Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to NOT Write Problem/Solution Copy

One of the most popular leads ("introductions") for marketing copy is the Problem / Solution lead.

"So lately it seems you've got too many days and not enough paydays. Well, with program XYZ…"

"Tired of suffering from itchy, scratching scalp? Formula 207 eliminates…"


The key is to NOT focus on the problem too long. For long form sales letters (12 - 20 pages) just a few paragraphs is often sufficient.

The idea is that your prospect is already well aware of the problem. You don't need to belabor the point. Get to the solution.

I was reminded of this advice a few moments ago as I sat on my back porch in New England, contentedly sipping on a warm Saturday morning cup of coffee, unwinding from a particularly long and hard week.

My favorite local radio station, WCLZ, played their "Saturday Morning Acoustic Sunrise " soft rock in the background. Life was good.

Until, that is, in between songs, a "teaser" ad came on. The voice spoke…

"WCLZ Acoustic Sunrise… Why can't Monday mornings be this relaxing?"

Hmmm. Suddenly I'm thinking about how stressful Monday morning can be.

Uh oh. Big mistake.

They basically presented a Problem / No Solution lead!
I mean, sure, I can go back to what I was doing. But do they really need to remind us that the enjoyment they provide is fleeting?

If they'd mentioned something like "OK, the weeks over, now it's time to relax", okay, not bad.

But reminding me of what's coming up, and that their product/service really can't do anything about it… big mistake in my mind.

Imagine sitting poolside at a sunny tropical resort on vacation in January. And there's a sign:

"Why can't icy, frozen sleet and slushy drudge-filled work days back at home be this enjoyable?"

No thanks.

If you're going to talk about a problem, make sure you have a solution - and a permanent one!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Could This Be The Worst Ad Ever?

A Special Bulletin from our "Copywriting Hall of Shame" Department...

Would you buy a product advertised like this:

Various Stuff - $15

Fat chance, right?

Well, I'm afraid that's pretty much a marketing message I received yesterday, verbatim.

Hey, listen, I really like my friends down at the local running store.

I buy my Brooks Beast running shoes there... enjoy training runs and races they sponsor... and I get tons of good advice from them practically every week.

But brother, was I disappointed when I got this email from them. Here's the copy:

"Special Sunday Event - Several running experts
speaking on various topics - $15."


How many rules of copywriting and markeing did they break? Too many to count. But perhaps the most obvious three...

GUILTY of violation: The Power of One - One strong feature is more powerful than several (or even many) weaker ones.

GUILTY of violation: Use Specifics, never Summaries or Generalization.

GUILTY of violation: Show, Don't Tell - Provide Proof of your claims.

This would be SO much more powerful as...

Coming this Sunday, Power up Your Running To The Next Level!

* Four-Time US Racing champ John Smith explains how to cut 15 minutes off your fall marathon time...

* Mt Sinai Medical School director Mary Jones gives you the 4 secrets to avoiding training injuries and getting in the best shape of your life in the next 6 weeks...

* Adidas Director of Technology Jim Jackson previews their exciting new X-743 running shoe - and you'll also be able to get it at 25% off (Sunday only).

Isn't that a little better? Now that, I might pay $15 for!

But "various experts talking on several topics"? Ugh!

OK... Slow, deep breath... End of rant.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday "Mango Marketing Lesson" Contest

Take a walk around Delray Beach, Florida right now and there's one thing that's hard not to notice.


We've got trees almost everywhere... in front of houses, in vacant lots, along side streets as well as main roads.

And this time of year the lucious, juicy fruit is ripe and ready for eating.

Which brings us to today's "Mango Marketing" contest...

Take a look at the photo of a couple of trees I walked past this morning.

This is from what is essentially a vacant lot, at ground level, on a popular street.

Notice anything "odd"?

There's a marketing prinicipal on display here. See if you can guess what it is.

The winner will be awarded...

Well, how about some mangos? (Shipping not included) :-)

BIG HINT: I could have posted 50 more photos just like these.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Fun Little "Rock N Roll" Marketing Quiz

Is it slightly deceptive? Clever? Or just a run-of-the-mill marketing "trick"?

I took this photo about 2 months ago outside my favorite local music hall, City Limits, in Delray Beach, Florida.

You'll notice 7 separate posters, each for an upcoming concert.

But you may NOT notice a subtle but important difference that separates about 3 of them from the other 4.

Can you detect what it is?
And the copywriting/ marketing/ advertising idea behind it?
(HINT: It is not "graphics" related and it's not in "fine print").

There's no huge breakthrough tipping point idea here - it's just a fun little exercise...

Post your answer in the comments section below and I'll announce the "winners" later.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Are Your 7 Favorite iPhone Apps Here?

So I finally joined the 21st century with an iPhone. And I do love it (more on that in a later post)...

But for now, here's the Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg with his 8 favorite / most productive iPhone apps...

