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Why the Hero’s Journey isn’t enough

If you sell to people over a long period of time, the highest goal of your marketing is to upgrade someone’s thinking about your topic.

As with all real learning, an upgrade in thinking can only happen with a degree of discomfort.

It’s a lot to ask for your audience to feel discomfort. It isn’t what we’re ‘meant’ to do as marketers. But some discomfort they must feel, or else you’ll never get your point across. You might entertain, but you’ll never challenge someone’s current thinking.

I was thinking about this the other night. Linzi was watching a documentary about the James Bulger murder, which happened just a few miles from where I grew up in 1993. I would have been seven at the time. Old enough to remember it, but not old enough to appreciate how horrific it was.

Two ten-year-old boys abducted a two-year-old from a shopping centre, while his mother was distracted in a butcher’s shop. They then dropped him on his head by a canal. Later on – after being stopped by two different people – they took him to cemetery, tortured and killed him, eventually leaving his body on a railway line to make it look like an accident.

There is actually more detail to the story, which I don’t even want to write about.

Do you feel uncomfortable yet? You should.

And let me tell you, I do. As the father of a one-year-old, it’s been haunting my brain for the last few days. Not least because geographically it was very close to home. However you try to get your head around it, you can’t.

The most important stories to tell aren’t usually the most comfortable, for you or the reader. The ‘hero’s journey’ doesn’t often happen in the real world. But there’s a much deeper well of empathy and understanding in a more challenging story, if you manage to tell it.

That’s something to consider.

February 21, 2019

Should you link to a blog post in your emails?​

An email marketing question keeps popping up in client conversations. That question is whether it’s best to include everything you want to say in the body of your email, or to send a short enticing snippet linking to a full blog post.

Without wanting to dismiss the question, my gut response is to kind of yawn, and mutter ‘do whatever you think.’

Shortly afterwards I’ll remember to reign in my grumpiness, and give the following advice…

Email is a personal medium, first and foremost. How many emails do you receive from friends and family which open with a short snippet and a link to a blog post? Not many. So most of your business emails should follow suit.

(I know, your friends and family don’t email you anymore, especially now they’ve discovered WhatsApp. But just pretend they did…)

Having said that, if what you have written is:

  • Quite long (say, over 1000 words)
  • Very detailed, practical or hands-on (e.g. an A-Z guide to doing something)
  • Quite technical or content heavy

Then it can make more sense to link to a blog post. If the reader needs to invest significant time and concentration, then the email should sell the reader on reading the thing. Don’t take people’s attention for granted – you’re likely one of 100 other people arriving in their inbox today.

Sending people to a blog post also has the advantage of topping up your remarketing audiences. You could even run ads to people who read about specific post topics. The minimum audience size for remarketing is 30 on Facebook, 100 on Google.

Somebody who reads a blog post and then sees a relevant Facebook ad offering an appropriate next step may well be tempted to respond.

That is all I have to say on that.

February 18, 2019

Announcement: Live Google Ads training in May

I live in Sheffield, Yorkshire. People round here have a ‘say it how it is’ perspective on life. Things they might say about Google Ads include:

“Ten pounds a click? ‘Ow much? Thieving bastards…”

“It were proper expensive that pal…”

“It tha’s running Google Ads, tha’s bloody daft…”

“I phoned Google earlier and spoke to some reyt sillyarse…”

“How the bloody hell d’you make this work?”

“Keeping the missus in rags, this adwords thing…”

“There won’t be no holiday this year, after that Google bill…”

If you ever find yourself uttering the semblance of these things, you might like to know that I’m holding a three-day Google Ads workshop, in Sheffield in May.

The workshop is called Pie, Peas and Google Ads, and it’s 8th, 9th and 10th May. Two days of training, and a third day blocked off for implementation before you return to work. You’ll leave with a working Google Ads account, not a headache and reams of confused notes.​

The promise is that if you show up and put in the work, you’ll more than cover your investment in the training, in ad savings or increased profitability. Otherwise I’ll work with you personally after the event until you do.

(This is the only Google Ads training you’ll find where the trainer has a real vested interest in your short-term success…)

Plus if you’re fast there’s a handful of early bird places available.

Read more here

It’s worth a read even if you definitely can’t come.

