Category Archives for "Blog"

November 15, 2018

Stories vs Information…

… and why I’m about to shoot five little ducks…

There are various unadvertised side effects to having a small child. The advertised side effects are well known: lack of sleep etc. One unadvertised side effect is you get nursery rhymes locked endlessly in your head.

The one in my head at the moment goes:

#Five little ducks go swimming one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mummy duck says quack quack quack quack,
And only four little ducks came back…#

And so on.

Why do these things get stuck in out heads? Probably for the same reason we sing them to children. They’re simple, and the melody has a rounded completeness about it. You feel compelled to continue with the song, until all five little ducks come back… (damn them)

The same principle applies when you tell stories in your marketing.

The big takeaway you’ll find in Donald Miller’s Storybrand book is that information is like noise, and story is like music. We’re tuned in to listen for stories. A story has structure, balance and completeness. A story is effortless to listen to, unlike wading through information or statistics.

Are you telling enough stories? Or are you giving people the information they need to make a rational decision.

Buying decisions are rarely rational, and only the most determined buyer will wade through your information.

November 14, 2018

How to split-test your emails

‘How to split test your emails’ is probably the biggest email marketing question I’ve never written about.

Why not? I don’t know. You can and should split test your core email sequences. In my world that’s the sequence that goes out after people opt-in. My objective at that point is to sell someone a book. Which is an unclear conversion metric, because if someone buys from Amazon I can only see that if they respond to an offer within the book.

Split-testing can work at different levels. You can split test the subject line of an email, keeping everything else the same. You can split test an entire email, testing a completely different approach. Or you can split test an entire email series, including completely different emails.

Testing subject lines is akin to fine tuning. Testing entire sequences is more like fishing with dynamite. Although as with other forms of split testing, you can limit your risk by sending most of your contacts through your control sequence.

You need a reasonable flow of new contacts through a campaign for the results of a test to be meaningful. And as with all forms of split-testing, you need to document your tests. Otherwise you’ll lose track of the key learnings.

I sometimes find that people try to split test emails too early. Split testing only works when you already have a working control sequence. In many of the projects I work on, we’re trying to create an effective control sequence. You can only split-test once you have a baseline level of performance, and clearly defined metrics. (As discussed yesterday, I suggest you use Google Analytics as a good starting point).

As a rule of thumb, you want to create a balance between live production and core sequence split-testing. Most of my emails go as live broadcasts. I could conceivably test different subject lines, or even different emails. But the payoff from doing that in a single broadcast is relatively small.

Rather than muddying the water, I’d suggest you focus your split-testing efforts on your most critical email sequence. This sequence is always related to the biggest bottleneck in your business.

In my business, my primary metric is to convert cold prospects leads into book buyers within 30 days of opt-in. So it makes more sense to split-test that sequence rather than individual broadcasts.

Unless your email software caters natively for split-testing, you’ll usually need a third party service. With Infusionsoft for example you could use PlusThis, My Fusion Helper, or InfusionLabs.

November 13, 2018

How to measure your email results

Nerd alert warning: today’s post contains nerdy language, including the word ‘parameters’. You’ve been warned…

We were talking yesterday about the trade off between email length and email frequency. The next question is tracking. In other words, how do you know if a long email is better than a short one?

Most email platforms will report on open rates, click through rates, and sometimes conversion rate (you get a script to put on your website). For me, this is a little limited. I suggest you measure the overall effectiveness of your emails in Google Analytics.

Even if you’re a copywriter or creative person at heart, you need to make sure that tracking measures are in place. Some email providers (e.g. Drip, Mailchimp) will automatically append Google Analytics tracking to all links. This tracking code is called ‘UTM parameters’. Google originally bought Google Analytics from a company called Urchin, so UTM stands for ‘Urchin Tracking Metric’. Just by the by.

If your email platform doesn’t add UTM parameters automatically to your links (Infusionsoft does not), you have to add them yourself. Google has a free tool where you can do this.

