I’ve always been fascinated by advertising and marketing, and frequently ask myself just what is it that sells a product and makes me want to buy it? In fact I even used to buy books and magazines on the subject for leisure reading (although that sounds a bit weird now).
And so it’s not really surprising that even though my ambition was always to be a writer, not long after I began my first magazine publishing job, my interest in marketing was uncovered and I ended up being transferred from editorial to the marketing department, and quickly became responsible for all the in-house advertisements for back issues, subscriptions and merchandising for a large portfolio of computer magazines. And I loved it.
Although I later returned to regular writing, I have always maintained a keen interest in marketing, and try to be as hands-on with the publicizing of my books, whether published by other companies, or by my own Nixon Publishing brand. I have also use all the tips and tricks I learned on a range of computer-related and Internet projects, and also in a number of bricks and mortar business I have run such as restaurants, tea rooms, nightclubs, bed and breakfasts and pubs. And now I’d like to pass some of them onto you.
None of these tips were invented by me – I merely applied them – as I was recently reminded by re-reading an essay I first saw many years ago by David Ogilvy of top advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather. Out of all the advice I read in all those books and magazines there is none better than in this article. Somehow, Ogilvy summed up all the best techniques (many of which he discovered), and freely gave them away. If you follow just some of his suggestions, your marketing will definitely be successful (as long as you sell good products, that is).
So here is my selection of top 20 marketing techniques distilled from the 38 in Ogilvy’s essay. Mostly I have omitted those tips that refer to television advertising which I have only undertaken a few times, and concentrated on tips suitable for print and the Internet, since these are the areas I know best. If you are interested I have also included Ogilvy’s essay at the end of this post.
1. Choose Your Positioning
Before you even start thinking about marketing a product you need to choose the right positioning for it. If you are selling a news reader mobile app for example, should you position it as a simple way to read news from many sources, a method of ensuring you don’t miss any news or, perhaps if it has large fonts, as a news reader for people with poor vision. Choose your primary position, and then place other positions in order of importance below that. You can use these later as selling points.
2. Make a Large Promise
Buyers are drawn in by large promises. These are benefits the customer can immediately comprehend and desire. So if you are selling Vitamin D supplements, for example, your large promise might be that the customer will suffer from fewer colds. This would be seen as a great benefit for many people.
3. Build Your Brand
Customers recognize brands. Good marketers consistently attach promises and benefits to brands, which raise their profile. Goodwill from happy purchasers also helps to build a brand. With so many competing products out there you need to stand out form the average ones. So build your brand, get it recognized and use it in all your marketing.
4. Use Big Ideas
Without a big idea your advertising will not be as effective as it could. Unlike a big promise, which is a benefit to the customer, a big idea is a concept that piques the purchaser’s interest, and makes them stop for a moment and read what you have to say. You want your idea to jolt the customer and it probably won’t be easy to find. But if you can come up with one you’re onto a winner. For example, James Dyson built a billion dollar vacuum cleaner business around the big idea of replacing bagged cleaners with cyclonic vortex systems that retain full suction, and has even expanded the idea into bladeless fans.
5. Make a Quality Presentation
Always, but always, go for quality. Use quality images and write classy headlines. Treat your products like babies. Think of how Steve Jobs would lovingly present new Apple products on stage. Exude quality in all your marketing, even if you are selling low end, budget items.
6. Be Compelling
Have you seen advertising that begins “Why not…?”, such as “Why not try our restaurant?”. If you’re like me your first reaction is to start a response beginning with “Because…”. This type of marketing encourages the reader to think of reasons not to do something. I mean, the word not is right there, already putting off potential purchasers. At the same time you should avoid passive speech. For example, instead of saying “Senior Citizen Special: half price Tuesday lunchtimes” try this active version “Senior Citizens, come and eat lunch on Tuesdays and we’ll give you half off!”
7. Be Innovative
Why should people buy your product when there are so many others out there to choose from? You need to give them a good reason, and few are better than that you have something innovative to offer. For example, what’s more innovative in dining than the aquarium restaurants now trending worldwide, in which you can eat a great meal surrounded by (and often under) a mass of colorful tropical fish swimming around? When we wanted to open a restaurant in Texas we chose to create an English Tearoom, and declared it “A little piece of England, deep in the heart of Texas”. It captured people’s imagination and we were busy form the first day of opening.
8. Target Psychological Demographics
You are probably well aware of demographics, the separation of a population into different groups according to salary, gender, age and so on. But you must also take into account psychological demographics. Taking Apple as an example again, it forged a great deal of business through its “Think Different” campaign, aimed at non-conformists.
