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.
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.
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.
Thank 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.
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.
There you are watching cable TV you pay too much for and on comes a splashy commercial advertising tourism in Ontario. There will undoubtedly be a shot of Old Fort Henry in my home town of Kingston, there will be shots of Niagara Falls (trying to show as little of the US side as possible), there will be shots of northern Ontario because they have to for political reasons although why anyone would go to bug-infested northern Ontario in summer except to visit my father is beyond me. Yes there is canoeing and hiking. It is no coincidence that one of the advertising sponsors is DEET.
No tourism commercial of Ontario is complete without a shot of the CN Tower, the world’s largest radio antenna.
The spot is populated by representatives of every member of the UN because if the UN has a capital, it is Toronto ergo, Ontario.
There are street festivals, music events, people kayaking because gas-powered boating is not environmentally or politically correct even though to get to where you can kayak you either have to portage for several days or drive a gas-powered automobile to get there.
Almost always there will be a shot of a moose although what you’re supposed to do with that is beyond me. Your chances of seeing a mouse is liable to be in the middle of the road you’re driving on and the outcome might not be very pretty. Memorable. But not pretty.
The commercial will encourage you to visit a website to find out more of what you can do in Ontario but nowhere will it list the Thousand Islands National Park because, well, that the Fed’s territory and as the second largest political land mass in the world, Canada’s tourism commercials have a lot of events and ground to cover. If you’re lucky, you might see a shot of the Thousand Island Bridge in a national spot but probably not because that might suggest you go to where the bridge takes you and that is to the United States.
That is the backdrop of a small client of mine. I have mentioned them before but I have kept some of the details secret but I see no reason to not share .
Houseboat Holidays is a seasonal business. No one wants to rent a houseboat in February and even if they did they couldn’t because in those winter months the boats are in for refurbishing and the river is frozen. So this company has to make a year’s revenue in Canada’s all too short summer season. July and August aren’t hard to rent but until recently, there were soft spots, particularly the first two weeks of July. Why was a mystery. So the task was to make sure there were no empty spots in July and August but more importantly, increase usage in the shoulder seasons of May and June and September and October.
Coming up with a plan
Every advertising campaign has a plan. Except for a lot of small advertisers who take a more shot gun or knee jerk approach. “We need a brochure.” “We need a website”. “We need to be in local tourism guides.” All without a plan.
People selling space in tourism guides or local tourism quasi newspapers will tell you how many issues are printed and that can seem very impressive. Stopped at a tourism centre on the highways or in small towns? You’ll see lots of brochures. The amount printed is not the point. The circulation and numbers that get read are what’s important. For most of these publications, that’s all but impossible to measure. They are not part of Roger’s media. In our trade we call that shotgun marketing.
So before you begin saying yes to every supplier who comes through the door with an “opportunity”, have a plan. Here is a simplified template for creating your plan: It is a series of questions.
Strategies can become much more elaborate (maybe you could write two pages on what we know about our target audience) but in a nutshell, this is the framework of a strategy or plan. And you can do it yourself or hire someone to help you do it.
Let’s go back to our houseboat client and look at question #2. Are we trying to reach people who are looking to rent a houseboat? Yes. But how many people search for houseboat rentals? Google analytics can give you a number or an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plug-in can tell us that. It’s not that high. And that’s for all of North America.
When you tell people you rented a houseboat in the 1000 Islands, the response is often, “What a great idea!” Would these people have done a search for houseboats on the 1000 islands? No. What would they look for? Cottages. So we positioned the houseboats as “Your floating river cottage”, did keywords to reflect that and added them to Trip Advisor. AirBnB, Facebook and even Kijiji.
So thinking outside the box in your planning can pay off. And it is paying off. They have had the best couple of years since they opened their doors in 1972.
The cost? Except for our time, virtually nothing. We saved them from spending money in local guides that are distributed when someone reaches the 1000 Islands. Why spend money when it is too late for someone to buy your product?
The heavy lifting on setting up this program is all at the front end which is where our time could and does add up. So we contracted to amortize the costs by year, giving them a manageable and predictable monthly marketing expense that reflected the realities of a small business. It wasn’t until the third year that we actually paid for some Facebook ads to promote a give-away guide to houseboating in the 1000 Islands in exchange for collecting their emails. While not huge, we are in the hundreds. But these are people who are highly engaged in the idea and open to email offers. Of the hundreds of emails we have, we have had only 4 unsubscribe.
The cost of producing that splashy Ontario tourism commercial would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I know. I’ve done campaigns like that.
The real test of creative for small businesses is not just being creative with the work you produce but creative with how you save the client money. There are many free online opportunities to take advantage of. Want to find out how we can help you sell and save money doing so? Contact us.
No creative person espouses smart strategies more than I. The strategy tells us why we’re doing what we’re doing, who we’re talking to, what we know about them, what we want them to believe (product benefit) and why they should believe us. That is at the core of all agency strategy platforms no matter how they dress it up and embellish it with ornamental jargon and examples of proof to why it works.
Whenever I had trouble developing creative, my instinct always took me back to re-visiting the strategy. When the strategy was giving me trouble, I ventured into the ‘What if?” land. Then, on occasion, I hit a creative ball out of the park. The only problem was, it was not on strategy. The creative solution suggested another strategy.
It is not uncommon for agencies to ‘re-visit’ their strategy when faced with an obvious creative winner. And the solution is simple; re-write the strategy to make if look like it was the catalyst for the creative product.
Our dirty secret is out.
