Categories
SEO

Fresh Content Helps Your SEO, But Stale Content Can Hurt It

A client of mine had five different websites, all of which had separate blogs with articles. Their websites were closely related with many commonalities and overlapping topics. They wanted to improve their SEO, so my advice was to merge everything and bring all the content under one virtual roof.

Consolidating websites is often considered a best practice among SEOs, and the only time it doesn't make sense is when each site's intended audience and subject matter are completely distinct.

After the consolidation, it created an exponential effect when combined with fresh content. The increase in traffic from consolidating everything not only equaled the total traffic previously going to all websites but also doubled it.

There are several reasons for this.

Improve SEO By Updating Old Content

First, the main website had more domain authority. It was their first, which had the most indexed pages and keywords. Second, the main website had more content authority. It offered products and services but also had a substantial following and the most backlinks.

My client asked if it is a good strategy to review and fix the hundreds of posts on the newly consolidated website, and delete a bunch of redundant ones. That's when I recommended doing a content audit on the newly consolidated website.

This is a practice all SEO consultants and specialists should do from time to time. Performing a content audit is the first and most important step in creating a content marketing strategy. It will allow you to know which pages are truly unproductive, and then whether to delete, merge, redirect, or refresh them.

Of course, if you have a page that's doing well, you don't have to refresh it by rewriting it completely. All pages should be refreshed at some point as content does get stale after a while. At least from an SEO perspective.

To start, it's better to focus on the weakest links first.

Weak content can sometimes be seen as being the oldest ones. But some older content may still be quite productive. The weaker ones are those with the least traffic, the least search impressions, or the least number of backlinks. I’ll go over how to do this later. For now, the question I want to answer is, why.

There are plenty of reasons for updating old content. Non-SEO benefits, too. If you're a busy professional, you have a blog already or existing content, and you don't have a lot of time writing new stuff. So this might be useful.

Even if you choose to outsource your content writing, getting your writers or staff to refresh old content is an equally wise move.

Updated content provides your audience with fresh, updated information, which may be more useful and relevant to them. Or to borrow a term coined by my friend, the late Jay Conrad Levinson, the father of Guerilla Marketing, it's providing users with “state-of-the-moment” content.

Benefits of Refreshing Old Content

Refreshing old content has five major benefits:

  1. You increase the content's quality and length;
  2. You boost the content's stickiness (i.e., dwell time);
  3. You give users reasons to revisit your content;
  4. You invite newer backlinks and brand mentions; and,
  5. You add or widen what's called a content “moat.”

Obviously, the main benefit of refreshing old content is that it can improve SEO. It makes the content not only more timely and relevant for users, but also adds to its length, which offers additional signals.

Remember, word count is not a ranking factor. But longer articles do tend to improve SEO ranking because they help other areas, such as making the content more informative, increasing dwell times, lowering bounces, adding keyword variations, increasing keyword density, and so on.

In short, if you were looking at creating long-form content but don't have the time, expanding on an older piece of content is a viable option.

While content length is not a ranking factor, freshness certainly is.

Google uses different criteria to determine the quality of your content, and recency is one of them. Their QDF algorithm (i.e., “Query Deserves Freshness“) that looks at content freshness is one of their oldest, launched back in 2007, which hasn't been updated much since. (Oh, the irony.)

With all things being equal between two pieces of similar content, the one that will rank highest will typically be the most recent one.

True Evergreen Content is Impossible

Evergreen content is content that can be useful at any time, usable in many instances, or applicable by your audience at any stage. So to use language that's appealing to beginners and with less technical jargon that only seasoned audience members would know.

Content becomes stale over time, even when it's evergreen. No piece of content is truly 100% evergreen. Evergreen content may not need updating often, but they do deserve to be updated and probably more so than regular content.

Furthermore, the date on older content might reduce its stickiness, authority, and what's often referred to as “engagement velocity” (such as how often it's shared, talked about, commented on, etc).

Content is almost always outdated after a certain period of time. Situations change — like a worldwide pandemic, for example — that can make evergreen content a little less relevant. Plus, you may still need to update any of the links, anchors, images, case studies, statistics, findings, etc.

More importantly, updated content is also stickier.

Stickiness is helpful, not just for engaging users but also for SEO as it improves dwell time. When a searcher lands on a page that is obviously outdated (or one they've seen before), they will pogostick back to the SERPs, which tells Google your content is not what they are looking for.

Refreshed content gives users something that may be more relevant to their search. It also gives existing users a new reason to visit. It's a lot like wanting to buy a book that's updated or expanded, even though you have already read it.

Freshness is a Ranking Factor

When it comes to performance, updated content is also proven to be more productive. When a refreshed page appears in Google's search results, or when it's shared on social media, they invite higher clickthroughs. Some do this by appending a date to the headlines, such as:

“Top 10 Project Management Software For SMBs (2021)”

The new headline and content that appear in search results will be more inviting and relevant. But also, the updated timestamp communicates to searchers that your content has been updated.

Content that's more recent tends to be ranked higher. But that's with all things being equal, and you and I know that nothing is ever equal. Some older pages may rank higher if it's more relevant to the search. But other pages that are newer may attract more clicks.

People looking for the most recent results on a certain topic will scan the dates in the SERPs. Take Google's QDF I mentioned earlier. The top results were 2018 and 2019. But I chose one in 2020. How did I find it? I Googled “Query Deserves Freshness” and I clicked on the third result:

Fresh Content Helps Your SEO, But Stale Content Can Hurt It 1 | fresh content
Google results for Query Deserves Freshness, November, 2020.

The last but not the least of all the benefits of refreshing content is that it creates something called a content “moat.”

Freshness Also Creates a “Content Moat”

Just like a defensive moat around a castle that's supposed to dissuade attackers who are looking to infiltrate it, refreshing your old content and particularly regularly updating it makes it hard for others to copy you.

Of course, you should focus on providing unique, difficult-to-replicate content — content that's new, different, and offers unique insights (for example, it contains original research, case studies, success stories, specialized expertise, etc). This makes it hard for others to steal your original stuff.

But if they do, they'll only remind others of you.

Moreover, if your content is original, any duplicate content penalties will be given to the culprit. There are no “penalties” per se, but Google will attribute the highest authority to the original author or creator. Google's software is sophisticated enough to determine who's the original author of a work.

Now, let's say a competitor takes bits and pieces of your content, and perhaps rewords them enough to make them appear unique. Even though it's still similar to yours, regularly refreshing old content keeps you a step ahead of them.

Content, in itself, is easy to imitate. From copying and pasting text to stealing ideas. But content is always unique makes it harder to imitate.

So build a moat around your content by updating it.

Ultimately, by refreshing old content you will not only improve SEO but also stay a step ahead of the competition. The question is, how do you know which content to refresh? If you have hundreds or thousands of pieces, which ones deserve your “freshness” attention?

How to Conduct an SEO Content Audit

Refreshing content is key, but doing so within a defined content strategy will give you the proper action plan on what to update, how to update, and why.

Updating means adding, consolidating, even deleting unproductive pages. It can result in a massive improvement. If you've been posting content for a while, chances are many pages are outdated and diluting SEO signals, and some may create more of a distraction than a positive user experience.

But you need to be strategic and plan this carefully as to not lose the momentum you've gained from consolidating your websites. For example, you don't want to accidentally delete a high-ranking page or one that may seem to rank low only because it’s competing with other blog posts.

So before you begin, I recommend following these four key steps.

1. Create an Inventory of All Your Pages

Take an inventory of all your posts and place them in a spreadsheet. This is so you can properly track things and create a plan for them when combining posts, deleting some, and redirecting them.

You can do this by crawling your site with tools like Screaming Frog. I typically copy and paste from the post-sitemap file. This will be the basis for your content audit and the master document you will refer back to.

Next, cross-compare this inventory with pages found on Google and the level of visibility each one possesses. Visit Google Search Console for your website where you will be able to verify the performance of those pages in Google.

(If you haven't claimed your website on GSC yet, do so. In the case of my client, we did a site migration of multiple websites into one. So it might take some time before Google processes the “change of address” and consolidates all the pages. That's why it would have been wiser to do the audit before the move.)

In GSC, go to “Performance” or “Search Results” in the sidebar, filter based on the last 12 months, and export using the “export” button in the top-right corner.

Your spreadsheet will contain several sheets or tabs. Choose the “Pages” tab where you will be able to see the list of pages from your website with the number of impressions and clicks they received.

Note that some pages that are recently deleted and redirected might still show up. You might want to merge these numbers together with the current page. Also note that you should exclude posts younger than six months to a year as they may not have gained enough traction.

2. Determine Your Least Productive Pages

In this next step, you want to determine your least productive content — you might want to ignore key pages like contact or legal pages. By using the GSC performance report, you will be able to filter your posts based on impressions (i.e., visibility), and then sort the list from the least visible pages to the most.

Next, you will need to know the total traffic each page received as well as any backlinks it has. The reason is to determine how productive your pages are. Productive pages or posts are those with:

  1. Traffic (pageviews)
  2. Visibility (impressions)
  3. Authority (backlinks)

Or any combination of the above.

Some posts may not have any rankings, but they may get a lot of internal traffic, traffic from other websites, or direct traffic. Some may have no traffic at all but a lot of backlinks. If they're high-quality links, you don't want to lose those.

Speaking of which, while you're in GSC, scroll down and click on “links” in the left sidebar. These are links from and to your website. Then visit the “external” links page, where you will be able to export once again.

Next, you need to export your pageviews from your analytics (if you use Google Analytics, simply go to “Behavior” in the sidebar, “Site Content,” and then “All Pages”). You can export it to a spreadsheet and cross-compare the results to your early search performance spreadsheet.

Be aware that if you have a lot of content, so you may want to limit to the last 12 months and 5,000 pages at most.

The final step is to bring it all together. Unless you know how to do VLOOKUPs, create a separate spreadsheet where you will list all your pages, a column for total impressions, another for total pageviews, and another for total backlinks.

3. Score The Productivity Level of Each Page

Add another column, which will be your score. Your score will be the recommended action for this page. I simply score each of the three KPIs (i.e., pageviews, impressions, and backlinks) on a scale of low to high. Use the the pages with the highest and lowest numbers for each to guide you.

Each page will have a combination of scores that will determine the course of action. Your spreadsheet will look something like this:

Page (URL)ImpressionsPageviewsBacklinksAction
/blog/url-1/HighHighHighRemain
/blog/url-2/HighHighLowRemain
/blog/url-3/HighLowLowRefresh
/blog/url-4/LowLowLowRemove
/blog/url-5/LowLowHighRedirect
/blog/url-6/LowHighHighReview
/blog/url-7/LowHighLowReview
/blog/url-8/HighLowHighRefresh

Looking at all three scores will tell you to do one of five things:

  1. Keep the page as is (let the content remain);
  2. Delete it completely (remove it, it's deadweight);
  3. Delete it but redirect it to another page;
  4. Refresh it (update or consolidate it with another);
  5. Or review it to see if the content offers value to users:
    • If the content doesn't provide value, delete and redirect.
    • If the content offers value, refresh, merge, or redirect.

If the content gets a lot of traffic but doesn't rank well, see if it's a case of two or more pages competing with each other. Pages ranking for the same search terms may split the SEO signals between them. This is keyword cannibalization, which devalues the authority of your most relevant page.

It's perfectly fine to have multiple pages ranking for the same keywords, as long as a primary page (i.e., pillar page or parent topic page) has all the authority and relevance, and other pages are generating more traffic with other keywords for which they are more relevant.

But if two or more pages are ranking for the same keywords and focus on the same topic, then you may be competing with yourself. One is stealing half the visibility from another. So, you have one of three choices:

  • If the other pages are very similar and cover the same topic, delete and redirect them to the one you're keeping using 301 redirects.
  • If they're different but closely related (such as related topics or subtopics), merge them into a longer page, preferably into the main page you decided to keep. Then delete and redirect the old one to the newly consolidated page. You might need to edit them to make them fit.
  • If they're different and completely unrelated, refresh them with the goal of switching the competing keyword or topic to a different one.

4. Update Underperforming Pages Accordingly

Once you're done with the above, you can start updating your old content. Delete the those slated for deletion, redirect those deleted ones whose backlinks you want to preserve, and update the content where indicated.

You refresh your content by editing it or adding to it. You can make it more timely with updated data, new sources, and relevant information. Add new images and supporting visuals. Above all, pay attention to the structure and update the headings, particularly the main headline (H1).

If your blog shows publication dates and a post is slightly modified, it's good practice to show the last-modified date on the front-end instead of the date it was first published. But if the post has been significantly altered, update the publication date to when you made the change (like today, for example).

This will put the post back at the top of your blog as if it was newly published. Not only does it drive more attention, but it also signals to search engines that the post was updated, forces a recrawl, and above all, updates the date that appears in search results, which boosts clickthroughs.

Now, how you update the content is a little subjective.

You can expand, edit, remove, and/or rewrite where it makes sense. You can either make the content more evergreen and relevant, or modernize the messaging to fit today's trends, context, or your audience's needs.

But if you need ideas, here are some suggestions and best practices.

Apply On-Page (HTML) Updates

If you need to focus on a new topic or keyword, then you need to update the meta-data, schema, on-page assistance tools (like an SEO plugin such as Rank Math or Yoast), and possibly the post's URL to include the new keyword.

(This is assuming you have already optimized these already for a previous keyword. If you haven't, then this is your chance to apply some technical SEO.)

Let's cover these in more detail.

Metadata (Titles and Descriptions)

Typically, this is your title tag and your description tag (often called “meta tags”). Your SEO plugin will be helpful. Metadata is not a ranking factor, but a refreshed title and description often appear in search engine results and can invite better clickthroughs.

Open Graph (OG) Data

Open graph protocol data (or “OG meta tags“) is the content that appears when sharing your article on third-party platforms, such as social media. If you don't have written OG tags, then the platform may arbitrarily pull excerpts and images from your content that may be wrong or inappropriate.

Better not leave it to chance. SEO plugins can help here, too. As with other metadata, OG data won't directly affect your rankings, but it may help increase your clickthrough rates (or CTRs). And higher CTRs have been long speculated to contribute positively to higher rankings.

Structured Data (Schema Markup)

Often called “schema markup,” structured data tells search engines about the type of content (such as an article, a product, an event, a place, a recipe, and so forth). Again, most SEO plugins do this for you. But there are other schema-only plugins and tools to help you create and add code.

Page URL (or “Permalink”)

Rewriting your post URL or “permalink slug” isn't always necessary. There's also a lot of debate among blog SEO experts regarding how much weight URLs provide if any. But including your main keyword in the URL can let Google know what your content is about and also provide eye gravity in search results.

If you have updated the slug, don't forget to 301-redirect the old URL to let Google know of the post's new location so it won't lose any rankings. I use my SEO plugin's redirection feature, but there are several others, too.

One common SEO tip is to use shorter URLs and removing stop words (e.g., articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, etc). While shorter URLs are still important, stop words can help. Reason is, the natural language processing software that determines intent relies on some stop words for context.

Update and Refresh The Content Itself

Obviously, you can add more up-to-date information, rewrite it to fit a more modern context, and choose to make it more timely or evergreen. For example, some of my decade-old posts discuss websites that are now defunct or have moved, or practices that have fallen out of common use. (Google+ anyone?)

But if you need some ideas or inspiration, here are a few.

Rewrite Headline (H1)

I typically do this only after I updated my content. I may have a better headline in mind, or I may have slightly changed the content's angle. This is true if I have a new keyword, too, which I want to include in the headline. If the content is timely, I may want to add the date or the word “updated” in the headline.

Update or Add Headings

Breaking your content up and adding headings throughout provides three significant benefits: 1) it makes the content more readable and easier to pull in scanners; 2) it adds blog SEO potential by including keywords; 3) and it gives both search engines and users an idea of the content that follows.

Keywords and Topics

Optimize your content around the keyword or topic, particularly if you have chosen a new one. The goal is not to stuff your content with keywords but to focus on the topic, the relevance, and above all, the user. Add content around subtopics, related topics, or semantically related keywords where appropriate.

Statistics and Data

Statistics change regularly. There are always new regulations, studies, research findings, etc. So if you have statistics or research data in your content, is it still relevant? Are there newer, fresher, better ones? If you don't have any, consider adding supporting data, research, or statistics to your content.

Sources and References

Add any helpful references to support your content. Always cite your sources, obviously. If you used references previously, it might be wise to update your references and sources, too. They may have moved or changed, or the links might be broken or redirecting to a newer version.

New Research Findings

Adding your own research is just as important as adding external references, if not more so. Google looks for original research in content with their quality guidelines. So if you've done previous research but have new findings or need to update your conclusions, now's the opportunity to refresh them.

Quotes From Other Sources

Add quotes that support your content or argument. Quotes give your content 1) confirmation, 2) credibility, and 3) commentary. They support your arguments while adding additional content. If another expert supports you, quote them. It adds recognition and emphasizes your authority.

Use Cases and Case Studies

Social proof is the most impactful form of substantiation. Don't be afraid to add them. Testimonials and results are great, but case studies are the most believable, even when they're anonymous. The reason is, they provide context and are more measurable, quantifiable, realistic, and time-bound.

Supporting Visuals

Adding visuals help SEO, whether they're graphics, images, screenshots, portable media, or multimedia. They create anchors that stop scanners. They improve dwell times and CTRs. Above all, they require readable data (called “alternate” or “alt” text), which can include relevant content and keywords.

