2010-02-09_1141Basically, augmenting a reader’s reality means either:

a) getting her to see more of what’s there, to notice previously overlooked details, or

b) getting her to look past the surface to see intangibles, relationships, processes, or

c)  both a & b

This isn’t a technique given to systemization, but there are ways to spark your thinking process.  One I particularly like is something I stole from the field of Tagmemics.  Below is an extremely abbreviated discussion of it.

You can understand just about any object by means of:

  • Contrast: how is a donut different from funnel cakes or doughboys or cinnamon roles, etc.  What makes a donut a donut and not something else?
  • Variation: how cake donuts, glazed donuts, fruit filled donuts, etc. are all donuts.  How little chocolate donuts in a box at the convenience store and fresh-baked donuts from Crispy Kreme are both donuts.
  • Context: how donuts are typically a breakfast food, how they’re often paired with coffee, in what situation donuts are eaten, what are the cultural connotations and associations of donuts, etc.

Likewise, you can also think of an object in terms of:

  • A particle or thing: a donut as just that, a donut
  • A wave or dynamic process: a donut in terms of eating a donut.
  • A field or network of relationships: donuts as a cultural and culinary force

Augmenting a reader’s reality often means moving them from understanding something simply in terms of contrast to looking at context. Or from seeing something as a thing/particle to seeing it as a dynamic process or a network of relationships.

The most obvious example might be to take someone who sees coffee just in terms of the simple hot steaming cup o’ joe in front of them to seeing that cup of coffee as an opportunity to either actively support fair trade practices that enable the coffee farmers to earn a decent living from the sale of their crops, or to support some exploitative corporation.

For the most part, fair trade coffee looks and tastes just like regular coffee, but we gladly pay a premium price for the intangibles attached – as long as someone has taught us to see and value them.  As long as we’ve been provided with that bit of augmented reality.

2010-02-09_1047Of course, those kind of intangibles have to be baked into the product itself. They usually can’t be created out of thin air through copy alone.  When J. Peterman concentrated on only acquiring and selling items of authentic romance (emphasis on the authentic part), his company went from a single space-ad in the New Yorker selling cowboy dusters to $70 million in annual revenue in a few years, arguably on the strength of the catalogue copy.

J. Perterman copy was legendary for transforming a shirt into something much more than a shirt.  The copy “augmented” one’s perspective on J. Perterman’s clothing, usually by leaning heavily on context and relationship. Here’s an example from their current web catalogue:

Cold ComfortEvery season, before they become the boys of summer, baseball players have to get through April.

Like Opening Day in 1907. Giants hosting the Phillies a day after a snowstorm blanketed New York. The crew at the Polo Grounds barely finished shoveling in time for the first pitch.

A few weeks later, it was the White Sox home opener against the Browns. There was no snow, but when St. Louis starter Harry Howell took to the mound it was a chilly 38 degrees.

It would go down as one of the coldest Aprils in baseball history. 2646-msw-line-1Luckily for the players, the equipment managers had a duffle bag full of these.

Vintage Baseball Sweater (No. 2646).Last seen at the turn of the 20th century in places like Coogan’s Hollow, Crosely Field and Comiskey Park, it got players through the first 10 games of every season. You know, those days when the skies are gray, the foul pole white with early morning frost, and the players’ breath as thick as the mustard on the hot dogs.

Substantial, five-gauge 100% lambswool, it’s the perfect weight for early spring or late fall. Wear the collar up or down.”

Makes you desire the product far more than you might otherwise want a button-up cardigan, huh?

But in late 1999 the company slid into bankruptcy with the same copywriters writing the catalogue copy.  What changed?  According to J. Peterman himself, it was a loss of focus; they started selling all sorts of stuff not hand-picked by himself or staff that had been trained by him – stuff lacking authentic romance.

And while there were undoubtedly other business pressures and dynamics at play in the demise of the company, I’d be willing to bet that the copy suffered when the objects themselves no longer had authentic romance baked into them. You just can’t augment what isn’t there and never was there to begin with.

The good news?

  1. If you’ve got something with a genuine appeal, you’re way ahead of the game
  2. Most items and services are more interesting than you might think – especially to the person in dire need of it.  Often times, the authentic stories are there to be found, and as a copywriter, you just have to dig a bit to uncover them.

LynchpinLast week a friend told me I was (very briefly) mentioned in Seth Godin’s latest book.  So being the vain little schmuck that I am, I made sure to check it out at the airport book store before my flight home.  Sure enough, on page 61 Seth speaks about, and coins the term, “Krulak’s Law” partially based upon an old GrokDotCom post of mine.

Here’s the Law:

The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.