When you click on links in my emails you might notice that the URL itself ends with:


That code tells Google Analytics that the visitor came from my Infusionsoft data, the medium was email, and the campaign was ‘daily email’. If I wanted to compare the performance of my daily emails against my welcome sequence, I would need to have tagged links differently in the welcome sequence.

Most people are slapdash about tagging their links. I suggest you obsess over it.

The next step is to configure your Google Analytics goals so you can measure form submissions, phone calls, live chat conversations, and anything else that is valuable to you. Measuring form submissions is relatively easy – just send people to a ‘thank you’ page after completing the form.

Measuring phone calls and live chat interactions is more complex and requires third party software. But if you want to know what is working, I suggest you measure any actions that are of value to you. If you take orders on your website, either configure the Google Analytics ecommerce module, or send people to different order form thank you pages for different order forms, so you can associate a sale value with the goal.

Those two steps will get you the right data in Google Analytics, and the right data coming out. I then suggest you hire or train somebody who likes analysis (not me!) to tell you what is working.

I’m the creative person, not the analyst. Took me a few years to realise that. I can get this stuff setup, but I don’t like working in Analytics more than ten seconds a day. Quite frankly I’d rather spend my days writing instead.

If you have significant data (e.g. more than 10K contacts on your email list) then paying someone to analyse your data is a good idea.

It’s worth remembering too that all numbers are best taken as relative rather than absolute. Knowing that an email had a 25% open rate is about as useful as a bendy hammer. But if you sent two versions of an email, where subject line A got a 20% open rate, and subject line B a 40% open rate? Well that’s genuinely useful.

More on split testing tomorrow.

November 12, 2018

The email frequency / length trade-off

I remember copywriter Drayton Bird commenting that in his vast experience, a well written 2000 word email should always outperform a well written 400 word email.

Which is fine, in principle. But in reality there is a trade-off.

I send five of these emails a week. Some of them are batch produced ahead of schedule, but most get written the day before. If an email isn’t scheduled in my email platform by 9PM the night before, it won’t get sent. (My 9-month son Hugo sees to that!)

So I have a trade-off in production. I could send you one 2000 word email per week. Or I can divide that work across five 400 word emails. You can test this, but your best customers usually want to hear from you at a higher frequency. Everybody else doesn’t matter so much. The bottom 20% of your list will complain vociferously whatever frequency you set, and never buy anything.

Recency matters more than anything else. Every contact on your list is going colder, all the time. The longer you don’t mail, the less likely an interested buyer is to read when you do send. Only cater to interested buyers: all other opinions on frequency are irrelevant.

You have to play around with the length / frequency trade-off, and find out what works for you and your audience. But I find that most people set publishing schedules based on assumptions rather than reality.

Another risk of writing a longer email is it’s easy to cover more than one core idea. Each email you send should only cover one thing. The idea behind this email is the ‘length and frequency trade-off’. Which is technically two things but one idea.

The logical development of this idea would be to talk about tracking measures you can put in place, or ways to split-test email sequences of different length and frequency. Both both of these would be new ideas, best saved for their own email.

I could then pull together all of these things in a longer format, such as my print newsletter or a book. It’s possible to write a book in five months by publishing in this way.

As it is, we’ll talk about tracking tomorrow, and split-testing on Wednesday :-).


P.S. Before editing this post was 386 words, including the postscript…

November 8, 2018

Facebook live: the verdict

Since the start of October I’ve been running a daily-ish Facebook Live video from my True Story Selling Facebook page.

The logic behind this is fairly simple. Each week day I send a daily email. I wanted to see if I can better engage my Facebook audience by creating a live video each day talking about today’s daily email.

Most of my videos are 5-10 minutes long. I’ve already written and sent the email, so talking about it for an additional 10 minutes isn’t much of a hardship. It’s not like, you know, I’m short of opinions or anything.

I have a gut feeling that this is the way Facebook is meant to be used. It fits my mental model of how marketing is supposed to work. Essentially this is a way for me to provide more value up front, before somebody has opted into my list. Facebook Live caters well to low quality production. Which is just as well, as I’m not capable of anything else.

