Marketing Failures: Triple Shot Friday

Here are three failed marketing initiatives I experienced this week:

1. Be Careful How You Ask Me for Money

My college sent me a letter telling me to be on the lookout for a letter from two alums. I had a feeling the second letter would be asking me for moolah. I was correct. However, this second letter was printed on three pieces of paper–front side only. The letter could have EASILY been printed on one piece of paper, using both sides.

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Do not waste paper and then ask me to make a three-year monetary “gift” commitment.

2. Audience Rules

A marketer created a print ad for a local publication and wanted me to “spruce up” the copy. After asking him for the pub’s demographics, he sent me census data on the town in which the publication appears, as if that info would tell me who reads the publication (as Dave Barry would say, “I’m not making this up.” I went to the publication’s website and downloaded the info myself. Yes, this is the same marketer I wrote about here.) The ad included the company’s “credo” and a picture of the owner and staff. The credo was written in a “We/they” format:

We see our patients as individuals with specific needs and goals; we believe in providing our patients with the best possible care–always.

The tone was really distant, despite the inclusion of first person. I suggested turning it to “you,” as all good advertising copy should ultimately be about YOU, the prospective customer:

We see you as an individual with specific needs and goals; we believe in providing you with the best possible care–always.

This change alone makes the copy better (and not because it was my doing). However, the marketer said he wanted it to stay in third person because “that’s how credos are written.”

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Comes down to the same stuff I’ve told my writing students over the years: yes, you need to learn the “rules.” But once you do, you also have the authority to break them. When breaking the rules, understand your motivation. If it sounds better to start a sentence with “And” or “But” or (gasp) end a sentence with a preposition, then do it. I’d have been okay if the marketer had said, “Gee, I thought it sounded better in third person.” (I would have disagreed, but that’s more of a judgment call.) Saying we couldn’t do it because of a rule is just plain dumb. (And in advertising, the only rule you need to remember is that your audience rules.)

3. “Preview” Buttons Exist for a Reason

I just received an entirely image-based email that I was very interested in clicking on so that I could learn more about the offer. However, the only thing clickable in the entire email was the unsubscribe button.

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Test, test, test your stuff–be it web pages, contact forms, emails, etc.–before you send it to the masses.

Craptastic Websites & Awful Contact Us Pages

I was referred to a business the other day, so I popped on over to its website. The home page was professional looking with clear navigation. It had three boxes for three separate audiences, along with hyperlinked bullet points in each box. So far so good. I appreciate sites that effectively “talk” to multiple audiences and direct said audiences accordingly.

But then everything went to hell.

Those clickable bullet points? Yes, you could click on them, but they brought you to EMPTY pages that simply said {Content}. Ugh. It wasn’t one or two pages. It was ALL of them. At first, I thought it might be a glitch–perhaps the whole site was having an issue–but the home page was fine, and the two bio pages for the two principals were fine as well.

And then I went to the Contact page.

There was a form. And this line was above the form:

“This contact form is not yet active. Please call 555-555-5555 to contact Great-Biz-With-Crappy-Website at this time.” (And no, there was no email address anywhere on the site.)

Listen, if your contact form doesn’t work, then do this: Take. It. Down. Consider how much business you’re losing. Think of the people who don’t even see your disclaimer line and they go ahead and fill out the form, hit submit, get an error message, and don’t come back. How many people are going to think, “If these guys can’t make their forms work or put content on their pages, how the heck are they going to do the job I hire them to do?” (Not to mention what the search engines are going to “think.”)

And why on George Clooney’s good green earth would you prominently display links on your home page that lead to nowhere? Why? Why in 2009 am I looking at a site like this? Why, why, why, why?

I understand that writing effective, compelling content ain’t easy (trust me, I really do feel your pain). Have a smaller site. Don’t mention every single one of your services. Focus on three to four core services, and on each one of those pages you can list some of the other related services (without links), for now. You can write 3-4 pages, right? Or hire someone to do it? Kick your web person in the butt and get him or her to fix the darn form or remove it completely. Include your email address.

Your website is your marketplace. It’s your virtual mortar and bricks. If you went to a store, and all its shelves were empty and no one was manning the register and you kept hitting the little bell thingy to get someone’s attention, but it didn’t work, what would you do?

Right. You’d walk out.

