The XXX way to easily grow your digital marketing career…


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Here’s another digital marketing case study folks from the “you can’t make this shit up” files.

As you know the marketing industry has become infested with Virtue Signallers and fake marketers who make outrageous claims and sweeping generalisations about the industry, to try and position themselves as legitimately having some sort of expertise.

Sites like LinkedIn are adorned with self-serving wallpaper promoting miracle ways to be a LinkedIn legend, glib motivational statements for instant success, secret sauce sellers, and “fluencers” of all shapes and sizes.

Given the apparent gullibility of the market to believe this stuff, a mate of mine has decided to run some tests, particularly to see what the automation tools detect within his LinkedIn profile.

He works in sales, most recently selling advertising in digital publications. Given the luvfest for everything “X” (eg CX, UX even FX) currently infecting the industry, he decided to change his job title.

As an aside, why do marketers suddenly have an obsession with customer experience? Hasn’t the customer experience been the key to staying in business since the year dot? If you don’t acquire new customers and keep them regularly spending with you for as long as possible, you don’t have a business. Seems UX and CX are just virtue signals. But I digress.

To capitalise on this latest X-trend, this salesman removed sales manager from his title. He replaced it with an “X”. He called himself a HX Manager to see what it might do to the bots that trawl candidates on LinkedIn.

It only took a day for a result.

He got a call from a digital marketing recruiter. In a very enthusiastic voice she said she was keen to discuss his HX experience, claiming that HX is a growing area of marketing. She asked him to explain his HX expertise for her. (you can’t make this shit up…)

So he did. He said it meant he was a “human experience” manager. In other words, he worked with people selling stuff to them. Bloody amazing stuff this HX. She was well-impressed and asked him to apply for a job she is filling for a global brand, in its UX/CX division.

But he’s decided to expand his HX title to something that is even more descriptive. He is now an IRLX Optimisation Director.

That’s right folks, he’s now an In Real Life Experiences Optimisation Director. In layman’s terms, he sells things to people. And he’s already had one job inquiry, thanks to the brilliant marketing automation tools being used by recruiters to find talent.

Like many, I find the digital marketing industry’s obsession with renaming everything that exists in marketing, for no other reason than there is a digital component, rather tedious. The industry’s labeling by obfuscation is more embarrassing than productive.

I find it easier to understand when people just get straight to the point, like Bob Hoffman does when sharing the truth about the digital marketing industry: “you can’t make this shit up…” is one of his most used phrases.

And you don’t have to make it up. The rubbish that permeates the marketing industry claiming to be truth, is pure XXX-rated rubbish, and it gives you loads to work with to help advance your career.

For example, you can call yourself an XMN – that’s an Expert Marketing Ninja.

Or maybe an XCXMX – experienced customer experience marketing expert.

Maybe we establish another way of using X, with a Roman Numeral bent? Just as the X’s on clothing labels expand with your years (X to XXL) so too they can expand with your career:

  • XMX = 10 years marketing expertise
  • XXMX – 20 years marketing expertise
  • XXXMX – 30 years marketing expertise

These X-options are unlimited, and guess what? You can make this shit up – because there’s a digital marketing sucker born every minute who’ll buy it from you…


They laughed when I said “blockchain” and “crypto”, but when I began to trade…


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OR  “How blockchain and cryptocurrencies are changing medical research funding forever…”

Like most in the marketing industry, I haven’t taken the words ‘blockchain‘ and ‘crypto‘ too seriously. There are many reasons for this, such as when companies like the “Long Island Iced Tea Company“, changed its name to “Long Blockchain Corp“, resulting in a share price surge of more than 200%.

The share price rose despite the company simply announcing it was investigating the technology – it had done nothing else. And of course crypto scams are so prevalent they have become an industry in themselves.

But I’ve since undergone some serious education and my mind has changed. You could even call me a fledgling cryptomaniac. To understand why, here’s a layman’s explanation.

Blockchain is defined in Wikopinion as follows:

A blockchain, originally block chain, is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks. They are linked and secured using cryptography. Each block typically contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. By design, a blockchain is inherently resistant to modification of the data. It is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. Read more definition here.

Blockchain is here to stay – it’s no fad. All manner of organisations, including Microsoft, BIG banks, the CSIRO and more, are developing ways to use blockchain within their IT systems.

There’s even an ICO (Initial Coin Offering) – the crypto world’s equivalent of an IPO – for a blockchain-based digital advertising platform. Called BAT (Basic Attention Token) it may just be an idea whose time has come, particularly given the appalling dishonesty permeating the digital marketing industry.

