December 2nd, 2013 — Food and eating, Marketing
Would you like to increase the traffic on your marketing blog or copywriting web site through organic search results? Here is an accidental success story that may help.
I have another blog, Burnt My Fingers, which is specifically about food and cooking. It’s a fun, niche project and I have never worked too hard to pump up the metrics. But in the last 3 months my page views have increased by well over 100%. How come?
I wrote a post called “Why I’m not buying a Sansaire sous vide device” which was an offshoot of some earlier articles on this specialty cooking method. Well, turns out there is a lot of interest in this gadget and the buzz is only increasing as the holidays roll around. Do a web search for “Sansaire” as many shoppers might and there’s my post, close to the top of your search results. It looks like a negative review (it actually isn’t) so is just the sort of thing a shopper might want to read as part of their research.
The good news is that search links to this specific post account for only about 25% of my new page views. The rest are from the activity of users once they get to the site: they browse around to linked articles, then my recipes, which is exactly what you hope they would do if the article they came for is relevant to your core content vs. link bait.
The key to this accidental success story was finding a topic a certain audience wants to read about, vs something I wanted to write about. Think about the interests of your audience—then think about how you might mine that with catchy content that draws them to your site.
November 6th, 2013 — Customer service, Marketing
My early client Roy Chitwood of Max Sacks International told a funny story involving a rookie sales guy who loved to get busy signals on the phone because he could tally them as completed calls… “that’s one more out of the way”. But according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, many of today’s younger salespeople no longer know what a telephone is (let alone a busy signal).
They’ll email when a previous generation would have called, even to someone in the next cubicle. This probably explains the profusion of chatty lead generation emails I get that are written to look as if they’re from a casual acquaintance, often “confirming” something (usually a webinar) that I supposedly had expressed interest in. Easy to send, even easier to get rid of with the delete button.
Direct Marketing Partners, a California-based outfit I’ve done some business with, has a different idea. They still use the telephone the old-fashioned way for marketing, and with spectacular results. It helps that their clients are typically selling expensive, complex products or services which justify a high cost per lead.
The first thing DMP does is a canvassing operation to get the telephone contact information for people on the business lists they rent or compile, and to confirm the recipient is the right person for the pitch. If not, they’ll find out who is the true buying authority and add that name, address and phone number to the list.
Then, a direct mail pack goes out which is intentionally “high impact” with features or a theme that is easy to recall. As an example, one recent promo I worked on with DMP (and Beasley Direct Marketing, their frequent collaborator) included a poster of the Curiosity Mars landing, rolled up in a clear plastic tube.
DMP follows up a couple of weeks later with people who did not respond to the direct mail offer. They open the call by asking, “do you remember that tube you got with the poster inside?” and a high percentage of prospects do indeed remember. Then they deliver the same pitch that was in the mailer, which usually concludes with the offer of a highly attractive premium in return for setting a sales appointment.
The results of these campaigns can be spectacular—often the total number of leads generated is 3 to 5 times the initial number from the direct mailing. It helps that the DMP phone reps are intelligent and well spoken, and receive training in the product and the interests of their audience, so the call becomes a two-way conversation instead of an irritating canned pitch that might as well be recorded.
I also thinks it helps the DMP effort that so few of their competitors are using the telephone. (I’m not including robo-calls which are a worse plague than Lyme disease.) It’s become a novelty to get a call from a smart, involved person who is selling something you actually want to buy. Maybe more marketers should pick up that phone.
October 18th, 2013 — Marketing
This was the best session I attended at the Direct Marketing Association’s just-concluded annual conference, featuring a CMO from a large insurer and a finance exec with huge experience in retail at Google, with excellent moderation from another healthcare exec. A few takeaways:
Tremendous change in the healthcare industry is underway, and it’s not just because of Obamacare. Used to be insurers could underwrite and consumers had no choice because they got insurance through employers. Now insurers have to accept everybody and consumers can shop around. Over the next 10 years a trillion dollars will shift in the industry as consumers shop around.
Google perspective: Google is where people come when they have concerns about their health. Worried about a diagnosis or a pain, they google it. They have a serious reason for being there and are making a critical decision about their health. 50% of queries now related to healthcare reform. Many queries from mobile devices and about Medicare… so it’s absolutely not true that “people 65+ don’t use the Internet”.
How healthcare is marketed: focus moving to retail. Consumers want self service. Price transparency is not necessarily a bad thing; retailers have known this for 10 years. (Retailers lead the way because their margins are razor thin so they have to be agile.) Insurers are worried about protecting their brand with standard Gold, Silver, Bronze levels. But customers not just interested in lower price, they will pay more for value if you demonstrate it. This is how Nike, Coach, Tiffany maintain a premium price.
