Zen and the Art of Persuasion. Part 3 of 3

Risk

Dice Spelling R-I-S-K

There’s a gas station at one of the Interstate 20 off ramps in Columbia, South Carolina that is rumored to have the lowest prices in town. If they don’t have the lowest prices, they certainly have convinced a large group of drivers that they do. Most hours of the day they have a constant line of cars at each of the eight pumps.

A casual observer will notice a young man drifting from car to car, speaking with each driver in sequence. The young man you notice on Monday will not be there on Thursday. Another young man will have taken his place.

And should the observer become an eavesdropper, he’ll hear the young man explain that he works for a glass company “up in Greenville,” has his materials with him, and can repair the dings and chips in the driver’s windshield for between forty and sixty-five dollars. He opines that the motorists insurance will cover it, reimbursing the driver so there will be no “out of pocket” expense.

Apparently, enough people accept his offer that it’s profitable for the young man, or one very much like him. They keep coming back.

Occasionally one of the motorists, wanting to “think it over,” will ask the young man du jour for a business card. He never seems to have one on him. Although he can name the company he works for, he can’t remember it’s phone number. No, he doesn’t carry a cell, so he can’t provide that number either.

In any buyer / prospective seller relationship, there are two basic reasons that people choose not to buy, and the young man carrying the battery-powered drill and pocket epoxy illustrates them vividly.

People don’t buy when they don’t feel the need for what you’re selling.

They don’t buy when don’t trust you.

People avoid risk on three levels.

  1. The biggest risk is that they’ll purchase the wrong solution – that they’ll have spent the money and still have the problem.
  2. But, there’s also the risk that the solution they purchase won’t last, and their problem will be back. (The variant on this is buying from a company who won’t warrant the purchase, or even be in business if the purchaser ever needs their support).
  3. And finally, if all of the solutions seem roughly equal, there’s the risk of over paying.

Put yourself in the mindset of someone who’s just become aware of a problem, which could be anything from “ring around the collar” to “my back hurts every morning when I wake up.” Whatever the problem she’s identified, she’s now looking for a solution.

Ring around the collar? One of the oldest formulas in advertising was perfected by major packaged goods companies like Lever Brothers and Proctor and Gamble. The familiar presentation is called slice-of-life, and is presented as if we, the viewers / listeners / readers are peeking in on a conversation between real people.

The formula is basic:

State problem. Agitate problem. Announce solution.

  • First, our slice of life dialog establishes that “ring around the collar” is an easily noticed condition which will reduce social standing.
  • The off-camera announcer states the problem: “You’ve got ring around the collar.”
  • He now agitates the problem: “Those dirty rings. You’ve tried scrubbing. You’ve tried soaking. You’ve tried powders. And nothing works.
  • We’re treated to a close-up demonstration of Wisk liquid laundry detergent being poured on the offensive sweat stain. The camera cuts to a close up of the same collar without the stains.
  • The off-camera announcer proudly announces the solution: “Wisk around the collar gets ring around the collar every time.”
  • This is a good example of a single-step ad. Its also known as an order generation ad. Its purpose is to get the prospect to recognize her problem, accept the solution, and purchase it. Now.

    Does order generation advertising work? Most assuredly, it does. You’ve seen examples of it every day of your life.

    The catalog from Sears or Terry’s Village. Every Yellow Pages ad. The “cash for gold” ads on television. The long-running television or magazine ads for Miracle Grow. A significant percentage of the letters in your mailbox from companies you’ve never heard of.

    Let’s review those three risks.

    Our slice-of-life laundry lady is highly likely to purchase Wisk, now that she’s seen, and accepted, the premise of the ad: “Wisk around the collar gets ring around the collar.”

    1. Is she risking the wrong solution (no pun intended)? She recognizes ring around the collar as her problem, because she sees the sweat stains every time she does laundry. This appears to be an exact solution. Minimal risk.
    2. Is she risking that her solution will be temporary? No. It’s a disposable product. If it doesn’t work as well as she expected, she can simply not replace it when she runs out. Again, no real risk.
    3. Is she risking paying too much?* Probably not. If our shopper purchases the economy size “32 load” bottle of Wisk, she can expect to pay roughly $7.50. If she pays $7.83 will that price increase damage her cleaning budget? Hardly

    Without the perception of risk it shouldn’t surprise us that this customer will quickly decide to buy the product.

    Single-step ads tend to work best for simple, non-technical, and inexpensive products. The simpler the proposal, the easier it is to explain in a small ad. This is the principle which makes classified advertising work.

    But what if the product or service needs more explanation than will fit into a small space ad, or half a minute on TV or radio? In general, the more complex the product, the more technical the nature of the product, the higher the price, the less likely a single-step ad will convert people from prospects to customers.

