Archive for January, 2011

Spelling Police: At It Again

January 31st, 2011 by Bob Bly

As a writer, blogger, and online publisher, I am frequently visited by “the spelling police” — individuals who have found a typo in something I wrote and absolutely cannot wait to tell me about it.

Members of the spelling police vary in their reaction to finding typos.

Some are genuinely offended, and accuse me of not caring enough about my readers to proofread or edit carefully.

Others are incredulous that I allowed the mistake to happen in the first place — reacting with horror as if making a typo was on a par with original sin.

In this case, RG pointed out a typo in my latest book, and he was of the first category — genuinely offended by my sloppiness. He told me he was personally offended by the presence of a typo in a book he had paid $15 to own.

I pointed out to RG that the book contains 100,000 words. If only one of them has a typo — and he only found the one — that means 1/1,000 of 1% of the words in the book have a typo.

I can’t think of many human activities that have a lower error rate.

So next time you spot a typo, don’t get bent out of shape. Notify the author if you so desire, but do not take the attitude that the typo is the end of western civilization as we know it.

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How to Know If Your Business Idea Will Fly

January 20th, 2011 by Bob Bly

At least once a week, someone comes to me with a business idea ? typically a new product or service ? and asks, ?Will this work??

Perhaps you too have an idea for a new product or service ? but would like to know whether it has a realistic chance of success before you invest your time and hard-earned money in it.

I will give you the same piece of advice I give everyone else?.

*** Look around to see whether anyone else is doing what you propose.***

If you find at least one other person doing it successfully (i.e., making money at it), then it could work for you, too ? if you are smart and lucky.

On the other hand, if no one else is doing it, there?s no reason to think YOU can ? and I?d probably look for something else.

This may be somewhat counterintuitive. Then again, a lot of business success principles are.

?Isn?t it great that no one else is doing my idea?? someone asked me the last time I said this. ?That means I thought of it first and there?s no competition!?

Actually, it?s almost certain that many others thought of it before you.

What should trouble you is that these individuals ? some of whom may be as smart or even smarter than you ? evaluated the idea, and after careful consideration, decided not to proceed.

Or, they tried it and failed.

In other words, the reason no one else is doing your idea is because it won?t work!

Conversely, you might think that if others are doing your idea, there?s already too much competition.

That may or may not be the case.

But if others are doing the same idea, and making money at it, then that idea has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to work in the real world.

And if THEY are making money at it, there?s a good chance you can too.

After all, you are probably nearly as smart ? or even smarter ? than many of those people.

Most of the people you probably think of as innovators were actually not.

Bill Gates, for instance, is thought of as the creator of the first personal computer operating system, MS-DOS.

But actually, another programmer created MS-DOS.

Bill Gates bought it from him for $50,000 cash, made some modifications, and sold it to IBM for royalties that made him the wealthiest man in the world.

In fact, MS-DOS was not even the first commercially successful PC operating system.

That honor goes to CPM, a rival operating system that was invented and offered to IBM first (they didn?t take it, but the old Kaypro computers ran on it).

One other counterintuitive piece of advice?.

If you decide to market a new product or service, and your test campaign fails miserably, don?t keep pushing to make it incrementally better, in the hopes that you can turn a loser into a winner.

Much better is to cut your losses and abandon the idea — before you pour good money after bad.

Example: A reader came to me asking if I could save her business by writing a direct mail package.

I asked what her first mailing, which seemed competent to me (though not first rate), brought in. Did it break-even? Cover half its mailing cost?

Turns out, it pulled only a few orders with thousands of pieces mailed.

I reminder her, ?Even a great package might pull only double or triple a package that failed ? and even if we triple the response, you won?t even be close to breaking even ? so this just isn?t going to work.?

Needless to say, I did not write the package for her, though I am convinced I saved her from wasting many thousands of dollars on another test doomed to fail.

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Joe Sugarman’s Marketing Secret

January 19th, 2011 by Bob Bly

I recently listened to the CD of a talk given by Joseph Sugarman, founder of JS&A and widely recognized as one of the greatest mail order marketers of all time.

JS&A is the company that sells those Blue Blocker sunglasses you see advertised on TV and in magazines.

The glasses really work, by the way. Put a pair on, and everything blue is converted to a shade of gray.

Anyway, during the talk, Mr. Sugarman mentioned that he often tested three or four different ads for the same product ? and in some cases as many as 10 different versions!

?Typically, nine of the ads would fail but one would work spectacularly well,? said Mr. Sugarman, ?The profits from that one ad would more than cover the losses from the other nine.?

Do you do that ? create multiple ads and then test them to see which works best?

Or do you — like most businesses — create and test just one ad ? or one postcard ? or one e-mail ? or one sales letter or direct mail package?

If so, you are significantly reducing your odds of getting a winning promotion?.

The reason is that not all promotions work. In fact, most don?t.

Say one out of four promotions is a winner. And that?s being optimistic.

Jerry Huntsinger, a well-known copywriter in fundraising, once told me ?9 out of 10 of the things I do don?t work.?

And in his speech, Joseph Sugarman reported similar results ? sometimes having to write and test 10 ads to get one winner.

But let?s stick with the ?one winner out of every four tests? figure for now.

Based on those odds, if you run just one ad, or mail just one version of a sales letter, your chances of hitting a winner are only one out of four ? and the odds are 75% that your marketing effort will bomb.

What commonly happens is that a business decides to ?try? direct mail ? sends out a poorly written, amateurish letter or postcard ? and when they get no response, they proclaim that ?direct mail doesn?t work.?

Sure it doesn?t ? tell that to Nightingale-Conant ? or Boardroom ? or Publishers Clearinghouse ? or Day Timer.

On the other hand, if you create and test four different ads or letter versions, the odds are in your favor that at least one will work and be profitable for you.

My rule of thumb for improving direct marketing results is: Look at what the big players ? the successful direct marketers ? are doing. And do what they do.

And the one thing every successful direct marketer has in common is ? they test. A lot.

What do they test?

Headlines ? outer envelopes ? direct mail formats ? copy approaches ? sales appeals ? mailing lists ? prices ? offers ? guarantees ? terms ? anything with the potential to generate a big lift in response rates. Or even a small one, for that matter.

Does all this testing make sense?

On one such test, a marketer increased response to an e-mail marketing message by 50% ? just by changing the subject line.

In another test, a software company increased orders from a direct mail package tenfold ? simply by varying the wording of the offer.

And a computer school doubled the response rate to its newspaper advertising when they added the offer of a free career booklet.

Does all this testing make sense?

You bet it does!

Imagine ? just by changing a few words on a piece of paper or a computer screen, you can double your sales ? revenues ? and profits.

If there?s another area of business that gives you that kind of leverage, I?d like to hear about it.

One other point?.

In direct marketing, no one can predict with any degree of certainty which ad or mailing is going to work.

You only learn what works by testing and keeping track of the results.

You may have your subjective opinions about what you like and don?t like in advertising ? we all do ?.

But in direct marketing, you simply can?t argue with results.

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Category: General | 89 Comments »