1) Facebook (free)

2) Kindle (free)

3) ICE ($0.99)

4) Easy Wi-Fi ($2.99)

5) ReaddleDocs ($9.99)

6) Quordy ($2.99)

7) Google Mobile (free)

Full article here:

Which favorites of yours are missing from this list?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Looking for Customers in All the Wrong Places?

I've just finished 4 miles and my running clothes are dripping in sweat, not to mention my entire body.

Still, Delray Beach feels gorgeous at 7AM on a bright and sunny Thursday morning.

Now I'm just starting to slowly walk the last three blocks home to cool down when I hear a car honking.

"Looking for something?" shouts the driver.

"Huh" I think to myself. He's the one that stopped me. Do I look lost?

I'm confused.

"I'm just heading home," I offer.

"Yeah, but are you looking for something?"

Now I am wondering… is this some kind of nut looking for a fight? Did I unknowingly insult or hurt someone recently and now they are coming for revenge?

I don't know what to say - so I can only mutter "I just finished running, now I’m going home."

But in a moment it all becomes clear.

"Want some weed? I got weed. Doobies?"

Ahhhhh. Now I get it. "Ummmm no, I'm good. No thanks."

He shakes his head, frustrated, and drives away.

This guy was obviously trying to expand his market.

No doubt he'd typically be on the corner up by the railroad tracks on Friday and Saturday night, waiting for convenient drive-by sales to come to him.

But he must be out looking for new business.

Problem is, he's gone way too far beyond his demographic.

He's out driving around soliciting prospects… at 7 in the morning (not sure this is a good time for selling drugs)… and offering his product to someone clearly interested in health and athletics (probably not your typical dope fiend).

Ah well.

I guess it's a tough economy… even for drug dealers.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

What's In a Name? Plenty!

Can the name of your product or service influence whether people with similar names will like it?

Absolutely, says renowned social scientist Robert Cialdini. People even tend towards certain professions based on their name.

And in "Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive" he offers data to back up his claims.

Dentists are 43% more likely to be named Dennis than statistics would anticipate. Geologists have an above average number of Geoffrey's and George's.

People even tend to disproportionately move to states similar to their names (Flo to Florida, Lou to Louisiana).

And so, Cialdini indicates, let's say you're pitching a big project to Ethan Edwards at Eliot Engineering.
You might want to label it something like the "Energy Exchange Edict"

Personally, I think it's this whole theory is ridiculous and I'm simply not buying it.

- Charlie (career: computer programmer, consultant, copywriter).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Try This Easy Email Productivity Tip

Perpetually buried in email? Here's a quick and easy tip that may help you out...

SEND less email!

Sure, it's not the be-all and end-all to your problems.

But there's no question about it...

When I get on a email-sending binge, I pay for it later BIG TIME... in the form of all those replies.

Which then multiples the problem!

So before you dive into your pile and start firing off replies or new email messagess, think carefully about what you're doing and alternate options for each one.

Can a quick visit to the office next door solve this? How about a 30 second phone call? Has it already been addressed in a later email? Or will benign neglect work out just fine.

Try it out! Just keep telling yourself "The delete key is my friend, the delete key is my friend!"

Friday, November 7, 2008

News of the Weird?

File this under "Whacky Headline Sequences".

Check it out...

Headline 1:
BREAKING NEWS: General Motors reports $2.5 billion Q3 loss, burns $6.9 billion in cash

Headline 2:
Ford plans more cuts after loss Firm burns up $7.7 billion.

Headline 3:
Obama seeks advice from top execs

I hope he's being very selective.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

$100 Million Before Break Even? That's a Lot of Pizzas!

I'm REALLY glad I'm in the online information publishing business. You know, where you can start a web-based business for a few hundred bucks - and where the sky is the limit.

Imagine, instead, being in the restaurant business. Good grief! No thank you. Here's one example why not…

A new place just opened here in downtown Delray Beach. Vic & Angelo's. It's gorgeous and the food is good - I checked it out just after opening night.

I'd been watching them renovate the building for about 18 months. And I knew they had to be spending a TON of money. But I almost fell over when I read the final figure.

$3 million on renovations and another $1 mil on additional start up expenses. Holy cow - $4 million bucks to open an Italian restaurant in Delray Beach!

Restaurants keep only 4 cents of every dollar spent by a customer, according to Hudson Riehle, VP of research and information services at the National Restaurant Association. The rest of the money, he says, is split amongst food and beverage purchases, payroll, occupancy and other overhead.

Now I'm no accountant…

But that sounds to me like they'll have to make $100 million in sales before they even break even. $100 million bucks - that's a lot of pizzas! About 5 million in fact!

OK, OK – so they sell all kinds of nice meals. That’s still a million covers (dinners) at (say) $100 each. Yikes.

My initial impression was that the person who did this had to be nuts.

But that was before I found out the owner, David Manero, is an experienced restaurateur. And this is actually Vic & Angelo's second location. They have another one up in Palm Beach Gardens.
So he must, you would think, be well aware of all the margins, risks and rewards.

