Direct mail is coming back. But don’t forget the golden rules…

People are saying that good old direct mail is having a bit of a renaissance. The growth of edm and the price of postage has seen DM die off in recent years but some are saying it’s on its way back, partly due to its very rarity and therefore renewed impact on the doormat.

Time will tell, but it’s my favourite medium by a long way, so I hope its popularity is restored to its former glory.

Which is why I was so disappointed by a b2b direct mail pack I received yesterday from Parcelforce. You’d have thought, wouldn’t you, that a company whose entire existence is based on the post would be able to commission a half-decent mailing?

(I used to work on the Royal Mail account many years ago when I was a direct marketing agency Creative Director, and we made sure that every mailing we did for them was a paragon of dm best practice. It would be odd not to. Medium/message and all that.)

This mailing, however, was almost embarrassing in its cluelessness.

Because I work in the business, I ploughed through it to try and glean what it was all about whereas most recipients would have moved it swiftly bin-wise.

Clearly, Parcel Force have teamed up with the makers of the new Paddington Bear film. I guessed this because the whole mailing is festooned — no, smothered — in pictures of our favourite peruvian quadruped and lame bear puns abound. Bear essentials, bearing parcels. Oh, be still my quaking sides.

What this has got to do with a business to business delivery proposition, I have (still) no idea. The business benefits messages (such as they are) are buried beneath the bear puns, bear pictures and references to the film.

The mailing consists of two A5 landcape brochures in an A5 outer. A six pager and a 4 pager. 10 pages are therefore available to tell me why I should use Parcel Force. Most of these are utterly wasted. Four are just pictures of Paddington, ads for the film, and a Merry Christmas from New York message which leaves me utterly nonplussed. What has this got to do with anything?

I thought for a second, that there wasn’t even a letter. Repeat after me: YOU NEVER EVER SEND OUT A DM PACK WITHOUT A LETTER.

Leave out the brochure, leave out the response device, leave out the testimonials lift letter, the offer flyer. Leave out the bloody envelope, but never ever leave out a letter.

This letter was simply printed on the inside flap of the 4pp leaflet. A waste of personalisation as it gained no leverage from using my name. It didn’t read like a letter. It read like an ad. Wrong.

The headline on the letter was a tragedy in itself:

We’re bearers of Great British Delivery

What does that even MEAN? Clearly the writer was so excited about Paddington that any sense of trying to sell me something, engage with my business needs, or even hint at a reason for writing to me,  had never entered his or her head.

The letter starts by telling me that Paddington’s story ‘began with a Great British Delivery’  and ‘he has now become a part and parcel of British life’. Parcel! Geddit?

WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS UTTER BULLSHIT?

They then tell me, second para, that Paddington is coming to the big screen.

WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS IN A PARCELFORCE MAILING?

Finally, three paras in, we get to some sort of product story.  They tell me, knowingly, that ‘your customers want a carrier that can offer them choice, convenience and control’.

Eh?

My customers want this? Not my own company, then? What sort of company do they think Simon Plent Direct Marketing might be? Do they think I might be advising my clients about what parcel delivery service to use? What crazy mixed-up list is my company on?

Leaving this nonsensical non-targetting aside, the letter, and in fact the whole mailer, is overflowing with cliches about the brilliance of Parcel Force’s service:

‘We put convenience first’ ‘You need a carrier you can trust’ ‘Our exceptional quality of service’  This is entirely the level of business to business engagement it operates on. How old do they think I am? Four?

Please please please. Write the letter first. Cram it with interesting stuff I might want to know. Not stuff you want to tell me. Especially stuff about Paddington bear.

I AM A GROWN UP RUNNING A BUSINESS. I DO NOT CARE THAT THERE IS A PADDINGTON BEAR FILM COMING OUT AT CHRISTMAS.

Life is too short, and my time is too expensive, to waste it on rubbish like this.

Tell me what it is you’re offering. Tell me why I need it, how it will help my business. Tell me what you want me to do. And give me a good reason for doing it RIGHT now.

Other than to get me to fill in a form about what sort of parcel services I use (suddenly not how many my customers use?) in return for entering a prize draw to win a trip to, yep you guessed it, Darkest Peru, I have absolutely no idea what this mailer is for.

