Sometimes there are no marketing shortcuts

I’m a big fan of using old school methods. In fact, the more dependent and hooked people get to the online/app world, the more I retreat the other way.

Like Facebook was great during my college days. Now it’s completely off my phone.

One old-school method I like is the hand-written note. They go a long way, probably because nobody writes them out by hand anymore.

I got the idea from a job hunting book titled “Knock Em Dead”. Before I graduated college, I asked my Dad for tips on how to get a job, and all he did was buy me that book.

And I used to send hand-written notes to hiring managers after every interview. Not like they sealed any deals, but I think that’s just the nature of job interviews.

But still, it’s great to get a hand-written note every once in a while. It’ll make your month.

But onto my main story. Similar to the letters from the cable company that I get every week, I get letters from a window company every now and again.

And it’s a really good idea, except it’s kinda executed poorly.

First, this specific window company will install windows at a house in our neighborhood. After they complete a job, they will mail every house a letter telling everybody they just finished a local job.

And there are great reasons to do this. It demonstrates social proof that other people are buying your product and the timeliness of the sale.

Not to mention, it’s a method that’s completely  offline. The window company is using a marketing channel where their competitors don’t even show up.

The only thing this company messes up on is how the letters look.

They make the letter look like a hand-written note, but you can totally tell it’s printed.

Not only is the writing print, it’s also printed in cursive so I can barely read it.

But the biggest fail is it’s not personal at all. Nobody’s first name is printed on the letter, and it completely removes the biggest strength of a hand-written letter.

When you get a hand-written note, it’s also special because it’s super-scarce. It’s because the note is only meant for an audience of one. You know that none of that note was copy and pasted.

Plus it takes work to write a hand-written note. If you think it doesn’t, try to write a few paragraphs by hand. Also try to make sure they’re legible. It definitely takes some time.

There are some scenarios where you can’t cut corners. As much as something looks like a personal hand-written note, deep down inside, people know what it really is.

When do you stop sending direct response mail?

I’m lucky enough to have Verizon Fios, so I have fiber internet. To my knowledge, my internet and TV has never had an outage, and it never lags.

*Okay… Super flex over*

But since I got Fios, Spectrum has been sending me mail nonstop with offers on their “lowest price” internet. Every week, I get postcards, letters and even fake plastic gift cards with their latest and greatest offer.

Here’s my honest question? Is it dumb for Spectrum to keep sending me mail? I don’t have an answer for this, I just really want to know more than anything.

Do they keep sending me mail in the hopes that one day I’ll get sick of my fiber provider and come running back to them?

Or are they just sending me mail because they have to keep acquiring new customers and they want to have their bases covered on the mail front.

If I had to guess, I’d say it was the second option. And I’m not a fan of this option. There’s always going to be a percentage of people who will never buy from you as long as you live.

But what could they do? Well, they could develop a new offer and sell it to people who are already customers.

You think big clunky telecom companies couldn’t do this because they only offer TV, internet and phone, but they absolutely can and they do find extra ways to drive revenue all the time.

A recent example of this was I just got an all-black brochure from Verizon Wireless. All it says is “Your monthly bill, lower” in bold white font.

And they were trying to sell me something, but it wasn’t some neat gadget or a money-saving plan. They offered their own version credit card, and their incentive was to take a little bit off my  bill every month.

Do I want this credit card? Honestly I’m kinda thinking about it. Do a lot of companies do this already? Tons. But it was smart of Verizon Wireless to send me this because:

  • I already own multiple credit cards
  • I have decent credit that isn’t in the toilet
  • I’m already a customer

Bottom line is they didn’t just throw a bunch of low-price offers my way. They knew I was a customer already and probably did a soft pull on my credit score to see if I was qualified.

I know Spectrum is a big dumb company, and I’ll never convince them otherwise, but they shouldn’t play a game they’re never going to win. Instead they should learn to play smart and find out where the easiest wins are.

In a world where entire platforms are getting banned

I’m not big into reporting trends and news, but this got on my radar recently.

I guess US legislators are looking to ban TikTok.