The customer experience: companies need to add a Chief Customer Officer who reports directly to the C suite. Insurers are used to saying no to their customers; we’re in a new era where they need to learn to say yes. Don’t let your org chart show: if the customer goes through a phone tree and they have to answer the same health or personal questions they just answered to a new person, that’s your org chart showing. Customer has to be at the center of your business model, just as they are in retail.
Where should you spend your next dollar as a healthcare marketer? Traditional model was very straightforward: send people a mailer or an agent, they sign up. Now they may get input from a number of places. Most marketers don’t cover the fact that you’re watching an ad then go to Google and search; they don’t have a search strategy combined with their TV buy. Mobile devices a big black hole because there is no equivalent to a cookie to find out how they researched their decision on their phone or tablet, then moved to their computer or the other way round. Gamification may become part of the marketing process: reward people for learning about the health.
What’s the impact of the startup problems at healthcare.gov and the state exchanges? People assume that the Internet “just works” so this has been a profoundly negative experience. We know from retail that when people experience this kind of “choke point” they don’t return. But ACA is a marathon, not a sprint. The question is how well the government will respond from here.
October 14th, 2013 — Everything else, Marketing, Words and writing
Dan Ariely is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, and also a consultant to the Wilde Agency. Yesterday he delivered an entertaining and eye-opening keynote called “Who Put the Monkey in the Driver’s Seat?” in which he documented irrational and yet predictable human behavior for the benefit of the direct marketers at DMA2013.
First example: statistics for organ donor signups in European nations. Organ donation doesn’t hit all the altruism hot buttons because it happens after you’re dead, and the recipient will never know who provided the life-saving transplant. So it’s not surprising that donations are close to zero in some countries, such as Germany. Yet in demographically similar nations, such as Austria, donations are close to 100%. The difference? In the high-donor nations people have to opt out at their DMV if they don’t want to donate and people will do almost anything to avoid doing something.
This buckslip produced a 588% lift.
Moving on to direct marketing: a large insurance company wanted to improve response for its affinity accidental death offer. So a chart was added on a buckslip, showing people that although they are eligible for $3 million in coverage at present they are only at $800K. It’s obvious at a glance that the reader is missing out. Given a reference point, response increased from 0.34% to 2%.
Another example is a response form for The Economist. Given the choice of an online-only subscription for $59, print-only for $125, or online plus print for $125, 84% opted for the last option. Who wouldn’t—it’s like getting online for free! But in fact it’s a significant upsell for anyone who was considering an online-only subscription. And when the print-only option was removed the numbers reversed: 68% went for online-only, vs only 32% for the online plus print combo.
Ariely poked fun at the direct marketer’s infatuation with Big Data.
As a creative practitioner, I eat this up. It’s one thing to sell your prospects through a positive reception of your carefully presented benefits, but much better if you can cement the sale by making them feel like they’ve gotten a great deal or they aren’t missing out. As to that organ donor stat, most of us have found that negative option offers (in which you have to opt out to keep something from happening) lead to poor pay-up, conversions and renewals. But if the consumer is dead, I guess that isn’t a problem. Fascinating stuff.
October 13th, 2013 — Marketing
I just arrived in Chicago for the Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference and have already seen a couple of great sessions and met some folks that made the whole trip worthwhile. (Also happened to walk down Michigan Avenue as the marathon was being run and got to see both the men and women winners.) If you’re here please email me via the contact form or tweet to @otisregrets and hopefully we’ll find a time to meet up.
I’m leading a panel at 10 am Wednesday with Dawn Wolfe of Autodesk and Philip Reynolds of Palio+Ignite. The topic is “KISS: Keys to Copy and Content that Generate Results” and we’ll talk about how to apply powerful and simple communications techniques to selling complex products. Attend and you will see and learn:
* A refi direct mail offer that was so successful, it drew a cease-and-desist order
* An insider’s view of ED (erectile dysfunction) advertising
* how to sell software through “gamification”
* and much more!
This is the last breakout session of the conference and the exhibit hall will have shut the day previous, so there’s absolutely no reason not to join us. See you one Wednesday October 16.
October 7th, 2013 — Marketing, Words and writing
Here is a great project for your copywriting class or inhouse brainstorming session: give everybody five minutes to write the best possible Twitter bio, which has to be 160 characters or less, including spaces.
Your Twitter bio is what shows up in another user’s inbox when you follow them and they make a split second decision about whether to follow you in return. The New York Times had a nice sidebar piece in which they join Slate and the Washington Post in anointing Hillary Clinton’s bio a superb example of the craft:
Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD …
It states her qualifications, though not in a pompous way. It veers off into some relevant light touches (Hilary’s lack of hair savvy and her predilection for pantsuits are well known non-presidential attributes) which are amusing without being frivolous.
