I was stuck. My advertising - online and offline - wasn’t working. I’d been so confident, so determined, so focussed - and there was barely a trickle of response!
The advertisements were for my new sideline business when I was in my late twenties. The business: Running workshops in the area of improving a person's intuition. I’d run these workshops, after hours, whilst I continued to work my day job in marketing promotion. Well that was the plan anyway.
Brian Sher, my friend, had solved some marketing problems that had baffled everyone. I called him to ask for some feedback over lunch.
Brian listened carefully to the scenario and then stated, “Mike, you’ll never write a good headline unless you understand the specific pain of your prospect.”
“You’ll never write a great headline unless you understand the specific pain of your prospect.”
The words struck me so strongly. I knew this was something I'd have to remember. We ordered our lunch at Tropicanas in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
Brian then talked about his experience with the principle as it related to response oriented advertising (not branding type campaigns - they are a different ballgame).
“When we started the Redwood Clinics, we were so focussed on anti-aging as being the next big thing - the next big market. We talked about anti-aging, read about anti-aging and attended anti-ageing conferences.” said Brian.
“The problem was, Mike, that our ads weren’t pulling. This went on for a couple of years.” I was intrigued by his confession of failure. Brian continued, “one day I got some feedback from the only guy I knew in that industry who happened to be making money.
He took one look at our advertisements and taught me this lesson I’m passing onto you today. He said, 'people need you to meet them at their specific problem and their pain and take them by the hand to your solution.' That was the day we stopped writing about anti-aging and began running advertisements focussed on specific niches talking about the specific problems people were dealing with - ranging from wrinkles to loss of complexion.”
That was the day we turned the business around.” said Brian.
Brian continued, “It’s very similar to what’s happening here for you. People don’t care about anti-aging any more than they care about intuition. You need to think about what problems people are wanting to solve with intuition. Build the marketing conversation around that.”
So I stopped running ads on intuition and tested specific niches that were more related to health issues a few prospects had mentioned over the phone. My advertisements became profitable in two market niches. I had a way forward with that business.
“I put myself in the shoes of my prospect and stay there for days at a time. I get off on doing that!” Ian Kennedy, founder of Ralph Lauren Australia and The Starlight Foundation, once told me.
“I put myself in the shoes of my prospect and stay there for days at a time. I get off on doing that!”
He seemed to be pointing to the same principle Brian Sher had taught me that day. To understand the prospect's pain, sometimes you need to go for a long walk in their shoes.
Brian Sher had been mentored by (and promoted within Australia) Jay Abraham - the famous unconventional American marketer. I first became aware of Jay Abraham when I was writing promotional scripts and training telemarketers at the Advertiser Media Group - a magazine publisher based in Silverwater. I was in my early twenties and my dad owned the company.
This was a cut throat environment where you either performed, got fired or as in the case of more than one telemarketer, announced that you were going for a cigarette break, walked out the door and vanished forever!
I was often testing various marketing ideas at AMG. Many of those ideas bombed. Occasionally one would work and I’d introduce it to the rest of the team. One day a report was flung on my desk promoting Jay Abraham. I read that most business managers and leaders, according to Jay, have no idea how much they can afford to invest to create a new customer - a concept known as Maximum Allowable Cost.
Jay suggested that without this clarity, business owners and marketers were stifled. They weren’t in a position to test new media and new offers and processes because there was no clear way to evaluate whether a promotional test had been successful or not.
This idea and the name Jay Abraham had quickly got my attention - in fact I was dumbstruck. I was not familiar with this concept. None of us in that business had ever spoken about our “allowable costs” for getting new customers. This idea alone became a game changer for me and my marketing career.
As I delved deeper, Jay Abraham wrote about ideas related to copywriting for response.
One of his concepts in that report was, “Don’t sell the product. Don’t sell the service. Sell the result!”
“Don’t sell the product. Don’t sell the service. Sell the result!”
Our sixteen telemarketers were selling advertsing at AMG - making up to a 100 phone calls a day. They spoke about prime positions, discounted rates and readership numbers. That was what the sales conversation with prospects had been about ever since I’d started at the company. I reflected on what Jay was saying and how that translated into our marketing environment.
It hit me that we weren't really focussed on selling the result as Jay was suggesting. I sat down and wrote a new telemarketing script. A script that spoke about generating client enquiry, profitable advertising and business growth. The script worked. Jay was right - and it wouldn't be the last time his ideas would work. I began to introduce this idea to all new telemarketing recruits at AMG.
When you make a claim of result like assisting clients to have a more beautiful home, lose weight, a more profitable business or a beautiful time on vacation - to offer a few examples - you quickly run into another problem that needs solving: You lack credibility.
Prospects don't hear this and say “great sign me up” or “where can I buy this?” They ask another question, “why should I believe you?” After all, the prospect knows you're a marketer and marketers make claims - often false claims. Prospects are not stupid. They need proof. So by whatever means are available, you must generate considerable credibility.
