What’s The “Big Idea?”

bulb.png What’s the single toughest secret you’ll ever learn, if you hope to blow the doors off the world of writing sales copy?

For all the clever metaphors you’ll ever come up with, for all the phrases and images, the formatting breakthroughs, the clever taglines, and everything else… nothing will pack more career-building punch for a copywriter… than mastering the art of coming up with “big ideas.”

By no coincidence, that alone could take you a lifetime of writing.

Great copywriter and originator of the “big idea” idea himself, David Ogilvy, once claimed that he came up with only about 20 so-called “big ideas” in his entire career. And yet, that was enough to more than create his fame and fortune.

So what does a “big idea” look like? I’ve seen many try to define it.

Here’s one more list of filters to add to your collection…

* Big Ideas Have Instant Appeal:

Have you ever had a ‘gut’ feeling about a person? Have you ever asked a long-married couple when they decided to get married, only to find out they ‘just knew’ after just meeting each other?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Blink,” calls it ‘thin-slicing.’ And it’s what we do, naturally, whenever we encounter something new.

Your target audience will do it too. Which is why you have ZERO luxury for trying to convey a complex idea in that very first instant your copy flashes them in the face.

They’ll “thin-slice” you, as a reflex.

They’ll compress all their judgment about whether to read on into that moment. If you don’t manage to win them over, in milliseconds, say hello to the trashcan.

So, the Big Idea is an idea that can be sorted, absorbed, and understood instantaneously. Which is why cleverness and complexity in advertising can be so dangerous for even the most skilled of copy wordsmiths.

* Big Ideas are Tightly Expressed:

Just because an idea has impact, doesn’t mean it has to be dense. In fact, the opposite is the idea. The more insightful the idea, the tighter you can usually sum it up.

And you should aim to do exactly that. Preferably in 8 words or less. And as early as possible, so that your reader knows as soon as possible what you’re getting at.

* Big Ideas Have Momentum:

Gladwell has another more famous book that I’m sure you’ve read, “The Tipping Point.” He starts off talking about a suede shoe.

It was big in the ’70s, and then disappeared. Suddenly, over 20 years later, it came back with a vengeance. First, on the hip street corners of Manhattan’s East Village. Then across town… uptown… then to young and artsy areas in cities across the U.S. Why?

Nobody, even the shoemaker, could tell.

Only that an idea started to build. It spread. By the time everyone noticed, it suddenly petered out again. It was too late. The trend had come and gone, elusive to all who’d tried to do anything but hang on for the ride.

Ideas are like that.

They catch on, they build, and then, just when you least expect it, they can recede out of popularity again. The best marketer is plugged in enough to see the swell of the wave coming, before it crests.

* Big Ideas Are Timely:

Related to the idea of momentum is the timeliness of an idea, especially when you’re selling information products. How so?

I write almost exclusively, these days, for financial products. My best promos tend to hinge on what’s happening in the markets.

For example, when oil sold at $147 per barrel, anything I wrote about oil and energy related investment products was almost a sure bet to do well.

In the mid 1990s, the market’s mind was elsewhere. You couldn’t say anything about investing without talking about the Internet, telecoms, or biotech.

When that market crashed in 2000, the tide of desire had shifted over night. Trying to write tech pitches suddenly became about as tough as talking a tabby into taking a dip in a hot tub.

Of course, the greatest asset you get by finding the timeliest ideas is that timeliness brings with a sense of urgency to your message. Maybe as a warning. Maybe as an unfolding opportunity.

But either way, you’re much better off when you’ve got that element to whatever you’re writing.

* Big Ideas Are Original:

Ideas feel biggest when you’re among the first to deliver the message. When you’re playing catch up to everyone else, not so much.

Even an idea that’s already current, already popular, and already talked about… gains new life when you can make it even more ‘new,’ simply by finding the extra twist.

This is why headlines built on “secrets” are so effective. We naturally want to read the story nobody else is telling.

