Archive for Category ‘Copywriting‘

Great copywriting advice from a legendary ad man

From a sweet obit in the New York Times, celebrating the life of ad man Robert Levenson, his secret:

“I always started by writing Dear Charlie, like writing to a friend. And then I would say what I had to say, and at the end I would cross out Dear Charlie, and I was all right.”

I don’t care what industry you’re writing for, or what product you’re selling – effective copy is conversational. Read the most important pages on your website aloud – could they follow “Dear Charlie” or “Dear Sally”?

If not, channel Robert Levenson and rewrite them for a dear friend.

How Russell Brand and Kate Middleton can help a moving company’s web site

A reader asks:

Hi! Enjoyed the dummies book. The current platform for my [moving company] website is a little difficult to navigate. If I make my blogger page a part of the website, will Google still count this as making daily updates to the website? Or does it look better if daily updates are being made to the home page? Should I try to have the first few sentences from the blog appearing on the home page with some kind of feed?

My reply:
Cliffhanger? Keep reading…

5 Way to Build Engagement on Your Website

This article was originally published in Fast Company.

Last Wednesday morning my 12-year-old son and I accidentally climbed a nearby mountain called Sunset Peak. Elan and I meant only to walk up a little way, scouting the thing out for a possible climb on Saturday. But two hours later, we were at the top, thirsty, out of breath, and delighted. What happened? Why did we abandon our plan of a short leisurely stroll in favor of a hard and demanding hike?
Cliffhanger? Keep reading…

Intent is more important than technique

That line, from Mahan Khalsa’s most excellent book on consultative selling, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, is one of my business (and life) mottos.

Here’s a story

In 1991, I was flirting with a macrobiotic lifestyle. I was attracted to the strictness of the diet, the sense of fixed rules, and the “magic” of the rituals that promised cures from all known diseases and joyful longevity.

I read a bunch of books and cookbooks, but so many of the ingredients were unknown to me (umeboshi paste, burdock root, daikon radish) that I found myself tied in knots. There was just too much to take in, and I found myself looking up again and again little things like, “When rinsing brown rice, should I stir the water clockwise or counter-clockwise.”

So I invited a friend, Nancy, who happened to be a macrobiotic chef, to come over and give me a lesson in simple macrobiotic fundamentals.

What I learned


Cliffhanger? Keep reading…

Marketing Lessons from Watermelon Seeds

This morning I was browsing the Thompson and Morgan English seeds catalog. I'm not much of a seed guy generally. In my experience, seeds require a lot of work and care, involve getting my hands dirty on a regular basis, and may or may not mature into anything I want around my house.

Far too much like childrearing for my taste.

Yet every year I get seduced by the seed catalogs. 

Burpee, Thompson & Morgan, Seeds of Change; once I start looking at the photos and reading the descriptions of tall, hardy, easy-to-grow-anywhere, beautiful and delicious plants that can be mine for the price of a pint of Windhoek Lager, I forget about all the effort and discomfort.

swiss rhubard chardI can visualize the rhubarb chard waving cheerfully from the raised bed in the back, tantalizing me with its "rich ruby-red leaf stalks and dark greeny purple foliage.

I can almost taste the California White Garlic, so "delicious and full-flavored," so "easy to grow and quite productive.

And I already marvel at the beauty of the Somniferum Lilac Poppy, with its "huge, 3-4in fully double flower heads stand proudly above glaucous foliage followed by large, attractive seed heads." I see exactly where they will grow, because Thompson & Morgan tell me: "Best sown in large drifts as an easy-to-grow border filler that ads height and interest to the garden.

Oh good Mssrs Thompson & Morgan, have you no shame?

Do you not know how your voluptuous prose and lush photography overwhelms my will-power?

Do you not realize that your appeal to my senses leaves me senseless?

Of course you do.

And if you can sell seeds to me, consummate man of leisure and technology, then we all need to pay attention to your marketing methods.

