by Jeff

gossipYou’re thinking of buying something or some service and an acquintance says, “Don’t do it; I bought that/hired them and it was a total waste of money.  I got screwed.”

Do you trust that acquaintance enough to let them sway your decision? Generally speaking, yes.

But if you’re on Amazon, looking at an interesting book, and you see a handful of 5-star reviews, many claiming that this is “The Best” book on the subject, do you trust the positive reviews?

Well, it depends on how well written and substantiated the reviews are, etc. But generally speaking, no, you don’t really trust them.  All else being equal, we tend to give far less credence to positive reviews than negative ones.

Why we trust negative reviews more than positive recommendations

Basically, we grant others authority in the matter of their own personal experiences. If they say their favorite color is blue, we believe them.  If they say they had a bad experience with such and such a product or service provider, we believe that too, because they are speaking from their own personal experience in that one situation.

You don’t have to be an expert on vacum cleaners to know that the one you bought has failed you miserably. And your experience alone is often enough to sway someone from buying that brand.

But a general recommendation is different. The ability to credibly make a positive recommendation requires more than just personal experience with a given product. For a recommendation to be persuasive, the reader must have faith in the reviewer’s overall judgement and in their field-specific knowledge.

You can tell me you liked a specific type of ergonomic chair, but your experience alone isn’t enough to make me want to buy that chair because there are a lot of good chairs out there and I’m not looking for good – I’m looking for the best my money can buy.

In order to persuade me that the chair you bought is the best chair for my money, you have to have more than just your experience with the chair.  You need to have broad knowledge and expertise (or at least experience) with the top ergonomic chairs on the market so that you can compare multiple chairs and competently pick out the best performing chair for the money.

To believe and act on your recommendation, I’d need to know:

  • that your use of the chair is similar to mine,
  • that you’ve already tried a bunch of chairs, and
  • what your criteria were for selecting the chair you did.

All this over and above your personal experience with the chair you eventually bought and recommended.

See the difference?

A Social Media “Friend” isn’t necessarily a friend

A lot has been made recently about studies purporting to show that people trust their friends less and experts more. It’s well worth looking at the study, but be careful about applying this too broadly.

First of all, what the study is really saying is that people trust anonymous reviews less than recommendations stemming from an authoritative source.  Well, duh!

Does that mean reviews and testimonials have lost importance?  Hell no.  Keeping in mind what we just discussed, here’s what I believe it means:

  1. Negative reviews can still have an outsized impact.
  2. Positive reviewers need to substantiate their unbiased nature and subject matter expertise.

Sean D’Souza is ahead of the curve, as usual

What this really reminds me of is Sean D’Souza’s advice on Testimonials, advice that clearly understood (and masterfully leveraged) this phenomena several years ago when his product first came out.  He used to give the PDF away to members of his newsletter, but the product he’s selling now for $40 is well worth it, in my humble opinion – and I’ve sampled more than my fair share of copywriting books, info-products, and guru advice 😉

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?



by Jeff

2009-12-23_0111Conversion Optimization consultants, more than a few copywriters, and most SEO experts used to look down on Flash-based sites.

Flash sites weren’t well indexed by search engines and had a bad habit of turning a pull medium into a not-so-interactive video.  Oh, and their content was often more gratuitous than persuasive in a flash-animated splash page sort of way.

Most all of that has changed, and we’re really starting to see interactive video come into its own, as is the case with Eloqua’s new promotional/lead generation video.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you really should take a few minutes out of your day to take a look.  And maybe spend a few more minutes to poke around different pathways and responses.

Another great example is Boone Oakley’s “YouTube Website,” as demonstrated by their home page that I’ve embedded below:

YouTube Preview Image

But make sure to look past the technology to see the copywriting.

Yes, you read that right: I said copywriting. That video – including each and every one of it’s forked paths – was planned out, scripted, and storyboarded. The video is cool; the messaging is brilliant.

Viewed through that lens, you’ll notice that most of the core persuasive points remain the same regardless of whether you click on “Marketing” or “Sales” or “Executive.”  What changes is the focus on this or that feature set, the videos ordering of taking points, and the perspective in which some of the material is covered.  Brilliant.  And a technique that Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg pioneered with text-and-hyperlink-based sites.