    Back to the lady with the backache.

    She wakes up, and groans while getting out of bed. By her second cup of coffee she’s moving freely and has forgotten about the stiffness.

    But one day she realizes that this “back hurts first thing in the morning” business has gone on for weeks. In her mind (which is where it counts), that realization moves her backache to the status of a problem. Problems need resolution.

    She begins to pay attention to what web marketers call “keywords.” Keywords aren’t limited to the Internet. Regardless of medium, they are one or two word phrases that trigger her reticular activation system and reach her conscious brain. In her case, the words will be “backache,” and “morning backache.”

    Now that her subconscious is aware that they are important she begins to notice the advertising messages which surround her. As her eye skims the newspaper the keywords seem to leap off the page. She’ll be riveted to certain radio ads. She’ll stop talking during television advertising in which the keywords resonate in her conscious mind.

    • “Morning backache is a sign of a too soft mattress. See how good you feel after 30 nights on a Simmons Beauty Rest.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign of poor posture. WalkFit Orthotic Shoe Inserts helped over 90% of the people tested reduce pain levels in their feet, knees, spine and pelvis.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign of poor spinal alignment. Should that stiff neck or sore back persist, call your Doctor of Chiropractic.”
    • “Morning backache can be treated with Doan’s Backache Pills. They relieve the aches and pains and that helpless feeling of stiffness, so that the system can be restored to full health.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign that the vital magnetic energy from the earth’s natural magnetic field has been interrupted. Magnetic insoles provide penetrating magnetic therapy for the entire body while soft massage nodes stimulate reflexology points.”

    Multiple products promise to relieve her discomfort. Multiple disciplines claim to treat her condition. With the limited knowledge she possesses as an entry level shopper, she could easily choose the wrong solution, or one that doesn’t last. Without knowing which solution is appropriate she could easily overpay. She’s swimming in risk.

    Sellers would love for her to buy from a single-step ad.

    From the seller’s perspective a single-step order generation ad is a quick sale. It doesn’t require any follow up. Done well, salespeople may not even be necessary. The process seems so simple, so straightforward, so easy. “Here’s my offer. Come buy it.” There is no intent for these ads to build image or “brand” the advertiser. Their only purpose is to get the sale. Miss Prospect will buy, or not. No second chance.

    But Miss Prospect may not be ready to buy when you want to sell. She may not need it today. Even if you do, she doesn’t know you. She doesn’t know your product. From her perspective she’s surrounded by risk. Did I mention that she doesn’t know you?

    Risk Graph

    Amount of Risk at Each Stage of Shopping.

    She needs information about how you can solve her problem. She needs information about your professional reputation. She requires more information than can fit into a small newspaper or magazine ad; more than will fit into a radio or television ad.

    When she’s in the early stages of seeking a solution for her problem, Miss Prospect will want to see a demonstration, read a specification sheet, see an estimate, meet for a consultation, or expect a presentation before she buys.

    See the problem? One-step ads work best when the offer is simple, and inexpensive. They work when the prospect is a late stage shopper, and is very close to making a purchase. But when Miss Prospect is an entry stage shopper, is bewildered by the sheer number of choices, and feels overwhelmed by risk, they tend not to work at all. Mr. Advertiser schedules his single-step offer to run in the noon newscast, and at 12:15 is standing at the door wondering where all of the buyers are.

    If we’re selling mattresses, orthotic shoe inserts, chiropractic services, analgesic pills, or magnetic therapy – if we’re selling anything which takes a more detailed explanation than “this detergent gets the dirt out” – we’ll do better breaking the sales process into two or more parts.

    Instead of asking Miss Prospect to commit to the purchase, we ask that she only commit to the risk-free next step in our selling process.

    What’s the risk-free first step?

    Example 1:

    How do Proctor and Gamble minimize the customer’s $7.50 risk for any of their new detergents? They offer a free sample of the product. Enough for two or three uses. Miss Prospect tries the soap, likes the way it cleans, really likes the new fragrance, and adds the product to her next shopping list.

    Summary: the manufacturer invests roughly 57₵ to acquire a new customer of their consumable product. Its likely that she’ll spend roughly $90 per year re-purchasing it.

    Example 2:

    “If we pre-qualify you and your claim is denied, the Scooter Store will GIVE you your new power chair or scooter, FREE.”

    Summary: by offering a “pre-qualification,” the advertiser gets the complete personal information on an active prospect.

    Example 3:

    “Well I married my dream girl, I married my dream girl, but she didn’t tell me her credit was bad…” This delightful ad for Free Credit Report dot com offers a three bureau credit report, at no cost to the caller. There are two reasons this one is worthy of note. First, it uses network television (with only :30 seconds to tell a story) to drive traffic to a web site where there’s no limit to the amount of information which can be presented to the prospect.