The new angle… the new information… the overlooked discovery… there are many ways to do this. All of them, almost always, are buried in the unique details of the story you’re telling.

* Big Ideas Have Depth:

Yep, I said that ideas need to be simply and clearly expressed. But can you have clarity and substance, even in a short line?

Absolutely, you can.

When we say that Big Ideas need “depth” what we mean is richness and life-altering impact. Ask yourself; does the Idea suggest major change ahead? Is it something that will shock, awaken, or fascinate your reader?

If not, why would the reader want to read on? And why would you want to get the success of that letter… or your business… on something that thin?

* Big Ideas Are Emotionally Stirring:

Too often, we mistake the preponderance of proof behind an Idea as all the “Bigness” we need for selling.

With smugness, we script any old headline, knowing it’s just a set up to hit the reader with blazing, double guns of the most rock-solid bullet points and factoids you’ve ever seen.

Sure, proofs matter in persuasion.

But, in the end, the one thing that makes one Big Idea compelling beyond any other, is it’s ability to sneak behind that locked door of the mind, where the emotional reasoning resides.

It must make a connection with that core, unspoken, and perhaps unrecognized place where the reader’s heart really resides.

Are there other ways to know if you’ve got your mitts on a “big idea” or not? Absolutely, there are. But this is a pretty good start. Try putting your next piece of copy through these paces and see for yourself.

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How Much Money Do You (Deserve To) Make?

cashregister“Money,” Woody Allen once said, “is nice to have — if only for financial reasons.”

Or as one of my copywriting mentors used to say, money isn’t just about affording a better life, taking care of your family, or safeguarding your retirement. It’s also a way to ‘keep score.’

Is that a sad testament to the shallowness of humanity? Or a reassurance that ambition and the drive to thrive are alive and well?  It’s up to you. But personally, at least on one level, I think he’s right. Think about it.

We know that there are higher things than the material trappings of being a working stiff. Yet, when you see the Forbes 400 list of the world’s wealthiest… do you look? And when you do, do you stop at looking at the net worth or do you secretly search for the age, education, and hard-luck background stories too?

Most of us can’t help it.

We want to know how we’re measuring up. Spiritually, intellectually, aesthetically of course. But let’s face it, those things can be tough to measure.

Income, on the other hand, is easy.

Either you’ve got it or you don’t. And as a measurement of success, it ends up a universal equalizer, non-negotiable and true.  Sure, applications of wealth, obsessions with wealth, understanding of wealth and what it can mean, those things can all vary. But wealth itself, for everybody it’s a common denominator. A means to living in the manner we hope we’ve earned.

Long story short, having a little extra scratch on hand… ain’t such a bad thing.

And having a lot more, well, that’s a hard idea to resist too.

Okay, so now that we all feel good about money and having some… how do you measure up?

Some time ago, CR friend Chris Marlow put together a survey of fellow copywriters.

Keep in mind, most of her responses came from the U.S., some from Canada and some from the U.K.  This could be as much because the survey is in English as it is a fair representation of the global market.

Also, most of the responders (61%) are in the 1-5 year range of experience. And more than half have written for both specialty markets and what they would consider “general” fields.

Most write for either the “Marketing Communications” field or “Banking and Investment” with a majority writing for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business products.

So… what are we making, year over year?

Just over 25% — at the time I had taken the survey — landed in the $50K to $75K category… with nearly 15% making between $75K to $100K… and a small but impressive slice taking in as much as $300K to $400K per year. (I’m in the latter category, but know plenty in the middle and a handful in the first).

How are they finding their best business, biggest paying assignments, and favorite clients?

What fields yield the most copywriting opportunity?

What types of pieces did they write for most — speeches, brochures, e-zines, direct-mail letters, radio and space ads, and more — and what did they charge for each?

All this, you’ll have to get from Chris.