So while I love the video and I think it represents new opportunities to inject personality and charisma into interactive “conversations,” keep in mind that technology has to support messaging, and the core interactivity involved is no different than that of regular old embedded hyperlinks.  Proper persuasive planning is still required.

Hyper-targeting isn’t new.  Neither is intrusive media.

But a combination of the two… could be incredibly effective.  Just imagine if FaceBook had ads like this Apple Skyscraper/Banner ad:

Apple Ad

Watch the fully animated ad over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog – it’s quite obviously an intrusive ad (in a good way).

For those unfamiliar with the term, intrusive basically equals sound: radio or television, and, to a degree, animated banner ads.  It’s intrusive because you can’t close your ears and the ads interrupt something else that you are doing, like listening to music or watching TV or reading the online version of the NYT.

Yet when it comes to radio and television, selecting the show or station is as targeted as it gets. That’s why they call it mass media and broadcasting.  Direct mail, on the other hand, can be targeted by gender, age, income, buying activities, interests, profession, etc – yet still manages to get dumped in the trash unopened and un-looked at a shocking percentage of the time.

Which brings us back to the target-ability of Facebook ads.  Want to only show your ads to mothers of 3 kids between the ages of 32-38 who live on the west side of Newport, RI?  No sweat.  Want to make sure those same mothers of three actually LOOK at your ad?  Houston we have a problem.

2009-11-04_2345As of now, FaceBook ads are mostly static and entirely without sound.  There also kind of, um, spammy. Without motion or sound to attract members’ attention, most ads end up looking like the example to the left.

But banner ads/online space ads don’t have to be that way, as the recent Apple ad proves.  Nor does FaceBook have to give up editorial control on what kind of ads get run.  Just like many fashion magazines already do, FaceBook could require ads to meet a certain non-annoying or cool threshold.

Flash driven ads with sound that had a high creative threshold could prove to be the best of both worlds.  You’d get targeted ads that are also intrusive enough to seduce FaceBook viewers away from their newsfeeds long enough to watch and click through.

What do you think?

“Check out my blog” I tweeted, and almost nobody did – I got exactly what I deserved

But I learned my lesson.

So a day or two later, I tweeted the following: “Why telling the truth rarely works,” along with a link to my post, Does Your Copy Tell or Compel. That’s when a fair following of people clicked through to my blog.

  • My first tweet was all about me, no matter how humbly or simply I worded it, so few readers responded.
  • The follow-up tweet promised an interesting read on a topic my audience cared about – it was all about them and they responded accordingly.
  • In both cases I got exactly what I deserved

Here’s how this works outside of Twitter headlines

Let’s say you own a local restaurant.  If you have a FaceBook page, what do you think should be on it?

Of course, you’ll likely have some pictures of the restaurant up, and maybe even the menu, but what should the majority of your status updates focus on?

If you’re aiming to deserve social media success, here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Announcement of FB-friend only specials. Doesn’t have to be a savings or sale, it could simply be an off-menu special that only your FB friends know about.
  2. Pictures of your guests (posted with their permission). Take photos of your patrons and diners and ask them either for their FB names so you can tag them in the photos, or encourage them to Friend you and tag the photos themselves.
  3. A few behind-the-scenes pics and comments to let people know about the extra effort you go through to make sure the food is outstanding.  Let them see some of your passion without making too big a deal about it.

Notice that 2 out of 3 recommended updates are focused on your customers – it’s all about them – and that even the last item is indirectly about the customer, as the customers are the focus and beneficiaries of all the hard work and passion the suggested updates would be documenting. Former Grok readers will recognize this as a case of customer-centric versus we-we copy.

And the great thing about this near universal principle?  You can test it for yourself with almost no risk or investment. Social Media provides near-instant feedback and your test can be as close as your next tweet, status update, or blog post.

Give it a shot and see if these principles don’t work for you.  I already know they’ve worked for me and for my wife’s photography business.