?

I don’t want that. I can’t afford that. So I stay away. These days, much as I want to, I try not to start checking email until after 4 pm… 3 pm if I’m feeling weak. Because it’s the only way.

How about you?

I ask because I know what it is to be writing, like you’re aspiring to do. And whether it’s novels or sales copy, it’s the same.

You’re either in the zone… or you’re not.

When you’re in it, you know. Because that’s when even a five alarm fire would have a tough time getting you to move from your chair or stop what you’re doing.

I’m sure you “get” the feeling. So, you might still be asking… how did we get so hooked on email and tweets and Facebook and the rest in the first place, especially when the cost to productivity is so obvious?

Say California researchers, the reason you have such a tough time stopping yourself from checking your email or whatever other inputs you’ve got going is simple.

It’s because it delivers dopamine “squirts” to your brain. You get hooked, it turns out, to that series of tiny excitements as one email after another rolls in.

Not unlike the smoker taking his first puff after a long international flight… or a drinker getting a martini after a long day in the salt mines.

It’s a joy to get the jolt, over and over again. And without it, you learn to feel perpetually bored. But it’s a bigger issue now than ever, says Richtel.

Today, we’re hit with three times as much daily media as we were in the 1960s. What’s more, your average computer user visits 40 web pages per day.

Think about that.

We email colleagues at the next desk. We tweet our insights to friends, then meet up with nothing to talk about. We bask in the glow of unending online Facebook reunions, without actually seeing the people we’re “talking” to for years on end.

It’s all got its merits.

Business-wise, it’s been amazing. Many a direct-response company has been saved thanks to new media. Some have learned how to turn it into $100s of millions per year. And I’m happy to be one of the beneficiaries.

But what’s it tell you when even the Pope feels like it’s time to weigh in? Here’s what he told the NYT:

“Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world…

“In the search for sharing, for ‘friends’, there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.”

(Intrigued? You can check out Papal (no, I didn’t mean to write “Paypal”) proclamations like this one in eight languages, courtesy of the Vatican’s iPhone app. I kid you not.)

But addiction and virtual loneliness are just the beginning of the problem. Even bigger, in my opinion, is the illusion of productivity that goes with all this message fueled effort.

It gives us the illusion, yes, that we’re getting lots done. We are, if the email feeds are to believed, multi-tasking our way through lots of things that demand our attention, all at once.

The document feedback, the afternoon call, the kid’s b-day party… when you bang out a message on each in under a few minutes, you feel like you’re changing the world.

But multi-tasking, says Richtel’s research for his article, is bunk. An illusion. If you think you’re good at it, he suggests, there’s a likelihood you’re kidding yourself.

How so?

First, let me freely admit, I’m not a multi-tasker at all. I never have been. Walk and chew gum? I’m lucky I get through breakfast without falling out of my chair.

Without 100% focus, I can’t work.

That makes me a pain in the you-know-what to be around during the day. I scowl when I type, I’m told. And look up at interruptions like I’m ready to bite.

And I don’t doubt it. Because I now that once I stop, I’ll need another half hour to get rolling again.

I’ve always felt a little bad about that.

But it turns out, according to what Richtel says is “half a century of proof,” many more of us are that way than I ever imagined.

What’s more, you’re probably better off resigning yourself to focusing on one thing than you realize.

Even though, with your email alerts dinging and your cell-phone vibrating, it doesn’t always feel that way.

When you multi-task, says a particular set of scientists from the University of San Diego, it might feel like you’re doing a lot at once.

But what you’re actually doing is switching back and forth between tasks. And most likely, you’re not doing it well.

Think cocktail party and trying to register two conversations simultaneously… think airline pilot tweeting to his girlfriend during a landing… think surgeon calling the deli for a roast-beef on rye, while he’s wrapping up a brain operation.

If we’re paying attention to one process, say the tests, our brains are hard-wired to ignore everything else. Even if only for microseconds at a time.

So what, if we get it done, right?

I know one guy who writes with the TV on, he says. And he’s good. I know others who keep IM and email windows open and cell phones within reach. And they all still earn a good living.

But you have to wonder, how much better would they do without the willing distractions? Maybe a lot better, if these findings are right.

