So, today being All Saints Day, I couldn’t help but think of intercessory prayer and the idea of intercession in general. Thoughts which somehow made their way over to marketing, and word of mouth advertising in particular.
For those unfamiliar with the terms intercede and intercession, to intercede for someone is to act as both a go-between and advocate for them to some other person or authority. If a friend of yours has ever been friends with a girl (or boy) you wanted to date, and you asked your friend for an introduction and endorsement, then you probably already intuitively understand the concept.
Now, most businesses make the mistake of thinking that WOM is a form of intercession; they think that the customer endorsed the company out of a desire to help out the company. Generally speaking, that’s simply not the case. Unless your business is a charity or the customer in question is a personal friend or relative, most WOM recommendations are not motivated by the customer’s desire to help you, the business.
In fact, most Word of Mouth is meant to benefit the customer who provides it. I’m not being cynical nor am I referring to direct kickbacks, affiliate links, and loyalty rewards; I’m simply pointing out that the benefits of WOM are typically every bit as social in nature as the act itself. Here’s how it works:
- The customer benefits from what her knowledge, discernment, and association with the business says about her, and
- The customer benefits by the built up goodwill that the recommendation gains her
If I recommend a really cool place to eat or a particularly fabulous product, or even way-above-average carpet cleaner, then — assuming the recommendation pans out — I end up looking just a bit more in-the-know or with-it or relatable. And this same dynamic extends to more professional or corporate realms as well; having the know-how to recommend a great Word Press theme, relevant blogger/author, or graphic designer augments your professional status.
Much the same can be said of the goodwill that develops if I save you from a crisis by recommending just the right service provider or product. You’ll remember the recommendation as a favor or help — again, assuming that my recommendation pans out.
So why don’t more people spread the word via WOM?
Because of the “assuming it pans out” caveat. Theres’s a risk to WOM recommendations as well as a reward. If I recommend you and the advice proves ill-founded, it reflects back on me.
So how can you minimize the risk and maximize the reward?
- Give them something they can bank on — I can’t bank on service because service is variable with the server; you might not get the same consultant, waiter, or technical support staff member that I did. But I can bank on hand-tossed pizza and an exposed wood fired oven, or a service guarantee, or certain gratuitous services that are always offered. So whatever you want customers to talk about, make sure they can be confident that your WOM-worthy element will be there for the person they send your way. Make sure they can be confident that their recommendation will pan out.
- Give them something they can talk about - Roy Williams breaks WOM-worthy business elements down into three categories: Architectural, Kinetic, and Generous. So the exposed wood-fired stove would be an architectural WOM trigger, the hand-tossing of the pizza dough would be a kinetic trigger, and the free house-wine offered with every large pizza would be a generous trigger. Notice how these elements also meet the “bankable” criteria.
- Make what you stand for easily shared through stories — If you have a great “how I got into this business” story, or strong core values that are proven through actual business-practices, then you should make sure your clients and customers know those stories. You should make sure the public knows those stories. That way a recommendation for your business helps to associate the referring customer with values she shares and admires while also giving that customer a neat story to share.
- Give referred customers a great deal and go easy on benefits for the referring client — Let your client feel that she wasn’t just passing along a great recommendation, but helping their friends and acquaintances get a deal they couldn’t otherwise get. Don’t make your clients feel guilty or conflicted by giving them a too-big reward for recommending you. Remember, outside of well-defined affiliate marketing campaigns, clients recommend you largely for social benefit/reasons, and providing a large commercial benefit kills the social nature of the recommendation.
And those are my thoughts on this All Saints Day. But I’d love to hear yours…
What have been your experiences with WOM marketing and recommendations? Are you one of the exceptions where customers really were pulling for you and interceding on your behalf rather than just talking you up as an act of social grooming? Let me know.
Isn’t flicking on the lights the first thing you do when walking into a dark room, even to the point of reaching your hand around the door frame to find and actuate the light switch before you’ve even technically entered the room? And how many of us just plain leave the lights on even if we’re not in the room? Bottom line: we want to see where we’re going, even if it means wasting electricity.
It’s no different online.
People want to know where a link will take them before they click a link. They want to know what will happen next before they click the submit button. Visitors want reassurance that an action isn’t irrevocable or a click won’t bring them somewhere they don’t want to go. In fact, a large proportion of Web design best practices are based around this single principle:
- Point of Action Assurances reassure visitors that you won’t sell their info or spam them and/or that your shopping cart is safely encrypted and their purchase is money-back guaranteed
- Proper hyperlink construction allows visitors to predict where the link points and what kind of content awaits them on the other side of the link
- Well-made check-out processes show shoppers where they are in the process and what steps are left
- Call to Action Buttons announce their importance through visually prominence and 3-dimensional design/lighting effects that make the buttons look “clickable.”