Write Copy as if You’re a Criminal Minds Profiler

Here’s a question for you, dear readers: would you talk to a 20-year-old male living in Los Angeles in a different manner than you’d talk to a 45-year-old woman living in a suburb of Boston? (This isn’t a trick question.)

A: Yes, of course you would. So imagine my shock the other day when I got a call from a marketer who wanted me to write a headline for a print ad, the third in a series in which he’d created the other two. I asked him where the ad would be appearing, and he told me. Then I asked for demo info on the pub. And he said, “What do you mean ‘demo’ info? Oh, you mean demographics? I don’t think you’ll need that info once you see what I did with the first two ads.”

How can I write an ad for an invisible audience? How do I know if I’m talking to the 20-year-old male living in an urban setting or the 45-year-old woman living in suburbia? I can’t. So, of course, I went to the publication’s website, downloaded the media kit, read it, and sent it to the marketer along with my suggestions on images and headlines based on the people who actually read the magazine.

(Sadly, this situation isn’t an anomaly. It happens more often than you think.)

I love the show Criminal Minds because of how the FBI agents get into people’s heads (granted, we’re talking pretty screwed up heads). When you write copy, when you create a website, a direct mail campaign, a sales letter, a radio spot, whatever…you need to profile the typical audience member with the same precision and level of detail. Really.

Failed Marketing Expose: Make Your Free Content Truly Free

So this surprised me: one of the “big players” in marketing and copywriting has a really cool, short newsletter that comes out on Wednesdays. It’s filled with info that I would gladly provide a link to on this here blog, because it’s info business owners can implement right away.

Today’s newsletter was no exception, so I hopped on over to her site to get the permalink, and guess what? Her newsletter archives COST MONEY. They are NOT accessible unless you pony up $$ for it and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Now let me remind you: I signed up for her newsletter for FREE. I enjoy the content (it’s one newsletter I’ll read right when it comes in b/c it’s always short). I’d probably rebroadcast her newsletter every week through the blog, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. But I can’t because you have to pay for her archives.

I think her archives could be a great way to promote her paid-access areas. Make ’em free, marketing lady. Make ’em free and allow me to SHARE the great content. Isn’t that’s what it’s all about?

Note: I have no problem with the idea of bundling those newsletters and turning them into a book that people pay for. But a cost-to-play newsletter archive isn’t the place to make a buck. Use that content to get more subscribers, to lure people in, and to show people your marketing/writing chops (or whatever type of chops you have).

[Updated: August 2017]

“Make Your Mole Famous” – A Word on Compelling Headlines

So I just saw an interesting banner hanging over a heavily-traversed street in town:


Certainly got my attention. The first thing that flashed through my mind was Cindy Crawford’s mole and then the actual animal, even though I soon realized I don’t really know what a mole looks like.

Anyhow, the headline was in bold, and, of course, I needed to know what the heck it was about. Apparently, it’s for a new research study (the sub-headline following the headline indicated as much, but I couldn’t get all the info without causing an accident).

It’s a great headline, much more exciting than: Be Part Of a Mole Study or Be Part of a Research Study. So kudos to the person who came up with the headline.

However, boo to the follow-up. I’m pretty sure the research study is being sponsored by an organization called “SMOC.” However, upon googling things like “mole research study” + “SMOC” + my town’s name, I got nothing. Same if I googled the headline alone. Same if I simply googled “mole research study Massachusetts.”

So, dear banner-sign-creator, what if someone sees the banner and wants to be part of this study but doesn’t have time to risk getting into an accident to see if said banner has contact info? Shouldn’t there be something online–something that people can easily get to via a search on the phrase that he or she will likely remember, like “Make Your Mole Famous”? Why, yes. Yes, indeed that’s the way it should be. Ideas:

  • Create a web page on your site dedicated solely to the mole research study. In the title tag, you should use the headline: Make Your Mole Famous – Mole Research Study – Massachusetts. That should cover a variety of searches.
  • See if is available (that would be a good URL to have on literature around town–fairly easy to remember).
  • Buy PPC ads on “Make your mole famous” and “mole research study” — I bet the cost won’t be prohibitive.

Lesson: think through every step your prospect/customer needs to take in order to complete the task at hand (be it a sale or sign-up for a research study). Do NOT make these steps hard. Make it as easy as possible.