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Are you wasting money on digital marketing?


This may sound strange coming from a company that makes its revenue from digital marketing. But if you read every promo piece on the internet, you’d be led to believe that there is nothing but success with digital marketing. Perhaps you have found out the hard way that is not true.

Feel like you’re not getting your money’s worth?

Facebook ads, Google ads. Linkedin ads. Marketing automation. The list goes on. And which of them can be (and many actually are) fantastic? So why is it they don’t work for some companies?

The number one reason many companies fail is that they use these tools ad hoc without a comprehensive thought-out plan. That may sound simple enough but you would be amazed at how many companies skip this vital step. They just know what they want to sell, they think they know who they’re selling to and they set out to do some simple Facebook ads driving people to their website. That is a program for failure. What is someone supposed to do at the website? Websites by definition have a wide array of information. Where did you want the visitor to go and what did you want them to do? Chances are they will bounce out and that is wasted money because it is a wasted click and that’s how you pay for your ads. Your website must be optimized for your online marketing or better yet, you need a simple dedicated landing page.

One of my clients was spending $1000/month on Google ads and they had no idea if they were working or not. Sure they could track visits to their website but they had no way of knowing if that led to leads or sales or not. And worse, they had no follow up. And follow up is where the money is. Needless to say, we’re doing things differently today.

There is a litany of errors that are more common than we would like to believe. And there is a simple way to mitigate many errors and improve your chances of success. It starts with a well-planned strategy.

Another common mistake people make is assuming that people will buy on their first visit to your landing page or website. Most won’t. Chances are they’ve never heard of you before. But if you capture their email address you will begin to be able to nurture them through email advertising and/or remarketing. There is an art to email and remarketing and it is the art of not annoying the crap out of people so they unsubscribe from your list. You will get unsubscribers but as long as that is a marginal number it is nothing to worry about.

If you don’t feel you’re getting your money’s worth, start by reviewing your strategy. For a free Strategy Planning Guide, download mine here. It’s more than just a template, it’s a step-by-step guide explaining the importance of each step with instructions and examples. There is also an added free bonus for you on the strategy download page. It’s worth your while to look at it.

And here’s to your success.

In a few short words


Can you sum up your company, product or service in a few short words that either:

  1. Competitively defines what you do or who you are?
  2. Takes ownership of category truism your competitors have overlooked/ignored?
  3. Delivers your benefit in a short memorable way?

These are positioning lines some people refer to as “slogans”. I loath the word ‘slogan’ because to me it implies something, while perhaps clever, empty.

My mentor, the late Gary Prouk, once said that if you read Volkswagon print ads, every sentence could be a headline. Headlines and positioning lines are not easy to write. At least, not easy to write well.

Are you positioned properly and memorably?

Everything you need. Nothing you don’t. (Current client in energy industry)

Helping pets live longer lives. (Ralston’s positioning for over a decade)

Nice people who lend money. (Launch of the Associates into Canada)

Nobody beats Midas. Nobody.* (Midas, USA)

Think Pink (Fiberglass Pink insulation)

These are a few I have written and have often lamented that my writing did not include residuals.

As you can imagine, being paid by the word is not a good business model when writing advertising. Usually, the shorter the better. And if you think writing something short is easy, there are several quotes stating otherwise. “I would have written a shorter letter but I did not have time” is attributed to Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, logician, physicist and theologian. Mark Twain had a similar line as did many others. There is a rather lengthy article on short writing and you can find it here.

There are places for long sentences. These are sentences that usually take you on a journey, describing and carrying you through unfamiliar terrain, with a character you have only just met but will soon be engrossed with, no doubt from an encounter or engagement happening through an event transpiring right there in your lengthy sentence, yet before the sentence has ended you have a clear picture of where your character is, what is happening to him or her and why you should care enough to read on to the next sentence.

It is not uncommon for these to be one sentence paragraphs; a lengthy block of type with who knows how many commas, semi colons or colons but only one period.

In advertising, we are usually discouraged from writing such sentences. (With exceptions, David Ogilvy being the master of those exceptions.) Limited space isn’t the issue. Limited imagination is. So those of us good at what we do in adverting became masters of short sentences. The best of these were what the layman call ‘slogans’ although, as I said, I detest the word.

