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?