Archive for December, 2016

Why I am an “Essentialist”

December 30th, 2016 by Bob Bly

In his best-selling book “Essentialism: The Disciplines Pursuit
of Less” (Crown Business), Greg McKeown preaches his philosophy
of Essentialism as the path to having a better and more rewarding
life.

After reading it, I am a born-again Essentialist!

The core idea of Essentialism is, in McKeown’s words:

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world
than we have the time and resources to invest in.

“And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the
fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.

“Only when you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it
all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest
contribution towards the things that really matter.”

If you know people who pursue a primary goal, activity, or
mission with laser-like focus — whether it’s building a business,
mastering the violin, or accumulating wealth — they are almost
surely, with rare exceptions, Essentialists.

If you know people who volunteer for everything, have a calendar
filled with diverse activities, pursue a dozen hobbies and
interests, and volunteer for every committee in every worthwhile
organization under the sun — I can virtually assure you that they
are not Essentialists.

I only came across McKeown’s book a couple of months ago. But I
have been an Essentialist my entire adult life.

I focus, to the exclusion of almost everything else, on just the
few things that matter most to me — my business and my clients,
writing, and my family.

Yes, I would like to do more. But as McKeown correctly points
out, our time, attention, energy, and bandwidth are shockingly
finite.

So if you try to do everything, you accomplish — and get good at
— almost nothing.

“The overwhelming reality is: we live in a world where almost
everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally
valuable,” McKeown writes.

“We can choose how to spend our energy and time. We can’t have or
do it all.”

He quotes John Maxwell: “You cannot overestimate the unimportance
of practically everything.”

Marcus Aurelius says it this way: “If thou wouldst know
contentment, let thy deeds be few.”

The way I put it is this: If you are someone who is “all over the
place,” you will never really get to the one place you want to
go.

The key to Essentialism is laser-like focus on one or two things.
Steve Martin said:

“I did stand-up comedy for 18 years. Ten of those years were
spent learning, four were spent refining, and four were spent in
wild success. The course was more plodding than heroic.”

I have always described myself as a plodder, too. If you write,
as I have, 12 hours a day, 5 days a week for more than 3 decades,
you can’t help but get better at it!

My Essentialism does not mean I make zero contribution to
worthy causes outside my small number of core activities.

But I do so in the most time-efficient manner — by donating money
rather than my time to these worthy causes.

By focusing just on my business, I make more money … which in
turn enables me to make bigger contributions to curing cancer,
feeding the hungry, and other things that are important but that
I do not have the bandwidth to participate in directly.

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Category: General | 1 Comment »

Further adventures of the “digital marketing dullards”

December 27th, 2016 by Bob Bly

I recently told the story of how a community college
decimated its enrollment by dumping proven traditional marketing
channels in favor of some digital bright shiny objects.

Their mistake was not making the transition from traditional to
multi-channel marketing gradually and testing as they go.

Instead, they suddenly halted a marketing campaign that had been
working like gangbusters, fired their old agency, and hired a
new-media agency — with disastrous results.

Apparently, they’re not the only ones failing to be cautious when
transitioning from old-school print media to digital.

Subscriber DG writes:

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

“For the past 25 years, we used old fashioned snail-mail
brochures to promote our engineering seminars.

“The recipient is invited to sign up online. In the early days,
we even used a live registration form. Online is even simpler.

“We tried purchased e-mail lists a couple of times, but the
response was abysmal. However, our own compiled lists — past
clients and others — do quite well.

“The results: over 12,000 students and probably over a million
mailing pieces. The extra revenues nicely enhanced the retirement
accounts.

“Now I am doing classes through a small training company. They
mail an old fashioned catalog several time a year, with on-line
registration for the response. Quite successful.”

“So direct response is NOT dead, at least in my world.”

Subscriber DK tells a similar cautionary tale:

“3 years ago I had a client who specialized in laser surgery to
clear toenail fungus. Not glamorous, but necessary.

“I got them a 2-month Outdoor paper Poster campaign … 10′ X 20′
signs … you might consider them billboards. Valued at over $100K,
we got a two month deal for $30K.

“Ads ran in Feb and March. In November that same year people were
flocking to the clinics saying they remembered the Outdoor
posters.

“The next spring, since our campaign worked so well, the client
dumped us and pumped $25,000 into online somewhere.

