Category Archives: Online Marketing

What’s the story with ‘storytelling’?

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There’s nothing digital marketers like more than a new buzzword. And the latest one is ‘storytelling’. Apparently your website or digital marketing is missing a gigantically effective trick if you’re not using storytelling.

Er, OK. So what actually is storytelling, pray tell?

When you scratch the surface of this latest fad you discover that it’s nothing more than a loose description for a load of well-tried and well-tested copywriting techniques that good copywriters have been using for centuries.

(The insularity and ignorance of many digital marketeers would be endearing if it wasn’t based on epic laziness and an epic failure to recognise that, you know, people were actually quite good at selling stuff before the WWW came along. Much better, actually.)

So storytelling is simply using things like customer testimonials and (pretend or actual) real-life experiences…in fact, as far as I can see, anything that brings to life the human element of the sell you’re making.

And of course there is absolutely nothing new in this, whatsoever.

Some of the most successful direct marketing pieces ever have used ‘storytelling’ to sell by the barrowload. Think of the famous ‘two neighbours’ copy platform. This tells of two chaps who were born brought up next door to each other but one made the wise decision to buy X and is now rich and famous. The other didn’t and isn’t. Look it up.

Or the brilliant One Legged Golfer ad by John Carlton, possibly the best copywriter alive today now that his mentor Gary Halbert isn’t. It tells of a one-legged chap who developed an amazing golf swing and ultimately sells you a course of lessons to make yours equally effective.

Or the John Caples one “Do you make these mistakes in English?”. Or the David Ogilviy one (nicked from an earlier ad) “At 60 mph the loudest noise in this Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock.”

These are all storytelling, folks. They bring the product or service to life. They use social proof to demonstrate that other people are buying the product.

They are engaging, involving, motivating, intriguing. Everything that highly effective direct marketing copywriting needs to be.

 

 

Huzzah! A new ‘nobody scrolls’ has emerged from the digital universe.

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This blog is ironically named Nobody Scrolls in honour of the digital, ahem, gurus who used to bleat at us constantly that ‘nobody scrolls’ on websites or emails – despite massive evidence (and personal experience) to the contrary.

Now of course it’s recognised that we all scroll. So they’ve invented a new ‘rule’ to spout at every opportunity.

It’s “You must never say Click Here”.

Why? Because ‘it’s like writing Open Here on a door, so it’s unnecessary’. (I wish I were making this up!) You should use a phrase for the link that relates to what you’ll find at the end of it.

And because 60% of web users view it on a tablet, phone or other portable device so don’t actually click, they just touch and therefore it’s ‘wrong’ to say ‘click’ (as if the punter gives a monkey’s!).

This is all fine and dandy. Except it isn’t based on any evidence whatsoever. So it’s just more made-up ‘Expert Knowledge’ like ‘nobody scrolls’ was.

Wise marketeers and web designers who actually TEST the techniques they use on their sites and, especially on digital ads, know that using Click Here actually increases click through. (And of course, Buy Now and so on will work too.)

Again, this is a perfect example of how tried-and-tested techniques developed over millennia in print and broadcast media work just as well in the digital world. It’s simply because you’re giving the punter a clear and decisive Call To Action CTA).

Now there’s an important SEO element, of course, to links; and clearly Google will prefer a link that shows relevance to a search topic.

But if you just want the punter to move to the next level,  just ask her to do it.

 

Why Apple’s 2015 website feels like a classic 50s direct response letter

1930s Man Newspaper Reporter Wearing Hat Typing Smoking Cigar

I was chatting to Paul Lindsell, Creative Director of the excellent Space01 agency, yesterday and he was telling me how he’s banned his website team from using Lorem Ipsum when they’re putting a new site together. (Lorem Ipsum is the pretend latin type that we use to show where words go on a rough layout.)

Why? Because if they’re using Lorem Ipsum  it means the team aren’t focusing on the site’s messaging. They’re only focusing on the design. So he insists they use real customer-facing copy propositions at all times to ensure that the communications hierarchy is in place right from the start. The don’t have to insert finally crafted headlines at this stage, but they have to be in the ballpark.

This is a great idea.

Far too many sites are driven by design and technological or navigation considerations rather than by the clients’ marketing and communications objectives. Let’s have a slider, they’re groovy! Let’s have the main navigation at the side rather than the top! Cool! What are the headlines going to say? Who cares! It’s just content! Woohoo!

I really, really wish I was exaggerating here.

And it’s this aspect of website creation, more than anything else, that separates the men from the boys in the digital world.

The real smart operators understand that a website is no different from any other marketing medium.

It has to offer the visitor a clear hierarchy of benefits from the moment they land – be useful, solve problems, offer a deal, give advice. And so on.

And that’s one of the reasons that, quite remarkably, the most successful websites are starting to resemble old-fashioned direct response marketing pieces. No, really…

The Apple site is a perfect example.