Marketing Secrets of the Seed Pushers

1. Focus on results, not process

Nowhere in the seed catalogs can I find a picture or description of a 45-year-old man kneeling on the damp earth, pulling up morning glory vines and calepina grass, both of which seem much more admirably suited for North Carolina soil than the delicate and shy plants I have pigheadedly stuck in the ground.

Neither are there photos of phlox felled by frost, chrysanthemum crunched by caterpillars, or heliotrope hacked by hail.

Instead, all I see are beautiful photos and evocative descriptions of the Happy Ending, the hardy and beautiful/delicious plant that I grew from that teeny weeny seed, and which now delights me and my friends, family and neighbors (especially the neighbors, whose gardens cannot possibly compare with mine!).

Take a look at your website – how much is about the desired results, and how much is about you and the details of your delivery mechanism?

Are you painting a picture that your prospect is drawn to naturally, on their own steam of desire, or are you trying to push and nudge and cajole and wheedle them into a sale despite their lukewarm desire?

2. Appeal to the senses

The photos of the plants are of course beautiful. But the seed catalog writers are synesthetes (I had to look it up too the first time, it means that if one sensory pathway is stimulated, then others are stimulated at the same time – like imagining numbers as having colors and musical instrument tones as possessing odors). How else can you explain the prose that compares colors to tastes, and smells to sounds, and tastes to physical sensations?

Phlox Creme Brulee is described as a "mouthwatering medley of colours" (when will those British learn how to spell "colors," I wonder ;). 

Mesembryanthemum, we read, "creates a glowing display of gorgeous apricot, frilled blooms." A calendula hybrid is named "Sherbet Fizz." The Blueray Blueberry bush becomes a "blaze of crimson" in the fall, according to Burpee. The Ruby Watermelon "bowled us over with its super sweet and juicy, perfectly crisp and firm ruby Red flesh," Burpee gushes.

OK, so maybe your products don't taste or smell or look spectacular. But that's no reason to skimp on the poetry. Can you appeal to multiple senses in your writing? Our five senses are windows to our souls. We take in the world through sight and smell and sound and taste and touch. Give us something our senses can grab hold of, more than words on a page.

3. Show proof

The seed companies have it easy here. Each photo of a bushel of luscious red berries or multi-colored (see, British people?) dazzle of petals states outright, "This can be done. This is not theory or conjecture or wishful thinking. These suckers grow, and they look just like we say they do."

You may have to work harder to show proof that your products and services give the results you promise. Case studies, demonstrations, testimonials, endorsements, media citations – they all give your prospect some confidence that they're not the guinea pig here. This thing is tested and it works. There's no reason it won't work for you too.

Someday I'll wise up and just plant the seed catalogs. Until then, here's to another summer of hope, sweat, and beans.

The Sad Story (and Happy Ending) of Traffic Surge

Traffic Surge 2.0 launches next week for real. This is the pre-launch. (You can tell because I'm not trying very hard to sell it to you. That's for next week.)

I've taught Traffic Surge live three times, to quite good reviews. I figured that I could rest on my laurels and just take the webinars, transcripts, videos, handouts, and all that jazz, and just sell it as a home-study course. You could go through the course while I live the Internet lifestyle on a beach in South Africa.

But then reality intervened. Turns out that 90% of Old Traffic Surge is no longer accurate, due to Google's annoying habit of changing everything it can, whether anyone wants them to or not.

If I had just tried to sell Old Traffic Surge as homestudy, you would have been annoyed, frustrated, and half-nelsoned as you tried to apply the principles. 

Which would have been fine with me, of course, except for that nasty business with all the refunds. 

So I had to scramble to save Traffic Surge.

I've designed a hybrid course – part home study, part live course. With the best bits of each format, and none of the disadvantages.

Part Home Study

It's home study, in that you read and watch and do at your own pace. Unlike home study courses that are just sloppy transcriptions of webinars (which I was fully planning to do, you understand, until I realized that the webinars had become outdated rubbish), Traffic Surge 2.0 includes well-written, well-documented, and graphically pleasing modules with lots of screen shots so you know what I'm talking about.

