Archive for 2014


Listeners and viewers everywhere are familiar with the bloated message – we navigate through irrelevant webpages, skip past the boring parts of pamphlets, and tune out keynote speakers until they get to the content we’re actually interested in. Part of this is symptomatic of our more technical society: as bandwidth increases, it’s become easier and easier to just “do more” – more pages, more videos, more color, more verbiage.

Resist the urge.

Because while modern politicians luxuriate in their 2-hour TV time slots, the great orators through history still understood that brevity was the soul of wit (and sales, and persuasion).

It helps to think of words as costing you money. When you assume each word costs a dollar, each unnecessary webpage costs a customer, and each extra second of video costs 1% of attention and engagement, it’s easy to cut the fat.

Practice economy and respect the value of your audience’s attention. More isn’t better. More is just more. And it costs you.

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Do Anything

…that’s what Harry Beckwith reminds us in Selling The Invisible. “Do anything.” Because careful strategy is like a perfectly built castle of sand: it crumbles the second the tide changes.

Better to build in the open. Expose your marketing to audiences and prospects right now. Then keep what works and nix what doesn’t.

Software developers have already embraced this chaos. Their ‘Agile’ method of development emphasizes working prototypes over careful planning and documentation. They turn orders into working programs ASAP. Then collect feedback. Then repeat. Creating successive approximations until the client says ‘okay,’ then tells them to go live.

If the stereotypically starched programmer can be so nimble, why not marketers and entrepreneurs? Don’t let planning, market research, or even reading this blog get in your way of trying something new today.

Make a video. Build a website. Launch something. You’re going to learn from it.


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Who Do You Choose To Hear?

There’s no right answer, but it pays to ask the question: who are you choosing to hear? And why?

Are you only looking to bask in the glow of unconditional praise? Maybe you listen to friends, or to a complimentary (but non-committal) stranger. These folks don’t have a financial stake in what you do. They like you and want you to feel good. They’ll say nice things, but rarely unlimber their wallet.

Then there’s current customers. You can ask what they like or loathe. This is more relevant to the bottom line (assuming your customers know what they like), and can help you improve on doing more of the same. But it’s not going to push you to change much.

The third option is figuring out where you want to be in six months (or a year, or ten), and imagining your ‘ideal’ clients in that future place. Then you go out and find those people right now. Listen to them.

Like we said, there’s no right answer. But who you choose to hear will change how you choose to speak. In your videos and in your sales pitches. Do you want to secure your position or make a change? Or do you just want to feel good about yourself?

Listen wisely. Then choose your words.

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What’s Your Opener?

That’s what our speech teacher wanted to know: what’s your attention grabber? What’s the line you lead with that gets everyone to lean forward and pay attention?

Sometimes the line isn’t a line. Sometimes it’s an attitude. Or mood music. Sometimes it’s a camera angle — a peculiar shot the audience never expected to see — one that holds their interest for the next shot, and the next one, and the next…

Here’s one thing your opener should never be:

“Do you want to buy my product?”

It’s the equivalent of asking every girl (or guy) if she (he) wants to date you. It’s an easy question to say “no” to. Especially when you’ve done nothing to earn the “yes”.

Your initial video or mailing list “welcome message” should focus primarily on generating interest. It should raise questions and create speculations. It should get people excited about interacting with you.

It should not be some boring, overbearing sales message we’ve heard a thousand times before.

Be different. Your initial outreach might actually reach somebody.

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There’s an element of seduction to every sale. It’s not a one-to-one parallel, of course — any probate lawyer playing “flirty and fun” is apt to lose business — but there are elements common to each. And they’re worth learning from.

One of these is feigned disinterest. In the parlance of attraction/affection, it’s “playing hard to get.” We’ve made up a new term for marketing purposes. It’s called “unselling.”

Unselling is everything you do and say that seems to contradict your selling motive. It’s telling people, “our product is not for everyone.” It’s telling yourself, “we’re going to sell a few things to a few people,” instead of “we’re going to sell everything to everyone.” And it’s seductive, because it creates the illusion that you don’t need your prospects. Rather, they need you.

Imagine a recruiter who tells her candidate, “don’t take the job I’m offering. Sure, it pays more, but I don’t want you to have to move across the country. You should stay where you are.” Suddenly, the candidate is chasing her. She’s in a much more powerful position to negotiate.

Stop trying so hard. Let the client fall in love with you.

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Exciting vs. Relevant

It’s an important distinction to make, especially because what’s exciting to you may be irrelevant to your audience. Or, worse, boring and irrelevant.

We’re reminded of an old standup routine poking fun at local news ads – how they always seem to be excited about new technology (have a quick peak here: Does anyone in the audience care about Doppler 5000, or “Chopper 4”? Aren’t we more interested in what’s happening in our community, what affects us, and what we can gossip about?