I was reading up on their new Photos app, that’s replacing its current iPhoto offering (hooray!). The page is put together in a way that’s spookily reminiscent of a classic direct mail letter that could have been written in the 1950s…

It starts with a clear benefit-led headline and follows up with paragraph after paragraph leading with secondary benefits, supported by explanatory copy, relevant pictures and live interactive examples. All there on the page. No links away.

They even use what I call classic ‘You can…’ headlines:

Make an edit

Perfect your best shots

Take control of the finest details

What’s more, because everyone with a proper direct response background knows that the worst thing you can do is make your marketing look like advertising, the page is designed to look and feel like editorial.

Because there are no links away, you start at the top and read to the end; convinced you want the product. And, guess what, there’s the call to action, right at the bottom, just like on that 50s DM letter. Complete with Act Right Now message – Start using Photos on your Mac today –  and the only link on the page, naturally taking you to the App Store.

Warms the cockles of a direct response copywriter’s heart.

Here’s the page: Apple Photos

 

Whatever happened to the digital advertising revolution?

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. (As Pete Townshend of The Who once wrote.)

Do you remember how, a few short years ago, all the self-styled digital advertising gurus were telling everyone how advertising had changed beyond all recognition? How advertising was no longer about intrusive spots on TV and big attention-grabbing press ads? How our customers were now ‘in control’ and how we had to ‘engage’ them in ‘conversations’ via social media? How it was all about building your customers’ relationship with The Brand not about selling stuff to them?

Well, I was just on YouTube. And before I could watch my selected video I had to watch a 30 second commercial for Marks & Spencers. Just like the ones on the TV. Selling me stuff. I had no choice. Not only that, advertisers can now choose to allow their ads to interrupt videos – get shown in the middle. Again, just like telly!

And then I had a quick browse on Facebook to see what interesting stuff had been posted on my newsfeed. Oh look, lots of very old-fashioned press-style ads interrupting my enjoyment of dogs playing musical instruments and such like. (This is the same Facebook which, if you cast your mind back before it was sold, promised never to have ads on it.) Selling me stuff.

Whilst I was on Facebook did I stop to engage with my tinned tomatoes supplier? Did I dive into a fascinating conversation with Colgate about my choice of toothpaste? Did I then whizz over to Twitter to join a national debate on Lloyds Bank? Er, no I didn’t. Because nobody ever does. Do you?

In short, here’s where we are. Right back where we started. People selling stuff via what is, to all intents and purposes, traditional, intrusive, in-your-face advertising.

Facebook and Google (owners of Youtube) and Twitter have finally realised that nothing has changed. Whatsoever. People have no interest in products or brands. So you have to ram advertising down their throats whether they like it or not. (Not being the operative word, of course.)

And so, to reach your customers effectively, and cost-effectively, you run old-fashioned ads. Telly ads on YouTube, press ads on Facebook. Editorial-style banners on websites. PPC ads on Google.

Sure, there’s a bit of ‘engagement’ by fans of certain products. I engage with stuff that is relevant to my job and my hobbies. Stuff that provides me with interesting or useful information. If it happens to be provided by a brand, fine. If it doesn’t, also fine. This is PR in action. Just like it’s always been PR in action. Putting interesting stories into media that their customers read/visit. This is not new, folks.

But the idea that most people now go online to have ‘a conversation’ about toilet paper or sprouts or pan scrubs or fish fingers – or any of the countless other brands we buy every week – is as ludicrous now as it has always been. And always will be.

We don’t get fooled again, as Uncle Pete said. Or do we?

 

 

 

 

 

How Apple became the world’s biggest brand by banning the word brand

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There’s one marketing blog out there which, to me, is unmissable. It’s called The Ad Contrarian and whenever you’ve had your head rammed full of fashionable, flavour-of-the-month marketing bollocks it’s a great place to go and restore your faith in common sense.

In his latest rant, The Ad Contrarian takes apart the idea that your brand is more important than your actual product. He shows a clip of the head of Saatchi’s (big UK ad agency) blathering on about how Steve Jobs of Apple put brand before product, blah, blah.

Except he didn’t. A quote from one of Jobs’s team puts the lie to this. Utterly. And totally.

In fact, Apple understand that you don’t get people to buy your product by making them like your brand. You build a brand by getting people to like your product. That’s why they’re the world’s biggest company.

This is a fact that is utterly lost on most most marketing and advertising, ahem, ‘experts’ who will drone on about brand-building, brand conversations and engagement, and the latest must-have bit of software that is going to change the game etc etc…

In a few swift and pithy sentences, Allison Johnson, VP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple from 2005 to 2011, destroys the dreams, aspirations, beliefs and motivations of the vast majority of the world’s advertising and marketing industry.