It’s called Krulak’s Law because Marine Corps Commandant General Charles C. Krulak was one of the very first people to see the consequences of an ever-present and hyper-democritized media. Here’s a brief excerpt on what he had to say about it in his seminal 1999 article titled, The Strategic Corporal:

“In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests – the Strategic Corporal.”

My blog post merely pointed out that this dynamic was hardly unique to the Military.  Businesses must also come to grips with this reality in light of the damage – and good – that can be done to a brand by frontline employees.  Here’s a few examples of this:

Basically, the more you are willing to push decision-making and responsibility down the organization and the more you’re willing to hire and train people to thrive in this kind of organization, the better off you’ll be in a 2010 world of interconnectivity, social media, and online reviews.

Even for online businesses, help desks and customer service reps can save sales or flush them away depending on both their skill and their level of empowerment to fix situations.

Every touchpoint with your business matters, even – no especially – the ones you may not give any thought to when thinking about your marketing.  In some ways it’s the clean bathrooms syndrome – except with the added threat of having pictures of your “dirty bathroom” broadcast throughout the WWW.

Bottom Line: if your organization hasn’t yet come to grips with Krulak’s Law, now’s the time.

So like a bonehead I managed to leave behind my beloved Logitech VX Nano computer mouse on a recent trip, and I needed a new mouse fast.

Which was just the excuse I needed to try out Apple’s new Magic Mouse.

Now, few people fully believe me when I tell them the research on how 67% of e-commerce Website visitors who land on a site looking to buy end up NOT buying because they don’t get their questions answered.

And I think the reason most people don’t fully “get-it” is because their conception of a “question” is perhaps too narrowly focused.  But more than that, I think it’s because the marketers and Web people just don’t put themselves in enough buying scenarios.  They don’t focus in on the precipitating events that cause people to buy, and how those events affect the immediate concerns of the buyer.

And I thought my most recent purchasing adventure might shed light on this:

I want a Magic Mouse and I need it fast.  No problem, I’ll just pick one up at Best Buy, right? Nope.  They’re fresh out.

Maybe I can order one on Amazon through Amazon Prime? Nope. That mouse wasn’t eligible for Amazon Prime. Sigh.

I can always buy the darn thing directly through Apple’s Online Store, right? Yeah, but how soon can they get it to me? I’m using my old piece-of-crap Apple Mighty Mouse and too many days of that will drive me up a wall. I need this new mouse STAT!

Well, let’s check it out.  Here’s what I see on Amazon’s order page: Apple Order Page

Notice the red-circled “ships within” statement by the picture of the mouse.  That’s good, but 24 hours covers a fairly long time.It was Sunday evening and if the thing didn’t ship until Monday evening, I might not get the mouse until Wednesday.   Frankly, I needed it faster than that.

Now, look at the 2nd red-circle and you’ll see that, when selecting next-day shipping, I had to enter my zip code.  With all that info, Apple should have been able to give me an “Estimated arrival date: Feb 2” type notice.

But I couldn’t get that from the site, and because I was a motivated customer, I called their phone number to get the info from customer service. Customer service worked brilliantly and they gave me 2 very-much-needed pieces of info to close the sale:

  1. Yes, outside of bizarre happenings, I’d get the mouse Tuesday
  2. If I didn’t get it Tuesday, Apple policy allowed me to get my express shipping fee refunded

So I ordered the mouse and it arrived on Tuesday.  Cool.

But what if I hadn’t quite been that motivated to call? What if I naturally preferred to order it directly through Apple, but could have gotten this product somewhere else?

The simple answer is that I likely wouldn’t have called and would have gone to another site to buy the thing (or a logitech mouse) – a site that would have given me the answers I needed in order to buy!

So what should Apple do?

In the last red circle on the screenshot, I think they should have the estimated arrival date(s) for items, and for customers selecting express shipping, they should display their refund policy for late arrivals.  So that the screen might look a bit more like this:


Obviously, Apple would want to A/B test this (as would anyone), as this very well might cause a few more people to take advantage of Apple’s refund policy.  But I’d be willing to bet the added cost would be more than made up for by increased orders and increased express shipping orders.

Apple caters to a clientele that can typically more than afford their “gotta have it” stuff, and that are typically impatient to get their grubby little hands on whatever it is they’re offering.  In other words, time is more important to their customers than money.

So answering customer questions about time would likely result in more orders for Apple.

Heck, they darn near missed my order, if it hadn’t been for their clearly published phone number and excellent customer service rep (and those points are e-commerce lessons unto themselves)…

But don’t limit this phenomenon to mere questions of item arrival, this dynamic applies to almost any question about your product related to the precipitating event surrounding your customer’s decision to buy – they can all make or break a sale.

The important questions for you are: have you considered your buyers’ precipitating events? And does your Website answer your prospects’ questions?

Or are you content with losing sales that should have been yours?

