Category Archives for "Copywriting"

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Enough, already, with the exclamation punctuation.

I’m an advertising guy. And ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. We write how normal people talk, not how english teachers teach.

So it’s pretty unusual for me to take issue with anything grammar related. But someone has to speak out about all the excexclamation_mark1lamation points popping up in marketing circles. If I see one more boring marketing cliche punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.

Exclamation points are everywhere these days… in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.

“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”

I have news for you… There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy. Just the opposite, in fact. The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.

Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Air bags!” Putting exclamation points on your list of features is not going to make them more compelling.

Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)

Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of exclamation points at the end of a sentence…

You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!

The longest, straightest driver ever!

Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!

Your whole family will love it!!!

Really? Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into a boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility. If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period.

In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable. Professional. Sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. Be understated instead.

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You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy without adding exclamation points. Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest. Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write some micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test them on people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.

I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever. So here’s a good rule of thumb… if your headline has one, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.

It’s not easy. If you need help writing better ad copy, call me. Or if you want more info on how to improve your advertising copy, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Who reads long copy these days? The hungry ones.

I’m really tired of people telling me no one reads anything anymore. “Copywriting doesn’t matter.” “Long copy is dead.”

A client recently said he didn’t want professionally-written web copy because, “no one reads it anyway.” He insisted that “People go to a site looking for something very specific. They don’t want to read, they just want to find what they’re looking for and move on.”

Begs the question… what ARE they looking for?

bend ad agency blog post about long copyIf a user has found your site, and has gone to the trouble of clicking in, they’re obviously looking for something they think you have… Information, products, services or insight of some kind. They’re hungry, and they’re following a crumb of promise, and you darn well better feed them something tasty.

When people are serious about a purchase, they read plenty!

It’s self-selected relevance… ONLY people who are interested in your product, company, or niche will feast their eyes on your copy. There’s absolutely no need to address anyone else. And it’s been proven, time and again for more than 100 years, that people will read long copy if it’s relevant to their needs.

So to that client, I suggested he think of his website as a catering gig… The home page is the appetizer. You can’t just tease them with the first course and then leave the party. At some point, you gotta give them the meat.

And guess what… When you do give them substantial, well-written copy, your website will perfoLong copy sell the sizzle and the steakrm better from an SEO standpoint. (Google it!)

Many companies invest big money on the design and programming of a new site and then insist on using free,“factual content” from inexpensive third party sources. Or they have an intern cut and paste “keyword rich” copy into the site.

But the faulty logic of “free content” leads to a detrimental, self-fulfilling prophecy… A couple months later that business owner will look at his Google analytics and see that users aren’t spending any time on those pages of the site. Inevitably, he’ll say, “told you so. Long copy doesn’t work.”

Of course no one read that free content. It has no flavor! There’s no connection to your brand, your company’s culture, your product or your unique selling proposition. It’s the exact same tasteless corporate blah, blah, blah that everyone else in your niche is saying.

It left a bad taste in their mouths, and they went elsewhere. You had them at the table, and you left them hungry and disappointed.

The argument for free content reminds me of the business owner who says, “Oh, I tried radio and it never worked.” How many times have I heard that one? My response is always the same: “Uh-huh. Let’s hear it.”

Inevitably, the radio spot used to prove the point involved two on-air “personalities” and some inane dialog that’s about as natural as botox on a Pug’s face. Boring, vanilla flavored crap. Or worse yet, a locally produced jingle.

The fact is, people will respond to a well-written radio spot if it’s relevant to them. If it’s not relevant, or incredibly entertaining, they’ll simply change channels.

Same with web copy.

long copy still works brand insight blog from BNBranding bend oregon

long copy still works

People have been debating the benefits of long copy since Claude Hopkins made millions writing ads in the early 1900s. Later, David Ogilvy, the grandfather of modern advertising, was a big proponent of long copy.

