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Archive for August, 2013

What’s wrong with young marketers today?

August 21st, 2013 by Bob Bly

There is a huge generation gap between young marketers and old
marketers — like me.

As I see it, many young marketers are overly fond of whatever is
hip and trendy at the moment – e.g., Instagram, Google +,
infographics, Foursquare, memes.

Many older marketers prefer the tried, true, and tested methods:
e-mail marketing, white papers, landing pages, direct mail, ads.

Why do young marketers have such a strong preference for the
latest flavor of the month?

I can think of a few reasons:

1-They want to appear “in the know” to their friends,
colleagues, and clients.

2-People are always attracted to things that are new.

3-For old-school marketing methods such as direct mail, there is
a huge body of tested experience which young marketers do not
know about … so they are at a disadvantage.

4-Some clients are mesmerized by the latest fads, and look for
consultants who are proficient in those methods.

5-Many marketers find refuge in marketing for which sales ROI
cannot be measured, because it masks the fact that they don’t
know how to sell.

6-It’s easier and takes less skill to create a blog post or a
Tweet than it does to write a long-copy landing page whose sales
can be measured to the dollar.

I often say I was born at the wrong time, for the following

When I was young and worked in marketing for large corporations,
the senior marketers were revered while it was assumed that us
“kids” knew nothing and would take many years to train.

Now that I am older, I live in a youth-oriented society where
young people are valued for their superior grasp of technology,
while folks in my 50+ age group can’t get a job because their
skills are thought to be obsolete and their thinking out of step
with the times.

The fact is that today’s youth does not respect the wisdom of
their elders – either in business or in life – and does not seek
to learn from them.

A case in point is EM, one of my early mentors, who was
considered one of the great copywriters of the 20th century.

EM and I both wrote direct mail copy for Publisher X. At the
time, I had about 7 years experience, and EM had more than 40.

The marketing managers at Publisher X – who were all in their
20s and 30s – loved what I wrote. And I think they viewed me as
a contemporary. But they tore EM’s copy to shreds.

Here they were, able to access decades of tested direct mail
knowledge from a guy who wrote some of the most famous classic
DM packages of all time …

… and they had no interest in what he thought or had to say. He
lamented to me that X routinely ignored his advice and

I close with this bit of wisdom from my favorite comedienne,
Louis CK:

“Life is an education, and if you’re older, you’re smarter. If
you are in an argument with somebody and they are older than
you, you should listen to them.

“It doesn’t mean they’re right. It means that even if they’re
wrong, their wrongness is rooted in more information than you


Category: General | 105 Comments »

Can you work for your clients’ competitors?

August 8th, 2013 by Bob Bly

LW writes: “Would appreciate your thoughts about the ethics of working for your clients’ competitors simultaneously — and if not, your thoughts about the allowable recommended space of time between competitor-clients?”

He adds: “As a copywriter develops more expertise in a particular field, he wants to build on this. And it’s quite natural to use that expertise in the service of others in his clients’ same type of business. But at what cost?”

Here are some guidelines for when it’s OK for you as a copywriter to work for multiple clients in the same field. Note: these are guidelines only, not the final word:

1—Clients in some large copywriting niche markets – e.g., financial publishing, alternative health, business opportunity, information marketing – expect you to have multiple clients in these niches and in fact hope that you do, so that your expertise in selling those kinds of products is that much greater.

2—Small local businesses want exclusivity: If you write copy for one of the two chiropractors in your town, he expects that you are not working for his competitor down the block.

3—Business-to-business marketers, especially those selling technology products, may ask whether you are working for any of their direct competitors. If you are not, and they hire you, they may insist that you not work for their competitors while you are working for them.

It’s a Catch-22, isn’t it? Clients want you to have experience in their product or service. But they don’t want you to be working for any of their competitors as long as you are working for them.

4—A company with one product is very likely not going to want you to work with other companies marketing the same product – especially if it is also that competitor’s only product. A company with many product offerings is much less likely to be bothered by you working with another company that sells one or another of those products.

5–If a client does not raise the issue of whether you are working for any other clients in their niche, then you don’t have to raise it, either. But if they do ask, you must tell.

6—Another factor is whether client A’s success in selling his product diminishes client B’s sales of the same product.

In the investment newsletter area, for instance, I handle multiple clients because a consumer who buys client A’s newsletter may still buy client B’s newsletter; many readers in this field take multiple newsletters.

On the other hand, if my copy helps Auto Dealer A sell Consumer X a Toyota, the consumer has made his car purchase and is highly unlikely to buy another Toyota from Auto Dealer B next week.

Some clients may ask you to sign a noncompete agreement that forbids you from working for any of their competitors while you are working for them now and for a specified period of time thereafter.

Whether you sign such an agreement is up to you. Obviously it makes more sense to agree to a noncompete clause when (a) you really want to write for that client, (b) the project is lucrative, or (c) the client offers the potential for multiple, ongoing assignments.

Two things to look for in a noncompete agreement before you sign it:

First, as the vendor, prefer a short-term to a long-term noncompete period following termination of services; i.e., 6 months is better than 2 years.

Second, narrow the definition of what a competitor is. For example, I won’t sign any noncompete agreement in the “software” field, because so many companies have software products.

