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Diagnosing “diarrhoea of the fingertips”

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Herschell Gordon Lewis lays waste to so-called experts who use obfuscation to peddle the obvious. A useful reminder to marketers and PR professionals who may fall into the trap of putting the business need before the publication's (and by extension, the reader's).
herschell gordon lewis marketing

This article was originally published in our previous incarnation as Direct Marketing International in 2008. A collection of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ works is available in our free eBook: Killer Copy in a Crisis

You’re in the right place

If you were reading another marketing publication, either in print or online, you’d encounter ‘expert’ opinions that would have you shaking your head in disgust as you conclude: ‘I’m more of an expert than that.’

Here’s an expert telling us how to recognise and avoid email delivery mistakes. Let’s take a look at his wisdom:

‘It’s naïve for any marketer to think that deliverability failures couldn’t happen to them. Moreover, just because your mail is getting delivered today, doesn’t mean that you won’t run into a problem tomorrow.’

What profundity!

Same on-line authority:

‘Optimising your website to deliver a better online experience for your customers is fundamental for increasing revenues, ensuring customer satisfaction and retaining a loyal customer base. And during this economic downturn, it’s now more important than ever to continually improve the customer experience of your site. By delivering a superior online customer experience when economic conditions are tight, you will not only create immediate competitive advantage, but you will also see the upside when conditions start to improve.’

I’d no more argue with that than argue against the statement that 2+2=4. But, come on, do we need an authoritarian source to tell us that 2+2=4? If that equation baffles you, don’t handle your own bookkeeping.

Diarrhoea of the fingertips

A marketing magazine – yes, a printed marketing magazine, loaded with colour and bleed and production – is also loaded with rhetorical diaper-filler. An example:

‘It’s great to get a one-time sale from a customer, but much more financially rewarding to get customer for life who will add value to the bottom line over a longer period of time.’

In the very next paragraph, to be sure we recognise the message as claptrap:

‘Switching to a lower-cost alternative can bring down the expense side of that ROI number, so it sometimes seems more valuable. But factor in engagement, relevance and pass-along, and you may not be maximising your return.’

Same magazine, another expert naming ‘Three ways to build and maintain loyal relationships when customers are running scared:

‘1. Get personal … 2. Don’t make cuts …3. Show them you care.’

How can you miss with tips as explicit as those?

Just to be sure we don’t soak up any information that might be useful, a two-page column in the same publication gives us another verbal triptych.

The first tip: ‘Don’t cut price – add value.’ Neat trick. Uhh . . . any really useful tips, such as how I might do that?

The second tip: ‘Beef up your return per customer.’ Obviously, no marketer ever thought of that before.

(Parenthetical comment – the following paragraph states, ‘Keeping an existing customer is one-sixth the cost of landing a new one.’ My own tested average is a seven-to-one ratio, which makes me wonder why I didn’t send an objection to the editor of that publication. No, it isn’t.)

The third tip: ‘Integrate your efforts.’

To explain, the writer dips deep into the bucket of obfuscation: ‘Approach outreach in a more holistic way, using more than one vehicle.’

Can you believe it? I’ve used up all my space and haven’t included personal tips such as ‘Breathe air, not water’ and ‘If you’re driving, use a vehicle.’


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Herschell Gordon Lewis
Author: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis was an acclaimed direct marketer who published over thirty copywriting books including Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings, Sales Letters That Sizzle, and Open Me Now. He also wrote and directed blood-thirsty 'splatter' movies which earned him a cult reputation around the world.

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