The ‘Rocking Horse Shit’ story.

The ‘Rocking Horse Shit’ story.

Years ago in a corporate strategy retreat that was also a reason to have a nasty headache on Thursday morning, we had a session on responding publicly with little or no notice. The disciplines required to be able to speak publicly with clarity and authority, while delivering the necessary message without the benefit of any preparation time.

Big call for most of us.

In the session, the presenter gave us a number of techniques, all of which I remember and use today, but one in particular stuck.

Do everything in groups of three” he told us.

Three has a rhythm that both enables us to assemble, remember and recite back complex thoughts, and it enables us to instantly respond to a question or proposition in a logical and clear manner.

The presenter had given us a pep talk on some of the techniques, with emphasis on the ‘Three’ method, and finished by offering to speak for 10 minutes on any topic we chose to nominate. From the  following silence finally came the suggestion ‘Rocking horse shit’  from a jaded member of the sales team.

He proceeded to entertain us for 10 minutes on the differences that could be detected in rocking horse shit depending on the wood the rocking horse was made from, and two other variables. I still remember that Oregon originating RHS has a sweeter smell that that emanating from a horse made from a more exotic material like mahogany, but the best came from a horse made from the wood of the tropical and now rare Sandalwood tree.

All was arranged into logical groups of three.

This memory of this lesson was triggered by the wasted ½ hour I spent last week being tortured by a rambling, and monotonic delivery of what should have been interesting information.

There has been so much written about how to make presentations interesting, engaging and therefore useful, that it eludes me how supposedly intelligent people can still deliver this sort of crud, destroying any value the information may have, and their reputation at the same time.

Having the opportunity to make a presentation is a gift. Organisers are giving you the status of being an authority, having something worth saying, and the audience is giving you their most valuable resource: their time and attention. To waste either is an insult to both.


Photo credit: JohnBoy84 via Flikr

Will Apples ad barrier slow down Gooface?

Will Apples ad barrier slow down Gooface?

In September last year (2016), Facebook conceded publicly that they had over-estimated the average  time viewers spent on video on their site by 60-80%. They did not tell us how long they had known of this ‘error’ but I suspect it was for  quite a while, as they aggressively pushed the ‘video first’ bandwagon.

It does not seem to have dented the volume of money going into the coffers of the GooFace (Google/Facebook) digital advertising duopoly, although it may have slowed a little after Mark Pritchard, the CMO of Procter and Gamble with an ad budget in the billions fired both barrels at the stupidity, complicity and fraud that underpins the digital advertising industry.

Digital advertising has been blighted not just by hype, hyperbole, fraud, but by tracking, and we know it is a blight, because something like 700 million devises now have ad blockers installed, and the big platforms are increasingly removing the ‘skip ad’ option that was initially in place.

GooFace make almost all their money from ads, and cross site tracking is a fundamental part of their arsenal, which they will protect at all costs. Making all sorts of claims supported by flimsy data, and more hyperbolic assertions (I suspect they will make tobacco companies look like beginners when they get a bit more practice) is to be expected. Apple  by contrast make almost no money out of advertising, so has loudly rattled the cage by announcing a new feature on an upgrade of Safari that  prevents cross site tracking.


I wonder who will follow suit, as the march of subscription services without ads together with the blockers, must be biting deeply into advertising effectiveness, assuming we could see and analyse the data objectively.

Follow up Nov. 8, 2017.  Has the charm offensive stated?  This article in Marketing Week would suggest it has.


What is the best headline ever written?

What is the best headline ever written?

We all accept the advice of  ‘Madman’ advertising guru David Ogilvy , that headlines are the make or break element of any writing, and that  we should spend as much time on the headline as we spend on everything else.

This was true in the Madman days, and is equally true now, and perhaps even more important as the volume of stuff coming at us has multiplied geometrically in the last 20 years. We are now less likely to skim the sub head and body copy of an article with a mildly interesting headline than we were 20 years ago.

You must catch them with the headline.

It certainly holds true on this blog.

I can write what I think is an important, original post, that lacks an arresting headline, (and I do follow Ogilvy’s advice) and it will get no traction, but what I regard as a modest piece with a good headline, will attract readers, on an ongoing basis. Many will not come back, if the post lacks the ‘punch’ of originality and relevance to them, but without the headline they do  not get the choice.

So what is the best headline ever written?

I just put the question to Dr Google, and got a listing of 2.5 million articles in .44 seconds.

Trawling through the top 10 responses, which is all most of us do, gave me a heap of headlines, most of them coming from a small number of similar sources, none of which listed the one I think the best ever written.