She compiles and sells the survey results every year. I recommend it not for affiliate income (in fact, I can’t find my affiliate link at the moment and want to get this post up, so this is just a straight shot over to Chris’ site (click here)), but because I know that by knowing how others pull off this career, you’ll get some ideas for yourself.

And maybe a little inspiration too.

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Can Music Make You More Creative?

guitar I’ve noted often how strange it was that so many copywriters play instruments. And wondered, too, whether listening to music… or even playing it… makes for better writers.

Two new studies suggest that might be exactly the case. Turns out, according to Georgetown University researchers, that not only does their research say that music and language — word use — use the same areas of memory, but that we also unconsciously learn the “rules” of what sounds good in both music and language, in the same way.

So if you have a good ear for melodies, you might also have a good ear for what sounds good in the printed or spoken word.

Research from the New York Academy of Sciences takes it even further: playing music, they say, can make you smarter. It can also beef up your immune system, improve your memory, and keep you sane, for lack of a better way to put it.

How they explain why so many musicians seem to go nuts or die young, I don’t know.

But what their research shows is actual increased grey matter in the part of the brain that manages hearing, which gets more pronounced in people who play music often.

Even listening to music –- and not just Mozart –- can give you some of the same benefits. But actually playing it seems to be even better. The recitation involved just seems to help your brain’s neural network get “organized” so it can run more efficiently.

Go figure, eh?

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How To Make a Sale Without Even Trying

A great piece of sales copy can show up where you’d least expect it. With an impact you might not expect either. At levels you never imagined. Take this letter below, sent to a friend of the CR, from a company called “Dove Construction.”

 This appeared in Penny Thomas’ mailbox, on the company’s official stationary…

 —

Ms Penelope Thomas

[address deleted]

 Dear Penelope:

As you may be aware, DOVE CONSTRUCTION has started work at your neighbor’s home located at [address deleted].

 We at DOVE CONSTRUCTION want you to know that there may be some early morning noise and some dirt tracked into the street during rear addition construction.

 At times, due to circumstances beyond our control, such as sleet and rain, it is very difficult to contain the resulting mud.

Be aware that it is only for a short time during the construction process.  We assure you that we will always do our best to maintain a clean and quiet job site for our customer and you, their neighbor.

Thank you for your understanding and patience.  Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us at the number listed above.

 Sincerely,

Tom Cerami, President

DOVE CONSTRUCTION, LLC

Did the construction company have to send out this letter? No. In fact, as Penny told me, plenty of construction companies came through the same area, happy to crank up their jackhammers… without the slightest nod to the neighbors.

Yet, here’s a company that took what would otherwise be a net negative — all the noise and attention they were about to draw — and turned it around.

With a simple letter.

Penny was so impressed, she wrote a letter right back. And sent it directly to the company’s president…

Mr. Tom Cerami

President

Dove Construction, LLC

[address deleted]

 Dear Mr. Cerami,

 I greatly appreciated your notice that you were starting work at [address deleted].  Homeowners really like to know what is happening in their neighborhood.  I also want to congratulate you on a good piece of marketing.

 Your letter accomplished a number of things:

 * I found out my neighbors were getting an addition

 *It made me curious – I’m now watching construction

 * It might have satisfied local building regulations

 But most important:

 * It told me you were a responsible contractor

 * And, if I want a contractor, I have your information at hand.

 Your letter was the first I have ever seen from a contractor subtly and elegantly advertising his business – and there have been many contractors working in the neighborhood over the years.  Great job.  More effective I am sure than just a sign on the site.

 I am a freelance copywriter, specializing in marketing – so I appreciated your letter.  My web site www.pennythomas.com has some writing samples and information about me.

 Take a moment to look at it and see if I can be of service to you. If you need, or know someone who needs, a copywriter to put together marketing material – brochures, lead-generating letters, business letters, space ads, web-site copy or such – please think of me.