Some influencers who have a huge following on either YouTube and Instagram absolutely detest TikTok and want nothing to do with it.

Personally, I think TikTok is kinda entertaining. It’s got some funny videos, even though you hear the same rotation of a dozen songs over and over.

Honestly, I don’t know the reason for this. There are a bunch of reasons out there floating around, all speculation at this point.

One is that, it’s a Chinese app, secretly collecting data.

Another is it reveals military locations when soldiers use it.

Another is it reveals information about famous people, that can be used for social engineering.

Honestly, who knows if it’ll be banned here.

But the fact remains, you can’t truly rely on just social media platforms to build and maintain your business. Because for all the people who built their following on TikTok because it was the newest app, will go away.

Thankfully, I have seen some users who try to move their viewers to their own email list by using funnels. Not a whole lot of users do this, but it’s ridiculously smart.

Because when a platform decides to flip a switch in their algorithm, and it buries your content…

Or in this case, an app just gets totally banned, you should have a backup plan as insurance.

And in all these cases, an email list is your Ace in the hole.

Is it a lot of work to set up a funnel pointing to an email list? You bet. Anything that’s worth doing is never easy.

For every disaster, you need an escape plan, so let your audience escape somewhere that’s a safe haven for you and them.

Getting the word out in Corona times

So I live in upstate New York and right now businesses are just starting to open up.

Out of all the states I think we’re taking our sweetest time, but more retail shops and more office-based businesses are finally opening up after months of being shut down.

And the one thing they’re all doing is they’re all trying to get the word out that they’re open for business.

I drive past restaurants with big signs out front shouting from the mountains that their dining room is now open. Breweries are posting photos of their open patios. My barber, after being shut down for two months, slid into my DM’s to let me know I could finally schedule a haircut. 

The funny thing with all this is all these businesses are using every tool in their toolbox to get the word out, except using an email list.

I think I only got one email from a local business saying they were now open. But nearly all of them are either using the tired and true offline methods, or exclusively relying on social media.

And even the local breweries that I frequent, that built their businesses with social media, don’t email their own customer lists.

And it’s not like they don’t have access to peoples’ emails. I’ve placed several online orders with some of the breweries near me.

But when it comes to them announcing that they’re opening their patio, releasing a new beer or a new can, they do it all through Instagram only, which is a dangerous strategy.

The bad news is if you look at other businesses right now, they cant leave Facebook fast enough. Big companies like Verizon, Coca-Cola and more have all come out and stated publicly that they ceased their ad spending on Facebook. Probably because Facebook is a complete dumpster fire and the big Fortune 100 want to take their money elsewhere.

I recently remembered a Dan Kennedy seminar I watched on video a few years ago. In the video, he talked about the time when he thought about buying a bookstore in downtown Phoenix where he lived.

In his words, the only thing that was a complete dealbreaker was the store didn’t have a customer list. So if something happened that was out of his control, there was no way to contact his customers.

And today, there are still roadblocks. Sometimes they’re physical, but there are virtual roadblocks too. Years ago, Google unleashed the Kraken with its penguin update and pushed a lot of sites off Page 1. YouTube also has its army of censors ready to demonetize any video that isn’t family-friendly.

Going forward, you can’t rely on social media, platforms of any of their algorithms. If you have an audience, you need to take steps to move them from a platform to a list that you own 100%.

If you can export your list, back it up on a thumb drive and take it with you, that list will always be in your back pocket. If you’re on a platform, as sexy as it might be, you need to plan a potential exit strategy before you get pushed off.

John

Write emails that don’t get ignored with my guide: Email List Loyalty

Who the hell is on LinkedIn these days anyways?

Unlike the other social networks that cater to their own online insane asylums, LinkedIn looks a lot tamer by comparison.

But even though it’s a lot less toxic, it’s not that much better.

Most of my personal colleagues have only joined, friended coworkers and then ignored the site in its entirety afterwards. However, there’s still a bunch of personalities that run wild in this frontier.