Calls-to-Action (CTAs)

Of course, keeping your readers means you also need to be engaging them — and not just educating them. If your content alludes to products, services, or subscriptions you offer, or suggests other content on your website, then directly or indirectly ask your audience to take action

Internal and External Links

Internal links are critical for your SEO. Since the time you've originally published the older content, you may have posted new topically related content that may make sense to link to. For link suggestions, some plugins and SEO research tools can show you linking opportunities.

Or you may have external links that are outdated, broken, or redirected on the other end that you might need to update. I use a broken link checker to identify broken links. There are WordPress plugins and a few free tools online.

Ultimately, refreshing old content may not only breathe new life into them but also have a few major side benefits, such as increasing the content's SEO that may even end up surpassing its previous performance. But it raises your authority, keeps you relevant, and strengthens your content “moat.”

Categories
Marketing

Don’t Be Transparent, Be Authentic Instead

Some people tend to tweet, blog, post, and status-update their little hearts out. Be it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, their own blog, or whatever. They say it's all about being “transparent,” and transparency is good.

But I think we need to be careful.

Transparency may seem trendy. It may seem noble or humble. But it's not necessarily wise. While we may be opening ourselves up for the world to see, we may be opening ourselves up a world of trouble, too.

In the mid-2000s and with the rise of social media, everybody and their dog seemed to be blurting out everything about everything. They were trying to “be transparent” without care or thought about the consequences.

Transparency Can Be Dangerous

Some dangers are obvious, like being robbed after publicizing you were out. Others are not as obvious, like being reprimanded for saying something you shouldn't have said, or even being fired for insulting your customers.

My contention is, too much transparency can come back and hurt you.

I agree that social media is a great place for developing and nurturing relationships, both with friends and clients. That's what the word “social” in social media means. Or what it should mean, anyway.

But as with all relationships, even when continuous, open communication is an important component, there should be a little mystique to “keep the flame alive.” A little room to allow for exploration and discovery over a period of time instead of all at once. Even in business.

In today's open world, privacy is more crucial than ever before. Why? Because transparent or not, everything you say online is permanent. It can be found and can be easily misinterpreted. Especially when taken out of context.

For example, I love Twitter's character limitations. But when a tweet is published as part of a succession of related tweets, as a response to another tweet, or as part of an ongoing conversation, a general search will turn up an incomplete message that may be misleading and counterproductive.

Candor and Honesty

The key is to know what to keep private and what to reveal. And whatever you do reveal, to think strategically so that what you say is properly said.

In short, it's knowing what to say and how to say it. To reveal the right things, in the right way. (Sounds a lot like copywriting, doesn't it?)

Do you need to tweet or blog about your failures? Not all of them, and not all the time either. Same thing with your successes. You don't want to give away the store — much less give away any ammunition that can be used against you.

Why is that? It's because, saying more than what you need to say makes you vulnerable and open to criticism, which in itself is not bad. But it may also communicate the wrong message to your audience.

There's a difference between authenticity and transparency.

Being transparent is fine. Being too transparent is not. Sure, go ahead and project trustworthiness, authority, and a willingness to share. Be candid and forthright. Be genuine and direct. Be humble and vulnerable.

But be strategic. Think twice about what you say. Because remember, scammers and competitors are watching you, too.

Perception of Transparency

Don't forget your clients, prospects, partners, and affiliates, too. If you're too open, you may be communicating you won't value their privacy, you can't keep secrets, and you're opening yourself up to abuse.

I call this an unconscious paralleled assumption. If you're too open with one thing, others might unconsciously assume you might be too open in other areas, too. You then seem like a greater risk to them.

Aaron Wall, author of The SEO Book, said it best: “Appearing transparent is profitable; being transparent is not.”

There's a difference between being open and being perceived as being open. Between being transparent and communicating a sense of transparency. Between being authoritative and being seen as defensive or self-absorbed.

Authenticity is saying things right. Authority is saying the right things. But transparency is saying everything. And saying nothing at the same time.

You don't need to say everything to be transparent, and you don't need to be transparent to be authentic and authoritative. Just say what you mean and mean what you say.

But don't say everything or else what you say will mean nothing.

Categories
Productivity

Perfection Is The Perfect Way To Ruin Good Marketing

This week, I watched a video from one of my favourite people, Dori Clark, who talked about writer's block.

She said, “I don't believe in writer's block, it doesn't exist.” Her point, coming from a journalism background, is that when you're facing constant deadlines, you never have writer's block because you can't have it.

Writer's block is just an excuse. When forced to deliver as most journalists are, excuses can kill not only your creativity but also your career.

If you choose to procrastinate, whether you do it consciously or not, a looming deadline is like having a gun to your head, kicking you in the pants. Writer's block is going to be the furthest thing from your mind.

We tend to think that writing is some magical thing, some uber-creative process where we have to wait for inspiration to say the perfect thing.

Therein lies the rub…

“The perfect thing” doesn't exist.

First, nothing creative is perfect. It's subjective.

What we deem as “perfect” is only because we're comparing it to something else, something brilliant or some other award-winning work.

Here's a shocker for you: even some of the world's most highly acclaimed authors criticize themselves harshly and feel disappointed with their “imperfect” bestselling magnum opi, in spite of winning countless awards.

What you create doesn't need to be perfect. As Dori Clark said, “It needs to be good and it needs to be done.” That's it.

The point is, we never really struggle with what to say. I believe we all have a lot to say. What blocks us from saying it is trying to figure out how to say it.

Think about it: how many times have you had an idea, such as for a book for example, but you never started because you were struggling with the perfect way to express it? You knew what to say. You just got stuck with the how.

All this got me thinking.

Struggling with anything creative, especially in marketing — whether it's brainstorming ideas, writing content, designing ads, copywriting, branding, posting on social media, coming up with campaigns, and so on — is illusory.

None of it is ever going to be perfect.

It just needs to be good and it needs to be done. You can even do this to see if your idea is viable before you dive in headfirst. Put parts of it out there, ask for feedback, test the waters, etc.

But once you put it out there, then you can learn from it, tweak it, improve it, etc. As the saying goes, “Shipping beats perfection.” Or as Kim Monney more aptly said, “Shipping creates perfection.”

Marketing is a test-and-learn approach — a series of small, incremental experiments from which you can learn and improve.

In fact, this is one of the most beneficial aspects of digital marketing, for no other medium provides feedback as quickly as the Internet does. It's a perfect (yes, I meant to say that) testing ground for your ideas, your writing, your ads, your positioning, whatever.

The point is this.

Start the process. It doesn't matter how it's going to turn out. Whether it's creating a new product, delivering a new service, writing a new article, trying a new marketing channel, or building a new business. It doesn't matter.

Start now. And once you do, keep going. Just as the pursuit of perfection can stop you from starting, it can also stop you from finishing. Neither are good. Better to have critic's block than writer's block.

Create first, criticize later. Or better said, create first, improve later.

Categories
SEO

Digital Marketing Specialist: Communicate Authority by Association

In a previous article, I wrote about five different ways to build perceived value as a professional. I call them the “5 Cs.” Quickly, they are: content, credentials, case studies, community, and care.

“Community” is where you create a rassemblement of clients and peers who can share success stories and best practices, and support each other.

One subscriber asked, “How can a lawyer create a community of clients without breaking privilege?”

Having a community of existing clients in certain professions, such as lawyers and doctors, is obviously challenging if not prohibitive. But one way is to create a public community where people can follow you.

For example, create a page on social media that people can like, follow, comment on, engage with, and interact with you and your content. This gives your audience a place for knowledge and information exchange.

Social media offers the ability for people to follow you and share of their own volition. I've also seen professionals do this with private Facebook groups, Slack channels, discussion forums, blogs with comment sections, etc.

One professional (a computer engineer) has a voluntary Slack channel for clients to join, but has moderators, a set of rules to follow, and openly warns his members to refrain from posting any sensitive information.

There's also another extremely powerful way.

Over the course of my career, I've advised many professionals to start their own associations — and several have.

Sure, most professionals have memberships in associations that certify, license, set codes of conduct, and oversee their profession. But I'm referring to business associations or industry associations that can meet an unfilled need in your community.

One client of mine, a cosmetic surgeon, created his own association for the advancement of specific surgical procedures in his field. At last count, his association has 1,000 members throughout 70 countries.

He offered professional development opportunities, invited the sharing and collaboration of ideas and new techniques, gave out awards at conferences and events, and more.

But the best part is, his bio included that he was the founder and past president of the association, which he proudly displayed alongside his credentials, on his website, in his marketing materials, and in his byline when publishing articles.

Creating an association also uses the other “Cs” I mentioned earlier: not only does it create a community, showcase your content, and add to your credentials, but it also allows you to build case studies and shows you care about your industry, your profession, and your clients.

Launching your own association has three major benefits:

1. Being the leader in the first year, you have more leverage.

Leaders (i.e., director, president, chair, etc) are typically elected in subsequent years. But being the leader at the beginning, it gives you more leverage over the structure of the association and, above all, its marketing, too.

2. Being the founder will provide a great deal of implied authority.

No matter who gets into the leadership position later on (however, the chances are you will be nominated in the first few years, anyway), being the founder adds to your reputation and will stick with you pretty much for the rest of your career.

This is, by far, the greatest reason why a professional would start an association.

3. It gives you access to networking and research opportunities.

You can network with likeminded people, including competitors. The hidden benefit is that it gives you a leg up on what the industry is up to, what are your members' interests and concerns are, and if there are any unmet gaps that exist.

There are many other reasons for associations. But there are three common types I've found:

  1. Educational associations provide members with advanced training, specialized information on their industry, access to literature and special conferences, and more.
  2. Collaborative associations share news, recommendations, best practices, and a wealth of other knowledge and opportunities such as group purchasing.
  3. Advocational associations create lobbying opportunities, address issues, take a stand on law and policy that might impact their members' profession or their clients, etc.

Bottom line, being the founder of an association not only creates a community but is also one of the most powerful ways to communicate implied value, authority, and superiority. Without having to outright claim it.

Categories
Books

The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning

I wrote this booklet back in 1992. It was a way to promote myself in my early career as a marketing consultant but without having to “sell” or cold call anyone — two things I absolutely despised and still do.

Since my clients, mostly doctors and other professionals, are limited in how they can market themselves, I realized that this book was also an effective way to educate them on how they can use the same tactics, too.

Long story short, this book launched a very successful marketing career.

Power Positioning is a concept that brings together the art of positioning with the science of direct response. Since putting it on my first website back in 1995, it has been downloaded, distributed, reprinted, and passed around well over a half-million times. (I stopped counting after 300,000.)

This version may have been updated since its first edition, but that was before I launched my first website. So there's a few outdated examples and ideas. But the strategies and principles are timeless, many of which I still use today.

Enjoy the book. And if you like what you read and want more, subscribe to my free daily email newsletter where I send more articles, tips, ideas, news, and examples of marketing in action. Thank you.


Introduction

“Don't duplicate. Differentiate! Being the best in your field is not about being the best. It's about being different. Be unique, and you'll be perceived as the best as a byproduct.”

— Michel Fortin

“Success in marketing is simple … Find the right message, use the right media, and deliver it to the right market.” — Creator of “Magnetic Marketing,” Dan Kennedy, who's my mentor and the inspiration behind this book.

Welcome to “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning.” The following booklet is packed full of powerful marketing secrets that will help you and your business enhance its image and increase its business almost effortlessly. I invite you to come in and enjoy the many strategies it contains.

While this booklet is copyrighted, I give you permission to reprint these pages for your own reading convenience as well as use it as a lead generating tool in your business or website — as long as the book is not modified, refers to me as the author, and includes a link to this website.

I'm absolutely positive that these techniques will profoundly impact your results. After years of experience in marketing where most of my career has been dedicated exclusively to the professional services industry, these techniques were enormously beneficial to professionals of all types, including consultants, specialists, and even skilled workers and independent contractors.

Enjoy and thank you. Any suggestions or comments, especially those I can use in future works? Let me know!

Good luck and best wishes!

Yours sincerely,
Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin

P.S.: This book contains many examples to illustrate how the ten commandments of “Power Positioning” can be applied in various situations. Many names have been changed in order to protect the innocent (perhaps innocently successful, that is), and others are purely fictional. Similarities in any way were neither implied nor intended. If there are any, it's coincidental.

Also, as in all cases, individual results may vary from those depicted. Too many factors come into play. In addition, wherever the neuter is not used in this book, the male gender was used for simplicity's sake.

P.P.S.: Oh, and one final note. I am a business person just like you and not a lawyer by any means. Therefore, the advice contained in this manual is strictly for educational purposes. It should not be considered legal advice. If you wish to apply ideas contained in this manual, you are taking full responsibility for your actions. I strongly encourage you to first check with the appropriate professional or authoritative body if applicable.

Now, read on.

Warning!

This small booklet contains ten core principles based on my “Power Positioning” concept — a set of powerfully effective strategies that have made tons of profitable business for many entrepreneurs and professionals like you.

These ideas are distilled from my intensive training seminars that have cost some people up to $2,495 to learn. They are offered to you here for a much more moderate investment that, if applied properly, will surely return your investment many times over.

You may have purchased this book in order to find enough business or work until you've reached a comfortable plateau, or you may be like the many people who want clients to come crashing down their doors.

But whether you want a little more business or a lot more, these techniques are so simple that they can be easily applied by both types of entrepreneurs. Bottom line, these techniques work — and work exceptionally well!

You're reading from someone who's learned the hard way. I am continually on the frontlines, day after day, doing what most of you are trying to do — and that's getting more business. I preach what I practice, in other words.

I have oftentimes failed miserably, but I have also reached many phenomenal successes. These strategies are but the result of years of wisdom-building, hard-knocking, trial-and-error, fall-flat-on-your-face-and-dust-yourself-off experience — believe me, they are far from being mere puffery.

While these techniques are tried and proven, they do however require some work on your part. In other words, many of these systems are generic in nature and will require some creative effort for their specific application (of course, you could hire experts like me to do the work for you).

But it is not so much that these strategies are too vague, that they are too difficult to use or that they require a great deal of investment. They simply are guides to help you build your own unique style and, as a result, open the door to endless streams of new, repeat, and referral business. And they do so because they all come back to basic, fundamental marketing principles.

Long gone are the days of knocking on — and sometimes down — doors to get business, let alone just to get people's attention. Long gone are the days of using the phone to such an extent that your ear starts to shape itself into a phone's headset. And long gone are the days of bruised knees that came as a result of constantly begging your customers to give you mere table scraps of their business. In short, prospecting is out. Positioning is in.

So let's start and get right down to the nitty-gritty.

Before we begin, I must warn you: It's been my experience to know that some of you reading this book wish to project a certain image about yourselves into the marketplace. More concerned with looking good than making money, your ego may often end up in the way of following these practical steps. Consequently, making the money you deserve. As a mentor used to say to me, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be rich?”

Also, you are probably used to traditional, MBA-style, statistical-analytical types of knock-until-you-drop marketing approaches. For you, my street-smart “guerilla marketing” techniques may outright rub you the wrong way.

I am not implying that they are illegal, aggressive, or denigrating. Far from it. They are practical and terribly effective techniques that are essential to not only survive but also thrive in today's increasingly competitive marketplace.

If you want more business, then read on! These techniques will certainly help you do just that — and do so in a powerful and positive way. Follow these 10 commandments if you will. If not, violate them at your own risk! It's your call.

Top-of-Mind Awareness

Before we begin, you must understand the concept that underlies this book. In today's society, I believe we have experienced two major shifts that have almost completely revolutionized the entire business landscape.

The first and most important one is competition.

The mere fact that business is becoming increasingly hypercompetitive is an understatement. Businesses, particularly home-based businesses and self-employed professionals, are growing at an explosive rate.

This is not a mere trend, since it was the way things used to be up until the 20th century. Whether you were a farmer, a blacksmith, or a storekeeper, everybody was an entrepreneur in those days. There were no “jobs.”

But when the industrial age took over the agrarian age, more and more people started to rely on full-time, permanent, secure, pension-oriented careers. Today, “permanent” jobs are slowly becoming mere antiques! For instance, in the 40's people held on average two jobs during their entire lifetimes. But today, studies shows that the number has risen to 14 and still growing.

The entrepreneurial boom is far from being just a boom. And the reason for this stems from the second shift that has taken place, which is information.

Along with the eruption in digital technology, multi-channel broadcasting, and cellular telecommunications, the Internet is skyrocketing in population. The ability to retrieve information in nanosecond speed has caused entire layers of middle managers from huge corporations to fall the way of the dinosaurs.

The information age notwithstanding, with more and more employers facing disgruntled employees in today's highly litigious atmosphere, it is safe to conclude that the “job” is soon becoming a thing of the past.

So, what does all this mean? It means that, for a person or business to be able to be — and especially remain — in business, marketing strategies must be such that it places them at the top of prospects' minds at all times. It is not so much to look for more business but to be the business of choice.

For every business or type of product that exists out there, there are thousands of competitors fighting for the same market. Since the information revolution in our knowledge-based economy (including the Internet) has helped to educate people on what's available, there's really no longer a need to prospect for and persuade people in order to have them “buy into” an idea.

The goal, nowadays, is to be the one from whom they choose to buy or with whom they choose to do business — among all other possibilities. Marketing must therefore be such that, if and when a prospect needs a particular product, one's firm comes to their minds in an instant.