In fact, the research even shows that those that cling their multi-tasking beliefs end up being SLOWER in tests than the single-minded simpletons, who score better at both noticing small details and juggling when forced to balance between different assignments.

I guess what I’m saying is… wait, hang on a sec… I just got an email… this is good… ha… I’ll be right back, I swear…


Beat the Natural Limit on Creativity

brainhalvesI’m sure, by now, you’ve heard that there are “right-brained” and “left-brained” people. The idea is that “left-brained” people are the type you’d expect to find at, say, your accounting firm’s Christmas party.

“Right-brained” people, on the other hand, tend to be more artistic and possibly a little eccentric or scattered. Like, say, the bulk of ex-poets and actors working the tables at your local coffee shop.

Like most generalizations, this isn’t quite right.

While many of us have a bias in either creative or rational powers, the fact is that most people have both halves of their brain kicking into gear most of the time.

On the left-side, we’re processing details and performing convergent thinking. On the right side, we’re applying abstract associations between details, the work of divergent thinking.

Stroke patients who lose power on the left side of their brains tend to lose logic and language, but may suddenly become more creative. Patients who suffer right-side damage may seem creative but also might seem more uninhibited or scattered.

The good news is that both left and right brain can work together to produce a result that’s both logical AND creative.

Take Einstein.

Certainly, he had incredible powers of logic and process. He did the math, just as it had been done before he came along. But he also made the leap to creativity, finding new mathematical associations nobody else had recognized before.

Here’s the better news…

While few of us want a touch of neuron damage… and almost none of us, surely, were born an Einstein…

There actually ARE ways you can increase your creative function. And many of them simply have to do with channeling the filtering function of your left-brain.

One very simple way is just to keep reminding yourself to approach most moments in your life with curiosity.

Another is to consistently reset your attitudes toward convention. That is, simply repeat to yourself that the way things have always been done is not necessarily the way the always have to be done.

There there’s what researchers call “detail fermentation.” That’s a fancy way of saying, “do your homework.” It’s also the explanation I typically give when I tell people I don’t believe in “writer’s block.”

That is, when you fill your mind with facts and data and details relevant to the ideas you’re trying to create, the more likely you are to succeed at creating them.

Somehow, satisfying the left brain’s hunger for logic and process first… allows it to relax and let the right brain step in to find the overall creative associations between those details.

Einstein did this while searching for “E=MC2.” For years, he studied not just physics and mathematics, but astronomy and philosophy and other fields too.

So the next time you’re feeling like a failure creatively, before you give up try this tapping into this technique instead: Stop, drop, and study. Dig into the facts and materials you have to work with. Then, and only then, see if the bigger and better ideas come.


A Persuasion Secret Toddlers Teach

BabyBjornPotty.png Every copywriter should have a kid. Seriously.

How so?

By way of explanation, let’s start here: Everything we do is dictated by the “why” behind it. As in, the only reason why we would change our behavior to get a certain outcome. Not to mention, the radical failures we face if we don’t correctly target those incentives when trying to persuade others to undertake some kind of action.

Having a toddler in your life, however, is like a shortcut to the same education.

Take our little fella (he’ll kill me if he stumbles across this post about his early years). See, as new parents we were faced with a dilemma. He was starting pre-school. And by the rules, he had to be, er… let’s just say that, regal as he was, he and a certain porcelain throne had yet to build a natural relationship.

In our son’s preschool, that was grounds for non-admittance. Potty-trained or no place at the table. So went the orders from on high. A nerve-wracking thought, no doubt, for any parent. But here was the big problem — we had put off his training for so long, we had only a little over a week left before pre-school started.


So I went to all the “how to” websites. Don’t rush the kid, they said. This could take “a month… two or three months… even half a year.”

Double ack.

We had exactly 11 days. First we tried begging. Then we tried the “no safety net” technique — that’s where you take off the diaper and hope the kid hates the feeling of insecurity so much, he’ll tell you when it’s time to grab him and run for the facilities. Neither approach worked.

But with about nine days left, we figured their had to be a better way… and we worked out one that would make the Freakonomics fan club proud (okay, we got it from online… but it worked just the same).

What did we do? We came up with an audience-targeted incentive.

First, we drew a chart with a cartoon of the potty in the corner (yes, I’m really writing an article about this). Then we bought some stickers. And a bag of chocolates. Every “performance,” we told our son, got a reward.