- Great Product Photos help people see what they’re really buying, just like great product copy and user reviews help describe the ownership experience
- “Working With Us” and/or “Our Methodology” Pages along with timelines all help prospective clients see what engaging your services will be like and they all boost lead gen conversion
- And so on.
With that in mind, take a look at this A/B test described by Anne Holland’s Which Test Won. Does it surprise anyone that the version which tells visitors what happens next converts 190% better?
Maybe not. But let me ask you: are there places on your Website where you’re failing to tell visitors what to expect?Does your Web design unintentionally turn the lights off on prospective customers?
Any copywriter worth a darn has heard of WIIFM — What’s In It For Me. Every prospective customer is constantly asking that question and copy that fails to provide a compelling answer, well, fails.
But prospective customers want to know more than just WIIFM, they want to know What’s In It For You (or WIIFY)? In other words, why are you offering me such a good deal? What do you get out of it?
WIIFM grabs attention, but WIIFM without credibility comes off as a scam. You could be literally mailing people $100 bills free of charge and get no conversions, because people can’t possibly see the upside for you. The more the deal sounds too good to be true, the more the copy has to answer WIIFY, typically in the form of “How we can afford to sell at these prices.” And perhaps the greatest example of WIIFY is the legendary “Frustrated Contractor” letter.
Written by John Young for Jim Abrams’ HVAC company, the direct mail sales letter made both of them rich and has since been used by every every single HVAC business in the US and credited with producing $1 billion in HVAC sales. What does it say? Well, you can download a current version of the letter — still in use — here. But the short answer is that it headlines with WIFFM and then immediately switches to WIFFY.
In other words, the letter promises to sell the customer a brand new, high-end furnace and A/C unit for thousands less than normal price — so long as the customer buys in the winter. Why? Because HVAC guys are busy in the summer but unable to keep their employees busy in the winter, creating frustrated businessmen watching their installers get paid to sit around watching day-time TV. Prospects get a great deal (WIIFM) and contractors move some inventory during the slow season while keeping their guys busy (WIIFY).
Variations on the letter will also mention the owner having ordered or been left with too many HVAC systems in inventory and the need to clear them out, etc. But the point is that the letter’s sounds-too-good-to-be-true offer gained credibility in the eyes of the prospect by addressing WIIFY — what was in it for the contractor.
How This Applies to Branding
The problem with WIFFY as it is applied to sales letters and event advertising is that the level of your credibility is often tied to a passing or seasonal dynamic. To use an example from the Robert Collier Letter Book, a clothier was able to offer incredible prices on Madras Shirts because the mill was all-but out of business and sold it’s inventory of shirting fabric at once-in-a-lifetime prices. Obviously, that’s a message you can only get away with saying once, otherwise you look like the cheesey car lot guys who hype inventory clearance sales on a year-round basis.
Branding requires a WIIFY that retains relevance and credibility today, tomorrow, next year, etc. That could be a new technology, a direct to the consumer pricing model, or the like. But that doesn’t do you too much good as a copywriter. Either a client has a legitimate competitive edge — and is likely already advertising it — or not.
So what to do?
Nothing Says Your WIFFY Has to Be Economic
As an example, here’s an ad featured in Roy Williams’ recent Monday Morning Memo:
“When I was seven years old, I held my father’s head in my hands as he took his last breath and died. A thing like that stays with you. It helps you understand that relationships – people – are what life’s all about.You gotta tell’em you love’em. This is J.R. Dunn. So now you know why I became a jeweler. Fine jewelry is one of the ways we tell people we love’em. When I got older and fell head-over-heals for Ann Marie, the love of my life, I didn’t have enough money to buy her an engagement ring. She married me anyway. Go figure. But I can promise you this: If you’re thinking of getting engaged to the love of your life, come to J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point. No one in Florida, no one in America, is going to give you a better engagement ring for your money than me. One of the great joys of my life is to make it possible for guys to give the woman they love the diamond she deserves. There was nobody there for me when I needed an engagement ring. But I promiseI’ll be there for you.”
Do you think this ad provides the listener with a WIFFY?
Of course it does, but the WIFFY is emotional, not economic. The listener — or this listener, at least — believes that J.R. Dunn will give him a great deal on an engagement ring because there’s an emotional pay-off for Mr. Dunn. And as always, deep emotions are always linked to self-identity, hence the opening story / Mental Image.