I have heard of Parcelforce. If my business involves parcels, I presumably know broadly what they offer. This mailing doesn’t tell me anything new, doesn’t announce a new service, doesn’t offer me a discount or any other incentive to use them. So what is the purpose of this mailing?

And, most frustratingly of all, it fails to answer the question burning a hole in the brain of every recipient: what the hell has Parcelforce got to do with a new Paddington Bear film?

A website that doesn’t show your products?

I had a very interesting conversation the other day. I was chatting to a senior agency chap who was telling me about their new website, currently in production. We logged into the work-in-progress build so he could show me what they were up to.

The site was great, with attractive graphics, nice clear navigation and a straightforward exposition of what the agency’s philosophy was. So far so good.

Until I asked him to click on ‘Our Work’.

I was expecting to see screengrabs of the websites they’d made, shots of their best press ads so I could admire the concepts and read the body copy. I expected to be able to click on clips of their TV and online video stuff and flick through some of their grooviest brochures. I was looking forward to seeing some of their ground-breaking exhibition stands in situ.

Except I couldn’t. There wasn’t a single example of a complete, finished piece of work.

There were loads of design elements taken from a campaign, and some shots that might have been used in ads or online. But not the actual ads themselves or websites or emails or corporate ID packages or pack designs or any of the other lovely work they’ve done.

Think about this for a second.

Imagine going to Ford’s website and not seeing a single picture of a car. Just a nice, arty shot of a steering wheel. Or going to Apple’s website and not seeing a picture of an iPhone. Just a little picture of a printed circuit. Or going to Next’s website and not seeing a picture of the coat they’re selling, just a picture of a button on the cuff. Imagine going to an architect’s site and not seeing any pictures of the buildings they’ve designed.

Is it just me, or would you find this somewhat odd? You build a fantastically expensive, beautiful, engaging website in order to sell your wares and, er, you don’t show them?

So this agency had made a creative decision not to show the stuff it sells. The stuff it sweats blood over. The stuff its clients pay a bloody fortune for and hang proudly on their boardroom walls.

There were loads of case studies telling the visitor how brilliant they were at solving the clients’ marketing issues in creative and striking ways. But we had to take this entirely on trust as none of the work was there to actually see.

Not a sausage.

How could this happen? How could senior agency management make a decision not to show the very things that prospective clients would be most interested in seeing? If you don’t have anything else on the site, at least show the work, surely?

I didn’t have the nerve to press the chap at the time. People tend to get extremely defensive when Emperor’s New Clothes type comments are lobbed at them.

But I suspect it’s because of at least two things.

Firstly, I believe the website creation was put in the hands of the agency’s own website developers/designers. And not in the hands of their planners, copywriters or art directors. This meant that its whole development was approached from a technology/build perspective, not a marketing/sales perspective. So everyone admired the sliders, the dissolves, the colours, the parallax scrolling…and forgot about the site’s fundamental reason for existing.

Which brings us to reason two. I suspect there was a failure at the most basic level of communications strategy. They should have been applying the same rigour they would demand on a project for a client, and saying to themselves “What will the people visiting this site most want to see? What do we need to show them to make them consider buying our services?” and answering “Our work, of course! Hurrah!”

So what’s the lesson to be learnt here? One, if you’re an agency, ensure you approach your own marketing with the same clarity of thought you’d apply to your clients’ projects. That means establishing clear objectives and communications strategy at the outset.

Or two, consider giving the website concept development to an outside party who can remain objective and focussed. And who can say “But, but, but he’s not wearing any clothes?” and not worry about the internal political consequences.

Click on Contact at the top of the page if you’d like my help.

 

 

 

 

 

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

A picture, so it’s said, paints a thousand words. And certainly, in some contexts, this is true. In particular, a powerful news image can tell you a story instantly. In a film or tv drama, the whole purpose of the exercise is, as any screenwriter will tell you, to tell a story using pictures.

But is it true in marketing and advertising?

Take a look at the average website and you’d certainly think so. Big images, big sliders, hardly any copy. (And often the copy is small, discreet, pale grey reversed out of red or something.) They often look amazingly cool and groovy and are often produced by amazingly cool and groovy people in amazingly cool and groovy offices.

But do they work to sell your stuff?

