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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Seven+ Ways to Keep Your Clients

shake.jpgOver the years, have I written my share of crotchety emails to product managers, traffic managers, legal assistants, publishers, and graphic designers?

I confess — I have.

A tiny handful have even made it past the “send” button… most, after sitting in my “draft” folder to cool, have landed in the trash can.

But rather than air out my own dirty laundry, let me share some insight from my friend and fellow marketer, Lori Allen. Lori runs Travel Writing and Travel Photography seminars for our mutual pals over at American Writers & Artists Inc.

She deals with lots of copywriters and other freelancers. So much that she once gave a
presentation at the famous AWAI boot camp, “Confessions of a Marketing Director: 17 Ways to Keep Clients Coming Back.”

Here are some of the highlights she shared…

1) Don’t complain or badger the client.

Imagine waking up from surgery only to have the doctor hovering over your bed, complaining about the mess you made in the operating room. You’d feel a bit, er, put out.

Yet, one copywriter Lori hired wrote her a letter complaining about the migraines and sleepless nights… she had “caused” because of the project she’d given him.

Guess what — she never hired him again.

Likewise, it’s not a good idea to badger clients for feedback. Sure, sometimes a response comes way too slow — I know, I’ve been there — but a gentle nudge is better than a searing cattle prod, in the long run. Believe me. I’ve been there too.

Of course, the longer and better you get to know the clients, the easier it is to be frank about what you need to get the job done. But even then, don’t mistake familiarity for a license to act like a jerk (Believe me, I’ve been… ah, you get the picture).

2) Offer to help not to destroy.

If your marketing client has a mailing control you think stinks, what should you do? Write them, of course, and tell them what idiots they are… right? Wrong.

Yet, Lori has letters from copywriters who say exactly that. Outright, they try to get new business by telling her that their layout stinks… the headline is insipid… and so on.

Is that the way your mama taught you to behave? Nope. And you shouldn’t behave that way with a client you hope to keep or win over, either.

One of the great things you learn as a seasoned writer is how to TAKE criticism… and if you’re lucky, you learn how to GIVE a critique better too. That means knowing when your critique is welcome and when it isn’t. It also means knowing how to make suggestions that get your clients looking forward hopefully… rather than feeling defensive.

3) Emphasize past successes, not failings.

How many poor chumps have you seen trying to “get the girl,” only to lapse hopelessly into awkward self-deprecation? Bottom line: you can’t go far by hiding your light under a bushel.

Talking to a new client? Then let them know what you’ve accomplished. If you’ve got great controls for one company, get samples and share them with the rest of your clients. There’s no need to be modest.

Talking to a longtime client? Don’t forget that the quality of your business relationship is built on reselling yourself to them, too. With discretion, make sure they don’t forget your greatest hits.

What if you lack experience? Don’t cringe in the shadow of your own innocence. Instead, be bold, eager, and well-informed. Be honest. And shine the light on what you’re GOING to do for them instead.

4) Know when to call instead of write.

Like I implied earlier, writing is often an isolated profession. You start to cherish working alone, and might even start using e-mail as your buffer against a disruptive world.

True, email can save you lots of time… sometimes. But here’s the real weakness of working solely by e-mail: It can make you think you control the conversation, when you really don’t.

That’s a problem.

Especially when you’ve got a complex idea to get across… an opinion that could be misread… or a sensitive question to ask.

There’s no way around it — you have to know when to pick up the call instead of write. Better yet, know when it’s best to meet in person. I know, that whole “face-to-face” thing seems like old technology. But you’ll be surprised by how much better it works, compared to, for example, brainstorming by Twitter.

5) Always include your contact information.

Okay, this isn’t about e-mail etiquette exactly. Except in the sense that it’s always right to make
your introductions. Obvious? Perhaps.

But Lori showed us an e-mail from one copywriter that would astound any self-respecting schoolmarm.

He asked her to mail something to him via the postal service… at a new mailing address he didn’t provide… while writing from an e-mail address he said he didn’t usually use. And he signed the message only “J.” And that was it.

Nice going, bonehead.

6) Understand the technical side of the business.

This isn’t so much etiquette either. But it pays, says Lori, to know enough about the print side of the direct mail business. Just so you can talk the talk when necessary. This is especially true when working with graphic designers. Nothing will help you sound more like a seasoned marketer. By the way, this is also true when you’re working with online copy. You don’t need to know HTML, but it helps to know the technical options afforded to you.

