January 23, 2015

On the Rules of Great Copy: Two Books

(Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse)

My favorite guides for learning and improving marketing copy are How to Write Great Copy, by Dominic Gettins and Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan.
Both works originate from the Mesolithic Era of advertising (the late 20th century) and out of the authors' experience in traditional media, which, I remind you, is still all around--seen the side of a bus lately?
This pedigree is a good thing. Back before it was too simple and too cheap to slap it online and see what happens--think AdWords or a LinkedIn post--marketers had to think about it before going to print. If nothing else, the costs of production demanded it. (Though I'm certain there was a lot of slapping it back then too!)
(Note: there is a 2012 4th edition of Hey, Whipple that brings it "into the new digital world." And How to Write's 2nd edition was 2006.)
Luckily for us, even before the digital era there was a condition known as Bad Copy Writing! This chronic state of affairs--and perhaps a decent advance--compelled these acclaimed advertisers to record their guidance for the rest of us.

How to Write Great Copy

Dominic Gettins was kind enough to write down previously unwritten rules:
  1. Know your target market
  2. Do research
  3. Answer the brief
  4. Be relevant
  5. Be objective
  6. Keep it simple
  7. Know your medium
  8. Be ambitious
The first thing you might notice is that most of the rules don't directly address the mechanics of writing copy. Rule 6 is getting there, and maybe Rule 7.
This goes to the heart of it: when you receive an irrelevant email, arrive at an ineffective landing page, endure that awful video ad, or ignore an uninspiring banner, the specific copy is a symptom of something deeper gone wrong. (It's even possible that the copy itself is, in an absolute sense, good.)
The marketing piece or sequence of pieces, suffers from an overall lack of investment in The Rules. The marketing is simply not well thought out. Some combination of arbitrary deadlines, politics, bad incentives, and ignorance have conspired to deliver a steaming mound to your doorstep!
Eloquent and concise, Gettins' book covers each rule with only as many words as needed and provides plenty of examples to do the rest.
If nothing else, let the ambitious Rule 8 fuel your every initiative. The smallest project should be deserving of your fullest attention, to great effect. If you approach any marketing activity just to get it done--checkbox marketing we call it--perhaps you should not do that promotion at all. (If all your marketing is done this way, perhaps you should consider another line of work?)

Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This

Luke Sullivan's book is one part advertising career guide, one part send-up of life in the advertising business, and many, many parts rules for better output. Hey, Whipple is a bit more detailed of a from-the-trenches-look-at-the-process-of-creating than How to Write is.
Sullivan gives us some general approach chapters and chapters covering specific media--print, digital, billboards, TV, DRTV, radio. The same rules come shining through--know your market, do the research, keep it simple--it's all in there. Plenty of real-world examples and counter-examples entertainingly hammer home the advice.
  • Get to know your client's business as well as you can
  • Get to know the client's customers as well as you can
  • Insist on a tight strategy
  • The final strategy should be simple
  • "Tell the truth, and run"
  • Does the medium lend itself to your message?
Hundreds more, explained with examples, fill out the book. One thing that comes through loud and clear is Simplicity. 'Simple' may be the most used word in the book!
Layered throughout, and covered in depth in chapters "Only the Good Die Young" and "Pecked to Death by Ducks," is an entertaining and hard-hitting field guide to surviving a career in advertising. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Tight deadlines driven by prepaid spots and great concepts ruined by client politics have always been a part of the game.

We don't need no stinking rules

For those who bristle at the idea that Rules and Creativity go together, I can only offer the advice from these two books. Before you break any rules, you had better have truly internalized those rules. To keep a piece relevant, effective and original, start with The Rules. The process might lead you to some "rule breaking" result. Maybe. But beware the steaming mounds that hide behind every broken rule!
But beware the steaming mounds that hide behind every broken rule!
From the 50-character subject line to the 140-character tweet, 1000-word post, 2-minute video, and 30-page ebook, The Rules hold.
There is one more rule--Time. It takes time to conceive and bring to life a great idea. Great concepts may seem like they came out of nowhere. But time, work, and many discarded ideas pile up behind them. Don't run with the first okay idea just to get it done. Be Ambitous.
I won't try to boil down the specifics for you here--it takes a book or two! Before you write your next email subject line, draft your next piece of copy, or launch your next marketing campaign, read these books!
What's on your bookshelf?

Book List:

Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Adsby Luke Sullivan 
How to Write Great Copy: Learn the Unwritten Rules of Copywritingby Dominic Gettins

Five Levers of Customer Retention

(Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse)

Every marketer knows the adages and has heard the numbers: acquiring customers is more expensive than retaining them.

