≡ Menu

This month, they were filming the next Avengers movie here in Edinburgh.

I’ll admit, I’m not a big superhero fan. The heroes tend to be pretty one-dimensional, and I’ve never understood the villains.

Why do they feel the need to kill people?

Why don’t they just use their abilities to make a load of money?

Take Magneto – the X-men nemesis – why doesn’t he go to Vegas and use his powers to control the roulette ball?

“Black 26. You win again, Mr Magneto!”

(Man, I’m going to get some hate mail for this…)

But, no, instead of getting rich on easy pickings, these villains have another idea: They’re going to have a winner-takes-all battle against a group of superheroes.

It never occurs to them that villains have a 0% win rate in those battles. So they end up getting beaten up, killed, or put in prison.

It makes no sense.

Are you running your business like a super villain?

Most businesses I consult with are using the supervillain strategy: They ignore all the easy ways to market their businesses. And, instead, choose to fight over search engine traffic with stronger competitors.

Again, it makes no sense.

Now, I’m not knocking search engine marketing. I’ve made my clients a lot of money using Google AdWords.

But I’ve made them far more money with less competitive (and cheaper) marketing.

And I’m thinking specifically about email marketing to their customer lists.

Why is it more profitable?

(A)    Because it’s free.
(B)    Because existing customers are far more likely to buy than strangers.
(C)    Because existing customers are less price-sensitive.
(D)    Because existing customers tend to buy higher-ticket items.

So, if you’re spending your marketing efforts chasing new clients – while ignoring your existing clients – you, like a super villain, are making life so much harder than it needs to be.

Maybe it’s time for a more logical approach?

All the best,

Steve Gibson

You probably saw the story about United Airlines staff dragging a bloodied passenger off a flight.

And, of course, this being 2017, other passengers filmed it on their phones and posted it online. It’s a PR disaster. And, since the story broke, United’s stock market value has dropped $255,000,000.

Of course, now their spin machine has kicked in, and they’ve issued multiple apologies. One of these apologies even talked about how treating their “customers with respect and dignity” is “at the core of who we are.”

But no-one’s buying it.

As the late Stephen Covey once said, “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into.”

Your reputation will be the reputation you earn, not the reputation you try to give yourself. And no amount of marketing will fix that.

All the best,

Steve Gibson

P.S. What should United have done? They offered up to $800 to the first four people who’d give up their seats. They didn’t get any takers. What they should have done is kept increasing the amount.

Maybe it would have cost them $20,000 (total) to get four volunteers. Maybe. But I’d rather pay $20k than $255 mil.

P.P.S. The #unitedairlines hashtag on twitter is hilarious. Well worth checking out.

In 1923, Claude Hopkins, the father of modern direct advertising, wrote:

“Advertising, once a gamble, has thus become, under able direction, one of the safest business ventures. Certainly no other enterprise with comparable possibilities need involve so little risk.”

Here we are, almost a century later, what do we see? Most ad campaigns fail, and marketing disasters are still commonplace.

So, was Hopkins wrong?

I don’t think so. I believe that most marketing disasters are avoidable – as long as you follow some simple rules.

Here are 7 of those rules:

Rule #1: Play with house money

When I started out as a marketing consultant, I took a unique approach: Rather than have my clients gamble on new forms of marketing, we’d improve their current marketing. Then we’d use those additional profits as “house money” we could use to test new marketing ideas.

That way, if these new marketing methods were unprofitable, it wasn’t going to harm the business.

Rule #2: Give yourself house odds

If most new ad campaigns fail – at least, initially – then it makes sense to treat them as experiments. And that means, run the ads long enough to get a statistically reliable result.

If the campaign was profitable, keep running the ads. If not, stop them.

That way, when you win, you win big. When you lose, you lose small.

As Hopkins wrote,

“A man has what he considers an advertising possibility. But national advertising looks so big and expensive that he dare not undertake it.

Now he presents it in a few average towns, at a very moderate cost. With almost no risk whatever. From the few thousand he learns what the millions will do. Then he acts accordingly. If he then branches he knows to a certainty just what his results will be.