He understood the need to do two things:

1. Strike an emotional chord that resonates within the deepest, reptilian recesses of the brain.

2. Back it up with enough proof to hurdle the objections of the analytical mind.

There’s abundant A-B testing that proves long copy outsells short copy. But it’s not that simple. Crappy long copy won’t work better than well-written short copy. It’s not the word count, it’s the quality of the message, the concept, the story and the choice of words that really matter. It also depends on the product, the category, the value proposition, the context and many other variables. It’s not a “one size fits all” proposition.

Unfortunately, there’s a trend right now toward one size fits all web design. It’s a move away from anything wdon't settle for plain vanilla copy. Bend Oregon ad agency.ritten to a more visual approach with a lot of boxes, buttons and clipart info-graphics. It’s a template-driven, paint-by-numbers approach that guarantees a big, homogenized playing field of similar-looking sites.

Most companies are trading differentiation and persuasion for the convenience of off-the-shelf execution. And they’re getting lost in the process.
If you’re making a complex, business-to-business pitch, your site should not look, feel or behave like a site selling a simple impulse item. The higher the level of involvement, anxiety or skepticism about your product, the longer the copy should be. In that case, the old-school idea of “the more you tell, the more you sell” still applies.

Let’s say you blow out your knee and you need ACL surgery. Chances are, there are several knee specialists in your market to choose from.

If you’re an orthopedic practice you could load-up generic medical info about the statistical outcomes of ACL surgery. Or you could provide the facts, wrapped with some emotional reassurance. Call me a whimp, but if it were me, I’d want a friendly little pat on the back that says, “It’s going to hurt, but it’s going to be okay. Here’s what you can expect. Here’s the PT you’ll have to do. Here’s what others have said about the experience.”

You can’t do good beside manner in one paragraph. Plus, in that scenario, facts just don’t cut it. The tone of the copy and the overall presentation need to do more than inform, they need to put the patient at ease. For that, you need well-written copy not vanilla flavored content.

Here’s another example… I have a client who has a very involved, do-it-yourself product sold exclusively online. It involves a long selling process and full weekend of yard work after the purchase.

Do customers want the facts about installation and detailed instructions? Of course. But they also need a friendly nudge to actually get the job started. They need reassurance that they won’t get stuck in that Ikea-like hell with a half finished job and lots of left-over parts.

In that case, it’s customers who will be hungry for the long copy. And if you don’t provide it, they may end up paying for a product that’s just collecting dust in the garage.

These days, you can’t just tell them. You also have use every modern marketing devise to demonstrate, illustrate, persuade and prove your case. Long copy still sells, it just has to be served up a little differently.

There are more tools at our disposal than ever before. Use video for presenting meaty customer testimonials — they’re proven to move the needle, especially in B toB applications. Use white papers to present deep, elaborate arguments that prove your value proposition. Use YouTube, Twitter and everything else in your power to deliver the appetizers. But don’t forget the main course.

There HAS to be some meat on that bone, somewhere. You can’t just keep leading people through a site, deeper and deeper and deeper, without ever delivering the whole story. It might only be a small percentage of users, but there ARE people who hungry for that.

For more insight on copywriting, check out this post.

For examples of great copywriting, click here.

In great advertising, God is in the details.

I’ve never heard such a hush fall over a Superbowl party. The commercial titled “So God Made Farmers” disrupted things almost as much as the Superdome power outage.

If you don’t think poetry has a place in business and marketing, think again. Just listen to these words:

“God said, I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to yean lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-comb pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the leg of a meadowlark. So God made a farmer…”

Farmer image for Ram Trucks Superbowl ad

“I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse with hunk of car tire, who can make a harness out hay wire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from tractor back, put in another 72 hours.” So God made the farmer.

The imagery is arresting. The pacing and rapid-fire alliteration, perfect. The details, unquestionably credible.

And that voice… The choice of using Paul Harvey’s original voice-over was a genius move. For 45 years Paul Harvey he was the Walter Cronkite of the radio… everyone knew him and every marketing guy in the country wanted him pitching their products. When his name appeared on the screen, every baby boomer stopped.

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review wrote, “Delivered by Harvey, who could make a pitch for laundry detergent sound like a passage from the King James Bible, it packs great rhetorical force.” Listening to it can make someone who never would want to touch cows, especially before dawn, wonder why he didn’t have the good fortune to have to milk them twice a day. In short, it is a memorably compelling performance, and without bells or whistles (of most superbowl spots.)