I think Facebook Live is about proliferation, not perfection. It’s really weird talking to a lense, but the more you do it the more normal it becomes.

Some other learnings:

The first time I did a Facebook Live, I made all sorts of mistakes. I tried to cover three things, instead of one. Consequently, the video was 30 minutes, not 5. Who has time for that when they’re scrolling past? Just cover one thing or idea.

I also opened my first ever Facebook Live video by introducing myself, commenting about the weather, and waiting for people to show up.

This was a very stupid thing to do.

Most people do not watch these videos live in real time. The first thing you say has to pull people into your video, like the first line of an email would.

I’ve found that gimmicks and props help to pull people into the email too. I’ve worn hats. I’ve had a conversation with one of Hugo’s toys. These gimmicks do work – you can’t bore people into watching.

I’ve found that if I don’t boost a Facebook Live, Facebook only push it to 5-10% of my total audience. If I boost by £10-£15, this rises to 25% or 30%. Boost any video you’re happy with.

I’d suggest you don’t worry about selling from your Facebook Live videos. The main outcome is you can build an audience of people who watched a certain amount (10 seconds, 25% etc) of ANY of your FB Lives in the last X number of days.

This is KEY Key Key. You should have a little bell running in your head, going DING DING DING. Because you can now run remarketing ads on Facebook to only people who have engaged with you recently.

My opt-in cost to this group is typically £1 per lead, compared to £10 per lead for cold traffic. I also find that cold traffic often doesn’t stick around and stay subscribed.

You can see all of the Facebook Live videos I’ve done since the start of October here. Just note that you’ll start to see remarketing ads if you watch more than 25% of any video ;-)…

Oh please like the page while you’re there, if you haven’t done so already. People who like my page get to see four ads a day from me, instead of two 🙂 :-).

And why not, if the ads are valuable?

November 7, 2018

Email Frequency: Nobody sees you showing up as much as you do

‘How often should I email my list’ seems to be the marketing question that never goes away.

Usually this is the wrong question to ask. Most people pay less attention to you than you do.

Take my old accountants for example. The send me a monthly email, containing ‘November newswire’ as the subject line. Or something equally sleep inducing. Consequently I don’t even read their monthly email, and they may as well never email me at all. The question of frequency is irrelevant.

A better question is: “how can I make my emails more relevant, entertaining and valuable?”

I don’t want to receive a boring email once a year, never mind once a month. But an interesting email I’ll happily receive every day, even if I only read when I get time.

If you’re worrying about frequency, you should pause first and ask whether your emails are genuinely valuable to your recipients. Do they save your emails in a separate folder? Do you get people replying personally?

A corollary exists on Facebook. A Facebook ad that attracts a large number of likes, comments and shares can expect a 25-75% reduction in cost per click. I think we need to ask the same question about our emails too. Besides tracking open rate, how many genuine conversations do you stimulate?

Otherwise, are you sending something for the sake of making noise?

I don’t know many people outside of marketing who send a daily email, and these emails are mostly a demonstration of what I do. But the question is still the same:

– Do the people on your list want and expect your emails? (If not, we need to talk…)

– Do a statistically significant number of readers want to hear from you more often, and is it worth your time to serve them?

Because serve them you must, first and foremost.

November 6, 2018

Do multiple copywriters spoil the broth?

I had an interesting debate last week about whether it’s a good idea to have multiple writers work on a piece of copy.

The argument goes that multiple writers will step on each other’s toes, leading to work produced by committee with inconsistent tone and voice.

I don’t disagree with that assessment. I think as a rule one person should be responsible for your copy. The thing is, one copywriter spends a decent amount of time overwhelmed or stuck.

I’m proposing a new model. We’re all constrained by our own experience and perspective. I actually think it’s helpful to have multiple creative minds engaged with the ideas and research phase, as long as only one person selects the final approach.

It’s also helpful to have multiple people involved in the editing and sharpening process at the end, because we’re all too close to our own work. I’ll spot points of development in someone else’s writing that I’ll miss in my own.

