Beware the Social Media Marketing Rathole and Re-Focus on 5 Key Business Disciplines

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” – David Ogilvy

I just read an interesting post on ad agency focus in the Web 2.0 world by DJ Francis of Online Marketer Blog. The article elaborates on what David Ogilvy said about creativity so many years ago. Year after year, I come back to this philosophical kernel: sales is where the rubber meets the road. We often get so distracted with the fun, new-fangled social media marketing tools like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Yet, marketing and advertising are ultimately about sales. So, yes, those tools are useful channels for communication. But, if they aren’t used with sales in mind, their ROI is difficult to measure.

With respect to agencies, Web 2.0, social media marketing, etc. will make a lot of dough for many agencies. People love the new communication channels and fun Web-based software tools. For many, however, this will be a money pit, a dazzling show and wheel spinning exercise. If not taken seriously, these types of efforts will get many agencies fired. No measurable ROI and they’ll be shown the door.

Social media marketing exercises can be a major distraction. Businesses need to realize that these tools and “strategies” are merely communication channels. That’s it! Nothing else has changed. If you’re not delivering the goods through those channels, you’re not going to move the sales needle. And by “goods” I mean the following:

  • Prospecting and lead-gen. Do your social media marketing efforts produce fruitful leads? Or have you deluded yourself into thinking that you’re “building a brand” by socializing. Heck, even Coke has to sell soda.. eventually.
  • Persuasion. Remember the line from Glenn Gary Glenn Ross – “A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention– Do I have you attention? Interest– Are you interested? I know you are, because it’s shit or walk. You close or you hit the bricks. Decision– Have you made your decision for Christ? And Action.” Persuasion takes many forms… but I just love that line from the movie. Dr. Robert Cialdini is the guy to read if you’re really interested in persuasion research and reality.
  • Closing. You have to make promises, and provide compelling calls to action and offers. Like Vince Vaughan’s character says in “Wedding Crashers” – “Now get out there and close some ass.”
  • Deliver value. Pure and simple – the product has to be a winner.
  • Customer service. Every good solution, product or service has to be supported by supreme customer service. Make sure the right processes and people are in place.

Remember, “business” still has to happen. Don’t get distracted by socializing for socializing’s sake. Yes, business is a social activity, but value has to be added and profit has to be made.


Critical Layout, Design and Typography Concepts for Content Publishers

When I think about design, layout and presentation, there are two books that I frequently come back to:

1) Colin Wheildon’s Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes

2) Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery

Wheildon’s book is a frontal assault on the lame-o typography mistakes that continue to occur today (especially in the amateur design Web arena). His findings are backed up by in-depth research about comprehension and reader retention.

Reynolds’ book is a more elegant assault on similar miscues in the world of PowerPoint and Keynote… or just presentations in general.

My simple recommendation?

Buy these books. Dog-ear these books. Keep them near Strunk and White. Savor them, review them, revere them, spoon them.

They’re gold and will help you win projects and the hearts of your clients.

Here’s a taste from Presentation Zen that talks about the “picture superiority effect”:

“When information recall is measured just after exposure to a series of pictures or a series of words, the recall for pictures and words is about equal. However, the picture superiority effect applies when the time after exposure is more than 30 seconds, according to research cited in Universal Principles of Design (Rockport Publishers). ‘Use the picture superiority effect to improve the recognition and recall of key information. Use pictures and words together, and ensure that they reinforce the same information for optimal effect,’ say the authors… The effect is strongest when the pictures represent common, concrete things.”

And from Wheildon’s masterpiece:

“.. the average advertisement is read by only four percent of the people on their way through the publication it appears in. Most of the time this is the fault of the so-called “art director” who designs advertisements. If he is an aesthete at heart – and most of them are – he doesn’t care a damn if anybody reads the words. He regards them as mere elements in his pretty design. In many cases he blows away half the readers by choosing the wrong type. But he doesn’t care. He should be boiled in oil.” [my emphasis]

These two guys think deeply about design, and they offer lots of undeniable proof for their theses.