 Sincerely,

 Penny Thomas, Copywriter

—-

Hey… whoa… wait a minute.

Did you see what just happened there? Go read it again.

 In the short construction letter, the construction company has, indeed, done plenty — the goodwill generated, the promises made, the contact information for questions and more.

 Penny is right to be impressed. But then comes an even smarter move, on her part. She writes back to praise the construction company. But Penny, quick on her feet, hasn’t forgotten that construction businesses need copy… and that Penny just happens to be a trained copywriter.

 A point she mentions with equal subtlety in her letter. Great idea! And this, of course, is the way it’s supposed to work too. Should Penny get a copywriting gig with this local construction firm, it should be a breeze… because it’s a company she’s actually happy to sell.

 What’s this mean for the rest of us? Simple.

 If you run a business, consider… how many opportunities do you have to interact with customers or even prospective customers, where a little extra copy effort might “up” the value of the contact? Thank you notes for email signups or orders… renewal notices… post-sale follow-up messages… customer service surveys or technical support…

 The list could go on.

 Every one of those opportunities can do a lot more than just communicate functional data. They could sell your new customers… and re-sell your existing ones. Subtly. Aggressively. Whatever’s right for the moment. Yet, so many marketers miss that opportunity.

 Likewise, if you write copy… how many chances to sell your talents to the businesses you know and trust have you overlooked? Company websites… local sales brochures… online ads and sales letters… print ads in local papers… even P.R. pieces or ezine editorial.

 It might be the small gigs that get you started. It might be the big opportunities that let you smack the cover off the ball at your first at bat. Either way, I’ve met plenty of people who had no grasp about what role copywriters play.

 But when I point out just how much of the written marketing word they see in a day, their eyes start to open. It’s everywhere. When you realize that, it can be like flicking on a light switch. Tough to find clients? Not at all. Try looking closer to home — or at least, closer to your own interests — and you might surprise yourself.

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Five Punctuation “Mistakes” You Should Make

punctuation

Even after 16 years working as a writer, I still make grammar and punctuation mistakes. But at least some of my “mistakes,” I make on purpose. If you want to write powerful sales copy, I suggest you start making them too. Mistakes, that is.

How so? Consider…

1) The Mercurial M-Dash – You know the “m-dash.” It’s the long hyphen-looking thing that helps set apart — and even frame — a key thought in the middle of a sentence. (See what I just did there?) Copywriters use them all the time — maybe too often — to really emphasize a point they don’t want the reader to zip past. (Would you look at that? I did it again.)

 2) The Parenthetical Pull of Parentheses – Good writers frown on overusing, even abuse, of parenthetical remarks (you know the type). And really, parentheses are not used much in sales copy either. 

But sometimes (for instance, after a headline or in a sentence where you need a kind of “wink, nudge” aside to the reader) it doesn’t hurt to throw a comment inside parentheses. Done right, you can use this device to highlight the conversational, even conspiratorial tone sales copy sometimes needs to take.

 3) Culling Interest With Quotation Marks – We’re not supposed to use quotation marks unless we’re actually quoting someone who said something. Like, for instance, Frank Lloyd Wright. He once said, “I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.” Sharp fella.

 Still, quotation marks have a strange power over readers. Even when they’re not surrounding a “real” quote, they have a way of pulling readers in. Copywriters sometimes use that phenomenon by putting headlines and subheads in quotes. Or even words they just want to “emphasize.”

 (Go ahead… this is where you should make that little, cynical “I’m putting quotation marks here” sign with your fingers… ala Austin Powers and Dr. Evil.)

 4) The Evocative Ellipsis – The ellipsis, you’ve seen… haven’t you?  It’s that… how do I explain this… series of little… you know… dots that copywriters use so often in their copy. The ellipsis is supposed to just indicate missing text in a phrase. Especially where that text can be implied without being stated.

But we use it… and abuse it… in so many more ways.  Why?