Stated differently, positioning is not to compete but to differentiate, to be unique. By doing so, this process helps to provide sort of psychological “anchor” to be placed into the minds of prospects so that they come to choose one business or product above all other choices.

“Top-of-mind awareness” is a term originally coined by Ellis Verdi, the once president of the National Retail Advertisers Council, and the owner of an advertising agency in New York. He said that what most people wrongfully seek to accomplish in their promotional efforts is to obtain short-term cashflow and not long-term results. And they usually accomplish this by offering sales, promotions, discounts and price reductions.

As he said at a recent conference, “Discounting is really like a drug. It brings in some business, and for some it may even bring in a lot of business. But the effect usually wears off and the company will soon find itself with the need to discount further in order to create more business let alone to stay in it.”

Top-of-mind awareness, however, is such that with it there is no need to use price-based promotional methods. What it does is two, important things: It psychologically impacts people so that the mere mention and knowledge of one's company, product, or service inherently creates a need for them; and it places one at the top of a specific market's consciousness so that one is instantly chosen when people want what that person or firm has to offer.

“Power Positioning” is a term I've coined, which is the result of creating top-of-mind awareness from a blend of the art of positioning and the science of direct response so that you, your business, or your products become powerful magnets that attract a greater response from better leads.

The following commandments all reflect this powerful concept — and it's one so simple and yet remarkably more effective, more affordable, and of course more effortless than any other marketing strategy. Are you ready?

Thou Shall Not Copy

If there's one problem in all advertising and marketing, it is the sheer fact that there is too much competition out there. Everything just seems to look like everything else. If one copies another company let alone another company's promotion, it only serves as a reminder of one's competition!

You don't want to remind your prospects about your competition, do you?

So, don't copy them — or as Earl Nightingale once said, “Don't copy, create!” Be unique. Be original. Be special. Be different. In fact, be so different that, if possible (and it is), your name or the name of your firm as well as the services you deliver become generic in the minds of prospects.

Have you ever heard a doctor say: “Take two acetylsalicylic acid tablets and call me in the morning”? What about facial tissue, cotton swab or adhesive bandage? Of course not. It's Aspirin, Kleenex, Q-Tip and Band-Aid.

And that's not all. Xerox, FedEx, Velcro, Kwik Kopy and Quick Lube also stick like glue in the mind. How is this possible? While there are many reasons for this, the first one is the fact that many of these firms created not only a new product but also a whole new category to place them in.

I'll talk about “categories” in the next commandment. For now, let's stick to the idea of “uniqueness.” This concept might seem a little far-fetched for the type of product you offer, but in reality it really isn't.

As expressed earlier as well as stringently taught in my consulting practice, top-of-mind awareness is the greatest key to marketing success in all types of business. Top-of-mind awareness is a process by which an “anchor” in the subconscious of prospects has been created and through which you position your firm or product above all other choices in the mind.

For instance, when deciding to find out about the type of product or service you provide let alone when deciding to buy what you offer, your name, the name of your firm, and/or the name of your product must come to your prospects' minds instantaneously. How is this done? Well, there are several ways to accomplish this, but let me share at least two of them with you.

The first and most important is names. Does your company or service name intrinsically reflect the type of service you offer and does so instantaneously? If not, you might want to reconsider renaming your company or service.

For example, if I told you “Kwik Kopy,” you will automatically think of a company offering quick copies! You might say, “Yeah, but that's only for big chains with big budgets!” People have told me this many times over. My answer is, “But how do you think they became large chains anyway?”

Today, it astounds me to see companies with names that mean absolutely nothing, such as acronyms (like “DFG Enterprises”) or names that do not reflect the competitive advantage if not at least the nature of the business.

If you are a computer network consultant, are you “Mike Fortin Consulting” or “Practical Technologies”? What's better: “John's Drycleaners” or “Spotless Cleaners”? The name of your firm should suggest what you do, what you offer and how you are different from the competition in just a few words.

This generally requires a great deal of creative effort. In my consulting work when I am refining a firm's corporate identity, some names will pop instantly into my mind while others take more time and effort.

So, here's a helpful hint. Try writing down as many names as possible — at least 20 — and pass it around among friends, family, and acquaintances. Ask them what pulls them the most. Look for the “Aha's!” or the “Wow's!” These are the ones you want.

If not, either you will have one that sticks out, or words from a combination of a few of your names that can be used wonderfully together. Listen to what your peanut gallery has to say, but also read between the lines.

In other words, many will tell you what they think looks best, but remember that your goal is not to look better but to get busier. So clue in on their facial expressions when they read your names. Ask them a few hours later what stuck in their minds and not just the ones they liked best.

However, I must point out that there are exceptions to this rule. For example, you are probably self-employed or home-based, and do not use a fictitious name. You may also be limited financially, since repositioning a firm with a new name is sometimes expensive — particularly if you're already established in the marketplace. In these cases, a second technique can help.

It is to add a tagline to your name. A tagline is a small sentence, preferably five words or less, that complements your name and says it all in one single swoop. I'm sure you've heard of “Enjoy the Ride (Nissan),” “Fights Cavities (Crest),” “Kills Bugs Dead (Raid),” or “The Midas Touch (Midas).”

You can do this with almost any name. For instance, a self-employed computer technician added some flair to his name by using a tagline in all his marketing pieces and correspondence, which read: “John Smith, Solutions Made Simple.” An interior designer, Gloria Tessman, now markets herself as “Gloria Tessman's Glorious Interiors.” A business etiquette consultant calls himself “Brian Whelan, Where Protocol Meets Profits.”

In either case, whether you have a unique name or not, try to add a tagline to your name, and choose one that truly communicates all that you are.

Make sure to use your tagline in all your communications, promotions and stationery. Additionally, every single nook-and-cranny of your operations — even breathing! — should become some kind of marketing process in itself.

Remember to look at every aspect of your business, whether it's answering your phone, writing your invoices, mailing your brochures, even handing out your business cards. Every business activity should emphasize in some way your uniqueness through your special name or tagline. Use them!

For example, do you have an answering machine message that says: “Sorry, but I'm not here to take your call right now”? Ugh! Don't do that. Make your machine work for you. Change it to something like…

“You've reached Terry Crawford, the ‘Teacher's Teacher.' I am out of the office right now currently teaching another successful ‘How to Make Mega-Profits Teaching Corporations Part-Time,' designed for college teachers. If you wish to leave a message or would like to receive my free report, ‘Eight Ways to Make Classes Cook for Cash,' give me your name, address and telephone number after the tone in case I need to confirm your address. Thank you for calling the ‘Teacher's Teacher!' (Beep)”

In the above example, several other commandments are followed. We will deal with these aspects in greater detail further in the book, but for now just realize that everything you do must become a part of creating top-of-mind awareness.

You don't need a huge budget to make this work. Once you've got this down, use it in all your communications. You have to live, sleep, eat, and breathe your new name and tagline — especially with your “Elevator Pitch,” which I will discuss later on. For now, don't copy. Make yourself unique!

Thou Shall Appoint Thyself

A recently understood segment of marketing is the immense power behind the product category. Often, many businesses build their entire marketing strategy around a particular brand and its better qualities within a currently known product category, only to have it all go down the drain in the end.

Remember the “New Coke”? In the 80's, Pepsi conducted taste tests called “The Pepsi Challenge.” Coke, on the sidelines, also heard from their own research that a newer, better tasting brand would beat Pepsi.

Only 77 days later, according to Coke's former marketing vice-president Sergio Zyman in his book “The End of Marketing As We Know It,” not only were they forced to reintroduce the older version as “Classic Coke” but they also had to eventually wipe the New Coke out. Better is not always better.

Jack Trout and Al Ries, the fathers of positioning and my greatest marketing mentors, have literally developed the product category concept into a science. In their provocative book “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind,” they made what I believe to be the most powerful notion ever conceived: “Marketing is not a battle of products but a battle of perceptions.” My business mentor used to also tell me: “Perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself.”

Both are remarkably true. For instance, a survey was once conducted among the passengers of an airline company. And to the question, “If your food trays were dirty, would you assume that the airline also does poor maintenance on its engines,” the answer was, as illogical as it sounds, “yes” for an overwhelming majority! Thus, marketing is truly all about perception.

The greater portion of my early consulting career was focused on doctors, cosmetic surgeons, and medical practices. I often asked doctors this question: “Look at the leaders in your specific field — are they famous because they're busy, or are they busy because they're famous?”

For example, a particular hair transplant doctor is one of the first surgeons in Canada to perform hair transplant surgery and was instrumental in its initial popularization. In addition to the fact that he maintains a portfolio of celebrity patients, this doctor is still widely recognized among the public to be the best surgeon — and that, whether he is indeed the best or not. He even uses outdated techniques in a field that has progressed considerably!

However, superiority in cosmetic surgery is a matter of artistic ability and not of seniority let alone fame. But you see, when people perceive that you are the best, the leader in your particular category or industry, it is much more powerful than actually being the best in the first place. In other words, perceived truth is definitely far more powerful than truth itself.

If you have a product that you perceive as being the best, it may not be a shared perception among your target market. However, whether your product is better than your competition or not, if it's the leader in its field or category, people will automatically assume that it's the best. It's human nature.

For example, people will often say: “They must be the best, because they're the leaders!” People have the natural tendency to gravitate towards the leader of a given category and automatically conclude that the leader is indeed the best — even if that may not be true. For example, Coke outsells Pepsi, even though in taste tests Pepsi seems to be the better tasting brand.

Now, all of this is fine and dandy but you're probably wondering at this point how you can accomplish this. Before I show you how to do that, let me give you an example from Ries and Trout, from their book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” (It's a book that I highly, highly recommend.)

If I asked you who was the third person to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight, and if you're not a history buff, more than likely you will be stumped. Of course, most people know that Lindbergh was the first person to fly over the Atlantic. Being the first, he comes to mind immediately.

Rather than ask you who was the third person to fly over the Atlantic, if I repositioned that same person — that is, if I asked you the same question but rephrased in another way — by asking you, “Who was the first woman to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight?” of course, it's Amelia Earhart.

This is the power of self-appointment.

One of my favorite marketing gurus is Dan Kennedy, author of the best-sellers “No B.S. Business Success” and “No B.S. Sales Success.” He stresses that “You don't need someone else's permission to become successful.”

When it comes to marketing, he is absolutely right. Many people try to compete and may even get the first commandment down pat, but where they often fail is in creating top-of-mind awareness by drowning their image in a currently known category. They try to be better than everyone.

Everybody knows who is the first in some category or another, but rarely do people remember who's second or third. And one of the biggest errors most businesspeople commit is in attempting to market themselves as a better firm, with a better product or service, at better rates.

Let me share with you a secret that might shock you — if I haven't done it already: Nobody cares. Nobody cares if you're the best. Nobody! Even when people say they have chosen a firm over another because they have a better product, they only think they did and were initially attracted to that particular company for other reasons — probably at a subconscious level.

Look at it this way: if they do in fact make a choice based on a firm's superior qualities, they will not stay with that firm for long, for they will quickly jump at the next “best” thing that comes along. Again, human nature dictates.

People want the newest, the latest, the fastest, the freshest, the brightest, etc. They want the leading product or service in any given field. They want the best! And when I say that they want the best, I don't necessarily mean the “best” but what people perceive as being the “best.”

So, what do you do in order to produce this effect? If there's no category you can be first in, create one! As Dan Kennedy said, you don't need other people's permission to do that. Creating your own category is powerful since it is impossible for others to copy you. In other words, don't compare. Create!

Be the first to cater to a specific market, the first to offer an alternative to an existing product or service, or the first to cater to a market in a unique way — such as by offering an ordinary product but with a unique twist. You can also customize a general product or service for a specific market. Look at your background, your business model, or your clients, and ask yourself:

  • Is there a common thread or something that stands out?
  • Is there something that's really different than anyone else?
  • Can I reposition myself to look unique, original, or different?
  • If not, are there any special awards I or my products have won?
  • Are there any unique references or endorsements I can obtain from celebrities, particularly endorsements my competitors can't have?
  • Do I or my company possess any unique accreditation, certifications, or memberships in specific groups that no one else has?
  • If so, then why, as specifically as possible, did I (or can I) get them?

You might be a travel consultant selling business trips exclusively to financial institutions and brokers — your biggest clientele. Market yourself as “the first to serve the financially inclined,” “the leader in business trips for bankers,” “we take the risk out of traveling for those who deal with it every day,” “the financier's travel agent,” or “the first traveling agent for the smart investor.”

Don't be the best in some category. Be the first in one!

Before we go to the next commandment, I must share with you a small tip that is relevant to the two first commandments. Do you an elevator pitch or speech? And if so, does it create instant, top-of-mind awareness?

An elevator speech is what you say when you introduce yourself, and it usually includes a sentence or two, no more than 30 words, that states clearly and concisely who you are and what you do. But refrain from bland, hackneyed introductions. Be different with your elevator speech as well.

How do you do that? Think benefits. What makes you different? Why should your clients hire you? Why should they buy from you? Why should they listen to you? And better still, why should they remember you at all?

When you introduce yourself to people, do give your name and tell people what you do? If you do, please take this advice: You must stop it right now! I know, I know. You're probably thinking, “What? He wants me to stop telling people what I do? But how will they know who I am let alone remember me?”

Before we go further, let me explain what I mean.

In my seminars, I teach something I call the “Ketchup Principle.” Let's say you've just met a salesperson. He gives you a stellar sales presentation. He is dressed absolutely impeccably. His spiel was stunning. He conducted a first-class meeting with you. In short, everything was perfect.

But all throughout the encounter, you couldn't stop but notice that he had a little spot on his tie — a little ketchup stain, if you will. Two weeks later, if I were to ask you: “What do you remember most about your meeting with this sales professional?” More than likely, the first thing that would pop into your mind is, you guessed it, the ketchup stain!

As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!” That statement is not only true but it also applies even to the simplest of things, such as names, taglines, and introductions. How often have you met people only to forget their names only moments later?

So, the bottom-line is to stick in the minds of the people you've just met. Again, your introduction is not meant to persuade this potential client right on the spot to do business with you (or refer others to do business with you). The trick is to have you in your prospects' consciousness at all times.

Therefore, when you introduce yourself to others, use your unique name, your tagline, your unique category, and the benefits your provide — and not just your name and what you do. For instance, don't say: “Hello, my name is Mike Fortin and I do consulting work” or “I am a marketing consultant.” Rather, say: “My name is Mike Fortin, The Success Doctor — I help turn businesses into powerful magnets.” (By the way, that's my elevator speech!)

Not only will it arouse interest but it will also make your name stick in their minds, which is what you really want. That person will either remember you when needing what you have to offer, refer you to others when the opportunity presents itself, or talk about you openly especially when others bring up the subject. That's the power of turning words into “mind glue.”

Here are other examples. If you're a computer consultant specializing in network solutions, don't say, “I'm Elaine Wilson, I'm a computer consultant” or “I specialize in local area networks.” Instead, say, “My name is Elaine Wilson of Network Magic, I help relieve computer network headaches.”

Don't say, “Hello, my name is Jack Vidoli; I'm a management consultant specializing in accounting.” Rather, say, “My name is Jack Vidoli of A Knack with Knumbers, I help cut a firm's expenses of time, effort, and money in half by simplifying their accounting systems.” See the difference?

Don't forget to put yourself in a whole different category. It's important to not only being the leader in a category but being the leader in the mind. So use it in all your communications, especially when giving your elevator speech. If you're not the first in some category, be the first in one you've created.

Thou Shall Make The Ordinary Extraordinary

So, if you're following the commandments, you should now have a unique name, possibly a tagline, and established yourself as the first or leader in your unique category. What about the service or product you offer? Do you offer an extraordinary product or service, or do you offer an ordinary one?

Even if the service you provide is customary, traditional, and probably offered by your competition, you should make it appear unique just as well.

Remember that perception is more powerful than truth. You don't need to emphasize that your product or service is unique, better than the competition, or even the best for that matter. Doing so by declaring that it is can sometimes be worse than not saying anything at all, and the reason for that is that it makes your self-serving claim appear suspect, boastful, or exaggerated.

For instance, if you told people that your product or service is number one in the marketplace, your clients will probably either laugh at you or in the very least question your statement. But if you put a name on your product or service (and trademark it if possible), you will indirectly cast an aura of exclusivity and superiority, and do so without utterly flaunting it.

By the way, please note that unique trademarks don't need to be registered, unless you are looking for financial compensation if someone ever copies you. In that case, you must go through a trademark process to register your name. I am not a lawyer and please do not consider this as legal advice. I strongly recommend that you see a trademark or corporate lawyer for assistance in this area, especially if you're seeking to prevent any form of piracy.

However, once you've conducted a thorough search and as a result found that your trademark is indeed original, after formally registering your trademark you will be able to use the “(R)” (or registered trademark symbol) rather than the “TM” in all your communications — and deter copycats or even sue them should they ever use your names or taglines.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that perception is powerful. When it comes to the perception of a product or service, it will generally fall into either one of three categories. (This is especially true with services since they are intangible.) The first one is the “customary,” the second is the “assumed,” and the third is the “unique.” Let's take a look at each element in more detail.

The Customary

You might be a bookkeeper offering an income tax service as part of your portfolio — one that is widely offered by most bookkeepers these days. But don't just leave it like that. Say, “Ask us about our special ‘Total Tax Tranquility' service.” If you're a dry cleaner offering a tie cleaning service (as most dry cleaners do), don't just call it a “tie cleaning service,” call it, “Bring your ties out of retirement with our ‘Re-TIE-rement Reversal'.”