P.S. Not thrilled with the magic mouse.  It’s heavy, doesn’t slide that well, and the shape is rather un-ergonomic compared to my Logitech VX Nano. Still getting used to it, though, so I might change my mind. If you have one or are ordering one, you’ll probably want to download this bit of software to accompany it: magicprefs.com

Groundhog DayWidely considered a modern classic, showcasing one of Bill Murray’s finest performances, Groundhog Day is rightly celebrated as sublime romantic comedy.  But while I bet you like the movie, too, I’d also bet you probably never guessed at the amount of subtext and profundity in the film.  Seriously.

Check out this short essay from Touchstone Magazine – it’s a fun read and you’ll be blown away at everything the author reveals about the film:

Phil’s Shadow

P.S.  Good writers are good readers.  Increasing your ability to understand why and how authors (and directors) are able to weave their spells will make you a better writer.  So don’t blow this off just because it’s not a copywriting-specific how-to piece.

Augmented_Reality-1Technically, augmented reality is confined to iPhones, iPhone competitors, and other advanced DARPA-like experimental gadgets. But that’s an idiotic techno-geek understanding of the phenomenon.

In truth, culture is the ultimate augmented reality.

As most people understand it, augmented reality technology overlays information onto the visual landscape being viewed through the smart phone/head-up display/gadget. Think of it as a real-time mash-up of info overlayed onto whatever you’re currently viewing.

But if augmented reality adds additional info onto what we normally see, it’s probably worth asking if we ever really see anything without “augmentation.”

Do you see a BMW as just a car, or do you read much more into those flying propellers? Does a person wearing a harvard sweatshirt come across merely as someone wearing a sweatshirt, or do the cultural implications of Harvard University “augment” your view of the person wearing that sweatshirt?

From this perspective, all branding is an attempt at augmented reality. So is all education and all culture.  And perhaps on of the more amusing amalgams of all three would be Foster’s “How to Speak Australian” commercials:

YouTube Preview Image

I’m almost surprised Fosters hasn’t already come up with an iPhone augmented reality app loosely based around the premise of the ads.

Paul_Cézanne,_Still_Life_With_Apples,_c._1890Yes, “augmentation” happens all the time and often blinds us as much as it aids. Once taught that an apple is an “apple,” we quickly pass through the 2-year old’s fascination with it to see the apple as “only an apple”  – to the point where it takes all of Cézanne’s painterly talent to rescue apple from “apple” and get us to see the thing sans “augmentation.”

And so it is with copywriting.  Good copy often approaches subjects from an unusual perspective so as to “trick” the reader into seeing what’s really there – to overcome the dysfunctional cultural cues that cause us to dismiss things from consciousness.

A more humorous and superficial example of augmented reality at work within copywriting would be this bit of copy from Best Made Axe:

“When you own a good ax, you see the world differently. Scrap wood in the yard? Kindling. Ugly table? Kindling. Overdue library book? Kindling. Spouse? Someone who would love a beautiful bespoke ax this holiday! Best Made Axes are the deluxest woodcutters out there, with hand-finished hickory handles and fine-grain steel heads. They even come in custom wooden crates. (Kindling.)”

axeup1But the far more serious and powerful example would be the actual “augmentation” of perception that Best Made Axe has pulled off within its customer base.  After exposure to Best Made Axe, these customers no longer see an axe as a utilitarian tool.  They now see an axe (or at least a Best Made Axe) as a talisman, symbol, design element, and entrance ticket or initiation into a more self sufficient, virtuous, and (dare I say?) manly, world.  Hence the company’s ability to sell out full production of $250-$500 axes.  Axes whose technical/functional merit is likely no better than most $100 axes.

Yes, Seth Godin is right: starting a profitable brand in today’s world is very much the same as starting a “tribe.” What his readers often fail to grasp is that starting a tribe requires the creation of a worthwhile sub-culture.  And that means creating a (functionally useful) augmented reality for tribe members/users of your product.

Wanna-be marketers fail because they don’t select an “augmented” reality that will help the tribe members – A reality that is more true than the one it’s supposed to replace or add to. Instead they hope to induce a delusion or infatuation around their product for purely selfish reasons. But a cult of personality is not a tribe.

So the question for you is: are you offering the world a better culture and greater insight, or are you merely peddling a self-serving delusion?  Are you helping us see more of what’s really there, or are you hoping to add “the light that never was” onto a substandard product?

If your answer is the former, might I suggest that learning increases resolution? That your copy might provide more than a little learning disguised as artful fun, or serve to convey a bit of that high-res user experience. And that blogging/content marketing is often the best way to augment your readers’ reality over time.

The bottom line: augmented reality isn’t an iPhone app; it’s the ultimate marketing app.

Are you using it in your marketing?