7) Get excited about the product.

Again, not an etiquette point. But essential for every communication you’ll have with a copywriting client. If there’s anything that will really make your copy work well and your clients willing to respect you, it’s a sincere understanding and appreciation of the product you’re writing to support. The enthusiasm flows from between the lines. And this will make your writing job much easier, to boot.

In the title to today’s piece, I said “+” after the “seven.” What’s that stand for? Well, naturally, the easiest way to keep a client is to write great copy that sells.

But that’s way too obvious, right?

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How Curiosity Can Save a Copywriter

questionsSomebody once asked David Ogilvy for a list of traits that matter most when hiring copywriters. Above all, he said, they have to have an unwavering, overpowering, enormous sense of curiosity.

I can’t help but think that has to be right. Why?

Because sometimes you need to dig deep — really deep –into a product, a target audience, and so much more to find that one gem that’s going to make your ad sing better, louder, and more in tune than all your attention-seeking competitors. And frankly, those who are uninterested in the world too readily give up before they find that one gem.

Of course, that means you stumble across a lot of stuff you don’t need too. And a lot of trivia that just grabs hold of you. And you never know when that trivia is going to come in handy, popping up in your copy when you least expect it. This is one reason, of course, why you never want to play Trivial Pursuit against a very good copywriter.

But it’s also why I’ve piled up a lot of little facts that I don’t know what to do with. Except maybe, share them here. Are you ready? File these, if you like, in the drawer labeled “truly useless information”…

  • Did you know that King Louis XIV once locked up a nine-year old boy in his dungeon for making a joke about his Royal Highness’ bald head? Yep. And he kept him there, too. Agents of the court told the distraught and wealthy parents the boy had simply disappeared. But they knew where he was — in the basement of Versailles, for the next sixty-nine years. Sheesh.
  • Did you know, too, that you’ll never see a rainbow in mid-afternoon? They only appear later in the day or in the morning, when the sun is 40 degrees or less above the horizon (that’s position, not temperature). Meanwhile, there are approximately 1,800 thunderstorms in progress at any given time during the day. And at lest 100 lightning strikes on the planet any given second.
  • Did you further know that, while nearly 25% of the world’s population lives on less than $200 per year, it costs more to buy a new car in the U.S. than it cost Christopher Columbus to equip and undertake not just one but THREE voyages to the New World?
  • Peter Mustafic of Botovo, Yugoslavia, spoke nary a word for 40 years. Suddenly, he broke the silence. When asked by a local newspaper why, he said, “I stopped speaking in 1920 to get out of military service.” Yes, they prodded, but… uh… then what happened? “Well,” he answered, “I got used to it.”
  • Please read the following passage quietly to yourself for the next 30 seconds. Ready? Here it is: “ .” Congratulations. You have just performed the entire Samuel Beckett play, “Breath,” first introduced to the stage in April 1970. Without actors or dialogue. Even the original presentation lasted only half a minute.
  • Don’t wear blue unless you like mosquitoes. They’ll target blue twice as often as any other color. If it’s a female, she’ll even bite (since it’s only the females that do.)
  • Did you know that Peter the Great had any Russian who wore a beard pay a special tax? Good thing Chopin wasn’t living in Russia then — apparently the composer/pianist habitually wore half a beard. Reason? “When I play, my audience only sees half my face.” No kidding.

Will you ever find a use for these tidbits? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s hoping you do.

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Make Money While You Sleep

Imagine if you had a business of your own, making money for you while you go off and do whatever else you like. To make this business work, you don’t need to go to the office. You don’t even need to get out of bed. What you sell, you make once… then sell it over and over again. 

You don’t need a warehouse to store what you sell. You don’t need to ship anything or pay anything to get your “product” made, packaged, or put on a shelf. In fact, once you get the business set up, you might not have to “look in” on it again… except for once in awhile, just to make sure it’s still humming smoothly along.

Your customers do all the work. They place the orders, pay you, and take delivery on their own. You just collect the income as it piles up. And even that, you don’t have to lift a finger for. The whole thing can be arranged so the sales you make file the income right into your bank account, automatically.

