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:

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?

prove_it_tshirt-p235665999968993845q6wh_400It’s a rare thing when I take exception to one of Seth Godin’s posts. But his last post on “Too much data leads to not enough belief” had me quibbling.

Of course, there IS a lot that I agree with in the post: namely that people respond to a story and a tribal affiliation far more strongly than they will ever respond to a spreadsheet.  But I guess from a Web perspective, the idea of granularity and data as a hindrance to belief just doesn’t square with my observations.

What I’ve tended to see is the following:

  • People go to the Web to check things out.  They’re specifically researching a purchasing decision and are expecting more data from a Website than from an ad or even a direct mailer.  When you don’t provide that data, people get suspicious.
  • Content rich Websites tend to convert better than content poor sites. That doesn’t mean the data should take center stage or should replace a well-crafted story, just that those people who want to drill down on specifics, well, they want to be able to drill down on specifics.  And they’ll find those specifics from somewhere, even if it’s from an ill-informed opinion on a forum somewhere.
  • The mere presence of (and access to) data is often enough to provide confidence.  Data can sometimes be like a privacy policy, most people just want to know that it exists and that you’re confident enough to show it to them without really wanting to examine it in any great detail.  The mere fact that you have the information and have provided access to it is often enough to engender buyer confidence.

Can you imagine Newton Running being unwilling to show you the science behind their running shoes?  What would that do to your confidence if they wouldn’t show you (or didn’t have any) data from their tests?

Again, I may not need to study their graphs or watch all of their videos or look up their patents, but the very fact that they’re passionate enough to get into the nitty-gritty details with me – the fact that they do actually have data – makes me far more willing to believe them and to buy a pair of their shoes than if they wanted me to just accept their product/idea on faith.

I also think that passionate proof is an essential element of any high-margin or premium product’s Website, which is one of the main reasons I wrote my critique of Best Made Axe’s lack of proof.

To me, data isn’t a hindrance to passionate belief – it’s proof of it. How can you be passionate about an idea, design, or product unless you’re willing to put it to the test and show off the results?

What’s Your Experience

Of course, I’m always willing to hear thoughts from my readers. What do you guys and gals think?  What’s been your experience? Have you ever had a situation where less would have been better when it came to proof and substantiation?

2010-01-19_0934Disappointed and unconvinced, I left their Website scratching my head.

Seth Godin has linked to themSeveral online magazines have featured them, both in articles and within seasonal wish/gift lists.   And, of course, they also have the audacity to call themselves “Best Made Axe,” all of which made me eager to head over to their Website to read up on these (self-labeled) best made axes.

And while their Website (and marketing in general) does some things incredibly well – these guys are routinely selling out of their entire inventory of $200-$500 bespoke axes, after all – there are HUGE gaping holes in the site’s content.  Here’s how their site fails the visitor:

1) No discussion of the painstaking efforts to ensure top quality.

Look, I don’t want to be a jerk, but if you’re going to call yourself “Best Made,” it might be a good idea to substantiate that claim on your site.  Tell me stuff like:

  • What kind of steel are you using for the axe head?
  • What kind of forging process?
  • What kind of heat treatment?
  • What kind of finishing process?
  • Who is doing the forging?
  • How are you attaching the axe head to the hickory handle?
  • What are the ergonomics of the handle?
  • What kind of extreme testing did you do to the finished product?
  • How does the axe perform?
  • How does your axe compare to other axes?
  • In what ways is it actually better made than these other axes?

The Best Made Axe site does none of that.  The most I get is the information that the axe is hand-forged of “fine grain” steel.  Not nearly good enough – at least not when you want me to spend between 2X and 8X the price of a “darn good” axe in order to get your supposedly “best made” version.

2) No pictures of the manufacturing process

2010-01-18_1747Don’t just tell me about the painstaking manufacturing process, SHOW ME.  Literally.  With pictures and video and stuff.  Show me the manufacturing process and the ability of the finished product to outperform the competition.

The picture on the left is a perfect example of this.  Saddleback Leather Co. manufactures premium, full-grain leather products.  And they charge a premium for them.  But their site goes into great detail regarding the superior quality and manufacture of their goods – content that’s fully illustrated with zoom-able photos and videos.

3) Not enough content from or about users kicking ass with their AXES.

Where are the stories of guys building their own log cabins with a Best Made Axe.  Or how it has transformed a dreaded chore into an anticipated pleasure.  Or about how just having the axe hung on the wall of their office has transformed their outlook on things.  Or something!

The best I could come up with was to find Best Made Company’s fan page on FaceBook wich linked to a YouTube video of a guy opening a bottle with one of their axes.  Not sure how impressed I was supposed to be with that, really.

Compare Best Made Axe’s Site to Those of Other Premium Products

Go ahead and compare the Best Made Axe site to other Websites for similar top-end/upscale products and see how much more thoroughly these other Websites sell you on their products’ quality:

Do you see how these other sites go into great detail about the design and manufacture of their products? How, almost on a point-by-point basis they explain WHY their products are better, and about the benefits that you, the consumer, can expect from purchasing this higher quality item.

Buyer Confidence and Buying Rationalizations

While not everyone will click through all of the detailed information provided on these example sites, and even fewer people will read through all that information, many people will scan through it, see that the quality information is there, that the passion is there, and gain the confidence to make the purchase.

Let’s be honest, Best Made Axe wants to charge you between $250 and $500 for an axe.  You can pick up a Gransfors Bruks (what is commonly considered the Rolls Royce of Axes) at roughly $70-$120 for most models.  You can pick up a very highly regarded, Maine-made Snowe & Nealey axe for even less than that.

What’s the quality difference between the Best Made and these other brands?  What am I getting for 2x to 8X the price?

Even when it’s not about the money, it’s ALWAYS about giving prospective customers something to hang their hat on.   The Best Made Axe certainly looks nicer than those other axes I mentioned, but most people are loathe to admit that their money is going towards nothing more than status and brand name.  If you want them as customers, you need to give them something they can hang their hat on, some other faux-reason they can use to rationalize their purchase, like (notionally) better quality, durability, and performance. Etc.

That’s what detailed quality and manufacturing information content on a website does: not only does it fan the desire for the product itself, but it provides visitors with the justification they need to rationalize the expense.  It also gives them the firepower needed to explain their purchase to a spouse, significant other, co-worker or any other any-sayer.

So what about Your Website!

Is your site closer to Saddleback Leather Co.’s, or is your site closer to Best Made Axe’s?

Maybe Best Made Axe just doesn’t really have the goods when you come right down to it.  Maybe they’re mum on the quality thing for a reason.  Maybe it’s a “better to keep your mouth closed…” kind of thing.

Now, I’m not saying that’s the case, but you can see why a website’s conspicuous silence on the subject invites that kind of speculation.

So if your product really does have the quality edge, you’d be criminally negligent not to make your Website into the most eloquent spokesperson it can be concerning the superior design, quality, manufacture/delivery of your product or service.

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