Category: Marketing

Mediocre Products Marketed Well Defeat Great Products Marketed Badly Every Time

Back in the day, when I made my living as a technologist, there was a saying that floated around among my friends and colleagues and throughout the industry: “Mediocre products marketed well defeat great products marketed badly every time.” We used it most often when scratching our heads over why Microsoft Windoze could possibly be clobbering the elegant Macintosh user experience in the marketplace.

Apple Newton

Apple Newton

I was reminded of that observation today when a news item crossed my desk. Strangely enough, it was about one of my all-time favorite technologies that didn’t make it. When Apple introduced the Newton hand-held Personal Digital Assistant in 1993, I was immediately taken with it. I bought an early version. I spent time learning the fairly slick scripting/programming language built to code applications with. I touted it. I loved it.

Oh, there were a lot of things wrong with it. Its size and format were bulky and blocky. Handwriting recognition became the industry’s favorite punchline. Still, I thought it was incredibly promising and I was willing to put up with the rough edges and flaws while Apple nurtured it through its premature release. But, as with so many other technology products of its day, the Newton fell sufficiently short of sales goals that, in a relatively short time, Apple killed it off. I remember a friend of mine in Apple’s research group who collected old Newton’s for replacement parts; several years later, he was still selling them. Obviously, some people found it still usable and useful.

I thought at the time that Apple demonstrated extreme impatience with this stunning new technology. Of course, this was in the days before Apple switched its focus from computing to consumer products, and the company’s financial reserves were much smaller than they are today. Still, it seemed to me then and still does that Apple failed to stay with promising but slow-moving new technologies on too many occasions for a company that touted itself as a research-driven outfit. They did a similar thing with HyperCard, a product that I also fell in love with — and clearly made a fair amount of money from — but that Apple never understood well enough to know how to market it. HyperCard lasted a little longer than the Newton and gave rise to some wonderful spin-off products from third parties (most notably for me the brilliant LiveCode language and environment I still love using). But ultimately, it was orphaned simply because of a lack of marketing insight at Apple.

Today, more than two decades later, I’m not sure we’ve significantly improved on handwriting recognition over what the Newton offered. At least, I haven’t seen any widely used commercial products that demonstrate that promise.

Oh, well. At least I enjoyed this brief trip down Memory Lane.

Lumosity Bait-and-Switch Marketing Sucks claims to offer a variety of games, puzzles and activities to help users sharpen their mental skills and maintain them as they age. It claims to have a ton of neuroscience behind it. It may well have.

It’s also got some sneaky, underhanded marketing behind it.

lumositylogoThere is no way to find out anything about Lumosity’s offering or its pricing without: (a) yielding some personal information and signing up for a “free” account; and (b) initiating the first set of exercises they allegedly customize just for you. Right. Only after you’re partially complete with the very first set of exercises do you find out that the rest of the exercises in that collection are locked. To unlock them — in other words to get any value out of the service at all — you must agree to pay a subscription fee. And the fees aren’t cheap, either.

No wonder these guys can afford to advertise all over the place. I’ve seen or heard their ads on NPR and Pandora just in the last two days. They’re undoubtedly raking in a lot of money from seniors who are concerned they are losing mental faculty, desperate for a way to prevent that, and then get suckered into playing two or three exercises that may give them some hope only to have the rug yanked out from  under their “free” account.

This is unconscionable.

Stay away from Lumosity. Only by depriving them of customers can we force them to deal fairly with the public.


Dan Zarrella Has Some Great Twitter Insights for You

Internet Marketing guru (I use this word sparingly) Dan Zarrella is offering a free download of a chapter from his new book The Science of Marketing. Chapter 5, available here, covers Twitter and it offers some really amazing and surprising insights. Zarrella backs up everything in this chapter (and presumably in the book) with solid data he has personally researched.

I was particularly interested in a couple of the findings.

First, the fact that tweeting more frequently works better. Up to 20 times a day!? Every hour?! Man, if I follow someone who posts that frequently, I unfollow them. So that’s really surprising to me. (I couldn’t tell if his data included both original Tweets and RTs in this posting frequency but I assume it does.) One interesting thought that occurred to me as I read this chapter: I tend to spend my time on Twitter in one or two blocks a day. Stuff that goes by between visits gets no notice from me at all. Monitoring a busy Twitter feed like mine (and I’m following less than 400 folks) would be a nearly full-time job. But if this data is accurate, I’d need to check in far more often during the day and evening. Not sure i have the stomach for that!
Second, the notion that you get more attention (clicks and RTs) by putting the link URL nearer the beginning of the Tweet. Completely counter-intuitive. I’m going to experiment with this one a bit.
Again, it seems counter-intuitive but Zarrella knows his stuff, and he backs it up with data, so I’ll test this idea.
BTW, I don’t find Twitter very productive (and perhaps what I’ve said above indicates that it’s my behavior on Twitter that’s at fault); most of my really good leads and clicks come from LinkedIn first, Facebook second and G+ moving up fast into third.


No Testimonials? Five Key Pointers to Telling Powerful Selling Stories

This past week I’ve been working on an advertising copywriting assignment for a good client. Writing effective long sales letters is something I’ve developed a real knack for over the years. There are some well-established quasi-formulaic approaches to these things and all of the approaches you can find will tell you one thing: testimonials are clinchers.

