Issue #57—February 22, 2019
This past Monday I had the opportunity to re-connect by phone with my longtime friend and colleague, the brilliantly insightful marketing advisor and strategist Michael Fishman.
Michael works with leading-edge companies like Bulletproof, doctors like Dr. Daniel Amen, and authors of best-selling health books like Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Christiane Northrup. His "mission" (and he's one of the best around at this) is to help founders and brands find their voice and share their origin story and purpose.
Our conversation led to many new and revived insights, and I'm grateful he and I had the chance to catch up. But it got me to thinking about my "old days" back at Phillips Publishing--and unfortunately, how far we've fallen since then.
Specifically, I'm talking about how I see many companies in the health space and others approaching their marketing. (And yes, including some of my clients!)
A quick background story: Phillips Publishing grew exponentially during the late 1980s and 1990s as the publisher of personality or leader-based newsletters on the consumer side for financial and health. (They also had a number of B2B high-priced newsletters, but this wasn't nearly as big as the consumer side of the business).
Each newsletter had its own editor--the "guru" whose vision, leadership, and advice shaped the brand. When someone decided to subscribe to a particular newsletter (which even then ran from $39 to upwards of $99 or more a year for 12 print issues), the product they were buying was THAT guru or editor...NOT the newsletter.
Know what you're REALLY selling...
When I helped launch the company's Healthy Directions supplement subsidiary back in 1993, once again we were selling the doctor/editor (in this case, Dr. Julian Whitaker) as the "guru" or visionary behind the supplements.
The supplements we sold or had formulated specifically for Dr. Whitaker's line were all ones he actually used and recommended to his patients...and we stayed true to that at least for the 3+ years I was leading their marketing.
There was an authenticity, passion, and leadership that naturally allowed and justified our ability to charge what were considered premium prices at the time. We had as much as 10% response rates just with fulfillment box stuffers after the first order. We enjoyed huge loyalty and repeat orders (which is where the REAL money is made in any consumable product).
We analyzed and strategized and discussed ad nauseum in our marketing meetings about how to incorporate Dr. Whitaker's "brand" and voice into everything we did in our sales copy. There was a separation, as we called it, of "church and state" in terms of the supplement subsidiary operating independently of the publishing arm.
We often found ourselves in those early days in a reactionary state...oh, look, Dr. Whitaker wrote about or recommended this specific product in his newsletter, now people are going to be asking about it--so let's stock it and add it to our catalog right away.
By doing all of these things--staying true to Dr. Whitaker's mission to make the very best supplements available to his followers, and always carefully positioning him as the hero and NOT the salesman, we were able to grow this scrappy little start-up into generating $23 million a year in sales within the first 3 years...just by going to ONE list: Dr. Whitaker's "Health and Healing" newsletter subscribers.
In the 25 or so years since, I'm afraid many of us have gone astray. Myself, included...I admit to writing promotions where the doctor spokesman is not as carefully positioned. In some cases, I don't even get to interview him or her. Or he's someone who's been hired at the last minute to slap onto a promo as an endorser (in a few worst-case scenarios).
There's no real mission, nothing unique for prospects and customers to grab onto--a lack of something meaningful in this increasingly transient and isolating online world of ours where there's not even the sensation of touch to paper. It's like, as Journey says in one of my favorite songs, we're "taking the midnight train goin' anywhere"...and getting nowhere.
We---and our prospects---are "living just to find emotion hiding, somewhere in the night" and "working hard to get my fill, everybody wants a thrill." Remember that, and...
Don't stop believing.
Take your prospects and customers on a journey. Show them a path...THE path...the one they can ONLY get from you...to get what they ultimately want, and demonstrate how you can uniquely solve their problem and make them better off in ways they desire (yes, this was the consumer division president Bob King's visionary mantra).
Be that crusader who's fighting for them, who's putting themselves out there to stand up for the little guy, to be the truth-seeker and speaker...and you will gain much more than a high-performing acquisition sales letter. You'll actually build a real business.
Okay, now that I've possibly pissed off just about any client I've ever worked for ("you'll never work in this town again!"), let's end with a few recommendations for my copywriter and marketer friends out there based on today's insights...
