Category Archives: website

Is grammar really that important?

grammar

Should you really be that worried about knowing the difference between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’, ‘there and their’ (and ‘they’re’), and ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? Aren’t these quaint old-fashioned considerations that in the modern, super-fast online world we simply don’t need any more?

Well that depends, as my friend stated pithily when we were discussing this issue yesterday, whether you want to look like an idiot or not.

As with many things in marketing, it all comes down to who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to 15 year olds about a new video game, not so much. If you’re talking to 46 year old CEOs of global corporations who might be (potentially) spending $1m on your product then, yes, it very much matters.

If your website or brochure is full of spelling and grammar mistakes, what kind of message does that send your customers who are clever enough, or experienced enough, or educated enough to notice?

It says either “I am too ignorant to know the difference” or it says “I know the difference but I don’t care that people think I’m just ignorant.”

EIther way, why take the risk of turning off a potential customer before they’re even fully engaged with your offer?

Of course, the proliferation of typos, bad punctuation and grammatical errors in today’s marketing has a lot to do with keeping costs down for clients. Hiring or contracting a good copywriter is a cost that more and more agencies feel their clients won’t bear (and they’re often right).

So the client writes their own stuff or, heaven forfend, a web designer or UX person does it.

But the result is copy and content that is badly written, hard to understand and that can genuinely damage your brand.

 

What’s the story with ‘storytelling’?

_cave_paintings_001-1

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.

 

 

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

 

Has Google got your business by the Googlies?

teeth

Very interesting article in The Guardian the other day. The writer was working from a premise that the internet isn’t the egalitarian, customer-empowering, democracy-supporting resource that many claim it to be.

He pointed out, for example, how the internet is actually killing (and has already killed) many art forms. Exhibit One: the music industry. People now steal their pop music instead of buying it. Artists struggle to make even a reasonable living because of the above and, perhaps more shockingly, because the legal channels to market – like iTunes and Spotify – take such a massive proportion of their revenue.

You can sell a million copies of your latest single release and make barely anything from the royalties. So, unless you’re Beyonce or Rhianna, forget it.

And of course it’s because the internet is mostly a massive, insidious cartel of monopolies.

Oh yes, Google is very jolly and they have bouncy balls instead of chairs in their groovy Californian offices – wow! cool! etc. But,let’s be honest. They have, to all intents and purposes, a monopoly on what you and I can find on the web.

They control your internet marketing completely. You want your website to be found? You need to suck up to Google. Either by paying them via Adwords or by doing your SEO to conform to their latest mysterious, top secret algorithm.

You want your new rock vid to be found? You suck up to YouTube (owned by, er, Google). You want to run targeted banner ads to follow your site visitors around – remarketing as they call it? You suck up to Google.

How can this be healthy? They virtually force you to use the utterly impossible-to-fathom Google Plus to get decent search engine optimisation results.

Nobody uses Google Plus out of choice. It’s a hopelessly bad copy of Facebook.

And Google’s partner in crime, Apple, is now the world’s biggest company. Brainwashing our kids into believing that unless they have the very latest iPhone they are somehow less valuable members of society. Not healthy, folks.

And then there’s eBay. Who now take a whopping 10% of your selling price, then add another 3.4% onto the bill if you use Paypal to sell something (owned by eBay, naturally).

All the stuff you used to take to the charity shop is now sold on eBay as Vintage and Rare. You make a little money, eBay makes A LOT and the poor and needy suffer. Nice.

 

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

bw3

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?

knife

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

confused

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.

 

 

 

 

A website that doesn’t show your products?

emptywindow

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?

dalipic

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

monkey

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.