The marketing genius archive - #1 Claude Hopkins, the man behind the perfect American smile


The most powerful principles of marketing don’t change, which is why I like to look at the early advertising campaigns that shaped the industry.

In the early 1900s an advertiser called Claude Hopkins was asked to work on a new toothpaste called Pensodent. This was at a time when only a very small minority of people regularly used a toothpaste. Initially he refused on the basis that it was a technical product, but eventually he was persuaded. What Hopkins did next would not only transform the toothpaste industry, but advertising at large.

  • Firstly, he realised that people weren’t going to buy technical detail, they weren’t even going to buy the promise of prevention of a decay in the future, they would only buy one thing, and that was a cure because a cure was the only thing that offered an immediate benefit and that’s what people buy - benefits. In this case, a beautiful smile.
  • Secondly, he identified a trigger that would make people think of the need for this benefit. He did this by asking consumers to run their tongue across their teeth and to notice what he called “the film”
  • Thirdly, and entirely by accident, he created a craving, which is essential if you are to develop a habit. You see there was an ingredient within the toothpaste that created a tingling sensation once people had finished brushing their teeth, and it was that tingling that gave people the sense of having clean teeth. This association was what people then craved and what in turn developed a daily habit for millions of people across the country.
  • Finally, during the launch phase he used coupons to test little variables on sales. For example, whey added the word “free” and actually found that sales plummeted by 75%. In another industry that might have had the opposite effect, but this was perceived as cutting edge stuff at the time and clearly people believed the word “free” undermined the scientific integrity of the product.

Soon Pepsodent were selling so many tubes of toothpaste that their operations could barely keep up, and within three years they had gone international. Virtually all competitor brands replicated the tactics, all adding ingredients to produce that tingling sensation, and also to create more foam while brushing. Again, it has no impact on the teeth, but it makes us feel like we’re achieving something.

That was all a hundred years ago but these principles are all just as true today and as marketers I think we can all learn a thing or two from Claude C Hopkins.

See you next time.

Finding your killer customer insight

Finding your one killer customer insight


When we conduct customer research, we have a tendency to want to go into loads of detail, creating audience profiles and giving them all names and daily routines and behavioural habits and brands they engage with, etc, and that’s all really good stuff. It’s going to help your content marketing, or whatever activity you’re engaged in, be 5%, 10% better, than would otherwise be the case. However, if we want to do something truly transformative and have half a chance of leading our market in the months and years to come, then we need something more.

I want to illustrate this with an example from the gym market just because it’s one that I’m very close to. For years, the gym market operated a certain way, until one day, a smart cookie somewhere made the observation that the vast majority of their customers weren’t that bothered about the swimming pool, or the tanning salon, or the cafe. In fact all they really cared about was the gym kit. So they decided to strip out all those frills that accounted for 70-80% of the cost which meant that they were then able to reduce their costs by a similar proportion. Overnight the budget sector was born and within a couple of years the mid market had all but vanished. And it all came down to that one killer customer insight.

What i particularly love about that example is that it had nothing to do with technology and so often when we talk about disruption now we assume that it has to come from a place of technology and so often that isn’t the case. It just came down to one person understanding their audience better than anyone else and in hindsight it almost seemed obvious, but isn’t that so often the case.

Another example that I read just yesterday, is that this year the most successful pop name in terms of ticket sales was not Justin Bieber or Drake or Ed Sheeran, but a 1980’s British band called Depeche Mode. And therefore perhaps not surprisingly the most successful festivals this year weren’t the big names, but the specialist festivals targeting the over 35’s. So another key consumer insight with profound implications for the markets around it.

So yes. conduct lots of research and create detailed audience profiles, but ultimately, if you want to do something truly different and truly remarkable, then you need to find that one piece of killer customer insight.

See you next time!

Risks of dependence on social media

The dangers of becoming too dependent on social media (and the two channels you should prioritise instead)


As digital marketers, particularly those of us that work within content marketing, we can tend to have a bit of an obsession with social media, and not without good reason. Social is hugely powerful for extending your brand reach, managing and nurturing relationships with customers and even, for many businesses, generating direct leads and sales. So social is really important and every business should have a social strategy in place. However, I do think that we just need to keep this enthusiasm in check, and it’s for one very simple reason - we do not own those platforms.

Let me give you some examples. If Facebook were to increase their cost of advertising where it was fundamentally prohibitive for you to keep creating and promoting content on it, then all of the investment of time and money that had been made to date would have been for nothing. Or if LinkedIn were to close their doors tomorrow, there would be nothing you could do about it.