1) Insist on personally talking (by phone!) with the doctor and/or formulator behind the product you're writing for...the editor, author or product creator...or whoever is the guru or "brand"...and inject that person's voice, passion, and mission into your copy.
2) Once you dig out that origin story behind your product, use it to demonstrate how this search, discovery, or mission led to the creation of this solution that solves the prospect's problem in a new, unique, and superior way (this is, in effect, helping you put your finger on your USP, or Unique Selling Proposition, necessary for any successful promotion).
3) Be careful how you have your doctor or editor or product creator "sell" the product. While they can still be the spokesperson, always elevate them above the job of "car salesman" (no offense to people who sell cars). He or she is "making something available" or "arranging through a trusted company", or maybe there's someone else who's writing and referring to the doctor/product creator so he or she is removed from the direct sales close.
And if you have a role in the company behind the product, step back and think about the journey you're uniquely able to take your prospect on...how your crusade or mission is making them better off in ways they desire, and in ways your competitors can't offer. If you do so, you could exponentially grow your business and stand out from and above the slew of "phonies" and "wannabes" who bring all of us down.
Now that I've finished what I hope is a helpful "rant", let's look at something that landed in my mailbox not last week...not even last year...but 17 years ago. You'll soon see why I'm featuring it in this week's issue.
What's in Kim's Mailbox?
This masterfully done magalog promotion for Dr. Whitaker's "Health and Healing" newsletter was one of many controls that was mailed in the millions by Phillips Publishing during the newsletter's heyday.
It's a perfect demonstration of how over the past decade beforehand, Dr. Whitaker had been positioned and branded. Unlike a lot of promos being mailed at the time, it didn't look promotional but instead like a newsletter (my Personal Finance control, which also mailed around the same time, also stood out as valuable in this way). Let's take a look at that front cover...
The same color paper and masthead was used for the actual print newsletter. But look at how that masthead and tagline communicates which, at least at that time (though by then there were a lot more competitors saying similar things), was a unique branding statement: Tomorrow's Medicine Today.
I've written several controls over the years for Soundview/Advanced Bionutritionals where there's an "issuelog" look with very intriguing and well-written bullets, but also the beginning of the main letter, on the front cover. This is an interesting hybrid that has mostly all bullets on the front, which provides more opportunities to hook someone in and get them inside. I think it's an idea worth adapting and testing today. Now let's take a look at what you see when you turn the page...
Those opening paragraphs immediately position Dr. Whitaker as having unique expertise (and empathy) for patients that the prospect has likely not experienced from his or her own doctor.
He's providing social proof by referencing his actual, real-life patients at his Wellness Institute (another way to stand apart from the frauds and phonies out there). He's also establishing credibility by stating how many subscribers have followed him over the past 10 years.
And look at that list of promises. Right from the start--before the prospect even gets into the 30+ pages of running copy packed with revelations (and loads of proof) that hit all of the top health concerns the prospect may have--it's making it clear Dr. Whitaker is uniquely qualified and wholeheartedly committed to taking them on a health journey that could be life-changing.
We're not selling a subscription here. We're selling a journey...a transformation...a relationship. I'm old enough to remember when "relationship marketing" was this fancy term being tossed around. It seems like enough marketers aren't paying enough attention to it today.
This is a perfect example of how it's done in a sales piece (and yes, we had to go back 17 years!)
That's all I've got today...it's been a busy "hell week" with countless deadlines and things I'm working on. Hope you enjoyed what I shared and that it helps you create that next winning promotion...AND build your business to new heights.
Yours for smarter marketing,
P.S. I'll have complete details very soon for my upcoming event on March 29th and 30th in Washington, DC. It's going to be a one-of-a-kind experience, and it's limited to just 24 attendees (I've already had one person I know sign up and I'm not even promoting it yet). So please keep an eye out for an email from me soon with all the details...and keep those two days open on your calendar since it's coming up!
P.P.S. I want to say welcome to my new Copy Insiders who've come over from a recent "Copy Hour" webinar I did on Wednesday with Chris Orzechowski. Just a reminder you can find past issues of Copy Insiders going back to the beginning of January (and some assorted musings from 2017) here. You can also get my 2018 Copy Insiders The Complete Collection e-book here at 50% savings when you use this code: WELCOME50 (and since I've shared that here all the rest of you can do so, too!)