“The spot stuck out for thoroughly how un-Super Bowl it was. It’s a wonder that CBS didn’t refuse to air it on grounds that it wasn’t appropriate for the occasion. It was simple. It was quiet. It was thoughtful. It was eloquent. It was everything that our celebrity-soaked pop culture, which dominates Super Bowl Sunday almost as much as football does, is not.

It wasn’t just a subtle tug on our heartstrings, but a two-ton pull that produced dramatic results. It’s been viewed over 10 million times in just one week. 10 million voluntary impressions, above and beyond all the eyeballs that were glued to the TV in the 4th quarter of the game last Sunday. And according to Bluefin Labs, which specializes in analytics for social television, the Ram spot was “the most social commercial” of the game, generating 402,000 comments in social media.

If you think the Superbowl is only for outlandishly juvenile spots full of big boobs and talking animals, there’s still hope. AdWeek magazine said it was the #1 spot of the year, with the Budweiser baby Clydesdale coming in at number 2. (Another heartwarming story)

But it was not a new idea. Truck companies have been using this sort of borrowed interest for years, leveraging the themes of hard work, craftsmanship, and salt-of-the-earth American values. But the details in the execution, this time, were far superior.

Paul Harvey actually wrote that riveting monologue back in 1978 for the national FFA convention. The words themselves pack such force, the pictures almost seem like an afterthought.

Kudos to The Richard’s Group for producing it. And to the folks at Ram who approved it. There are a million ways they could have screwed it up.

First, many marketing execs would never approve the use of the word “God” in a commercial, for fear of offending the 70% the population who don’t go to church regularly.

Many companies, in an effort to save money and maximize their media buy, would cut corners when it comes to photography.

Not this time. They didn’t opt for cheap stock images. Instead, the agency commissioned 10 photographers, including William Albert Allard of National Geographic and documentary photographer Kurt Markus, to create the images that form the commercial’s backdrop. Gorgeous.

The only problem is, the connection to the Ram Brand was a bit of a stretch for me. (But then, I’m not a truck driver, nor a farmer.)

Ram is a brand that’s attempting to reinvent itself. No more “Dodge Ram.” Now it’s just Ram, and they’re looking for things — themes and concepts — to affiliate themselves with.

Might as well be God, and country, and hard-working farmers. With great execution, during the biggest game of the year, it’s hard to go wrong with that.

2 Dragnet approach to bad advertising

How to do more effective advertising (Just the facts)

When I was growing up I used to watch re-runs of an old cop show called Dragnet. The theme song alone left an indelible impression on me.

Narration from the main character begins every show: “This is the city; Los Angeles California. It’s 7:18 a.m. I’m sergeant Joe Friday. This is my partner, Gannon.”

Dragnet approach to bad advertising

Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet

Joe Friday means business. He works his case methodically, interrogating everyone, including innocent old ladies. He’s buttoned up so tight he can hardly part his lips to deliver his famous lectures.

His favorite line: “Give us the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.”

That might be an effective approach to police work, but it’s a waste of money when it comes to advertising.

In Dragnet advertising, all you do is list the facts: Who, what, when, where, how much. It’s the preferred approach of deluded business owners who believe, “if you list it, they will come.”

Very few businesses are that good. The fact is, most of the time there’s nothing compelling about the facts. If you want to do more effective advertising, you have to move into a world that Joe Friday’s not familiar with… a world of emotional storytelling.

Facts tell, stories sell.

The fact is, one orthopedic practice is pretty much the same as the next. They’re all board certified specialists and skilled surgeons who can fix you up and get you back on your feet.

One golf shop’s pretty much the same as the next. They all sell the same big brands, it’s just a matter of scale and inventory levels.

One Toyota dealer’s pretty much the same as the next. They sell the same cars, at the same price, and offer service that’s competitively similar.

So the facts can’t be the centerpiece of your advertising. Facts have no emotional hook. No reason for the brain to pause and ponder your offer. In fact, the human brain is hard-wired to gloss right over facts and data, and move on to more meaningful messages.