“And what did they get for their 25 grand? About 6 likes, no
sales, no phone calls, and no one visiting any of their six
health clinics. Nada.

“Haven’t seen a ripple of activity from them since.

“Digital/On-line/Social are nice add-ons in moderation when they
have been vetted and tested, but they are not a panacea for all
that ails struggling businesses.”

Takeaways:

1–Traditional print still works some of the time. Digital can
work some of the time. Sometimes they work well together.

2–Don’t throw out a campaign that is still working just because
you are bored with it, because if it is still working, your
prospects obviously AREN’T bored with it.

3–Test new channels, media, and tactics gradually and cautiously.
Stick your toe into the water first, before diving into the deep
end of the pool.

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Category: Online Marketing | 2 Comments »

7 rules of effective retail advertising

December 23rd, 2016 by Bob Bly

Several of you asked me recently for advertising tips for
retailing.

And since I don’t write retail copy, I turned to my pal Brian
Croner, who was kind enough to provide these “7 Rules of
Effective Retail Advertising.”

1–Hard sell out-pulls soft sell. An independently owned store
doesn’t have the ad budget of a big chain. So one ad needs to do
the job of 10 or 20. Your ad has to get more attention than your
larger competitors and has to create a sense of urgency and a
fear of loss.

2–Use bargain appeals. Whether your prices are better than your
competition isn’t relevant. Make your customers BELIEVE you have
great deals. This could be something as simple as “60% OFF
RETAIL!” (“Retail” can be any number.)

Or have some loss leaders available so you can make the claim
legally by saying; “Some items SOLD AT OR BELOW COST!” These
bargain appeals work!

3–Always have an event or sale. “I have skeptics ask me all the
time. ‘Won’t you lose credibility if you run a sale all the
time?,'” says Brian. “The answer is: no, you won’t.”

For instance, when someone is in need of a new mattress or piece
of furniture, they LOOK for SALES and EVENTS! Your advertising
has to appeal to the next group of prospects ready to buy your
products NOW.

4–Have a start date for your event; e.g., “STARTS FRIDAY at
10am!” Brian says he uses this hook in over 30 markets and it
works in all of them. It generates excitement and makes people
plan to go to the store.

5– Create a limited time frame for your event. “Almost all the
furniture stores we have worked with were going to close on Black
Friday,” says Brian.

“Our clients run 10 or 12-hour sales on Black Friday. The event
is hyped all week long through Thanksgiving Day on local media.
A recent store who just signed on with us did around $45,000 on
Black Friday in a town of only 13,000 occupants!”

6–Buy media wisely. You’re in the business of purchasing
customers — not space, not time, not “likes.”

And don’t believe for a minute that local radio, local
television, and your local newspaper are “obsolete”. These
mediums still have good circulation and loyal audiences.

If you want to add social media, go into it slowly and measure
the results carefully. Both Brian and I have watched multiple
businesses nosedive when they pulled away from what was working
with “traditional media” and invested most or all of their ad
budgets into new media.

7–Repeat your successes. When elements of an advertisement work,
you keep it, repeat it, and try to improve upon it. If your
“48-Hour Stock Reduction Sale” worked this year, it will most
likely work again next year.

Thanks, Brian!

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Category: Advertising | 1 Comment »

Is simple writing the best writing?

December 20th, 2016 by Bob Bly

RS, an ad agency creative director, wrote the following in a
recent article on branding:

“Today, the emerging big brands among us are those that are
bringing the future to fruition — changing how we exist,
interact, and sustain our lives. They’re making social networks,
self-driving cars, hoverboards, and holograms.

“And most interesting of all, this new class of brand is led by a
visionary founder with a particular philosophy, not by a
corporate entity acting out a product roadmap against established
brand guidelines and architecture.

“People like Elon Musk, Evan Spiegel, and Mark Zuckerberg are
pursuing innovation across product and business lines that
sometimes don’t organize quite as neatly under a parent company
as the businesses of yesteryear had, and instead are branded in
siloes.”

Is this good writing?

I would bet that when RS read his draft, he was glowing with
pride at his highfalutin, breathless prose.

But in my forthcoming book on writing, I will use it as an
example of how NOT to write … and in my writing seminars my
students call this one, “What did he say?”

To me, it stinks, because RS violates an important rule of good
writing:

“Write to express — not to impress.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald mocked Hemingway for Ernie’s simple, basic
vocabulary and plain, unadorned style.