…the two most ‘dreaded, hated’ words at Apple under Steve Jobs were ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’.…we understood deeply what was important about the product, what the team’s motivations were in the product, what they hoped that product would achieve, what role they wanted it to have in people’s lives…The most important thing was people’s relationship to the product. So any time we said ‘brand’ it was a dirty word.

Here’s a link to The Ad Contrarian

Why you shouldn’t have a black and white website.

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I keep seeing them. Business to business websites that exclusively use black and white photography.

Bad website designers do it because they think it’s business innit, so it’s, oh, you know, serious.

(Forgive them, they know no better.)

So they use wishy-washy black and white images. Often library shots of cityscapes, or implausibly beautiful models sitting in glass-filled meeting rooms and wearing designer glasses that are meant to signify “I am a business person”. Or moody shots of clouds.

What these shots actually say is:  “I am not a real person. This is not our office. We couldn’t be bothered to get some decent shots of our own people or premises.”

The designer then compounds the error by siting these terrible shots on pale blue backgrounds with grey type.

And, my god, are they dull.

And they’re everywhere. Please don’t do it.

The rules for designing a B2B website aren’t any different from those for a consumer website. Some folks, who measure this stuff, reckon you have around 8 seconds to hook your visitor into staying. And that means you need compelling headlines, beautifully persuasive and engaging copy, and attractive eye-catching imagery.

Whatever it is you’re selling.

Yonks ago, when I was Promotion Director for The Reader’s Digest, we used to test everything. Not just the promotion end of things where we literally tested a change of sentence in body copy, a change of word in terms and conditions.

But in product development too. If a new book was on the cards, for example, we’d test dozens of covers, titles, page layouts, prices…you name it.

And what we saw, time after time, is that ordinary punters hate black and white pictures. They see it as cheap. And boring.

Designers often see it as edgy. Or slick. And sometimes it is if you really know what you’re doing, and you use the Very Best photographers.

But most of the time it’s just plain old dull-as-dishwater.

As cold and uninviting as a dead halibut in a city gutter.

 

Is SEO killing your website?

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Something weird seems to be happening in the world of marketing.

Perfectly sensible clients, trained in strategic thinking, market analysis and sophisticated sales & marketing techniques have suddenly started putting their brains in neutral when faced with the task of making creative decisions about their company’s website.

If they were looking at a script for a TV ad they’d be saying things like “No, that doesn’t quite represent the humorous personality of our brand”.

If they were looking at a sales letter they might say “It’s almost there but the headline doesn’t really sell the offer hard enough.”

If they were looking at a brochure design they might say “That body copy is hard to read, make it black and slightly bigger”.

And yet, it seems to me, a lot of these critical faculties seem to fly straight out of the window when they’re faced with a website.

Because the SEO people have scared them. Blinded them. Addled their brains.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. SEO is vitally important. If nobody can find your website, nobody can read about how wonderful you are. You must do SEO. No question. (And, by the way, I’m just talking about on-page SEO here, not off-page, linking back from other sites etc.)

But SEO isn’t everything.

You must not let SEO drive the entire structure and content of your site.

You must not let it totally dictate your copy and headlines. You must not let it turn your website into a me-too, pile of bland garbage.

You must not let SEO turn your site into a glorified Yellow Pages entry. But so, so many sites look and feel exactly like this now.

On-page SEO works by ensuring that your site features the words that people use when searching for your type of product or services. These keywords can be in the headlines, the copy, the links, your site’s URL and so on.

But the problem is, everyone uses broadly the same words to search for you.  And these tend to be boring words that simply describe the sort of product or service they’re looking for: cheap shoes, call centre services, freelance copywriter Cambridge. That sort of thing.

These are the keywords that get you zooming up Google.

So what most of the SEO boys do (and they are boys, usually, with scraggy beards) is replace your vibrant, engaging SELLING copy with a load of keywords.

So your site races up the ranks. But its selling power has been killed at a stroke.

The headlines and copy become bland and generic. Your site feels just like everyone else’s. Because the SEO boys have ensured it IS just like everyone else’s.

Because it uses exactly the same words.

Your powerfully unique proposition “We deliver in six hours or your money back: guaranteed” is replaced by “Courier and Parcels Service Manchester”.

“Are you making these five crucial mistakes on your website?” is replaced by “Website Design and SEO Service Aberdeen”.

“Heineken Refreshes the Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach” is replaced by “Beer”.

It really has become that crass. Astonishingly so.

 

 

If the writer doesn’t understand it, your customers won’t have a chance

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Amazingly, I actually clicked on an internet display ad yesterday.

Internet display ads are, of course, the most ineffective advertising medium ever invented. And yet clients continue to pour squillions of quid into them. As if somehow, someday – perhaps by divine intervention or sheer good luck – they’ll suddenly start working for their brand.