Because it helps approximate the halting way many people speak. We let ideas trail off… we dance around a notion… we come back to the beginning. And we use these things, the “…,” to help us do so more fluidly and gently then you might if you were a whip-cracking grammarian. Try it. Ellipses are like potato chips. Once you start using them, you’ll find it hard to stop.

 5) The Ambitious Apostrophe – Contractions aren’t just for the delivery room anymore, my friend. Where a formal writer might frown at casual, contracted terms like “I’d”… “isn’t”… even “ain’t”… they also go a long way toward making your sales copy more casual and conversational.

Naturally, you don’t want to use these recklessly. They’re garnish on a piece of prose, spice to make it interesting. And a little something to give all those over-zealous copyeditors something to sweat about.

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Seven Ways to Say Thanks…

Screen Shot 2011-11-22 at 3.05.52 PM.png ‘Tis the season of giving — giving “thanks” that is, at least in the U.S.

Yes, it’s Thanksgiving week, where my American compatriots are prepping to stuff turkeys, stuff themselves, and welcome family and friends into their homes.

And while we’re at it, why not take the opportunity to talk about another kind of ‘thanks giving’ in this week’s CR — the thanks you should be giving your customers for, well, being your customers.

Why thank customers?

The short answer, of course, is “why not?” Unless you were raised by wolverines, it’s a common courtesy you’re proud to offer… am I right?

The longer answer is that it’s practically money in the bank for future business, because customers that feel warm and fuzzy come back tenfold for more (give or take a fold or three).

So, in the spirit of the season, let me give you at 14 ways to make your customers feel appreciated.

We’ll start with these seven…

1) SEND A NOTE – I once dated a girl who sent thank you cards almost as automatically as breathing. I swear to you, the girl would pen notes of gratitude in the car, as we pulled out of driveways from dinner parties. “Because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” she would explain.

Why not do the same for your customers? Not in the perfunctory, here’s an auto-reply “thanks for your order” email (which you should also probably do) but an actual note that gets mailed as a stand alone message. “I just wanted to thank you personally,” says the owner of the business in the card, “for giving our [specific product name] a try. Welcome on board and please enjoy.”

2) MAKE IT A B-DAY CARD – There’s a story I’ve heard floating around, about the world’s best car salesman. Seems he took the time to note the birthdays of all his past customers. And every year, he would send a birthday card.

No cloaked sales messages, no ‘special inventory’ hype… just the birthday greeting. And he personally signed each card.

Result? He had a referral business like you wouldn’t believe. Not to mention customers that came back to him over and over again when it was time to buy a newer model.

These days, I get lots of automated B-Day wishes from online sources. And admittedly, it loses it’s specialness when it’s a computer sending it automatically. But even then, I admit, it feels at least a little flattering to be remembered.

3) GIVE A JUMPSTART – When your customer comes on board, what’s the first thing he gets? If it’s the product, that might be fine. But consider, you’ll have an even happier customer if he knows how to use what you’ve just sold him.

What more considerate way to make sure he can do that than by ‘thanking’ him with a simple well-guided tour around what he just purchased?

Maybe it’s a ‘user’s manual’ or maybe it’s an online video that walks through the steps. Maybe it’s just a brainstormed presentation on ways to use the product he might not be aware of.

Bottom line is, this kind of thorough start-up advice not only helps but back on early cancellations, but it also gives prospects that warm and welcoming feeling you’re hoping for.

4) GO “GINSU” AND GIVE MORE – I’m sure you know the “but wait there’s more” line from the “Ginsu Knife” commercials. To thank you for buying the knives, the sellers kept throwing in gifts.

If you weren’t spurred to action early, the extra bonuses would help seal the deal. Or so was the intent.

But imagine how grateful the buyer was every time he used one of those extra gadgets (I’m assuming they worked). “And,” he reminds himself, “I got this thing for free!”