You might be surprised to learn that “The Royals” are leading the way with blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

Pitch@Palace is a programme established by HRH The Duke of York. It supports entrepreneurs with the expansion and acceleration of their business ideas. The recent UK grant winner was Vchain Technology with an innovative blockchain capability for aviation security. While the Harry and Meghan wedding has its own cryptocurrency to celebrate the royal occasion – ROYL. The coins can be donated to Royal charities and will be used to celebrate official Royal occasions. #royalwedding

Cryptocurrencies are still struggling for acceptance in the general business community. This is mainly due to the fact there have been so many scams and thefts in its infancy. But just as the original dot.con was chock full of scammers prior to the crash, before maturing to web 2.0, cryptocurrencies are going to undergo some changes and eventually become legitimate. The cryptocurrency market is currently valued at around $500 Billion, but changes erratically.

Goldman Sachs recently announced it was opening a cryptocurrency trading desk, as did the NY Stock Exchange. And when “influencers” such as the Royal Family gets involved, you know it’s getting serious.

Last month’s Australian issue of Marketing Magazine was “the money issue”. It lead with stories on blockchain and cryptocurrencies and their impact on marketing. Other publications have also featured articles, as blockchain is now almost a marketing buzzword – Mumbrella; Ad News; BandT.

Obviously there is still much to do, to develop blockchain and associated cryptocurencies, and there are many detractors and unbelievers. But marketers need take note, as there’s definitely something blowin’ in the wind – and here is an excellent example:

Medical and scientific research funding changes forever

HeartChain is planning to revolutionise medical and bio-tech research funding using blockchain, smart contracts and cryptocurrency. It has created HeartChain Tokens (HCT), to radically alter the way medical and biotech researchers get early-stage funding and bring products to market faster. Their business model could not exist without this new technology.

In simple terms, individuals and organisations buy HCT as part of an ICO, to get “membership” to the HeartChain platform. The platform will hold all the information about separate medical and bio-tech research projects that are looking for funding at early-stage development.

The projects are selected by HeartChain management, all of whom have decades of experience financing medical and bio-tech start-ups. They choose projects most likely to succeed in getting their products to market. HeartChain members can then buy Innovation Project Tokens (IPT) via ICOs for each of the individual research projects on the platform.

The IPT represent ownership of the new product being developed at early-stage development cost. When the product comes to market the owner of the IPT has three options:

  • use the product themselves
  • donate the product to someone who can use it
  • redeem the token for the market rate of the product

This means IPT owners don’t have to be people or organisations just looking for a financial benefit. The owners could simple have a philanthropic reason for supporting the research project. From a marketing point of view, this gives the proposition more value and credibility, which is important in this emerging category.

The reason HeartChain has a high likelihood of success is simple – it solves a problem. Most apps fail because they don’t solve a problem. It will be the same in the blockchain/crypto world – unless the new technology solves a problem it won’t succeed, despite its capabilities.

Medical research funding has been chronically ill for decades

Instead of focusing on their research, the researchers, doctors and scientists waste more than half their valuable time chasing funding from venture capitalists, government grants or generous benefactors. More often than not, they don’t get the funding and their vital research projects grind to a halt. This has serious consequences for society in terms of health issues, quality of life and associated costs to care for those who are chronically ill.

HeartChain aims to get early-stage funding directly to the innovation projects, so the researchers can focus 100% of their time on discovering medical and bio-tech breakthroughs, rather than wasting their time chasing funding. The funds are also non-dilutive and off balance sheet, so are much easier for accounting purposes.

Time will tell how successful HeartChain will be, but given the momentum for the blockchain and cryptocurrency category, it feels more likely HeartChain will create an entirely new way to finance medical research, and that has to be good for humanity.

Plus, the founders are obviously very smart. Unlike most, they have contracted a marketer, not technologists, to do their marketing.

Gotta go now, where’s my ethereum wallet…

Maybe public servants should attend marketing training and stay for the duration…


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Recently I was invited to tender to write the copy for a regional tourism website in NSW. The brief was strange to say the least.

A wireframe or site map were not available. This, as you would guess dear reader, makes it a tad difficult to estimate the amount of writing to be done for the job.

Sadly the brief included personas, though curiously no reference to whether they were right or left-handed. The personas are just a manufactured marketing label describing the typical prospect. You know what they’re like – they never use language used by humans. Whoever invented the term “persona” needs to be <fill in the blank>.

It gets better. The required outcomes for the copy were:

  • Increased website traffic and engagement with social channels
  • Improved user experience
  • Increased lead generation
  • Increased response rates via offers and calls to action
  • Increase lead conversion
  • Increase database – number of subscribers and social media sign up

All of these have everything to do with how well the site is promoted. The copy will help deliver the results, but only when people get to the site. Nothing was given regarding promotion of the site.