While you sleep, it’s working. While you’re on vacation, while you’re playing with the grandkids, while you’re doing just about anything else, this simple, easy-to-launch business is “doing” for you. And all you need to get it started is the expertise in any specialized field that you have probably already piled up during your lifetime.

Take Bob. He did this and it cost him about $175 to get this “business” off the ground. That turned into $20,727 in sales that he barely worked to collect. Now he’s just repeated the process and makes, on this kind of business alone, over $200K per year. It takes him about an hour or so per week to keep the income flowing. 

What’s the secret? I’m sure you’ve heard it before. But I’m guessing you never realized just how easy it can be to make it start working for you, too. Find out more by clicking here.

 

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The Simple Secret of… Complexity?

wineprThere’s a book, “Making Sense of Wine,” by author Matthew Kramer.

In it, Kramer writes: “What constitutes quality in wine?… The single greatest standard used in assessing a wine’s quality is its complexity. The more times you can return to a glass of wine and find something different in it — in the bouquet, in the taste — the more complex the wine.”

Could the same lesson apply to writing articles, ezines, or sales letters?

If it is, it’s one that flies in the face of conventional web wisdom. Usually, the writer’s mantra is “K.I.S.S.” (Keep It Simple Stupid). And most of the time, this rule works just fine. As does another you’ve seen me talk about here or in the weekly CR e-letter (sign up if you haven’t already), called the principle of “The Power of One.” The idea being that when you want to get a message across, the tither you can bundle it up for the reader, the better.

Yet, we also know that writing — especially the kind of writing we do in sales letters and even more so, editorially — is more and more about building relationships. And aren’t relationships built layer upon layer with complexities?

Here’s more from Kramer…

“It appears that we are, in fact, set up to respond favorable to complexity. Decades of work in experimental psychology have revealed that when people are free to choose between a simple visual image and a more complex one, they gravitate to the complex… Even our alleged neurological compatriot, the laboratory rat, has demonstrated a preference, over time, for more complex stimuli over simple.”

But if that’s true, doesn’t the idea of “keeping it simple” fall apart?

Kramer continues: “One researcher in the field employs the notion of disorder or entropy. The more things are jumbled, the more ‘information’ can be conveyed at one time. The trick is our ability to sort it out and make it meaningful. In short, there must be both pattern and complexity for sustained interest… For something to be truly satisfying, especially after repeated exposure, it must continually surprise us and yet we must be able to grasp these surprises as part of a larger and pleasing pattern.”

Rich. Complex. Consistently surprising.

That’s the juice we seem to want to squeeze not just out of grapes, but life. At least according to what Kramer’s saying. If we accept this as true, maybe there’s still a way to reconcile this insight and the one about the power of simplicity.

First, I’d say that yes, the relationship one builds with readers, either from the first paragraph of a piece of copy to the last or over a series of articles or issues or blog posts does need to grow and evolve. And as anyone knows, evolution is never simple.

Still, this doesn’t mean you can just jumble your ideas together. Even rich and layered relationships are united by a few very simple goals. Maybe even one simple goal, depending on whom you talk to. Even in a sales letter that drills home on one distinct message, the copy does many things to build trust, nurture a sense of urgency, intensify desire, and so on.

Second, I’d say that you can never discount the power of passion behind written ideas. You can’t write well about something you don’t believe in. And you write better about things you believe in strongly. I say this because passion about ideas, it seems to me, is the glue between the “power of one” single idea insight… and the context of complexity in which it can still be couched.

Yes?

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Read this NOW, or the Puppy Gets It!

Years ago, I think it was National Lampoon sent out a mail campaign trying to get subscribers… or maybe it was renewals…

With a picture of a man holding an adorable puppy draped over his left arm. In his right hand, he held what looked like Dirty Harry’s revolver. The headline read (I’m  paraphrasing): “Subscribe now or the puppy gets it!”

Depending on how you feel about puppies, that qualifies as an “urgency” pitch. Of course, there are other ways to create urgency.

“Crazy Eddie” yelling on late night TV about his looney low prices on TVs and stereos… firesales and special edition offers… expiring coupons.

The list goes on. And on. And on.

 It’s no accident. Creating urgency is part and parcel of many a winning ad campaign. Maybe that’s why Linda, one of your fellow CR readers, wrote me asking what on earth was going on.