Before we go any further, you're probably thinking that you're a professional businessperson representing a high-class, high-quality product or service, and that this type of strategy is too “hokey” or that it doesn't apply to you.

When I started out in business, I was a marketing consultant specializing in medical practices. Dealing with a professional clientele, I heard this type of objection all the time. However, I still say that it is possible for you to use this technique, even in these circumstances — and probably more so since doctors and professionals are prohibited from claiming superiority.

For instance, I often search the local yellow pages, in the doctor and dentist sections, to find potential clients. One day, I was immediately struck by an ad from a particular dentist who specializes in pain and anxiety management. He has an anesthetist on staff, and uses intravenous and general sedation for his patients in order to make dental work a more comfortable experience. Most dentists offer this “ordinary” service. But what did his ad say?

The headline was made up of two simple words: “Dream Dentistry.”

Even if your service is customary or similar to that of your competitor's, by putting a name on an often nameless product you cast an aura of uniqueness and superiority — without having to state it outright. As one of my mentors used to say, “Implication is more powerful than specification!”

The resulting effect is that not only will the name keep you in the back of your prospects' minds but it will also create curiosity, arouse interest, and enhance desire. By and large, if people had to choose between a general product and one that implies a better or more unique kind of product (with some kind of added value), more than likely they will go for the second option.

For instance, if you owned an imported car that needed a brake job, whom would you choose: A general mechanic? Or one who specializes in imported cars by marketing itself with: “Are your brakes screaming in a different language? See us for your Quicker-than-Customs foreign car brake inspection”?

You get the picture. (Whoops! I'm getting ahead of myself again, since this example also reflects Commandment #4, which is the power of specialization. But I guess you're getting used to me by now, right?)

The Assumed

Speaking of mechanics, are you a mechanic and, as normal practice, offer free estimates? If you are a mechanic, you most likely do. Suffice it to say, pretty much everybody expects free estimates from mechanics or garages these days. However, as simple as it may sound, if you specify that which is usually taken for granted, you help to make your name stick in the mind!

For example, you might call your free estimate, “The Hassle-Free Fee Finder” or the “No Greater than Guesstimate Estimate.” Or your tagline could even be something like, “Where Smiles and Estimates are Free!”

It might sound silly but this process is so simple… And it works. People may or may not know that garages offer free estimates and, more often than not, they only assume that they do. But with a name in which people are indirectly told that estimates are free, people are now assured that they provide them.

In other words, you're turning an assumed product or service into an assured one in the minds of people. And in this day and age where people no longer have time to search for specific information, when they'll need a free estimate your name will pop into their minds instantaneously.

This simple technique is indeed remarkably effective.

As shown in the previous example, making the ordinary extraordinary is like turning the assumed into the assured. Assurance is a great marketing strategy. In fact, there is an immense power behind guarantees, and I love marketing on this remarkable concept. Some people think that guarantees are outdated, overused, and ineffective. Others think that they are not necessary or will increase returns. I know for a fact that that's not true.

People not only love guarantees, but as I said earlier, in today's competitive marketplace you need to stand out like a sore thumb. And a good way to do this is by offering a guarantee in one form or another so that, when placed side-by-side with a competitor, you will be the one who's chosen.

Guarantees sometimes frighten people because it involves taking a great risk on the part of the entrepreneur. The possible loss of revenue is a frightening idea for many people. But if you have a good product, have had good experience with it, and believe in it wholeheartedly, guarantees can become powerful weapons in building sales. They communicate instant credibility.

As a matter of fact, guarantees also help to reduce returns. Why? They are often perceived as an expression of confidence in the product or service. With scams, schemes, and snake oils rampant, people have a tendency to forgive far more easily businesses that are credible, have greater customer service, and have shown, through guarantees, to believe in their products.

Guarantees not only increase sales but also communicate confidence, trust, and superiority — including the perception of superior customer service.

Nevertheless, if you still wish to avoid guarantees or if your type of work stops you from doing so (as in the case of doctors who are legally prohibited from doing so), there are three key areas you may want to consider.

First, does your product or service provide a result that is quantifiable and measurable? Second, can your product or service be easily replaced or exchanged? And third, do you offer additional products or services outside your core portfolio that you can provide in order to satisfy your client?

If you're not prepared to give a full money-back guarantee, you might want to consider an indirect guarantee — such as by adding or subtracting something instead, something different that appeals to your clients.

Here's an example. You're a sales training consultant offering seminars on sales productivity. You might want to offer a guarantee that promises an increase in your client's sales results by, say, 25% following your seminar. If your client's salesforce doesn't meet this goal within a specific period of time, you could offer an additional seminar (or one-on-one, phone consulting) free of charge.

You may be a marketing consultant compensated on a percentage of the client's sales (also called “contingency consulting”). It's really a guarantee in itself. But as a name for your guarantee, you may want to call it the “Make-Money-Or-I-Don't Guarantee.” You might give a bonus product or service free of charge as a way to thank your client for their business. In this case, don't just offer it as a standard part of your package. Market it in the form of a guarantee, too.

For instance, if you are a project management consultant in the computer field, you could add a bonus-training seminar to be conducted after your consulting contract is completed in order to guarantee that people maintain your work effectively after you're gone. As a result, you can call it the “After-Project Assurance Plan” or the “Perfect Project Preservation Pledge.”

In essence, the idea is to guarantee that which is a generally assumed part of your business. If the prospect perceives that doing business with you has some added value, even if that which you offer is identical to your competition or included in a total package, you will be able to destroy your competition!

Often, the problem not only lies with what prospects perceive but also with what business owners perceive. They too wrongfully assume that parts of their products or services are not important, that marketing them is unnecessary, or as one doctor-client of mine once said, that “it all comes with the territory.” I'm sure you've heard the joke about what happens when you ass-u-me, right?

You get the picture.

By the way, that client of mine removes stitches from and follows up with his patients after surgery, and doesn't bill them for these seemingly ordinary services. In fact, they are common practice among cosmetic surgeons. I asked him to put a name on it. He now calls it his “Postop Progress Program.” Remember, if you turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, you will turn ordinary marketing into extraordinary results.

The Unique

Above all, you may still be offering some very special or unique product or service that your competition doesn't offer at all. If so, that's great! However, the same rule applies. Don't just leave it to a vague title or description, since it will still be perceived as similar at first glance or without knowing about it.

Put a name on it, even if it's not entirely new. If you're a management consultant offering seminars on how to get the most out of a particular software you've customized, call it the “Software-Savvy-is-a-Cinch Seminar.”

In fact, while having a unique product or service beats the previous two categories in creating top-of-mind awareness, it doesn't have to be entirely new. It can be copied and customized in such a way that it appears unique or new. According to Brian Tracy in his program “The Psychology of Selling,” many people have made fortunes by simply improving a current product by merely 10% yet packaged it in a different way. Remember the “pet rock”?

This goes back to the issue of perception. I once watched an Oprah Winfrey Show in which Oprah did an interesting piece on marketing. She conducted an apple juice taste test in malls across the United States.

While the program was focusing particularly on how companies can easily use false or misleading advertising, the results of the test revealed some interesting facts nonetheless about the way the mind works.

She had two bottles of apple juice. One was a plain, white plastic container with a label donning a picture of an apple. Very plain. Nothing fancy. The second bottle, however, was an intricately shaped glass bottle carrying a red label with the picture of a woman preparing apple juice in her kitchen.

When people were asked which apple juice tasted better, the majority said that the juice from the glass bottle tasted better. The surprise came when she announced to her audience that the juices from both bottles were exactly the same! (She actually showed footage of her staff filling the bottles from behind the counter.)

Not bad, isn't it? But it didn't stop there. When she asked her participants why they chose the juice from the red labeled bottle, their answers were astonishing. They said, “It tastes really good,” “it's much better than the other one,” “it's sweeter tasting,” or “it has more flavor.” When asked why, one said: “The picture of the lady preparing the juice in her kitchen indicates to me that more care and attention was given into making it, so it has to be better.”

It all boils down to the fact that perceived truth is indeed more powerful than truth itself. When it comes to your unique product or service, pay close attention to how you package it — the name and description you put on it.

This is how brand names have become generic in the minds of people. If it's perceived as unique or as the best through its name, then it is. However, it is difficult for me to give you specific examples here since the uniqueness of your product or service will determine your entire approach.

The key is to market your “original” product or service in such a way so that, if it is ever copied, your product or service's name remains firmly fixed in the marketplace and that your competitor's attempt to copy you will only but remind your prospects of you. If you can, add a guarantee or a tagline to your product or service, such as “Flat-Rate Fashion Facials, They're Flat Out Fantastic!”

Ultimately, make your product or service outstanding by making it stand out.

Thou Shall Find More With Less

The most common mistake newcomers to business make is to think that by expanding their portfolio they will secure more business. Conversely, they think that by narrowing their market they will also narrow their chances of getting more business. In either case, nothing can be further from the truth.

A management consultant who I believe had a knack for human resources also offered bookkeeping services, thinking that having more to offer will keep her busier — she then wondered why she wasn't getting any work!

The truth of the matter is the fact that specializing and narrowing your focus as much as possible will increase your likelihood of getting more business.

An accountant specializing in car dealerships will get more business than a general accountant will. An advertising consultant specializing in print media strictly for home furnishing stores will get more business than a typical advertising agent will. A photographer specializing in weddings will get more business than a regular photographer will. And the list goes on and on.

Over the years, this has been referred to as “niche” marketing. Today, niche marketing is fast becoming increasingly necessary. Why? If we go back to the two major shifts I mentioned earlier, you'll remember that the explosion in both competition and information are changing the entire business landscape.

As more and more businesses get started and more and more people jump into home-based and self-employed opportunities, the less time, energy, and money people will have to spend in choosing those with whom they will do business. This is not only related to new and repeat business but also to referral business. Brand loyalty is harder to fathom than ever before.

Let's say you have two friends who are both in car sales, and you're thinking of referring clients to only one of them. One of your friends is just a typical car salesperson. The other, however, specializes in first-time car buyers (e.g., students, young drivers, newlyweds, late bloomers, etc).

For example, she offers special creative financing methods for those new to credit, additional car-specific driver training information for new drivers, and copies of rate comparison charts that suggest insurance companies with the lowest premiums for new drivers. Now, let me ask you this question…

… To whom do you think you will refer more people?

This is the awesome power of narrowing one's focus. Think of a laser, which is basically a narrow beam of highly concentrated, amplified light. You want to focus like a laser on your niche and, when you do, you will consequently burn yourself into your prospects' minds. Now that's branding!

When you get down to it, as a consumer you will choose, when you have a choice presented to you, to go to a business that specializes in a unique area in which you have a specific need. Specialization is in itself a fundamental marketing strategy, for it helps to project an aura of superiority.

When you deal with a specialist, you will automatically assume that he or she has greater expertise, has greater knowledge about the field, and offers greater service since, by catering to a unique market, it implies that he or she will have somewhat of a better understanding of your situation, needs, and concerns. In short, specialization implies superiority.

Niche marketing is the wave of the future. And the greater the competition will become, the greater the need for more specialists. Why do you think there is a trend in specialty stores these days? There are stores selling only dry foods in bulk. There are vitamin and food supplement stores. There are electronics and computer stores. There are toy stores. There are specialty crafts stores. There are even mothers-to-be and baby-only clothing stores!

The need to specialize is obvious. Here's an example. Today, you can get a toaster from a department store, a home furnishings store, an appliance store, a kitchenware store, a grocery store, and a drugstore. Even a bank!

With all these stores storming you with information, your very limited time to be able to shop around for the best product at the best price will more than likely cause you to go the one that pops into your mind the moment you have a need for a toaster. I mean, all you want is a toaster!

But, if there were a store like “Toasters-R-Us,” you'd probably go there first!

Nevertheless, your goal is to find your niche, to narrow it down as much as possible, and then to hit it with all you've got. The narrower your market, the more business will come to you. In fact, the narrower your market, the broader your chances of success in a hypercompetitive, overcommunicated society. It's the paradox of “less is more.”

If you're new to business or hesitant about narrowing your focus since you want the ability to offer different products or services, focus on a specific niche to start, or create one as a “division” of your main business or focus.

And then, as business creates enough cashflow and confidence for you, look at expanding at that point. However, be careful. If you expand outside of your established area of expertise, your marketing will fall down like a house of cards and will have to rebuild from the ground up.

We will deal with this further, but for now, focus on your niche. And as stated in Commandment #2, become the specialist by appointing yourself as one!

Thou Shall Divide and Conquer

Expansion is far different than business expansion or extension. Extension is often referred to as franchising, licensing, line extension, or branching out. In this context, I am referring to expansion by division or core expansion.

If you're a specialist in your field — which I hope you are after reading this book — and you offer only one type of service, you can expand from within by dividing your core (your product or service) into multiple, smaller components.

This helps to do 3 things. 1) It doesn't take away from your category or specialization. 2) It increases your hit ratio when targeting clients, since some of them might be interested in your entire package while others may be interested in only a portion of it. And 3) it increases the aura of expertise you project because you refrain from spreading yourself too thin.

McDonald's are reputed worldwide for their hamburgers, pure and simple. Ray Kroc was a milkshake machine salesman and his clients were mainly fast-food restaurants. One day in the mid-1950s, Ray stumbled onto the little drive-in restaurant in the American Midwest run by a couple of brothers who were cooking hamburgers in a different way: the assembly-line method.

He had an idea and the result became the joint venture with the McDonald brothers that today has literally revolutionized the entire fast-food industry.

In the beginning, McDonald's had no more than three simple items on their menu: hamburgers, fries, and shakes. Up to this day and hopefully in the future, you will never find a hot dog at a McDonald's. But now they have hamburgers in almost every food category possible.

They offer hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken burgers, fish burgers, double burgers, rib burgers, and so on. They have small fries, medium fries, large fries, and super-size fries. That's the power of core expansion.

Nevertheless, how does this apply to you? Let's say you are a programmer and you offer consulting work. For instance, you may provide consulting, research, programming, implementation, testing, hardware installation, training, customization, upgrades, licensing — and the list can go on and on.

Obviously, all of these elements may probably be part of one global package that relates to an area in which you are specialized. But by dividing your core product into individual components, you may not have expanded in a direct sense but you have, however, expanded your possibilities.

Similarly, you may offer an entire package right now but fail to recognize its many different components — parts that can be individualized and offered separately. Look at what you currently offer. Take a notepad and write down every little component that's a part-and-parcel of what you offer. Then see if each part can be marketed, sold, and serviced separately and individually.

Once done, put names on each “division,” and include them in your collateral materials. Using the previous example, you could develop your own research division, development division, implementation division, training division, etc.

The word “division” means exactly what it says. And by doing so, you may stumble onto clients who may need the entire package and others who may only need a part of it — like, for example, a training specialist.

Keep in mind that you shouldn't digress from your specialization, but stick to your core and expand from within. You may have narrowed your niche, but by expanding your core the demand for your products or services will likely increase, even with prospects outside of your target market since you are now catering to different market segments.

You can also add new products or services to your portfolio that cater to your niche. Look at dry-cleaners: beyond dry-cleaning, they also offer tie cleaning, shoe repair, tailoring, winter clothing storage, and so on and so forth.

If you do expand in such a way, don't just leave it at that. Put names on your divisions that specifically describe each one. Like I mentioned in the first commandment, give each division a special brand or suggestive name.

Plus, aside from dividing from within (i.e., your product or service), you could also do it the other way around by dividing your clientele into groups. While they may still be part of your niche, you have classified them into different categories, which will increase your hit ratio, too.

In my ongoing consulting business, I make a distinction between three types of clients who might need my services. For instance, there are those who are low-key and only seek to increase their cashflow. There are also middle-of-the-road clients who want to possibly expand in staff, size, or scope. And then there are entrepreneurial types who want the whole “ball of wax.”

What's the benefit in doing this? A conservative client in need for some marketing assistance, but fears that he or she will go overboard in doing so (or is low-key, such as a doctor or lawyer), may be attracted to the fact that my services also cater to his or her specific needs as well.

And finally, let's say that your package is inseparable. In this case, there is still a portion that can be expanded by setting up strategic alliances with other specialists (I will deal further on this in Commandment #10).

For example, you're a wedding planner offering a package for helping couples prepare for the most important day of their lives. However, when it comes to stationery such as wedding invitations and reply cards, you use a local printer with whom you've set up some kind of strategic alliance.

This local printer gives a special price break offered exclusively to your specific clients as a way to create more business. And, more than likely, the printer is glad to help since he or she knows that by doing so you will constantly send that specific printer more clients. It's win-win.

You can call it your “Incredible Invitation Incentive,” which includes the planning and printing of wedding invitations. (Also, the design, mailing, and response management of those invitations could also involve the co-services of a graphic designer, mailing house, as well as the print shop.) You see, you are not competing with the printer but both of you are seeking and serving the same market.

That's it for now. Ultimately, remember that by dividing your core you will paradoxically multiply your chances of getting more business. Each one of your “divisions” can cater to its own individual niche. If you own and operate multiple niches, when added up they can become very profitable for you.

Thou Shall Take it Step by Step

A mistake businesspeople often make is when they try to sell their company directly in every communication they produce. (I'm referring to the idea that they try to sell their company as being merely open for business, also called “institutional advertising,” and not direct marketing, which is different.)