A brand style guide was also supplied – and it spoke volumes. Here are four headlines from the guide for the STATIONERY section. Obviously editing or proofing are not big priorities:

It appeared both the agency that developed the style guide and the marketing people who commissioned and use it at the council, are standing still when it comes to detail. Not much care factor.

It reminded me of a seminar I once ran in Canberra. It was about direct marketing and copywriting. The majority of the delegates were from the Commonwealth, and the ACT public services.

The seminar was advertised to run from 9am to 5pm. But at 4pm, something strange started to happen. Most of the delegates started to check their watches and fidgeting in their seats. By 4.15pm they were packing their bags. At exactly 4.21pm they stood up to leave.

My day is done, I’m not here to learn…

When I asked them what they were doing, they answered in unison “we’re not paid to work past 4.21pm, so we’re going home“. I argued that the seminar went til 5pm and the tickets had been paid for by their department for them to attend until 5pm. One assumes the tickets were bought on the understanding the delegates would attend the full day.

It was like I was living in a parallel universe speaking an alien language. These public servants could not comprehend “working” outside the hours they were being paid. It was a foreign concept.

Bugger the fact they might learn something to help their careers. They viewed attending a seminar, not as professional development, but just another way to spend time to get a pay packet – without a care about the details.

I did run until 5pm and those that stayed thanked me for doing so. But to say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. Others might say I was naive.

Then today, as I was writing this article, I received this email. I get regular requests like this because I run a “content team” for an online publisher.

Hello there!
I’m writing from Destination Blah. Destination Blah is the lead government agency for the Blah tourism and major events sector. We have two key consumer websites – and

I’m reaching out to see if you’re currently accepting guest posts on your site? We have a content team dedicated to providing accurate and thorough information about different areas of Blah, and we would love the opportunity to share our experiences with the area.

I look forward to hearing what you think, and discussing further.

Best regards,

Blah Digital Team

This is depressing in soo many ways:

1. The email starts in the personal (I’m writing) then moves to the plural (we have a content team…we would love…) then back to singular (I look forward…) It doesn’t build confidence in Blah’s content team’s writing skills.
2. The final sentence said ” I look forward to hearing …” but the signature file is not a person, it’s a phrase – Blah Digital Team.
3. The cardinal rule of email marketing is “teams never send emails” – individuals do. I’ve written about this before.
4. “…we would love the opportunity to share our experiences with the area.” Share your experiences with what area?
5. The only time you should ever use “reach out” is if you are singing with the Four Tops – “reach out I’ll be there”. You risk offending people when you try to “reach out” to them. It’s such a creepy phrase.

The only time “Reach Out” should be used in business…

But back to the copywriting tender. I did submit a simple proposal based on the “brief”, though without much expectation. Even included at no extra cost, hiring a final year marketing degeree student from the town’s university, as part of my “Auld Head – Young Shoulders” programme. It gives undergraduates and graduates paid work experience, at excellent value for clients.

The date passed when the successful tenderer was announced. It took three days of chasing past the announcement date to get an answer. We didn’t get the business, but wasn’t surprised. Apparently the job was awarded to a PR agency.

Hope they can proofread…or maybe it’s not a required outcome?

Why marketers should be wary of taxi drivers and toilets…


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Republished with the link to the original David Ogilvy tape.

This story starts close to home in Australia. There are two brothers who work for a television network in Sydney. They are known in the industry as the “Boring Brothers” because quite simply, they are the dullest males on TV. They make airport runway tarmac positively fascinating.

This week they are in the media spotlight because of an animated conversation between themselves. It was recorded or noted, by the Uber driver who was driving one of them home. Apparently, in their conversation, they dumped quite a bit of doo-doo on their colleagues and management, while bigging themselves up as something way above their pay grade.

No sir, I’m not recording your conversation…

As a result, their competitors in the media are having a field day.

It reminded me of the lengths advertising agencies used to go to during pitches for new business. Sometimes it involved fake taxi drivers, while other times it was hidden spies in the loo.

If the pitch was at the agency, more often than not the prospective client would get a taxi to the presentation. Agencies would even fabricate lies that their car park was under repair, so clients couldn’t drive to the meeting.

Once the pitch was over, the agency would offer to call a taxi. Said taxi would either be driven by an agency person, or the taxi driver would be tasked with recording the conversation on the way from the agency back to the client’s office. The driver would be given a financial reward for their co-operation.

So, how was your meeting?

Nothing was too sacred when it came to getting inside information.

Now, unless you’re an old-time Ogilvy staffer, you wouldn’t know that David Ogilvy turned down Chester Carlson’s sales manager when he came to Ogilvy & Mather asking if the agency would advertise the company’s new invention. FYI Chester invented xerography and was the founder of the Xerox company. David arrogantly turned Hector away, because he hadn’t heard of his company or product, something he always regretted.