But what if, as is the case with this client’s new product, there aren’t any testimonials yet? We’re just introducing the product. What can you do in place of testimonials?

You could do what a lot of copywriters I’ve talked with do: make up testimonials from fake users with names like “Jim M.” or “CEO of software company”. But my client and I both hate those things; we suspect they’re pretty transparent to most prospects reading them and that they damage credibility.

storytellingI’ve found that strong short-short stories that engage the reader in what amounts to a long-form testimonial can work really well. As long as you’re clear by the way you write them that they are fictional accounts, you can really get prospects to identify with the characters in your stories. Sometimes I think these are even more effective than actual testimonials. (Of course, no reason not to use both, right?)

Here are five key ideas for creating stories that sell.

  1. Know your audience(s). You’ll want to create stories that seem relevant and that communicate in language your prospects are likely to identify with. Vocabulary, tone, subject matter, and setting all depend on getting this right. If you have more than one key audience, write a story for each.
  2. Tell their story and make your product an incidental or minor character, the solution to a problem that the character — and your prospect — is facing in the story. Focus on the character and the problem, not on your product directly.
  3. Keep it short. My rule of thumb is never to go over 300 words and I try to keep these stories in the 150-200 word range. Less than that makes it hard to tell an engaging story. More than that has the reader skipping over your story to find the next point in your sales copy.
  4. Write with emotion and color. The story should be interesting, engaging and involving without your product even  being included. In other words, the story must stand alone.
  5. Similarly, write conversationally. Narrative is more important than precisely correct grammar and syntax. It’s good advice to read these stories out loud to someone else before you finalize them. This will enable you to find spots where you’ve written some perhaps brilliant copy that just doesn’t fit the flow of the story.

Writing fiction is a different task from writing ad copy. You may need to find someone who’s adept at fiction and sub-contract your story assignments to them. (I’ll raise my hand here, unobtrusively from the back of the room.) But if you don’t have testimonials — and maybe even if you have — a well-crafted story can go a long way toward convincing your prospect that he’s just like your character and would benefit from your product or service just as the character in your story did.

Social Soda, Social Pop

I had two messages in my email today about the two largest soft-drink makers — Coke and Pepsi — using things they’ve learned from social media to increase sales in two really different ways. I grew up calling this stuff “pop” in the Midwest, but since I’ve moved West many years ago I call it “soda”. Whatever you call it, I think you’ll find these two ideas intriguing.

Pepsi created a new vending machine called the Like Machine and tested it at a recent Beyoncé concert. You could get a free soda by using your smartphone or a built-in touch-screen interface to Like Pepsi. Here’s a movie / commercial about it:

Coke, rather than buying into the technology of social media, brought a new way of sharing into the world with what it calls the Social Can. This thing splits in half for easy sharing. Really? Yep. Here’s a video / commercial about it.

I find these ideas interesting as commentaries on the way social media is starting to affect social life and vice versa. The deep intertwingling Ted Nelson always talked about.

LinkedIn Can Be a Better Focus Group Than a Focus Group

Back in the Old Days (by which I mean the 1980’s and mid-1990’s), I was involved in a number of high-tech marketing efforts, both as an ad/marketing agency exec and as a client of such services. Focus groups were immensely valuable. I remember one incident in particular in which we focus grouped a new product idea for a semiconductor equipment manufacturer and recommended he not build that tool. We saved him potentially $17 million and probably his company.

chippI was reminded of that success when my good friend and former business partner Chipp Walters started and ended a thread on LinkedIn in which he began by looking for beta testers for a new product he was building and ended by abandoning his effort because someone pointed out a great new technology that did everything he was planning for his product to do.

The thread is a study in condensed and fast-paced market testing.

At the outset, Chipp, who had founded the LinkedIn group and who was a long-time creator and fan of video scribing, had decided to create a tool that would make it easier for designers and non-designers alike to create the movies that showed hands writing on a whiteboard with a voice-over narration. This was an exciting new approach to information presentation, one he had used to great effect on projects he and I worked on together and many others.

He described his plans briefly and asked the group members to raise their hands if they wanted to beta test his tool. At first, he got a lot of hands being raised and not much feedback.

Then one day, one of the group’s members tossed into his reply what was almost an after-thought: “Also, Sparkol just released an app. Go take a look and write up a review.”

sparkolChipp agreed to check it out and, within a few days, had posted a brief pros-and-cons overview of the new product. Not too long after that, one of the co-founders of Sparkol — who was obviously watching the forum or monitoring the Web for mentions of his company — chimed in and responded in detail to Chipp’s feedback.

A short time later, Chipp announced, “[T]here’s no longer a beta anything as I’ve cancelled plans to build a scribing product. Sparkol fits the bill quite nicely. If you haven’t tried it, you should. They have done an excellent job of thinking through the workflow and the results are terrific.”

Now Chipp can focus his efforts on creating other great tools (he’s done some doozies over the years) and he has access to a tool that does what he wants as well as the gratitude and support of one of the founders of that tool’s developer.

So that’s how you do focus group testing these days!