The uber-unemployed: These are guys and gals who have job titles like “Business Growth Advisor” or “Change Agent”, but you know they haven’t had a job in months or even years.

The one-upper commenter: This is someone who always comments on someone’s post because this is their idea of “networking”. It always starts with “100% agree” or “Right on” before they launch into their virtue signaling.

The connection collector: One of my old bosses did this. His goal at any job was to be the guy with the most connections at the company, which he achieved a bunch of times. The only problem is with hundreds of connections, your feed clogs up with dozens of updates and posts from people you don’t know.

The walking commercial: It doesn’t matter if this person’s company has a new product, is promoting an event or a new press release, they’re gonna post a bunch about it. Does this work? Probably not. But it does let their bosses know that they’re the ultimate team player.

The opt-in sneak: I’ve had a few sneaks take my personal email address and throw it in their email list. As a result, I get random emails from realtors, a guy promoting a podcast from their garage, a travel agent sending their newsletter, etc. Although they added one more email address in the really short-term, they have me finding the unsubscribe button the fastest.

The HR Zombie: This corporate nerd (OR “girl boss”) can’t just have a normal job title. They have to have some stupid one-liner like “I provide software solutions to B2B markets” or “Motivated customer success strategist” because some HR snake-oil salesman brainwashed them into following their LinkedIn “best practices” at some conference.

I‘m sure there are more characters in this zoo that I haven’t thought of yet, but I can only stomach so much fake personalities and corporate pandering in one day.

So just remember, the next time you log onto that site…

When someone direct messages you about a job opportunity…

Whenever anybody posts something about “Rise and Grind”…

And even when someone shares a Gary Vee motivational video.

Just know that the whole thing is a fake corporate high-five echo chamber, that’s just designed to generate views and dollars.

John

Write emails that don’t get ignored with my guide: Email List Loyalty

Why you gotta man up to sell, and how to put your big boy pants on

One of my old bosses pulled me aside and absolutely ripped into me in the inventory room.

This was while I was working at a retail store of a popular cell phone company. We had a special promotion on tablets. I was supposed to upsell a customer but I didn’t. So I got yelled at by a small Italian woman.

But it was one line she said that made me think differently for the rest of my career.

My old boss yelled, “How did you know what that customer really needed and what they didn’t? They probably really needed that tablet! But you didn’t even offer it, so you won’t know!”

And still, looking back on this moment… Do people really NEED tablets? Kind of a stretch if you ask me.

It’s worth noting this lady was just over 5 feet tall, and I’m about 6’3”.

But still she had every right to put me in my place.

And that was because I pre-qualified customers before I actually qualified them.

Basically I was too afraid to sell when I should’ve. And I’ve tried not to make that mistake since.

I’ll give you an example from the other side of the table.

My oldest dog has allergies, but for a long time we didn’t know what was wrong with him. This was both irritating and ungodly expensive.
For years, my dog would get these weird rashes on his belly. Every couple of years, he would get a high fever out of the blue and we didn’t know why. He also had bouts of just not eating, which we knew wasn’t good.

And we didn’t figure this out for years. We also went to the vet every single month. Even though we had pet insurance to cover the major expenses, we still would leave the vet every month with a hundred dollar bill out-of-pocket and no real solution to our problem.

One of the worst nights of my life was when we drove to Tufts Vet in Boston in the middle of the night because our dog had a fever of “unknown origin.” His fever was on the cusp of being very deadly. I was afraid he wasn’t going to make it.

Even months after that, we were afraid he would have a similar fever out of the blue again.

Until one day, we had an appointment with a vet who just happened to offer an allergy test as an “Oh by the way”. She said it wasn’t cheap, but it might explain some of his symptoms. I believe the allergy test was around $250-$300.

It was worth every penny.

Fast forward to today, our dog hasn’t been to the vet for anything serious in a long time other than just routine check-ups and shots. He’s on special prescription food and medicine because of allergies. His food is a little more expensive than normal dog food, and he takes medication regularly. But they also say an ounce of prevention costs less than a pound of cure.

