Proven advertising ideas to get more people to buy from you, visit you or know about you. Not to mention plenty of tips on creating successful copy, layout and images. All filtered through the thick haze of classic rock lore.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Donovan Rule of changing your audience's perception of you

Your target audience's perception of your product or service is often permanent. In fact, it's one of the hardest things in the universe to change.

Which is why it's crucial to make sure you get it strategically right in the first place.

Donovan is a good example of this.

In the mid-sixties, Donovan was Great Britain's answer to Dylan. Like Dylan, Donovan sang Woody Guthrie songs while playing guitar and harmonica at the same time. But while Dylan stayed on the A-list for over four decades (and even won a Grammy for his 2006 album), Donovan's career basically ended when the sixties ended.

What happened?

With such albums as Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow and A Gift From A Flower To A Garden, Donovan became the poster-flower child of the sixties. He cemented that perception by dressing like a flower child and joining the Beatles in India to study with the Maharishi. And when the sixties ended and his audience embraced either the harder or more progressive sounds of the seventies, they left him behind. It was time to move on.

What Donovan really sold was his name. It was his brand. And it would always be too closely associated with Flower Power and the Summer of Love -- just like Cream and Jefferson Airplane. Only he didn't have the luxury of Eric Clapton who could leave the brand-name Cream behind -- or of Jefferson Airplane who could change its name to Jefferson Starship. The Donovan brand was the sixties. And this meant he would always be a nostalgia act. It was too late to re-invent himself.

The obvious lesson? We all need to be conscious of our audience's perception of us -- and avoid branding ourselves with a trend or fad. All trends and fads end, and we don't want our products or services ending with them.

Again, changing someone's perception is one of the hardest things for a marketer to do.

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The word-length guide to website writing

Like all persuasive writing, web copy must quickly get to the point and use the fewest words possible. In other words, you must make your copy easy to scan -- because that's what readers do. They scan first.

So no matter how long your website is, here's a quick guide to keep your headlines, sentences and paragraphs short and scan-able:
  • Headlines and subheads: Should be 8 words or less

  • Sentences: 15-20 words

  • Paragraphs: 40-70 words

  • Pages: 300-500 words per page

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ladies & Gentlemen: How to introduce a speaker like a pro

You’ve been asked to introduce a speaker or entertainer at a seminar, convention, trade show or fundraising dinner. And yes, it would be fun to talk about when you first met the speaker or entertainer – or to show off your eloquence as you mention the main attraction's successes. But the audience is there to hear the speaker, not a speech about the speaker (I’ve even heard introductions that were almost as long as the actual speech).

So just how short should your introduction be?

As a rule of thumb, about 5 to 15 words long – which usually takes no more than 5 seconds.

This is how the pros have always done it. Here are just three examples:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”
- The standard network radio introduction since the 1930s (nine words, two-and-a-half seconds)

"And now, Mr. Tambourine Man with The Byrds"
- Ed Sullivan, 1965 (eight words, four seconds)

“Could you welcome please one of the great, great, great sounds. The Beach Boys.”
- Bill Graham, 1971, The Fillmore East (14 words, four seconds)
The pros make the assumption that the audience already knows who the speaker is. So there’s no need to inconvenience the audience for more than a few seconds.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Moby Grape Rule of Avoiding Over-Hype (A Word of Warning to Barak Obama)

On today's front page of the Chicago Tribune is a large photo of Barak Obama in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois where Abraham Lincoln once served in the state legislature. Obama is smiling and waving in a kind of high-angle shot Leni Reifenstahl used in Triumph of the Will. The headline over it screams in large type, "Obama: 'Destiny calling.'" He just entered the race for president.

When what seems to be the next greatest thing comes along, it's hard to resist over-hype. But resist it we must. Especially early on in the game. A great tragic example of over-hype is Moby Grape. Of all the sixties bands to emerge from San Francisco, Moby Grape had the most promise. Their record company, Columbia Records, saw this and, in a misguided marketing stunt, simultaneously released an unprecedented five singles from their first LP. The result of this over-hype? Moby Grape's credibility was damaged. Instead of seeing the band as America's answer to the Rolling Stones, the record-buying public saw them as another prefabricated Monkees.