With clear direction and robust ideas, plus sharp editing support, a single writer can do the writing part in the middle much faster without going off track. Everybody wins.

November 5, 2018

Ad writing for 2019 and on…

I’m back from two days in Chicago at Perry Marshall’s Paradigm Shift workshop. I’m going to write up my full notes from the workshop in this month’s Story Selling Insider newsletter. But today I’d like to give you a quick preview…

There are perhaps 50 places to advertise your business, and probably more. Social media – the way most people do it – is exhausting. The better approach is to pick four or five strategies that straddle audio, visual and written, and tie them together with remarketing.

The key is to test a huge range of different ads and offers using warm traffic, and quickly eliminate ads with poor click through rate. You might kill some ads before they even get any clicks.

Sure, so some ads you cull may turn out to have a low click through rate and high conversion rate. But that doesn’t matter – we’re trying to find the small number of ads that have high click through rates AND high conversion rates.

Using stories in your ads is a good idea, especially content that comes from real prospects and customers. The process we worked through with Perry is a way to produce thousands of ad ideas, harnessing the creative input of multiple people. Most advertisers test different variations of a control ad over and over. You can’t A/B split test your way to success.

This process HAS to be done with warm traffic. Cold traffic is brutally expensive to test with. Testing with remarketing is like placing your boat on a river, rather than the open ocean. This applies to your search ads too; not just display.

To limit your risk you want to prioritise the most recent traffic. Recent buyers, recent optins, recent site visitors, recent Facebook page engagement, recent video views. Uploading your best customers (not all customers) to Google and Facebook is a smart move. As is creating lookalike / similar audiences based on these lists.

YouTube is generally under-used or used badly; very few advertisers understand the remarketing applications.

A good question to ask with lead magnets is: can you invest more of the money you would have spent with Google or Facebook into the lead magnet itself? Perry had examples from Gary Bencivenga and Howard Gossage; somebody I’ve been talking about for a number of years now.

You won’t find an agency who will adopt this approach, unless perhaps you seek out someone who was in the room last week. (I can recommend a few serious agency people who were there).

That’s just a tiny snippet of my notes. I’ll publish the rest in Story Selling Insider later this month. If you’re not a subscriber, I’ll send you an invite later this week.

All modesty aside, if you follow along with my work this will be essential reading.


P.S. Some other ‘observations’…

1. I’m not even 5% happy enough to be a flight attendant. Those people are troopers.

2. I never realised quite how many billboards there are in America, displaying an endless stream of dross. To paraphrase Howard Gossage: if advertising were worth saving, billboards certainly wouldn’t be.

3. The highlight of the trip was probably going on a double decker train. Or maybe having deep dish pizza. Or sleeping for 11 hours when I arrived. I’m easily pleased…

4. The lowlight of the trip was paying $5.21 for a bottle of water in the airport. Thieving Bastards.

5. Nobody understands me in America. I ought to stick to writing, or come with subtitles.

November 1, 2018

My take on automated webinars

The topic of automated webinars has come up in the last few days. Once from a subscriber who hates them. Another from a subscriber asking if they work.

An automated webinar is a webinar that runs automatically, without you having to be there. Which for obvious reasons makes them a popular tactic.

I do have an EverWebinar account, which is one of the platforms. I don’t use it much, but I’ve dabbled. The problem really is you should only automate a webinar that has proven to work with a live audience.

What I hate, hate hate, perhaps more than anything else in marketing, is when you join a webinar that is obviously automated, where the content is presented like it’s live. The presenter will say dumb things, like “I can see Jane is asking a question,” or “ask your questions in the chat, and if we don’t get to it, we’ll get back to you after the session.” Usually there’s some roster of ‘attendees’ all with exotic names, who all seem to ask mysteriously leading sales questions.

Literally, I’m not stupid. Don’t mug me off.

There’s a deeper issue. If you’re willing to deceive me up front, what does that say about the relationship later on?