A bio like that promises that the tweets also will be interesting, and that you may meet other cool folk by following her. It’s much more effective than a straightforward statement of qualifications, or an unabashedly promotional bio like the one Lady Gaga is currently running: BUY MY NEW SINGLE ‘APPLAUSE’ AND PRE-ORDER MY ALBUM ‘ARTPOP’ HERE NOW!
Before writing this post I checked my own neglected bio for @otisregrets and found it pretty terrible:
Results-focused ad copywriter; blogger about writing, marketing, customer service, technology and more.
I gave myself the five minutes and came up with:
I write direct response ads, web pages, emails, direct mail & whatnot. Gold Echo & Caples Silver Cup winner. Guilty pleasure: streaming bluegrass videos at work.
Some work qualifications hopefully written in a casual way… but I don’t like the personal aside because it might imply to some that I bill for time when I’m actually not working. (I don’t.) So I tweaked it to:
I write results-oriented ads, web pages, emails, direct mail & whatnot. Gold Echo & Caples Silver Cup winner. Read my blog for marketing tips & off-topic rants.
The blog’s a good call to action since that is indeed where I want the reader to go next, and the throwaway about “off topic rants” will hopefully garner curiosity. I’m sure I can do better but I only had 5 minutes. Let me know how you do on your bio.
August 12th, 2013 — Customer service, Marketing
A death in the family caused us to contact Fidelity Investments, where the deceased’s assets were held. Fidelity told us we’d need to sign a form for redistribution of assets, and it would arrive in five business days. When about two weeks had elapsed, and no form, a family member called Fidelity and was told a/they had no way of tracking the form or even verifying it had been sent and b/mailing the form was unnecessary since it was available online. We then downloaded the form, completed it, and were done. 19 days after the original request (so 15 business days) the forms finally arrived in the mail. Two days after that, a second set of forms arrived in the mail.
There were three people involved on the recipient end. One of them had previous experience with Fidelity through a lump sum disbursement of a retirement account and commented “Fidelity… I should have known.” The second had no previous experience with Fidelity and is unlikely to establish a relationship on the basis of this experience. The third was me, who has had his business at Fidelity for many years and has always been delighted with the service and so was baffled by this Keystone Kops routine.
So, is there a double standard, where existing customers are treated better than potential new customers? In a perfect world, that’s the way it would be. But how much does it cost to gain a new customer? Wouldn’t it have been better to woo these two prospects rather than driving them away?
In a word, yes. Customers die, change their focus or get lured away by a more aggressive competitor. You ALWAYS need new business, and if you can acquire it at low cost that gives you more resources to use for pampering existing customers. Fidelity should get its departments talking to one another so fiascos like this aren’t the face of the company to prospective customers.
May 3rd, 2013 — Everything else, Marketing, Non-profit
Values.com billboard in Latham, NY
I pass this billboard frequently on a busy highway in upstate New York. It has multiple inspirational headlines stacked like cordwood: Driven/ Innovation/ Pass It On/ Values.com. To the left, a photo of Henry Ford (we know it’s him because there is a caption that says Henry Ford), driving (not being driven in) an early horseless carriage. The net effect is too much of a good thing, and I see it all the time, so I finally had to write about it.
Part of the problem is that the placement is a stone’s throw from Troy, NY, birthplace of the Arrow shirt, the cast iron stove, Uncle Sam and The Night Before Christmas among innovations. It sticks in our craw that they chose a non-local for their innovator. But the bigger issue is the multiple inspirational sayings when just one or two would do. It’s like too much candy on Halloween.
I headed over to Values.com to learn more about exactly what inspires them to inspire. It’s an interesting website. You can’t join them or give them money or get money from them; they’re doing this because “We believe that people are basically good and often benefit from a simple reminder.” Fair enough, and a good reason they deserve a little gentle nudging to make sure those reminders are effective.
There’s a section on the website called “Billboards” and on it you can create your own values billboard and look at it online, or look at billboards others have created. Each has one photo, one headline and one value and works a lot better than Values.com’s “Driven” effort. Give it a try. (But be sure your inspiration is not something naughty like “beer” or you’ll get a server error.)
By the way, what the website does not say is that Values.com is apparently funded by evangelical Christian Phillip Anschutz, who according to Wikipedia has also funded a think tank that criticizes evolution and a ballot initiative designed to overturn local and state laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. If I were Mr. Anschutz, I would identify myself and make my case on the website rather than leaving it to the curious visitor to go googling and draw their own conclusions.
April 29th, 2013 — Marketing, Words and writing
Bose speaker ad
We’re back as promised to that corridor of horrors where tyro copywriters go to die. But this time we’ll focus on the context in which your headline/outer teaser is read and include a couple of positive examples.
