Client knows best? Not in advertising


Ads_Cover_for_Kindle, advertising, online advertising

A tale of advertising, fun, and love.

It constantly fascinates me that people who aren’t in advertising consider themselves experts, particularly online. In online advertising, you’re not working with a “turnstile” audience.

This audience goes where it wants to go, watches what it wants to watch, and reads what it wants to read. (Forget FOMO, that’s for people who have no lives. Imagine not missing out on the latest Direct Marketing light opera.) Compulsory, whole page pop-ups simply annoy them. This is about as close as online advertising can get to old-style, compulsory TV commercials, which appears to be the point at which everybody stopped thinking about audience access.

It’s also obsolete. Modern audiences also only pay attention to ads which are of value to them. Like Claude Hopkins said in Scientific Advertising all those years ago, advertising is about customer values. It’s ironic, in the days of SEO as a science, that advertising is still a lumbering plodder in a highly specialized range of market segments. See also “YouTube couldn’t hit a keyword with a dictionary”, a slightly less than idealistic view of ad targeting.

It’s a matter of opinion whether any otherwise normal, rational, client really gets it about advertising realities. They’re experts in their own fields, know their markets, etc., and still miss the obvious. Online advertising is where the wheels fall off.

The immortal Celts in EnglandDealing with a discretionary audience is a very different business. Many people complain bitterly that their expensive online advertising isn’t delivering for them. Despite ridiculously complex algorithms, bizarre bidding rituals, pubescent fantasies about Facebook likes, and other fascinating dalliances with the futile, they don’t get conversions.

A dismal dribble is the usual result. It’s predictable, it’s expensive, and it doesn’t really achieve very much. Clients, bless their masochistic tendencies, understandably think that because they know what they want they therefore know what the audience wants.

It doesn’t work that way.

Let’s start with a very basic bit of LEGO-level psychology thoughtfully glued to a marketing no-brainer in shopping list form:

  • It is better for the market if motivated buyers can get to their goals ASAP.
  • Motivated buyers do not need to be told to buy products or services.
  • They need information confirming the value of their decisions.
  • They need hyperlinks, content, and straightforward purchasing options.
  • Anything outside this very simple, effective dynamic probably won’t work, simply because it distracts buyers from purchasing.
  • If you’re given 100 million alternatives when you only need two or three, your decision making process is not going to be very efficient, is it?

American Valhalla page 26… All of which calls into question the multilayer song and dance act which basic “get sales” advertising has become. Add to this the fizzy excitement which accompanies anything going viral, which is a synonym for thousands of times more information on anybody actually needs, and the process is truly stuffed. This is taxidermy, not advertising.

If you’re thinking that the fact is that competition naturally creates lots of alternatives, think again. In practice, the consumer is not going to go outside their comfort zone unless absolutely necessary.

The logic is straightforward, and irrefutable:

  1. For the consumer, simpler is better, cheaper in time and effort, and more convenient.
  2. The consumer will naturally gravitate to a simple answer unless there is a compelling reason to do something different.
  3. The whole process of marketing behavioural psychology is based on verifiable, measurable behaviours, not a lottery system of “Now I get to guess where I buy my groceries next”.

For online advertising to have any impact at all, it has to deliver clear values related to consumer needs and preferences. An online ad may attract some attention, but that’s back in the lottery zone. Even a cheap Google classified ad can have the same impact as a full page ad, in this environment.

… Which brings us back to the issue of your long-suffering, verbiage-besieged, client knowing best.

Let’s ask a few questions:

Didn't know that, eh?

Didn’t know that, eh?

Do you know why a potential customer will read an article containing a backlink? The actual backlink is usually just one link in a 500 word article. Why will that link get clicked, when thousands of online ads are simply ignored?

Why is an image considered high value, when a “spell it out” and is barely noticed?

What level of expertise does your client audience have?

Why are they interested in a particular piece of information, when you have a LEGO-like, dumbed down How To birthday card-type ad which tells them everything they need to know?

Short answer – You don’t really know what they need to know. You can’t. In keeping with the greatest traditions of lazy marketing, the assumption that the audience is comprised entirely of idiots is a massive own goal.

Freelance_writing-_C_Cover_for_KindleThe irony is that the online environment, with its endlessly irritating search capabilities has created another unequivocal demand – The demand for better value information. This is critical, and it is also a major driver for sales. This information creates motivation. It’s the exact opposite of the “People only want to read for 20 seconds” mythology.

When you buy a fridge, a TV, or any other major appliance, you won’t just swallow any old bit of information trying to sell you one of those items. You don’t have to. Quite rightly, you will take your time, look at your options, and get a better deal.

One thing I find hilarious with tech advertising is the assumption that adding bullet points regarding technology people have never heard of will sell that technology. The people who have never heard of it will simply skim over that information. People generally don’t do PhDs simply so that they can read an ad.

Anything may have meaning. Here's a meaningful question - Does reality have to spoon feed people and explain itself, like a lecture? Does it? There's a meaning there.

Anything may have meaning. Here’s a meaningful question – Does reality have to spoon feed people and explain itself, like a lecture? Does it? There’s a meaning there.

People who have heard of the technology tend to be experts, and are therefore much more critical of information of this kind. Ironically, they are more likely to be swayed by old-style price/value advertising than trying to tell them something they already know more about than the copywriter.

This is a classic case of “know your market”, and it is one of the primary factors behind functional online advertising copy.

From the copy and content creator/writer’s perspective, the most basic, and in this case the most ethical, thing to do for a client is to find the strongest selling points. I’ve had many incredibly productive conversations with clients about their business, products, and aspirations.

You can learn more from a client in five minutes on the subject of their business than you could in a 10 day workshop.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the client is an expert on getting hits on a webpage. This is the bottom line requirement, and it will not go away, however bureaucratic, pedantic and culture-driven a company may be.

