Tom & BookTom Wanek, author of the Mar­ket­ing Beyond Adver­tis­ing blog and for­mer e-commerce entre­pre­neur has just pub­lished his lat­est book: Cur­ren­cies That Buy Credibility

As a fel­low Wiz­ard of Ads part­ner, I had the good for­tune of see­ing him develop the mate­r­ial for this book over the last few years and of strong-arming him into an inter­view on his incred­i­bly orig­i­nal approach to Sig­nal­ing The­ory and marketing.

The tran­scribed Ques­tion and Answers are below:

Q: First, let me say how much I love the 6 Cur­ren­cies frame­work for think­ing about cred­i­bil­ity builders.  And in think­ing about your frame­work, it occurred to me that the indis­pens­able ele­ment in all the cur­ren­cies – the com­mon thread – is the idea of vul­ner­a­bil­ity.  You’re cred­i­bil­ity is directly tied to how vul­ner­a­ble you make your­self by your will­ing­ness to place one or more of those 6 cur­ren­cies on the line.

Have I gone off on the deep end here, or is vul­ner­a­bil­ity really the key ele­ment behind the cur­ren­cies – the idea that you have to make your­self vul­ner­a­ble before a cyn­i­cal audi­ence will take you seriously?

TOM: [Laughs] No, you haven’t skipped off the deep end just yet.

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity is cer­tainly another way to look at it. In the book, I dis­cuss resources that you can risk or spend to pur­chase cred­i­bil­ity. And obvi­ously vul­ner­a­bil­ity is an inher­ent part of risk.

Jeff, you’ll also appre­ci­ate that my inspi­ra­tion for the six cur­ren­cies comes from Sig­nal­ing The­ory – which observes how ani­mals com­mu­ni­cate using bizarre behav­iors and phys­i­cal traits. Biol­o­gists com­monly refer to the “cost” of send­ing a par­tic­u­lar sig­nal.  And in many cases, this requires that ani­mals place them­selves in vul­ner­a­ble situations.

Q: Would you draw a par­al­lel between this and a post by Michele Miller on Mar­ket­ing to Women?  Michele said that although women WANT con­nec­tion, the way to allow con­nec­tion to develop is to PROVIDE women with con­trol.  In other words, give her con­trol by mak­ing your­self VULNERABLE to her, and then she’ll form a CONNECTION.   Do you see that mes­sage as being par­al­lel to Cur­ren­cies that Buy Credibility?

TOM: Yes, Michele is rec­om­mend­ing that busi­ness own­ers invest the cur­rency of Power and Con­trol. And her rec­om­men­da­tion is spot on.

It seems that most busi­ness own­ers want to con­trol the cus­tomer rela­tion­ship. But this con­trol­ling behav­ior breeds the habit­ual corporate-speak of hype and chest-thumping clichés that con­sumers have come to loathe and reject.

In the book, I pro­vide two case stud­ies that demon­strate how com­pa­nies boost their cred­i­bil­ity and authen­tic­ity by invest­ing Power and Con­trol into their cus­tomer relationships.

Q: Although every­thing in mar­ket­ing is aston­ish­ingly con­text depen­dent, if I admit that going into this, can I ask you a non-contextual ques­tion?  What cur­ren­cies seem to work bet­ter than oth­ers?  When it comes down to brass tacks and you’re employ­ing these strate­gies on behalf of your clients, are there some tech­niques or cur­ren­cies that are your “go to” stuff?  Or do you use them all about the same?

TOM: Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the more you risk, the more believ­able your mes­sage becomes.

But as you know, con­sumers do not make deci­sions in iso­la­tion. Rather, they com­pare the dif­fer­ences between their avail­able options.

For these prin­ci­ples to truly work, your cred­i­bil­ity invest­ment must rein­force your mes­sage. And you won’t be able to pur­chase cred­i­bil­ity unless you stay true to your­self.  In other words, if your busi­ness can’t sup­port what you’re sig­nal­ing, then don’t send that par­tic­u­lar sig­nal. Redi­rect your resources.

Q: Are there some cur­ren­cies that are over-used? Are there some that are under-used?  If so, might there be an advan­tage to “cor­ner­ing” the mar­ket on their use?