Did it work? Like gangbusters.

Just over a week later, we have a chart full of stickers and a kid who (sniffle) was just growing up too dang fast. We successfully shuffled him off to school. “So is he potty-trained,” they asked. “Of course,” we said, full of false incredulity.

I’m not saying stickers and chocolates will work for, say, selling commercial office space or negotiating a trade treaty. But you get the gist: So often, the secret to persuasion is just figuring out the right incentive for the audience you’re targeting.

Get that and everything else should fall in place.

(Gee, this parenting thing is easy, isn’t it? 😉

* P.S. This little article first ran two years ago… and we’ve since successfully used the same technique with our daughter. I’ve yet to get it to work for selling subscription-based products, though!


The Dark Side of Testimonial-Driven Sales Copy

cheesyman.png In my experience, testimonials almost always enhance a promo package… except… when they don’t. What might make for a
bad time to use a testimonial?

Most often, when the testimonial itself just plain stinks.

For instance…

When it’s emotionally unsatisfying and vague:
“I found your book very useful.”

When it’s too gushy:
“I love your book! It’s the best one I’ve ever read! The exclamation point on my keyboard is stuck!!!”

When it’s too polished or pretentious:
“We delight in your intrepid and yet profitable handling of territory so treacherous as options investing.”

When you’ve used stock photos instead of real ones:
(Rule of thumb: Most of your customers probably do NOT have bleached teeth or airbrushed faces. And most of them do not wear t-shirts that have been pressed and dry-cleaned before the photo shoot either.)

When they’re a legal risk or just plain fake:
“I’ve secretly used this investment newsletter to pick stocks for years. I’d be working at McDonald’s without it.” – Warren Buffet, Omaha.

Or when the customer seems too embarrassed to sign it:
“I like your stuff, really I do. – Anonymous”

We could go on finding many ways testimonials won’t do what you want them to do. But how about how to make sure you get good testimonials and use the properly?

Here’s a truism based on experience:

Good products, first and foremost, are the better your chances of getting good testimonials. But even then, you need to identify the person on the team that’s got enough passion for the product to cull and archive a strong testimonial file. This could be the product manager, but more likely, they’re getting their best stuff from the front lines. That is, from the people who deal most directly with the customers.

Don’t be afraid to ask customer service if you can look at their letters or if they’ve seen something good. Often the good stuff is buried in letters asking support questions.

If the company is going to do surveys, make sure they leave room for open-ended questions at the end. And if they’ve done surveys already, look for ones where you can follow up to get enthusiastic customers to elaborate. A day of phone calls to buyers can pay off with testimonials you’ll use for years.

If the company corresponds via emails or an online customer forum (and who doesn’t these days?), ask if it’s okay to follow up with buyers electronically. Or better, ask the product manager to follow up, since replies to their requests might sound more natural (customers have a tendency to fancy-up their praise when they find out it’s going to go in a sales letter.)

Bottom line: There’s no way to get good testimonials without applying a little elbow-grease and a little creative harvesting.

That said, copywriting legend John Caples had a tip. Try running a testimonial-gathering contest. Caples liked to give customers a chance to fill in the following line:

“Finish this sentence in 25 words or less: I like (name of product) because…”

And in return, he would offer every participant a small prize.

Here’s another great idea, based on an insight from friend Michael Masterson, over at “Ask them what their life was like before they got your product… what their life is like now… and, specifically, how your product helped them make that change.”

Good ideas, don’t you think?


Is Your Product Trapped in “Commodity Hell?”

shaveI shaved this morning thinking about “commodity hell.”

That’s when a market for a product is so crowded, every product is virtually the same.  Interchangeable with the competition. And the only way to get ahead is to slash prices until the pain of profit loss squeezes either you or those competitors out of the business.

This is not a position, generally, you want to fall into. But it happens. Sometimes, to the (once) best of them. If only because once you succeed on a grand scale, imitation naturally follows. It’s the slippery slope of success.

In an old New Yorker — June 15, 1998 — writer James Surowiecki talks about how one company, Gillette, managed to beat the slide. There are, says the article, two ways companies generally protect themselves. One is via advertising. The bigger your position in the prospect’s psyche, the slower the evolution from market leader to mere commodity.