Institutional advertising will draw up immediate clients. When advertising, they spend hoards of cash on repeated, slick, and entertaining ads. When marketing to people for the first time, they blab on until the cows come home. When sending out information, they send beautifully designed packages that make shipping crates look like a joke!

They think that by selling themselves right in the ad, with clever punches and ideas, they will get not only an immediate response but also immediate business. This oftentimes backfires and can even take away clients.

Many clients I've dealt with usually get as a result of this type of approach a lot of calls but no business — or at least no long-term business. They end up dealing with a lot of people who are merely curious but never serious. In the end, because of hypercompetition, trying to look for pre-qualified prospects using this approach can sometimes be worse than a needle in the haystack.

A new concept (although it's been around for years but has recently become popular) is direct-response marketing. It is a process in which businesses seek an immediate response as a result of their marketing efforts. While it is often used to sell in the immediate sense, many use this technique to offer a free report, item, or service. Little do people know, however, that the direct response strategy is usually not the true goal of the advertiser.

For instance, have you ever seen an infomercial by Charles Givens? His ad explains who he is and what he does, which is to help people make or save money, and then advertises a “free” seminar in cities in which the commercial is being televised. Do you think he's really doing this for free and traveling across the country only to educate people? In a sense, yes.

But when people arrive at his seminar, they get tiny tidbits of information that will help them make or save money. They get what they were promised. But it's a certain kind of information that, if participants want to have it continually updated, or if they want more, forces them to join the Givens organization.

Membership fees range in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars, and additional products (mostly books and reports) are sold in the back of the room at his seminars. That's the power of pre-qualified lead generation.

People who came out to see him are not general, curious, and uninterested prospects. They have indirectly screened themselves. Once they show up, they are pre-qualified and highly targeted. And after they've been enticed with free information, they are also pre-sold and ready to do business.

As a consultant to cosmetic surgeons, this process is obviously essential if not vital. No one can call a person on the phone and outright ask if that person wants more hair — at least without knowing if that person is bald in the first place! However, doctors will televise an infomercial or place a print ad whereby the people who respond will naturally fit into a specific demographic.

And it doesn't stop there. A process called “multistep marketing” takes place.

The prospect who comes forward usually wants information mailed to him. The doctor sends a professional brochure explaining the procedure, the possible risks, and the potential results. But without any pricing. (For one, it is impossible to determine the cost until the doctor personally sees the patient firsthand in order to measure his degree of baldness.)

The package, therefore, along with its lack of pricing, causes the prospect to come forward once more to arrange a consultation with the doctor. In the majority of cases, those that at least show up for the initial consultation are identifying themselves as interested candidates, looking for more hair.

You see, people who may need your services may fit your demographics. They fit a profile of people within your target market. But people who actually come forward fit your psychographics, which are the characteristics of those who not only need your services but also want what you have to offer.

As in the previous example, the demographics for a hair transplant surgeon encompass people who obviously have lost hair. But psychographics, on the other hand, are comprised of people who not only have hair loss but also want to do something about it (since not all of them do).

In your case, if you offer a specific product or service that caters to a specific market, find out ways to make your market come forward with minimal effort on your part. This is called “lead generation marketing.” In my experience, one of the best ways to do this is to offer a free report of some kind.

The report doesn't have to be product-specific, occupation-specific, service-specific, or industry-specific. It doesn't even have to directly relate to what you're selling. As long as it targets and appeals to an audience that fits within your demographics somehow, you're ahead of the game.

A used car salesperson friend of mine placed a small classified ad in the local newspaper and it read something like this: “Is your car a lemon? Do you know that there are ways to turn your lemon into cash? Before you get rid of your clunker, call for my free report '10 Ways to Turn Your Lemon into Lemonade'!” He even used the pseudonym “The Lemon-Aid Institute.”

And guess what? People who answered his ad were not only in the market for a new car (which was what he wanted), but they were also frustrated with their previous dealership for selling them their lemon. They were enticed to seek more information from that specific salesperson and his specific inventory.

In the end, they were far more qualified (or pre-qualified, in this case) and also positively impacted by the valuable service the salesperson provided. Car buyers, therefore, placed more confidence and trust in that salesperson, and eventually also felt more comfortable in sending him referrals!

Let's say you're a financial planning consultant. Your services may include investments, mutual funds, and savings plans. Rather than place an ad that directly markets these services, you could place a classified ad promoting a free course, seminar, or report on helping people save money.

Let's say you're an image consultant helping people to enhance their appearance. You could offer a free kit including a makeover, makeup sample, consultation, or a special report on the best colors that will match one's unique complexion.

The idea is to have people come to you rather than you to them. Being in the information age, I personally prefer the “free report” style of lead generation. The incentive doesn't have to relate directly to what you do, as long as it logically appeals to the same target market.

If you recall from an earlier example, you can turn your answering machine into a 24-hour salesperson. Your free report offer should therefore be included in the message — they must be somehow invited to ask for the free report.

When it comes to advertising though, you shouldn't go into large circulation newspapers or general publications. There are a variety of reasons. I will deal with this issue a little further in the next commandment, but for now just remember that your main goal is to generate leads, not immediate clients.

The portion of the general public that fits into your demographics is merely made up of “suspects” (you suspect that they might need what you have to offer). When some of them come forward to get your free report, sample, or service, you've isolated the “prospects” from your suspects. Then, if they want more once again, they've now become “expects” (you expect them to do business with you). This can be done in virtually all industries.

I used to work as a salesperson for a music store specializing in pianos and keyboards. Older pianos usually require considerable repair since the wood inside holding the strings with which the piano creates its sound may be too old, cracking, and broken beyond repair. They constantly fall out of tune. A salesperson at the store had a small classified ad that said:

“Beware parents in the market for a piano!” [That was the headline.] “Many parents usually buy used pianos for their kids because they don't know if they'll love music and therefore want to minimize the risk of losing their money. However, to the unsuspecting buyer, many used pianos are internally broken beyond repair and temporarily ‘doped' in order to sound good and be sold quickly, only to become broken again when it's too late. Before you buy any piano, call for our free report ‘Don't Let Piano Problems Put Your Bank Account Out of Tune: 6 Ways to Find Hidden Problems with Used Pianos'.”

His report not only explained the possible faults commonly found in older pianos that can easily go unnoticed, but since he was catering to a specialized market (i.e., parents), his report went on to explain how used pianos fall out of tune quickly causing the child to learn the piano the wrong way and eventually to lose interest — let alone the parents money!

Of course, what the salesperson really wanted was to get these parents to buy new or professionally refurbished pianos from his store and especially from him. The resulting effect, however, was that the report not only brought prospects to his door but also instilled in them a greater confidence in the salesperson in addition to the reasons for buying a certified piano rather than a used one. Last time I checked, he made a fortune using this technique!

Look at lead generation advertising or multistep marketing as a form of job search. People often send bulky résumés to potential employers in an attempt to sell themselves as much as possible, when very often their attempts get filed away — into the “round” file, that is. (Sounds familiar?)

Career consultants stress the importance of summarizing a résumé as much as possible, of including past accomplishments and results (instead of responsibilities and duties from previous jobs), and of putting it all on one page. Why? The résumé is not meant to land a job but to land an interview.

Lead generation should be regarded in the same way. Your ad must be small, contain a concise message, stress an immediate benefit (something for free, for example), and offer a useful tool or additional information if the prospect wants to come forward and know more. And this can be applied in virtually all fields and for many if not all types of products or services.

What can you offer your prospects to arouse their curiosity and interest? What can you give away for free so to entice them to get more, thereby identifying themselves to you as interested, potentially qualified “expects?”

If you're giving something away, realize that what you're really doing is not giving away free stuff but generating better leads. Keep in mind that, in the end, the cost of free stuff can be far less than the cost of mass marketing.

Thou Shall Speak Softly but Carry a Big Stick

The following is probably the greatest commandment in “Power Positioning.”

Now that we've talked about lead generation advertising, the next step is where to advertise. And the trick to having as many pre-qualified prospects come forward is to have your ad noticed and read by such a specific group of people as much, as often, and as effectively as possible. General publications won't do that and they cost a lot of money. Cost-per-lead money.

Specialized publications, on the other hand, have the distinction of appealing to a specific audience and thus increase the chances of it being noticed as well as read. Why? If one newspaper has a readership of 100,000 but only 25,000 fits into your demographics, where another has only 40,000 readers but all of which fits into your demographics (because the publication is specialized), which one do you think will give you the greatest response?

In other words, rather than fishing for minnows in the middle of the ocean, you'll be a catching big fish in a small pond. Think of the specialized publication as a sonar that will help you to find the kind of fish you really want.

This is due to the fact that not only the readership of a specialized publication will match your demographics but also that people who buy these types of publications have a tendency to read them from cover to cover.

Unlike a general, mass-published, large circulation newspaper that will only be skimmed through (i.e., it is bought by many but read in its entirety by few), a specialized publication will be read more intently and thoroughly (i.e., it is bought by few but read in its entirety by many).

Your per capita hit-ratio will dramatically increase than if you would have advertised in a major publication that's too general or too vague. Your little ad can easily get “lost” in such large media or get drowned in a sea of ads.

These days, specialized publications exist by the truckloads!

For example, there are occupation-specific, special-interest-specific, or industry-specific publications, which can include newsletters, trade publications, ezines, journals, reports, corporate mail, magazines, specialty newspapers, catalogs, and communiqués from specific organizations. There are numerous publications for specific people or on specialized topics.

For instance, if you go to your library, you will find that there are magazines for home-based businesses, newsletters exclusively written for corporate executives, magazines purely about cigars, newspapers strictly published for firemen, and even magazines geared for, of all things, gerbil breeders!

As long as the readership somehow logically fits into your target market, this is where you will get the greatest bang for your marketing buck.

An advertising agent specializing in computer-based firms can advertise an offer for a free report in computer magazines or, better yet, in magazines read particularly by computer firms (such as hi-tech or Internet magazines).

A medical consultant, whose target market consists of doctors, should advertise in medical journals, health-related magazines, medical association newsletters, or medical equipment manufacturer catalogues — anywhere that puts him in front of as many doctors as possible. Anyway, you get the drift.

By the way, having your own newsletter is also a powerful way to attract quality prospects. If you are not yet publishing one, get on it. It may be offered for free or at a nominal cost to pay for the printing and distribution, but the idea is to have the people who read it want more and come forward.

You can sell advertising space in your newsletter to, or swap ad space with, firms also catering to your unique clientele (again, it's developing strategic alliances). Conversely, you can buy space in a newsletter written by another firm that also caters to your target market. The possibilities here are endless.

However, it wouldn't be right for me to end this portion without discussing the web. With information being one the major shifts the world has experienced, the Internet can help to make your presence known in a better, quicker, and cheaper way. If you're not on the ‘Net yet, you're losing out big time!

But if you are, your website and email addresses, which should appear in all your materials, should be made available to everyone with whom you come in contact, even as part of your signature on all forms of correspondence.

Email helps prospects to come forward in the privacy and convenience of their own homes or offices, and it also gives you a chance to respond to them immediately. It's truly a dynamic form of communication that, to this day, is still often overlooked. Permission-based email marketing is a goldmine!

For example, with an email announcement list, discussion list, or electronic newsletter (often called “ezine”), you have the opportunity to remain in constant contact with your clients (and thus maintain top-of-mind awareness), develop credibility, and build relationships with them. Also, you should invite people to subscribe to your email list at every chance you have.

If you haven't already create a landing page or “mini-site”. Many people think that this is too expensive or technical, which for a large sophisticated website it can be. But a single web page (or a smaller, more content-driven website with just a handful of pages) is different than a robust site in that it's usually a part of a greater website — a chapter of a book if you will.

These sites are usually called domains. Many Internet providers have domains on which your web page can be stored (many are free). Some non-competing strategic alliances with websites might host yours as well.

Nevertheless, while your “mini-website” may not be as large, as glitzy or as sophisticated as having your own domain, it's a good start. It's a low cost way to be on the web and it doesn't have to be slick with graphics.

The important thing is to maintain a presence. Your page can be strictly information-oriented identical to a book or newsletter. Your page can also be designed to advertise you, your company, and the products you offer.

But most important, it can be a wonderful tool for people to access your free report. If your report is written in a two-dimensional printed format, more than likely you will have a digital copy. Therefore, by having it available via the Internet, people can access your free information and print it themselves at home or the office, without costing any money, time, or postage.

However, don't make your free report available directly on your site. Many people who choose to use the multistep marketing process I described earlier (which I strongly encourage) want the names and addresses of those people coming forward for future follow-up and direct mail possibilities.

In this case, they have a special section of their site that includes their free report, but it is one to which only people who have a password can access. If you use this technique, and people have seen your site or your ad somewhere let alone your free report offer, they can write or email you to obtain their secret, free, and maybe time-sensitive password.

Once “inside,” they can read your report and do so instantaneously. They now have access to useful information and feel part of an elite group of educated members. Your newsletter can also be published on the web and made available through password-protected access, too.

And if your newsletters carry a subscription cost, you can charge people to obtain their password and you can bill them regularly for renewal. Again, the possibilities here are endless. The web opens many doors for you.

Remember that you're not trying to advertise with the hope of stumbling onto a trickle of suspects. You want an endless stream of pre-qualified, pre-screened, and pre-sold expects! In other words, you don't want to shout in order to attract prospects. You want to speak softly but carry a big stick with which you can lure better leads and “clobber 'em” (with your freebie offer, valuable information, or unique expertise) when they're in proximity.

For example, people who visit your site and read your web page will hopefully want more and come forward to get it. But even when only a small portion do, you know in advance that they are much more qualified, which saves you time and effort than trying to fish in a dried-up desert filled with unqualified suspects.

In addition, once you're on the web there are many more advantages that come with using this medium, such as search engines. Search engines are like electronic yellow pages that contain mostly every page available on the web. (However, there are ways to use engines effectively, and we'll come back to this in Commandment #9.)

You can also link your page to other sites and get your link posted on those that also cater to your specific market. Also called “reciprocal linking,” this method is simply another way to advertise through specialized means.

Nevertheless, it's all part of developing an effective lead generation system, and you know what “system” stands for, don't you? It stands for “Save Your Self Time, Effort, and Money!” Yeah. That's the ticket!

Thou Shall Become a Celebrity

In the second commandment, you learned that you should be the leader in your category or in your unique area of expertise. Now you need to be known as such. And one of the most effective ways to do this is through publicity.

I met a fellow once while working in New York City who ran his own show on cable television — his very own cable show! Cable and community television stations are wonderful mediums to get the word out effectively. This is an area in which you can get a lot of publicity at little or no cost.

My friend, a programmer, hosts a show called “Solution Sentral” on which he is either being interviewed or playing the role of interviewer. His guests ranged from employers looking for specialized technical staff to other consultants in similar areas. The show naturally appealed to the high-tech sector.

He also takes calls on the show and has a real-time, live email-in format where people can ask questions online to which he'll answer directly on the air. But keep in mind that the show is not meant to advertise him directly — if so, the station would charge him for it — but as a public service.

Publicity is different than advertising. But the idea behind publicity is not to market your business or product (or at least not directly). Your goal is to get yourself known and known as an expert in your field. There are many ways to get publicity out there let alone free publicity.

Why is it so important? Publicity is far more credible than advertising since it comes from an “objective” third party. If you have narrowed your focus to a very specific, highly specialized field, publicity will come easy to you. The media loves to receive information from people who are uniquely qualified in their specialty.

Do you write articles for your local newspaper or in the very least in the op-ed section? Do you send news releases to all the TV, newspaper, and radio stations in at least your area? Do you offer free seminars during fundraisers for non-profit or not-for-profit organizations? Do you offer to speak at luncheons, clubs, and organizations such as Chambers of Commerce? Do you offer free services to charities or sponsor community projects? The list goes on.

A hair transplant doctor sent out press releases to all the TV stations and offered to perform surgery live on the air as part of a medical documentary. With the patient's consent, cameramen filmed the doctor performing the procedure and the news reporter occasionally asked questions, such as: “What exactly are you doing now, doctor?” Or, “What's this for?”

But he didn't stop there. Not only did the news report cause his practice to get flooded with calls the next day, but the doctor also obtained the right to mass-copy the news report on videotapes, and mailed them as part of his information package to potential patients and referral-sources.

The show created a lot of “buzz” and the surgery was the talk of the town. I don't know if he actually did this, but if I were in his shoes I would have the tape digitized and available to be played on the web. People accessing his website can view the clip right from their own homes.

Some people I know have their interviews, speeches, or voices digitized and plug it on the ‘Net as well. Of course, everybody can do that. But if you're not on the web, yet have a copy of a TV or radio interview on video or audio cassette, get the rights to copy it and send it to everybody who wants one, including potential referral-sources and strategic alliances.

A temporary help agency specializing in government support personnel had a neat idea. Their clients are mostly purchasing agents and, one year, a golf tournament was being held for (believe or not) government purchasing agents! (It was to raise money for a charitable foundation.) The tournament was held in the middle of summer and it happened to be a hot day.

So the salesperson, wearing a T-shirt bearing their 1-800 phone number, rented a golf cart and loaded it up with coolers containing soft drinks. He drove his cart from hole to hole and offered free drinks to all the golfers in the tournament. In addition to the exposure this gave him, he was also given a chance to speak at the awards ceremony and mingle with the crowd.

If you're an expert (and by specializing, you are), get out-and-about and make yourself known as one.