If you’re a copywriter, art director, Web designer, SEO monger, marketing director (or VP or CMO), or a layout/design guru, please pick these up and study them. Your job is not finished when you complete your piece of the creative puzzle. You need to understand the other disciplines to make sure you’ve created something that’s usable, appreciated, and understood by your consuming audiences.

Do you have any other book recommendations that are crucial for publishing/Web development creatives? Please comment below and share your favorites. Thanks – Phil.

How Is Shipping Marketing?

Business people don’t always directly relate shipping to marketing, but the indirect ties are undeniable. This applies to all kinds of businesses, not just eBay.

Let’s start with customer satisfaction:

* Customers who love your service come back
* Satisfied customers tell two friends.. and so on
* Your product becomes more valuable when it’s shipped quickly
* Items that are packaged right arrive intact and unblemished
* Efficient shipping operations support all of the above

Next, marketing efforts:

* An item that arrives unscathed delivers on your promises and guarantees
* Promotions and flyers in the packaging generate repeat business
* Clean, professionally packaged goods reflect positively on your company and brand
* Customers that rave about your efficient, professional operations will post good feedback and tell their friends about your store/listings

If you ship, pay attention to your practices. It’s marketing in disguise.

Do it NOW – Value your customer’s success!

Girls toyota jumping marketing article success story case study

I’m a fan of Seth Godin’s books. I don’t get paid anything to promote them, but I just end up doing that because I read them and always find a few gems of wisdom within.

The marketing/advertising/good-business books are light, airy and fast paced. They’re not chock full of compelling research or detailed justification, but that’s part of the reason they’re good. They don’t weigh you down, and, for some reason, they come across as authoritative anyway.

They’re also very entertaining – in the way a light, sophisticated comedy film or a smart sitcom is. Godin’s books may be a part of a new book genre – business books that instruct yet seem like entertainment. Curious stuff.

The one I’m reviewing right now is called The Big Moo. Here’s a takeaway that I stumbled across (It’s nothing new, but he puts it aptly and it’s a good reminder for all of us in marketing):

“Customers sometimes love the simple stuff, having a human answer the phone on the first ring, receiving work ahead of time… and getting a special thank you reminding them that you value more than their business… you value their success.” [my emphasis added]

I’m going to take this advice today and reach out to some of my business customers with this very message. I do value their success, and every brochure and white paper I write for them is an attempt to win them more business.

By the way, I value your success, too. This blog is designed for that express purpose. And if you bought the eBay Marketing book, I appreciate your business. If you’ve read it, you’ll see that it’s designed to help you sell more and bring in more profits. Your success is my success. It’s written for all kinds of online and offline sellers, so don’t let the eBay title fool you. There are lots of gems in there.

If you’ve found the book valuable, please spread the word. And comment to this blog or email me ( if you have some examples of how you’ve put some of the strategies to work.

Enjoy the weekend!



How to Eliminate Honesty from Your Copy and Gain Trust

Don’t you love it when people sprinkle the words “honestly” and “frankly” into their conversation? It sounds like rookie car salesman banter.

When written in marketing copy, the effect is even more disturbing. It often shows up in these forms: “in truth,” “truthfully,” “to be completely frank,” and “quite frankly.” It’s supposed to sound conversational, but ends up arousing suspicion.

On further examination, these words often point to areas in the text where confidence is lacking. Go back and purge them from your copy and try to figure out what’s bothering you about the promises you’re making.

Cut the conversational salesman speak and just make claims that you know your products and services will back up. It’s easier that way. If you follow my advice, your writing will connect with readers a bit more. If you don’t, well, frankly I don’t give a damn.


Good Article on Bad SEO Advice

This is a solid article on SEO myths from

My favorite part:

“I said outbound links were fine, great even! And then talked a bit about how it’s a bad idea to build pages for nuances in the search engine algorithms anyway, as hundreds of signals exist and they’re changing all the time. Oh, he said. We’ve been talking about implementing the canonical tag. We probably shouldn’t do that then. And I realized, how would a developer know that the canonical tag is awesome and the meta keywords tag isn’t? That you shouldn’t worry about keyword density but you should put important keywords in your title tag?”