TOM: No, I believe all cur­ren­cies are under­used.

That said, we do see mate­r­ial wealth invested most fre­quently in the form of war­ranties and guar­an­tees, but this does not mean the other cur­ren­cies are any less effec­tive. Again, con­text is everything.

Thanks so much, Tom.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the book.

PlumberI hate fix­ing house­hold plumb­ing problems.

It’s not that plumb­ing is hard or even all that unpleas­ant, really.  And that’s the infu­ri­at­ing part: the fact that plumb­ing would be — should be!?! — down­right easy if you just didn’t have to:

  • nego­ti­ate way-too-tight spaces,
  • avoid smack­ing your hand against hot-enough-to-burn-you stuff,
  • over­come rusted bolts,
  • make yet another trip to the store to get a needed part, tool, etc.
  • deal with the worry of mak­ing a costly mistake

Hon­estly, what kind of shade tree mechanic or home fixer-guy hasn’t bitched about one of these things?  It’s the lux­ury of being a shade-tree mechanic or home-fixer guy.

But real pro­fes­sion­als don’t have that luxury.

True pros know con­di­tions are never ideal.  And they know their rep­u­ta­tions and pay­checks rest on results achieved in far-from-ideal con­di­tions.

Real plumbers expect to fix plumb­ing prob­lems while on their backs, star­ing up at the under­side of a cab­i­net, and work­ing with rusted bolts.  That’s how it is in the real world, and so they train for it. Because no one pays you to be an imag­i­nary plumber in a make believe world where the pipes are all out in plain site.

I half-wanted to draw out the anal­ogy between this and copy­writ­ing, adver­tis­ing, and mar­ket­ing, but I won’t insult your intel­li­gence.  Just let me ask you:

Are you a real pro­fes­sional at your cho­sen vocation?

Do you train your­self to han­dle far-from-ideal con­di­tions and situations?

Or are you too busy dream­ing of the per­fect client/product/competitive mar­ket and bitch­ing about the mar­ket­ing equiv­a­lents of rusted bolts and tight spaces?

TIME_person_of_2006Want to get every vis­i­tor hop­ing to prove you right?

Want to have those same vis­i­tors actively search­ing for just enough sub­stan­ti­a­tion to hang their hats on before rush­ing off to your shop­ping cart/checkout process?

Of course you would.  Once your reader wants what you say to be true, once she hopes you’re “for real,” she’ll be rout­ing for you the whole time she’s read­ing your sub­stan­ti­at­ing copy/proof.  And that’s the kind of audi­ence you want.

So even before you think about how to prove your claims, estab­lish cred­i­bil­ity, or any­thing else, you’ll want to focus on estab­lish­ing your read­ers’ emo­tional desire. Here’s how to do that…

A Seduc­tive First Men­tal Image

The core of a suc­cess­ful trick is an inter­est­ing and beau­ti­ful idea that taps into some­thing that you would like to have hap­pen. One of the things we do in our live show is I squeeze hand­fuls of water and they turn into cas­cades of money. That’s an inter­est­ing and beau­ti­ful idea.

The decep­tion is really sec­ondary. The idea is first, because the idea needs to cap­ture your imagination.”

- Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) describ­ing the neu­ro­science of magic

While all copy shares the chal­lenge of cap­tur­ing read­ers atten­tion, the best head­lines and open­ers move past gim­micks and shout­ing in order to intrigue and seduce read­ers with a men­tal image that the reader hopes to be true.  Or wishes to make true.

Infomer­cials mas­tered this tech­nique decades ago.  They always open with a strik­ing image or clip func­tion­ing as a seduc­tive “proof of concept”:

  • The Ginsu knife that cut through the tin can and could still finely slice the tomato
  • The Oxy­Clean that mag­i­cally evap­o­rate stains out of a white carpet
  • The Sham­Wow leav­ing not a trace of water on the counter and soak­ing up 20 times its weight in water, every last drop in the tray

Only after the image cap­tures the viewer’s imag­i­na­tion does the pitch­man reveal the “secret” of how the prod­uct works.