For me, there are a number of contenders, but the winner is a 6 word headline written by Earnest Hemingway, reputedly to win a bet:

‘For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.’

6 words that create curiosity, emotion, and a compelling desire to see what is next.

There are now many tools and lots of very good advice about how to craft a headline that works well, and many have great merit, but the real skill is evoking in the reader the compulsion to read more, and that is a rare creative skill, not available to digital tools.

While I am at it, I still think the best TV advertisement I have ever seen goes back to the sixties, for a long dead company, Union Carbide, advertising insulation.

The one rule to ensure you attract attention.

The one rule to ensure you attract attention.

The real fight out there, the one that is for most businesses ‘make or break,’  is not for  likes, or new friends, or how many social media feeds you showed up in, it is for attention.

The problem with attention, is that it is transient, hard to get, and there is  no saving it up for later.

Use it or lose it.

To win that fight for attention, or at least have a shot at the title, there is one rule to remember and implement.

Nobody cares about you and what you care about.

There it is, in 9 words, could be better at 7 if you cut out ‘you and’ .

Perhaps your Mum cares,  and your partner, maybe your few really close mates, nobody else.

They are all too  busy caring about what they care about to be worried about you, someone they do not know, or occasionally may know superficially.

Why is it then that we spend so much time telling others what we care about on our landing pages, brochures, advertising platforms, marketing collateral, and websites?

Usually in my experience that mistake comes from one of two places, often both:

  • You do not know who you really need to talk to well enough to communicate with absolute clarity why they should give you some of their valuable attention.
  • You are covering your arse in case someone higher up in the place asks ‘what about….’

Both are short sighted, and revenue destroying tactics.

All forms of marketing activity and material have one purpose only: to contribute to the generation of revenue.

Nothing else. Nada. Zilch. Generate revenue or go home.

What contributes most to generating revenue?

Easy: someone has a problem, and  in the first glance, on your website, or brochure, or whatever it may be, if the answer to their problem, in 10 words or less is there, they may stop. Even 10 may be too wordy, some with the problem will have skimmed over it and moved on to someone who expresses their solution to their problem with greater clarity.

Outside your family, and close circles, nobody cares. Until they need you: then they care, and occasionally when you get your marketing ducks in a row, offer you the opportunity to gain their attention.


Cartoon credit: Hugh McLeod at gaping void

How to ensure your copy does not get read.

How to ensure your copy does not get read.

Copywriting is easy.

That is what you tell yourself, after all, you can write, you are a professional, very used to communicating, and doing it successfully.

My sister is a writer, and every now and again she grabs one of my posts over which I have slaved (yes, it is OK to have family subscribed) and goes into what I call her ‘Teacher mode’

Out comes the red pen and professional editor and she rewrites my posts.

They are subtly altered, so the intent of the post is clearer, makes a greater impact on the reader, and ends up being way, way better.

It galls me a bit that it is a skill beyond mine,  but on the other hand, she makes me feel better by telling me she could never dream up the topics and angles that I do, all she does is polish it a bit.

We are inundated with copy, it comes at us at all times, through all our devices,  and now is increasingly visual  as a means to fight the war for your attention. However, like most things the volume going up does not have any real impact on the quality, if anything the average has dropped as we become ‘do-it-yourselfers’ in order to keep the volume up.

The headline is the most important element of copy in any piece. If you fail to cut through, catch attention, and create an urge to read on, it does not matter how good the rest is, it will not be seen.

There is piles of advice around on how to write a great headline, most of it pretty good, but also so much that we tend to get tunnel vision, and forget most of it, so following are 4 basic things I see continuously that ensures I do not open a piece.

Talking about yourself.

Nobody cares about you, except perhaps your mother, or in my case, my sister. They care about themselves, their lives, and their problems. A good headline reflects those needs, pain points, and offers help to a specific group that you wish to communicate with, and at  the very least, creates interest.

If you are a dentist, do not talk about how modern your equipment is, or how many degrees you may have, address the reason someone  may be looking for a dentist. They have broken a tooth, their child has a crooked bite, or they have a toothache that needs attention.

Using jargon.

Every industry has jargon, it acts as shorthand for insiders, so if you want to grab the attention of your competitors, use the jargon they understand, but if you would rather catch the attention of those who might want to act on what you say, avoid it like the plague.

Last week I saw a headline that promised: ‘to deliver a sophisticated customer centric e-commerce solution to SME’s’ . How much better would it have been if the headline simply promised to make it easy from small businesses to get paid.

Showing how clever you are.