Razor Blades and a Persistent Marketing Cycle – Gillette Reels Me In

Would you consider yourself a difficult person to market to?

Do you research high-end products thoroughly before you purchase? Does it take lots of pressure to get you to move from one trusted brand or consumer product to another?

Me too. Especially when it comes to consumer goods like razor blades.

For years, I’ve happily used Gillette Good News razors. They’re simple, do the job and are inexpensive.

Until . . one day. . queue the bass drums. . I bought a package of Good News that included a free sample of the multi-blade Fusion product.

Now – I’ve tried these before. In fact – way back in the 1980’s I even had a power 2-blade razor that buzzes like the Gilette Power Fusion. I liked the concept and the shave back then.

But somehow I ended back up with the basic Good News razors. It was probably during a “simplicity” or economizing phase.

Anyway, I tried the Fusion sample and liked it a lot. The beard grew out less in a day, it seemed. That was a good deal for me.

So I ordered the Power Fusion product. And I’m waiting to get it from Mind you: this is after years and years of using the Gillette Good News razors.

The lesson? Persistent suggestions in your marketing materials (which were the actual product in my case) are CRITICAL!!! Never give up on this idea. Gillette sure doesn’t.

Offer samples, suggest up-sells, show the customer new ideas. IT WORKS.

It even worked on me – one of the more skeptical, difficult to motivate and move consumers I know.

Do you have any examples of how persistent messaging, product offerings or samples have motivated you to engage a company or switch products?

Please comment below.

Warning to Creatives: Your Careers Are Under Attack

Are you a freelance copywriter, marketing creative, artist/designer, social media marketer, SEO specialist, content developer or Web developer? Now’s the time to understand why and how your power is vaporizing.

If you’re a creative professional, you may have noticed a bothersome trend. In an effort to reduce expenses, clients are getting creative with the ways they deconstruct projects, bid them out and re-assemble the final product.

As a result, some of your work is becoming commoditized, broken into pieces and performed by someone other than you. There are lower-cost, dubious-value graphic artists, Web designers, social media marketers, SEO specialists, content developers, programmers, freelance writers and others waiting in the wings to snap up pieces of projects.

I’m not arguing that this is a particularly intelligent, productive or encouraging trend. I’m just saying that it’s happening in a number of settings, and, in many cases, you’re complicit. Yes you.

Let me discuss a few examples to illustrate my point.

Deconstruction and the Road to Mediocrity

Software developers used to scope, design and test a piece code from start to finish. That’s not always the case nowadays. Outsourced, off-shore software testing is becoming more and more common. Specialized shops that test applications and the platforms they run on (like testing a new Web app on every conceivable phone, OS and browser combination) eliminate this task from a typical coder’s project. There’s a company in Austin, Texas that’s doing this with great success. Think of it as global specialization – where the “assembly line” is decoupled, sent to multiple specialists, then reassembled before launch.

You may have noticed the SEO copywriting trend, as well. For better or worse, companies are farming out articles to writing sweat shops and instructing them to assemble articles that are optimized for specific keywords (including headline and subhead instructions for keyword repetition). Then they send the completed article to a professional writer for editing, fact checking and re-writing.

As a professional writer, I find the practice ludicrous. It’s a process that’s flawed, spammy and basically ass-backwards. But I can’t deny that it’s happening. Shameful admission: one of my clients in Eastern Europe pays me to write headlines and subheads for articles they’ve developed (they identify the keywords they need highlighted, and I try to make it work). Some of the articles are professionally written and some are atrocious. I flag the bad ones and have them re-write them – by myself or another professional writer.

The trend is similar to the software development one. Publishers are attempting to decouple production and then reassemble the pieces. OnDemand Media’s Pluck is one example of this kind of low-cost, assembly line publishing.

With these types of approaches, some value is lost (maybe not so much with the software development example). You may have seen similar trends with your projects. Does the following sound familiar? A client asks you to produce a site, some graphic art or some copy that’s just like “competitor X’s site.” The marketing director identifies someone else’s work that they like, and they encourage you to paraphrase, emulate or copy it. “Just make it like theirs, ‘borrow’ from it and you [as the creative] won’t have to do so much work,” they say. The result is unoriginal copy or design. My advice is strap on your Pumas and run away from these clients as fast as you can.