For example, I know of an insurance agent who decided to specialize in life insurance for newlyweds and new families. His company didn't require it from him but he decided on his own to develop an expertise in this area. You'll often find him at bridal fairs, bridal shows, home-buyers seminars, home furnishing stores, banks, mortgage institutions, toy stores, baby clothing stores, car dealerships, and so on.

Now, for a typical, general insurance agent to do this kind of stuff may or may not be a waste of time. But how much more effective will he be if he promotes himself at those events or locations as an insurance agent strictly catering to new couples and new families? Yup. Much more.

Do you have your free report written by now? If so, then write a query letter to magazines and newspapers for an article you wish to contribute. If you don't know, a query letter is one in which you address the editor and propose to write an article around a topic on which you have an expertise.

Ensure that the headline of your query grabs their attention and makes them want to read it. Make your article somehow related to your free report, too. Explain how your article will benefit their readers. Give them a brief outline of your article along with a summary of your free report as “tickler.”

Don't forget to include in your query that you're not seeking any type of compensation (at least not now), but ask if you can add a byline. A byline is a small note at the end of your article describing the author and how he can be reached. Send the same letter to as many newspapers as you can, especially specialized publications read by your target market.

By the way, always ask for publishing rights so that the paper doesn't prevent you from having your article published elsewhere. Above all, make sure that your query addresses how your articles will benefit their readers. Keep in mind that the readers of a specialized publication are potential clients.

Now, write! While your article should be educational and not promotional, it may contain some highlights of your free report as a way to further educate the reader. Your byline can and should invite people to order it. It can say:

“The author, Michel Fortin, is the ‘Success Doctor', a direct response copywriter, speaker, and marketing consultant who specializes in marketing for cosmetic surgeons. If you wish to learn more about the ideas written in this article, you can obtain a free copy of the complete report, ‘The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning', by calling him [number], or by visiting his website at SuccessDoctor.com. You can also email him at [email address].”

Since your articles do not appear blatantly promotional, they help market your expertise subtly yet far more effectively, and as a result, carry far more weight than any self-serving advertisement. They grant you almost an instant and much greater credibility because, like publicity, which comes from an objective third party, they imply your superiority rather than state it outright.

And since implication is more powerful than specification, publicity will help to solidify your leadership in the mind and do so faster, more effectively, and for a longer period of time than any other form of promotion.

There's an old saying in the insurance industry that goes: “Talk good about me or talk bad about me. But either way, please talk about me!” So, get out and about! Get others to know you and talk about you.

Thou Shall Seek Out and Spread Out

I know that the yellow pages' people will hate me for this, but your yellow pages' ad, although an essential part of your entire marketing machine, doesn't have to be of a large size, in color, prominently displayed, or tied-in with other gimmicks that the yellow pages salespeople have to offer. While necessary, the yellow pages should only be used as support systems.

The concept of this entire book is to teach you that creating top-of-mind awareness (not “institutional advertising”) should be your main marketing goal. When people have seen your ad, heard about you, or have a need for your services at any particular time, your contact information may or may not be available to them at that particular moment. Therefore, you want the yellow pages to back you up and not use them as a full-blown marketing medium.

Yellow pages salespeople more than likely don't have to sell you on the need to be in their directory, but where they make their commissions is by making your transaction as hefty as possible by selling you on size, color, and other gimmicks. Quite frankly, you don't need it! Your mere presence is all that matters.

However, there are some basic rules that you should follow.

The title of this commandment is: “Thou shall seek out (support systems) and spread out (among them).” Indeed, I'm a fervent believer in support systems since, when creating top-of-mind awareness, your potential clients may not necessarily need you at that moment, but they may do so later when your contact information may not be available to them.

Whether it's local directories, specialty directories, occupation-specific registries, industry or trade directories, yellow pages, search engines, Internet directories, or trade publications, you should seek them out and list your company in as many of them as you can. The trick, however, is to spread out. Essentially, being there (and being everywhere) is all that matters. In short, be prolific.

Don't be prominent in size or display. You can have a small black-and-white telephone ad carrying the name of your company, your tagline, what you do (your specialization), your “unique” product, and your free report offer.

However, spreading out, especially within a single directory, is your best bet for higher visibility. Be in as many locations as possible. For example, if you're a hairstylist specializing in house calls, your ad can say:

“Meg Kessler of ‘Scissors on Wheels' is your in-house haircutter! Specializing in onsite special event hair management and the creator of ‘Hassle-Free Hair Job'. To see how I can make sure that your next event has a good hair day, or for a free copy of my report ‘Styles That Can Make or Break Your Next Public Presentation', call right now…”

Now, here's the trick. The yellow pages people might tell you to be in only one particular location of their directory. Don't. Try to be in as many locations that logically relate to your firm or your service, or that appeals to your market.

Your ad can be small but it should appear in as many sections of the directory as possible. For instance, beyond the obvious “Hair” section of the directory, the previous ad can also appear in “Weddings,” “Event Planning,” “Image Consultants,” “Modeling Agencies,” “Conference Planners,” “Color Consultants,” even “Senior Citizen Services.” You get the picture.

This also applies to the Internet, with search engines and directories like “Yahoo,” “HotBot,” and “AltaVista.” You should not only try to be on as many of the major search engines as possible, but also try to spread out as much as possible among them using keywords that appeal to your market.

For instance, a search engine is one in which you conduct a search based on a keyword — a word that you want the engine to search. It will scan their entire database and find as many web sites that contain your keyword.

You might register your website according to a specific set of keywords, but if you register it under numerous keywords your hit-ratio will increase dramatically. Keywords don't necessarily have to relate to your content.

Those that also indirectly relate to your content — let alone to your firm, product, or service — should also be included. They should comprise of any word that may be tied to benefits you provide and your target market.

For example, a baker specializes in cookies. She not only bakes different kinds of cookies but also creates different shapes, sizes, designs, and arrangements with them. One of her many creations is cookie baskets with bows and lettering for, among other things, weddings, bridal showers, and baby showers. So what did she do? She registered her page under “cookies,” “weddings,” “marriages,” “showers,” “baby,” “brides,” “grooms,” “party,” “cakes,” “church,” “gifts,” “family,” “souvenirs,” “ideas,” “shopping,” etc.

Another support system that is often ignored is the answering machine. It should not be regarded as simply being a means of taking your calls and messages. Turn it into a support system as well. In fact, turn it into a salesperson working for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Your message should invite people to do something. That's direct response in action! For instance, does your message ask people to just leave a message? Or does it invite them to place an order for your free report?

Telephone companies usually offer multiple voice mailbox services, giving the caller the ability to either leave a general message or press a number in order to leave a message for a specific recipient in another mailbox. There's also the option to choose the number of boxes you wish to have on your phone. But a mailbox doesn't need to be associated with an actual person.

Here's a sample message:

“Hi! You've reached Craig Jones of ‘Investment Mastery Inc.', where people learn how to be wise with their wealth. If you wish to leave me a message, press 1. To order my free insider's report, ‘Money-Making Magic: 8 Sure-Fire Strategies for Making Money in Stocks,' press 2.”

Ultimately, the object of “seek out and spread out” is to use as many support systems as possible. You want to be in front of your prospects often, but more importantly when they decide to buy from you. In other words, spread yourself thin. Don't be big. Be small, but be everywhere!

Thou Shall Make Thy Net Work

We've made it! You've now reached the last commandment. And what better way is there to end this book that's chock-full o' marketing secrets other than by telling you about something I truly hate. I hate networking. Really, I do!

I hate it because, in my experience, it hasn't brought me anything substantial in return. You're probably saying right now, “What? Is he crazy? Has he lost his mind?” But wait a minute, hear me out.

Networking isn't a bad concept. Far from it. If the previous commandments have been properly followed, networking can be a fantastic marketing tool to leverage them. If you can be at the top of your prospects' minds, you can also be at the top of your network's mind, right?

By using your special name, tagline, “unique” product, free report offer, lead generators, celebrity status, and support systems when networking can bring you an incredible amount of business.

However, here's the problem. Having a network and having a networking system are two entirely separate things. When you're only networking, for instance, often people will want something in return or else they will either stop sending you clients or simply lose interest (if you don't take the time to recognize their efforts, and that's if you have any time left at all).

So, how can you reward your network? Better yet, how can you turn your network into a networking system? The answer is by developing a network of strategic marketing alliances. Or marketing joint ventures.

All throughout this book, you have read about techniques in setting up strategic alliances in some form or another. They were included in the many examples you've read up to now. There are as many different forms of systematized networking opportunities out there as there are businesses.

I strongly encourage you to vigorously seek them out. In my experience, I have found that they mainly fall into three major categories. The first is what I call the info-network, the second is the auto-network and the third, the intra-network. Let's take a look at each one and how you can apply them.

Info-Networking

The information-based network is one in which a strategic marketing alliance is created in which information is exchanged in some form or another between parties. Basically, that information includes qualified leads that both you and your alliance share, or information about each other that is promoted to each party's target market or clientele (also known as “cross-promotion”).

As long as your strategic alliance logically shares the same market without directly competing with you, there is an immense potential for you.

For instance, I mentioned the power behind the free report and especially the newsletter. Advertising space can be sold at a nominal cost in order to pay for the printing and distribution of your newsletter, or it can be offered to those that might be happily interested in being directly promoted to your market.

In turn, you should seek out ad spaces in newsletters, corporate literature, brochures, or catalogues of potentially mutually beneficial alliances. The obvious advantage is that it can save you money by swapping ads.

This also refers to mailing lists where you can swap lists of prospect or client addresses. Mailing lists seem to have increased in popularity these days and, if used properly, can produce pretty good results. Mailing list brokers sell or lease mailing lists that you can use to conduct direct mail and telemarketing campaigns — lists of people that match your demographics.

However, beware: brokered mailing lists will be limited to the demographic data you specify and not the psychographic element of your target market — that's impossible to discern unless you or the brokers were psychics!

Also, electronic mailing lists are a little more complicated. Email is a more intimate medium and privacy is an increasingly important issue these days. Therefore, if you choose to use a broker's list for your direct email campaign (I don't recommend this), make sure to choose a reputable firm where you are guaranteed that people have voluntarily submitted their addresses and “opted-in.”

In order to curtail both problems, a better solution is to seek out strategic alliances and ask, rent, or buy their list of prospects and clients. (In the case of email, you are not sharing or swapping lists but exchanging endorsements and special offers emailed to each respective list.)

Most of them will approve especially when you trade your list of clients or prospects with them. But if you have to rent their lists, the cost will definitely be far less than that of one coming from a broker — they're not cheap!

Most strategic alliances are not accustomed to the idea of sharing their lists and will therefore be happy with just a few bucks. But the added advantage is that, since you know from where these lists originate, you'll have a better handle on the quality (i.e., the psychographic element) of the recipients.

As far as email and privacy are concerned, info-networking doesn't mean that there has to be an actual mailing list exchange. You can swap ezine ads, solo ad mailings, or exclusive special offers endorsed by each list owner.

Nevertheless, should you decide on using targeted mailing lists to market your free report offer, realize that it should yield a substantially greater result than ordinary, unsolicited, untargeted general public mailing lists.

For instance, mail directed to the public usually results with less than 5% in response, while direct mail to a predetermined demographic will likely produce more. But if your free report is used in your campaign, and if your goal is only to generate leads and not sales, your response rate will be a lot higher.

Auto-Networking

Auto-networking is the process of creating referral-sources that automatically supply you with good quality leads, automatically, without you having to lift a finger. Things like brochure stands, posters, flyers, coupons, and business cards can be placed at the offices of potential referral-sources.

Again, I hate networking, especially when I have to work for them (or, in other words, nurture them). So auto-networking doesn't mean to give out cards to a possible referral-source and then hoping it will produce something in return. It means setting up a system between both of you where, since you are both catering to the same market, you have made an arrangement to constantly supply each other with collateral materials, leads, and information.

Here's an example. A dry cleaner discovered that the largest clientele of a nearby restaurant was mostly made up of company executives having “power lunches” (those business lunches the tax people love to hate). The dry cleaner, knowing that her greatest clientele is also made up of executives who bring their shirts or dresses to have cleaned, saw it as an opportunity.

Coupons were made up and handed out by the restaurant's waiters and waitresses along with their clients' food tabs. They offered a 5% percent discount on dry cleaning services and the coupons could be accumulated up to a maximum of 25% — of course, they were valid for a limited time only.

In return, the dry cleaner handed out coupons (clipped to their clients' garment bags) offering a free appetizer or dessert at that particular restaurant — good for one per person per lunch — with every load of $30 worth of dry cleaning.

But it didn't stop there.

They exchanged posters, flyers, coupons, and printed materials (such as the restaurant's menu and the dry cleaner's brochure, which were both left on each other's counters). They also marketed the campaign under the banner of:

“Don't let the spot on your shirt from the juiciest roast beef in town at Carmicheal's Restaurant ruin that big deal! Bring it to Sparkling Cleaners, the first dry cleaner for the busy executive, because ‘Power Lunches Deserve a Clean Image.' With both Carmicheal's Restaurant and Sparkling Cleaners, you can take your clients to lunch… And take a bite out of dirt!”

By the way, I must take a moment to ask you a question. (“Here he comes with another pop quiz,” you say.) In the previous example, particularly in the marketing approach that the dry cleaner and restaurant took, were included some other commandments. Can you guess what they are? The obvious ones are hard to miss. They both carried the trademark symbols, indicated that they specialized in one area, and had taglines added to their names.

But the one that might have gone unnoticed is the category in which the dry cleaner placed itself. Being the first to offer an executive dry cleaning service is probably a little misleading, but by calling itself the first dry cleaner for the “busy” executive, it has created its own unique category. (All right, all right. I was just checking.)

Another form of auto-networking is, as the saying goes, “You can't teach an old dog a new trick, but you can surely teach a new dog an old trick!”

Creating networking systems with referral-sources who are either approached by competitors or already implicated in other commitments may be a difficult task. So, what can you do? Get them while they're just starting out, especially before they become potential targets for your competitors.

Previously, I showed you how important it is for you to get known in your industry as the expert — the celebrity in your field. By conducting speeches, seminars, guest lectures, sponsorships, evening classes, and the like, you are creating that all-important top-of-mind awareness. Many of the members in your audience should encompass potential referral-sources.

But referral-sources have to come from somewhere, don't they?

So, if you can approach them before they can be approached by your competitors, you can save yourself a lot of effort let alone grief.

For example, hairdressers are often the biggest referral-sources for hair replacement surgeons. I teach hair transplant doctors to become known among the hairdressing community and set up strategic alliances with them by, among other things, setting up brochure stands in their salons.

However, if they have been in the industry for a while, many of these stylists may have already been approached by other doctors or have a fixed idea of which doctor to whom they would refer their clients for cosmetic surgery.

In my consulting work, I help doctors to set up special presentations as “guest lecturers” at local hairstyling and beauty schools. Schools love it since it's part of their curriculum to teach future hairstylists on the biomechanics of hair growth and potential solutions for hair loss. Some provinces or states also make it an essential part of their licensing requirements.

As for the doctor, he not only gets his name inculcated into the minds of these future hairstylists but also has created an almost impenetrable barrier against competitors wanting a piece of the referral pie. By being part of their schooling, these doctors became a part of their minds!

This technique can be applied in almost every industry in myriad ways, with trade schools, business schools, community colleges, government services, unemployment insurance subsidized courses, skills training, and so on.

A government software designer can give a small presentation during courses the government provides to recently hired purchasing agents. A wedding planning consultant can give a brief talk during “marriage preparation” courses. An accountant specializing in corporate taxation can give seminars to young entrepreneur workshops offered by local chambers of commerce.

Intra-Networking

Think of Intranets (internal or private networks) and intrapreneurs (employees owning a portion of their employer's company). “Intra-anything” simply means two or more parts of a whole that are independent but also inter-dependent.

It's like a “network within a network.”

Basically, this is the old bartering system that goes back since the beginning of time. But in terms of intra-networking however, it is not a direct exchange of product for product or service for service (or even product for service), but an exchange of a service or product for promotion, clients, referrals, or leads.

For instance, a restaurant makes an arrangement with a local gas station to offer coupons to each client that comes to pump gas. They were given the permission to hang posters in the station, leave menus at the counter, and place fridge magnets on the pumps. For every 10 coupons the restaurant received, the employees at the station were given a free meal.

A freelance writer specialized in editing corporate newsletters. She will then have her articles and personal advertisements published for free in association newsletters that target her market in exchange for editing the publisher's business correspondence let alone the newsletters themselves.

An advertising agent specializes in elevator advertising. Hotels place the agent's brochures in all its executive suites, which are often rented by traveling executives, in exchange for free advertising space in elevators of other business office buildings.

What kind of product or service do you offer from which a referral-source may benefit, one who caters to the same market you do? Think of ways of being able to offer your products or services for free in exchange for pre-qualified leads or, as mentioned in info-networking, promotional efforts.

Intra-networking can also become powerfully effective if you were lucky enough to stumble onto another company that offers products or services that complement your products or services well, while at the same time sharing costs (such as advertising costs), leads, as well as clients.

Take the example of the strategic alliance between the printer and the wedding planner mentioned earlier in the book. Obviously, this might relate more closely to the auto-networking style.

But the printer can give a special price break to the wedding planner for their own printing needs in exchange for client referrals. If the printer agrees to print the planner's promotional materials, business cards, brochures, or letterhead for free or at a discount in exchange for a certain number of clients, that's intra-networking at work!