Raise your hands for all those who have never been there. And I am not blaming people (the account people who usually pen the strategies) not am I glorifying the creative people who came up with the home run. That creative solution could be borne from instinct of the problem or just plain luck.
We need processes in order to function and get work done with a semblance of order (it does exist in agencies from time to time but by the very nature of what we do we also have to have room for intelligent disorder.)
When presenting to clients, there is a standard protocol. The account people review the strategy (the one the client has already approved) and then the creative people get up and present the creative, followed by the media people who will explain how the message will be disseminated.
To their credit, it can sometimes be the media people who come with an out-of-the-box, innovative solution that wins the day.
The point is, sometimes the box the strategy places us in can be detrimental.
Now connect all four dots using only three straight lines. If this has you stumped, you can find the solution here.
We are often tasked with playing inside the box. The real talented creatives are the ones that can be creative while very much confined to the box.
But to all clients, all advertisers, I suggest that when a creative person whom you respect stands up and says, “Now I have an idea that may seem a little crazy.” Listen. Listen very carefully. You might hear more than an engaging piece of creative. You may see the making of a far-reaching powerful strategy.
I am not a recruiter, personal trainer or life coach. I am a Creative Director/Strategic Planner/writer weaned in the advertising industry and blessed to have worked on some of the most inspiring, aggressive blue chip brands.
My job, quite simply, was to apply the creative process to strategies designed to steal share, grow brands, launch brands and/or otherwise make life miserable for my clients’ competitors. I’m proud to say that I have done that in several categories.
In relative terms, creating work is easy. If you have a strong strategy with a compelling benefit, you find the shortest route between point A (the benefit) and point B (the consumer’s need.)
Where it gets difficult with large clients is getting the work in front of the person who has the authority to say ‘yes’ rather than simply the authority to say ‘no’. A win on the way up the approval ladder is ‘maybe’.
Ultimately, if you are successful, you will find yourself in a boardroom full of nervous people on both the agency side and the client side and the CEO/President/last-stop-before-the-train-leaves-the-station/ authority sitting at the head of the table wanting to be taken through the program succinctly with quantifiable numbers/logic of the proposed approach.
These are waste-no-time meetings.
I have been in many of them. And what I love about a good CEO is that despite their corporate drilling, demanding protocol and well entrenched, documented procedures, the successful CEOs have managed to hang on to one thing that has been drilled out of so many of their employees.
I can name names and I will. Ed Acker, Pan AM. Andrew Seth, Lever Bros. Pat McGinnis, Ralston Purina. Gordon Cheesbrough , Altamira Mutual Funds, David Novak, Yum brands. There are many more.
I could also name a few names of CEOs who didn’t ‘get it’ but all that could come out of that is me being sued. I could point to these companies who have, once blue chip, been delisted off the NY Stock Exchange (think photography) or largely become irrelevant. Or out of business.
Every brand has its story. It has its ups and downs, its trials and triumphs. Like you, it has a lifespan that can be as short as a tsetse fly’s or as long as California Redwood’s. And every successful brand has it champions and its leaders who have not had bludgeoned out of them one of the most precious qualities of leadership: Common sense.
If only we could take those qualities to Washington, D.C.
Oops. Sorry. Stepping outside the bounds of the assigned topic otherwise know as ‘the box’.
Please join me in a toast to common sense and those in business, especially CEOs who still have command of the skill. And exercise it.
Initially I was going to write yet another article on how to get people to open that email you sent they don’t want. So I did some research on the topic and a surprising thing happened. The more I read, the more it sounded like advice I would give copywriters on writing effective copy for ads.
Be human. Don’t be boring. Write conversationally. Don’t write Gone with the Wind. Keep it short.
Email subject lines should be written like, you guessed it, headlines. And for those who haven’t made a career of writing headlines, let it suffice that it is often not a five minute job. Sometimes they just roll off the tip of your tongue. Other times you mull them over for days. That we rarely have days to come up with headlines these days explains why there are so many dreadful ones sitting in your inbox for emails you won’t open.
Numbers often work. “Five ways to make potato dumplings exciting” might get read by some foodies. It was David Ogilvy who mastered that school of advertising. “Five ways to…” “How to…” “Why your potato dumplings are uninspiring.” They do work. The problem is they have been so over used that their credibility comes into question as does the question “Says who?”
In one article on writing effective emails, the author pointed out the power of the word ‘you’. Just like in advertising. Write conversationally. Just like in advertising. Don’t be clever. Be smart. Just like in advertising. Pique someone’s interest. Just like in advertising. An email can easily get ignored. Guess what? So can ads. All you have to do is turn the page. Or channel. Don’t automate your email greeting. See my article “Dear Valued Customer” for more on that.
Here’s some good advice on writing effective emails. Don’t sell the product. Sell the benefit. That insight dates back to the dawn of selling. It’s just part of human nature: “What’s in it for me?” Every advertising strategy has a question to be answered: “What is the benefit?” This is not new to email marketing.
The rules and guides to marketing apply across all media. The delivery mechanism is what differs.
The barrier to common sense selling on the internet was driven by the lack of sophistication of search engines. There was a time when we had to write to satisfy the search engine’s capabilities. This often meant putting your key words in your headline, your first line of body copy and copious times after that. The result? Abysmal writing. But thankfully, search engines have become far more sophisticated and elegant to use a computer term. They are getting better and better at analyzing writing the way we humans speak. Even better, they are punishing writers who try to game the system by flooding keywords in every nook and cranny of their unreadable copy.
No matter whether you are creating advertising in traditional media, digital media or both, a simple rule should help you. Don’t talk at me. Talk to me.
It’s great to be human again. Even if we are little digitized.
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