5) SURPRISE ‘EM – What’s better than the gift that comes with your order? How about the gift you weren’t expecting.

If you bank on repeat business, thank a customer with a little extra, unannounced somethin’-somethin’ that shows up not too long after the actual product gets delivered or starts arriving (if, say, it’s a subscription product).

By the way, gifts to subscribers don’t HAVE to be high end. In the days of easy info delivery, a helpful e-book or the like can be a great way to deliver value on their end while keeping costs low on yours.

Along these same lines…

6) DELIVER 11th HOUR “TWIST” ON THE DEAL – Try making a customer feel appreciated by coming in, after the deal is almost done, with a last-minute deal, as in “Just to thank you for considering this offer, let’s do this…”

And then you can follow with a special break on the price you just used to close the sale, put a buy- one-get-one-free deal on the reply card, or throw in a donation to a popular charity.

All will seem like more sweetener for the offer, but these too will increase the warm and fuzzy factor, helping your prospects to feel appreciated.

And here’s one more…

7) HONOR LOYALTY – Ever since credit cards, airlines, and donut shops started rewarding repeat customers with visit stamps and reward points, the customer loyalty program has become ubiquitous. And this is a good thing.

But there are lots of other ways you can also thank customers for coming back. For instance, my main client once invited long-time customers to a gala party. Out of this came special “reserve” and “alliance” clubs, with other perks for long-time members only.

If you can, put your long time customers on a special list and send them occasional notes. Create special services, either free or a good but paid deal, that come with special “club level” designations and VIP treatment. Give them a special hotline number for customer service, no waiting.

The point is, they’re family. Make them feel it.

I’ve got more of these ideas, which I’ll share with you in the next issue.

Meanwhile, let’s close with this: If you set out to try any of these, do it with the right mindset. And that mindset is, of course, gratitude.

Nothing sells better than sincerity. A “thanks” that’s delivered with only manipulation in mind is no “thanks” at all.

Okay, more coming in a week.

Until then, best wishes to you and yours for Thanksgiving if you celebrate it… and hey, the same wishes even if you don’t.

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The One Thing Good Copy Can’t Fix

blueprintIn an interview, someone asked me for a “must-have” list for a  good piece of copy. I hit all the basics in my answer…

1) Benefits

2) More benefits

3) Specific and even shocking stats and proof

4) Third-party validation of your claims

5) Credibility building testimonials

5) Some track record of product success

6) A nice strong offer and airtight guarantee

7) And a firm push to get the order.

 Not a bad set of tools. But I left something out.

No copy will work if it isn’t build on top of a good sales effort STRATEGY. Now what exactly do I mean by that? I have to credit this insight to Roy Williams and his “Monday Morning Memo,” where he asked the question, “Which do you think would work better, the brilliant execution of a flawed strategy… or the flawed execution of a brilliant one?”

 Of course you know the answer. Think about it. Have you ever seen a movie with a great director… an all-star cast… and a screenplay you wouldn’t use to line a litter box? No matter how good the direction and performances are, they can rarely save a miserable script.

 On the other hand, get a great screenplay with a terrific plot and insightful, natural dialogue… and it’s hard for even a ham actor or egotistical director to screw it up.

 Something similar is true in sales copy. Strategy — a great product paired with a great offer and the ability to fulfill orders beyond the buyer’s expectations — is the cornerstone. If it stinks, it doesn’t matter how clever… how well printed or designed… or how stylistic your ad… because it’s still likely to flop.

 Meanwhile, a great strategy — which includes a great product, a great offer, and a strong guarantee, among other things — can work even in the hands of semi-amateurs.  Not always, but often.

 How do you know you’ve got a strategy problem?

If ad after ad isn’t working, no matter how good you ‘thought’ it read before going out the door… step back and look at the guts of what you’re doing. This is why it’s nice to have clients you work with over and over again. Especially those whose agenda you can anticipate… and who will listen to your input if you sense the strategy behind a product is weak.