The How-To videos are no longer 95-minute long webinar recordings, with half the time spent on nonsense like "Where's the link for today's class?" and "What's the weather like in Seattle today?" (rainy)

Now, the videos are crisp and clear and short, and consist of me showing you, step by step, how to do the things I describe in the written manual.

Part Live Course

Traffic Surge 2.0 also consists of a support site, including a Q&A forum, a place for students to upload your homework for critique, and place for late-breaking news on Google changes and updates. It's a combination of study hall, diner, and library.

We also hold one live Implementation Call each month, so you can jump in and have that live class experience, and also the accountability that comes from having real humans and real deadlines looming in your face (in a nice way). 

And to make it as convenient as possible, the Implementation Call consists of a matinee at 1pm Eastern Time US and an evening show at 8pm Eastern Time US. So whether you work at home and prefer to call in during lunch hour, or you want to catch an hour of great content after your day job, there's a call to suit your preference.

And let's be honest, there's a recession going on, regardless of what the economists say. So not only is Traffic Surge 2.0 not more expensive than previous versions, it's actually much more affordable. 

I've added a 12-payment plan, so you can get started on your road to online marketing mastery for just $87 a month.

To read more, and perhaps take advantage of the pre-launch launch, go here: 

http://askhowie.com/trafficsurge

To Life,
Howie

PS Do you wanna hear a beautiful song about New Orleans, love, and vegetables? A song that rhymes "okra" with "enough to choke ya"? A song in which I play the fiddle?

If so, click the link below for a recording of "No Love Today," written by Chris Smither, and performed by the Roosevelt String Band:

http://howiesongs.posterous.com/no-love-today

Is Your Marketing HOT – or Not?

Imagine a game in which you tap out the rhythm of a well known song: say, “Happy Birthday to You” or “The Star Spangled Banner.” Your partner’s job is to listen to your tapping and name the song.

What are the chances that they can figure it out just from your tapping, without melody or words?

In a 1990 experiment, tappers were asked, after tapping a song, the odds that their listener could correctly identify the song. The average prediction was 50%.

In fact, only 3 out of 120 listeners correctly identified the song. That’s 2.5% or 20 times worse than the tappers predicted.

Doh!
Cliffhanger? Keep reading…

You Need a Pogue

This week, David Pogue wrote an article in the New York Times about OpenDNS.com, a company I had never heard of before.

He began, "I’m about to make your life better. No need to thank me."

Then, following a brief description of the DNS system (the one that turns numerical IP addresses like 74.125.53.100 into www.google.com so you and I can easily navigate to websites), Pogue explained the key benefits of OpenDNS:

  1. Surf the web faster
  2. Get to websites that are unavailable to everyone else due to crashes of the DNS system
  3. Correct typos (like askhowie.cmo) automatically
  4. Protection against phishing sites that try to steal your sensitive data by spoofing real sites like PayPal and eBay
  5. Shortcuts, so you can just type ahblog in your browser's address bar instead of askhowie.com/blog
  6. Parental controls such as site blocking
  7. Totally free for individual users

Sounds great, huh? So I surfed over to OpenDNS to download or setup whatever it is and give it a try (I trust Pogue).

Here's what I found:

What on earth are they talking about? 

Premium DNS?

Integrated security?

What does that mean, who is it for, and why should I care?

The Curse of Knowledge

According to Pogue, OpenDNS is perfect for me, and you. Yet the folks at OpenDNS either strongly disagree, or else think that you and I already know enough to see the obvious sense in a bunch of complicated and intimidating router reconfigurations.

If we asked OpenDNS to think about it, of course they would realize that their home page is perfectly inscrutable to their ideal consumer end-user. But nobody has asked them to think about it.

They suffer from the Curse of Knowledge – the inability to recall what it was like NOT to know what you know.

Pogue, on the other hand, writes to his readers. He knows who they are. He knows what they care about. And he knows how to explain complicated topics in accessible ways. 

So the best OpenDNS can do is put a link to Pogue's article on their home page. "We can't explain what we do, but here's a guy who can."