9. Use The News
When you have a new product it is newsworthy. Make a song and dance about it and start off your marketing with a bang. Simply releasing a product and hoping to build it slowly isn’t good enough. Start as you mean to go on and attract attention to it from day 1. Also, whatever else is in the news is also uppermost in the minds of your customers. If your product is in anyway related to that news you can ride on the back of it.
10. Go The Whole Hog
Once you start out on a campaign, run with it all the way. Don’t give up if it seems not to be working. Often people need to keep being reminded of your product a few times before it registers sufficiently for them to consider a purchase. To do this try to choose one simple promise and work with it in every way you can.
11. Use Simple Headlines
Headlines are the most important print or Internet selling tool you have. They are what grabs a reader’s attention and gets them to choose to read on. They are also what gets indexed most highly by search engines. So you must keep them simple so that they can be quickly read and remembered. No more than 10-12 words is best, or people start to forget your message, and a target of 8-10 words is ideal. For example, “Learn to speak Spanish with our software” is simple, short and easy to recall.
12. Include Brand Names In Headlines
Five times more people read a headline than copy, so always include your brand name in your headlines. If you have multiple brands choose the most suitable for a particular advertisement. For example, I am building up the Nixon Publishing brand, which I want to be known for publishing quality books on a range of topics, at attractive prices. I therefore mention Nixon Publishing everywhere it is relevant. However, as an author I also have the brand of my name, Robin Nixon, so if some marketing I am doing is more likely to be of interest to people who have already read one of my books, I may choose to use my name as the brand. There again, I have a range of books, all with Crash Course in the title, and that is beginning to be a brand in its own right. For example, “Learn to speak Spanish with LingoSoft software” enhances the headline from the previous tip.
13 Include Benefits In Headlines
Since so many more people read a headline than body copy you must pack as much of your message into it as you can. So, after the brand name, you should next insert a benefit. For example, “Learn Spanish in a week with LingoSoft software” now packs a benefit into the example headline.
14. Include News In Headlines
There’s something about news that makes people pay attention. If you can make a headline newsworthy you can increase its effectiveness even further. For example, “LingoSoft Spanish student hired as translator” is very powerful. It states the brand name, what the product does (teach Spanish), and reveals how a student who used the product got hired as a result.
15. Flag Prospects
When you are targeting a particular group flag them. This draws that group’s attention to your message, and also alerts people to whom you are not selling that they can ignore the rest of your message. You don’t need or want them to read it anyway. So, if you are selling a product only to young women, perhaps start your headline with “Ladies, “. This instantly focuses in on your selected group of prospects. Or, for example, if you have a therapeutic aid for back pain, you might start your copy with something like “Does backache prevent you from enjoying life?”.
16. Write Long Copy
I often hear from marketing people (especially at book publishers) that the copy to post on Amazon or other places shouldn’t be too long or it will put readers off. But this is absolutely not true. Yes, readership drops off as you get up to about 50 words, but once you are past that number it doesn’t drop much further. And nearly all the copy I have ever used has been at least 50 words long. On the other hand, it’s been proven over and again that the more copy you write and the more benefits you pack in, the greater your sales. Hence the full page advertorials you often see in Sunday magazines. So craft a superb short headline, and compelling intro of less than 50 words, by all means. But when it comes down to the body copy that has to do the job of selling, don’t be afraid to pack it full of reasons to buy your product. One of David Ogilvy’s favorite quotes is, “The more you tell, the more you sell”.
17. Use Images That Suggest A Story
When choosing the images to accompany your marketing be creative. Don’t just show a product pack if you are selling language teaching software. Instead show a student successfully conversing in the language you teach. If you are selling a recipe book, don’t just show pictures of the food, illustrate your copy with people enjoying eating it. Always try to create a story with your images and it will draw people in.
18. Always Caption Images
Lots of people forget this one, but in tests more than twice as many people read captions as read body copy. So if you leave them out you’ve lost a good selling opportunity. And treat all your captions like mini headlines, packing benefits and information into them.
19. Before And After
Nothing tells a story better or more quickly than a pair of before and after images with captions, as successfully demonstrated in a myriad of dieting adverts. Anything you can do to contrast how a person’s life will be after they have purchased your product compared to before will accentuate its benefits. If selling paint you can show a room before and after. If a recipe book, show a dull ‘before’ and enticing ‘after’ meal, and so on.
20. Use Editorial Layout
Don’t make your marketing look like advertising. The closer you can make it appear like editorial layout the more likely people will be to read it. So study good editorial that catches your eye, and try to emulate it in your marketing.