For a number of years the agency I ran, Ogilvy & Mather Direct, held the Xerox account in Australia. Then Xerox decided to invest in a branding campaign, so Ogilvy & Mather (the ad agency) wanted in on the pitch. Given David’s history with Xerox, the agency thought it would be a good idea to get him to record a video message of regret, encouraging Xerox to appoint O&M to the business.

This video will impress those Xeroids…

David obliged and the tape arrived by courier from his office in Paris – things were different in those days. You can view the 2-minute tape here. It was used to open the presentation and it put the agency team in a very positive mood. It was a coup to be sure, to have the great man David Ogilvy attending the meeting virtually, and apologising for his errant ways from decades earlier.

During a scheduled break in the pitch, the agency did what all agencies did, placed spies in cubicles in the toilets, to listen for any juicy insights. Two Xeroids entered the male toilet and stood at the urinal. The agency spy was poised on the loo to capture useful tidbits.

I will record every word they say…

One Xeroid asked the other, “what do you think of the presentation so far?” The other replied, “pretty good, but who was the old guy in the video tape?

The spy couldn’t flush fast enough and get to the agency MD before the restart, to advise the horrifying news – the agency coup de grace had flopped. Everyone at O&M knew who David Ogilvy was, as it was a career-limiting move not to know. But the agency team had mistakenly assumed everyone at Xerox would know too. Of course a sales manager from Xerox wouldn’t have a clue.

I shared this story with D.O. at a meeting with him in NY a year later. He just smiled and said, “well we can’t all be worldly fellows can we.

The agency did get the business. My final role in the pitch had something to do with wearing a turkey suit, but that’s another story.

Gotta get to a meeting. Should I call a cab?

How to get executives to dine at upmarket restaurants for lunch…


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Today’s Throwback Thursday features two campaigns promoting fine dining restaurants in the Sydney CBD. These campaigns would still work today, 21+ years after they originally ran…

Fine dining restaurants located in 5 star hotels, are quite different to your everyday cafes and restaurants located on the high street or in food lanes. They have their own peculiarities, one of which is their location inside a hotel without street-front exposure.

They’re also expensive. Most are frequented for one of four reasons:

  • the chef’s (food/wine) reputation
  • celebrating a special occasion
  • the company/employer is picking up the tab
  • money is no object for the customer

Here are two case studies promoting fine dining restaurants to business executives:

  • The Astral Restaurant located at The Star Casino in Darling Harbour
  • The Galileo Restaurant located in the Observatory Hotel in Kent Street near The Rocks

The Astral Resturant was located in a separate top floor of the casino as part of The Endevour Room, the casino’s private gaming room. The casino is just too far to walk from the CBD for lunch – but it had free parking. The agency drew a map of streets west of George street down to Darling Harbour, with boundaries north and south in the CBD.

A list of senior executive contact details within the map boundaries was then rented and the names/job titles were qualified by phone. The mailpack is the size of a typical dinner plate and used the plate imagery within.

The mailpack had three incentives to visit and dine at The Astral:

  • $75 dining voucher for The Astral
  • $50 gaming voucher for The Endeavour Room
  • 1 month free membership to The Endeavour Room

So recipients could go for lunch or dinner, then get to gamble in the private VIP high roller room. Of course they probably weren’t aware that an entree cost about $75 and the minimum bet was $50, but the incentive worked its head off.

Front of mailpack

Rear of mailpack

Mailpack opened…


Letter, brochure, vouchers

Vouchers and membership card

The mailing generated a response of more than 25% and all respondents were put on a database for future mail/email communication. (email was just starting in the business world)

The Galileo Restaurant is also located on the fringe of the CBD. The agency hired people to walk ten minutes from the restaurant towards the city centre and create a map of the catchment area. Staff walked the floors of each building and built a list of senior executives for each company in the catchment area. A list of senior executives in North Sydney was also rented to so a split-run test could be conducted.

The mailing is an A3 piece of parchment card stock, folded into thirds and sealed with a black tape. It unfolds into a food art poster. There is an invitation with an excellent incentive:

  • Free lunch for two people – three courses plus coffee
  • The recipient can bring a guest along and enjoy lunch together

There is a reservation card to hand in when the respondent arrives at the restaurant. It captures the recipient’s name and their guest’s details. This doubled the size of the database and gave the restaurant a reference point for a ofllow-up mailing. This also generated more than 24% response rate. Local executives responded more than North Sydney executives, which was expected.

Front of envelope

Rear of envelope

Envelope folds open into an A3 poster

Reservation form, letter and menu

More importantly the staff offered the lunch guests a backroom tour of the hotel. While showing the guests around the inner sanctum, the hotel staff asked for the contact details of the person who books accommodation and events at the guest’s company. So the hotel built three databases – restaurant, accommodation and events.