  • It costs 7 times more to attract new customers than it does to retain existing ones (Bain and Co).
  • Repeat customers spend 67% more than a new customer (Manta.com).
  • Increasing customer retention by even 5% can increase profits between 25-95% (Harvard Business School).
  • And yet, 70% of CMOs did not recently list retention as a top priority (Forrester).

There is a certain rationale behind this. For starters, there's really no such thing as 100% retention. (If nothing else, all of today's customers will be dead within 100 years!) Without a rate of acquisition that beats the rate of attrition, your customer base will shrink to nothing at some point in time!

And then there's the competition: the need to win a sustainable market share. If you're not acquiring the new customers in your market, someone else is. And each customer they acquire makes it harder for you.

You have to keep acquiring.

This reality, though, doesn't diminish the value of retaining customers and capturing more of their life-time value potential. In fact, it highlights the need for more, better retention efforts.

Retention is multi-dimensional; runs across interactions; spans digital and live; includes pre-sales, buying, and support; and should leverage both the practical and the emotional. Here are five levers to pull when integrating Retention Marketing into your business model.

Communication (Duh!)

Okay, communication has to be part of customer retention. But any old irrelevant, off-target blather won't do. What you say, how you say it, and when you say it all matter. These principles and practices need to permeate all your communication.

Optimize timing: this works in layers--where is an individual is in their life cycle, in their current buying cycle? What's the right cadence, day of the week and time of day for them? You'll want to use automation software and predictive analytics to manage and optimize timing on a one-to-one level.

Strike a chord: people listen and engage when they feel an affinity for what you say. What you talk about and how you talk about it has to resonate at least at a group level. Segment your market, know your segments and speak to them.

Raison d'ĂȘtre: if you are not associated with anything, you are not going to inspire recipients to open, follow, and engage with you. Worse: brand image abhors a vacuum. If you don't define it, someone else will. Define your brand, broadly enough to encompass all your markets, but solid enough to shake a stick at.

Minimize FUD: for better or worse, Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt form the cornerstone of a lot of marketing. But we're talking about retention, relationships, engagement, and loyalty here. Who wants to be in a relationship based on fear? Lead with positive value propositions.

Choose channels: Use the channels that make sense for your customers, especially for support. These may be email, but could be social, forums, chat. Know which channels you need for which situations and use them appropriately.

Enlightened self-interest

In ethics, this is the idea that acting in the interest of others, or the community, will ultimately serve your own self-interest. In the context customer loyalty and retention, we're talking about going the extra mile--especially before it's requested--to reap the rewards of repeat business.

Extreme examples of this are tech companies that contribute to open source. But you don't have to give away the farm here. Look for smart, cheap leveraged ways to show appreciation or to give away some value. A little goes a long way.

And don't wait until you're apologizing after an issue or a mistake. (Though it doesn't hurt to go above and beyond then too!) With individuals, personalize offers and gestures based on what you know about them. If recipients organically share tales of your greatness--great! You've earned it. But don't overplay your hand with bragging self-promotion. Like FUD, it's a turn off.


I refer you to the Hook Model from Nir Eyal's research (and detailed in his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products). The process starts with a trigger. Based on the trigger, participants take an action. So far so good. But they need a reward for their action. Reward in hand, they are likely to invest in the process, which increases the likelihood they'll cycle again. Keep that cycle repeating and you've created a habit.

These cycles don't just happen. You have to design for it: relevant triggers, low friction actions that deliver valuable enough rewards to drive investment in repeated cycles. You do this by effectively folding in the communications and rewards we've covered already.

One obvious application is to loyalty programs. A card in someone's wallet with a hole or two punched is not much of a platform for a trigger. Mobile apps and messages, social media, and email offer great opportunities to create triggers, actions, rewards and investment of the Hooked variety.

Beyond loyalty programs, find ways to work the cycle into all your initiatives and processes--from your nurturing campaigns to your support platform.

Community support

Since you brought up support, don't just provide phenomenal customer support of your own (though that's a must). If it makes sense for your market, create a community of support.

Often the hard part here is retaining the intermediate level customers. Beginners need a lot of support. And long time users are knowledgeable enough to give support. Intermediate users, though, may not need to ask a lot of questions and may not feel qualified to answer questions. So they drop out.

One key to keeping them engaged is to create an environment that is as useful and as free of attitude as you can. Don't let experts abuse incomplete or incorrect answers--that scares off everyone, even beginners. Next, create a habit through triggers, rewards and investment. As with anything, the right incentives generate the right behavior.

Buying process

Finally, let's not lose sight of the point of all this. You want loyal customers that return for more. You don't create enthusiastic, loyal repeat customers if your buying process sucks. This isn't just about too many clicks, constantly re-entering the same information, or bad exchange policies. (Although those things do indeed suck.)