First, some badvertising from Bose on the back of a Sunday newspaper insert… about as broad a demographic as you can find. “If you think watching TV is exciting, wait until you really hear it.” There are two things wrong here. First, the copywriter assumes universal agreement that “watching TV is exciting”. If it’s not a head-nodder then the reader is lost. But do we all agree that “watching TV is exciting”? Not likely. Second, there’s an intellectual contortion required to stay with the writer’s train of thought. When you switch from one action mode to another (watching… to listening) that’s some heavy lifting for the reader to do in their mind’s eye. Not likely they will stay around for the body copy, and neither shall we.
Wall Street Journal “welcome back”
Now look at this envelope from the Wall Street Journal: “Welcome Back”. Apparently I renewed after a lapse but don’t remember doing so; naturally, I’m going to open the envelope to see what I agreed to. And when I get inside it turns out this is their standard “professional courtesy discount” offer; they WANT to say welcome back and maybe I will feel a little guilty about getting an offer that maybe I’m not entitled to so you can guess I’ll jump on that. The two simple words “Welcome Back” do a brilliant job of framing the conversation and getting me involved.
Coke Zero “don’t read” banner
Same thing with this Coke Zero banner that ran during the NCAA championship game: “Don’t read this banner. There’s basketball on.” Well, of course I’m going to read it because I can’t not do so. But in this chest-bumping environment I will give you huge points for the apparent cool factor. Yet it actually ties perfectly into their tag line, “enjoy everything”.
The copywriters on the WSJ and Coke Zero projects thought about the environment in which the prospect is viewing the ad, and meet them on their own turf. The Bose copywriter asked readers to switch from what they’re doing to what the writer wants them to think about. Which is better and more effective?
April 25th, 2013 — Customer service, Marketing
I used a Citi “Thank You” card as my main purchasing vehicle for maybe 10 years. Its attraction was that it credited travel points for miles on any airline (at the time, unheard of) and I amassed some 300,000 points and paid the $75 annual fee each of those ten years. Then, about a year ago, I happened to have a question about my account and the telephone rep told me that virtually all my points were expiring in 90 days. I could purchase travel for a future date but if I didn’t buy something before the deadline they were gone.
So, my wife and kid went to visit friends in Germany in high season at a ridiculous price and we used more points on a family vacation. There were still tens of thousands of points left over so I transferred them to a new, no-fee Thank You card and cancelled the paid card. A few months later that card’s points are about to expire so I have been scheming to get some value out of them. It’s an expensive time to book travel so I’m looking to buy gift cards for places where I spend money. Meanwhile, from Citi’s perspective, I’ve transitioned from a presumably profitable customer paying a high annual fee to a fee-free and soon to be ex-customer.
While I’ve been spending way too much time negotiating with the Thank You folks, I have wondered whether there are any useful marketing lessons to be gleaned. Certainly the strangest policy is to let points expire without notifying the customer. It’s not like you get an AAdvantage statement where you can see that you need to book travel before a certain date to keep your old points; the whole procedure is invisible unless you log onto their website. Why in the world don’t they send me notices that warn, “your points are about to expire, here are some great offers from our partners”?
And about that website. You can check your points from your Citi card login which takes you to a rather promotional and unhelpful website, but there is a shadow thankyou.com website that you will never see unless you establish a separate log-in with a username and password that have different rules from your Citi card login. Yet this secret handshake is required for certain privileges, such as redeeming for Amazon purchases which they offered me recently (that’s how I found out about the separate website). And I don’t consider myself a web troglodyte. What happens with people who barely know how to log on, or still do their business by phone?
Thus, when I got an invitation to take a survey and say how happy I was with Thank You Points, you can bet I swooped down on it like a hawk on a chicken. A few days later I got an email from a certain [redacted], inviting me to call her and explain why I would not recommend Thank You to a friend. Apparently she had tried repeatedly to reach me by phone, which is peculiar because my cell is listed in my Citi contact information and there is no record of calls from unidentified callers. I called her back and left a message, also emailed her, and she did not return my call or respond to the email. But I was more than ready to share my opinion, so I am doing it here. [UPDATE: she finally did call me. See the comment for an update, plus why it took so long.]
What can marketers learn from all this? First, the points expiration seems ridiculous, but any expiration must be treated as an opportunity to contact your customer. Not doing that is just crazy. It’s lost revenue and lost good will.
Second, byzantine websites that require the user to decode your intentions are not okay. (If you want to book travel, the main reason I got the card, that link is buried in the bottom menu of the page of “rewards” below bubbly cross-promotions.) If you aren’t willing to meet your customer’s needs with clean and logical navigation, they will go find somebody who will.
Third, don’t play games by telling me you’ve tried to contact me when you haven’t and then not responding to my calls and emails. That’s middle school stuff.
To be fair, I haven’t reported some nice transactions with Citi folks on the phone trying to solve these problems but neither have I described every problem I’ve had with this program; there’s lots more. Also, full disclosure, I bought Citi stock when it was in the toilet and have made enough to pay for the points I lost. But not for the aggravation.