There are only two assets that we actually own in the digital space. One is our website domain and all of the content on it, and the other is our email list. And therefore, as important as these other channels are, we just need to occasionally remind ourselves that if this activity is not ultimately strengthening and growing the two assets that we do own, then we’re building our online presence on very shaky foundations.

So yes, have a social strategy and use it to its fullest potential, but just keep in mind those two assets that you actually have ownership of.

Interview influencer marketing

6 reasons you need to include interviews as part of your content strategy


As an agency we conduct a lot of interviews, both for ourselves and for clients,with people of authority within the target sector. There is a reason for this. Well actually there are about 5.

- Firstly, It’s the best insight you will ever capture - these people are the leaders in their field.
- Secondly. the content tends to be evergreen which means that you can reuse it every few months, over and over again.
- Thirdly, if the interview is conducted on video then you can actually chop it up from one long interview, into each of the individual questions, which is how most people like to digest this kind of content anyway, which means that your one video could become five or six, so it’s incredibly efficient.
- Then there’s the fact that these people will drive most of the promotion on your behalf. After all, the point is they are high profile and have large audiences.
- Number five, you will build great relationships. Anyone that has read how to make friends and influence people will know that there is no better way of building rapport than asking questions. And these are people you really want relationships with.
- Finally, it’s easier than you think. As long as you’re polite and sincere then most people, no matter how busy, will be more than happy to give you twenty minutes of their time.

So if you’re struggling to cut through the noise with your content, then I’d highly recommend considering some kind of influencer interview strategy.

See you next time.

Old school marketing

Three retro areas of marketing in which we should all up our game


We tend in the digital world to fixate far too much on the latest technology and far too little on the fundamentals that have always shaped great marketing, so I just want to run through a few example areas of old school marketing that I think we as digital marketers could all benefit from upping our game in.

The first is long form copy writing. We are obsessed now with short form copy, imagery and video and these things are very important, but as any conversion expert will tell you long form sales copy is as significant as ever when it comes to any form of direct response marketing. The same principle actually applies to video, too. There’s a reason why long infomercials continue to do so well. Less is not always more and our ability to tell compelling and persuasive stories in detail is a valuable art form that only the best marketers tend to grasp.

The second area is brand. This one is so obvious that it shouldn’t need saying but as someone who completely neglected it for my first 4 years in digital, I feel I really have to. Brand is everything. Without a clear strategy for it your tactics, no matter how effective in the moment, will be disjointed and amount to little over time. You will have no sense of what truly defines and distinguishes you and struggle to ever connect on an emotional level with your audience. All mistakes that I made over and over again.

Finally, there’s email. Email marketing has been around for over 20 years and contrary to popular opinion it continues to be as powerful as ever. Having an engaged list, whether you’re a consumer or B2B organisation, is arguably the single most valuable asset you can own. It is your primary mechanism for talking to your core audience, has huge implications for your reach across social media as those are the people who will then share your content, and is often the single biggest determinant of lifetime customer value. And yet too many of us skip over it in favour of the latest shiny social platform because email seems old hat. Well there’s a reason why this old hat continues to be worn by all great brands - because it works!

So there are three and of course there are others. The point is that we’d all benefit from spending a bit less time obsessing over the latest change on Instagram or Google update, and a bit more time working on those fundamental pillars of marketing that endure from one decade to the next.

See you next time.

Three easy but effective ways to embed brand values


One of the most important parts of a brand identity is company values. In fact for some companies, such as professional services firms, where the only thing you sell is people’s time, I would argue that your organisational values are maybe even the single most important aspect of the brand.

That probably explains why the vast majority of companies now have documented values. Great. But how many actually have mechanisms for embedding them into their organisational DNA? In my experience, almost none. They get trotted out during the interview phase and then tucked away again and that’s it. What’s the point of that??

If we all agree that every company really needs organisational values then surely we can also all agree that those values must be reinforced in all sorts of ways?

So here are a few ways in which you can actually turn those values from the abstract into practice:
- A monthly meeting - if your values are important, then surely they’re important enough to have a quick meeting every fortnight or every month where you have each person provide an update on something that relates to each value. So if being a great communicator is an important value, why not go round the room and have each person state which clients they’ve met or spoken to over the phone since the last meeting?
- Reviews - when you perform reviews, why not organise them by value?
Most importantly, pay - why not offer everyone a small increase to their basic that they’ll receive when they are consitently displaying each value?

Now of course there are a thousand different ways you could go about doing this, so the point of this video is not to say that these are the ways, but just that you need to have something, otherwise those values are literally not worth the paper they’re written on.

See you next time.