Both these mailings would work today – the only difference is the reply device would most likely be a personalised landing page (PURL) supported by a confirmation email and/or SMS.

All this talk of fine dining is making me hungry. Where are last night’s leftovers?

The definitive reason why definitive guides aren’t really definitive…


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Let me share a personal secret with you dear reader. I’ll whisper it to you:

I collect definitive guides

It’s true. I download each one that arrives in my inbox and save them into a folder. And that’s where they stay, because I rarely read them. They’re usually so subjective and full of fluff, it takes too long to find any worthwhile stuff.

I use a false name and an email address I reserve just for subscriptions. It helps to redirect the inevitable automated follow-up by a computer, and in very few cases, by a human.

Nobody ever calls though. Last year, after using the “Premium” LinkedIn service without getting any benefit, I didn’t renew my subscription. Nobody called to ask why, or to re-sell it to me. Seems LinkedIn believes people don’t need to deal with people in B2B marketing.

Strangely, while I had the subscription, each time I opened my account, I was made an offer to subscribe to the Premium service to which I was already subscribed. One has to question LinkedIn’s marketing automation.

But back to definitive guides.

The following is typical of the opening paragraphs in many of these guides.

“With new marketing channels and technologies popping up every day, marketers must adapt and evolve their analytics strategies, skills, and solutions to survive. As big data becomes increasingly critical for informed decision-making, marketers and their organizations will find themselves along a spectrum of analytical maturity.”

That’s a concern. Nobody I know wants to find themselves on a spectrum of analytical maturity. Most, like me, have no idea what it even means.

But, given that everyone in the industry agrees we live in constantly changing times, with new marketing channels and technologies popping up every day, how can any guide be definitive? By definition, it’s out of date the day it’s published.

If you claim the reason for publishing a definitive guide is constant change, then the guide is only as current as the most recent change? By the publisher’s own reasoning, the guide cannot be definitive, except at a very small moment in time, or to justify the publisher’s self-serving purpose.

Maybe the name of these guides should be changed to reflect the truth? Here’s a suggestion:

Title: An Indefinitive Guide To <insert marketing topic>

Subhead: A self-serving opinion about <insert marketing topic> designed to convince you to buy our marketing stuff. Best before <insert date>

This is an honest description and puts a timeframe to indicate the guide’s currency, given it will be out of date pretty quickly and by definition, no longer definitive.

Hmmm. There could be an opportunity here. Maybe I could publish the definitive guide to publishing indefinitive guides?

Where’s my definitive guide on how to write…

The simple reason digital marketing fails so badly – it’s not what you think…


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Who’d call themselves a digital marketer these days? As the evidence continues to grow about the lies, deceit, appalling ROI, as well as agency bias towards digital at the expense of better performing channels, it’s become embarrassing to claim you only have digital marketing skills.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. Lone voices in the wilderness have been warning for more than a decade that the digital chooks would come home to roost. Though their voices have largely been ignored.

The real reason so much digital marketing fails is simple – the people working in it don’t have the right marketing skills.

The evidence is plain to see in the online advertising space. Most online ads are brand ads not direct response ads, yet the internet is a pure direct response channel.

Fact – the internet is primarily a direct response channel. Online marketing is just direct marketing, albeit at a much faster pace than analogue channels.

You wouldn’t run a brand ad in a newspaper or on TV, then measure its success using direct marketing metrics. So why run brand ads online and expect direct responses? But this is exactly what the brand marketers do every day.

FYI direct marketers are making money online – have been since day one. But they are not running brand advertising to do so. They have tested the different emerging channels and ads. They avoid those channels that don’t work. In most cases these are the social channels.

They rarely use programmatic buying. They deal direct with the publishers. This is how they’ve always worked with analogue channels, so they already have the expertise to succeed in online channels – evolution, not revolution.

But the marketers who dominate online advertising are mostly brand marketers and that digital peculiarity, the fake marketer. They were lured by the magic of its measurability.

The magic of measurability

Unlike direct marketers, they had no prior experience of direct response measurement. The “response drug” in the form of open-rates, click-through rates, time on page, downloads and (occasionally) sales, hooked them like teenagers having their first drink. This measurability stuff was the secret marketing hooch they craved.

And just because measurability was new to them, they assumed it was new to the world.

So they rushed headlong into the online advertising world completely ill-equipped for success. To cover up this lack of expertise, they created new buzzwords to describe alleged new marketing tactics – despite these tactics being centuries-old.

To help position themselves, they used virtue signals, to manufacture FOMO. Direct marketing was called old-fashioned, implying it was irrelevant. Some even made the stupid claim that DM no longer exists (really, some fools stated such crap). All it did was reflect their lack of marketing expertise.