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Analogies Gone Wild

brainpain1I love a good analogy.

But, like the people who send marriage proposals to jailed serial killers, I sometimes fall in love with a bad one. A bad analogy, that is. Not serial killers. Point being, analogies can be a powerful tool when used well. But they can sabotage your message when they’re bad.

Below, you’ll find yet more of some of the most widely circulated and worst analogies proferred by our young American progeny. Read ’em and weep…

On Experience: “He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience,like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.”

On The Power of Pavement: McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.”

On the Alternative Universe: “From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie,surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and “Jeopardy” comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.”

On Detail: “He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.”

On Greater Detail: “Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.”

On Too Much Detail: “Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.”

On The Obscure: “The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.”

On Teeth: “They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.”

On Theater: “The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.”

On Confusion: “His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.”

On Imagination: “The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.”

Okay, that’s it. I’m now officially fresh out of analogies; like, you might say, a trayful of chocolate frosted doughnuts that didn’t survive the Policemen’s picnic.

(Oh boy, I think I need some aspirin.)

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Are You Creative?

bulbfishThere is no “Creativity Quotient” (C.Q.) test that measures how creative you are.

But the same Scientific American research found that creative people often have similar character traits.

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?

By the way, if you want to see how someone brilliantly applies very left-brained ideas to finding right-brained solutions, check out “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”

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The Boomer’s NEXT Marketing Mega-Wave

Sponsor: How to Collect $200,000 per Year in Retirement Income

 

Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.” – Billie Burke

 

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling is living it up. She and her husband have a 42-foot trawler. She and her husband live in a river front home in Maryland. And they have a villa in Florida. And they’ve earned it too, she as a seventh-grade school teacher and he as a University professor.

One other thing.

When Kathleen retired recently, it was national news. Why? Precisely because, at the moment I write this, Kathleen is exactly 62 years, one month, 25 days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes old. 

That in itself, at any other time in history, might seem pretty insignificant. But rolling backward, that makes Kathleen the absolute very first born of… I’m sure you’ve guessed it… the demographic phenomenon we’ve all called the “Baby Boomers,” for about as long as most of us can remember.

The Boomers, of course, have shaped the world.

Simply by existing in it.

Absolutely, they’ve shaped the fate of marketers. For decades in the past. And most likely, for decades to come.

Gerber baby food boomed in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, thanks to this wave of hungry little tykes. Music, cars, food chains. Shopping malls, education trends, politics. Property booms and stock market spikes. Many forces have driven them all, but rarely were the boomers not somewhere behind the scenes, if not directly in the spotlight.

No question, whatever is coming next is a marketing story you’ll need to pay attention to, even if some of our politicians and a few of the Boomers themselves are not.

That’s just one of the reasons (the other being jet lag and a full schedule) I’ve opted to dip into the archives and revisit a CR from 2005 that’s just as relevant — if not more so — today.

Hope you enjoy!

The Silver Tsunami Heading For America

I’m reading a terrifying book. Not a thriller novel, but “The Coming Generational Storm” by Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns. It’s terrifying because it’s about a subject I’m sure we’ve all read about but that has a gravity most of us don’t fully comprehend. 

Yet.

I’m talking about the mind-boggling tide of Baby Boomers headed past 50. We all knew it was coming.

Now it’s almost here.

And the tectonic shift it’s about to levy upon us is unlike anything ever experienced before in history. It’s the Boomers greatest and farthest impact yet.

I’ll let you read the book if you’re interested in the gory details. Meanwhile, there’s another, lighter aspect of this phenomenon. One that anybody in our line of work can’t help thinking about. That is, how to turn this demographically gut-wrenching phenomenon into yet another opportunity to make a buck!

(Such carpet-baggers, aren’t we?)

