I’m so old, I’ll betcha my tie has gone in and out of style at least five times.
Not that I pay much attention to such things, mind you.
My professional life revolves around marketing trends. And there again, my advanced age means I’ve seen many promotional styles over the years.
But through it all, the principles of creating effective sales copy pretty much stayed the same. And for one simple reason:
Our prospective customers weren’t changing much.
In 1975, for example, my average 65-year-old prospect had been born in 1910. In ’85, I was writing primarily to folks who’d been born in 1920. In ’95, my average prospect had been born in 1930.
All of these prospects had common values. They all had memories of the Great Depression… World War II… and of gathering around a flickering black-and-white television for Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best.
Their Weltanschauung was formed at a time when a man’s word was his bond and good character meant everything.
They were raised by their parents to revere the government… trust the family doctor… respect their employers… believe what the media told them. And also to assume that most of the advertising they saw and heard was true.
It was for these generations that the great advertising masters created their legendary ads. And it was from these generations that the masters learned what worked best before passing it on to us in their classic books.
Now, these generations are being gradually replaced.
Oh, what a difference a single generation can make!
Today’s 65-year-old prospect was born in 1942. Way too young to remember World War II, let alone the Great Depression.
More important, he turned 18 in 1960. And he acquired his skills as a consumer smack-dab in the middle of the “Question Authority” era of the 60s and early 70s. Vietnam and Watergate produced the most cynical generation America had ever seen.
What’s more, that generation did an excellent job of passing its skepticism on to its children. Those hyper-cynical “Generation Xers” are now your 26- to 47-year-old prospects.
Meanwhile, two additional sea changes have been giving our prospects even greater reasons to distrust anything they see, hear, or read. Including our ads.
The first one began with the appearance of The National Enquirer, packed with stories of alien encounters and other such horsepucky.
Soon, other publishers figured out they could get rich by appealing to our baser instincts. And tons of “me-too” tabloids — featuring stories of the lurid and bizarre — began springing up like crazy.
Finally, the national media figured it out too — and started spending less time covering news that matters.
They became obsessed with Joey Buttafuoko, Lorena Bobbit, Monica Lewinsky, the status of Britney Spears’s underwear — and, of course, UFOs.
Now, I ask you. Can you imagine the venerable Walter Cronkite reporting on such things?
Neither can our prospects.
And now, while the once-respected media have been busy debauching themselves, a second sea change has taken place. The Internet — an even less responsible medium — has taken center stage.
Since people can pretty much say whatever they want on the ‘Net — whether it’s true or not — many do.
And so, for consumers whose IQ is larger than their shoe size, online advertising claims are taken with a grain of salt.
What does all this mean to you?
Well, for one thing…
Everything you think you know about marketing is becoming obsolete.
The advertising masters — Kennedy, Lasker, Hopkins, Collier, Schwab, Caples, Reeves, Ogilvy, and others — created their classic ads for a radically different audience.
It’s time to stop asking, “What did the masters say in their books?” and to begin asking, “What would they HAVE DONE if they had been presented with today’s prospects?”
As a marketer, overcoming your prospects’ skepticism is your greatest challenge.
The good news is, it can be done. Because though our prospects are radically different than their parents and grandparents, they have one thing in common with them:
They like to spend money.
The desire to feather our nests… purchase products that can make us richer or healthier… buy things that save us time, effort, or money… spend on things that assuage boredom or improve status… is every bit as powerful as it ever was.
Nevertheless, the way in which we deliver the message that our products can satisfy those desires must change.
Today, it’s all about developing a relationship with your prospect. It’s about building credibility and loyalty over time.
Marketers who do that are growing by leaps and bounds. Those who cling to the old models are losing ground.
Today’s prospect is likely to ignore sales communications that look like sales communications.
Instead, newsy leads that key on something they are already thinking about often work best.
Lower-key, value-added advertorials that reward prospects for reading by delivering useful information is leaving the high-energy language of the carnival barker in the dust.
It’s all about persuasion.
Falling back on the old ways and just throwing around a bunch of promises is easy.
Thinking is hard.
Climbing inside your prospect’s skin… fully understanding what he must first know before he’s likely to purchase your product… then presenting that information in a way that’s engaging, entertaining, and credible — and doing all that without having your sales copy sound like sales copy. That is the hardest kind of hard.
But it’s worth it.
A while ago, I wrote a series of friendly e-mails inviting prospects to attend a free teleseminar on international investing.
More than 5,000 people signed up. And the call delivered valuable, actionable advice to help investors profit in foreign stock markets.
It also sold somewhere north of $1.5 million in subscriptions in a matter of hours.
Meanwhile, we blasted an “obvious” USP-based promotion to prospects.
It barely registered on the response Richter scale.
Worth thinking about…
P.S. At Early to Rise’s Info-Marketing Bootcamp this November, I’ll be sharing even more insights about what is working in Internet marketing today — and what isn’t. I’ll reveal how to boost response and sales in today’s market. And I’ll tell you exactly how to avoid the mistakes that have been slowly killing so many online businesses in the past couple of years. Find out more about Bootcamp here.