    But, pay close attention to both the tiny screen writing and the subdued voice over, each of which say, “Offer applies with enrollment in Triple Advantage.” Did you catch it? The entire 30 seconds pushes the free credit report which people get by enrolling in a monthly credit monitoring service for $14.95 per month.

    Summary: for the price of a single credit report (no incremental cost to the advertiser), and by focusing ONLY on the premium – the free report – they get a subscriber who will pay nearly $180 per year.

    Imagine trying to convince people to sign up for a monthly credit monitoring service in a :30 second single-step TV ad. “Call now. Protect yourself from identity theft for only $14.95 a month. Operators are standing by…..” But asking them to identify themselves by requesting their own credit report? How elegantly simple.

    They call it two-step marketing, but…

    It may be the second, third, or forth step which closes the sale after the first step provides the “lead.”

    Or it may be a series of progressively larger sales. Roy H. Williams says the subscribers to his free newsletter may become familiar enough with his writing to purchase a $12.95 book. Some of the book buyers may purchase a $49.00 video, or a $495 training program, or a $3,000 three-day seminar. Some of those purchasers will become consulting clients. Roy calls this his “gravity well.”

    Whether you call the two-step process a prospect funnel, a gravity well, or lead generation, there are a few things you can do to maximize its effectiveness.

    Not everyone you meet will be a qualified prospect for what you sell. And remember that qualified prospects still won’t buy if they don’t believe they need what you’re selling, or if they don’t trust you.

    Two-step marketing allows you to persuade your prospects that what you sell is the exact solution they’re seeking. More importantly, it allows them to experience your trustworthiness. And both are critical to the reduction of perceived risk among your prospects.

    And risk makes the bait less attractive when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about focusing your messages on specific stages of shopping may be directed to ChuckMcKay@FishingforCustomers.com. Or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.

     

    ___________

    *Doesn’t it strike anyone else as odd that so many business people skip by the two more critical perceived risks, and immediately cut price to stimulate sales?
    ___________

    This article is one of three on this subject:

    Part 1: How Does One Educate a Customer

    Part 2: How to Steal Your Competitor’s Customers

    Part 3: Zen and the Art of Persuasion

    ___________

     

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    Should an Upwardly Mobile Zebra Shed Its Stripes?

    Zebra losing its stripes.

    Zebra losing its stripes.

    You’re a lion. It’s dawn on the Serengeti. The hunger pangs of three days without food are becoming impossible to ignore.

    Off in the distance is a herd of zebra. You’re down wind. You can smell the herd but they can’t smell you. You crouch closely to the damp earth, stealthily moving through the tall grasses. Your padded feet don’t make a sound.

    The zebra slowly mingle in the herd. The stripes of one blend seamlessly into the stripes of the next, creating a vermiculite tapestry of white and black. Your only hope of catching one is to single it out from the rest, but which? How do you focus on any individual when you can’t determine where one begins and the other ends?

    Wait. What’s that?

    One zebra is grazing apart from the others. You can see it’s nostrils contract with each inhale and expand as each warm breath leaves its body. You watch its tail idly swatting at flies as it slowly steps forward to reach the next succulent blade of grass.

    You are now focused on the one, rather than being confused by the many.

    And the many? They have taken advantage of the safety of the herd.

    Our instincts are to hide from predators. Herd animals like zebra, or sheep, or even people protect themselves by looking and acting like every other herd animal.

    Taking risks gets one noticed. It exposes vulnerabilities.

    Taking risks is… risky.

    And what’s the upside?

    Is there an upside?

    No banker has ever been fired for refusing to make a loan. No investment broker was ever fired for buying IBM. Not taking risks is instinctive.

    So we do the things we’ve seen other businesses do. We recite the same messages, replicate the same images, and deliver them through the same media. We stick with what works. We choose the tried and true and smugly congratulate ourselves on not taking any risks.

    What passes for most business strategy is simply a “me too” game of “We do what they do, but you should buy from us instead.”

    Unfortunately, “we do what they do” makes your business blend back into the herd. You’ve made the very things that make you the best solution to your customers problems impossible for the lions (uh… the customers) to single out.

    Brace yourself.

    “Me too” as a strategy fails because you’ve hidden your strengths.

    Successful marketing of your business requires behavior that’s not only risky, it runs counter to instinct.

    Successful marketing requires you to step apart from the herd, and draw attention to yourself.

    Successful marketing requires you to shed your stripes.

    Or, in fishing terms, there’s no point in hiding the bait when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about standing out from the herd and drawing attention to your business? Drop Chuck a note at ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com. Or call him at 304-523-0163.