So in this week’s CR, let’s spend a little time reviewing the new implications of this same trend, with a special eye o marketing opportunities (okay, plus a little of the nasty details too)…

A Boomer In Full

  • You’re officially a boomer, in case you’ve always wondered but were afraid you would look too dumb to ask, if you were born between 1946 and 1964 — or about 41 to 59 years old today.
  • You’re a “leading edge” boomer if you were born before 1955 and a “trailing edge” boomer if born after that.
  • One out of every three adults over 21 in the U.S. is a Boomer. Now that’s shocking. Here’s something even more shocking: Every eight seconds, another boomer turns 50.
  • According to expert Brent Green, writing for the Direct Marketing Association, about 38% of the US population is already over 50. By 2020, that number should be more like 50%.
  • Boomers spend as much as $2 trillion a year on goods and services. And will outspend the younger generation by 2010 by over $1 trillion
  • Boomers have about $28 trillion in disposable income. That’s just in the U.S. No wonder all those middle-aged guys buy sports cars.
  • Most boomers did not grow up in rich homes. Nor did they all have white-collar jobs in the ’80s and ’90s. Some 25 million boomers, in fact, are flat broke.
  • In fact, half of American homes have less than $1,000 in financial assets. Ouch. Among Boomers, only 36% are sure they’ll have enough money to fund a comfortable retirement.
  • Forget the granola, ex-hipster, oat-eating cliché. Nearly 75% of the time a boomer goes to a “restaurant” for dinner, it’s a fast food meal they’re buying.
  • Right now, senior citizens are only 13% of the population. But they use 30% of all prescription drugs sold. And that’s how it is now, pre-Boomer.
  • More than 5 million Boomers already have diabetes. More have growing high-blood pressure and heart problems. And the majority struggle at some level with gaining weight.
  • Boomers are also, however, a heck of a lot more active than any other prior generation entering this age range.
  • If you get to 50 without any serious major ailments, the chances — these days — of you getting to 100 are much higher than ever before in history.
  • Most retirement plans consider 4% inflation, but not higher. And few plans take in the true future costs of health care.
  • Less than half as many companies as 1988 offer health benefits to retirees. And that number is falling. Medicare and Social Security are looking ever more strained and desperate too.
  • As the kids move out of the house, the top priority for Boomers will shift to getting out of debt.
  • Vitamins, medical care, weight and exercise, insurance, preventative medicine… anything related to health can be an ever-pressing issue with someone over 50.
  • Stocks and real estate, life and property insurance, collectibles, second careers, extra income and anything else related to socking away money becomes even more important too.
  • 55% of Boomers say they’ll move when they retire. At least 36% say they’ll pack up once the kids are out of the house.
  • Having “stuff” isn’t enough anymore. The older you get, the more meaning you want out of life. And the more complexity you seek in the things you do with your time or buy with your money.
  • The older you get, the less old you want to feel. Or look. And the less you appreciate marketing that panders to the clichés of aging.
  • A heck of a lot of boomers will hit retirement age around 2010. Which might mean a radical shift in all kinds of markets, from Wall Street to resort real estate.
  • But a lot of them won’t stay retired long. Look for a wave of “boomerang retirees” to leap back into the workforce.
  • Pity the poor sap who runs for the White House in 2008. Boomers are already skeptical of authority, and grow more skeptical of government promises by the day.
  • Suddenly, age 70 is the new 50. And 90 is the new 80. 100? Okay, well, 100 is still 100. But let’s talk again about that a few decades from now. (We’re looking at more than TEN times the number of centenarians in America alone by 2030).
  • More than 55% of boomers use the Internet, by the way. And more than 85% own mobile phones. And this from the group for who television was still coming of age in their youth.

 If you run a business or market for a business, let’s stop and think…

What, specifically, will you do to target this over-50 market in the years ahead? It’s all well and good to court the next generation, but this is where the future lies. Heck, it’s where the current market is too. Now and for at least the next three decades.

One hopes you’re ready for it, yah?

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