Altogether, info-networking, auto-networking, and intra-networking are powerful tools to help you create good referral-sources that never stop working. The idea is nonetheless to network but to do so wisely so as to be able to create as many leads and clients as possible with the least amount of effort.

Don't network. Make your net work for you!

Bonus! Thou Shall Put it in Writing

Here's a bonus commandment. I thought I'd make it a bonus because 11 would sound a little funny, wouldn't you think? And it is indeed a bonus since, with all that you have learned, you would never be as effective if I didn't give this extra piece of advice while implementing the first 10.

I can never stress enough, whether it's in this book or in my seminars that, in order to create endless streams of new, repeat, and referral business, you must turn every single nook-and-cranny of your business into an effective marketing system. Everything you do must become a marketing activity.

In other words, every step you take during the normal course of your daily business activities must include making yourself known as the expert in your field — at least in the minds of those who are in it. All your correspondence, literature, promotional materials, and advertising must contain at least eight or nine of these commandments — although 10 would be more effective.

The power of the written word has been proven to be of immense proportions. Roger Dawson, in his book “The Secrets of Power Negotiating: How to Get Anything You Want,” emphasized a universal law, which states that people will believe more what they see in writing than what they don't see in writing.

As Roger points out: “If it is said, it could be true. But if it is written, then it must be true.” Therefore, when positioning your firm or product, your efforts will be far more effective if they are done through the written word.

For example, writing your own book is indeed an effective if not essential tool for establishing your credibility. They say that you must “publish or perish.”

Today, that statement has greater meaning. In a society where people are constantly bombarded with marketing messages and leery of claims of any kind, the process of communicating your uniqueness, your competitive advantage, and especially your expertise through the written word (such as by writing books, articles, endorsements, reviews, and press releases) is far more credible and believable than any direct promotional message.

Nevertheless, start by putting things down in writing.

If you don't have a brochure or publicity kit, make one! If your services are not listed in a catalogue for all your clients to see, print one! If articles written by or about you have been published, make copies and pass them around! If you have reference letters written by clients who initially had concerns or objections, offer copies to prospects who have the same concerns! If you don't yet have a free report, newsletter, or lead generator, create one!

I may be overly emphasizing the importance of putting things down in writing, but I feel that I can never stress it enough. Realize that the above items, along with all of the tools that you've learned in the previous commandments, are crucially important to have in writing in some form or another in order to create lasting top-of-mind awareness. The written word is immensely powerful!

Let's take the example of the cosmetic surgeon one more time.

A patient being consulted for surgery has concerns about pain. Now, if the doctor says that the procedure is painless, his response will be somewhat believable. But how much more believable will it be if the doctor pulled out of a binder a testimonial written by a patient, one who had the exact same concern prior to his surgery, and in it claimed that the procedure was indeed painless?

Let me share with you what I do in my own consulting practice. For instance, in my car or in my travels, I not only carry a promotional kit but also usually carry several large briefcases that contain the following items:

A Business Portfolio

This is a large three-ring binder that contains copies of ads, books, white papers, booklets, business forms, radio scripts, flyers, direct-mail pieces, infomercials, sales letters, and commercials that I produced. In short, my portfolio provides samples of my work (some are now digitized on my laptop).

A Reference Binder

This binder contains just testimonials written by satisfied clients. But the neat part is that they are grouped into topics with letters from clients who had a specific or similar concern. The binder is neatly divided into sections for quick retrieval in case I need to convince a prospect with a similar objection.

A Presentation Binder

Being a computer lover, I use PowerPoint Presentations. But if my laptop doesn't work for any reason, I use my presentation binder. It contains an overview of my company, my brochures, lists of my products and services, lists of past clients, and sample contracts. It also contains charts, graphs, statistics, and “ticklers” that will help to sell me and my services.

And Media Kits (lots of them!)

I always carry around a large number of press kits that contain recent news releases, articles written by and about me, transcripts of interviews, brochures and business cards, books and reports that I've written, awards and letters of recognition, recent copies of my newsletters, and of course my résumés.

If you don't have a laptop computer, you can still create a larger presentation binder offering the materials that I just described. You can purchase a special binder that bends halfway and props up on a table or desk. While you don't have to have the entire package I just gave you as an example, you can fit most of it into your special binder and use it as your “bible.”

Finally, a quick word about written materials. Some years ago, I came across an article (I believe it was in “Entrepreneur Magazine”) that gave interesting statistics gathered from a recent survey conducted by a direct-mail marketing firm for a credit card company. ‘

The survey found the following results: documents that are high in contrast (i.e., dark print on light colored paper) have pulled a greater response over colored print on colored paper. And they also found that the higher the contrast is, the greater the response will be.

For example, it found that traditional black on white is best, yet dark color on white or black on light-coloured paper is acceptable. As long as you maintain a contrast between your text the paper you print them on, you're rolling.

The research also showed that borders (frames around texts) seemed to have increased readership by 20% over plain text with faint or nonexistent borders. It also found that certain words pulled more than others, including the words “save,” “free,” and “discover.” Using the right words that pull the best deserves a book of its own — or a copywriter like me. But for now, just remember to try using these words in your printed materials as much as possible.

(By the way, although I don't remember if this is true since this article appeared many years ago, it is my guess that one of these three words eventually became the name of that credit card company conducting the research! Can you “discover” which one it is?)

And more important, make sure they all contain if not stress your name, tagline, specialization, and unique category.

It is my sincere hope that these power positioning strategies will help you create endless streams of new, repeat, and referral business. I wish you good luck, both on your quest for increased business and greater business health!

Dynamically yours,
Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin

P.S.: Want more? Check out my blog to read my articles, subscribe to my free ezine, or better yet, join my private membership site and watch videos of me, in action, writing and dissecting other people's copy “live.”

Categories
Copywriting

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Copywriting is often labelled as “wordsmithing.” A wordsmith is someone who uses words to sell a product, a service, or an idea.

But, is copy only about words?

Copywriting comes down to two fundamental tasks: knowing what to say and then how to say it. The first part is the most crucial. After all, the success of your copy hinges greatly on coming up with the right message — i.e., the right angle or story — that moves your readers and makes them move.

To do this, you need to choose the right words to communicate your message, express your story, and connect with your audience.

The second part is just as important. Choosing the best words to not only say what you mean but also add meaning to what you're saying is a wordsmith's most prized weapon in making copy significantly more potent.

Sometimes, the right message isn't enough. It needs to jump out at the reader, grab them by the eyeballs, and shake them into action if not reading further.

So knowing how to say it is communicating the right message in the right way.

But what about formatting, visual aids, graphics, and cosmetics of the text? What about the “design of the copy”? Are words alone enough, especially in today's visually driven world? Some copywriters claim they distract and take the reader's focus away from the message. But I disagree.

Words are extremely important. The words you choose can make or break the sale. But don't discount the cosmetics.

Copy cosmetics give your copy eye gravity. They help to direct the reader's eyes into the story and throughout the page. They also help to drive important points home and may even influence how people perceive you.

But above all, they help to replace the cues, nuances, and nonverbal subtleties that occur in traditional, face-to-face sales encounters.

In my early career as a teacher of professional selling in college, I taught about the nonverbal aspect of communication that can dramatically affect sales.

There are four: Paralinguistics, Kinesics, Haptics, Proxemics, and Chronemics.

Chronemics

Chronemics is the science of timing, which is an important aspect of nonverbal communication. Things like speed of speech, pausing (in sales or professional speaking, it's often called the “pregnant pause”), pacing, and punctuality.

All of these convey deeper meaning and may alter the meaning of the message. Think of comedians: timing is the single, most important aspect of their standup routine. As they say, “It's all in the delivery.”

Poor timing can make any good joke fall flat. Even with theatrics, from tragedies to comedies, actors use timing skillfully to captivate their audiences.

Proxemics

Proxemics is the science of personal space. It's the implied message communicated by the distance between individuals during, for example, a conversation, a meeting, or a shared activity.

This isn't some “Feng Shui-ish” thing. I'm talking about our psychological (and often subconscious) reaction to the distance we maintain with other people.

When someone speaks so closely to you that their nose is almost touching yours, you feel uneasy, as if they're invading your personal space. It's also our tendency to avoid people by standing in the opposite corner of an elevator.

In sales, for instance, sitting across from someone at a desk may unconsciously convey that the other person is being confrontational. That's why some sales training programs tell you to sit side by side with your prospect.

Haptics

Haptics is the science of touching. Psychologists have studied the effects of touching during conversations and how it can influence others.

Like proxemics, too much can seem like an invasion of personal space, and certain parts of the body are obviously off-limits. But a little, done respectfully and appropriately, can add a whole new level of understanding to a message.

For example, they tested how people would react when they were told a certain statement. Here's what research discovered.

A speaker would simply tell the listener a story. Then, they were told another story, but this time the speaker would touch the listener on the forearm lightly and for only a few seconds, particularly when saying something important.

According to the study, subjects in the second test felt the speaker was more believable. They had higher recall scores. Physiologically, they felt more relaxed and comfortable with the speaker. They felt a certain “connection.”

Kinesics

Kinesics is the science of body language. Nonverbal gestures, postures, and facial expressions that communicate nonverbally with others various physical, mental, or emotional states.

Uncrossing of the arms or legs. Raising of the brows. Rubbing of the chin. Leaning forward. All of these can indicate that you're interested in your client — or if the client does it, it can tell you she's interested in your offer.

Kinesics (all forms of nonverbal communication, for that matter) can support, emphasize, or contradict what is being conveyed.

Paralinguistics

Paralinguistics is the most important one. It's how we convey urgency, subtext, intent, and emotion in and of a message. Things like intonation, volume, inflection, resonance, and pitch can affect and even alter the meaning of the message, sometimes quite dramatically.

In a face-to-face sales presentation, these verbal cues are often used to drive important points and emphasize key benefits, which go beyond words.

Here's an example I use in my class.

Inflection is the musical quality of the voice — the verbal ups or downs a word, a syllable, or a series of words. In selling, vocal inflection is probably the most used form of nonverbal communication. Why? Because it can virtually change the entire meaning of a message, even when inflecting a single word.

Take, for example, the following sentence: “I didn't say I love you.” It's pretty straightforward, right? But if I stress one word each time I said it, like this:

Then it could change the meaning completely:

  • Inflecting the word “you” could imply I love someone else.
  • Emphasizing the word “love” might imply I simply like you.
  • Stressing the word “say” could mean I said something else.
  • Accenting the word “didn't” might imply I never said it at all.
  • Or focusing on the first word “I” could mean someone else said it.

It's not what you say, but how you say it.

It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It 3 | nonverbal communication

In copy, we're limited, not by what we want to say but how we want to say it. That's where cosmetics, formatting, and certain visual triggers can become enormously helpful.

Don't add graphics willy-nilly to your copy. Be judicious and strategic.

If you can add a photograph of your product (or if you sell a service, a picture of you in action delivering that service or a client enjoying the benefits of your service), you will likely achieve greater results.

But graphics and pictures aside, the look of the copy is just as important as the words themselves. That's why, when I write copy, I usually pay close attention to the cosmetics. I even call it “copy designing.”

Incorporate visual triggers, cosmetic “commands,” and response devices into your copy, usually with formatting, in order to boost readership and response.

Use it to emphasize certain keywords or keyphrases. I'm not talking about going crazy with different fonts and colors. Otherwise, it will do the opposite of what you intended. Emphasize everything and you emphasize nothing.

I'm talking about strategically placed bolds, italics, typestyles, font sizes, boxes, bullets, colors, white spaces, borders, and so on. (Take, for instance, the way I emphasized certain words in the inflection example earlier.)

As copywriter Martin Hayman noted: “Michael Fortin is right. The way the copy is set out on the page makes a massive difference to the way the reader responds. Typographic practitioners have known this for, oh, centuries.”

Here's just one example.

Over 60 years ago, Frank H. Johnson, a direct mail copywriter, started a new technique to boost the readership and impact of his salesletters.

He would highlight the offer in a centered, rectangular box placed at the very top of the letter above the salutation. Why? Because he wanted to summarize his offer upfront in a way that saved his readers' time and hassle.

Instead of forcing readers to wade through a mass of copy before making the offer, he gave them the essentials, right upfront. The results were astonishing.

Direct mail copywriter Ivan Levinson reports he has seen claims that adding a “Johnson Box” to a plain letter can shoot response rates up by 40%.

You can apply this technique to boxes placed within the heart of the copy in strategic locations, such as right before any call-to-action or when highlighting some of the most important points of your copy.

If your readers skim and scan your copy, J-boxes can often stop them in their tracks and force them to read their contents. They help to inculcate key points you want to drive home.

Consequently, these are perfect locations to put your bonuses, premiums, guarantees, testimonials, factoids, key points, stories, and sidenotes.

There's little your prospects will remember from your copy. But if you use Johnson Boxes, the likelihood they will remember their contents more — and over any other point stated in the rest of the copy — will be stronger.

Nevertheless, the moral is this:

Copy is not just about what you say. It's also about what you mean to say.

Categories
Copywriting

Risk-Reversal’s Role Reversal

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The greater portion of my career has been in copywriting, selling, and direct marketing. And one of the common denominators I've found in any successful piece of copy is the power of risk reversal.

That is, taking more of a risk from the sale than the purchaser of your product.

Risk reversal is a powerful method to increase sales by easing the buying decision and allaying fears consumers might have.

When people are considering an offer, and if the offer is “too good to be true,” they will invariably seek out more secure means to benefit from it. Otherwise, they will have a tendency to think, “What's the catch?”

The greater the guarantee, the greater the sales. This has been consistent in almost every industry in which I've worked, and with every split-test I've conducted.

For example, a 30-day guarantee will outsell no guarantee. A 90-day guarantee will outsell a 30-day one. And so on and so forth.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

Sometimes, shorter or more creative guarantees can outperform longer ones.

Why? Perhaps this is because, in a promise-filled industry oversaturated with, and burned by, over-the-top hype, long, unrealistic guarantees make the offer suspect.

People might be left scratching their heads wondering if the guarantee is an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.

Guarantees that are too strong (like one or even multiple years, lifetime, etc) can unconsciously convey that the product is so poor that either the purchaser will forget about the promise during the guarantee's extended lifespan, or the seller is trying to build perceived value in areas other than the product itself to make up for the lack.

But length doesn't always mean strength.

In other words, the strength of a guarantee is not limited to its timeframe.

Creative guarantees work extremely well, especially in an industry where people encounter typical money-back guarantees. These include guarantees that don't necessarily have anything to do with refunds or money. By being different, a unique guarantee can provide a powerful twist to an offer.

Notwithstanding the legal requirements to offer a money-back guarantee, think of guarantees that include gifts, discounts, credits, vouchers, etc.

For example, just recently a friend of mine launched an intensive and pricey classroom-style training program, but with a very interesting angle. Whether you succeed or not, or whether you like the program or not, you get your money back.

It sold out in just a few hours.

Ultimately, guarantees exist because we fear making bad decisions.

And a purchase is a buying decision.

But remember that a guarantee's job is not to remove fear. Not in a direct sense. It's to increase the customer's confidence that the product will do as promised.

In fact, in an article titled “The Great Customer Service Hoax,” the author, Belinda (who is also a copywriter), said it perfectly. “The simple truth about customer satisfaction,” the author writes, is this:

You might think that to maintain awesome levels of customer satisfaction you need to have outstanding products and services, diligent processes and reports and excellently trained staff who know when to make a decision that’s right for the customers. Well, you do need those things but the truth about consistently good customer satisfaction is much simpler.

Customers are satisfied when you met their expectations.

Guarantees help to communicate this important promise. A guarantee communicates not only that the product has value (e.g., “it's so good, I guarantee it!”), but also that the product will meet their expectations.

A guarantee encourages sales and profits. (Sales is self-explanatory. But profits? Yes! Guarantees can also decrease refunds. I'll come back to this in a moment.)

So objectively, add a guarantee that's easy, strong, and reasonable (that is, it's not far-fetched). If it has the appearance of being too long or unbelievable, either reduce it or add copy to justify your attempt.

Just like the power of “reasons-why” advertising, don't forget to back it up. Provide a logical, commonsensical explanation behind your guarantee to justify why it's so strong. The more you do, the more believable your guarantee will be. Otherwise, an overzealous guarantee will make it questionable.

(For example, with a “lifetime guarantee,” people will often ask, “Whose lifetime?”)

But in the majority of cases, if you failt to offer a guarantee let alone a strong one, you're losing a great percentage of potential sales.

In addition to communicating value of and confidence in a product, a guarantee can also become a powerful positioning tool.

Take for instance the story of the Monaghan brothers. The two ran a small business in order to pay their way through college. While one worked the day shift in order to attend school at night, the other did the converse.

After about a year in the money-losing venture, one of the brothers sold his share of the business for a beat-up old car. The other, however, with a good dose of stick-to-it-iveness, decided to make something of his fledgling pizzeria.

According to some interviews he recently gave, Tom Monaghan said that, at the time, he wasn't quite sure that his decision to put a guarantee on his pizza delivery would change much. But obviously, history tells us that his decision was a good one.

By simply marketing the strength of a guarantee (i.e., “Pizza delivered fresh in 30 minutes or it's free”), Domino's Pizza became the multimillion-dollar franchise operation we know today.

Online, strong guarantees are more than just sales tools.

The Internet has opened many doors, including those to many unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Scams and snake oils are rampant online. Millions (if not billions) of dollars are lost to these scamsters each month.