But I may sign a noncompete agreement specifying “enterprise single sign-on (ESSO) software,” because it only minimally restricts what new clients I can take on.

Besides, if I have an ESSO client (as I have in the past), I am not looking to simultaneously work with the handful of other ESSO companies out there. I would see that as a conflict of interest.


Category: General | 74 Comments »

The danger of subjective opinion

August 7th, 2013 by Bob Bly

“What’s hot in B2B marketing?” I recently asked my colleague JD.

“Video,” JD replied without hesitation.

I smiled, because I have been writing video scripts for over 30
years – ever since I worked in marketing communications for a
large defense contractor in the late 70s.

Back then, people had more time and greater attention spans than
they do today, so many of our videos ran 10 to 12 minutes.

A few were longer. We had an introductory video to educate new
employees and others about the company that was 23 minutes long.

TS, my boss, told me he had wanted Burgess Meredith to narrate

But Meredith was anti-war and would not work with a defense

Back in the day, production standards for marketing videos were
higher than they are today.

All our videos were shot by professional crews using
professional equipment.

Because of this, TS had a rule: the videos we did had to be of a
production quality that matched or came close to what the
prospect saw on TV.

Today anyone with a cell phone thinks he can shoot an acceptable

Because of that and YouTube, today’s prospects are much more
forgiving of middling quality in marketing videos posted on the
web. Some marketers even say videos that look home-made actually
pull better than those that are “slick.”

Many of my corporate clients tell me, as if it were an
indisputable fact, that no one on Earth will watch a video
longer than 3 minutes today.

Yet many of my direct marketing clients in financial and health
care routinely ask me to write video sales letters that are 20
to 25 minutes … and these videos generate higher conversion
rates than static landing pages. So much for “indisputable”

You see, when someone tells you a “fact” about marketing like
“no one reads copy anymore,” they are almost always basing it on
their subjective opinion and personal preferences – yet they
proclaim it as the gospel truth. Their mistake.

Copywriter PB once told me: “Never let personal preference get
in the way.”

For example: I strongly dislike sweepstakes direct mail
packages. And I throw them away the instant I get them.

But does my throwing them away have any bearing on whether they
work? Of course not.

If you are a direct marketer – someone whose marketing generates
a measurable response – as so many online marketers are these
days, it’s easy enough to test and know for a fact what works.
You don’t have to leave it to opinion.

One client, the marketing director of a software company, had a
rule for the direct mail packages we produced. She said, “Always
have a picture of a bearded programmer on page one of the

This, however, was not her subjective opinion. They tested this
multiple times, and adding the photo always lifted response.
Why? Well, their target market was programmers, so perhaps this
helped them relate to the letter writer.

This brings up a broader principle: People buy from people they
like, and they like people who are like them. Therefore, it
makes sense to have the copy written in the voice of and signed
by someone who is a member of your target audience. For
instance, if you are sending an e-mail to nurses, have the
e-mail coming from a nurse.


Category: General | 122 Comments »

Is positive thinking overrated?

August 1st, 2013 by Bob Bly

A lot of my subscribers ask me how I get motivated to do my work
… but the truth is: I think the whole idea of motivation is

My subscriber RM writes: “Bob, thanks for balancing out the
often severely unrealistic optimism that often comes with
motivational literature … you’re keeping it real.”

A whole mini-industry, motivational speaking and publishing, has
evolved to help people worldwide find their motivation.

But I believe you can do what you must do to succeed whether you
feel motivated or not.

In an attempt at humorous marketing, an actor reading the script
on a radio commercial pauses and asks his producer, “What’s my
motivation here?”

The producer’s deadpan answer: “We’re paying you.”

JH, a successful novelist, says that the secret to his success
is that he writes every day whether he feels motivated to or not.

“Writing is my job,” says JH. “If I work in the chicken plant,
do I not go to the chicken plant today just because I don’t feel
like it?”

I also don’t place overly much importance on positive thinking
or optimism.

The book “The Secret” says that if you keep thinking positive
thoughts, you will get or become what you think about.

Note: I well understand the Law of Attraction. Please do not
write to me suggesting I do not and offering your explanation. I
was listening to Earl Nightingale when many of my readers were
in diapers.

The Law of Attraction notwithstanding, my experience is that
ideas, visualization, affirmations, and positive thoughts alone
are next to nothing. It is action that gets you the results.

I am by nature a pessimist. Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist
and author of the book “Learned Optimism,” says that an
advantage of pessimists is that they see things realistically.

As a negative sort of person, I do at times wonder whether, in
my large body of how-to writing, I may have failed to
sufficiently motivate my readers. My writing tends to be long on
actionable ideas and short on rah-rah talk.

Many info marketers motivate by promising outrageous results in
their promotional copy and their products. A lot do so by hyping
the business opportunity they are selling in their writings.

But unless the buyer follows the instructions given in the
product and keeps at it, he is unlikely to achieve the results
he wants.

I like what my colleague info marketer FG says: “I make no
promises about your results. That’s up to you.”

Nike’s iconic ad campaign encapsulates my advice to you: “Just
do it.”

Nike has it right. What matters most is not what you think or
say; what matters most is what you do.

Thomas Carlyle said it this way: “Produce! Produce! Were it but
the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a product, produce it
in God’s name! ‘Tis the utmost thou hast in thee: out with it,


Category: General | 104 Comments »