For your potential customer, clear beats clever every single time. It may not get a chuckle from your mates in the pub after work, but so what, they are already your mates, and not required to pay your bills. The most common offender is the use of a pun, never as funny in a headline as in the pub, followed closely by the use of ‘digital shorthand’ such as ‘gr8’.

Allowing grammatical and spelling errors.

Perhaps it is just my age, but a spelling or grammatical error in a headline or sub head ensures I do not open it. Not only does it offend my sense of what is right, it demonstrates that the writer is either too stupid to understand the basic rules of written communication, or that they have so little concern for my time that they did not make the effort to get it right. Why would I read it in either case?

The difference between ordinary copy, and great copy is a big bagful of money, and a lot of effort, experience and specialist skill.


9 steps to making cold calling work for you

9 steps to making cold calling work for you

I find cold calling really difficult, while recognising the potential effectiveness when the inertia is overcome.

For me,  it takes time and emotional energy far greater than the return I have ever got from cold calling, except when I have run  out of options, then it seems to work. When the instinctive fear of failure is overcome by the necessity to take a step, when the fear of failure, or rejection is beaten by the fear of not being able to feed the kids or pay the bill on the fridge, the fear of rejection by a stranger seems trivial.

What does it really matter if you are rejected by a complete stranger anyway?

A friend of mine treats cold calling as a game, she does it for a living, and is very good at it.

Recently I sat down with her to try and extract from her routine a scalable cold calling template, and realised two things:

  1. The fear of failure was crippling
  2. Cold calling is pretty much the same as sending a cold email , which I am OK at.

Her advice was to get over the fear, and she referred me to this terrific TED talk, and to treat cold calling with just the same set of disciplines I used for cold emailing.

I have a process for developing email success that I use as a coaching outline for those I work with, and it almost always gets great results when applied sensibly. However, adding Jia jiang’s Ted talk will add greatly to the effectiveness of the following pretty standard management process to increase your effectiveness.

Segment your list.  The better you know the prospect who answers the phone, the more likely you will have a successful call. The more defined your call list, with unique messaging and value propositions developed for each segment, the better. This is as different from the completely random call you get as you are sitting down to dinner in the evening, from someone in a call centre flogging home insulation, insurance or a holiday, as it can be.

Headline. The first sentence in a phone call, or headline in an email carry the same responsibility: to pique the interest of the receiver. Fail in the first glance of a headline, or 5 seconds of a call, and it is a long hard road back. There are plenty of headline generating tools around, but the best lesson in my experience is to go to the local newsagent, and just think about the headlines on the cover of the magazines you see. They are aimed to grab attention, and direct the reader to the following sub  head, which leads into the magazine article.

Them not you. Make the message about them, and the things that interest them, not about you, as generally they will not be interested, and you will have lost them. You need to  be able to spell out exactly how you can help them.

Be a peer. Speak and write like a peer, not a supplicant sales person. There are few worse sales turn-offs than a “needy” caller. Much better to be a busy peer, making a little time in a crazy schedule because you have discovered something that you think will be of value to them.

Credibility. Be credible by providing social proof, or better yet, a referral from someone the receiver knows and respects.

Personalise. Ensure everything is personalised, anything less than a highly personalised call will almost always fail. It is necessary for you to have done the research, to know a fair bit about the receiver, the problems they face in their role, and the value of a solution you may be able to provide. Making a call to the switch of a target company and asking to be transferred to the “person responsible for XXX” is a waste of everybody’s time.

Respect. Time is our most valuable resource, so respect the receivers time by keeping it short, but to the point, ending with some sort of call to action by you or them. However, the CTA needs to be consistent with the context of the conversation. Early stages may lead to a further conversation, or the inclusion of someone else, but rarely to a sale on first contact. Generally the objective is to get some sort of positive response, a step towards a sale, but not a sale, yet.

Differentiate yourself. If you are just the same as everybody else, why should the person you are trying to engage bother with you? While the call has to be about them, and not you, it is also about articulating the way that you can help  them in ways others cannot. The necessity here is that you have done some homework, at least enough to have a shot at articulating the solution you may have to a problem they face, or opportunity they may be unaware of. Differentiation early in the conversation offers a reason why they should continue to give you their time, and builds the status you have in the conversation, you are not just another cold caller.

Follow up. And follow up again, and again, politely and with respect. Generally sales people give up at about 3, whereas all the research indicates that 5-7 follow  ups are the point at which the ability to convert increases significantly. It reflects the old advice about advertising frequency, at about the time you are getting sick of the ad, if it is worth anything, the target audience is just building awareness of your proposition.


So, what is stopping you, pick up the bloody phone!


Photo courtesy Nancy Rose via Flikr.