He is playing on the safe side of a hundred to one shot. If the article is successful, it may make him millions. If he is mistaken about it, the loss is a trifle.”

Rule #3: Don’t attempt the impossible

Before you spend money on marketing, ask yourself: How much are you willing to spend to bring in a customer?

That’s not, “How much would you like to spend?” It’s how much are you willing to spend i.e. At what cost per acquisition would you stop running your ads?

Knowing this number allows you to perform a “reality check.”

For example, if you’re willing to pay up to £25 to get a new client, and you know your website converts 2% of your visitors, then you should be willing to spend up to £0.50 to get a visitor. (Assuming the visitors convert at the usual rate.)

If AdWords is going to cost you £2 a click, then you know it’s unlikely to be profitable.

Better to figure that out ahead of time than to spend £1,000 on clicks and realise you’ve only gotten back £250.

Rule #4: Don’t be a pioneer

Ten years ago, the online gurus would talk about finding a niche that no-one else had spotted. Nowadays, if you don’t see anyone in your niche, it probably isn’t profitable.

So before you invest in marketing, look to see if anyone else is doing what you’re planning to do.

If not, ask yourself why not.

Rule #5: Think like a prospect

You’re selling to people. Even if you’re selling B2B, you’re still selling to people. And people act like people.

Fortunately, you’re a person, too. So you know what it’s like to see ads, and either be persuaded or not persuaded.

Before you run your ads, put yourself in the shoes of your prospect. If you were him and you saw this ad, how would you feel?

Excited? Indifferent? Sceptical?

Is it a unique and new solution to your problem? Or the same old stuff you’ve seen many times before?

And, if you’re advertising on Google, look at your competitors’ ads. How does your ad compare? Better? Worse? Or the same old, same old?

If you want a good click rate, they’re going to need to be better.

Rule #6: Use best practices

Effective advertising tends to follow certain rules. And, if you don’t know the rules you are, as the saying goes, cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

So, if you’re doing your own marketing, you should at least understand the basics of a good ad.

I’d recommend the book, “How to Write a Good Advertisement” by Vic Schwab. Schwab was a highly-successful copywriter and does a good job of explaining the rules of ad writing.

(And the same principles apply to web pages and emails, too.)

Rule #7: Hire a professional

Red Adair famously said, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Well, if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional marketer, then compare that to the cost of running unprofitable – or barely profitable – ads.

Or the cost of having a poorly converting website.

Or the cost of not having enough time to regularly email your customer list.

Or the opportunity cost of all the marketing approaches you could be using, but aren’t aware of.

Yet, for as little as a few hundred pounds a month, you could have an experienced marketer help you bring more visitors to your website, convert those visitors better, and sell more to your existing client base.


In the last dozen or so years, I’ve probably advised over 200 businesses. Every single one that was struggling was breaking at least one of these 7 rules.

And while I can’t guarantee that, if you follow the rules, you’ll be a success, I can say you’ll greatly improve your odds.

All the best,

Steve Gibson

The left-wing media delights in telling us that Donald Trump speaks at a fourth grade (10 year old) level. They see this as evidence that many of his supporters are stupid and poorly-educated.

But the truth is, it’s the journalists that are dumb.

For three reasons …

First, 90% of Americans read at a grade seven level or lower. That’s a lot of votes. (And a lot of people who are below Hillary Clinton’s eighth grade speaking level.)

Second, direct marketers know that high reading levels (above grade 8) reduce response. And that’s true even when writing to highly-educated professionals.

That’s because [click to continue…]

Looking at Betfair right now, the odds for Brexit are 3.2 – which represents a 31% chance of victory.

I’m going to suggest the real odds are under 10%.

And, to back that up, I’m going point out lessons from the Scottish independence referendum, and show how the Vote Leave campaign is repeating many of the same mistakes.

The Obligatory Disclaimer

As much as I’m trying to be objective, I’m sure my own preferences will come through. So, I might as well lay them on the table and say I voted for Scottish independence and will probably vote to leave the EU.