So if you want to create credibility, go beyond WIIFM to WIFFY. And if you want that credibility to last beyond a single sales event, try tying your WIFFY to emotion.
* Photo credit to ihasahotdog
Eight years after it was first published, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art has sold significantly more copies this year than any year following its initial release.
In an industry where writers expect to lose money on their non-fiction books, and further expect their titles to languish, unsold and ignored after the initial publishing push, this books recent surge in sales and popularity represents an incredible success story – one accomplished without a traditional marketing push, or a plug by Oprah (though it darn well deserves it, if you happen to be reading, Ms. Winfrey), or even a re-release from the publisher.
How did Steve do it?
A few reasons come to mind, some more salient than others:
- The book has proved itself a modern classic for its intended audience of writers and regularly makes appearances in Top 10 lists of books for writers. There’s nothing like solid content and great user experience to drive customer evangelization.
- Steve has actively welcomed and encouraged a new audience for his book, one that eventually saw that the book was only superficially about writing or fine art, and was, at heart, a textbook for anyone looking to do valuable, creative, and remarkable work. Don’t underestimate this, not many authors would have bothered to notice the interest of an unanticipated audience, let alone actively welcomed and courted it.
- Steve has given away lots of new content written in the same spirit as the book. He has embraced the counterintuitive notion that giving away content expands your base of fans willing to pay for content.
- Steve has actively engaged with his fans and that increased engagement has resulted in increased sales. This goes beyond just opening his blog to comments and responding to them. In fact, Steve has actively given interviews, appeared in guest posts, been available on Twitter, and generously corresponded with even the lowliest of bloggers.
OK, so the list hardly surprises, right? It basically reads like an online marketer’s checklist of “What’s Working Now.” Who hasn’t been told to “be authentic,” or to “do great work,” or especially to engage in the “gift economy,” after all?
So rather than detailing the oft discussed items within the list, let’s look at the hidden forces and motivations behind the successful implementation of those items.
The Emotional Dynamic Underneath “Authenticity”
The most striking thing about Steve’s success is also the most striking thing about his writing and his “style” in general: his profound ability to relate insight into the human condition in a way that’s practical for those of us slogging through our own work-a-day worlds. If you’re interested in a “from the foxhole” perspective, shared from a generous intent to pass on what actually works down in the mud and the blood and the sweat and the tears, you won’t do better than Steve’s stuff.
But a recommendation to copy this particular virtue of Steve’s sounds suspiciously like yet another exhortation to “be authentic” dressed up in fancier language.
So how do you bridge the gap? How do you imbue your own online marketing efforts with some of the same magic that took a nearly 10-year-old non-fiction book on the psychology of writing and turned it into everyone’s favorite handbook for doing work that matters?
Territory vs. Hierarchy
As it turns out, Steve provides the answer both in his book and in his inaugural Writing Wednesday’s post. Here’s a quote from that post, talking about what separates successful pros at blogging from the also-rans:
“There are many excellent and extremely professional bloggers and their stuff is a pleasure to read. They are making contributions. They’re part of the solution. But I also see no few writers of blogs who are stuck in their own egos. You can tell it from the first sentence, even the first phrase. It’s in their tone of voice. The text reeks of jealousy, pettiness, competitiveness and bile. It’s like the tone academics take when they’re sticking knives in each other’s backs. It has nothing to do with solutions and everything to do with fear, ego and narcissism. They are writing as amateurs. Their aim, though they will deny it even after being waterboarded 283 times, is to advance (or simply preserve) their own egos. I know, because I’ve been in that place. When the happy breakthrough comes for those writers, their work will rise an entire level overnight, then keep rising for levels and levels beyond that.”
With this quote in mind, look at the list again. Now ask yourself how easy any of those things would be if your primary motivation was to climb to a higher place in the pecking order? How easy? How about next to impossible.
Acting out of ego engages a hierarchical mindset, and no one can look to maintain or improve their place in the hierarchy while giving away their best stuff to their audience and fans. You can’t be enamored of your position within the group while fearlessly inviting outsiders to join in. Neither can you comfortably venture outside your group, away from where you hold status, expertise, power, etc. Nor can you reject the urge to second-guess your audience if everything you write, say, and do is aimed at impressing or manipulating them.
In short, the more hierarchical your value system, the more difficult you’ll find “new marketing.”
And yet, we’re practically programmed to think hierarchically in school, at our jobs, and socially. There are the alpha dogs and the under dogs. The queen bees and the wanna-bees. Thinking hierarchically is the default position for most of us, and it’s what our lizard brain/yetzer hara/Resistance steers us towards.