For those who might be confused, direct marketing (or direct response advertising) is any marketing activity whereby you communicate directly to individual customers and prospects, or they respond directly to you, in any media channel. The outcome of the communication is that there is always a measured exchange, of either dollars or data, or both.

For example, the customer provides their credit card and in return they get a case of wine, or they provide their contact details, in exchange for an email newsletter.

Branding for branding’s sake, is a secondary priority with a direct response message.

But here’s the rub with direct marketing…

You are trying to get prospects who may or may not know your brand, to do what you want them to do, when you want them to do it – take immediate action and respond.

That’s hard shit and requires some specialist skills, the least of which is the ability to write persuasively.

Yet the majority of people working in digital marketing have no direct marketing expertise. If they did, they wouldn’t have invented fake vanity metrics such as likes, and shares, to justify their credibility.

The brand and fake marketers have misunderstood the digital channels

Direct response is definitely not the way to sell fast moving consumer goods, in single unit sales. Why it took P&G until last year, at a cost of $Billions, to realise this fact, is a mystery.

The only reason to use direct response for packaged goods, is to sell a continuity programme or subscription. For example, that digital darling, the Dollar Shaver Club is a direct marketer and uses direct response advertising to sell subscriptions. Both analogue and digital wine clubs also sell wine by subscription.

The process is known as “negative-option” and I’ve written about it before. The marketer delivers products on a regular basis, say monthly, until the customer says “stop”. This is a way of marketing that is more than 100 years old and goes back to the days of mail-order. It’s not new just because we have an internet.

The more they failed the more they created spreadsheets of bullshit

These “digital marketers” tried to justify the poor branding results with vanity metrics. They even created jargon such as “customer engagement” to make the metrics appear genuine. When the vanity metrics failed, they just increased their tracking to create even more spreadsheets of bullshit. They attempted to confuse the world with useless data to convince us they were legitimate.

Sorry folks, but data without dollars is just doo-doo.

Steaming pile of data doo-doo

The tracking eventually became stalking as they desperately tried to get sales, from ads that didn’t sell, to people who didn’t want to buy. Have you ever seen a grocer chase a customer out the door shouting offers at them, just because the customer picked up a lemon then put it back without buying? Welcome to the world of remarketing – placing cigarette burns on your customers long after they’ve left you.

Read Bob Hoffman’s brilliant Badmen for the appalling truth of the tracking, stalking and the fake world of online metrics.

Playing in the fringes

Any direct marketer will tell you, when you are marketing to a mass audience and chasing a response, you are always playing in the fringes. You don’t know when people are going to buy. That’s why you need to give them as much information as possible, plus some incentive, to help them make a decision in your favour.

Here’s an example. If a product is only bought once-a-year, then on average, in any single week, only 2% of the annual market is buying – 50 weeks PA x 2% = 100%.

This means if you deliver say, a direct response insurance ad to 100 people (and you don’t know their renewal date) then on a good day, you could expect at best maybe 2 people to buy – assuming you capture 100% of the 2% of people in the market that week. You’ll be partying like its 1999 just because you made two sales. It’s pretty obvious to see why trying to sell single bottles of shampoo via digital channels won’t be profitable.

Given this market reality and the complete lack of involvement in online ads by website visitors, marketers should not be surprised that online ads rarely get one tenth of sweet FA worth of clicks. Any direct marketer worth their salt could have told them these ads wouldn’t pay off.

If you’re a mass marketer, in most situations, you’re generally better off not running ads online.


If you really want to do brand advertising, change the way you buy media and dominate web pages for long periods to create awareness. Do not simply run an online brand ad and measure it by impressions or click-through rates. Measure it as you would the ads in other channels. And never rate vanity metrics such as likes or shares or customer engagement. You’ll just waste your money.

Once you build your database you can then encourage your customers and prospects to download your app. Then you can gradually reduce how much you spend with online advertising, as more of your audience migrates to your app. You’ll still need to advertise though – read Byron Sharp’s “How Brands Grow” to learn why.

To get your customers and prospects to switch to your app, you’ll obviously need an incentive.

Where are those steak knives?

The most powerful word in marketing, it’s not a keyword, nor an AdWord…


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You’ll have probably noticed dear reader, the cancerous spread of fake marketers promoting their thought leadership, has resulted in an increase in the use of adjectives, particularly in headlines.

You see them everywhere. For example, you no longer need normal marketing tools, you need “killer” marketing tools. Or you can download “mind-blowing” secrets for your online success. Don’t you love how these aren’t just secrets, they’re mind-blowing secrets? How mind-blowing is it to sell something to someone who wants to buy it?