February 13, 2019

Tip-toeing around new subscribers​

When a new contact opts into your world, you need them to proactively decide whether they want to hear from you. The best way to do that is to send them a series that tells your story.

Telling your story in your marketing is an expressive endeavour. Which if you’re used to talking exclusively about the mechanics of your work, is mildly terrifying.

The terrifying part is that people will judge it.

My experience is that the wrath of judgement isn’t as bad as most people imagine. The people most likely to buy from you will judge your expressive work kindly.

The people who are the biggest pain to work with – who actually cost you money to service – might not be so keen on hearing your personal stories. So when they unsubscribe, it’s actually a good thing for everybody. Good riddance.

If your business is based around long term customer relationships, you have to force the ‘do I want to hear from you‘ decision. Sending someone a daily email for two weeks forces people to decide (even if you DON’T send daily emails after that). Sending someone a monthly email does not. These principles apply to any communications media, not just email.

Are you forcing the decision? Or are you tip toeing around it? If you do nothing a new subscriber will quickly forget about you. It is a limited-time opportunity.

February 8, 2019

Email vs Messenger Bots

Every week I see someone – usually on Facebook – talking about how email is now dead, pointless or ineffective.

Usually the people making these assertions have very little to say of value, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that email isn’t working for them.

The argument goes that a good email open rate is widely considered to be 20%, and a good click through rate perhaps 2%. With a Facebook Messenger bot, open and click rates are more similar to SMS. You might get a 95% open rate, and a 50% click through rate.

Which on the face of it is impressive, and not something to ignore. But just because somebody has opened a Facebook message doesn’t mean they remember you, like you, or even want to hear from you. Most people are talking about messenger bots like they’ve discovered a magic shortcut to profitable customer relationships.

Email is still an excellent inner-sanctum – a way to communicate with your most engaged readers on a personal level. You can and should add other forms on top of that, such as messenger bots, direct mail, SMS and so on. But one doesn’t replace the other.

February 7, 2019

Marketing for the Unmarketables

I do a number of things that don’t fit into black and white boxes.

I was asked by a medical professional fairly recently whether I smoked. Without thinking, I told her I smoked 1.5 cigars per year – on average – but sometimes none at all. And maybe a cigarette or two if I ever get stinkingly drunk and stay out all night. I decided not to mention the spliff in Amsterdam.

“But… do you smoke?” she repeated, staring at me.

“No, not really,” I replied.

“I’ll just put no,” she said drily.

I’ve tried to push myself into many moulds in recent years, and I don’t fit in any of them.

I’m a pay per click expert, but not a pay per click person.

I’m a CRM expert, meaning I know more about it than your average punter. But I’m not really a systems person, and when you strip it back CRM is all about systems and not so much about technology, gadgets or automation.

I’m a writer, definitely, but not really a copywriter. Not in the sense most people think of. I don’t even like reading copywriting books very much.

When all else fails I tell people I ‘work in marketing’. Which is true at a very high level, but false in the way most people think of it. I don’t even like marketing very much, or at least the way most marketing is carried out.

I realise all of these things when I go to conferences, and see real out-and-out experts talking about PPC, CRM or copywriting, or whatever. People who hyper-specialise in a particular area, like the system we live in trains you to do. I sometimes feel envious of these people… only to realise they’re normally envious of me.

As soon as you take a multi-disciplinary approach to something, you’re in the grey zone. You’re no longer a smoker, nor a non-smoker. Easy conversations about what you do dry up. But meaningful conversations about work start to appear, if you can spot them.

I’ve noticed in hindsight that the clients I do the best work for also live in the grey zone. They’re not usually out-and-out anythings. If they were, they’d be going to Upwork for help, not coming to me.

I probably need to trademark that, and make it my next domain name (haha). Grey Zone Marketing: Marketing for the Unmarketables.

Should you tell old or new stories?

The chief storyteller in my family is my Grandad. He’s almost 85 and full of fascinating stories.

Stories about Berlin in the 1950’s. Stories about walking the Snowdon Horseshoe in Wales. The story about finding a dead guy on Ben Nevis. The wartime story about jumping over the fence at Everton to get in free, only to jump into an empty stand. The story about Everton’s PA announcer asking if anyone had brought their boots, because they were short on players. Stories about how he once cycled from Liverpool to Canterbury.

