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March 4, 2019

Topics that might offend people​

As you put more voice into your work, you invariably run into topics like politics and religion. Hot potato topics that can blow up in your face.

So, should you write about them? Or are you best ignoring them, and sticking to more ‘safe’ topics?

It’s actually impossible to write engagingly over a long period of time without expressing political opinion. I also think it’s a mistake to completely ignore these things.

If you’re a deeply religious person, then it’s fine to work elements of that into your writing too. You can do it in a sensible way, without hammering anyone over the head. Perry Marshall does that very well.

I try to place my political and religious opinions out in the open. They’re there if you want to go looking for them. And if you don’t, they just blend in with the background. I think.

If you’re trying to build trust over a long period of time, you have to let people know the real you through small insights into your life. Having said that, nobody initially signs up to hear about these things. So it’s a balance. Make your emails entertaining and useful first. Then communicate the real you second.

There are also media considerations. There are some topics that I’ll happily riff on in my print newsletter, but won’t touch so often in email. Print is a more personal medium with my inner sanctum of subscribers, so I’m more likely to address sensitive topics there.

On balance though most people err too much on the side of caution. If you never offend anyone in your writing, you’re probably not appealing to anyone either.

February 28, 2019

How long should it take to write an email

I’ve come to believe that the optimal time between having an idea for an email, and sending the thing out, is 24-48 hours.

Any less, and you’re likely to vomit all over somebody’s inbox. Any more and it’ll probably go cold, or you’ll second-guess yourself out of sending it.

What specifically might that 48 hour window look like?

When you have an email idea, you have to quickly make notes with whatever you have to hand. I’ll do this on a computer if one’s handy, or into my Evernote app on my phone if I’m out. I might use pen and paper, although I find this slows the process later on.

Another valid approach is to drip-feed notes on the email throughout the day. This is a fairly time-intensive way to do things, because the email ends up taking more brain-space than it merits. (Sorry, did you have other things to do today?) But it can help when you’re starting out.

1 – 24 hours later you want to convert your notes into a draft. Drafting the email is easier the more care you have taken with your notes, and even a one-hour gap between notes and drafting is beneficial. Not all of my notes continue to the draft stage. Sometimes I’ll have lost enthusiasm, or had a better idea.

If you’re like me, the second you’ve finished with your draft you’ll want to send it. “Shakespeare himself would be envious in his grave,” you think smugly to yourself. Of course, 24 hours on, your wonderful writing might not seem so wonderful at all. So if possible it’s best to leave some time between drafting and sending.

I’ve had clients in the past who have failed to grasp the importance of this delay. Usually they then like to ‘point out’ mistakes, which is the price you pay for a rushed email.

These are rules of thumb, to be broken at your own discretion. Working in a hurry can sometimes be a virtue. But I believe the delays I’ve suggested are optimal for most people.  

February 26, 2019

Copywriting vs copy assembling

I have a growing conviction that copy assembling has become more important than copy writing…

The perceived role of a copywriter is to come up with magic words that sell.

A copy assembler on the other hand has all of the necessary writing skills, but spends much more time assembling, sifting and sorting raw material. A copy assembler is a master at distinguishing signal from noise.

While copy assembling is front loaded in terms of work, it never stops. I’m always assembling things that might be useful, even when it looks like I’m not. Anything you ever say to me can and possibly will end up in a marketing email.

I have a recording app on my phone, which I’ll routinely place on the table in face to face conversations (with permission, of course). I have a call recording app. I use Zoom for web meetings, and routinely record conversations with clients.

I then crop the recording to just the section I want, and send it to rev.com to be transcribed. It then gets added to the ‘sifting and sorting’ pile.

Whatever you’re planning to write, it’s always better to write from a hefty bank of organised raw material. Always. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

It’s easier and more enjoyable to do things this way round. With practice and feedback, the writing takes care of itself.

February 25, 2019

The biggest pay per click mistake

The single biggest reason why smart advertisers lose money on pay per click isn’t what most people think it is…

  • It’s not the ‘wrong settings’ (although inappropriately selected settings are a big factor)
  • It’s not a lack of technical understanding
  • It’s not a lack of competitive intelligence
  • It’s not the wrong keywords
  • It’s not the wrong ad type…

So what is it?

I read an email last week from Perry Marshall, who wrote:

“Wrong assumptions are really expensive. Keep asking yourself: what are you assuming now that isn’t true?”

Ding ding ding! A small light bulb went off reading those words. Wrong assumptions – or more specifically an unwillingness to challenge, test and re-test your assumptions is the most expensive mistake.

Assumptions are mental shortcuts that allow us to get things done. An assumption can save you time, but often in pay per click they cost you money. They’re hard to spot, and tend to camouflage themselves, blending in with the furniture of how things are.

If you’re running ads you have to regularly ask yourself… what beliefs do you hold about the different platforms?

  • Are video ads ineffective?
  • Is Facebook for B2C audiences?
  • Does remarketing ‘not work’?
  • Is LinkedIn for business, or people looking for work?
  • Is Twitter for everyone out of work?

Keep an eye out. Test small and often.

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.

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