The Internet is rife with fraudulent offers, phishing attempts, and shoddy products. Even laws and anti-scam tools won't stop crafty entrepreneurs who are determined to bypass the systems to scam the unsuspecting.

So people are understandably leery, skeptical, distrusting, and cautious.

Obviously, the use of testimonials, demos and tours, statistics, laboratory tests, clinical trials, case studies, free trials and samples, real pictures of the product in question, and so on are all incredibly important.

But in addition to these methods and elements of proof you can and should add to your copy, strong and creative guarantees are equally powerful proof elements and probably some of the most underutilized.

Why? Mostly because business owners are leery themselves of adding, extending, or creating guarantees because they fear the onslaught of losses from returns.

If the product is mediocre, then this fear is sadly justified. But most products are good. (Granted, there are just as many fraudulent consumers out there as there are scams. Businesses fear them equally as consumers fear buying from fraudsters.)

But generally, guarantees will increase sales.

Chris Ayers, former publisher of Unlimited Traffic!, gives an astonishing real-life example. Writes Ayers:

“One of my first direct mail products years ago was a self-study program. When I first offered the program in a magazine, my sales weren't even enough to cover the cost of the ad. I changed my ad and sales letter to include a guarantee. The number of responses to the same ad increased by a factor of 20 and my conversion rate from my sales letter rose from 10% to almost 40%.”

Remember that adding a guarantee might increase returns and refunds. But try it and do the math. In some cases, a small increase in refunds might be greatly overshadowed by a disproportionately larger increase in sales.

For example, in one test I've conducted with a consulting client, we raised the guarantee from a 30-day guarantee to a 6-month, double guarantee.

(The “double” included a 100%-money-back guarantee within six months, and a double-your-money-back within the first 30 days.)

The result? During the test, there were no refunds within the initial 30 days. But refunds within the first six months increased from about 4% to 6.5%.

Of course, that's significant.

But look at the increase in sales…

Sales conversion went from a little less than 3% to 7%. Mathematically, it means refunds increased by 62.5%, while sales increased by over 133% (i.e., twice as many more sales as the increase in refunds).

The lesson is this: while a guarantee might increase refunds, the increase will be negligible when contrasted by the more significant increase in sales.

This is true in the majority of cases. But in other cases, net profits can increase quite substantially. Even more than the norm.

Why? Because, unbeknownst to many marketers, one of the most important benefits of using a guarantee is the fact that it can actually reduce returns.

If you have a professionally-looking website, an ethical sales approach, and a proven product or service, the lack of a strong guarantee will still, particularly on the Internet, cause most prospects to perceive your offer as questionable in the very least.

But adding a guarantee — particularly a strong one — not only increases sales because it removes the risk from the buyer's mind, but it also increases perceived value and therefore overall confidence in the product and the seller as well.

Guarantees also grant you an almost instant credibility with potential customers.

And finally, strong guarantees also help to raise tolerance levels.

Customers are more apt to ignore or even accept a few flaws, thereby reducing the need to return the product at the slightest imperfection.

This is because they feel they are in good hands, whether they know this experientially or not. The confidence level that the guarantee created acts as some sort of psychic security net.

In other words, a guarantee not only reduces the skepticism around a purchase, but also contributes to what psychologists refer to as “The Halo Effect.”

Ultimately, add a strong guarantee to your offer. But don't stop with just at increasing its timeframe. Be creative with your guarantee.

Think about multiple-money-back guarantees, add-on guarantees, gift certificates, credit or discount vouchers, the ability to keep bonuses if they return the main product, keeping the product even if they ask for their money back, etc.

Bottom line, guarantees will increase sales. The stronger the guarantee is, the larger the increase will be.

Categories
Copywriting

Forget Benefits, And You Will Sell More

What's the single, most important element in copywriting?

Let me say it another way.

You've done your research. You found a starving market. Your product fills a need. And your sales copy shines with benefits. If everything is so perfect, then why is your product still not selling? Is it the price? The offer? The competition?

Maybe. But not necessarily.

The fact is, these things are not always to blame for being unable to sell an in-demand product, even with great copy. Too often, it has more to do with one thing:

Focus. (Or should I say, the lack thereof.)

In fact, the greatest word in copywriting is not “free.” It's “focus.” And what you focus on in your copy is often the single, greatest determinant of your copy's success.

In my experience, copy that brings me the greatest response is copy that focuses on:

  1. One messsage
  2. One market
  3. One outcome

Here's what I mean…

1. One Message

The copy doesn't tell multiple, irrelevant stories. It doesn't make multiple offers. It doesn't go on tangential topics or provide extra information that doesn't advance the sale.

Copy should make one offer and one offer only.

Too many messages confuse the reader. And as copywriter Randy Gage once noted, “The confused mind never buys.” It confuses them because they don't know which offer provides them with the best value for the amount of money they are ready to spend.

Prospects want to spend their money wisely. Lose focus, and it is harder to think clearheadedly as to make a wise decision in the first place. Remember this axiom:

“Give people too many choices and they won't make one.”

You don't want to do what my teenage daughter does to me. When we go shopping for a dress, after hours of flipping through hangers and racks, she finally pinpoints one she likes, goes to the changing room to try it on, looks at me and asks, “How's this one?”

“Perfect!” I say. “You sure, dad?” She asks. “Yes,” I add. “I'm positive.” So we head to the cash register when, suddenly, she stops along the way, picks up another dress off the rack, and says, “How about this one? Or maybe this one? Oooh, look at this other one!”

We came really close to walking out of that store without buying any of the dresses.

2. One Market

I don't want to spend the little space I have for this article to extoll the virtues of niche marketing. But when it comes to writing high-converting sales messages, it goes without saying: trying to be all things to all people is next to impossible.

When it is possible, then your sales message must be generic enough to appeal to everyone, causing the majority in your market to feel you're not focused on them.

(There's that word “focus,” again!)

In order to appeal to everyone, your sales message will be heavily diluted. It will lose clarity. People will feel left out because you're too vague. You will appear indifferent to their situation, and to their specific needs and goals, too.

If you cater to a large, diversified market, I highly encourage that you segment your market and target each segment separately, and write copy that caters to each one.

That is, write copy for each individual and targeted group of people within your market. If your market is made up of two or three (or more) identifiable market groups, write copy for each one — even if the product is the same for everyone.

3. One Outcome

“Click here,” “read my about page,” “here's a link to some testimonials,” “call this number,” “fill out this form,” “don't buy know, just think about it,” “here are my other websites,” “here are 41 other products to choose from,” and on and on… Ack!

When people read your sales copy, and if your copy is meant to induce sales, then you want one thing and one thing only: get the sale! In other words, there's only one thing your readers should do, and that's buy. Or at least your copy should lead them to buy.

In other words, the ultimate outcome should be to buy — every call to action, every piece of copy, every page, every graphic should revolve around this one outcome.

Remember K.I.S.S. (i.e., “keep it straightforwardly simple”).

You would be surprised at how many salesletters I critique where the author asks the reader to do too many things, to choose from too many things, or to jump through so many hoops to get the very thing they want in the first place.

Your copy should focus on one call to action only, or one ultimate outcome. Forget links to other websites or pages that are irrelevant to the sale. Forget irrelevant forms and distractions. Why invite procrastination with too many calls-to-action?

In fact, I believe that the goal is not to elicit action but to prevent procrastination.

Because when people hit your website, whether they found you on a search engine after searching for information, were referred to you by someone else, or read about you somewhere online, then they are, in large part, interested from the get-go.

So your job is not to get them to buy, really. They're already interested. They're ready to buy. Your job (i.e., your copy's job), therefore, is to get them not to go away.

Ultimately, focus on the reader. One, single reader.

This is probably the thing you need to focus on the most. The most common blunders I see being committed in copy is the lack of focus in a sales message, particularly on the individual reading the copy and the value you specifically bring to them.

In my experience as a copywriter, I find that some people put too much emphasis on the product, the provider, and even the market (as a whole), and not enough on the most important element in a sales situation: the customer.

That is, the individual reading the copy at that very moment.

Don't focus your copy on your product and the features of your product — and on how good, superior, or innovative they are. And don't even focus on the benefits.

Instead, focus on increasing perceived value with them. Why? Because perception is personal. It's intimate. It's ego-centric. Let me explain.

When you talk about your product, you're making a broad claim. Everyone makes claims, especially online. “We're number one,” “we offer the highest quality,” “it's our best version yet,” etc. (Often, my reaction is, “So what?”)

And describing benefits is just as bad.

Benefits are too broad, in my opinion. You were probably taught that a feature is what a product has and a benefit is what that feature does. Right? But even describing benefits is, in my estimation, making a broad claim, too.

The adage goes, “Don't sell quarter-inch drills, sell quarter-inch holes.”

But holes alone don't mean a thing to someone who might have different uses, reasons or needs for that hole. So you need to translate benefits into more meaningful benefits.

You see, a claim always looks self-serving. It also puts you in a precarious position, as it lessens your perceived value and makes your offer suspect — the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish by making claims in the first place.

Therefore, don't focus on the benefits of a certain feature. Rather, focus on how those features specifically benefit the individual. Directly. Personally. Intimately.

There is a difference. A big difference.

The more you explain what those claims specifically mean to the prospect, the more you will sell. It's not the features that counts and it's not even benefits. It's the perceived value. So how do you build perceived value?

The most common problem I see when people attempt to describe benefits is when what they are really describing are advantages — or glorified features, so to speak. Real benefits are far more personal and intimate.

That's why I prefer to use this continuum:

Features ► Advantages ► Benefits

Of course, a feature is what a product has. And an advantage (or what most people think is a benefit) is what that feature does. But…

… A benefit is what that feature means.

A benefit is what a person intimately gains from a specific feature. When you describe a feature, say this: “What this means to you, Mr. Prospect, is this (…),” followed by a more personal gain your reader gets from using the feature.

Let me give you a real-word example.

A client once came to me for a critique of her copy. She sold an anti-wrinkle facial cream. It's often referred to as “microdermabrasion.” Her copy had features and some advantages, but no benefits. In fact, here's what she had:

Features:

  1. It reduces wrinkles.
  2. It comes in a do-it-yourself kit.
  3. And it's pH balanced.

Advantages:

  1. It reduces wrinkles, so it makes you look younger.
  2. It comes in a kit, so it's easy to use at home.
  3. And it's pH balanced, so it's gentle on your skin.

This is what people will think a benefit is, such as “younger,” “easy to use” and “gentle.” But they are general. Vague. They're not specific and intimate enough. So I told her to add these benefits to her copy…

Benefits:

  1. It makes you look younger, which means you will be more attractive, you will get that promotion or recognition you always wanted, you will make them fall in love with you all over again, they will never guess your age, etc.
  2. It's easy to use at home, which means you don't have to be embarrassed — or waste time and money — with repeated visits to the doctor's office… It's like a facelift in a jar done in the privacy of your own home!
  3. It's gentle on your skin, which means there are no risks, pain or long healing periods often associated with harsh chemical peels, surgeries and injections.

Now, those are benefits!

Remember, copywriting is “salesmanship in print.” You have the ability to put into words what you normally say in a person-to-person situation. If you were to explain what a feature means during an encounter, why not do so in copy?

The more benefit-driven you are, the more you will sell. In other words, the greater the perceived value you present, the greater the desire for your product will be. And if they really want your product, you'll make a lot of money.

It's that simple.

In fact, like a face-to-face, one-on-one sales situation (or as we say in sales training, being “belly to belly” with your prospect), you need to denominate as specifically as possible the value your offer brings to your readers.

In other words, express the benefits of your offer in terms that relate directly not only to your market, but also and more importantly:

  1. To each individual in that market
  2. And to each individual's situation.

Don't focus on your product. Focus on your readers. Better yet, focus on how the benefits of your offer appeal to the person that's reading them. And express how your offer benefits your prospect in terms they can intimately relate to, too.

Look at it this way:

  • Use terms the prospect is used to, appreciates and fully understands. (The mind thinks in relative terms. That's why the use of analogies, stories, examples, metaphors, and testimonials is so important! Like “facelift in a jar,” for example.)
  • Address your reader directly and forget third-person language. Don't be afraid to use “you,” “your,” and “yours,” as well as “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” Speak to your reader as if in a personal conversation with her.
  • Use terms that trigger their hormones, stroke their egos, tug their heartstrings, and press their hot buttons. You don't need to use puffery with superlative-laden copy. Just speak to your reader at an intimate level. An emotional level.

Because the worst thing you can do, second to making broad claims, is to express those claims broadly. Instead, appeal to their ego. Why? Because…

… We are all human beings.

Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising (one of the best books on copywriting), once noted we are not far evolved from chimpanzees. “Just far enough to be dangerous to ourselves,” copywriter Peter Stone once noted.

He's not alone. My friend and copywriter Paul Myers was once asked during an interview, “Why do people buy from long, hypey copy?” His short answer was, “Human beings are only two feet away from the cave.”

(Speaking of Eugene Schwartz, listen to his speech. It's the best keynote speech on copywriting. Ever. Click hear to listen to it. You can also get a copy of his book, too, called “Breakthrough Advertising.” I read mine several times already.)

People buy for personal wants and desires, and for selfish reasons above all. Whether you sell to consumers or businesses, people are people are people. It's been that way for millions of years.

And nothing's changed.

Your message is just a bunch of words. But words are symbols. Different words mean different things to different people. Look at this way: while a picture is worth a thousand words, a word is worth a thousand pictures.

And the words you choose can also be worth a thousand sales.

Categories
Copywriting

New To Copywriting? Start Here…

As part of my coaching program, students can ask me unlimited questions via email. One common question I seem to get is, “I'm new to copywriting, where do I start?”

Since my coaching students also get access to any of my digital programs, they also get access to my private website, where I share over 50 hours of salesletter and copy critiques, recorded on video. It's a great start.

But one student said something that struck me:

“I learn better by doing than by watching. Is there anything you can recommend?”

Great question. Some people are more visual (they learn better by watching), some are more aural or auditory (by hearing), others are more kinesthetic (by doing or feeling). And I also thought it would be a great question to cover on my blog. So, here goes…

#1: Courses

If you want some basic guidance to get you started, there's a course I recommend, which is really popular and pretty well-rounded. It's theSix-Figure Copywriting course by the American Writers And Artists Institute (AWAI). I own a copy myself, and it's pretty good.

It's a great primer if you're just starting out and want to learn the fundamentals of writing good copy. There are some advanced topics, but I like it more for its basic training.

The reason I also recommend it is, for those kinesthetic students who prefer to do the work, which I applaud, the AWAI course offers assignments with the curriculum. And you get graded on those, too, and they give you feedback along the way.

(I've never handed in any work myself, so I'm not exactly sure how the process is done. But even with just buying the course, I've pulled a few gems and used them.)

One course I've co-authored and recommend is The Copywriting Success System with Ken Calhoun. This course offers training from basic to advanced, including understanding the writing process, formulas, and using tools to boost your chops.

In it, I also offer my formulas I recommend and personally use, such as my OATH formula (for determining the stage of awareness of your market), QUEST formula (the proper structure of a salesletter), FAB formula, the storytelling process, and more.

Finally, here's a product I intimately know and highly recommend.

Daniel Levis is not only an amazing copywriter himself, but he also created a product that packages brilliant interviews with some of the best copywriters on the planet. He grills top names in the business — some of whom have never given interviews before.

Those interviews are worth the price of admission.

#2: Websites

Next, check out this blog and look on the right for “most popular posts.” It contains links to some of the most viewed articles, which I recommend for someone learning the ropes — including some of the formulas I talk about in my copywriting course above.

Another fantastic resource is Brian Clark, a lawyer-turned-copywriter who has some of the best copywriting articles online. His blog, CopyBlogger, offers an entire section called Copywriting 101, which contains articles I recommend to anyone just starting out.

I'm sure you also know about Gary Halbert's repository of articles. There are tons of great stuff in there. Don't forget my interviews with the late Gary Halbert on this blog.

There are many other sources, too. There are tons of copywriting blogs out there. Or ask other copywriters in popular forums. There are also copywriting forums, too.

But the very best learning process I've found, particularly for kinesthetics (and visuals alike), is to take a successful salesletter and write it out, word for word, by hand. This is by far the best way to learn because it enables you to internalize the information.

There are tons of copywriting newsletters out there, too. One I particularly love is John Forde's Copywriters Rountable, of which I've been a subscriber for years. Some of these blogs and newsletters offer swipe files or examples you can easily copy by hand.

Another great way to get your hands on some of the best salesletters out there is to visit Clickbank's Marketplace. Just click on the “Marketplace” link at the top of the page.

Look at some of the most popular items being sold. But don't stop there. Check out the listings in your preferred category (I tend to check the “Marketing and Ads” section).

With each product they list, which are listed in order of rank (by sales and popularity), you get the actually sales copy link, with a number of useful stats to gauge how good the salesletter is — such as payouts, percentages, gravity score, and more.

Reason is, you want to do this exercise with only salesletters that are proven to sell.

#3: Books

Finally, let's not forgot some of the most popular books on copywriting. Many of these are timeless classics, which all copywriters should have in their library. I certainly do.

There are quite a few of them. So rather than list them all here, let me share with you my top favorite ones. (I own a copy of all of these. And my copies are note-filled, dog-eared and heavily used. For good reason. So I highly recommend them.)

Hopefully, these resources will get you started and point you in the right direction.