I guarantee that if you practice these simple techniques in your marketing you will definitely see results. They have all been tested over and again by top advertising agencies such as Ogilvy and Mather, and they will also work for you.
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How To Create Advertising That Sells
Following is the original essay that David Ogilvy wrote in the 1960s, and which has inspired me and so many others:
“Ogilvy & Mather has created over $1,480,000,000 worth of advertising. Here, with all the dogmatism of brevity are 38 of the things we have learned.
1. The most important decision. We have learned that the effect of your advertising on your sales depends more on this decision than on any other: how should you position your product? Should you position Schweppes as a soft drink – or as a mixer? Should you position Dove as a product for dry skin or as a product which gets hands really clean? The results of your campaign depend less on how we write your advertising than how your product is positioned. It follows that positioning should be decided before the advertising is created. Research can help. Look before you leap.
2. Large promise. The second most important decision is this: what should you promise the customer? A promise is not a claim, or a theme, or a slogan. It is a benefit for the consumer. It pays to promise a benefit which is unique and competitive, and the product must deliver the benefit your promise. Most advertising promises nothing. It is doomed to fail in the marketplace. “Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement” – said Samuel Johnson.
3. Brand image. Every advertisement should contribute to the complex symbol which is the brand image. 95% of all advertising is created ad-hoc. Most products lack any consistent image from one year to another. The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand gets the largest share of the market.
4. Big ideas. Unless your advertising is built on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. It takes a big idea to jolt the consumer out of his indifference – to make him notice your advertising, remember it and take action. Big ideas are usually simple ideas. Said Charles Kettering, the great General Motors inventor: “this problem, when solved, will be simple.” Big, simple ideas are not easy to come by. They require genius – and midnight oil. A truly big one can be continued for 20 years – like our eye patch for Hathaway shirts.
5. A first-class ticket. It pays to give most products an image of quality – a first-class ticket. Ogilvy & Mather has been conspicuously successful in doing this – for Pepperidge, Hathaway, Mercedes Benz, Schweppes, Dove and others. If your advertising looks ugly, consumers will conclude that your product is shoddy and they will be less likely to buy it.
6. Don’t be a bore. Nobody was ever bored into buying a product. Yet most advertising is impersonal, detached, cold – and dull. It pays to involve the customer. Talk to her like a human being. Charm her. Make her hungry. Get her to participate.
7. Innovate. Start trends – instead of following them. Advertising which follows a fashionable fad or is imitative, is seldom successful. It pays to innovate, to blaze new trails. But innovation is risky unless you pre-test your innovation with consumers. Look before you leap.
8. Be suspicious of awards. The pursuit of creative awards seduces creative people from the pursuit of sales. We have been unable to establish any correlation whatever between awards and sales. At Ogilvy and Mather, we now give an annual award for the campaign which contributes the most to sales. Successful advertising sells the product without drawing attention to itself, it rivets the consumer’s attention on the product. Make the product the hero of your advertising.
9. Psychological Segmentation. Any good agency knows how to position products for demographic segments of the market – for men, for young children, for farmers in the south, etc. But Ogilvy and Mather has learned that it often pays to position for psychological segments of the market. Our Mercedes-Benz advertising is positioned to fit non-conformists who scoff at “status symbols” and reject flim-flam appeals to snobbery.
10. Don’t bury news. It is easier to interest the consumer in a product when it is new than at any other point in its life. Many copywriters have a fatal instinct for burying news. That is why most advertising for new products fails to exploit the opportunity that genuine news provides. It pays to launch your new product with a loud boom-boom.
11. Go the whole hog. Most advertising campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of marketing objectives. They embrace the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting too many things, they achieve nothing. It pays to boil down your strategy to one simple promise – and go the whole hog in delivering that promise.
What Works Best In Television
12. Testimonials. Avoid irrelevant celebrities. Testimonial commercials are almost always successful – if you make them credible. Either celebrities or real people can be effective. But avoid irrelevant celebrities whose fame has no natural connection with your product or your customers. Irrelevant celebrities steal attention from your product.
13. Problem-solution (don’t cheat!) You set up a problem that the consumer recognizes. And you show how your product can solve that problem. And you prove the solution. This technique has always been above average in sales results, and it still is. But don’t use it unless you can do so without cheating: the consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.
14. Visual demonstrations. If they are honest, visual demonstrations are generally effective in the marketplace. It pays to visualize your promise. It saves time. It drives the promise home. It is memorable.
15. Slice of life. These playlets are corny, and most copywriters detect them. But they have sold a lot of merchandise, and are still selling.
16. Avoid logorrhea. Make your pictures tell the story. What you show is more important than what you say. Many commercials drown the viewer in a torrent of words. We call that logorrhea, (rhymes with diarrhea.) We have created some great commercials without words.