With that out of the way, let’s look back at the independence referendum…

Recapping the Scottish referendum

8 months before the referendum (January 2014), polls showed a 22% lead for the No campaign (61% – 39%).  It should have been over.

But, by September, the gap was so small, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg rushed to Edinburgh with a rashly cobbled-together bag of promises to bribe Scotland to stay in the Union.

So let’s look at what caused that swing towards independence, why it ultimately failed, and the lessons for the EU campaigns.

The No campaign’s mistakes

The biggest problem the No campaign had was [click to continue…]

The American comedian, Bill Burr, tells the story of a New York comedy club that…

“For some reason, they moved the stage out away from the wall… and they had this little small club… and they moved it away from the wall, so the waitresses could walk behind the stage.

“They took out like five or six tables, and all the other comedy clubs were laughing.

“And they figured out how money they screwed themselves out of over the course of a year… you know, doing show, two three shows a night times six or seven days… like they were screwing themselves out of three quarters of a million dollars a year. So they ended up having to move the wall back…”

OK, so what’s this got to do with marketing? Two things: [click to continue…]

People in all walks of life – from professional persuaders to pick up artists – are using his techniques to influence & manipulate


Imagine you could – without any coercion – make a complete stranger beg you to take his money.

Or have a Playboy centrefold give you her phone number within minutes of meeting you… even though she’s a 10 and you’re only a 5.

Welcome to the new science of modern persuasion.

And the father of this science is Dr Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.

His book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has sold over 3 million copies, is a New York Times Bestseller, and has been translated into twenty-seven different languages.

He’s been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Scientific American, Financial Times, and the BBC, to name just a few.

And Dr Cialdini is in great demand as a consultant. His clients are a who’s who of international business… Google, Microsoft, Coca Cola, KPMG, Merrill Lynch, Nationwide Insurance, IBM, GlaxoSmithKline… He’s advised governments around the world, and helped President Obama get elected.

So how did Dr Cialdini become the world’s leading expert on influence and persuasion?

A Lifelong Pushover and Patsy

All his life, Dr Cialdini had been a pushover and patsy. Until one day, he asked himself: “What is it about the way that request was presented to me that made me say yes to something I didn’t want?”

To find the answer, he infiltrated sales organisations, ad agencies, PR firms, fundraising organisations… he even hung out with conmen…

And he discovered something interesting… everything they were doing could be boiled down to just 6 principles…

The 6 Master Keys of Influence

These 6 principles are… [click to continue…]

Dear Fellow Copywriter,

When Gary Bencivenga retired a few years ago, he was widely regarded as the world’s greatest living copywriter.

Here are just a few things people said about him…

Best copywriter we’ve ever used. He’s given us more winners, more consistently, than anyone else.” — Phillips Publishing

“His name is the stuff of legend around here….Against other top creative talent, he has never lost a split-run test in selling any of our books.” —Rodale Press

Possibly the most respected copywriter in the direct marketing business.” —Who’s Mailing What

World’s greatest copywriter.” —KCI Communications

You can just about count the creative geniuses who revolutionized direct mail on the fingers of two hands….(They include) Gary Bencivenga.” – Target Marketing

America’s best copywriter” – Brian Kurtz, Boardroom Inc

But, unlike many other top copywriters, Gary [click to continue…]

Even when he was drunk on his ass, he was a fucking genius”. – Stephen King on Ernest Hemingway

I tried, but I could never get into Hemingway.

Instead I found myself more like Pat Solatano from the movie, “Silver Linings Playbook”, who when he finished reading “Farewell to Arms”, screamed… [click to continue…]

Ever wondered why most websites only get conversion rates of 1-3%?

Even visitors from search engines – people who not only want what you sell, but want it now – often convert at under 5%.

So why do 95-99 of every 100 visitors leave without buying?

I think there’s one primary cause…

Weak copy

And when I say “weak”, I mean copy that fails to: [click to continue…]