The lesson we should all learn -- whether we're selling healthcare services, sinks, rock bands or presidential candidates -- is to build momentum with a tight strategy that doesn't stuff your enthusiasm and hopefulness down your audience's throats with sudden force. Go cautiously from strength to strength. In a very smart move, the Beatles refused to tour America until they had a #1 hit here. If they had toured here as unknowns with a lot of hype, who knows? They could have been reduced to a historical footnote -- and Leslie Gore and Connie Francis could have kept their careers.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Nothing new under the sun - Part II

Too many ads today don't have headlines because too many creative directors, copywriters and designers today feel that headlines are "old school." And when you evoke David Ogilvy's name and say every ad must have a headline, you get laughed at for being anachronistic.

Two facts. One, ads without headlines are nothing new (such as this Kellogg's ad from 1908). And two, headlines are a crucial part of a proven formula of grabbing your target audience's attention. Right now, it may not be so cool to create ads with headlines. But it is always cool to create ads with headlines that increase response rates.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Why you can't proofread your own stuff

One simple reason. You're too close to it.

Let's say you created a piece and made some typos -- for example, some words have missing letters or there's no comma when there should be one. When you read it over, you're likely to miss the typos because your mind's eye still sees the missing letters and the AWOL comma. You know they should be there.

What you need is a fresh pair of eyes.

You need a proofreader.

The best person to proof your stuff is a professional proofreader. She's trained to catch the smallest mistakes. And the good ones will amaze you by catching things you didn't even know were there (though you were the one who created the piece in the first place). If hiring a professional proofreader isn't in the budget, ask a colleague or an administrative assistant to proof your piece. If you're as fortunate as I've been, you'll find some are just as good as the professional readers.

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Shun the exclamation point in your headlines

"Vanishing...Statehood Quarters 41 Coin Set!"

"Keep Your Phone Number ... Lower Your Phone Bill!"

These are two real headlines I just saw in two real ads in a real magazine. And they're real good examples of why you should avoid the exclamation point in your headlines. Here's why:
  1. The exclamation point should be the headline itself -- which should be your key selling message targeted to the right audience. In other words, an exclamation point is superfluous. It adds nothing. The two headlines above could work just as well -- if not better -- without it.
  2. Rely in the strength of your selling message. Have confidence in it. Sometimes copywriters add exclamation points because they don't think the message itself is strong enough. If you've done your homework correctly, your key selling message itself should be powerful to your target audience without any ending punctuation.
  3. Some experts argue not to end a headline with any kind of punctuation at all -- not even a with a period (let alone an exclamation point). That's because the idea is to grab your readers' attention and guide them smoothly to the copy -- and the period says "stop."
  4. The exclamation point is the written equivalent of yelling. Why would you want to yell at those you're trying to persuade to buy from you?

The headline's power belongs to its selling message, not to its punctuation. Strong punctuation can't make up for a weak headline. I'm not saying the two headlines above are weak (they could be getting high response rates); I'm saying that too often too many succumb to the temptation of throwing an exclamation point at the end of a headline to give it the illusion of passion.

And after saying all this, there are exceptions to this rule (not including your client or boss insisting on using an exclamation point).

One exception is using an exclamation point in a quote or testimonial headline. In the same magazine the two headlines above were in, there was an ad for Oreck vacuums. It showed a picture of David Oreck standing next to a vacuum cleaner under this headline: "My Hypo-Allergenic Oreck XL Ultra. It filters the air as you vacuum your floors!" This use of the exclamation point works because it's in a quote. David Oreck has a right to be excited about the benefits of his vacuum cleaners.

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Shun the asterisk

When communicating to your target audience, you want to get your message across clearly and quickly. The asterisk will stop you from achieving this. That's because the asterisk interrupts your readers from your message, makes them go to the bottom of the page to read something that's probably not a direct benefit to them anyway and then go back up to continue where they left off. This doesn't make for a quick and clear read. In fact, it often opens a door that says: "Run and don't look back."

So instead of using asterisks as footnotes, say what you need to say right in the body of the copy. It can be a parenthetical. And if it's not a benefit to your audience, try to turn it into one.

In other words, there's never a need to use asterisks in your sell or branding copy unless your legal department tells you to.

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