Get Your Pogue On

For kicks, send a few ideal customers to your home page, or your landing page, or whatever page is most important to you. Then ask them three questions:

  1. What's the big benefit of doing business with me?
  2. How am I different from everyone else offering the same or similar benefit?
  3. What makes you believe the claims I make?

If they get all tongue-tied and vague, you need to channel the Pogue. Or hire someone who can. (I'm available, for a price ;)

Start with Your Customer

The way to Pogue-ify your writing is to start with your ideal customer, not your product or service or delivery method. 

The most effective way I know to do this is the Checkmate Method, which you can experience for free here (email required).

However you do, though, remember that you know too much about the features, and not enough about how your customers experience the benefits. Writing effective copy is an exercise in recapturing innocence.

So your homework is to imagine Pogue were going to write about your business, regardless of your industry. You could be a travel agent, an author, a broker, an office supply dealer; doesn't matter. You provide something that makes someone's life better, and you have a competitive advantage. (If not, stop reading and get yourself a competitive advantage.)

How would Pogue simplify and highlight the benefits of what you do so someone would have to be a fool not to give you a try?


Need guidance on writing clear and powerful benefit-laden copy? Check out the 3-part Landing Page Clinic. 10 more days at the crazy-low price of $115.87.

A HOT Hosting Company

Most web sites fail to convey the “big idea” of a company. Instead, they delve into details, processes, features, pseudo-benefits, and all sorts of “supporting cast” rather than have a big star of a concept.

Your job, if you have a web site, is to focus the first-time visitor on the HOT – the Honking Obvious Thing that clearly and instantly signals why they should pay attention to you.

Here’s an example that I’m about to gush over: my web hosting provider, LiquidWeb.com.

First, their home page:

Now, this page can certainly be improved – most notable, the headline “Step Inside” and the blah blah description, “LW is a leading provider or Fully Managed Web Hosting.” I mean, have you ever heard someone describe their business as a “trailing provider”?

The HOT: Heroic Support

What gets my attention is the cartoon superhero with a toll-free number on his shirt. And the tag line “Heroic Support.”

The claim is supported by a Heroic Support button below, touting “24x7x365 access to level 3 engineers within seconds. And by the Excellent Service button, laying out the guarantee of 100% uptime and 30 minute response time.

I immediately get the HOT here: Heroic Support. We will respond to you within 30 minutes, no matter when you contact us. And you can call us toll-free.

Everything about the company orients around Heroic Support. The wholly owned data centers with Liquid Web engineers on-site. The way employees view themselves and how they act.

The HOT in action: Not just about marketing

Heroic Support is what Dan and Chip Heath call a “generative metaphor.” By casting their support staff as superheros, they’re generating a set of guidelines for the staff to follow. In any situation, a support technician or engineer can figure out what to do by asking, “Am I providing Heroic Support?”

So this morning, I screwed up my entire site while trying to create a simple redirect to my Facebook Fan page. askHowie.com went away completely, replaced by a nasty 500 Internal Server Error.

Since it was 5am EDT (I just returned from Germany and I’m still jetlagged), I couldn’t exactly get Steve Goyette on the line and beg him to fix what I’d broken.

So I opened a support ticket at 5:23am. By 5:36am the site was back up, and I had received a detailed description of the problem and how it had been solved:

Here’s a company that walks their talk!

I don’t know anything about the management and internal structure of Liquid Web, but observing from the outside as a thrilled and amazed customer, I see the power of their HOT. Not only to get me to become a customer in the first place. But also to guide their own culture of service, so the words don’t just become an empty marketing slogan. And to make me, their customer, appreciate the value of their service even when nothing goes wrong.

So the next thing I did was sign up for Liquid Web’s affiliate program, and then write this post.

If you aren’t thrilled with the support and responsiveness you get from your web host, and your business will suffer if your site is down for hours at a time, then I heartily recommend you give a shout to Liquid Web.

If you want to send a few affiliate bucks my way, use this link: http://askhowie.com/liquidweb.

And if not: www.liquidweb.com.