Mention the word ‘sell’ to a typical web designer and you’ll see a look of utter incomprehension enter his eyes. You’ll hear a sharp intake of breath at the very suggestion that his art might be sullied for mere commercial gain.

I exaggerate of course. But, in my experience, the truth is closer to this than many marketeers and company owners might like to think.

So let’s just remind ourselves what websites, edm and all the rest are really for.

They’re to get people to want to buy your products or services. Or, at the very least, to get people to find out about your products or services and move them a little way towards a buying decision.

Now I realise at this point that some of you (and maybe a lot of you) will be saying “Oh no, it’s to build our brand”.

That’s because, to repeat myself from previous posts, there is a very odd and utterly misguided viewpoint that’s very current amongst many marketing folk. And that’s the belief that ‘you build a brand and then people will try your products’.

This is utter tosh. The truth is actually almost the complete opposite: getting people to try your products is what builds your brand.

And you get people to try your product by telling them how great it is. And giving them all sorts of practical and emotional REASONS why they should try it. Once they engage with your product they’ll form a view about your brand.

This is really, really important.

There are small design groups (and big expensive agencies) all over the world who have completely lost track of this most basic marketing truth.

If nobody buys your stuff you don’t HAVE a brand. You have a corporate ID. A nice logo and some whizzy graphics. (And a website that’s all cool and groovy images.)

You might call that a brand, but it’s a long, long way from being a brand. A brand is created in your customer’s mind, not on a designer’s Mac.

It’s created by her experience of everything about your product. The price, your service, how well your product meets her needs, whether it’s trendy and so on, and so on.

Sadly, building a whizzy website with cool photography and whizzy graphics is far, far easier than creating a powerful marketing and advertising strategy that goes to the heart of your target audience’s practical needs and emotional mindset.

There’s real graft involved in tearing your marketplace to shreds to identify your real USP. There’s lots of time involved in researching your customers until you’re sick of listening to them.

It takes clever creative people to write engaging and dramatic headlines that will stop customers in their tracks and pull them into the detail.

This is why your website needs to be driven by a coherent marketing and communications strategy. It needs, just like a tv ad, to be utterly clear about what unique benefits you’re offering your customers. It needs to give them lots of reasons why they should give your product or try.

And unless you’re selling fashion items where the picture does most of the work, or you’re a pure online retailer like Amazon where people simply go to buy at the best price, this means writing some great copy.

Some powerful, benefit driven headlines. Some well-crafted engaging body copy that draws the reader in, drives her towards a sale.

And perhaps a little video that lets you explain and perhaps demonstrate what your product or service is all about. (Plus, of course, great pics of your products or service or your team or your customers. Don’t use library shots if you can possibly avoid it.)

Remember, any advertising, be it your website, your radio ads or your 48 sheet poster, is only there because you can’t talk to all your customers face to face. 

PS I have deliberately avoided the topic of search engine optimisation in this post. It goes without saying that your customer has to find your site before she can read it. Don’t be misled, however, into thinking your web developer’s job is done just because your new site has leapt up the Google rankings. It’s a common, and dangerous, error.

 

 

 

And now everybody scrolls

You have to laugh.

This blog is entitled Nobody Scrolls as an ironic reference to the fact that when I started it, everyone who claimed to be an internet marketing expert told you that Nobody Scrolls.

This was a couple of years ago. But now, these same, ahem, experts will tell you that you have to use the latest, ahem ahem, ‘best practice’ website structure which is entirely based on the concept of scrolling.

You’re doubtless familiar with the current fashion. It involves a large image section at the top of the page, often with two or three ‘sliders’ which sometimes change this image automatically. (I find these very annoying, personally. You may not.)

Below this, you find a succession of pages stacked on top of each other which you are obliged to scroll down. Sometimes these go on for several feet. Scrolltastic!

Launchbar is a small add-on application for Apple’s Mavericks operating system and is a perfect example of this kind of website. It actually works quite well.  Have a look when you’ve finished reading this post. http://www.obdev.at/products/launchbar/index.html

(Note how I didn’t include a  link here. Links make people leave your page. Two years ago every self-styled web expert would say nobody scrolls, fill your site with links.)

So clearly something has changed out there, to make all the gurus change their tune completely?