The problem with much of this digital dross, is that it rarely focuses on you, the customer – except the spurious claim about blowing your mind. The content is nearly always about the self-centred thought-leading internationally-published super-effluencing, fake marketer and their miracle secret sauce for digital success.

It’s never about you.

And “you” is the most powerful word you can use in your marketing messages.

The You Rule is simple. Always use more of you, your, yours, you’re, you’ve than I, our, ours, us, we, we’re, we’ve, my and mine. People are only interested in one thing – themselves, so write from their point of view, not from yours.

There has always been some debate about whether “you” or “FREE‘ is more powerful.

When I was National Marketing Manager at TNT back in the dim dark 1980’s I ran a split-run test. I wanted to see which was the more powerful word for helping to generate a response.

This was the time in life when fancy digital calculators and branded business card holders, were all the rage as corporate gifts. I’m sure anthropologists in future centuries will just look at marketing incentives to determine a specific time in history. Digital calculators & Business Card Holders = 1980’s. iPods = 2000. USB sticks = 2005. iPads = 2010. Fidget spinners = 2015 and so on.

The test was in a direct mailpack, flogging the first-ever payroll software for desktop computers. It was in the heady days of disruption – when mainframe computers were being replaced by desktop computers. Sorry, that can’t be true – disruption was only invented by cyber hustlers and fake marketers in the last decade.

But I digress.

Heady days they were folks. The mailing had an insert. It promoted the incentive you would be given if you responded for a demonstration of this innovative and disruptive software.

The test was in the headline. We tested two different headlines, but kept the image and copy the same on both inserts.



My experience told me the first headline should get a better result. However, you guessed it, the second headline generated the higher response.

It addresses the reader and implies they’re smart. They’re taking an initiative, not just responding.

Then we combined the headlines for greater impact:

Subhead: Complete the enclosed envelope and return it today for your FREE EXECUTIVE BUSINESS CARD HOLDER

I dug it out of the archives:

What an offer dear readers – how could you resist?

We then tested different headlines for some of the other divisions I was marketing. Here they are:

That’s the beauty of testing – you don’t have to decide, the market does it for you.

You have to love that, don’t you…

You think that’s too many you’s?

You’re right…

Why most shared content has virtually no impact on your brand…


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Originally published 2016…

Any marketer, advertising agent, researcher or social scientist worth their salt, knows for any marketing content to resonate with, let alone influence, the typical punter, it must be consumed numerous times in a short space of time. Seeing something just once, rarely makes a serious impression (though it is rated as such in media terms – an impression that is).

Unless the message is designed as a direct response message, giving prospects all the information they need to ‘act now’, most marketing messages hardly penetrate our grey matter if only seen once.

Just look at the way we learn at school – through repetition. A message has to be repeatedly consumed for it to eventually make it through our distracted craniums and finally embed itself into our conscience. This is called learning. It’s a rare human indeed, who can read or view something only once and then remember the content.


Information retention comes through repetition not from glancing at content

So what does this mean in the world of digital chewing gum for the brain? This is the world where the people mostly share content in social channels, which requires less than a metaphorical chew to consume. The receivers of said content quickly scan it, dismiss it, then start to chew on the next piece of content, ad infinitum.

digital chewing gum

The majority of content shared by consumers is mostly images, video, memes, jokes, fundraising appeals and personal stories. People rarely share words or phrases, particularly lots of words like those populating ebooks, whitepapers, brochures and the like. Of course people communicate back and forth using words, but it’s not sharing in the content marketing sense.

The act of sharing on social media often has less to do with the content being shared and more to do with narcissism. “Look at me, I’m sharing this before anyone else” or “look at me I’m sharing something – how many likes did it get?” or “look at me, I liked something”. Though sharing in business channels can have less selfish motivations.

The average adult attention span is now roughly 8 seconds (just less than a goldfish) and ASS Times keep getting shorter and shorter – less than 1 second for many image-based channels like Instagram. So the ability for any snack-size marketing content to resonate at all in the memory of consumers, is nigh impossible. Did you like that piece of digi-jargon – “snack-size”?

attention span

And what about all that thought leadership content floating in cyberspace? At best, much of it remains in the ‘download folder’ of computers, because we’re too busy to print it or consume it in any depth. It’s why good quality email messages to opt-in subscriber lists, along with blogs, are still the best performing content online.

Ironically the content marketing failure is being driven by the content itself and FOMO. I’ve talked about the infobesity problem before. The average punter is waterboarded with content from friends, strangers, government, institutions and brands every second of the day. Add to this deluge, the modern dilemma of FOMO forcing consumers to have minimal engagement with content, and you can see why brands gain almost zero benefit.