“He thinks I don’t know the ten dollar words,” Hemingway said of
Fitzgerald’s criticism. “I do. I just prefer the $1 words
instead.”

When I first started teaching business and technical writing
seminars for corporate clients, I would occasionally have an
attendee who, when I said simple and plain writing is best,
argued with me.

They said they had been taught all their life to write in a
formal, corporate style — and the conversational style I was
teaching in the class was wrong and inappropriate for business.

I would show these naysayers the Flesch readability test; they
usually remained unpersuaded.

But when I got into direct response copywriting, I finally had
objective proof — not just subjective opinion — to support my
assertion that simple writing is the best writing … at least when
it comes to communication.

And the proof is this: almost without exception, virtually every
successful direct response promotion is written in clear,
concise, conversational copy.

It’s the style used by John Forde … Clayton Makepeace … Richard
Armstrong … Ivan Levison … Paul Hollingshead … Steve Slaunwhite …
and just about every top six- and seven-figure copywriter I know.

Why? Because it is plain English that virtually always gets the
best response — proving that when it comes to communicating,
simple writing is the best writing.

And it’s not just my personal opinion that clear writing trumps
ornate writing, and that plain language communicates more
effectively than big words.

It’s a tested fact.

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Category: Writing | 1 Comment »

Avoid disaster when migrating to digital media

December 16th, 2016 by Bob Bly

It’s ironic.

Direct response guys by far know more about what works in
marketing than anyone else, because we generate tangible results
on every promotion. And these results are measured.

Yet more and more marketers are bypassing direct response today
in favor of what is hot and trendy — specifically branding,
content marketing, digital marketing, and social media.

For instance, my friend BC, a veteran direct marketing pro,
recently wrote me an e-mail. He says:

“I’ve had so many clients insist on dropping what they call
‘traditional’ media for digital and social media, only to have a
harsh awakening as their response plummets.

“One such client is a small community college who was struggling
during the recession. They were down to just under 7,000
students and state funding was cut.

“Teaching jobs were on the line. We launched a campaign with
traditional media with the right message. And in just 2
enrollment periods — spring and fall of the same year — we
raised enrollment to just over 11,000 students … an increase of
57%.

“We sustained that number and even moved it up a notch or two for
3 years. Then the college’s Marketing Committee got comfortable
and bored, fired us, and hired a digital/social media agency.

“The new media agency produced disastrous results. Enrollment
went from just over 11,000 students down to 6,500 students in 2
enrollment cycles. The last numbers I learned of were below 4,500
students.

“Now the college doesn’t have an ad budget, and most of the
Marketing Committee, who were also professors and instructors,
have been let go due to lack of funds.

“The college’s Marketing Director was moved from his office suite
in the main building to an office on a remote side of the campus.

“This is why I always tell clients to ease into ‘new media’
slowly — and test, test, and test!”

I urge you to consider BC’s story and advice carefully. He is a
top pro and he knows what he is talking about.

In my view, this myopic college Marketing Director, who had BC’s
vast expertise as his disposal, starved to death with a loaf of
bread under each arm.

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Category: Direct Marketing, Online Marketing | 1 Comment »

Are you violating client confidentiality by showing samples on your site?

December 14th, 2016 by Bob Bly

Subscriber GR asks:

“When I send clients an agreement, it states using samples is
important to my business.

“I have a client who doesn’t want the work I do for him displayed
on my site; I’m thinking he’s worried about his competitors.

“I have never done an e-book for a client…. so this certain
sample would be important to me, as future clients may ask if
I’ve done one.

“Since you are an expert, what are your thoughts to solve this
problem?”

My feeling is you should NEVER put in your agreements that you
automatically have the right to use the promotion you wrote for
the client to market your own services.

Why not?

Because some clients want their marketing — or the fact that you
wrote it for them — to be confidential.

They want to keep what they are doing under wraps — and not put
it on display where it is easily imitated or knocked off.

That is their right … and for them may be the sensible path.

So if your copywriting contract requires clients to let you use
their samples to promote your services, many prospects may not
hire you because of that contract clause.

So I never, ever include it in the agreement.

What happens is that once the promotion is produced, I tell them
it looks so great, may I please post it as a sample on my web
site’s portfolio?

At that point 95% give permission to post what you did for them
on your online portfolio. And so — problem solved. They will
even give you a PDF of the finished artwork which makes it a snap
to post the promotion on your site.