And of course the thing that has changed is not our web-browsing habits, it’s not the way the world uses its computers. It’s not that we’ve all suddenly fallen in love with scrolling (because we all loved scrolling already).

What has changed is the technology used to build the pages. The propellorheads who are still mostly in control of web design and development have now decided that this format is the way to go, so everyone is following sheep-like with big sliders, stacked pages and, bless-em, parallax scrolling (where a layer of type or imagery moves in relation to the background as you scroll).

And this technology-driven shift is post-rationalised as being driven by communications considerations.

It ain’t. It’s nothing but fashion, folks.

And until web design and edm management is dragged into the hands of properly trained designers and copywriters, fashion will continue to drive how our websites and edm look.

Having said that, the new ‘rules’ are a lot better than the old rules and many sites are now doing a pretty good job, like the site mentioned above. Apple continues to be a paragon of clarity. And the BBC.

Naturally, if you’re trying to sell direct off your site, you learn really quickly what works and what doesn’t. Amazon and John Lewis are perfect examples. It’s no coincidence they’re massively successful.

But until the rest of the world wakes up and sees web design as a words-driven medium, as Apple, BBC and Amazon do, just like any other form of marketing communication, we’re stuck with silly over-designed sites that simply follow the flavour-of-the-month formats which are based entirely on how pretty they look.

And not at all on how effectively they tell your story.

 

 

Why waste your precious budget telling punters what your product isn’t?

You see it time and time again. Ads where the hugely expensive media cost and production costs are squandered by telling the the potential customer what the product isn’t, rather than what it is.

Insanity. You see it on TV, in the press, in DM and online.

There’s a particularly idiotic example poisoning the airwaves at the mo. It’s for Trainline’s app that lets you organise your railway journeys from your mobile.

Self-evidently, if you’re a regular user of the railway anything that takes the pain out of the process has got to be a good thing.

My local operator won’t let you buy a weekly ticket on a friday for journeys starting the following monday, for example. (I have no idea why. And neither have the poor folk manning the tills. When the tills are manned that is.)

So, in theory, I might be a candidate customer for the app in question. I’d therefore like to know all about it. What it can do. Where I can get it. And so on.

But does the 30 sec tv spot tell me any of this? Noooooo. Of course not. The people involved in making this masterpiece have decided to use the spot to tell me what the app doesn’t do. It doesn’t help me put out a fire on my computer. Or help me when my parachute fails at 20,000 feet. Fascinating.

Clearly, my sides are supposed to be splitting at this.

Except they’re not. I’m really annoyed that they waste 20 seconds of a 30 second spot not telling me the stuff that, as a potential user, I’d actually really like to know.

 

Social Media: why it’s a PR medium not an advertising medium

These days, you can’t do an advertising pitch to a potential new client without including some soshul meeja, innit, content.

So the copywriters and art directors come up with all sorts of cool and groovy uses for Facebook, Twitter, Vine et al and, depressingly often, an App relating to the client’s product or brand (which, needless to say, never gets made).

The problem is, in the real world social media isn’t an advertising medium, it’s a PR medium. Companies that recognise this crucial distinction are able to use social media effectively and very cost-efficiently.

That’s because they realise that, exactly like ye olde media like newspapers, the most effective place for your sales message is in editorial.

Editorial is the stuff people WANT to read. The stuff that gives them useful information or entertains them with gossip. Ads are what people do their utmost to ignore.

So when you try and shoehorn your advertising campaign’s messages and tone of voice into social media it just screams I AM ADVERTISING PLEASE IGNORE ME.

Advertising people don’t understand PR. (And, to be fair, most PR people can’t do decent advertising, either.) Advertising people generally think PR is something that’s done by airhead toffs called Giles and Camilla. And that it’s easy. And somehow less important than advertising.

Wrong.

Get your new product into some editorial, because it’s relevant, interesting, entertaining, and you get a million times more bang for your buck. (Well, perhaps not a million, but a PR person will give you the actual data.)

Effective Twitter campaigns provide a constant stream of useful information. Be it recipes, links, tips and techniques. Nobody will re-tweet your, oh-so witty, ad campaign headline.