Consumers know there’s loads more content coming down the digital pipe and they don’t want to miss it. So they quickly and disengagingly ‘like’ something, or ignore it, before moving to the next set of pixels.

content hipster

Hipster training to consume marketing content…

Just as we chew gum without thinking and then spit it out, it’s the same with content. We consume it without thinking and with almost zero emotional engagement. We swipe, pause, swipe – in a constant process to churn through the non-stop current of content. And the pause is usually shorter than the time it takes to spell ‘pause’. And even if consumers do take a few seconds to read or view your content once, will it really make a lasting impression?

Hmmm that reminds me, I’d better check my emails. Oh look there’s a dog…


P.S. Please feel free to share this content with as many as you like:)

The physical always outperforms the virtual…

A throwback for Friday, from 2013.

A while back in the post-dot-con days, I was leading an industry debate about email versus direct mail. My team had done an excellent job of positioning email as the future, at the expense of direct mail – only for the purpose of the debate. We never really believed it though:)

The summary speaker for direct mail was an attractive female, who when realising her team was losing the argument, pulled out a bright red lipstick, painted her lips and blew kisses to the audience.

She concluded her argument while distributing kisses with “after all, we all know that real sex is better than virtual sex” – implying direct mail (real) is better than email (virtual).


Her kisses blew us off the stage, so to speak. I had no come-back, particularly as red is just not my colour, and we lost the debate.

But little did my opponent know how correct her statement was, metaphorically speaking. All the recent neural research demonstrates clearly, that humans get more emotionally engaged with a physical item than they do with an image of that same item on a screen.

I’ve always believed one of the reasons mail is so powerful is because it is tactile. It can be explored, particularly 3D mail. And most people will at least look at the mail (or inserts) before discarding. We don’t throw anything away without first knowing what we are throwing away, if you get my drift.

Teachers will tell you that kids learn more through multi-sensory activities, than from a screen. The more kids can see, touch, smell, taste and explore an object, the more emotionally engaged they are with it and the more they understand about it.


So it comes as no surprise that research conducted by Millward Brown a couple of years ago revealed what our gut instincts always knew.

The physical is far more powerful than the virtual.

I won’t go into the scientific explanation, I can send it to you if you like. I’ll use my layman’s interpretation for you.

Millward Brown was commissioned to study the way the brain reacts to physical messages versus the same messages displayed on computer screens. They used MRI scans to determine how brands can better engage customers. Given how over-used the term “engage” is in the marketing world today, this study carries loads of weight.

The research was set up to examine whether consumers’ brains respond differently to material based on direct mail than to comparable information shown to them via a computer screen.

The brain measurements were taken by placing people in an fMRI scanner. In a highly controlled experiment, which stripped out the effects of content and purely sensory stimulation, clear differences emerged in the way the brain processes marketing messages in physical, compared with virtual formats.

Here are some of the findings:

Direct mail based-material makes the content more real to the brain – better connected to it. It appears that all other effects being equal, direct mail-based materials:

• are more concrete and ‘real’ for the brain
• are internalised more
• facilitate emotional processing
• result in more fluent decision making

This means direct mail-based materials are more likely to be retained and acted upon.

The tangibility of direct mail-based materials leaves a much deeper ‘footprint’ on the brain than digital images.

Direct mail-based material makes the content more real to the brain and better connected to memory by engaging with its spatial memory networks. The material generated more activity in the area of the brain associated with the integration of visual and spatial information (the left and right parietals) and the processing of information in relation to the body.

Oxygenated blood flow, red = direct mail, blue = screen image

Oxygenated blood flow, red = direct mail, blue = screen image

You can see in these images – the red indicates the oxygenated blood flow for direct mail, while the blue indicates it for the same image shown on screen. Not only is there less flow, but it’s not flowing in the emotional areas of the brain where it needs to do so for “engagement”.

Other summary points included:

• The multi-sensory nature of the material results in the content being seen as more ‘real’.
• Direct mail-based material produced more brain responses associated with internal feelings.
• Direct mail-based material makes the content more real to the brain and better connected to memory by engaging with its spatial memory networks.
• It is easier to focus attention on direct mail-based material than via a screen.
• Direct mail-based material provokes stronger emotional processing.

There is much more stuff, but I won’t bore you here. Though I’d hazard a guess there aren’t too many digi-spruikers who have a clue about any of this – they prefer opinions to facts.

Suffice to say, there is clear evidence that the media that have always worked well, such as direct mail, continue to do so. Those who limit their business and customer communications to digital and don’t have a mix of offline and online channels, are risking their businesses and missing enormous profit opportunities.

Well it’s Friday night and beer o’clock, so I’m off to have a glass or two and watch the football. I’m not going to the match, I’m watching it on TV, but even so it’s still exciting and engages me…

A man watching football on television