Your Homework

Here’s the most important thing you can do for your own business: ask a few acquaintances who aren’t familiar with your site to look at it and find the HOT – the Honking Obvious Thing that explains what you do, how you’re different, and why prospects should care.

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Bah Dah Gah: Marketing Lessons from McGurk (and Ken McCarthy)

I discovered the McGurk Effect the other day.

Actually, my friend Sammy told me about it, and I looked it up on youtube, which is almost the same thing.

The McGurk Effect: if you listen to a recording of someone repeating the sound "Bah Bah Bah Bah" while watching a synchronized video of them mouthing the sound "Gah Gah Gah Gah", you will actually hear the sound "Dah Dah Dah Dah."

If you want to confirm for yourself the reality of the McGurk Effect, search for it on youtube.

Now, I’m anticipating three possible reactions to this summary of scientific progress:

1. "That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever encountered. Where can I learn more?"

2. "Big deal."

3. "Why are you wasting my time on this nonsense?"

Give me a minute, OK? There’s a lesson in here somewhere. Let me see…

When you create marketing campaigns, you are communicating based on a set of assumptions about your market:

  • What language they speak.
  • What their desires are.
  • How much they can afford to pay.
  • How badly they want their itch scratched.
  • What they already know about your product or company.
  • What they know about other potential solutions to their problems.
  • And so on…

My question is, how many of these assumptions are you consciously considering, and how many are based on observable evidence as opposed to pre-judgment?

You see, if you write about your product as if your prospect already knows what it does, you may be a self-inflicted victim of a Marketing McGurk. You’re saying, "Here’s a big discount on my Magrouple-OpMart-WangChickle," and your prospect is hearing, "Dah Dah Dah."

Because your message is incongruent in context, just as the lips forming one sound and making another are incongruent in their context.

If you assume your prospect connects your solution with their problem, you may be McGurking yourself as well. You can treat sinus problems with chiropractic? Really? Acupuncture can help with eczema? The problems you can solve may be old hat to you, but your prospects need education and explanation and repetition to make the connections you take for granted.

Ken McCarthy understands the power of avoiding Marketing McGurkisms. He just announced the faculty and program of the 2008 System Seminar (Yes, I’m one of the faculty members, which entitles me to attend a pizza party on Sunday, June 1, not to brag but there you have it :)

And rather than assume that you would recognize the names and expertise of the presenters (most are not "gurus", but simply hard-working and clever practitioners and educators, so you probably won’t recognize them), Ken took the entire System 2008 program and made it available right now.

http://program.thesystemseminar.org

So if you’re not familiar with Nancy Andrews, Richard Mouser, Lon Naylor, or any of the other 22 faculty members; if you don’t know that Nancy Andrews has cracked the SEO code, that Richard Mouser used simple testing tactics to turn his money-losing online store into a huge success, that Lon Naylor is the expert in helping folks
use screen capture video tutorials to grow their businesses – you will after browsing the program guide.

Ken knows that by stepping out of the way of the product, and letting it sell itself, without hype or fancy marketing footwork, he’s allowing his prospects to gather information in their own way, to make an informed decision about whether System 2008 is appropriate for them.

If you’ve read AdWords For Dummies, you know that I credit Ken with being my Internet marketing mentor, as well as my first copywriting teacher. The most important thing he taught me is this:

Don’t try to be a copywriter. Just explain what you’ve got and why anyone should care – and then just get out of the way.

In other words, don’t mess around with mystical, manipulative tactics that are supposed to magically vacuum money out of your prospects’ wallets while they grin stupidly in a hypnotic trance.

Just talk to people. Be interesting. Be respectful of their time. Share value. Make your pitch. And shut up.

You can download the System 2008 program here:

http://program.thesystemseminar.org

If the program convinces you to join me in Chicago on May 30-June 1, I’d be delighted to connect with you – just give me a shout. If you read through the program and decide that it’s not for you, then that’s the right outcome.

No McGurks here – either it’s the thing to do, or it isn’t. Either way, you’ll broaden your perspective on Internet marketing tactics and strategies simply by browsing the program.

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