With that presentation caveat aside, I don’t have a problem with automated webinars. The alternative would be to put a video on a web page, which in my opinion is too distracting, and too easy to pause or exit.

Doing a live webinar is like theatre. Or more specifically like pantomime, where you get live feedback from the audience. Although despite the interaction, a good webinar will stay mostly on script.

An automated webinar is like cinema. A show may run four times a day over a four week period, until it disappears. Eventually, you can probably buy the DVD. The cinema experience encourages you to pay attention, and not look too much at your phone. You can’t pause the movie for a while to respond to an email.

Of course, at the cinema the actors never try to call you out. Because that would be stupid, right?

I’ve seen automated webinars work very well for clients. If you need somebody to watch a 45 minute presentation before they’ll buy, I’d consider it. Just don’t do any of the misleading nonsense I’ve described above.

October 31, 2018

Get the right people in the right roles

I’m currently working on the next version of my book The Marketing Nurture System. Most of the following section was in the original manuscript, but is critically important…

No real magic can ever happen doing everything on your own

Self-awareness dictates what you say NO to. And you do have to say no to things. If you were to take all of the advice in this book and implement it all yourself you would very quickly run out of time and energy.

Creating a complete evolving multi-channel Customer Nurture System all by yourself is impossible. The full process I am proposing in this book is only manageable as a team game. The thing you must determine is where exactly you sit in that team, and who else is going to fulfil which roles.

There are four roles that need to be filled:

1. Product expert

The product expert is the person with the most knowledge about whatever it is you sell. This person will have deep industry experience, and be intimately familiar with the benefits and features of your products.

Often the product expert will be the business owner or founder, although it may also be a product manager. Sometimes there will be different product managers for different products.

The product expert’s chief responsibility is to provide a steady stream of information, stories, industry insights and commentary.

I love working with true product experts. A true product expert will start by telling you that all their stories are ‘boring’, and that they ‘don’t really have anything interesting to say’. But with a few well-targeted questions the floodgates explode! Ninety minutes later you’re still sitting there scribbling notes. And take notes you must, because as soon as a product expert has finished talking he or she will have no idea what they have just told you.

My real role in life is to follow product experts around, bottle up what they tell me, then sift and sort it for gold. But I am getting ahead of myself.

2. Systems expert

The systems expert is the person with a deep understanding of your marketing systems. My core marketing system is Infusionsoft, and I am the systems expert in my business.

The systems expert is the person who actually builds out and manages your automation flows. He or she is the person who knows when a contact is in the training phase, and knows when to trigger the Harley Davidson offer.

The systems and flows you put in place are not a ‘set and forget’ deal. They will evolve as your message changes, and you need someone to stay on top of that evolution. This person should have a good understanding of your objectives, and an ability to get the most out of your chosen technology.

The systems manager should be a good project manager (i.e. probably not me). The systems manager should be able to think through flow-charts and think in IF/THEN logic. IF a contact has bought nurture product A, offer them training product B. IF a contact has had nurture sequence A and C, start sequence B, IF certain tags are present.

If what I just described has made your brain hurt, then you probably aren’t the systems manager.

Systems managers are flowchart people. In my experience systems managers are generally not great orators or writers, but they have the ability to think through and model your entire customer journey.

For a true systems manager one whiteboard is never enough. A true systems manager will wake up in the middle of the night, dreaming of four side-by-side whiteboards. Imagine the possibilities! Imagine the space!

If you use one of the more complicated CRM systems to deliver your emails you need someone who knows what it can do and knows how to get the most out of it. In the Infusionsoft world we joke about ‘Infusionsoft donors’. An ‘Infusionsoft donor’ is a person who pays their Infusionsoft bill each month without any real plan or resolve to get better results from it.

Email marketing is actually extremely expensive. The software isn’t particularly expensive, and the per-email cost is negligible, but the opportunity cost is huge. To calculate the true cost you have to factor in all of the money you would havemade if you had a competent systems expert on board.

