In this month's issue, we look at a rather wonderful example of gamification by WHSmith, consider whether crowbarring lofty ideals into products is always such a good idea, and highlight the importance of having an innovation strategy.
This article was originally published in Direct Marketing International in 2008. A collection of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ works is available in our free eBook: Killer Copy in a Crisis. Download this treasure trove of timeless marketing advice.
Some advertising agencies may not agree with the philosophy I advocate.
Most direct marketers should agree with the philosophy I advocate.
Just what is that philosophy? Whether your medium is direct mail, newspapers, magazines, television, telephone, or the web, the purpose of your message should be to generate a positive response.
And what is a positive response?
It isn’t a prospective customer or client saying: “I love you.” It’s a prospective customer or client saying: “I want to marry you.”
In clearer terms, it means the message should aim itself at a valid inquiry or an order. ‘Image’, as such, may win the beauty contest; but as an overall criterion of success, image winds up in second place.
The ‘Branding’ Myth
I take issue with the mantra, ‘Marketers are creatively using the internet to raise awareness and affection for their brands.’ No, no, not because the statement is untrue. Rather, it’s because the statement glorifies an apparent waste.
If I’m sending an email on behalf of a television programme or a political candidate or a funeral director, branding and image are logical rationales and copy can exalt to the heavens.
But that isn’t marketing. It’s retention. Tuning to a TV channel and deciding to consider voting for a politician requires some thought but no expenditure of money. And few are prepared and willing to commit suicide because a mortician is offering a ‘special’ this week.
The web, that insatiable science-fiction monster whose cornerstone is emphasis on comparison, is price-driven. I welcome as a competitor anyone whose copy is supposed to offer something for sale and whose copy values image over offer.
Some of the most venerable ‘names’ in the world of commerce are teetering on the edge of insolvency or have toppled over it.
Some of the new hotshots in the world of commerce have leapt into the foreground of their fields because their attention has been to ‘Here’s the deal’ . . . not ‘Here is who we are’.
Feed the hungry consumer
Back in the antediluvian era – say, 1995 – Web pioneers pointed with glee to their click-through rates.
At the time, that may have been a criterion carrying some validity, because the medium was still in its experimental, embryonic phase and the hypercompetitive era hadn’t yet dawned.
Ah, but that was yesterday. And, as much as we may look backward with nostalgia, we look at our computer screens today with hunger.
Click-through rates are the appetiser, not the main course. Competition in any field we can think of is brutal; and branding, a safe haven for its advocates because comparatively they don’t measure response by actual and countable response, may look superb when comparing design and taglines… but not so superb when comparing bottom lines.
A ‘name’ brand has an implicit advantage going into the arena: People have heard of it.
For the brand to triumph in today’s battle for (to corrupt the famed A E Housman quote) crowns and pounds and guineas, the marketer should use its reputation as a competitive weapon against the inevitable intruders . . . not as a traditional crutch.
Want to sell something to today’s impatient, sceptical, internet-wise consumer or business target?
Your message should answer the inevitable final question: ‘What’s your deal?’
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