Ditto Facebook. Sure you can drag people to your Facebook page with an offer or promotion. But don’t be fooled into thinking bribing people to Like you has got anything to do with effective use of the medium.

Get some important journalists or opinion formers behind your brand, however, by using social media properly and you’re suddenly on a different planet results-wise.

Which is why clever clients, and clever ad people, know that it’s the PR agency who should be running their Facebook and Twitter activity. Not the ad agency.

 

 

The John Lewis Christmas telly ad. I thought it was just me…

Very pleased to read AA Gill in the Sunday Times writing about this Christmas’s TV offering. I thought I was alone in finding it cynical, sentimental and manipulative — the accidental, unforced charm of the original three years ago (the boy waiting for christmas so he could GIVE the presents) having been replaced by a big budget pre-hype campaign including selling cuddly toys of the animated characters in the ad…advertising advertising in other words? What?

Here’s what Gill had to say about the ad and, for good measure, about my noble, ahem, profession of copywriter:

“It left me Scroogeishly dry-eyed. It was a sickly, anthropomorphic cartoon about a hare getting a bear an alarm clock. The animation was tedious, the concept idiotic, the purpose cynically saccharine.”

He heaps similar scorn on the ads from M&S and Tesco: “Snot-ragged melodrama that reminds you of how good advertising used to be, how witty and skilful, and how comparatively sophisticated it assumed its audience to be. Ad men were once demi-celebrities: they were exciting, important enough to be sent up. Of all the media businesses that have been turned over by the new age, advertising has suffered the most. Now a copywriter is a clerk, a man who composes the annoying sidebars on websites…”

…and self-important blogs, of course.

 

 

The copy’s too long

No it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t.

Have you ever had a conversation like this?

It doesn’t really matter if you’re on the Yes It Is side or on the No It Isn’t side.The fact is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule about the length of copy on an ad, an email, a dm letter.

The length of the copy in any particular execution should be, simply, as long as it needs to be.

It all comes down to three simple things:

* What you want the reader to do once they’ve seen the advertising

* What you’re selling

* How much it costs

Need someone to change their bank account to your bank, need someone to give money to a charity they’ve never heard of, need someone to phone for a car insurance quote, need someone to buy your tasty sausages, need someone to buy your hair dye, need someone to take out a monthly subscription to your cable TV and broadband service…

They’re all different objectives, and the length of copy should be markedly different as a result.

Wildly simplified, the more difficult the decision that you’re asking the reader to make, the more reasons you need to convince her to make it.

Asking someone to try your scrumptious sausages next time they’re in Tesco? Awareness is enough, and perhaps a bit of discount. No copy, really.

Ask someone to give money to a charity, however, and you’re going to have to convince them it’s the right thing to do. Not only are they parting with their cash, they’re not getting anything in return other than a sense of Doing The RIght Thing. (Not to be sniffed at, as a motivation, mind you.)

This is why TV direct response charity ads tend to be a minute or more (the successful ones, anyway).

Ask someone to pay £30 every month for Virgin TV, cable, broadband etc and you’re going to have to really spell out the reasons to do it if you want your response to be anything other than pitiful. Sadly, most of the marketeers running these kinds of business don’t get it. So the responses tend to be pitiful. And the mailpacks tend to be much more expensive than they need to be, too.

And the more expensive the product or service, the longer the copy needs to be generally (if you want them to sign up there and then or make the call).

But nobody reads the body copy!

If I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this, I would have retired to the Bahamas aged 30.

It simply isn’t true.

What IS true is this: MOST people don’t read the body copy.

Actually, most people don’t even read the bloody headline.

But those people who DO read the body copy are the people you need. They’ve read the headline and decided, hmmm, I might want this. So they read on.

They’re a tiny proportion of the people who saw the ad or letter initially. But remember, you can never sell anything to someone who’s not in the market for it.

But if they are, for goodness’ sake give them enough information for them to be able to make a really informed yes or no decision. Reel them in, persuasive fact by persuasive fact to keep them hooked til the end.

And generally, crushingly sad as art directors and designers find this fact, the longer the copy, the more stuff you sell.

So if the copy needs to be four pages long to get in all the great reasons to buy or act, then four pages long is precisely the length it should be.

 

 

 

 

Is this the most dangerous ad ever written?