 The urgency plea, she says, is both everywhere and far too often just plain baloney. Sales end up lasting longer, last-minute prices seem to last forever, and so on.

What gives?

I took a minute to write Linda a reply. Then figured it was good enough to share with you too. See if you agree.

Yes and yes, I told her.

You’re right on two fronts.

First, lots of ads do whatever they can to pound the urgency button. Reason being, all marketing is more or less at war with the onslaught of “other” ads you mention — each of which competes for space in the customer’s mind — and more importantly, with the overwhelming forces of inertia.

The customer who reads and ad that encourages him to put it down for later consideration, is generally a customer lost in the long run. Put more simply, those who don’t “act now” tend not to act at all.

For a brilliant explanation of how this works, beyond the obvious, check out the much recommended “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Dr. Robert Cialdini. Especially what he has to say about the pulling power of scarcity. People really do want to snap up the “last” of anything, rather than miss out.

That said, the other thing you’re right about is that when every single ad is saying you’re going to miss out, the message starts to get diluted. Everyone starts to sound the same. And in selling, sounding the same as everybody else is slow poison to your business.

When that happens, what happens next?

The clever sellers will come up with other ways to express urgency, other than “limited supply” pitches.

As you mention, they’ll have deadlines before price increases, limited-time offers on extras thrown into a deal, special bonuses limited to the first few respondents, etc. Among the group of info publishers I work closely with, one of the most powerful innovations of the last two years — literally worth hundreds of millions of dollars (and counting) — has been to create online “countdown” offers with time deadlines tracked right down to the hour and minute on which the deal is available. I keep thinking they’ll stop working. Yet they keep working, just the same. 

But here’s one last key.

To really work, the limits need to be real. Even if they’re created just to increase the urgency, they have to be enforced. Otherwise, as you suggest, the customer’s get wise to the ruse. Not only does the seller sacrifice trust in his claims, he also sacrifices the power of the technique.

Even as a marketer, I would also second guess those businesses that don’t make good on their “last chance” offers in the way you’re suggesting. Both for the reasons above and also because, frankly, it’s a bad sign for other reasons.

For instance, I know that with the marketers I work with, legal teams actually scan the offers and make sure that if there’s a deadline mentioned, the offer gets pulled the minute the deadline passes.

And if there’s a “limited low price” offered, the legal eagles make sure it never gets offered again. Price hikes are made to happen. Limited bonuses get retired according to the restrictions printed on the reply card. This keeps the marketers honest.

But it also preserves the power of the technique for the rest of us, when we want to try it elsewhere to the same audience.

Long story short…

You’re right to question the “urgency” pitch as a consumer. But both good and bad marketers use it. And likely, will use it forever.

Likewise, if you ever find yourself on the marketing side of the fence, it’s something you don’t want to rule out too quickly.

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‘Twas The Last Sale Before Christmas

Six months before Christmas, I first saw the signs — shopping malls had traded palm trees for pines.

 By August, “Jingle Bells” from speakers did blare in hopes that the shoppers soon would be there.

 Then came Halloween, with Santas in caps; and merchants wrapped pumpkins in bright Christmas wraps.

 Soon all the newspapers took up the same tack –“Yuletide Joy GUARANTEED… or your money back.”

 Bloomingdale’s offered bathrobes, draped in pink spotted sash. “Buy one to help Mom greet the day with panache!”

 Kmart sold Barbies, with bleached-blonde perky glow; “Real cute up top” said the ad, “and stacked down below!”

 Toy shops sold tommy-guns for shooting paint at the dog; the supermarkets sold troughs of diet eggnog.

 By Thanksgiving the frenzy had gotten vicious and sick; over the first sale on anything, shoppers would bite, claw, and kick.

 Meanwhile, grandma’s kitchen revived a stale story — like the Phoenix from fire, arose the fruitcake in glory.

 TV showed the “specials,” each one still the same, only now they have action figures (sponsors list them by name!)

 “Buy DASHER and DANCER!  Buy PRANCER and VIXEN! Get COMET and CUPID and DONDER and BLITZEN!”

 (Maybe it’s venison Grandmom should be fixing.)

 By Christmas Eve, please believe, I’d had more than enough. Go ahead, call me Scrooge — but who BUYS all this stuff?