But the tiny handful that do generate a click through do so because they use classic direct response/editorial techniques and offer something useful to the reader. “Lose pounds with this old wives’ trick’…’Get the new iPad for £30’…and so on.

And this one from Aviva did just that. It offered to explain a little about the government’s new pension rules, due to take effect next spring.

This met a need – my desire for knowledge about how my pathetic provision for retirement (ha!) might be affected – so I watched the little animation.

I was nodding along and understanding what it was telling me until it mentioned something about ‘your marginal tax rate’. At which point they lost me. I had to go and look it up on Money Saving Expert, never to return.

I had no idea what Marginal Tax was. I consider myself a reasonably educated grown-up sort-of person (your views may differ) with a little bit of knowledge about income tax and such like but this was a new one on me. (It’s actually just the way you, for example, only pay 40% on the bit of your income that’s over the 40% threshold. Simple.)

But experience told me instantly what had happened here. Because it happens in advertising agency meeting rooms throughout the land (and probably the world) day in, day out.

The client briefs the suits (the account handlers) about what they want to say in the video. The clients occasionally use industry jargon which is their own in-house language that everyone at the client understands.

At which point, a good account handler will say “Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean there, can you explain it to me?”.

The bad one, who is smiling and nodding but thinking mostly of going to lunch, will just write it down.

The bad account handler will then brief the copywriter and art director.

When faced with the Marginal Tax stuff, the good copywriter will say “I don’t understand that. And if don’t understand it, I can’t write about it in a way our lovely customers will understand it, either.” And the account handler will be asked to go back to the client and get the clarity she should have got in the first place.

But the bad copywriter will write it down, include it in his script and carry on thinking about how can turn Marginal Tax into a pun.

And the little video clip will get made, and the client will approve it because they know what it means and forget that the end viewer might not. (And, to be honest, they’re paying their agency a lot of dosh to think about this stuff and ensure the language used is right for the target group.)

The net result is a piece of communication that fails simply because nobody at the agency/copywriter end had the intelligence or insight (or guts?) to say “Hang on a mo, sorry I’m being thick here, but could you put this into easy-to-understand words for me so I know what I’m talking about”.

When you’ve been working with complicated clients and products for as long as I have – financial services, professional services, healthcare, hi-tech, B2B – you get a sixth sense for spotting writing where it’s clear that the writer hasn’t really understood what he’s writing about.

And it happens far, far too often.

 

 

 

 

Has copy become simply space filler?

 

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Last week, a client referred to a piece of copy I’d written as ‘content’. As in, ‘I’ll see if anyone has any more comments on the content then get back to you’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less what my clients call my output. I’m simply happy and grateful that they’ve chosen me to help them out. So if they want to, they can call my work Pea Soup with a Cherry on Top. (I’d rather they called it brilliant, cutting-edge, highly-effective, a bargain at twice the price etc but let’s not be picky.)

What I do is write lots of words that sell lots of stuff. (And I’ve lost track of the number of times people have asked me what a copywriter is. So it’s a stupid job title anyway.)

But this was the first time I’d heard the term ‘content’ used in a non-digital context. It’s been fairly common for a while to call website copy ‘content’ but not advertising or direct mail copy. The client was actually referring to a sales letter I’d written.

But does this throwaway client comment actually mark a sea-change in the advertising/marketing industry? (This isn’t a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely interested to know.)

Has the power of well-crafted, strategically powerful copy been completely relegated to a position of simply space-filler?

Has the designer and mac jockey finally climbed to the top of the perceived heap, so that pretty pictures and impossible-to-read typography are now the dominant consideration when you’re trying to sell your wares?

Has copy simply become that annoying stuff that goes in the boxes on the wire-frame marked ‘copy here: 50 words max’?

Even worse, are the words on a website now considered simply SEO fodder?

You see outfits calling themselves ‘communications agencies’ or ‘creative agencies’ or ‘marketing agencies’ everywhere now.

But scratch the surface of their glossy website and, remarkably often, you’ll find they don’t have a single copywriter on the team.

Not one. Not so much as a fresh-faced junior straight out of college.

Never mind a senior, highly experienced writer running the creative side of things.

(In the olden days, the copywriter was king. And it was very rare indeed that an agency would have an art director as the top dog in the creative department. In fact, if you’ve ever seen Mad Men, you’ll know that for a long while the writers simply sent their copy down to the art department who added some nice visuals to the copy. They knew their place.)

But things, as Bob Dylan pointed out, have changed.

Call me old-fashioned (you won’t be the first, I promise you) but how can an agency selling advertising or website creation services possibly be the real deal if there’s nobody in the building who can write some great copy?

More strangely, how can clients look at the agency and think they’re going to get some great emails or a fantastically compelling website or superbly effective advertising if the agency doesn’t have a writer on board?

Odd, isn’t it?

 

A website that doesn’t show your products?

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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.