Here’s something I didn’t know.
I discovered it thanks to NaNoWriMo. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is simple – you write a 50,000 word novel in November, quality be damned. The point is to force you to put words on a page.
It doesn’t work for me – whatever I’m writing, be that copy or fiction, I’m far too much of a perfectionist. I hate writing bad words, and work far better taking time to produce good ones. With copy this isn’t a problem, since I’ve got deadlines. With fiction, the only deadlines are my own, so it’s much easier to let them slowly drift, telling myself I’ll get to it tomorrow…
So I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. But to get into the spirit, I’ve been posting one 100-word story a day in my Facebook feed. I thought this would be a less bonkers way to get the same result. (I’ve since discovered it’s no less bonkers… that many story-worthy ideas in a short space of time is hard.)
I was asked to do one on Dickensian London, so I’ve been looking up Charles Dickens.
Dickens is pretty much unique in having been regarded as one of the world’s greatest novelists ever when he was alive, and that opinion being kept ever since. His star has never dimmed. His appeal seems permanent. Here’s why:
His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication. The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback.
Short version? He did market research. He gave his customers what they wanted, and he wasn’t afraid to change his product to give them more of what they wanted.
More than that, he made sure his stories touched on topical events so it was guaranteed to be relevant, and he released in several formats so it was accessible to as many people as possible. The poor, of whom there were many, couldn’t afford his books, but they would pay a ha’penny to hear live readings, and they would do it in masses.
The moral’s pretty simple: it doesn’t matter what your product is, or what niche you’re in: you do not know better than the market. Give them what they want, and they’ll come in droves.
Here is a video of a smart man talking about smart things:
Please ignore the bit about the Wright Brothers. It’s tosh.
The rest of it, though, is an insightful bit of marketing. We don’t buy the what, or the how, we buy the why.
Let me put it another way:
We buy based on our emotions. We buy based on how the purchase makes us feel, and what crowd it makes feel part of.
The important part is not so much making sure that your business communicates a clear vision, but that it’s communicating a vision people can relate to. If enough people didn’t think of themselves as outsiders and innovators, Apple’s ‘think different’ message would bomb no matter how much they believed in it.
This is the basis of making your company appeal. Draw a line between Us and Them, and make sure that for your target consumer, you’re firmly inside Us.
Ever heard of emotional transference?
Frankly, it’s unlikely, since I just made up the term. Here’s the idea, which is not in itself particularly original: feel good about one thing, and you’re likely to feel good about anything it’s associated with.
Or anything happening at the same time.
You’ll have experienced this any time you hear triumphant or sad music backing a film scene.
And you can see it again here:
Do me a favour, before you read the rest of this. Check out that link, and read the pitch.
What do you think of it?
Now go back, watch the video, and go read the pitch again.
Feel more positive about the idea? And if so, are you a fan of Fleetwood Mac?
On my first read, before watching the video, I thought the idea was good but the pitch was pretty average. She could make more of the incentives, she could make a bigger thing of the us/them division between coffee and tea (because she’s right, there is absolutely nowhere to get decent tea in London. As a confirmed member of Team Coffee, even I’ve noticed this).
But that video is AMAZING.
It’s well produced, well scripted and she’s an engaging person.
And it uses Fleetwood Mac. It’s familiar, it’s chirpy, it’s damn near impossible for that song not to raise a smile.
And once you’re smiling, you smile on everything else too.
Banging the ‘know your audience’ drum again…
Here’s a guy who knows what he’s doing.
Mike Geary’s The Truth About Abs is a global phenomenon. One of the reasons it’s done so well is that he’s a huge proponent of testing. He’ll test and tweak his ads over and over until they’re delivering the best results possible.
So it’s probably no accident that he uses different sales techniques for different traffic sources.
This article (from Tim Ferriss’ blog) has Mike himself explaining how he built his business to the 8-figure beast it is today:
It’s got links to landing pages for traffic from affiliates and PPC – check them out, and spot the difference.
Time to be serious.
This post is thought provoking, and more than a bit depressing:
While, you should read the whole thing, the key part is this:
It didn’t matter that I was a nice person. All that mattered was that I looked different.
Yes. All that matters is the look. That’s what makes the instant first impression, and that’s what colours all our judgements.
To take a far more trivial example: during my publishing days, the company I worked for published a series of books that were quite truly terrible. The content was basic at best, inaccurate at worst, and read like it had been translated from Korean to English by someone who didn’t speak either.
But they had one thing in their favour: they were VERY pretty.
Good reviews flooded in. People instantly liked the books because they were pretty. Once that happened, it made no difference that the content was trash.
Back to Ela’s post – people are ALWAYS going to make snap judgements the instant they see a hijab, just like they’re going to make snap judgements the instant they see a bespoke suit, robe, man in a skirt, leather jacket or hipster glasses.
What we CAN do is influence the judgements made. People will stop judging a hijab to mean ‘terrorist’ just as soon as people stop seeing muslim and terrorist as synonyms.
I don’t know how to do that. If I did, I’d be running the UN, not writing a marketing blog. All I can do for now is say looks matter. Pay attention to them.