It’s very rare that a piece of advertising or marketing is genuinely a matter of life and death. Which is why I was so incensed to see a tube card the other day that was bordering on the evil.

Tube cards are the little posters above the windows in tube carriages. They’re interesting because unlike most ‘outdoor’ advertising spaces, you can write some long copy as you’ve got a fairly captive audience. Ditto their cross-track cousins at stations.

Which is another reason why this particular aberration was so startlingly misjudged.

The headlline said You Do Know the FIve Signs of Breast Cancer, don’t you? 

Good headline, got my attention, got my interest.

But did it then tell me what these signs are so I could check? No it didn’t. It asked me to send a text (yes, send a text, not even visit a website) whereafter I would be sent these potentially life-saving nuggets of information.

Not so much as a hint about what these signs or symptoms could be.

I’m sure you’re ahead of me, here, but the question is, of course: Why on earth, if the campaign is all about helping people detect cancer early, would you not give the answers there and then? On the poster. Where people could read it. And think about it.

What possible benefit is there in teasing the reader with such a powerful headline and then not telling him (or more likely her) how to spot the signs?

But I guarantee I know how it happened.

Someone — perhaps the dimwitted client, perhaps the moron planner, perhaps the junior creative team with a single GCSE in art and drama between them — decided this campaign was about Social Medial.

“Yeah, soshul meeeeeja..that’s where it’s at. SMS’s, Facebook. Let’s get them to text and it’ll be really cool, yeah, woooooh.”

(I’ve been in meetings like this, I’m not exagerating one jot.)

Nobody around the table had the common sense to pause for even a nanosecond to put their teeny brains into gear and think.

To think something like, “Er, but if our job is to stop people dying of breast cancer un-necessarily, surely we should get this vital information to them as fast and simply as possible? You know, actually writing it in the ad and stuff? We can always give them a website or a text number to find out more if there’s not enough room.”

Instead, people might actually die because these total fuckwits didn’t think about the message, only about the medium. And that is a total bloody disgrace.

The best copy in the world can’t sell something nobody wants

In Saffron Walden, where I’m lucky enough to live, shops open and then close down again in the blink of an eye. They’re always shops that sell stuff that their owners are clearly passionate about — Pin Cushions R-Us! or Dog Trousers Unlimited or Tripe-2-Go.

The problem is, their passion isn’t shared by the community at large. They simply don’t have a market. Hardly anybody wants the things they’re selling. So they fail. And quickly.

And exactly the same thing happens in the broader marketing community, too. People launch products or services without bothering to find out whether there’s a viable market for it.

They’re excited about it so they assume the world at large will be. And they’re very often wrong.

It’s easy to launch your business online, of course. Build a WordPress website, get some basic SEO, send out some emails with MailChimp and bingo, you’re a business.

It’s a sort-of puppyish “If you build it they will come!” mentality.

Except they don’t come. Unless you’ve researched your market properly, and identified a large number of punters who need what you’re flogging, they’ll stay away in droves.

And it doesn’t matter how good the promotion is ie how persuasive the copy is, how cool the corporate ID is, how witty the advertising. If nobody wants it, it won’t sell.

(And you can take solace from the fact that big multinationals get it wrong sometimes too. Because they didn’t do the right market research. Or they didn’t do any at all.)

But if you’ve got something the world is actually waiting for — the fabled ‘Better Mousetrap’ — then good advertising and marketing will help you find more customers and sell more mousetraps. Think of Dyson. Genius idea, superbly effective advertising and marketing…sensational customer service…funky design…and…and…and…

So how do you know if there’s a market out there? The easiest way is to look for someone already selling what you’re proposing to sell. Are there a few people out there making an honest crust doing something similar to your idea, at a similar price?

Yes? Then a market probably exists and your idea may have legs. Hooray! Next step, ask yourself whether you can do it better, cheaper, faster.

On the other hand, if you can’t find anyone selling what you’re proposing to sell, there are two reasons why this might be.

1: Your idea is so amazingly innovative and different that nobody else has thought of it yet. But it will still answer a need of some sort. Think Dyson: the Better Hoover without a Bag. Think of a tasty new food product. People need to eat. Think of a way to carry all your music in a tiny little hard-drive.

2: There simply isn’t a market for it.