The lure that hides a hook

It’s a common marketing technique that also happens to be illegal. Bait-and-switch means that customers are drawn in with an alluring offer, then flicked over to an item that’s more profitable.

This is often done by denigrating the special deal once the customer is in the store. “It’s a nice vacuum cleaner, but we can’t include a guarantee.” Or “Frankly, you’re too classy for that suit.”

PAINFUL WITHDRAWAL

A sophisticated version works like this. You want cosmetic work done on your nose. The first consultation, including a diagnostic examination and X-rays, is very reasonably priced. You’re happy to go ahead.

Then you get the quote for the operation, which frankly looks outrageous. But by then, you know the doctor (who is a nice person) and paid for the preliminary work. You’re in the system.

Bait-and-switch is hard to prove, which is why vendors get away with it. In all cases, you have no obligation to complete the purchase. It’s painful to start again somewhere else – but can hurt more not to.

When your writing won’t work

Stuck with your content writing? If an article won’t flow, chances are that you’re suffering from a common problem, which is that you don’t have a clear picture in your head of whom you’re writing for.

The result is that you can’t think what to say or how to say it.

Stop and consider. Work out who your audience is and try to envisage a typical member of that audience. Start writing again.

This trick is usually effective. Vague sentences are replaced by precise, targeted phrases and everything seems to flow.

You can’t write for everybody. Try instead to write for somebody. The likely outcome is that it will be read with pleasure by many.

After the perm, it’s still a dog

The corner restaurant near this office has been through five tenants in recent years. Each spends money on a new name and new fitout, but these don’t stop the venture from failing.

We’ve had a Mexican, Turkish, contemporary, Asian, and one I can’t remember.

In each of the formats, there’s been nothing wrong with the food or service. But the floor size of the premises is enormous and would need a lot of diners in order to be profitable. Many of the tables are empty during the week. The two-highway exposure must also push up the rent.

BLIND FAITH

And this is on a high street that’s already overserviced with casual restaurants.

What startles me is the faith that each new operator has in a fresh concept, as if this will be the one to break through into profitability. A revamp is seen as the answer.

You can dress up these premises any way you like and the business fundamentals aren’t going to change much. A dog remains a dog, regardless of the color of its coat.

Use it to persuade a stranger

The phone is a great but forgotten business tool. It lets you chat informally with people and communicate warmth, while picking up the nuances of their speech.

The more I replace phone talk with email or text, the less cooperation I find. Despite the use of emojis, written words are coolly transactional and don’t convey the human touch.

You can’t sell as successfully by email as in person or by phone. Even when using the phone for that purpose, it’s best not to leave a voicemail asking for a return call. What works is to say, “sorry I missed you, will try again”.

Anything that shifts the onus onto the other person is likely to reduce your chance of success.

Text and email are wonderful for associates, friends and family. But when trying to persuade or convince a stranger, nothing beats the human face or voice.

A never ending story

West Side Story is playing again in my town. It’s a great musical with brilliant music, astonishing dancing, and a tragedy as old as Shakespeare.

The theme of ethnic conflict in the big city is just a relevant today as when the show was first staged in 1957.

The fight back then was partly about race and I suppose partly about religion, but at its core was the struggle for living space between recent immigrant arrivals and more established residents.

Behind the gang “rumble” – a fight over turf – was pressure on housing and jobs and community acceptance. So not much has changed.

MAGNIFIED CONFLICT

A knife fight under the highway might seem smalltime compared to today’s marketplace bombings and mosque massacres.

The old Upper West Side tenements of New York have gone too, replaced by the Lincoln Center and other artifacts of gentrification.

But on a world scale, the conflicts haven’t disappeared, and in fact have been magnified. The musical might aptly be reworked as Terror in the West or Meet You at the Mosque.

It’s a heartbreak that never seems to end.

The 21st century Howard Hughes

I looked at a couple of movies recently about the mid-20th-century entrepreneur Howard Hughes. These were The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and The Amazing Howard Hughes, with Tommy Lee Jones.

Both movies told interesting stories, the first focusing on Hughes’s early years, the latter protraying his decline into eccentric old age.

What startled me was the similarity between him and our current rich visionary, Elon Musk.