The storytelling approach to advertising is superior in every way. Whenever there’s a commercial that you recall and talk about, I guarantee you there’s good storytelling involved.

Instead of the droll, Sergeant Friday talking AT people like they’re middle school kids, great spots create beguiling characters, use disarming sound effects, and offer a story line that sucks people in — hook, line and sinker.

how to do more effective advertisingGo to Youtube and check out any of the AXE deodorant commercials. (My favorite is titled “Susan Glenn” with Keifer Sutherland from 2012, but there are many great examples from Axe.) The benefit of using deodorant is embedded into every storyline, quite brilliantly. Every guy on earth will relate to these spots.

Or check out my favorite spot from the last Olympics: The brilliantly on-brand hit titled “the Jogger” from Nike and Weiden & Kennedy Portland.

I know what you’re thinking… “Sure, anybody with budgets like Nike can do great TV spots.” Well guess what. That spot was ridiculously simple and inexpensive to produce. No special effects needed. No big-name endorsement deals. No facts about running shoes. Just an incredible story of human achievement that absolutely nails the Nike brand.

Print ads, websites, even simple direct response post cards can employ exceptional storytelling techniques.The Got Milk campaign is a great example. Two words. One simple photo. And endless stories to tell.

Got Milk print ad

You don’t see any facts about milk. Not a drop. The entire campaign was built around the emotion of finding yourself milkless with a plate of cookies or a bowl of cereal, or whatever.

The emotional hook of NOT having the product was way more compelling than the facts about milk could ever be. The client at the California Milk Advisory board was smart enough to recognize that.

Business people who insist on the Joe Friday approach to advertising are probably scared and insecure. They know, deep down, that their value proposition isn’t anything to write home about. They know there’s parity in the market and a better competitor could come along any time and beat them out. The facts are not on their side.

So they think they have to say everything in every ad. And they justify the excessive bullet points by saying they have to “maximize their spend.”

Unfortunately, Friday-style facts actually minimize the effectiveness of your ads. It’s like golf. The harder you try, the worse things get.

bend oregon advertising agency blog postLet me be clear. I’m not saying you should eliminate facts altogether. If, in fact, you have a product or service that’s truly different and superior to the closest competitor, be overt about it. Absolutely!

But if you want to do more effective advertising, don’t just say it, flat out. Dragnet style. Find an engaging, emotional way to communicate that overt benefit. And keep it short. It’ll work better.

That’s a fact.

 

For additional facts on how to do more effective advertising, check out this post.

5 naming services from BNBranding advice on naming

Age-old advice on how to name a new business.

Let me guess… you want to hang up your own shingle. Or you have a great idea for a start-up, but you have no idea what to call it. This might be the closest thing you’re going to find to a DIY guide on how to name a new business.

Bend advertising agency blog post on Claude HopkinsEons ago, advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins said “a good name should almost be an advertisement in its own right.” Now, 100 years later, recent studies in behavioral economics and psychology show that many of his theories were dead on.

There’s a proven correlation between a memorable name and market value of the company.

Fortune 500 companies have figured that out. They pay naming firms huge sums to concoct new words that eventually become iconic brands. Those firms employ teams of poets, neologists, writers, comedians, behavioral psychologists and linguistic experts to come up with names like “Acura” for Honda’s luxury car division. “Pentium” for an Intel Processor. “Viagr” for, well, you know what.

Small business owners, start-up entrepreneurs and Marketing Directors of mid-sized firms don’ t have that luxury. Often they try the do-it-yourself approach. (How hard can it be, right?) Or worse yet, they have a contest. They throw the fate of their business into the hands of a faceless crowd that knows nothing about their business model or brand personality.

Naming is one of the toughest creative disciplines you’ll ever find. Alex Frankel, in his book Word Craft, said “naming is like songwriting or Haiku, but it’s even more tightly constrained. You have to evoke shades of meaning in very small words.”

In other words, you really can’t teach the average business owner how to come up with a great business name. It’s even hard to teach a great writer to do naming projects.