Sim­i­larly, Lifelock.com first cap­tures visitor’s imag­i­na­tion with the CEO brazenly pub­lish­ing his SSN on the home­page.  It’s only on the sec­ond or third page that vis­i­tors learn HOW Life­Lock works to keep your iden­tity safe.

And for many Web 2.0 sites, the open­ing page has become home to the quick 1–3 minute video show­ing you how eas­ily you too can kick butt with their software/product.  This screenr home­page video is a per­fect exam­ple of that.

Why it Works

hottiedrewAs it turns out, we’re really good at bend­ing logic to suport out desires, because, really, does any­one really read Play­boy “for the arti­cles?”  Our minds also suf­fer from anchor­ing bias and the effects of emo­tional prim­ing.

Basi­cally, an emo­tional image affects how we “see” or inter­pret the rest of the copy.  Here’s an exam­ple: when test sub­jects were shown a video of a car acci­dent, half of the test sub­jects were asked how fast the two cars were going when the “crashed” into each other, and half were asked how fast the cars were going when they “made con­tact.”  On aver­age, the “crashed into” group’s esti­mated speed was 10 mph faster than the “made con­tact” group.  That sim­ple phrase col­ored the entire mem­ory of the film clip.

In a sim­i­lar man­ner, your read­ers’ desire for a prod­uct can color their per­cep­tion of your sub­stan­ti­at­ing con­tent.  In other words, if you present a strik­ing and seduc­tive enough image, your read­ers will actu­ally look to con­vince them­selves with what­ever log­i­cal proof you provide.

And isn’t that the way you want it?

2 Steps to Beat­ing Buyer Procrastination
How long can you be “almost ready to buy” before you actu­ally pull the trigger?
Depends on the price point, how much you really want the thing, etc.  Still, on aver­age, it’s amaz­ing how long most of us can want some­thing that’s within our finan­cial reach and yet put off buy­ing it.  Basi­cally, some buy­ers pro­cras­ti­nate on mak­ing the purchase
Espe­cially for any item over, let’s say, $50.
Here’s the problem:
- even­tu­ally, the buyer will for­get about your prod­uct or ser­vice in order to focus on a new want
- “almost con­vinced” vis­i­tors don’t increase your con­ver­sion rate or put money in your pocket
If you want to increase your con­ver­sion rate, you have to help those buy­ers over­come their pro­cras­ti­na­tion. And this Dumb Lit­tle Man arti­cle can help you do that.  The arti­cle tells you how to beat your own pro­cras­ti­na­tion, but the prin­ci­ples apply to copy­writ­ing as well:
1) Elim­i­nate Fear
If your buy­ers are pro­cras­ti­nat­ing; they have unan­swered con­cerns.  Buy­ers aren’t lazy, they’re afraid of part­ing with their hard earned cash and not receiv­ing full value for their money.  Re-check your copy to ensure that you:
- have mate­r­ial that pre­emp­tively answers buyer ques­tions and concerns.
- Use risk rever­sals, or at the very least a guarantee
- employ user reviews, or at least have authen­tic sound­ing testimonials
- Let read­ers know if your prod­uct works even for the non-super motivated
- have an about us page that reveals your com­pany to be solid, rep­utable, and trustworthy
2) Cul­ti­vate Desire
“…start with the end in mind. How will things look when they’re all done? What will you see and how will you feel?
If you can asso­ciate strong emo­tions with the end result, you can cul­ti­vate a burn­ing desire.”
Steve Mar­tile wrote this about per­sonal pro­cras­ti­na­tion, but sim­ply switch the “you” to “your reader” you can eas­ily apply this to copy­writ­ing.  Are you act­ing as the movie direc­tor of your read­ers dreams?  Are you help­ing them see how much your prod­uct or ser­vice will allow them to kick butt, both imme­di­ately after pur­chase and long-term?  Does your copy cul­ti­vate desire?

Cultivating DesireHaven’t we all won­dered what took us so long after we made  some (really great) pur­chase that we pro­cras­ti­nated on for months or even years?

And this hap­pens with items we’d likely have said we were “almost” ready to buy!

Isn’t it amaz­ing how long most of us can want some­thing that’s well within our finan­cial reach before we actu­ally pull the trig­ger and buy it?

