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Ask the expert, cue the clichés

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Again we reach into the back catalogue of the late copywriting titan Herschell Gordon Lewis. This time he pulls apart the "expert" advice which fails to disguise its real agenda. Don't make the same mistake!
Herschell Gordon Lewis

This article was originally published in Direct Marketing International. A collection of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ works is available in our free eBook: Killer Copy in a Crisis. Find out more and download it here.

I can’t find anyone who disagrees with the statement that email has become the dominant force-communication medium, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be the dominant force-communication medium (not that I’m looking for dissent).

The result of this much-deserved attention is predictable: We have a host of ‘experts’ who offer advice and opinions that, analysed by any seasoned practitioner of the communicative arts, are clichés. What’s bothersome is that ‘Eureka!’ revelations should be revelatory, not just confirmation of what we already know.

When a marketer shares results, that’s pure gold. When an observer shares truisms, that’s pure brass. When a pusher pitches what he or she has to sell, representing it as help, that’s pure chutzpah.

A few examples

reality bites logoHere are some of the ‘expert’ comments that have come my way (and possibly yours, since they appeared in print and online) over the past few weeks:

“To combat overstuffed email boxes and recipient fatigue, email frequency does not necessarily need to be reduced, but relevance must be increased.”

Now, that rates a solid, ‘Huh?’

How about this one:

“Email segmentation is very effective and can easily increase open rates, click through’s and conversion by ten to 20 per cent. But don’t let the thought of segmenting your email overwhelm you if you’re just starting out.”

Gee, thanks for the profound advice.

In the same newsletter as the previous quote:

“Segmenting based on recency, frequency and monetary value has served the direct marketing industry well, and RFM segmentation can be applied to email, as well, with powerful impact.”

We have to agree, that’s startling and valuable information.

This one is my favourite of the day:

“A good salesperson pays close attention and learns about his customer, becomes familiar with them, understands their needs and, over time, develops a relationship with them.”

Hey, my friend, I’ll tell you what else: A good salesperson knows the difference between singular and plural and doesn’t intermix ‘customer’ and ‘them’.

An ‘Ask the experts’ column in a peripheral publication has this quote from the product marketing director of an email marketing company:

“It all comes down to how you can leverage email to deliver more timely and relevant messages to your primary audience.”

I won’t quote more from that column because every other assertion is a thinly-masked pitch on behalf of what that individual’s professional organisation does.

So what is useful advice?

Possibly out of chauvinism or because I know the editorial team at this publication, I can suggest that DMI is a happy oasis in the cliché-sands of an informational desert [Ed. DMI was the printed forerunner to the Global Marketing Alliance]. But you need neither me nor any outsider to separate wheat from chaff.

So for starters, when – head-to-head or in mass media – you see ‘advice’ that actually is a sales pitch, publicise your rejection. (Oh, I know you won’t, and except for annoyed outbursts such as this one I seldom do, but it’s a happy philosophy.)

Then, compile your own list of what works and what doesn’t work and every quarter or so update that list, kicking out the chaff and fertilising the wheat.

The most valuable advice is advice you don’t need because you already have it in your own brain:
Test, then analyse test results. A medium that matures with the rocket speed that typifies online marketing isn’t sitting unmoving on its haunches, and neither should you.

Oops. I just blathered out a chunk of cliché-advice.

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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