 All the commercials, the carols, the guilt-laden cards; all the neon-like lights draped in neighborhood yards.

 And here’s me, among boxes, still wrapping my last; with paper cuts and prayers that this season should pass.

 My wife’s finished wrapping; she was done long ago. Her paper’s creased neatly, her ribbons in bows.

 How does she do it? I still can’t comprehend. My presents look lumpy, paper torn at both ends.

 And ribbons I’ve tied show embarrassing slack… like I’d sent presents to Hell, had them wrapped, and sent back.

 By midnight that night — ’twas Christmas Eve — most of my senses had taken their leave.

 So I stepped out back for air and leaned on a car. That’s when I saw it — a tiny white star.

 Cliché? Contrived? A vision too “nice?” I stepped up to see it… then slipped on some ice.

 “Godd*mn it!” I said, even “Humbug!” and worse; every word in the book you could define as a curse.

 A window flew open, my wife shocked by the clatter; “Honey” she called, “is something the matter?”

 And then, a whisper, from a boy four years old “Is that you, Santa?” he breathed out in the cold.

 Dear Reader, perhaps you don’t share my elation, but in that small moment, you see, I found revelation.

 ’twas small like a flicker, far-off as the star. An inkling, just then, of why wise men go far;

 Of why mothers start baking, why carolers sing, and why three once brought gifts to one child king;

 Why, every Christmas, we share things and confections, with the hope of redemption for unspoken affections.

 You see, I realized that while our lives are adrift, we can at least find foundation in one simple gift;

 A gift as elusive as the world she is round, And one I don’t name, for it’s far too profound,

 But you can hear it hinted in phrase that seems right, “A Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

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What Nascar, Kool-Aid, And Purple Oreos Have in Common

Purple oreos?How sick and tired are you of having to choose between brands? Funnyman Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Lucas Conley, author of “Obsessive Branding Disorder,” to find out.

Branding, says Conley, has spun completely out of control. The idea, of course, is to build a reputation for a product name… so future products bearing that name will fly off the shelves.

It’s borrowed credibility. Sometimes appropriate. But more and more often, says Conley, it’s not.

Take a look at some of the weird and whacky branding combinations he listed during the interview (while Colbert pretended the whole thing was sponsored by Dr. Pepper)…

…Sylvester Stallone Pudding ™
…Nascar Brand Romance Novels ™
…Nascar Packaged Meats ™
…KoolAid Brand Tennis Shoes ™
…Harley Davidson Birthday Candles ™
…Playdough Limited Edition Cologne ™

Yes, these are real products.

In each case, what’s the business goal? What’s the advantage? What’s the point? You have to wonder. The folks over at neurosciencemarketing.com wondered too, but with brands that add too many choices under one brand umbrella.

For instance, did you know that there are 46 different kinds of Oreos today?

I’m talking about the little chocolate cookies with the vanilla cream center. At least, that’s what we were talking about when I was a kid. Today, you can get the “Double Stuff” version with twice the filling… the inverted “Golden Uh-Oh With Chocolate Cream”… the “Duo” which is half vanilla and half chocolate… “Spring Purple” Oreos with purple cream… and so on.

The study goes on to list an epidemic in overly stretched brands: 11 kinds of Tostitos… 16 kinds of Goldfish snack crackers… 23 kinds of Gatorade. You get the picture.

Conley’s problem with psychotic cross-branding was that all these companies had moved miles away from what they did best. That costs their customers, who get duped into buying lower quality but branded goods. It also costs the companies, who get distracted from using what they know to take their already developed businesses to the next level.

When businesses explode their menu of varieties within an already successful brand, they get a different problem. They end up competing with themselves for their own customers’ attention.

Sound like a good problem to have? Not so fast.

Columbia University did a study, using shelves loaded with exactly the mind of mega-branded product lines listed above. Customers walked past the shelves groaning with 20 different kinds of Edge Shaving gel or 30 kinds of Smuckers Jam… and the site stopped them in their tracks.

Okay so far. Except that, even though more customers stopped to look… many FEWER actually bought, compared to the customers shown a more limited choice.

How much fewer?

In the study, 30% of the customers looking at the limited selection bought at least one item. But out of the customers flooded with choices, only 3% decided to buy.

Wow.

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