Analytical people have a very hard time coming up with business names that have any nuance at all. Their brains simply aren’t wired for the lateral thinking it takes to concoct a name from nothing. So they usually end up borrowed names using terms with very literal, unimaginative meaning that wouldn’t pass muster for old Claude Hopkins, much less a skeptical, modern consumer.

The most common trap is the local, “tell ’em where we’re at” business name… Just borrow a geographic location name, and tack on what you do.

In my town it’s “Central Oregon” blank or “High Desert” anything: Central Auto Repair. High Desert Heating. Central Oregon Dry Cleaning. High Desert Distributing. And almost every brand identity involves mountains.

In San Francisco it’s Golden Gate Heating or Bay Area Brake Service. In Seattle it’s Puget Sound this and Puget Sound that.

Unless there’s absolutely no competition in your local area, there’s no differentiation built in to those names. Might as well be “Acme.”(A lot of companies have names that begin with the letter A, due to the old yellow pages listing criteria. I’m glad that’s no longer relevant)

bend oregon branding firm blog post about naming your new business

How to name a new business – Law firm no-nos.

Another naming trap is the business owner’s last name. If it’s Smith, Jones, Johnson or any other common name, forget about it.

If there are a bunch of owners or partners involved, forget that too. You don’t want to start sounding like the law firm of Ginerra Zifferberg Fritche Whitten Landborg Smith-Locke Stiffleman.

If every partner has his name on the door it’s virtually impossible for the human brain to recall the brand. And it’s just not practical in everyday use… Inevitably, people will start abbreviating names like that, until you end up with alphabet soup. Can you imagine answering the phone at that place. “Hello, GZFWLSLS. How can I help you.”

However, there are times when the last name of the partners can work. Here’s the criteria:

1. The last names themselves must have some relevance, credibility and value in the marketplace. 2. The two names must sound good together. 3. The two names put together don’t add up to more than four syllables. 4. They can be connected into one, memorable name.

Real Estate branding, advertising and marketing services

How to name a new business using your last name.

My firm has a client we named MorrisHayden. Both those names are highly recognizable and trusted in their local real estate industry. Literally weeks after they hung up their sign, they had people calling, saying “yeah, I’ve heard of you guys.”

The Morris and Hayden last names together fit every criteria, but those cases are very rare.

Traditionally, the goal of a good name was to capture the essence of your positioning and deliver a unique selling proposition, so you could establish supremacy in your space just with your name. Precisely what Claude Hopkins had in mind.

Examples: Mr. Clean, A1 Steak Sauce, ZipLoc, Taster’s Choice, Spic & Span.

But literal names are getting harder and harder to come by. The playing field is getting more crowded, forcing us to move away from what the words literally mean to what the words remind you of.

As Seth Godin said, it’s “The structure of the words, the way they sound, the memes they recall… all go into making a great name. Now the goal is to coin a defensible word that can acquire secondary meaning and that you could own for the ages.”

Examples: Apple, Yahoo, Jet Blue, Google, BlackBerry, Travelocity.

Frankel says, “the name must be a vessel capable of carrying a message… whether the vessel has some meaning already poured into it or if it stands ready to be filled with meaning that will support and idea, an identity, a personality.”

Starting out, the name Dyson was an empty vessel. Now it’s forever linked with the idea of revolutionary product design in vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, and who knows what else. The brand message behind that company is very clear. This is not your mother’s vacuum cleaner!

So here’s the deal… The first rule of thumb for how to name a new business… Before you start thinking of names, think about the core brand concept.

If you haven’t already pinned down the underlying premise of your brand — the value proposition, the passion, the values, the promise — it’s going to be very hard to come up with a great name that works on several levels.

So get your story straight first. Hire someone to help you spell out the brand platform. That’s the place to start. Then, whoever’s doing the name will have something more tangible and enlightening to go on.

naming services from BNBranding advice on naming When you nail it, the naming process really is magical. Throw enough images, sounds, thoughts and concepts around, and you come out with that one word that just sticks.