17. On-camera voice. Commercials using on-camera voice do significantly better than commercials using voice over.
18. Musical Backgrounds. Most commercials use musical backgrounds. However, on the average, musical backgrounds reduce recall of your commercial. Very few creative people accept this. But we never heard of an agency using musical background under a new business presentation.
19. Stand-ups. The stand-up pitch can be effective, if it is delivered with straightforward honesty.
20. Burr of singularity. The average consumer now sees 20,000 commercials a year; poor dear. Most of them slide off her memory like water off a duck’s back. Give your commercials a flourish of singularity, a burr that will stick in the consumer’s mind. One such burr is the mnemonic device or relevant symbol – like the crowns in our commercials for Imperial Magazine.
21. Animation and cartoons. Less than 5% of television commercials use cartoons or animation. They are less persuasive than live commercials. The consumer can not identify herself with the character in the cartoon and cartoon’s do not invite belief. However, Carson-Roberts, our partners in Los Angeles, tell us that animation can be helpful when you are talking to children. They should know, they have addressed more than 600 commercials to children.
22. Salvage commercials. Many commercials which test poorly can be salvaged. The faults revealed by the test can be corrected. We have doubled the effectiveness of a commercial simply be re-editing it.
23. Factual versus emotional. Factual commercials tend to be more effective than than emotional commercials. However, Ogilvy & Mather has made some emotional commercials, which have been successful in the marketplace. Among these are our campaigns for Maxwell House Coffee and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate.
24. Grabbers. We have found that commercials with an exciting opening hold their audience at a higher level than commercials which begin quietly.
What Works Best In Print
25. Headline. On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. It follows that, if you don’t sell the product in your headline, you have wasted 80% of your money. That is why most Ogilvy and Mather headlines include the brand name and the promise.
26. Benefited headline. Headlines that promise to benefit sell more than those that don’t.
27. News and headlines. Time after time we have found that it pays to inject genuine news into headlines. The consumer is always on the lookout for new products or new improvements in an old product, or new ways to use an old product. Economists – even Russian economists – approve of this. They call it “informative” advertising. So do consumers.
28. Simple headlines. Your headline should telegraph what you want to say – in simple language. Readers do not stop to decipher the meanings of obscure headlines.
29. How many words in a headline? In headline tests conducted with cooperation from a big department store, it was found that headlines of 10 words or longer sold more goods than short headlines. In terms of recall, headlines between 8-and-10 words are most effective. In mail order advertising, headlines between 6-and-12 words get the must coupon returns. On the average, long headlines sell more merchandise than short ones – headlines like our “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
30. Localize headlines. In local advertising, it pays to include the name of the city in your headline.
31. Select your prospects. When you advertise your product which is consumed by a special group, it pays to flag that group in your headline – mothers, bedwetters, going to Europe?
32. Yes, people read long copy. Readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words (this page contains 1,909 words, and you are reading it). Ogilvy & Mather has used long copy – with notable success – from Mercedes Benz, Cessna Citation, Merrill Lynch, and Shell Gasoline. “The more you tell, the more sell.”
33. Story appeal and picture. Ogilvy & Mather has gotten noticeable results with photographs, which suggest the story. The reader glances at the photograph and asks himself, “what goes on here?” Then he reads the copy to find out. Harold Rudolph called this magic element “story appeal.” The more of it you inject into your photograph, the more people look at your advertisements. It is easier said than done.
34. Before and after. Before and after advertisements are somewhat above average in attention value. Any form of visualized contrast seems to work well.
35. Photographs versus art work. Ogilvy & Mather has found that photographs work better than drawing – almost invariably. They attract more readers, generate more appetite appeal, are more believable, are better remembered, pull more coupons, and sell more merchandise.
36. Use captions to sell. On the average, twice as many people read the captions under photographs as read the body copies. It follows that you should never use a photograph without putting a caption under it; and each caption should be a miniature advertisement for the product – complete with the brand name and promise.
37: Editorial layout. Ogilvy & Mather has had more success with editorial layouts, than with addy Layouts. Editorial layouts get higher readership than conventional advertisements.
38: Repeat your winners. Scores of great advertisements have been discarded before they have begun to pay off. Readership can actually increase with repetition – up to five repetitions.
Is this all we know?
These findings apply for most categories of products. But, not to all. Ogilvy & Mather has developed a separate and specialized body of knowledge on what makes for success in advertising food products, tourist destinations, proprietary medicines, children’s products – and other classifications. But, this special information is revealed only to the clients of Ogilvy & Mather.”
- David Ogilvy