The point is, you can see, taste and smell the loss of value in these types of projects. Think about all those India-looking templated sites out there. They’re sterile. You know them when you see them. The treatments are flat, the colors predictable, and the layouts pure boilerplate. Some are worse than others, of course. There are, however, some nice WordPress templates that are produced by very talented designers and coders (and SquareSpace ones and Tumblr.. many others, I’m sure).

Similar problems occur when people take short cuts with photography. How about those bland “business people at work photos?” Earnest looking professionals glare into the lens. They wear trendy blue and khaki, and they always seem to be in these scrubbed, gleaming Formica white rooms. There are dozens of them on iStockPhoto, and they pop up all over the Web.  Anyone can get that stuff. Anyone can produce it. It’s a commodity.

Your Talent and Real-Time Creativity is Your Trump Card

So your career is under attack. Every day sub-contractors attempt to deconstruct creative work and farm pieces of it out. Seth Godin talks about this in his book Linchpin. In a previous era, the strategy was applied to automobile construction, for example. Henry Ford developed detailed assembly processes that could be carried out by very specialized, low-skilled laborers along the line. These days creative work can be made into an assembly line without borders… without a building.

Where does that leave you? It’s easy, really. You scamper back to value. You focus on originality and core competency. Your creative work, your artistry is what wins. You can beat a monkey on a typewriter. Your brilliance in the here and now beats any templated mash-up that a sweat shop can produce. That’s what brings the real dough. That’s what wins today’s contracts.

The companies and clients that don’t want that type of talent are settling for mediocrity. They will be lost in the sea of noise. Their ads will not stand out, their white papers will not be downloaded, and people will land on their sites and get that ‘oh this was designed by low-level goons in Eastern Europe’ feeling.

So, if you’re a designer you need to be the one who pays attention to typography, usability, color choice and very specific business requirements. You have to listen. And, you have to find the clients who communicate their uniqueness, their goals and their fears directly to you. Incorporate that into your designs, then collaborate with the Web development team, the writer, the photographer. Don’t be afraid to work with difficult people. Don’t be afraid to challenge your client. Argue with them (not argumentatively but in a Socratic way) with the fears, benefits, goals and aspirations of the company in mind.

If you’re a blogger or a ghost writer for blogs, stop regurgitating the messages of others. Stop chasing the link deals and trying to spam your way into Digg mentions, StumbleUpons, etc. Promote your best, most unique ideas – even if it means taking a day or week off. Yes, you need to produce content consistently. . but you’ve got to rise above the noise and say something useful and unique each time you publish. Or else.. your days are numbered.

Another Warning: Legitimate Technology Trends Will Strip You Naked

This should probably be another article.. but, heck, I’m going to put it in here, because it closely parallels the “deconstruction” trend.

If you’re a marketer, you need to realize that subjective, off-the-cuff analysis of markets is a vanishing practice. Creative, “gee I like this, let’s run with it” moments are gone. David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins did their best to kill it off, but it’s still the fall back position for lazy marketing departments.

Here’s where technology is taking a bite out of marketing departments. The following trends are eating away at staid practices:

  1. Real-time analytics from real-time search like Twitter, Facebook and Google real-time results
  2. Web scraping (real-time and sophisticated, in-depth, behind-the-Flash, behind-the-login-page scraping)
  3. #1 and #2 combined with contextual analysis
  4. Multivariate testing (Google Analytics, Optimizer)
  5. Twitter testing and AdWords testing of titles, subheads and concepts

Analytics beats any whim or subjective position you have. Yes – I know – if you’re creating art, then you can be content with your own subjective analysis. But, it’s rare that those of us in the business world can produce art without being accountable for results. At some point, you have to sell something (even artists need to fill galleries).

So these five techie developments show us what sells, what gets clicked, what’s working, what the crowds think. Testing (Claude Hopkins, Ogilvy- style) is more relevant than ever!