Hughes made his pile selling drill parts during the Texas oil boom, then parlayed the cash into blockbuster movies, operating an airline (TWA) and making extravagant forays into aircraft design.

His six-engined Spruce Goose was at the time the largest aircraft ever built. It barely got off the ground and has been hangared ever since as an awkward reminder of Hughes’s overreach.

FATED TRAJECTORY? 

In a similar vein, Elon Musk got rich from the internet revolution, bought into the car company Tesla and has ambitions to be a space transport pioneer.

Both men had or are having trouble reining in their cashed-up dreams to keep pace with the reality of what they’re trying to achieve.

The Musk story is still unfolding, but how fascinating to see if the second half of the man’s life will mirror the fated trajectory of his forerunner.

Go where your competitors won’t

We’ve all got business rivals, and it’s easy to believe that nothing is as tough as our own industry. That’s because we’re all fishing for customers in the same pond.

There are people out there who would love to hear from you and know more about your products. You simply haven’t thought of them yet.

CRUISING FANTASY

Let’s say you’re working in the food industry, but dream of sailing the oceans as a luxury yacht captain. Indulge your hopeless fantasy by reading their blogs. Comment on providoring topics, where you might be able to add a fresh angle to the conversation.

Become the only person of your professional type whom they’ve ever encountered online.

You’ll one day be able to laugh behind your sails when colleagues and competitors complain how hard their life is.

Comfort is underrated

We’re tired of hearing it, aren’t we? Move out of your comfort zone. The advice is supposed to be a key to personal success.

I prefer to remain in mine – especially if it’s uncomfortable for everyone else.

Stretching yourself to the point where it hurts is based on the notion that unless new horizons are sought, we’ll remain forever stuck on the couch. I’m all for pain avoidance and have got nothing against wallowing, provided it’s productive.

ALBERT’S ZONE

The Swiss mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein spent his days working on complex theorems because he found them to be enjoyable and stimulating. “Get out of the house, Albert! Go put on your skates or climb a mountain.”

Einstein was entirely comfortable with staying inside and solving the mysteries of time and space.

Isn’t simply a matter of grit

The new year is a time for resolutions, in which we decide to begin projects or fix problems that require our attention.

We’ll need persistence to see these thing through, since outcomes can take time to achieve and may face hurdles along the way. Persistence is the key to success.

Or is it?

There are two types of people in the world: those who give up easily, and those who don’t cave in soon enough. Huh? We hear a lot about the first sort, and are encouraged to beat up on ourselves for showing this tendency.

Yet the second type is also common. These folk are inflexible and keep going after they should abandon their effort or change tack.

Here’s a resolution for 2019: If something isn’t working, don’t continue. Stop what you’re doing and think about what’s causing the blockage. Look around for an answer, ask people, read up, and sometimes just wait.

Resolve, in other words, not to let persistence get in the way of success.

Please, no more worms!

Marketing offers can appear like worms after rain, a dozen or more at a time. Why? Because the salespeople are all reading from the same data.

When you buy a house, register a domain name, lease a commercial property or give birth to a child, this action is recorded in public or industry records. Marketers watch for changes in these and use them to initiate sales calls or emails – for goods that may be required downstream from the recorded event.

Such items include home insurance, websites, office fit-outs and family trusts.

TOO MANY MESSAGES

This trick makes sense to salespeople, but can seem ridiculous to prospects, who are flooded with messages for the same kinds of products.

Smart marketers don’t do this. They base their leads on data or responses that other salespeople don’t have and they won’t share this data with anyone.

As a result, theirs is the only offer on the table.

Is it easy to find this unique information? No. Is it fruitful when you have it? Much juicier than worms.

Make your dirt wait

I love the industrial concept called batching. It’s a simple idea that means you don’t tackle a particular job until lots of items are waiting for your attention. Then you fix them all at once.

Batching is efficient. You’re not being distracted from other tasks in order to clear a small backlog. Checking emails once or twice a day is a form of batching.

Bosses or clients will try to stop you from batching. They prefer Just in Time, because it means they never have to wait for delivery.

Within reason, their demands should be resisted, in the interests of mutual efficiency. 

Batching works wonders at home. Don’t think about cleaning your house until the soiling is actually visible. Yes, you can batch your dirt.