So there’s no jettisoning hierarchical thinking without replacing it with some other mindset; self-identity has to come from somewhere. The other option, as Steven describes it in The War of Art, is to replace hierarchy with territory: claiming a territory of practice/service and drawing your identity through that practice rather than your place in the pecking order. As Steven writes:
“We humans have territories too. Ours are psychological. Stevie Wonder’s territory is the paino. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is the gym. When Bill Gates pulls into the parking lot at Microsoft, he’s on his territory. When I sit down to write, I’m on mine.
What are the qualities of a territory?
1. A territory provides sustenance. Runners know what a territory is. So do rock climbers and kayakers and yogis. Artists and entrepreneurs know what a territory is. The swimmer who towels off after swimming her laps feels a hell of a lot better than the tired, cranky person who dove into the pool 30 minutes earlier.
2. A territory sustains us without external input. A territory is a closed feedback loop. Our role is to put in effort and love; the territory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of wellbeing.
When experts tell us that exercise (or any other effort-requiring activity) banishes depression, this is what they mean.
3. A territory can only be claimed alone. You can team with a partner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need yourself to soak up your territory’s juice.
4. A territory can only be claimed by work. When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he’s on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn’t give, it gives back.
5. A territory returns exactly what you put in. Territories are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infallibly into your account. A territory never devalues. A territory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dollar for dollar”
Beyond that, a territory is where we can go in humility, to serve our higher calling, not as a bid for attention but as a gift to our tribe, specifically, and to the world in general.
As my mentor and partner, Roy Williams says,
“Any goal that begins with the words, ‘My goal is to have…’ is certain to bring unhappiness. Goals that scratch your life-itch are the ones that begin, ‘I will serve people by.…’
…So who are your people and how do you plan to serve them?”
Yet even though it would seem your tribe would come first, and your method of service would come afterwords, in relation to the tribe, this doesn’t often work in a modern and (in an anthropological sense) post-tribal world. You find your territory first, and your tribe will be drawn by what your work has produced.
You identify your territory by knowing what you’d do if you were the last person on earth. What would still be worth doing if there was no one to impress and no way to move up in the pecking order?
And you claim that territory through putting in the work, selflessly, as a professional. When that happens you’re no longer afraid to share your best stuff, because you’re always getting better, always coming up with new stuff. Welcoming new members becomes second nature, as does engaging in open conversation with people regardless of their status in the pecking order.
Territory-based identity, as Steven defines it, makes Web 2.0-style marketing workable. Without it, you’ll be fighting your own instincts and, ultimately, sabotaging your efforts.
And yet, even though following this path makes life easier, Resistance – Resistance in the form of procrastination, rationalization, and ego — gets in the way, making it feel like the harder option. Focusing on claiming your territory through the work helps steel you for those battles against resistance.
Sound like something worth pursuing? Well, realize that this potentially life altering stuff on Territory vs. Hierarchy is compressed into only a few pages of a 165-page book – and the rest of the books is every bit as good, if not better!
Most of the The War of Art is about overcoming resistance, the necessary first step to doing the honest work needed to claim a territory, making it pretty much THE book for creative entrepreneurs who struggle with procrastination.
If that sounds like a must-read book to you, YOU’RE RIGHT! Go buy a copy.
Better yet, buy the new, digital copy for your favorite e-reader for 1/5th the price of the paperback. The sooner you start reading this stuff, the faster you can begin moving past resistance, to claim your territory, and achieve the real work you were meant for.
This guy is awesome. He also has a much longer performance that he put on for TED…
Yes, Dorothy, headlines really are that important. Want to get the hell out of your own personal Kansas and over the rainbow of attention-grabbing success? Great headlines are the ticket to your next whirlwind success.
I’ll be speaking at the Conversion Conference East on October 4th on Headlines that Work. And while I won’t say that I’m an especially brilliant speaker, I can say that I’ve got content worth coming to the event for.
Unlike the vast majority of headline advice that is template-based, of the “Who else wants…” variety, my presentation actually shows attendees how to create compelling headlines from first principles. You’ll finally be able to understand what makes great headlines great and how to make yours a whole lot better.
I know this is sort of a last minute announcement, but if you’re within driving distance of the DC, Northern Virginia area, I’d be thrilled to see you there and happy to share my promo code with you:
The promo code CCE627 provides a $250-discount off of the current rate for all eligible passes.
If you plan on coming, feel free to drop me a line so we can meet up for coffee or something.