One of the buzz phrases going around marketing circles is contextual sentiment. This is what Facebook is up to with their “Like” buttons all over the Web. Fact is, you could do this with some sophisticated software previously. If you run scraped keyword streams from Twitter or Facebook through an sentiment analysis tool, you can see all kinds of actionable information. For example, let’s say you launch a new soda flavor. You can quickly understand consumer sentiment by monitoring channels like Twitter and Facebook. At the root, it’s the transformation of unstructured data into actionable information. It can be used for all kinds of scenarios – public relations troubleshooting, customer service, R&D, polling/sampling opinion (without the focus group), product development and more.

Big brands are already integrating this “social media” sampling technique into their Business Intelligence (BI) solutions. One of the big benefits is that they get a clear indication of sentiment and the “reality on the streets.” In the past, they had to rely on focus groups with preconceptions and gamed reporting from their own internal departments (sales, finance, product development, etc.).

Bringing it All Back Around to You – The Creative

Creatives in every line of work – Web development, art, writing, publishing, etc. – need to consider these trends carefully. From my perspective this trend looks like a boon to creatives. But, to many organizations, it could mean that some of their services will go away. You can’t consult, for example, if your consulting guidance is based on premises that are counter to factual Web analytics. You may have to integrate these new technologies into your offerings.

How is it a boon? Creative matters even more today than ever before. People need you to test out ideas, push them out of their comfort zones and try new things. Companies need to round up whatever data and research exists then hand off projects to creatives that get it. Then you test… then you commit to what works. That’s a good recipe.

What’s become a commodity is the big agency’s powerful research and testing groups. They’ll be moving to new technologies and techniques. But these new methods should be fairly low cost. You may not need an army of people to pull it off. And as information becomes more available at a lower cost, you’ll see small agile creative firms making moves.

Some Extended Thoughts

Everyone has access to this now. This new world is here. Soooooo….

  • Tips, info and tools are commodities unless they’re strikingly original
  • Pricing for boilerplate, templated or paraphrased/hi-jacked content and design is being ground down to zero. It’s a race to the bottom. That work is going overseas, or it’s going to the lowest common denominator companies.
  • Analytics (real-time) are showing companies who are willing to put in the sweat and the money exactly what’s going on with their products, services, brands, competitors, customer service, market perception… everything.

The information you have at your fingertips – your information tool box – is becoming irrelevant. There’s plenty of free information out there that describes what you know, best practices, tips, tools, strategies and so forth. That stuff is being commoditized. Dan Pink goes into this in detail in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. “McKinsey & Co. estimates that in the United States, only 30% of job growth now comes from algorithmic work, while 70% comes from heuristic work,” writes Pink. (That algorithmic work is the non-creative stuff – the process work that can be duplicated in far flung locations.) “A key reason routine work can be outsourced or automated; artistic, empathic, non-routine, work generally cannot.”

Experience matters. Value matters. A creative, original filter matters.

What to Do? – Creatives, Get Back to Basics!

How do you win in this wild new world of shifting marketing and production trends? You focus on the key differentiators. Seth Godin talks about this a lot in Linchpin. You’ve got to continue to develop strong relationships. Stellar customer service, a sparkling attitude, personality, and your underlying creativity and uniqueness are the keys. Execution wins business as well – think about speed of execution, shipping on time/on deadline, and delivering a consistent, quality product. Of course you need to deliver value, meaning quality, differentiation and uniqueness, mind-boggling star power, and ‘something extra.’

In short, you need to become more remarkable now.

What do you think about this discussion and these trends? Are you seeing the same things I’m seeing? If so, what are your strategies for combating these trends or adapting to them? Am I delusional or off-base here? Please comment below.

How to Filter Out Noise and Re-Claim Social Media Trust

And they heard two friends.. and so on, and so on..
And they heard two friends.. and so on, and so on..

Search Engine Land recently ran an short article posing the question: Is Trust in Social Media Dying? It’s a quick statistical look at the dip in trust across social networks.. and the problem seems to be “marketing.”

I’d like to take their analysis a little further.