Gillette did this in the mid ’80s, with a heavy focus on advertising. And it worked. But advertising is basically laurel-padding. And laurels only stay fresh so long. Other razor companies had new products in the pipeline.

So Gillette had to focus on the staple of cutting-edge competition: product innovation.

Enormous research and testing went into binding a substance called “DLC” (for “diamond-like carbon”) to steel. The result was a blade 3-4 times stronger than plain steel that was both thinner and sharper.

Where other razors had two blades, Gillette added three. Engineers had to watch “Terminator 2” to visualize the chrome-coated design. Marketing whittled over 100 different name choices down to four. And then one — the Mach 3.

Gillette sold $2.9 billion worth of blades in a single year. The Mach 3 is far and away the industry leader. I use one. There’s a chance you do too.

When you’ve got a product that’s hard to differentiate, think of the Gillette story.

Is your product newer and better than all the rest? How well is that emphasized in the advertising?

And if the advertising is pulling its weight, is there a way you could innovate or update the product?

Simple thoughts. But if it’s good enough for a giant like Gillette… well, you get the picture.


How Sid Sold So Many Suits

monkey in a suit.png Sid and Harry run a tailor shop in New York City.

If you can picture it, Sid is the salesman working the floor, while Harry works over the inventory in the back.

A customer comes in.

“Excuse me sir,” he says to Sid, “how much for this suit?

“Let me ask Harry,” says Sid. “Hey Harry, how much for the black three-button suit?”

“For that beautiful suit?” shouts Harry from the back, “$42.”

Sid, hand cupped to his ear, looks confused for just a second. Then he turns to the customer and say, “Harry says this one is $22.”

The customer, eager to capitalize on the ‘mistake,’ plunks down his money and make a quick exit with his new purchase.

Now, I don’t know if Sid can really hear well or not. There’s even a good chance — let’s say “high likelihood” — that Sid and Harry meant to sell the suit for $22 all along.

But you get the idea.

The story comes our way from master copywriter and multi-millionaire businessman, Michael Masterson, who credits it in turn to persuasion expert Robert Cialdini.

Simply put, Sid’s story demonstrates the “law of contrasts” at work. The law of contrasts is where you underscore the greatness of a product, and offer, something… by comparing it to something else.

In Sid’s case, the $22 price of the suit sure seemed like a deal when compared to the $42 it seemed SUPPOSED to cost.

Suddenly, without really offering a discount or changing any of the details of the original offer… the contrast with a higher price alone makes $22 seem like a great bargain.

Now, of course, Sid and Harry’s story is an old one (who would wear a $22 suit today?). But consider, in the next offer you write, is there a way you could make the simple power of contrasts work for you?


Scientific Study Asks, “Are You Creative?”

HomerQuick — do any of these apply to you?

 * Ideational Fluency – Someone gives you a word. The more sentences, ideas, and associations you can match to that word, the more likely it is you’re a “creative type.”

 * Variety and Flexibility – Someone gives you an object, say a garden hose. How many different things can you do with it? The more you can think of, the better.

 * Original Problem Solving – Someone presents you with a puzzle or a problem. Beyond the conventional solution, how many other workable but uncommon solutions can you come up with?

 * Elaboration – How far can you carry an idea? That is, once you have it, can you build on it until you can actually carry it out in application?

 * Problem Sensitivity – When someone presents you with a problem, how many challenges related to that problem can you identify? More importantly, can you zero in on the core or most important challenge?

 * Redefinition – Take a look at the same problem. Can you find a way to look at it in a completely different light?

Say researchers published in Scientific American, while their isn’t really a measurable “Creativity Quotient” (C.Q.) that they can pin to any set standard, it just so happens that a lot of creative people share some or all of the traits I just told you about.

How’d you fare?


9 Ways The Mind Resists Persuasion and How To Sustain or Overcome Them – PsyBlog

Running into resistance, when you set out to make sales?

Maybe that’s because you’re running up against one of these nine big roadblocks to persuasion.

Fortunately, say these psych professionals, all nine of these common obstacles are easily overcome.

See here to find out how…

9 Ways The Mind Resists Persuasion and How To Sustain or Overcome Them – PsyBlog