So in a few short words, try to sum up where you work. If you hate your job, your positioning lines may reflect that and be an inspiration to call a head hunter. I struggled to sum up my company. The name “LowerWorks” may have a lovely double entendre but who cares if we work? A colleague, JJ Murray, has a good one, “The last writer you will ever hire”. Where I ended up isn’t ‘clever’ but it does sum up what we do and why someone should hire us. “Creative marketing proven to work.” And a skeptical response ‘Prove it” is a lovely door opener to impressive case studies.

So much for a few short words. This bloody article is 618 words. Now, at ten cents a word, you can understand why you are confronted with so much blather here on the internet. Many site owners lament about a shortage of content. And at ten cents a word they are scratching their heads wondering why so much of what they push is not worth reading.  

The Ubiquitous Fat Lady


She has popped up in an assortment of incongruous situations. She came to symbolize perseverance and unpredictability. “It ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings” is a line attributed to sports writer, Dan Cook writing for the San Antonio News-Express. And while it feels like this idiom has been with us forever, as idioms go, it is relatively new: it was first penned on March 10, 1976.

Actually, the line was, “The opera ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings” referring to the stereotypical buxom opera singer one would find in the likes of Warner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

The Fat Lady, always invisible yet always there, is an icon. She is why you would shine your shoes while performing on radio where no one would see them. You do it for ‘the Fat Lady’.

In this context she surfaced in 1955. “…don’t you know who the Fat Lady really is? Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.” Or so said Zooey. (Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger.)

I had my own epiphany with the Fat Lady.

Anyone who has worked in advertising is familiar with the conventional (but flawed) wisdom, “Nobody reads body copy.” This thinking was/is the bane of an advertising writer’s life. In defiance, I used to assertively counter, “They read mine!”,  having no idea if there was any truth to that at all. Today, we can easily measure what a person reads on an online article. It’s quantifiable.

Not that long ago, it was not.

My Fat Lady experience…no disrespect intended to my Jersey friends…happened on the New Jersey Transit coming out of New York. At the time, I took the NJ Transit every day to Trenton and then got in my car and drove over the river to what I called home in Pennsylvania.

There was nothing unusual about getting on the train. I did it every day and every day, as one does in New York, I ignored everyone around me, just as they ignored me. When fellow humans are in too close a physical proximity for comfort, we have a way of creating and living in cerebral bubbles.

Or at least I do.

So there was nothing out of the ordinary about getting on the train that day. However, on this occasion, I happened to find a seat behind the Fat Lady. She wore a chrome-like, silver, synthetic winter coat and was reading. I could tell she was reading because she was holding a newspaper and her head was moving back and forth. Perhaps her lips were moving, too. I don’t know. Nor do I know what possessed me to look over her shoulder to see exactly what it was that had captured her attention and enticed her to read.

To this day, it boggles my mind that I did. Why would I care about what the Fat Lady from Jersey reads? What did it matter and what difference would it make?

However, I glanced over her shoulder to see, spread out in front of her in all its glory, an ad I had written. It was as stupid as that. She was reading my body copy. Bless her heart. While most people may not read body copy it seems the Fat Lady does.

The obvious question is “Why does this iconic lady need to be fat?” Perhaps, “It ain’t over till the Svelte Lady chants” doesn’t have the same ring and anyone in search of Christ would probably not be turning to the Svelte Lady; no doubt a fashion diva and God knows, maybe even a vegetarian.

The thing about the Fat Lady is that she is hard to miss, yet easy to ignore. She is incongruous. She embodies all that matters little to us (or so it seems) yet truly does matter. She is not just larger than life, in some ways, she is life. She gives purpose to mundanity and in her largeness can bestow some humility.

The Fat Lady wants to be loved, is my bet. Don’t we all? It’s the ‘Fat Lady’ in all of us. I suspect the Fat Lady sits on the Jersey Transit, mostly unloved, probably ignored and is probably oblivious to how important she really is. The Fat Lady is beauty in simplicity. She grounds us. She is my kind of woman: she defies logic.

As for the Fat Man? Interesting. Because that dog don’t hunt.