Yes marketing messages have infiltrated every nook and cranny of social media networks (whether that’s apps that friends recommend you get, groups they want you to join, or games they’d like you to play). Yes – the proliferation of acquaintances rather than real, trusted friends is part of the problem. Everyone seems to think they’re a micro-business (or some kind of eBay/e-commerce part-timer).

From my vantage point, the extended issue involves a re-introduction of traditional marketing methods on an organic medium. What do I mean by that? Here’s the simple version: People are attempting to force old methods – like multi-level marketing techniques, aggressive networking and referrals, and spammy recommendations that lead to affiliate links – onto the new social channels, and it’s not working.

Couple this phenomenon with the fact that noise levels are at all time highs, and you’ve got distrust. Social media was supposed to cut down noise after all. Your trusted group was supposed to help you filter out the noise. Yet people have been shooting themselves in the feet because they treated “friending” as a gold rush scenario.  Collecting followers does not lead to valuable information exchanges.

So what do you do to gain back that trust and make your social networks work for you?

1. Delete spammy acquaintances from your personal social media networks (use a tool like Twitter Karma, for example).

2. Participate with authenticity – send out the messages and information that you’d like to see coming back your way. This is another karma play of sorts. You get what you give – it’s that simple.

3. If you’re using Social Media Marketing (SMM) for business, start acting like an artist (ask Seth Godin about this – or read his Linchpin Book). And I don’t mean acting as in faking. I mean acting as in action. Create something remarkable, give gifts, push through to make it better, and connect people in meaningful ways.

4. Tell the truth. Stop saying your feet hurt so you can score a free pair of shoes (like the Timberland guy did on Twitter). Those days are over. That was yesterday’s creative PR move. Write honest reviews of products. And, treat your product reviews as a niche business. Huh? Yes – pick a tight little corner of the world and dedicate your reviewing resources to that (foi gras, 1-inch heels, gerbil racing, nudist party planning, the worst selling products on Amazon, beard growth tips, whatever). Who knows, some day some company might want to advertise on your site and tap your network.

5. Connect offline. Go to tweet-ups, meet your friends in person (heck, use something like Gowalla or FourSquare to make it happen), and talk about the ideas you’ve been sharing online. There is no substitute for social contact (faces are amazing things), and the serendipity of discussion often reveals precious insights because it’s not premeditated (like a Tweet or FB post). Get out there an blurt in the real world.

These tips should help you filter out a lot of noise and get you back to the genuine, productive, value-rich conversations that social media is so good at cultivating.

If you do it right you don’t have to sweat this declining trust trend.

Anyone have more tips? Please comment below.

SalesForce.Com’s New Tagline – How to Build Benefits, Big Promises and Complex Ideas into Three Words

I just got an email from for a seminar/webinar even and was delighted by the tagline that was burried beneath the graphics on the page. It was actually an image tag that doesn’t even show on the graphical version of the email. It says, “ – Success. Not Software.”

I’ve been writing taglines for companies lately, so I know how difficult it is to come up with good ones (especially good ones that big, “too many cooks” corporate marketing teams can agree on).

I’ll repeat it again. – Success. Not Software. So pure, yet so complex. Heck, I don’t even know it it’s new. It just jumped out at me this morning.

If you don’t know what Salesforce does, here’s a quick run-down. They offer sales pipeline and CRM/contact management software in the “cloud.” What does that mean? Basically, you don’t have to buy boxed software and install it on client machines as a stand-alone program like Microsoft Office or ACT! You log in to your Web account and have a ton of software functionality available due to the latest Web software/services technologies like AJAX, Javascript, .NET, Silverlight and so forth.

So Salesforce does still sell software, but they’ve made it much easier. You log in to the site and do everything in the cloud, so back-up, losing contacts and maintenance/management tasks are effectively outsourced. You don’t have any software on client machines to mess with, which means no IT staff, no helpdesk calls, no hassles.

The tagline captures the benefits of CRM and sales/prospect/customer management — essentially “success.” That’s the bottom line for sales people. You need software to stay out of the way so you can continue to develop relationships with people and solve their problems. “Not software” captures the cloud computing angle and this desire to have things work without hassles.

So simple. So elegant. So all-encompasing. I love it. Good job to whoever Salesforce’s ad agency is.