Well, your Web­site vis­i­tors are doing the same thing! Espe­cially for items or ser­vices that cost over, let’s say, $50.

And that ain’t good.  Here are the prob­lems with this situation:

  • even­tu­ally, the buyer will for­get about your prod­uct or ser­vice in order to focus on a new want
  • almost con­vinced” vis­i­tors don’t increase your con­ver­sion rate or put money in your pocket
  • those cus­tomer just might buy from some­one else — some­one who could con­vince them to pull the trigger

If you want to increase your con­ver­sion rate, you have to help those buy­ers over­come their pro­cras­ti­na­tion. And this Dumb Lit­tle Man arti­cle can help you do that. The arti­cle tells you how to beat your own pro­cras­ti­na­tion, but the prin­ci­ples apply to copy­writ­ing as well:

1) Elim­i­nate Fear

Buy­ers don’t pro­cras­ti­nate out of lazi­ness.  If they’re pro­cras­ti­nat­ing, they’re usu­ally afraid of part­ing with their hard earned cash and not receiv­ing full value for their money. Re-check your copy to ensure that you:

  • Have mate­r­ial that pre­emp­tively answers buyer ques­tions and concerns
  • Use risk rever­sals, or at the very least a guarantee
  • Employ user reviews, or at least have authen­tic sound­ing testimonials
  • Pro­vide ade­quate sub­stan­ti­a­tion and proof for your claims
  • Demon­strate that your prod­uct deliv­ers ben­e­fits despite nor­mal human frailties
  • Reveal your com­pany to be solid, rep­utable, and trust­wor­thy on your About Us page

2) Cul­ti­vate Desire

…start with the end in mind. How will things look when they’re all done? What will you see and how will you feel?

If you can asso­ciate strong emo­tions with the end result, you can cul­ti­vate a burn­ing desire.”

Steve Mar­tile wrote this about per­sonal pro­cras­ti­na­tion, but sim­ply switch the “you” to “your reader,” and you can eas­ily apply this to copywriting.

  • Are you act­ing as the movie direc­tor of your read­ers’ dreams?
  • Are you help­ing them see how much your prod­uct or ser­vice will allow them to kick butt, both imme­di­ately after pur­chase and long-term?
  • Does your copy cul­ti­vate desire?

It’s not uncom­mon to find copy that does one or the other well — either cul­ti­vat­ing desire or elim­i­nat­ing fear. But copy that does both is much harder to find, which is why those com­pa­nies and Web­sites that do man­age to do both enjoy a com­pet­i­tive advantage.

* Hat tip to @copyblogger for tweet­ing the link to the Dumb Lit­tle Man article.

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?

Misery“Oh, hey, I’m so glad to see you, I really wanted to talk about our rela­tion­ship!  And I also think you’d make great friends with this other girl I know…”

“Um, like, I know I go to your Star­bucks a lot and see you behind the check­out counter a few times a week, but… what freak­ing rela­tion­ship are you talk­ing about?”

If that dia­logue sounds silly, it’s the kind of thing that hap­pens every day through Social Media and online tools like Twit­ter, Face­Book, Blogs, e-mail, etc.  Com­pa­nies some­how assume that because you’ve vis­ited their site or bought some­thing from them, that it is now appro­pri­ate to act as your buddy — or worse, that they can try to lever­age your friends/networks for their own, self­ish purposes.

Offline, this behav­ior would be creepy and bor­der­line stalker-ish.  Bring­ing it online doesn’t make it any­more well received, accord­ing to a new e-Marketer Dig­i­tal Intel­li­gence study:

US con­sumers are most inter­ested in brands that keep them up to date and improve their knowl­edge. And they do not want brands to act like their friends.”

So what DO con­sumers want from com­pa­nies using Social Media & Online tools?  Here are the high­lights from the study :

Help­ing con­sumers keep up to date on top­ics that were impor­tant to them was also key, fol­lowed by being enter­tain­ing, becom­ing part of a daily rou­tine, and inform­ing con­sumers about the prod­uct and the com­pany. Con­sumers were rel­a­tively unin­ter­ested in brands that tried to act like their friends.”

Sounds about right to me.

* Hat tip to Zen Pun­dit and Critt Jarvis over at Strate­gis

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