As for the 5% who say they do not want you to show the work to
others, you absolutely should comply with their wishes — and do
not share the sample with anyone under any circumstance — as much
as you want to.

This is the right way to handle sharing and display of client
samples. You do not want to get a reputation for violating client
confidentiality, which you will if you show client work to others
without permission.

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Category: Writing and the Internet | No Comments »

What to do when your client wants more than just the copy

December 9th, 2016 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JA writes, “I am finding clients who say they want a
copywriter, and then ask for additional services such as design
and web development, including programming. How do you sell them
on just the writing aspect that they need first and foremost?”

I do three simple things that solve the problem easily and
neatly.

First, I send them a link to my FAQ page where it states the
following:

“Q: What if I need graphics, not just the copy? Do you work with
an artist?”

“A: I work with the best direct-mail artists and web designers in
the world, but it’s not a package deal. After you hire me, I’ll
give you some recommendations on the right artist for your job
and you can come to terms with him or her on your own. I can also
work with your artist or web developer, if you prefer. Either way
is fine with me.”

I stole this language from Richard Armstrong. We are in essence
saying, “We can get you the other parts of the project you need,
but we don’t act as an ad agency or manage the project for you.”

Second, I make it easy for the client to find vendors who can
provide whatever they need that I don’t do — by posting a vendor
directory page on my site:

http://www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/vendors.php

When a client asks “What will a mailing list or design for my web
site cost?” I don’t go out and get a quote from the vendor. I
point the client to the vendor’s page link above — and tell them
they have to contact the vendor directly to get the pricing.

Third, after all this, there will still be a few clients who will
only hire you to write their copy if you also act as a full-service
agency and deliver the entire package.

In such situations, you can say one of two things: Yes. Or no.

If you are in such demand as a copywriter that you have many more
potential clients than you can handle, then sticking by your
guns, saying you write copy only, and refusing to provide full
agency services is easy.

That’s the option I have chosen: fill my lead pipeline to
overflowing so I only have to take the jobs I want. And projects
where the client wants me to “do the whole thing” are jobs I do
not want. So I turn them down.

On the other hand, if you are hungry and need the work, turning
away good assignments from clients who demand a turnkey service
is more difficult, and you may choose to give them what they
want. It’s up to you.

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Are FB ads really “social media”?

December 6th, 2016 by Bob Bly

According to Duke University’s School of Business’s recent CMO
survey, 44.1% of marketers said they are unable to show the
impact of social media.

Another 35.6% say there is a quantitative impact but cannot
measure hard numbers for sales ROI and other key metrics.

Bottom line: about 8 out 10 marketers surveyed either haven’t
realized or can’t prove the ROI they expected from social media,
dampening their desire to invest more time and money in the channel.

Whenever I share this, I always get responses from people who
tell me they can measure social ROI and are crushing it on
social.

But 99 times out of 100, it turns out that they are talking about
boosted posts and paid advertising on Facebook.

One can argue — and I am that one — that FB ads are not really
“social media” or “social marketing.”

They are online advertising, same as pay-per-click ads on Google
or Bing, banner ads on web sites, and ads in e-zines.

When I question whether social media works or produces a decent
ROTI (return on time invested), I am not questioning the efficacy
of FB paid ads — because I already know they can work like
gangbusters.

What I’m questioning is whether endless blabbing and chatter on
Facebook, Snapchat, and other social networks generates a good
ROI.

Well, the Duke survey says 8 out of 10 CMOs cannot confirm a
positive ROI from their social media.

Now, whenever I say this, someone will blast me, pointing out
that Grant Cardone is “crushing it” on Snapchat and Gary
Vaynerchuk is doing likewise on multiple social networks — as if
this invalidates the Duke survey findings.

Well, it doesn’t. Because there are exceptions to everything, and
in social media ROI, Grant and Gary are two of a small minority
who are in fact making money with social.

But for the majority of marketers, social media remains an
unproven medium that often sucks time and funds that would be
better spent on other activities — such as e-mail marketing and
direct mail.

Yes, it doesn’t cost a lot of money, but I contend social
marketing has a poor ROTI — return on time invested. And since
time is so precious, blabbing on Snapchat or tweeting half a
dozen times a day without generating hard dollar revenues online
is to me a waste.

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Category: Online Marketing | 2 Comments »