And we spent thousands of dollars trying to find out what the problem was. If only that doctor had offered that allergy test to us earlier. Even if it was 10 times its price, it would’ve saved us a lot of money and headaches in the long-run.

That vet had the courage to sell us a solution when we had a major problem. Too many people, including myself at some points, view selling as panhandling. But if you do it right, you’re just diagnosing a problem, and prescribing a solution.

And how is that vet? She moved on to another Veterinary hospital. I think she moved closer to where the rest of her family was. Whoever hired her is lucky as hell.

John

Write emails that don’t get ignored with my guide: Email List Loyalty

Who’s going to read all that copy?

Ever since my first-ever marketing job, I’ve heard an endless debate over using long-form copy versus short-form copy.

Everyone acts like you shouldn’t dare use long-form copy because people won’t read it all because they have such short attention spans.

That was my first big mistake writing copy.

The first sales letter I co-wrote was simple. It was only 2 pages, and it was mailed, faxed and emailed. We were selling advertising opportunities and sent it to a cold list, but the order results were huge. We got dozens of orders.

But I kept making our sales letters shorter and shorter. I had the mindset that business owners were all busy people.

Instead of 2 pages, I reduced it to 1 page. Instead of just having a plain company letterhead up top, I added a suped-up photoshopped banner that was nice and slick with a high resolution stock photo.

As you can predict, our new orders declined. We were able to retain our book of business, but we weren’t as happy as when we had new orders were rolling in.

I’m not a huge Gary Vee fan, but he’s got one quote that I agree with:

“If they made a 9-Hour Star Wars movie, I would totally watch all of it just because it’s Star Wars.

When you write a longer sales letter, you have more opportunities to make a sale. You also have more time:

  • To tell amazing stories
  • To explain more customer benefits
  • To answer more objections
  • To include more testimonials
  • To give more reasons to not miss out

Just think of all the time people invest:

  • They’ll binge-watch an entire season of Ozark the weekend it comes out
  • They’ll scroll on Facebook and Instagram, and once they’re at the bottom, they’ll keep refreshing for more out of boredom
  • They’ll watch hours of videos on TikTok, so much so that there’s now a clip that suggests viewers take a break
  • Not only will they sit through all 3 hours of  Avengers: Endgame at the movies, they’ll buy tickets to see it again
  • They’ll listen to hours worth of podcasts, and when they’re done they’ll ask their friends what they’re listening to
  • If a new Harry Potter book came out, they’ll stay up 24 hours and read until that book until the end

If you have a killer sales letter with great content, and you don’t think people will watch it, think again.

John

Write emails that don’t get ignored with my guide: Email List Loyalty

Why selling gets a bad rap

I think selling is a noble profession. I’ve sold during my entire professional career. However not everybody shares my view.

Selling in general gets a bad rap. That’s because salespeople have one of the worst human qualities… They are dishonest pieces of shit.

I know because I’ve been there myself. There were a few times that I lied to make a sale. It wasn’t because I wanted to add another $100 to my commission check. It’s because I wanted to keep my job.

The few times I did it, I didn’t feel great. Two times the customers came back and it totally bit me in the ass. After the last time, I swore I wasn’t going to sell like a scumbag again.

What’s even more alarming is when my supervisors found out, they kinda didn’t care at all. I think in the back of their minds, I was just doing my job and being a good company man.

Which is an uncomfortable truth about selling. A lot of the top salespeople and even executives are liars. I haven’t worked for one company where the top reps, or even top executives, were nothing but snake oil salesmen

I’ve even worked for two companies where the Presidents got canned for abusing funds or embezzlement.

My all-time favorite Dan Kennedy book is his collection of autobiographical essays called, My Unfinished Business, in which he talks about lying to get ahead.

In the book, he talks about how he lied to get his first sales job. He also lied to a customer about his portfolio, showing a client his own piece. Miraculously, the client knew about the portfolio piece, didn’t care, only cared about getting results and worked with Kennedy for years.

Anyways, Kennedy has this to say about lying:

The dirty little secret behind the start of a lot of hugely successful careers and enterprises is that they were ignited by lying, or at least stretching the truth, padding the resume.

