Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just the facts, ma'am

Marketing guru David Ogilvy once said, "The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be." This applies to pretty much any form of persuasive communications, and is the antidote to two very common errors in business-to-business communications.

The first error, and the advertising and marketing pros are often more guilty of this than anyone, is relying on clever language rather than clear, straightforward language to get the audience’s attention. Studies have shown that cleverness sometimes works, but clarity always does (other things being equal).

The second mistake is to substitute hype and hyperbole for actual information. This is especially problematic in today’s information age, when advertising claims will be Googled to check for accuracy, and the second generation of TV watchers is generally wise to misleading advertising tactics (think of the “Target Market” campaign).

The clear vs. clever rule is especially applicable to headlines, where the temptation to be clever is strongest. Nothing will get your audience to continue reading that a clear headline that allows them to self-identify and anticipate a benefit (see my earlier posting on “Ad Headlines”).

Use clear statements of fact (or opinion, for that matter, as long as its clear) to describe your products or services and you’ll do a lot better in the long run.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ad Headlines

To paraphrase our real estate friends, the three most important things in advertising are the headline, the headline, and the headline. Studies have shown that if the headline doesn’t grab them, people overwhelmingly move on. The best writing and graphical design in the world can’t save an ad with an ineffective headline.

Effective headlines accomplish the following for the prospect:
  • Self-identification: The prospect understands this message is meant for them specifically.
  • Self-interest: Prospects are motivated to keep reading. Note that in many cases, stating specific benefits will automatically accomplish the self-identification goal.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Attract with benefits

Probably the biggest single flaw in most sales communications that I see is that they promote the (no-doubt) amazing features of a product or service. It seems like a natural way to go - after all, the R&D folks spent of ton of time and money pimping that better mousetrap; why not brag about the whiz-bangs?

The reason is simple - customers could care less about the mousetrap whiz-bangs themselves. What they care about is getting rid of mice as quickly and painlessly as possible.

So while touting your mousetrap’s highly superior bait-action and completely enclosed trap might seem like the way to address these concerns, its still indirect: in effect, you are making the prospect translate from “superior bait-action” to “gets rid of mice quickly” and from “enclosed trap” to “disposal is a breeze”.

Instead, tout the benefits directly: "Works quickly, and disposal is a breeze."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Why should I believe you??"

Since, at heart, nearly every business communication is trying to persuade its audience of something, a major consideration is whether you expect your audience to believe what you’re saying. If you think the basic trust is there, fine. Just make your case and move on.

If this is a concern, however, there are several ways to enhance the piece’s credibility. Here is a sampling:
  • Tell the truth. Seems obvious, but people today have pretty good b.s. detectors: don’t trigger them. Related: don't exaggerate.
  • Quote someone who they will believe. Recognized experts, for example, or testimonials from people who your audience will identify with.
  • Offer a guarantee. A dime-a-dozen these days, so if you don’t have one, it will hurt your credibility. It's best if the guarantee is simple to understand and as unconditional as possible.
  • Offer a free trial. They don’t have to believe you – they can see for themselves.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

3 keys to a successful home page

The short attention span of web surfers is legendary, and that means that your home page has to capture and hold their attention very quickly. Whether you’re trying to pitch a product, sell a service, offer an opinion, or raise a response, there are three crucial elements to capturing and holding that atttention:

Who: The first thing is to be sure your target audience knows that the web site is meant for them. The more specific the language that you use to help the target group identify, the stronger the identification will be, and the more likely that they will stay with you rather than surf on. "New for athletes" is good; "New for Runners" is better.

What: Clearly state what you’re offering, and again, the more specific the better. "Hydration Systems" is good; "Hydration Systems for Runners" is better (in fact, with the latter you've got the "Who" and "What" in one phrase).

Why: Now that they know it’s for them, why should they care? Get a clear and specific benefit into the pitch as soon as possible. "New" is good; "New design is easier to use" is better.

The mistake a lot of web sites make is trying to cast a wide net at first ("Athletes") figuring the more visitors the better, no matter who they are. This usually fails because there’s so much out there on the web that people will just cruise by anything that doesn’t scream “Hey, this is just for you!” Another common mistake is to skip right to the product pitches ("New hydration system") without the “who” and/or the “why”.

Having a clear Who, What and Why on your home page will go a long way to turn surf-bys into prospects.