Dear Customer Survey Creators


questionThank you for regularly sending me your life-changing, time-consuming list of mostly irrelevant questions. I know when creating these questionnaires you are probably paid by the hour. Nothing else logically explains their length or banality. Thank you also for including the bar chart that informs me of what percentage of the questionnaire I have completed. This helps me determine when to just quit. Sometimes I quit when I hit a stupid question.

I think American companies write better surveys than Canadian companies. They are shorter. One company I deal with regularly regularly sends out a questionnaire which I always answer. Well, almost always. The questionnaire is three questions long. They basically ask if my issue was resolved to my satisfaction, if the representative was knowledgeable/helpful and if would I recommend them to others.

Here is a trade secret: Unless you rate the representative as a 10, it is considered a failure. A 9 isn’t  good enough. Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” come to mind.

The relevance of the question, “Would you recommend them to others” is very dependant on the category. Internet services and their ability to deliver tech support is important. Brain surgeons may fall into the relevance category with the caveat that the success of the brain surgery could very much influence the response. The last gas station where you filled up with gas is an irrelevant question not the least of which is that no one will ask you where you last filled up unless they’re looking for the closest gas station which should be an entirely different question. “Which is more important you; the price of gas/litre or the proximity of the gas staton?” It’s a pricing question.

Some questionnaires are interesting but depending on the paint colour, so is watching paint dry. (Red can be quite dramatic).

But most questions are transparent, meaningless and a waste of time. But rather than just complain, I have a proposition: I will create a relevant three question questionnaire for $1,000.

For every additional question, I will DEDUCT $50. Needless to say, we will have lively discussions on necessary questions. And just so that I don’t end up owing you money, we quit at thirteen questions. That leaves me with $500 and you with a questionnaire that is too long.

Are the days of marble floors over?



I had a client once; an incredibly “frugal” client who underpaid us and complained that he paid too much. We had a very plain office in a great part of town and one of the last vestiges of affordable office space a five minute walk to the financial district where we also had clients who didn’t underpay us nor over-pay us. We were compensated fairly and paid on time.

The other client, (let’s call him Dick) would visit our offices for creative review and felt quite comfortable telling employees that he was paying us too much (me in particular) and for that I should have fired him but I didn’t. All the employees knew a Dick when they met one so we all just took it in stride.

One of the few times he said anything insightful was when he mentioned that one of the reasons he liked working with us was because of our floors. They weren’t marble. Forget the creative. We didn’t have marble floors.  They were hardwood floors circa who-knows-when and he remarked that when he went into agencies with marble floors he knew exactly who was paying for those floors. I resisted telling him that with the rates he was paying his agencies it would not be him financing marble floors but he was convinced part of the revenue he paid the agency went to lavish embellishments like marble floors. Heaven help you if you had art hanging on the walls.

An account person I once worked with made a very interesting observation. He said, “You can tell a lot about a company by its lobby and its boardroom” and damn if that hasn’t proven to be true more times than not.

Dick was the communication director for a hospital so its lobby was full of people in gurneys and wheel chairs carrying who knows what diseases. The boardroom was shabby and the technology often failed to work. But this is healthcare where dollars are scarce and patients are not. But other hospitals had appealing, human-friendly lobbies and clean efficient boardrooms. To Dick’s hospital’s credit, they were in the process of raising money to build a new hospital so why waste money on the old? But there was an attitude that went with the shabby surrounds and it was incredibly arrogant despite their low ranking on annual hospital report cards as measured by the hospital association and the government.

But the issue of the marble floors has stuck with me. How shiny does an agency have to look to project the validity to handle clients like Coke, Pepsi, P&G. Microsoft, Nike or any other mega-brand? My bet is pretty shiny. And shiny all over the world. The likes of these agencies would likely have suggested Dick check into Intensive Care had he solicited them to work on his account.

We don’t have marble floors. In fact, we have all kinds of floors. Painted wooden floors, tiled floors, parquet floors and an assortment of others. Some floors are here in North America, some are in the EU and some are in Asia.

We handle a variety of clients although no hospitals at the moment. We did handle Ontario’s Ministry Health for five years and the Ontario Hospital Association for even longer.

I doubt I will ever have marble floors again. However I am in the market for a marble statue of St. Hildebrand. She is reputed to be the patron saint of creativity.

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