It is, again, about folding in the right communications, the extra-value adds, making promises you can keep, and delivering the support and information needed to accelerate a decision. And it's about following through after the sale, which not only enhances the current buying experience, but queues up the next trigger!

Don't just not suck. Be awesome to do business with.

Ready to do some retention marketing? Here are a few tools of the trade to get started:

  • Retention Marketing rocket science: Retention Science (www.retentionscience.com)
  • Support platform with the right attitude: Help Scout (www.helpscout.net)
  • Content marketing strategy, resources, how-to: Content Marketing Institute (www.contentmarketinginstitute.com)
  • Hook Model and behavior engineering: Nir & Far (www.nirandfar.com/hooked)

January 08, 2015

The 5 Content Marketing No-no's to Avoid This Time

It's a new year. You're back in the office. You're all caught up on everyone's holiday adventures--even the ones you didn't really care to hear.

Well, top off your coffee, 'cause it's time to get to work! How is your content strategy coming along, anyway? You're still planning it? Don't panic. That means you can get off on the right foot.

Let's check your plans against the following list of no-no's--critical items you want to avoid.

1. No Editorial Board

Unless you are a very small company (a You-and-Your-Future-Former-Friend-Turned-Plaintiff-in-a-Legal-Dispute-Over-the-Idea-in-Your-Mom's-Garage sized company), you had better not be sitting by yourself thinking up a content plan. Not only are you not going to get it right, but every department that needs content in and out of marketing is going to be doing the same silo exercise. And the result will be sub-optimal--duplicated efforts and a lack of coherence.

Look up and down the funnel and across the content creation arms of the company and get at least one rep from each group to make up an Editorial Board. This runs from products to post-sale. Bring pizza or donuts (or both). They'll come. Prepare to get them together quarterly.

2. No Tents

What does the editorial board do? First, they agree on the big Tents you'll have for content over the coming period. This is looking at the state of the industry and the trends, the business' goals, your product road maps and launch plans, the industry events, competitive intelligence, and last, but by no means least, customer needs, requests and complaints.

Balancing all these inputs, the board will determine what themes and story lines to pursue for the year. All content will be created to reinforce these tents. No one should spend time creating content that doesn't fit in one of the tents. Without tents, you risk a lot of disconnected content.

3. No Content Calendar

Your calendar will be adjustable over time, but that doesn't mean you can get by without one. Use Annual planning to map out the major arcs. Some factors, like launches and events, have set dates. Get those on the calendar. Then sketch out your themes and stories in time. Think about when should you talk about what for maximum timing to an event or launch.

On a Quarterly basis, meet to adjust the forward calendar, review what's working and not, and plan the intermediate term content. Any tent of content that will be active in the coming quarter or two will need tent poles in place. The calendar informs everyone what's to be worked on and what's coming for each tent.

4. No Tent Poles

Tent poles are the content asserts that support each of the tents--these are comprehensive pieces on a topic or theme that not only define your major position, but also serve as the source for derivative pieces that complete the content needs of various channels and tactics.

If instead you start at the bottom and create individual pieces for each tactic, you will be recreating a lot of work, even if they are on-theme. Plus, you risk drifting into content that is not on theme as, for example, the social team goes in one direction and the marketing automation team another.

On the other hand, if all you do is create and promote the comprehensive tent pole assets, you'll be under-leveraged and undermining performance in each channel.

So start with the tent poles--usually an ebook, report, white paper, long video, or contest--and convert that into blog posts, infographics, social media updates, drip campaigns, short videos, and so on. Marketing teams should meet monthly to coordinate the upcoming pieces.

5. No Map

Equally important to the content calendar is the engagement map. In and of itself, informative, well-executed content is a great contribution to society. Swell. But you've got a business to grow. And your prospects have their own jobs to do.

Your content is the bridge joining these lofty pursuits.

To do that well, you have to segment your content by persona and by buying stage. Take the extreme case--the all-in-one piece of content. It's got something for everyone from the CEO to the cleaning crew. From the lookie-loo to the buyer with credit card in hand. The all-in-one asset doesn't serve the reader well, because they have to wade through irrelevant material (or more likely, they will just drop it). It doesn't serve you well either, because you haven't learned who they are or where they are in a buying cycle.

Target each piece of content at a persona and stage of their buying process. Promote it so that it's obvious to them that it is what they want, when they want it. Then they will self-identify with their engagement. Now you know what to do next.

To review: Editorial Board, Tents, Calendar, Tent Poles, Engagement Maps--Good. Random, disintegrated, unscheduled, duplicated, unsegmented content--Bad.

Got it? Okay, content marketers, order those pizzas and donuts and start your Editorial Engines.