Advertising psychology

Generally speaking, another type of psychology applies:

American ValhallaPeople are driven by an image of what their content is “supposed to” look like, usually a mediocre, “industry standard” which is simply an average. Average content tends to get average results at best, and to be completely ignored at worst.

Even corporate marketers, who know much better, tend to lean to a minimal image of their content. Standout material is a second thought, rather than the first priority.

I could literally write a book on this, but let’s keep it simple:

  1. Your logo tells people everything they need to know about who the company is.
  2. From that point onward, the client is looking for information.
  3. That information has to be useful, has to provide a valuable perspective, and has to make sense in terms of client needs.
  4. Explanatory information is far more valuable, and certainly far more functional, than “exciting” babble, which is classified as meaningless by default.

OK, now a practical exercise – Try to sell yourself some clothes pegs, in 500 words. Try to make this information interesting, something worth considering. You can use images, videos, and its many hyperlinks as you like.

Paul Wallis books, sydney media jam

This book is all about creative ideas. Nobody has yet died of reading it, but it’s a pretty tough call for those not familiar with working with ideas.

Next, try to make the content enjoyable and as painless as possible for the customer, preferably a lot of fun to read and watch.

Now try to get somebody else to pay attention to all the content, and actually agree that they would like to buy the product.

(Yes, the clothes pegs can be worn on the nose but be careful- You don’t want too many deaths from your product, and it is just a bit predictable.)

The reason for choosing the clothes pegs is that this particular type of product is considered so banal, and so unworthy of attention that there is almost no commercial advertising. Clothes pegs, in fact, are theoretically obsolete. It is a fairly tough sell.

…But it can be done, and relatively easily- If you know how to do that sort of content and copy.

So here’s the question folks – Do you know best?

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books



What the hell do you think you know about writing content?


Paul Wallis, Sydney Media JamThis is not going to be the most tactful blog you’ve ever read about writing. I’m a professional writer. I have 8 million words online, paid for by other people.

This has been a very mixed experience. I have been lucky enough to write with some real experts, and unlucky enough to write with people who apparently think a phone bill is Shakespeare.

I’m a real writer. People read my stuff voluntarily. I don’t have to hide behind a brand or banner to get hits.

I’ve had millions of hits. I have user awards, not “Everyone’s Little Friends” awards. I don’t need to tell people I’m a “passionate writer.”

So let’s get down to cases –

Words which annoy writers include “fluff”, “professional”, “eye for detail” and similar insults. It’s a bit much when you look at a page full of typos, absurdly punctuated or wrongly punctuated, and then hear about the high standards these people apply to their content. The entire editorial process is based on managing these details, and you don’t have to look far online to see how good the standards actually are.

A few points for the baffled:

  • The whole idea of content writing is engagement.
  • If you write in exactly the same way and same style as everybody else, nobody is going to read your stuff.
  • People can’t be forced to read online content.
  • Like every type of sales content, a unique selling point, like an unusual writing style, is what sells.
  • Humour, interest, expression, and word timing are the core elements in anything worth reading. Take those away, and what you have is basically a business letter or a style guide.
  • Industry standard doesn’t mean a damn thing. It never has. It’s for dummies, the plodders who think a classified ad is a major achievement.
Paul Wallis books, sydney media jam

This book is all about creative ideas. Nobody has yet died of reading it, but it’s a pretty tough call for those not familiar with working with ideas.

Pretty damn technical, isn’t it? It’s basic marketing. If you don’t know that, you should be shot.

Now let’s put this range of ideas in the delightful vernacular of all these hard case “all-business” executives who have never written a damn shopping list:

Get this through your fucking heads, you fucking idiots:

  • Your fucking stuff has to be worth fucking reading.
  • If you write boring fucking crap, the result will be boring fucking crap.
  • Nobody has to, or wants to, read boring fucking crap.
  • Writing content is about fucking business, a unique fucking selling point is what fucking sells.
  • Engagement is supposed to be fucking fun, not a fucking phone bill.
  • Industry standard is for fucking losers. Quality sells, and that’s all you fucking need to know.

Fun to read, wasn’t it? Did you feel loved and respected? Did you feel that your professional skills and life experience were receiving due acknowledgement? Did you feel your career and means of earning a living were doing well?

That, (in case you’re interested and have managed to get your tiny little brain to continue reading through this huge number of 465 words to the end of the last paragraph), is exactly how your patronising remarks sound to writers. Your social skills need neutering.

  • When you start talking about “fluff”, high attention to detail, or things like that, it simply proves to any writer you have never “fucking” written anything.
  • Some writers are real experts. Why do you hire experts, if you are simply going to waste their time (and your own money) with trivial non-issues?
  • Real fluff is based on fluffy information and lousy content requirements from the stagnant depths of real morons. Get your smug head out of your arse and start paying attention to core information requirements.
  • People do not read web content with a style guide at hand. They are looking for information, not some damn grade school exercise.
  • People do not want to be bored to death by shopping lists. Listing has its uses, but it’s not expression. It doesn’t communicate on any particularly persuasive personal level.
  • Annoying writers is a great way of turning over a lot of writers. If you want to be in an endless training exercise, spending unnecessary weeks or months training people to do basic things, it’s costing you a fortune. Serves you right.
  • Annoying writers can be extremely dangerous. Under certain circumstances, if you use those expressions to me, I will either smash your fucking head in, or make you fucking wish I had. Choose between respect or death, office boys.

So glad we had this little chat. Do remember to subscribe, or if you are still inclined to piss-fart around with mindless minutiae, preferably beat yourself to death with a sesame seed. Just don’t tell me about it.

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books