Look what BlackBerry did for Research In Motion. That distinctly low-tech name helped create an entire high-tech category. I’m sure there were plenty of engineers there who didn’t initially agree with the name choice. But those dissenting voices were silenced when BlackBerry became a household word, and their stock options paid off.

 

Click here for more on how to name a new business from the Brand Insight Blog.

If you want a memorable name for your new business, one that can become an iconic brand, give me a call at BNBranding.

4 3 Easy Resolutions For Better Branding.

2014 promises to be a great year for business owners and marketers who are willing to follow a few simple resolutions. I could have written a dozen or so, but that would go against the number one resolution:

• Resolve to be short and sweet.

There’s a proven paradox in marketing communications that says: The less you say, the more they hear. So stop with the generalities and the corporate double speak. Instead, try plain English. Hone in one specific idea and pound it home with powerful mental images and just a few, relevant details.

Behavioral scientists have shown, time and time again, that our brains are hard-wired to discard information. Malcom Gladwell touches on this “unconscious intelligence” in his book “Blink.” And Bill Schley spells it out nicely in his book on micro-scripts.

The human brain has a very active built-in editor, so if it sounds complicated or confusing, we just discard it.

The brain automatically defaults to the simplest, fastest, most understandable messages. So sharpen your pencils, discard all the superfluous nonsense and get the heart of the matter.

Use fewer elements. Simple words. And images that can be “read” at a glance. Because the message with a narrow focus is the message that’s widely received.

Resolve to stop boring people.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to convince you that boring stuff doesn’t sink in. Usually, if you follow resolution Number One, you’ll avoid this problem pretty easily.

The new year is a great time to refresh and rethink your marketing materials. That old Powerpoint deck you’ve been using… toss it out and start from scratch. Those tired stock photos… commission a pro to replace them. Those little pay per click ads you’ve been milking along… gone. That website that hasn’t been updated in years… don’t shed any tears over that.

Sure, you’re creating more work for yourself, or for a qualified marketer, but the process of re-inventing is well worth it. Without even thinking about it you’ll integrate what you’ve learned this past year and improve things dramatically.

Remember, you can only get their attention and hold their interest by using unusual, distinctive, and unpredictable stimuli. Just the opposite of boring stuff.

Resolve to tell stories.

Here’s another way you can avoid boring ’em to death: Tell good stories. Stop reciting data and repeating industry cliches and start using original narratives and colorful metaphors to get your point across.

Stories trigger emotions. Emotions demand attention.

Telling a good story is not that hard. Think about it…You’ve been telling stories your whole life, just probably not in a business context. Everywhere you turn you’re entertained and engaged by stories. Every game you watch is a story. Every YouTube Video and every comic you read has a story. Even email exchanges can become convincing stories.

Storytelling is a wildly undervalued in the corporate world. But if you look at the brands that have been most successful in any given market, they’re all good at telling stories. As are the leaders of those companies.

Think about the role your company plays in stories of your best customers, your key suppliers and even your biggest competitors. Are you the Ruler or the Reformer? The Maverick or the Mentor? The Guardian or the Gambler?

Those archetypes show up in every story ever told.

What’s your story this year, and how are you going to tell it? Do you have a David & Goliath story you could be telling? Or maybe a coming-of-age story. Imagine how well that would play, relative to another, boring Powerpoint presentation.

Resolve to stop throwing money at the latest, greatest deal of the day.

This is for retailers who are constantly barraged by offers to run more and more offers. Stop the madness!

Constant discounting is not going to help build your brand for the long haul, unless your brand happens to be WalMart, Kmart, or Dave’s Discount Deal of the Day Store.

Otherwise, it’s just another way of screaming Sale! Sale! Sale! All the time. It undervalues your product, attracts the wrong kind of customers and sabotages your brand narrative. Is that the story you really want to be telling?

If you’re going to do Groupon-style discounting, look at it this way: It’s a short-term cash flow band aid. Nothing more. If your business is very seasonal it can help get you through the slow months, but it’s not a long-term marketing strategy.