The most important challenge any business owner or marketing director can set themselves


The difference between brand identity and brand positioning is that while brand identity encompasses the entire brand and is fixed over time, brand positioning is a question of identifying certain elements of that brand identity and really emphasising them in order to access a particular market at a particular time.

People can get really confused over brand positioning, which is why I always recommend taking the following, very simple approach.
- First of all, it must be something that you’re passionate about and that you believe you can do really well
- Secondly, it must be something that really matters to your target audience. Ideally a growing area of demand.
- Finally, it must be something that is not currently owned by a competing brand, which is not to say the competition is neglecting it entirely, but just that nobody really owns it in the minds of the consumer.

That probably sounds quite simple. That's the point of it. However, of course in practice finding something that truly does tick all three of those boxes is really difficult which is why it's so rare to see a brand achieving huge growth without large advertising budgets, but that's precisely the value of it and I would argue that's why it's the most important challenge a business owner or marketing director can set for themselves.

See you next time.

Brand identity building

Confused by brand identity? Here’s a simple model anyone can follow


Brand is often seen as something vague, abstract and complicated but it really shouldn’t be. in fact as with anything in business I think the more systematic and repeatable you can make it the better.

The approach I use is taken from a model created by David Aaker nearly 30 years ago:

- The brand purpose - why does your brand exist? What’s wrong with your sector or the world that your brand is trying to fix? For more on this, search for Simon Sinek’s “What’s your why”
- We should think of ir as a product or service - what are its key features and benefits?
- What are the organisational values, and how will these be deeply embedd within the company?
- What’s the brand’s personality? Most purchases happen due to emotional and self expressive benefits rather than rational benefits, so if you’re to be able to communicate these emotional and self expressive benefits it’s essential that you first capture the personality of the brand.
- Finally, the visual identity. Really this is the one that should come last, although of course the irony is that it’s generally the thing that people jump to first. It includes the colour palettes, logo, typeface and user imagery.

So that’s David Aaker’s model and of course there are others, but the important thing is that you have a clear framework within which to operate.

See you next time.

Ambitious content marketing

Why you need to start being more ambitious with your marketing


Decades ago David Ogilvy complained of marketer’s lack of ambition. He argued that with every campaign you should aim for something so audaciously ambitious that you could see it still being used 30 years later.

Unfortunately as digital marketers we tend to take the opposite approach, burying our heads so deeply in analytics and algorithms that we can barely see 30 days ahead, let alone 30 years. This is a huge problem.

Every brand is a publisher now, which means that simply having well constructed and professional content is not enough. You will simply not cut through the noise. Instead, you must set yourself a higher ambition. For example, if you’re a law firm targeting owner businesses in the technology sector, why wouldn’t you set out to own the leading legal digital magazine for the technology sector - why not? Even if you never quite achieved that goal, you would inevitably end up with better content, more engagement and a larger social community than any other law firm?

The great thing about a really big idea is that it then spearheads all of your tactics. It enables you to capture great content, it increases your reach on social media, it reinforces the positioning of your brand, it will probably even help you to attract links for SEO. Whereas when you approach each of these tactics in isolation you make everything so much more challenging and time consuming.

So devise two or three ideas so outrageously ambitious that if you achieve them you know the market will be changed forever. And if you dn’t, well you’ll still have delivered the best content strategy in your market.

See you next time.

Why you need to spend less time creating content and more time promoting it!


Did you know that 90% of blog posts receive fewer than 10 unique viewers. I just made that up. I've no idea if it's true, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was! I'm always amazed and frankly depressed when I look at the blog section in analytics on a new website that we're working with, at just how little exposure they tend to receive. Of course you'll always get some exceptions; those blog posts that tap into some obscure long tail traffic but it's traffic that's almost worthless.

We see exactly the same problem on social media, so we'll look at a Facebook business page, for example, and there's all this great content, but the engagement is almost negligible. Now I think that the reason for this is when we look at the creation of content we view it very differently to the promotion of content. We tend to view the content creation as something that we've already committed to, but the promotion of content is viewed as an optional extra, but I just want to illustrate how crazy that mentality is with some numbers...

Let's imagine that it takes you 5 hours to create a blog post, including the research, creation and chopping up and scheduling for social. Now 5 hours is not a long time in fact it should probably be a lot more than that! And now let's imagine that you value your time at £70 an hour, which again is not terribly high. Now on that basis you have invested £350 in that piece of content and it's going to be seen across the blog and social by just 20 or 30 people. OR, we could spend an extra fiver on promotion and have it seen by thousands of people, and if it does really well then spend another fiver or tenner. These are not big numbers but we're so obsessed with keeping these promotional costs to an absolute minimum that we'd rather spend nothing at all. Well that mentality needs to change.

See you next time!