"By whatever means are available, you must generate considerable credibility"
Irrespective of the promotional medium, here’s a few ways that credibility can be achieved with your copywriting efforts.
Be the most specialised in your category.
The other day I wrote the following print headline for a client “The lawyers for owner operators seeking greater protection in hospitality.” (NB I’ve changed the category here to protect my client's identity).
If you're an owner operator in the hospitality industry and unhappy with your lawyer or in need of a lawyer, its going to be hard to not check out this provider who is so specialised. Specialist positions also reflect a concentrated business strategy - something lacking in most business positions as Richard Rumelt points out in his fantastic book "Good Strategy Bad Strategy"
A concentrated business strategy generates respect from the prospect. This translates to higher response rates as well as sales conversions.
Another way to generate considerable credibility? Establish a rating that is higher than your competitors and tell the world about it.
"Establish a rating that is higher than your competitors and tell the world about it"
Here’s an example “Currently rated and scoring as the number one tourist attraction in Melbourne."
If you’re a tourist and looking at tourist attractions you’re probably going to read on. If you read on, this headline has done its job.
Getting this rating is easier than most marketers imagine. After all, we decide how to define the category. We can always frame it in more niche terms - in order to become number one.
And we can solicit honest ratings from customers. So if we are not rated as the number one tourist attraction is Melbourne today, well, how about next month? Or how about being the number one attraction for family groups? Or number one for children? Or for night time entertainment? I've written a variation of this number-one-in-category-type-headline for both ends of the branding spectrum: A local auto garage and a subsidiary for a global designer brand.
This is one way to align our offering with the principle known as "social proof" made famous by Robert Cialdini within his "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion."
Not long after my dad sold his publishing company, he started a springwater delivery company. He wasn't anywhere near the biggest in any market. So we established credibility by being "the fastest growing". This position helped with gaining customers but it unexpectedly created an exit strategy for his business.
A new entrant emerged in his market and wanted to buy his business. When my dad and I sat at the negotiating table with the entrepreneur moving in on the market, we discovered that what he most wanted was the unique business process we had formulated for generating new customers. That goes to show the power of having a solid process for acquiring customers! My dad decided to keep his business.
One way to become number one for local service providers is by soliciting google plus customer ratings. To discover the why’s and how’s of getting rated as number one in your category by harnessing Google Plus ratings, click here.
Another variable to favorably differentiate your offering? Differentiate the voice of your promotion.
"Differentiate the voice of your promotion"
What's the voice of your industry? Is everyone in your space sounding like conservative drones? That's the case with many professional services markets. Differentiate with a direct-and-to-the-point voice.
Ian Elliot, ex chairman of George Patterson Bates tells the story of how he came up with the "Optus says yes" slogan. "It was an obvious choice said Ian. "Telstra, at the time was perceived as always saying no." Optus differentiated the brands voice.
Perhaps you're in the fitness industry and the voice of your main competition is directly talking deals and discounts. Get away from that and talk about the atmosphere, the sights and sounds or the members. Do whatever it takes to differentiate!
Within the category of business books there's a trend of telling business stories using some of the scene setting tools of fictional writing. You rarely feel that an author is exposing themselves beyond recounting the occasional business failure because that's become popular. Joe Jaworski's "Synchronicity: The inner path of leadership" marked a huge exception to the rule.
Jaworski is ruthlessly specific, deeply personal and exposing of himself and his family on a number of fronts. The voice of this business book is different to anything else out there. No wonder it has become a classic!
In my mid twenties I built a graphic design agency with my girlfriend, Maria Sipka. Within a short period of time, we were among the top 3% most profitable design agencies in Australia (as per a study conducted by the Australian Graphic Design Association AGDA).
How did we do this? One tactic was to have a different voice. Lots of the agencies were getting together to push a "no free pitch" for work policy. They were all sounding like they were trying to be more professional and work together like a big happy family. We went to the polar opposite. The byline on our insert stated "at last, a graphic designers willing to put their money where their mouth is!" The voice was almost aggressive. The offer was that we would pay any prospect to test our services and they could decide if our work was more visually effective then their current designers.
The Australian Graphic Design Association of Australia tabled our promotional insert at their monthly board meeting. They questioned what they should do about this agency that nobody had heard of. Afterall we were pulling against their collective position. AGDA concluded that there was nothing that they could do. What we were doing was so effective at acquiring new customers that clients started to ask if we could do something similar for them. We did. And in the process - after a few years - flipped our small agency into a consultancy specialising in new customer acquisition.
At the end of the day, when writing for greater response, differentiating is the name of the game. In ways that are likely to be meaningful to our intended prospect. That way, we can edge ourselves in front of the competition, solve our prospects problem and put an end to their pain.