Conference Blog: Earthquakes, Wizards, Words and Email Stats

Here’s what I learned at the conference last week in New York City:

  • Multi-channel marketing is the new buzz phrase. If you’re an email marketer and not thinking direct mail and other offline tactics, you should be.
  • A little ho hum at a conference is fine, compared with an earthquake (which struck last year in Seattle).
  • I don’t have a blog (yet). Therefore, I’m not cool.
  • Wizardry is alive and well, at least in some marketing circles.
  • Sixty-six percent of online marketers are publishing an e-newsletter, according to H. Robert Wientzen, who heads the DMA. This means an e-newsletter is no longer the new new thing. Yours better rise above the clutter.

I’ve wanted to be cool since the fifth grade. So I’ll just blog today. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe I’ll crack the boring and predictable factor Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads, warned us about in the keynote.

On the other hand, maybe I won’t. But hey, this is a blog and I can do what I want. So just change channels if you’re not interested.

Do I sound peevish? Sorry, I am. Too much of what’s being written about email marketing is the same old, same old. Is there anything new to say?

Let’s talk about wizardry for a moment. This is something different. Or is it? Keynote speaker Williams (a.k.a the Wizard), a Texas-based marketing consultant and author, asked a good-sized audience of early morning attendees to “put aside your beliefs, prejudices, and education” and give him, for 45 minutes, “a big white sheet of paper.”

He spouted poetry (Paul Simon: “Wash your hands in dreams and lightning”) and paced theatrically, saying he wanted to give us “a realization, an epiphany, an explosion of understanding.” A few eyes were rolling but he got our attention.

His message was logical: Fact-based advertising copy doesn’t persuade. For example, a diamond merchant who tries to sell diamonds based on the variables of cut, color, clarity, and carat won’t succeed. Selling “the reaction on her face” works. That’s what a man wants to buy for a woman.

Williams showed a series of anatomical slides while he explained different areas of the brain that turn sounds into syntax and language into action. According to Williams, left-brained (analytical) thinking doesn’t work in successful marketing. Right-brain (i.e., intuitive and symbolic) thinking does. You’ve heard this before, of course: People make decisions driven by emotion, not intellect.

(A fellow ClickZ columnist recently made a convincing case that online marketing requires both right- and left-brain skills to be successful.)

My inner English major shuddered when Williams promoted “Frosting” and “Seussing” copy to improve it. He defines “Frosting” (after poet Robert Frost) as “transforming drab communication into razor-edged wordsmanship.” “Seussing” (after Dr. Seuss of “Green Eggs and Ham” fame) is making up your own words. (“Wordsmanship” isn’t in the dictionary, in case you’re wondering.) The point is to break out of the common and predictable and increase what he calls “the impact quotient” of your marketing copy.

Try his “Which Means” exercise next time you’re trying to list key benefits of a product or service. You might find yourself starting with marketing speak such as, “Our product reduces down time.” (I know I’m guilty of this at times.) Keep going, peeling back layers, until you finally get to a sentence that really means something. That’s what you should use in your messaging, on- and offline.

If this kind of thing appeals to you, check out “Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads.” It’s a compendium of one-off musings about marketing, business, words, and life, with ticklish quotes such as “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind” (Rudyard Kipling); and “The risk of insult is the price of clarity” (Roy Williams). I’m still figuring out that last one.

Blogging off in a different direction, AIM and ReturnPath jointly released an intriguing study on the commercial use of email. It can be downloaded free. The major finding: The cost of customer acquisition by email has dropped 20 percent, while revenue per online customer has increased 25 percent.

Finally, I had a horrifying moment in New York’s subterranean Penn Station as I waited for my train to return to Washington D.C. It was just after 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. Hundreds of people jostled in front of the big board as it flipped over the updates on each train: On Time, Delayed, Boarding, etc.

Suddenly, it seemed the whole crowd began to run and converge into one corner of the station. Terrorist attack? My mind shrieked to a stop. (Wizard, how am I doing with “Frosting”?) It was only a large group of local commuters moving en masse to the gate for the 4:17 train to New Jersey.

No earthquakes this time. Just a renewed commitment to multi-channel marketing.

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