Remember, your email marketing strategy never operates in glorious isolation; your email marketing strategy is one component in a wider customer nurture plan. The systems expert is the person in charge of getting their head around the technicalities of that plan. Your systems expert is the person who will manage your database and allow you to make the right offers to the right people at the right time.

Your systems expert cannot simply have a good understanding of Infusionsoft, Hubspot or whatever system you use. Your systems expert has to also understand you. He or she must be talking to you regularly, and must completely understand what your business is trying to do. He or she really ought to have read this book.

You might actually have a few systems experts employed at your business. In the context of our customer nurture system, you’ll need somebody to manage your CRM or marketing automation system. But potentially you’ll also need systems experts to manage Google AdWords, Facebook ads, and whatever other lead generation systems you use. These people all need to work well together, and all need an overall understanding of what you are trying to achieve.

I mostly find that people who understand the intricacies of pay per click tend to write terrible ads, which creates the need for the third role…

3. Copywriter

The third role to be fulfilled is the copywriter. The copywriter is the person who actually spends the time at the keyboard to write the emails, direct mail letters, web pages, remarketing ads, and whatever else you decide to communicate with.

Most people believe they are either ‘good at writing’, or ‘bad at writing’. I believe this is an overly simplistic approach, and actually a damaged outcome of our wonderful education system.

Nobody is born with ‘native’ writing ability. You cannot intrinsically be a good writer. All that matters is whether you enjoy to write, and whether doing the writing is actually a good use of your time.

Unless you are operating at a very high level, doing your own writing in-house is probably a good use of your resources. Copywriting is a high value skill. Most people try to outsource copywriting while still tidying their own office and taking out their own bins.

I didn’t say that you personally have to spend hours per day at the keyboard. But it might make sense for someone in your marketing team to take on the responsibility.

The big advantage of doing your copywriting in-house is the writing authentically reflects your voice.

Most of the prospects on your list do not want to read beautiful prose. They want to hear from you. Your opinion and perspective is always more interesting than some random ‘content’ a hired copywriter has cobbled together.

A copywriter’s chief responsibility is to follow the product expert around, converting the things the product expert has to say into interesting content. The copywriter is not necessarily the ideas person. The copywriter is an assembler of ideas.

It is not enough for the copywriter to simply know about copywriting. The copywriter must also possess a deep understanding of your business. You cannot just hire someone you found on Elance and expect them a magically fulfil your copywriting requirements.

Most people approach hiring a copywriter like they are buying a pizza. Instead of ordering an extra-large pepperoni with a side of potato wedges, they order seven autoresponder emails and a ‘lead magnet’.

For the nurture model I am proposing in this book to work you need to be working closely with your copywriter. They may not necessarily be on your payroll (although you could consider that), but they should be an integral part of your team. Your copywriter should buy into and be excited by your vision.

I have a relatively unusual perspective as a copywriter. I actually hate the transactional way the copywriting market currently works, because I don’t think it is good for business owners or for copywriters.

Rather than taking on lots of ‘projects’ in a temporary hired-gun arrangement, my goal as a copywriter is to work with just one, or possibly two clients at a time. I want to work with clients who are doing something I am interested in and excited about. I want to become an extension of their mission.

I believe this is the direction the copywriting market will eventually take.

Rather than working on ten projects, a forward-thinking copywriter will work with one ideal client who has big goals and an interesting message. A savvy copywriter in this arrangement may agree an equity stake, or a profit sharing arrangement. And why not? If your copywriter is systematically churning out the words needed to grow your business then why not offer a share of the spoils.

You must get the right person into the copywriting role. The copywriter can be an internal member of staff who is dedicated to writing and has taken on some appropriate training. Or it can be an external copywriter who buys in to your mission and is viewed as an integral part of the team.

Those are the only two viable options.

If you view hiring copywriters as a transactional arrangement where your hired-gun copywriter is going to sit in his cave and pull the necessary copy out of thin air, you are suffering from magical thinking.

If the copywriter is anyone other than you, you need to be talking to him or her on a regular basis.

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