Of course, if you were to meet him a second time, he’d tell you all the same stories over again. But he’s old, so we let him off for that.

Importantly, the stories he tells the most often are all 40+ years old. Which is relevant to what we are doing here.

I see the same pattern recurring in my work. Many of the stories I tell are 5 years old or more. Stories about setting up in business. Stories about my solo travel in South America. Stories about my early creative writing efforts. Stories about truanting at school to play snooker. (I still maintain that occasional truanting encourages healthy independence, at any age and in any walk of life…)

Part of the story research process I follow is to explore very early stories – as far back as you can remember. I’m not being a nosy when I do this; I’m looking for early threads and patterns.

It’s normal for the stories that sit at the heart of your marketing to be not-so-recent, and not necessarily about your current line of work.

You’ve probably changed less than you think. It’s your older stories that build the most trust, because they showcase the real you in the most vulnerable way.

February 4, 2019

A key ingredient for good stories

Linzi and Hugo were away for a few days last week. Leaving me all alone at home on my lonesome.

(Can you hear that tiny, tiny violin?)

What do you think I got up to?

Was I looking at the front door, pining for them to return? I’ll give you a second to mull over the possibilities…

On Wednesday I went to… the theatre.

Imagine that – the theatre! Can’t remember the last time I went to the theatre. Certainly pre-baby. I saw a play called The Department of Distractions, which I enjoyed.

On Thursday I went to… the spa.

The spa! I kid you not. I sat in a steam room all afternoon contemplating my own existence.

Other than that I’ve been riding the tram around, drinking posh espresso.

Basically I’ve been living the sweet life for a few days.

Linzi and Hugo are back now, and I’m glad. Daddy Day Care is open again. But I’ve come to the assessment that to be a good storyteller, you also have to carve out some time for you. Regardless of how busy you are, and how many commitments you have.

It’s a bigger deal than it sounds. Otherwise, what will you ever write about?

February 1, 2019

Anything But Facebook

Every business has a bottleneck of some sort, and in mine the bottleneck is lead generation.

I’m currently one platform down. As you might remember, I’m at war with Facebook. Or more specifically, Facebook is at war with me, having disabled my account.

All of which has prompted me to look again at some of the other ad platforms. I’ve currently got four lead generation offers to test, and I’m going to test them on Google Display, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube. I’m also testing Amazon ads. I’m going to test different offers as both front end offers, and remarketing offers.

Anything is game. Any ad platform and ad format. Except Facebook.

(Screw you Facebook).​

I’ll carry on doing this until I find a handful of things that work. I’m calling this project ‘Anything But Facebook’.

I’ll document ‘Anything But Facebook’ as I go, and publish my findings in the March edition of the Magnetic Expert print newsletter.

If lead generation is your bottleneck, then at some point you have to roll up your sleeves and take responsibility for it.

January 31, 2019

What does real expertise look like?

“Who do you work with?” is one of the questions we all must answer with as much clarity as we can muster.

I’ve struggled with this over the years. I now tell people I work with ‘coaches, consultants and experts’. Which has led me recently to ask… what actually makes someone an expert?

(Because often the people claiming to be experts actually aren’t…)

The experts I’m after usually don’t have the best or slickest marketing. A true expert won’t have much time for marketing at all. They’re mostly out of sight, doing their thing. They’re hard to find on Google. They often don’t fully appreciate how valuable that thing is. They don’t collect as many testimonials as they should. They have at least three books in their head, but worry nobody will be interested. They have fascinating stories. They provide an outstanding service and experience, but you wouldn’t know it from first impressions.

The type of expert I seek out has lived a life, and brings multi-disciplinary insights. They see connections between things that aren’t obvious. They have a contrarian take on things. They think deeply about things, at least from time to time. They ask questions about why things work they way they do. They disappear unapologetically down intellectual and vocational rabbit holes. They have eclectic reading habits.

You could describe that as an ‘avatar exercise’ if you like, or at least the beginnings of one. Perhaps really it better describes the type of person I want to become.

Either way, it’s good to be more specific about the type of person you’re trying to find.

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