Are These 3 Marketing Sea-Changes Killing Your Response?

“Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.” – George Santayana 

Our customers are changing.

The customer who was 65 when I began writing marketing copy in the 1970s is 98 today. The 65-year-old who bought the rare coins I sold for Blanchard in the ’80s is now 88.

Today’s 65-year-old customer 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 proceeded to acquire his skills as a financial decision-maker and consumer smack-dab in the middle of the “Don’t-Trust-Anyone-Over-30” and “Question-Authority” era.

What’s more, that generation did an excellent job of passing their skepticism on to their children. Those hyper-cynical, ultra-skeptical “Generation Xers” are now your 26- to 47-year-old customers.

And as if that isn’t challenging enough for marketers, two additional sea changes have given our customers even greater reasons to distrust anything they see, hear, or read in the media – including our ads…

First, The National Enquirer made its appearance at supermarket checkout counters, packed with stories of alien encounters, Bigfoot, and other such horsepucky.

Soon, more publishers figured out they could get rich by appealing to our baser instincts with stories of the lurid and bizarre – and tons of “me-too” tabloids began springing up like crazy.

Finally, the national media figured it out too – and most TV news programs began spending less time covering news that matters.

And now, a new and even less responsible medium has taken center stage. Despite my spam filters, I’ll get between 20 and 50 unsolicited e-mails today, and most will be obvious rip-offs.

Many websites can be equally hazardous to our financial health. Since you can pretty much say whatever you want on the ‘net – whether it’s true or not – many people do. And so, for anyone whose IQ is larger than their shoe size, online advertising claims are taken with a grain of salt.

What does all of this mean to marketers? Well, for one thing…

Everything you think you know about attracting new customers and keeping existing customers is starting to become obsolete. Overcoming today’s pandemic of skepticism is your single greatest challenge.

The good news is… it can be done. Because despite the fact that our customers are radically different than their parents and grandparents, they do have one thing in common with them: They like to spend money.

The desire to feather our own nests… to purchase products that can make us richer or healthier… to buy things that save us time, effort, or money… to spend money on things that assuage our boredom or loneliness or improve our status… is every bit as powerful as it ever was.

Nevertheless, if we are to enfranchise these new generations of ever-more-skeptical customers, the way in which we deliver our “gospel” – the “good news” that our products can, indeed, satisfy their desires – must change.

Here at my agency, Response Ink, we see the effect this new skepticism is having on our marketing efforts every day…

1. One-shot customer-acquisition promotions are going the way of the dinosaurs.

Today, it’s all about the relationship between your company and your customer… and building credibility and friendship over time. While marketers who deliver value, invite involvement, and create a sense of community among prospective customers before expecting a sale are growing by leaps and bounds, those who cling to the old models are losing ground.

2. Bombastic “big promise” headlines are not working as well.

Today’s prospects are more likely to ignore sales communications that look and sound like sales communications. Instead, topical, newsy, and intrigue leads that key on something they are already thinking about often work best.

3. High-octane sales copy is losing its power.

Today, lower-key, value-added advertising copy (advertorials) that reward prospects for reading by delivering valuable, helpful, actionable information is leaving the language of the high-energy carnival barker in the dust.

Though the “in-your-face,” high-energy marketing model is still working well for some companies, I’m moving in another direction. For me, it’s all about persuasion. Climbing inside your prospect’s skin… fully understanding what he must first know and feel before he’s likely to purchase your product… then presenting that information in a way that’s engaging, lively, entertaining, and credible – and doing all that without having your sales copy sound like sales copy – is hard.

It’s worth it.

Not long ago, I wrote a series of personal, warm, friendly, low-key e-mails inviting prospects to attend a free teleseminar on international investing. More than five thousand people signed up. The call delivered valuable, actionable advice to help investors profit in foreign stock markets that are jumping as much as 144 percent a year.

This friendly, low-key phone call sold somewhere north of $1.5 million in subscriptions in a matter of hours.

Meanwhile, we blasted a high-energy “obvious” promotion to prospects.

It barely even registered on the response-rate Richter scale.

Worth thinking about…

[Ed. Note: Clayton Makepeace has spent the last 35 years creating direct-mail, Internet, and print promotions that have sold well over $1 billion worth of products. Plus, as a direct-marketing consultant and copywriter, he’s helped four major direct-marketing firms at least quadruple sales and profits to well over $100 million per year each. Clayton publishes the highly acclaimed e-zine The Total Package ( to help business owners and copywriters accelerate their sales and profits. Check it out.]