For people who hate housework, batching is a perfect concept, because it legitimises procrastination. It doesn’t just excuse the delay, but gives it scientific respectability.

I’m going to save up that thought for later.

Air karate doesn’t cut it

Hand gestures are a hot thing among television reporters, especially when presenting straight to the camera. Speech alone doesn’t seem to be adequate – they’ve got to emphasise their points.

Trouble is, gestures are a language and an art form in themselves. This fact is second nature to ethnic groups who use gestures a lot, such as people of the southern Mediterranean.

Don’t know hand language? This doesn’t faze many TV presenters. They improvise, opening their palms and slicing the air over and over, framing every point with a two-handed chop.

Boring and meaningless.

Good presenters have a dozen or more useful gestures at their disposal. They use each one appropriately, without overdoing the movements. The effect is subtle, almost subliminal. It works.

People who haven’t yet developed this skill should ease back and practice in private. And save us from all the air karate.

They’re coming anyway

Facebook and Google are being pilloried for misusing the details of our private lives, but the silver lining is advertising that at last is something we can relate to.

Information in line with our interests – what an awesome notion!

This is after a lifetime of television viewing where the advertisers clearly don’t have a clue.

NOT MILES AWAY

Sure, online ads are sometimes out of date. We’ve already bought the goods or taken the holiday. Still, they’re not a million miles off. We appreciate the thought.

We’re also forewarned with cautionary pop-ups about intrusions on our privacy. Well and good, for we need to be reminded.

Who can object to cookies when they dish up ads that are startlingly knowing? The things are going to arrive anyway, so they might as well be apt.

Maybe it’s overdoing things to talk about advertising we can love. But accepting – that’s not too much.

The invisible mouse mat

Pens, diaries, key rings, coffee mugs, juggling balls.

We’ve all been showered with these promo giveaways that are emblazoned with the name of the supplier. The brand is in your face each and every day, so the advertising must be effective.

Or maybe not.

Back in the era of the mouse-mat, there was one on this desk promoting something or other. No idea what. After just a few days, the unchanging copy became unseen wallpaper.

Some giveaways such as t-shirts, baseball caps and pedestrian backpacks are undoubtedly effective. The brand names walk the streets and get in front of fresh sets of eyes every day.

They’re like newspaper billboards and headlines. Do we glance at them as we walk past? Of course.

FRESH WISDOM

A pawnbroker near this office has a whiteboard on which is scrawled some cock-eyed piece of wisdom that he refreshes every morning. Clever.

This leads to the question of how often we should change our marketing messages. Maybe a further question is needed, which is how often do your customers see them.

Daily exposure creates the need for frequent change. Which is something you can’t do with a coffee mug.

Axe that bidding battle

If you advertise using Google AdWords (and many of us do), avoid getting into a bidding war. Google loves these auctions, but you’re just handing them your money.

A fight for keywords means that there’s also disheartening competition for markets. Who needs that?

Instead, advertise in a niche where you’re the dominant player. Not sure how to do this? Keep on narrowing the scope of your market description until you’re in a position where you’ve shed most of your rivals.

You’ll have the relevant keywords all to yourself, which means they won’t cost heaps. You may even be able to dominate the sector with natural, unpaid search.

Google won’t be impressed with your parsimony, but your pocket will like the result.

Nine secrets of expert content writers

1. They start the story with a hook and end with a punch. If these two parts of the content are sound, the rest of the material will sit easily in between.

2. They treat words like goldleaf. Each one has its own glint. They don’t need to elaborate with adjectives or adverbs, or say the same thing in three different ways. People will get it the first time.

3. They know that writer’s block is a form of stagefright. Practice of your craft will give you the confidence to write under the toughest conditions.

4. They understand that writers also get stuck when they don’t have a clear picture in their mind of whom they’re addressing. Clarify that and the writing will flow.

5. They’re happy for their first draft to be rough. And the next two rewrites. After that, they’re getting close to the finished piece.

6. They find that reciting a story aloud is an excellent way of checking its flow. (That doesn’t apply if you’re writing for The Guardian, where tortuous prose may be a sign of cleverness. For every other media brand, it’s good advice.)