     

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    The Long And Short Of Persuasion

    Pope Benedict Smoking

    Pope Benedict Smoking

    Researchers must be careful to neutrally phrase a question, so as not to influence the response.

    My partner, Roy Williams, offers a perfect example. When a penitent asked if it was proper to smoke during prayer, he was told it was not. But when the question was rephrased as: “Is it acceptable to pray while smoking?” he was assured that prayer was always appropriate.

    Sometimes it’s not the phrasing that controls the outcome. Sometimes people ask the wrong question. The wrong question, in this case, is “Which sells better? Long copy or short copy?”

    I’m a long copy proponent. That is, I’m opposed to the “nobody will read more than 300 words” school of advertising.

    Short copy has inherent risks. Because it has limited amounts of compelling information, response rates are frequently low. There’s also the risk of high numbers of cancellations and refund requests because the product or service wasn’t what the customer imagined.

    The short copy crowd assumes that everyone is like them. “I wouldn’t read this,” they argue, “therefore no one else would either.” However, these people are not interested in what you have for sale. Without any interest, no matter how short the copy is, they will not read it. Will they read 300 words? They won’t read 100.

    Fans of short copy are almost never successful copywriters.

    When the copywriter ignores people who won’t buy, and concentrates on those who may, copy invariably grows longer. Be careful, though. Long copy in the hands of an unskilled writer becomes an excuse for sloppy, non-focused, undisciplined writing.

    Long copy proponents have research on their side. Split-testing research shows that long copy consistently outperforms short copy. Additional research indicates that although readership does fall off dramatically at 300 words (when the non-interested browsers lose interest) it does not show further erosion until 3,000 words.

    This argument over long copy vs. short copy has raged for years. Unfortunately, it’s a tangential issue.

    Long vs Short asks the wrong question.

    To get to the right question we need to assess the customer’s perceived risk, and the emotional commitment necessary to persuade her to buy.

    The biggest risk any purchaser makes is the possibility of wasting her money in a bad purchase – one that doesn’t suit her needs. The lower the price, the less risk. The less the risk, the lesser amount of emotional commitment. A lessened amount of persuasion becomes necessary.

    We’ve all been in a check out line at a convenience store or a grocery. We’ve noticed the magazines, the candy bars, the breath mints. In retail, these are known as “impulse items.” No emotional involvement required. No financial risk. Impulse items are low priced items.

    Long copy may well bore the potential purchaser of low-risk items.

    Note that you won’t be able to pick up and admire the portable DVD players, or the jewelry, or anything with a stiff price tag as you wait in line. These things don’t usually sell on impulse.

    The higher the price, the less likely Miss Prospect is to purchase it on a whim. As price goes up, so does the risk that she’s making the wrong purchase. As risk goes up, so does the requirement for emotional commitment on the part of the buyer.

    When our prospect is considering a major purchase, short copy may leave her wanting to know what she gets for her money.

    So, in order to decide how long to make your copy, you’ll need to determine the amount of reassurance Miss Prospect requires. If you’re selling candy bars, she won’t worry about the rent check bouncing. If you’re selling college enrollment and asking for a commitment of $25,000 over the next eighteen months, she will require more assurance.

    This leads directly to the right question

    How much persuasion does the prospective customer require to be comfortable making the purchase?

    Her comfort level will be directly proportional to the number of dollars in the “ask.”

    The length of your copy should also be proportional to the size of the ask. When asking for a small amount a simple easily remembered message is appropriate. When asking for a large amount your copy must anticipate every objection, every question, every doubt that your prospect has in you, or in the product or service you’re selling.

    Of course, it must also be well-written, persuasive, and compelling.

    The message must be salient.

    Salience is the relevance of the message to your prospect. It’s the most overlooked quality in advertising. It’s the reason for the long copy / short copy debate. It’s also the reason the debate is bogus.

    Remember, your purpose is persuasion

    You’re trying to get a total stranger to open her purse and give you money. Write something that speaks directly to her. Give your message salience.

    Write what needs to be said to convince Miss Prospect that owning your product or service will affect her life. Get her emotionally involved. Tell a story. Share testimonials. Use statistics. Boost your credibility by whatever means is available to you to remove as much risk as possible. Guarantees are golden. Add as much information as necessary to make the sale, and not a bit more.

    Then start cutting any excess from your copy. Remove any word that can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

    Do you now have strong, persuasive, motivational copy? Long enough to make your points? Short enough to get right to them?

    Assuming that you truly understand your prospect, and have written to her concerns, your writing will automatically be the appropriate length, whatever that length may be. And providing enough persuasion, but just enough, will increase your catch when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Need help making your advertising copy persuasive?  Drop Chuck a note at ChuckMcKay@FishingforCustomers.com. Or call him at 760-813-5474

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