Category: Scientific Selling

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.

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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.

Ack.

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!

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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 www.earltytorise.com: “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?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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

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The Science of Persuasion

If you haven’t heard of Dr. Robert Cialdini, you’re probably not a copywriter. And if you are, but you haven’t read his book “Influence,” you’re probably not serious about your craft. To make up for lost time — or as a refresher — watch this video. Powerful stuff…

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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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