7. They never write on a per-word basis of payment, which is a blueprint for poverty. They charge per article or by the hour.

8. They understand that while everyone can write, few people can do it really really well. Most of us are able to cook a meal, but that doesn’t make us Gordon Ramsay.

9. They’ve found that working to a word limit is a tough but good discipline. Most online articles are fewer than 400 words. Any clown can add more. The hard part is leaving stuff out.

The pilot must be allowed to die

Marketing is often trial and error. If something doesn’t work, we should stop, change it, and see if that makes a difference.

Pilot programs and prototypes therefore make sense. We don’t want to pour resources into something that may not be effective. Better to start tiny, then scale up once there’s something that nudges the needle.

Evidence for success will show up at the very beginning. Most responses to advertising, for example, are revealed early in the campaign.

This is why advertising should be rested and restarted. And why it should be changed.

EIGHT EXPOSURES

There’s an oft-recited mantra that it takes up to eight exposures to a marketing message before the prospect is ready to purchase. Notice, Recognise, Discuss, Desire, Budget, Imagine owning, Plan delivery, Buy.

In practice, you’ll get indications of buyer interest long before the actual sale. These may be views, clicks, likes, leads, sampling, requests for a brochure, or visitors to your store. All evidence that the needle has moved.

The most frustrating result is one that isn’t big and isn’t small. Your messages aren’t a failure, nor are they a success.

The temptation here is to soldier away, hoping that the marketing will catch on.

KILL IT OR CHANGE

It takes guts to euthanase a pilot or prototype that isn’t showing early results. After all, we’re optimists, right? We believe that tomorrow will be better.

But let’s not kid ourselves that our new product will take off “next year”. It won’t. Now is the time to rework it or lay the babe to rest.

Brands with two faces and not a leg to stand on

We’re all encouraged to promote ourselves as brands, and this is facilitated by the self-publishing vehicles of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Products, including personal ones, plug their positive side and show themselves in the best possible light. This can create a disconnect between image and the real thing.

On a personal level, so-called friends will expose and denigrate you online, if they believe your online story is not an honest one.

At worst, this can result in the destruction of morale and even a total mental breakdown.

Businesses face the same danger, when the gulf between image and day-to-day actions stretches the trust of the public. Here in Australia, the banks and other financial institutions are under fire for exactly that reason. Chairpersons, board members and CEOs are resigning, while share values are plunging.

PERFECTION NOT NEEDED

Of course we’re permitted by cultural convention to put our best foot forward, and this applies equally to commerce as to personal life.

Neither are we expected to be perfect. A frank admission of faults or weaknesses in areas that are not crucial to the main offerings can usefully deslick an image and lift credibility.

Problems arise when this honesty is withheld from the sharp end of the operation – for fear of losing customers, hurting profits or shedding fans, as the case may be.

When the public finds out, we’re treated to the ritualised apology, managed by the publicist or PR consultancy who’s in charge of the reputation of the celebrity or company.

These days, the public are so inured to these standardised grovellings that they no longer appease.

By watching for a disconnect between image and reality, we can save ourselves from the pain of rejection and humiliation. And guard against becoming a two-faced brand.

Three Shades of English

There are only three types of sentences in written English.

  1. This is the first sort.
  2. This is the second sort, which has a number of clauses, normally separated by commas.
  3. This is the third sort that is separated by conjunctions and just runs on and on until it stops.

Good writing isn’t hard. Create variety in your prose by using a mixture of all three types of sentences so that the readers don’t get bored with your style. It’s simple, it’s attractive, and it works.

The previous paragraph is composed of these sentence types. See what we mean?

Break it up, thanks

Browsing online isn’t like reading a book, but is more like scanning a newspaper. Most newspapers (yes, they still exist) have short paragraphs because they’re easier to skim through without losing your place.

Online copy tends to be consumed in the same way. Most of it is free, so is often attracting an uncommitted readership. A simple format is therefore a key to holding people’s attention.

This means short paragraphs of no more than two or three sentences.

For proof of this, check the comments section of your favourite online forum. Remarks that are written in huge blocks of unrelieved type tend to be ignored.

Comments displayed in short paragraphs are the ones that get attention. So press Enter to make your copy friendly!