And most business owners are beginning to see that. According to Fast Company Magazine, the daily deal industry is in a “healthy period of reassessment right now.” In other words, there’s a big shake-out going on and even the big guys, Groupon and Living Social, are re-thinking their value propositions.

Most success stories in that business come from retailers who use daily deals as a loss-leader tactic… get them in the door with a discount coupon, then up-sell them into a much larger, more valuable product or service.

But remember, the people who regularly use Groupon are bargain hunters, so that upselling idea may or may not work. And if you’re an ice cream shop, upselling from a scoop to a sundae won’t really move the needle.

3 How to sell more stuff online.

Awwwww, the traditions of autumn… Halloween candy, the first snow in the mountains, and holiday shopping. You’ve heard of Black Friday… the mayhem-loving bargain hunter’s favorite day of the year. And “Cyber Monday,” the online equivalent. They’re coming up quickly.

The Wall Street Journal predicts there will be ninety six million online shoppers. That’s almost one-third of America’s population Googling for bargains. And there are probably nine million shopping sites to choose from.

Every e-commerce site from Amazon to Aunt Matilda’s Potato Mashers will get their fair share of the buying frenzy. But most e-commerce businesses could get a bigger piece of the pie, if only they’d do something — anything — to differentiate themselves from pack.

You can’t just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want? Most are looking for information. If they’re not quite ready to fill their shopping cart, they need facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps them narrow their search.

Amazingly few e-commerce brands actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content and sharp, convincing copy.

Take ski shops, for instance. I’m in the market for new ski boots, and I can’t even get enough information to research boots on line, much less purchase them. After hours of work I know a lot more about boot fitting, but I don’t know which models are most likely to fit my feet. In fact, I’ve been to every online ski shop I could find, and only one – REI – provides anything more than just the manufacturer’s stock product spiel.

My final choice: The Salomon with the custom fitting

If you want to establish a successful on-line brand you have to do more than just copy your competitors. You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same specs and expect more market share than anyone else. You have to differentiate your store. Somehow.

You could offer unique products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Tough if you don’t have the volume of Amazon or Office Depot.)

Or you can have better content presented in your own, unique voice. That, you can do!

I have to admit, I’m not even entertaining the idea of buying ski boots on line. (For me, it’s hard enough buying sneakers online.) But if I were, I’d want a retailer that obviously understands the pain ski boots can inflict:

Toenails blackened and torn. Crippling leg cramps. Wasted $90 lift tickets. Ruined vacations. Endless trips back to the ski shop.

Those are the honest-to-goodness repercussions of getting it wrong. That’s the stuff of compelling sales copy. Not bullets from the manufacturer’s spec sheet. But not a single online ski shop capitalizes on those emotional hooks. They’re all just lined up, offering the same brands at the same prices with the same pitch.

That’s not retailing. That’s virtual warehousing.

Early in my career I wrote copy for the Norm Thompson catalog. Before J. Peterman ever became famous Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We wrote long, intelligent copy that told a story and filled in the blanks between technical specs and outstanding photography.

When the product called for a technical approach, we’d get technical… I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses.

For other products we’d turn on the charm and use prose that harkened back to more romantic times.

Helpful.

Heroic.

Practical.

Luxurious.

Comfortable.

These weren’t just adjectives thrown in to boost our word count. They were themes on which we built compelling, product-driven stories. The narratives explained why the product felt so luxurious. Where the innovation came from. How a feature worked. And most importantly, what it all meant to the Norm Thompson customer.

It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked. The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the industry.

It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson hasn’t maintained that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. (If you know of any brilliantly different online retailers, like Patagonia, please let me know. I’d love to add a positive case study.)

Ski boots don’t exactly fit into the category of top on-line sellers. They aren’t impulse items that you need on a weekly basis. They’re heavy to ship. And returns on ski boots must be astronomical.

But on-line retailers could cut down on those returns simply by explaining the single most important thing:

Fit.

Most boots don’t even come close to fitting my feet, so no technical feature is as important as fit. And yet no website that I’ve found provides the simple problem-solving content that says: If you have a D width foot, try this make and model. If you have a high instep, try these. If you have a narrow foot, try these.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just simple salesmanship . The kind you’d get if you walk into any decent ski shop.