A guy called Richard Neill recently put up a Facebook post expressing surprise that his girlfriend’s periods were not the time of happiness, rainbows and power chords he’d come to expect from watching Bodyform adverts.
Bodyform responded with this totally sincere apology:
You might remember that I was wittering a few weeks ago about how there are two types of advertising – the advertising designed to sell, and the advertising designed to make it easier to sell.
That video is an absolutely stonking example of the latter.
It’s not going to make any sales immediately. But it has just made a lot of people laugh. Now, when they see Bodyform in the supermarket, they’re going to think of that laugh. Bodyform just went from ‘just another brand’ in their head to ‘people like us’.
And when it does come to making the sale, having that position is going to make it a lot easier.
(The full text of Richard’s Facebook post can be found in the Register article, here)
I’ve talked about understanding your audience before…
But seriously, this MATTERS. If you’re trying to sell something, it matters more than anything else.
If you don’t understand who you’re selling to, then you can’t understand how to sell.
If you can’t understand how to sell… well, let’s just say you should maybe put off that Caribbean holiday for another year.
Every social group has different buttons. They have different needs and desires. A line that works with one group will fall entirely flat with another.
Get it wrong, and it’s not just that you could be trying to sell ice to Eskimos. It’s that you could be trying to sell ice to Eskimos by telling them that it’ll refresh their camels.
Here’s a quote from the late, great, Jim Young, one of the old masters of direct marketing. He said the purpose of advertising was to do 5 things:
To spread news
To overcome inertia
To add value not in the product
You could rephrase these:
To make people aware you exist
To remind people you exist
To give people a reason to care you exist
To let people take advantage of your existence
To tell people why your existence matters
Every bit of advertising you send out – hell, every communication – should be doing most or all of these. Next time you’re sending out a letter, or an e-mail, or a website update – ask yourself how it meets these five goals, and if it could meet them any better.
“Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom.”
- Shirley Conran
I have to disagree.
And yes, there’s a business Aesop at the end of all this. But for now, mushrooms.
Now, I am an enthusiastic if untalented chef. Eating good food is one of life’s great pleasures, and I like to create interesting meals.
Last Friday, I tried recreating something I’d eaten in Cornwall, and it was pretty successful. Here’s how it goes (serves 2):
Take 4 portobello mushrooms, the really big meaty ones. Chop off the stalks.
Brush a baking tray with oil, heat the oven to 200C (everything cooks at 200) and pop them in for 10-15 minutes.
While they’re baking, grate some good strong blue cheese. If you don’t like blue cheese, then use good strong not-blue cheese.
Make some breadcrumbs by whizzing a slice of bread in a food processor. Chop up some sun-dried tomatoes and mix with the breadcrumbs.
After 10-15 minutes, take the mushrooms out and fill them with piles of the grated cheese. Really let it pile up. Put them back in the oven for 5 minutes. The cheese should be melty. Now cover each with the breadcrumb-tomato mixture.
Put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes. When they come out, the mushrooms should be fully cooked and the breadcrumbs crispy.
I served it with a ratatouille, because that’s what I had stuff for in the fridge.
It was delicious, and remarkably easy to do. You should totally try cooking it.
And while I was cooking it, here’s the number of times I thought about marketing: 0.
If you’ve got your own business, you know how much it can take over your life. And that’s natural. Every entrepreneur I’ve met is the same. After all, this is your livelihood. If you weren’t hardwired to do your best to improve, you wouldn’t last in this world very long.
But that said, every mind needs a break. It lets you ignore things like invoices and customers and marketing plans, and when you come back to them, you come back refreshed, ready to take on the world and win. For me, it’s cooking. Time spent cooking is time I don’t feel guilty about not spending on work (after all, we all need to eat). For you, it might be something else. But it should be something.
Your business is important. But every now and then, it’s worth taking the time to stuff a mushroom.
I love this video.
Ogilvy, of course, is an old master. The man is the Leonardo Da Vinci of direct response copy.
That said… I do think there’s something he’s missing here.
He’s right about a lot of stuff. Direct response is the advertising that makes the money, and it does that because it doesn’t care about pretty. It cares about dollars.
Direct response is what makes your customers take action, right now.
But I think he’s missing the point of a lot of ‘general advertising’ agencies.
They’re not out to make their customers money. They’re out to make themselves money.
See, direct mail isn’t sexy. It’s not going to star celebrities. It’s not going to win creativity awards.
And a lot of businesses want their advertising to win creativity awards. They want their advertising to be a thing of beauty.
It’s possible they think that really does help it make money. It’s hard to prove either way, since only direct response can be properly tracked. But mostly, I think some people just like commissioning ‘pretty’ advertising than something that can be tested. After all, if it can be tested, what if the boss sees it doesn’t work?
Now, that’s not to say the direct response writers – myself included – aren’t out to make money. Believe me, I’m definitely out to make money. But because you always KNOW if my ads make you money, I’m also trying to make you money. I’m not just delivering a shiny product. I’m delivering a RESULT.
Direct response may not be sexy. Direct response may not be pretty. But by God, it does make money. And it’s very, very good at it.