It’s funny, but it makes a serious point. As business owners or department heads, we can become enamored with our own products and processes. We lose touch with what audiences actually care about – and what compels them to buy.

Which is not to say that showing off your tech is always irrelevant. For a new business, or a small business, a helicopter or sophisticated computer is a big deal. It goes a long way toward establishing the credibility that makes bigger clients buy.

But for “News Channel 4,” it’s wasted ad time. Make sure you’re not wasting your marketing budget on things only you care about. Take time to connect with your audience. Send feedback forms to your fans. Hang out where they hang out. And don’t be afraid to ask: “what message should we be sharing?”

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Sell To The Few

…The fans. The people who actually need what you can offer… and are willing to pay for it.

In an audience of 100, maybe 10 people will be willing to buy your book or follow up lecture. That’s okay. Tailor your presentation to those 10, and forget trying to “convince” or “persuade” the others.* Those 10 fans are already convinced and persuaded. You just need to remove obstacles between them and the sale.

Obstacles like lack of trust, or lack of familiarity. These are easy enough to assuage through effective communication. Bottom line: if you’re talking to people who already want to buy your product, all messaging should prove you’re the “safe” choice. The default. The sure thing.

You don’t have to be flashy or even be better than your competitors. You just have to show people they can trust you. Then close. No hyperbolic phrases or diluted “please everyone” messages required.


*Even Jordan Belfort, that famous ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ only tries to close 1 in 4. He knows the other 75% just aren’t buying.

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Speak Softly

…and substantiate your arguments. That’s one way to stand out, especially if your competitors are fond of hyperbole, adjectives, and empty statements. Be the one who makes simple statements, then backs them up with evidence and great performance.

An IT friend of ours does this to great effect. While everyone else in his technical field is busy talking big – discussing the ‘two billion data points‘ they’ve managed ‘end-to-end‘ across the ‘full stack‘ at the ‘enterprise level‘ – our friend states simply what he can do. Then he provides his clients with test scores, showing his percentile in each knowledge area.

To our knowledge, no one else in his field is substantiating their resume in quite this way. And it’s a differentiator for him. More than a few clients have commented on how impressed they were by it, and how (more importantly) they were sold by it.

You can do the same, and should, especially if you’re selling something intangible (like IT services). It’s fine to pepper in a few adjectives when you’re talking about a car – something physical that people can see and feel. But when you’re selling the abstract, it’s more important to be concrete. Be simple, honest, and direct. And use those test scores (or that killer website or those awards and testimonials) to make your service as real as possible.

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Great Artists Steal

Not directly, of course. Any artist caught committing obvious plagiarism is likely to end up in court – not to mention the hidden (and potentially greater) cost of lost credibility and fan attrition. But great artists steal in non-obvious ways. They take great ideas from other media and incorporate it into their own. They take a little of this and a little of that, and combine two things in a way that makes something surprising and interesting. Something that feels new, but has already proved successful elsewhere.

Same goes for brand marketing. Consider Lexus, who in early 2012, started training “geniuses” to help customers understand new car tech. This is a ripoff of Apple, but when appropriated for the car market it bolstered Lexus’s already great customer service. No one cared that the idea was stolen. They just cared that it was smart and it worked.

You can steal an aesthetic, too. Umpqua Bank feels more like a Starbucks, or ultra-modern salon, than a boring financial institution. They can call themselves “The World’s Greatest Bank” because, if nothing else, they don’t look or feel like any other. It’s not original. It’s just original relative to other banks.

You can do the same in your marketing. Steal shamelessly. Just don’t steal within your own industry. Try selling candy with fashion models and fancy photography. Try making your corporate newsletter look like a trendy magazine. And don’t be afraid to steal the style of your favorite action or art film for your next piece of video marketing. You’d be surprised how effective these mash-ups can be.

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What Does Your Audience Look Like?

And how do you picture them engaging with your marketing materials? Do they drop everything to read your latest e-blast? When they’re sorting their junk mail, do they open your flier? Or do they toss it in recycling with everything else?

Some marketers have a sophisticated grasp on audience behavior. They have eye tracking studies showing where site visitors look first. Studies pegging the exact time viewers lose interest in a clever video ad (it’s after the brand name appears). Even studies about how consumers move through a retail store, and where to put the freshest fruits and brightest colors.

You don’t need a consumer psychologist to ‘metricize’ all your branding, but it does pay to try to see things through the customer’s eyes. Remember: every ad is an interruption. You need to understand where your customer was coming from (and where they were going), when you got in their way. Then use that understanding to make the interruption count.

A flier with a lot of “blah blah” corporate copy is easy to recycle. But one that says “recycling this would be a mistake,” is a lot more interesting. It’s a wink and a nudge to the reader. An in-joke that says, “we know what you were about to do.” It may just be intriguing enough to open.

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