And I guess that’s what I’d like to see more of on line. Better salesmanship. At least for the product categories that require more than just a quick glance at the price. Like ski boots.

And one other thing… If you choose to sell like everyone else, at least make your site convenient to use, and functional from a usability standpoint. I visited one online shop that didn’t even have a working search function. I typed in “Soloman Ski Boots” and got dozens of Soloman products, but not one ski boot. I’ll never go back. Online shoppers often know exactly what they want. Might as well make it easy for them to find it.

6 Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty.

I don’t comment on politics. However, the recent political dialog has certainly inspired this week’s speech on brand authenticity, honesty and truth in advertising.

In politics, the standards for lying are lower than they are in business. You can sling mud and hurl half-truths at your opponent and get away with it. He’ll simply sling it back.

In business, it doesn’t work that way. If you say nasty things about your competitors, you’ll probably get sued. It’s actually illegal to blatantly mislead consumers, and if you live in a small town, like I do, disparaging a competitor will almost always come back to bite you in the Karmic ass. Continue reading

3 The secret, missing ingredient of content marketing.

It’s the age of information, and much of the marketing buzz these days revolves around “content marketing.” Especially for business -to-business marketers, it’s all the rage.

We have YouTube videos, webinars, articles, blog posts, 24/7 Tweets, Powerpoint Presentations, Facebook updates, websites, ebooks, and white papers coming out our ears.

In many cases, it’s just too much information. Or at least, too much of the wrong kind of information.

In an effort to “push valuable content” to prospects, some internet marketers are inundating people with more and more information. And there’s something troubling about the quality of that content: Continue reading

5 How to make your website work — on many levels.

It’s been very interesting to watch the progression of web development over the last 20 years. Trends come and go, technology improves, new platforms have been developed and the graphic style continues to evolve.

These days it’s much easier to do it yourself, and that DIY trend seems to be producing a lot of cookie-cutter, template-driven websites that are wearily one dimensional. The fact is, your site needs to be multi-dimensional. In this age of mobile computing it needs to function as an on-line calling card, a customer service tool, a lead generation tool, an educational tool and, for many companies, a storefront.

So let’s look at a few of the most critical levels of website performance…

The good, old-fashioned, phonebook level.

yellowpagesIn case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book is fading faster than you can say “Blackberry.” Now that we all have a computer in our hands at all times, Google IS the phonebook.

So on the most basic level, your website needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that. Phonebooks provided only the basics; who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number where prospective customers could learn more.

The same can be said for your home page. Cover the basics, front and center, and make it very simple for people to access more information if they want it.

But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. In many cases that same site has to work much harder than that, for 50 seconds, or even five minutes.

Here’s an example: Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith on your mobile phone. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up that offers emergency service .

Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.

yellowbookpittsburghBut six months later you might find yourself searching for a locksmith with a completely different set of expectations. For instance, if you need new locks on all the doors of your office building you ‘ll probably sit down at the computer and compare a few locksmith websites before calling anyone.

Same, exact unique visitor — different context. Different search criteria. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level.

The first impression level.

The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, you’ll never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.

So how do you do that on a website?

Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.

Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s impossible for business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”

BECONVINCING_VThe fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 50-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.

That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high… They don’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.

The conceptual, branding level.

Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”

More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Exctinct.”

Being distinct is what branding is all about.

Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinct” looks like in a website. And web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for innovation.

The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.

bmw_uou

Brilliant, one-word ad that says it all for BMW.

For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.

When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.

Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.

It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography. It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks and questions your competitors. It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way. And most importantly, it’s craftsmanship!

When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for? What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?

Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, 2349098787_2cd660c18csingle-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

The deepest level of engagement is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of even the smallest purchases, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the purchase decision they face.

On business-to-business websites this often takes the form of webinars, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons and user-generated content. This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects. Don’t overlook it.

The conversion level.

Lest we not forget the ultimate goal of most sites… to persuade, sell, motivate and move people to action. If your site’s working on all those previous levels, it’ll happen quite naturally.

If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075.