I assure you, I’m not alone. If you read autobiographies and interviews a lot and look for these admissions, you’ll discover plenty of successful entrepreneurs confess to lying to get ahead. Hugh Hefner, one of my entrepreneurial heroes, tells of starting out in business with two different letterheads. One for the fledging magazine that preceded Playboy, called Stag Party, the other for his fictional distributing company boldly named Nationwide News Company. When he needed to be the publisher or editor or VP of Advertising of the magazine, he used the first stationary. When he needed to be the President of the magazine distribution business, he used the other. His actual business consisted of a typewriter on a card table, vision, balls and not just one, but two big lies.

The shocking, rarely mentioned, nearly universal secret behind great successes: they’re liars. They have deliberately, intentionally lied to gain advantage. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually endorse or advocate this. But this is a reality. Make of it what you will.

Of course, I prefer telling the truth. Telling it, selling it, hearing it. But honest enough to tell you, there are times when nothing but a lie can do the job. Any entrepreneur who insists otherwise, well, he’s a liar.

Of course, there are a few key reasons to tell the truth while you’re selling.

One, which is obvious, is to avoid any legal trouble.

There’s an HBO movie that was recently released called Bad Education with Hugh Jackman as a Superintendent of schools in Long Island. Later in the movie, his school finds out he expensed all types of crap: Fancy clothes, first-class trips, plastic surgery, and financed his lifestyle with taxpayer money.

His supervisor asks him pointe blank when this started and Jackman’s character said one day he paid for a slice of pizza with the wrong card, the school’s card, and he was going to reimburse the school the following Monday. Then he added, Monday came and went and nobody cared.

That’s an example of how one bad one little lie can cascade out of control. It happens, and Presidents and CEO’s feel completely justified until it snowballs and gets completely out of hand.

The other reason is it’s just good for word-of-mouth. Telling the truth makes you credible and trustworthy to do business with. I’ve worked with handfuls of sales reps that I wouldn’t trust to sit near my lunch.

And if we’re on the brink of another economic recession, it’s more important than ever to find trustworthy people to do business with.

There’s a saying, “If you can’t hide the family skeleton, at least make it dance.” If you can’t hide behind a lie, at least tell the ugly truth and stand by it. It might not paint you in the best light, but I assure you pretty much no one gives a shit.

John

Write emails that don’t get ignored with my guide: Email List Loyalty

Name brands vs generic store brands

A few weeks ago I had a plugged ear. It wasn’t infected but I could barely hear anything out of it.

As doctors do, sometimes they prescribe a medicine that works, and sometimes they don’t. Mine wanted to rule out any seasonal allergies so they wrote a prescription for Claritin D.

I got to my local pharmacy, and even though I already knew this on some level, I still got hit with sticker shock… Drugs are insanely expensive and overpriced.

So I started actually taking a closer look on the shelf, and compared prices and the quantity I needed.

There were 2 types of drugs. There was the major name brand drug, and then there was the generic store brand drug.
Given a choice, the majority of people will hands down pick the name brand drug, even if it’s grossly more expensive. This is for a few reasons:

  • Big pharma companies hold the product patents, so they get a head-start on selling drugs first
  • That means they advertise first and get brand recognition over time
  • Not to mention the slick candy-like packaging

And even though it’s been proven that generic brands have the same strength, dosage and results as their name-brand cousins, most people can’t help but resist the invisible tractor-beam pull of the bigger name.

And when my doc handed me my script, she told me to buy over-the-counter Claritin D, which is a lot more memorable than an over-the-counter antihistamine, which is what the drug really is.

But the secret of the name-brand stuff is really the social aspect. The majority of name brands don’t have to pay to advertise as much because most people do it for them in everyday conversation.

And we do this with tons of stuff. We just don’t realize it…

  • Coke instead of Cola
  • Clorox wipes instead of Cleaning wipes
  • Tylenol instead of Acetaminophen
  • Vasoline instead of Petroleum Jelly
  • The pink bottle Pepto Bismol is a doozer, Bismuth subsalicylate

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even talked about breakfast cereals or canned vegetables.