If this second store is a success, well, I'll say more power to him.

But meanwhile… remind me to never start a business where I have to sell $100 million before I can break even!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The pain of discipline or the pain of regret?

With October comes shorter days, cooler weather, turning leaves…

And football coaches trying all SORTS of things to inspire their teams to play to their highest level.

New York Jets head coach Erik Mangini is an especially strong advocate of motivational speakers and techniques.

In the past three years, he’s brought in all-time receiving leader Jerry Rice; Jim Calhoun, men’s basketball coach at UConn, former Olympic decathlete Dan O’Brien and the boxing trainer Teddy Atlas, to name just a few.

This week I heard Mangini mention something that Baltimore Colts coach Mike McCormack used to ask his players (although it's also attributed to others including Jim Rohn).

"Would you prefer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret?"

Point being, of course, that the pain of discipline is fleeting, while the pain of regret can be eternal.

It reminded me of something my marathon training buddies and I talk about when we're out sufferin' and griping in the mid-August Florida heat running 16 miles.

"You can pay now… or you can pay on race day."

It's all about choices.

Life is short...
Don't let those last few moments we'll all have someday be filled with what-ifs and might-have-beens!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

So I Think I've Got Problems?

“Hi… I found… found you guys online and I was wondering if I could run with… ya… you?”

Every few months, a newcomer shows up for our Saturday morning marathon training group. But there was something very unusual about the young lady who joined us this this morning.

“My name is K… K… Ki… Ki … Kim.”

She was about 30, looked to be in good running shape, and beamed a big, friendly, and outgoing smile.

And, as we all soon realized, she had a serious speech disability.

Along Ocean Boulevard on Boca Raton, we have our routines. We chat as we run, and the conversation flows quickly and easily.

But now, every time Kim had something to say, it was turning into a 30 second episode.

I began rooting for that one final word to come out… you almost want to shout it out… help her along. But you don’t. And after a while, it can get just a little bit "uncomfortable".

We had a nice run. But afterwards something was bugging me. That's when I started thinking about it all.

Uncomfortable? I was uncomfortable? The nerve of me!

What about Kim!?

Every day, every hour… every conversation, every confrontation, every chance meeting… the simplest dialog must become an incredible challenge. Filled, no doubt, with stares, strange looks, sometimes, no doubt, even ridicule.

How brave she must be to live that life, and to then come out and meet a group of 10 total strangers, smiling and telling light-hearted stories the whole time. What courage!

Shame on me for my self-pity when I whine about my trivial little “problems”. My issues don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the millions who face real difficulties and challenges, many of them far tougher than Kim’s.

The next time I’m feeling down, I’ll think about Kim and thank my lucky stars for inspirations like her.

And I'll hope that should I ever face such challenges, may I be able to summon up Kim's kind of courage.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Does This Discounting Strategy Make Sense?

I hadn't been to the Pineapple Grill in about a year, so their ad in a local monthly newsletter caught my eye.

"Dine with a taste of the Caribbean! - Special: Purchase one Appetizer and one Lunch and receive Free Second Lunch (of same or lesser value)".

Well that sounded like a good reason to go back. Last time the place was in transition and we'd been disappointed.

But then I took a closer look at the ad. And the next few words took me aback.

"Free Lunch Not to Exceed $11".


So let me get this straight...

They want to attract new customers... and possibly bring back old ones.

But if you have more expensive taste... i.e. you want to give them MORE money... you get a worse deal?

I understand about food costs and all, but there's just something about this that seems wrong to me.

Am I the only one? What do you think? Good idea or bad? Lemme know... let's hear your comment on this post.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Copywriter Needed; Apply to NY Yankees, Bronx, New York

The 3rd place "Bronx Bombers" baseball team may be struggling on the field this year…

But they could sure use some help in their Marketing Department as well. And so, for that matter, could the Florida Marlins, the LA Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves.

Go to any one of their websites and you'll find the most HORRIBLE violations of Copywriting Commandment #1: It All About Your Prospect, NOT You,

Let me explain…

I'm sure you familiar with those special events that teams hold throughout the season when fans get treated to fireworks, entertainment, bobble-head dolls, you name it,

So guess how these baseball teams describe these fun bonuses on their schedules…

Fantastic Fan Freebie Night? Nope, you're cold.

Gala Goodie Giveaway Game? Sorry, you’re ice cold!

Two-For-One Fan Appreciation Day? Freezing!

None of the above and not even close. They call them… drumroll…

Promotion Nights.

Ugh! Arghh! Yikes!

A promotion is a marketing technique. It is what a marketer DOES.

But that's never how they should present it to their fans.

After all, to paraphrase a great thinker, no one's ever gotten up on Saturday morning and said to his wife "Gee honey, I think we should go to a Promotion tonight".

Bottom line: When your marketing department comes up with a good idea, make sure it gets run by a copywriter who knows how to present it as beneficial to your prospects and customers.

A good marketing idea is useless if it never makes it through to the heart of your prospect.