Even though in my mind, I knew it was the exact same drug, I could still feel the powerful pull of the name brand drug. It was like the dark side of the force calling to me. I had to overcome years of Claritin D’s name brand recognition in my head to save some dough. But ultimately I overcame its dark Sith Lord mind-games, and bought the store brand.

But it was a fight. I had to overcome years of corporate brainwashing.

If you think the brand name is bigger, so it must be better, then that’s just not the case. Bigger brands are just better marketers.

John

When having a great product just isn’t enough

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, I’m kind of a beer snob. Always have been.

In college, when most of my friends were buying 30 packs of Keystone Light for $10.00, I mostly bought 6-packs of Yuengling for $5.99. Yes, in the early 2000’s, you could really buy 30 beers for $10 bucks. They didn’t call it ‘thirty stones for ten bones’ for nothing.

Side-story: A guy who lived in my hall freshman year was such a big fan of Keystone Light, he wrote a letter to the company and complained after they changed their slogan from “Always smooth, never bitter” to just “Always smooth.” He actually got an apology letter back from the head of marketing with a full explanation of the change.

If you can create loyalty like that, you’re golden.

So as you’ve probably noticed, in most states, non-essential businesses are completely shut down. And yeah, states like Montana and South Dakota pretty much never shut down to begin with, but let’s be honest, there’s not much there anyways.

And of course, restaurants have taken a massive hit. Those mom and pop places who don’t do take-out or delivery options are completely shut down.

Those who are open are losing a good chunk of their margins due to delivery apps like Door Dash and Grub Hub.

But even though I believe most of this will be short-term, companies are either adapting or bracing for impact.

I saw a perfect example of this at the closest grocery store near me. There were 2 guys behind me in line and they couldn’t stop licking their wounds.

They were either complaining about their hours getting cut or they were completely furloughed, and just wringing their hands about what’s going to happen next.

As they were having their own pity party, a cash register near us opened up, and some old guy behind them whizzed right by and proceeded to checkout immediately. And these poor suckers didn’t even know what happened.

Here’s a pro-tip. If a pandemic ever hits us again, go to smaller markets or deli’s to buy groceries. Their staff actually prevent customers from hoarding. These were the first places I saw that were stocked with toilet paper again. I also saw a cashier stop a “Karen” boomer from stocking up dead in her tracks. You won’t get that at Wal-Mart or even regional supermarkets. Their employees just don’t care and the general population completely floods those places.

Anyways, back to talking about beer. Similar to restaurants, some breweries are really hurting right now. Stone brewery in San Diego laid off a good third of its staff. Tap rooms across America are closed and a good chunk of their staff are furloughed until further notice.

However, there’s a newer brewery near me called Frog Alley that opened up its doors about 2 years ago. And even though it’s still wet behind the ears, here are some of the things they’ve done since quarantine.

  • They started local home delivery. You can send an order via email or website and have your beer delivered in less than 24 hours
  • Instead of local concerts, they hold Facebook live sessions where they have musicians play free concerts
  • They made their own hand sanitizer and donated a ton of it to local hospitals and clinics

And the funny thing is I don’t even think their beer is the best in town. It’s still good, but there are breweries near me that sell way better tasting beer.

But the difference between the places that make A+ beer and Frog Alley is the latter really knows how to promote themselves. Granted social media is not my preferred marketing method, but they’re at least constantly cross-promoting their platforms and cross-selling different opportunities.

Meanwhile other breweries are literally just bracing themselves for impact.

They’re not trying anything new or delivering their beer to anyone. They’re just merely existing and holding their breath until the rest of society re-opens.

So in most cases, it’s not hard to adapt. You just have to keep your eyes open. There’s a bunch of breweries now that will ship beer to you directly regardless of where you live.

But for God’s sakes, whatever you do, make sure it includes developing and promoting to an email list.

John

Write emails that don’t get ignored with my guide: Email List Loyalty