It’s Friday, May 13th… and it’s a full moon.
Our marketing hero woke from bed, and timidly cracked her Mac to check the previous day’s stats.
An eery silence hung over the room, which made the shriek that escaped her mouth even more jarring as it tore through the sleeping house and echoed among the rooms, disembodied from its owner and horrifying in its portent.
“What happened?”, her husband shouted, as he leapt from the bed and grabbed a baseball bat to protect his bride.
“The subject line in my blast email yesterday had 8 words!!!” she replied, “My open-rate is in the toilet!!!! Our product launch is DOOMED!!!”
One solitary word beyond the 7-word limit…
She crossed the invisible Subject Line boundary that spells the difference between high open rates and riches, and the spam filter and poverty.
Will she ever recover?
Can her business be saved?
Guru Truths… The Wellspring Of Superstition
Superstition is everywhere… and nowhere is that more true than in marketing.
Guru after mystical guru spells out the rules. Gives us the framework of success: the secret recipe, the special eye-of-newt and wart-of-toad ingredients that create persuasive potions that magically convince our best prospects to open their wallets and give us money for our goods.
Woe to the marketer who goes against these rules.
The road to business success is strewn with the wreckage of business owners who ignored the guru wisdom.
From these Guru Truths spring marketing superstitions, with certain marketing rain-dances required to avoid the pain that ignorance requires.
Your headlines are usually more than 7 words?
Ha, you fool!
You post your blogs each Thursday afternoon, not Tuesday morning at 9:01 Eastern?
I see why your blog isn’t growing.
You’re still trying to build a list to do email marketing?
You obviously haven’t embraced new media.
“But Brian, where do I find marketing truth?”
Patience, dear reader.
We’ll get there.
First, Let’s Understand What Superstition Isn’t
Superstition, such as the idea that bad luck or evil accompanies full moons, black cats, Friday the 13th, etc., has been around forever.
And it’s not always a good-vs-evil kind of thing.
How about the baseball player who wears a gold thong under his uniform to break out of a slump? (You can’t make this stuff up, people.) That athlete believes his, um, under-armour (?) will make him hit the ball better.
That is superstition.
What about the movie star who won’t board a plane unless she steps on the ramp with her right foot and taps the outside of the aircraft?
Yes, that’s a little weird. But that’s not superstition, that’s a ritual. She may go through that routine to make her feel a little better before going airborne, but she doesn’t think the plane stays in the air and arrives safely because of her fancy footwork and plane-tapping.
Superstition is believing something will or will not happen because you take certain actions.
“So what, Brian. People have superstitions and rituals. Who cares?”
If your marketing superstitions are causing you to do things– “perform rituals”– with the hope of getting a certain result…
Then the source of the ritual is extremely important…
Do you know why you’re taking certain actions?
Is it because of some special action you learned, some Guru Truth?
Read on, young grasshopper…
Why Is Superstition So Powerful?
Superstitious beliefs have been around for thousands of years. Some say they started with Jesus’ Last Supper… but I’m sure they’re as old as mankind.
What are they all about?
We’ll get there, but first… picture this…
You’ve started a business, and you’re trying to bootstrap it so you can stay out of debt.
You’re looking for ninja ways to get organic visitors and visibility, and you come across a couple sites that seem reputable, and they each tell you that ranking in the first positions on the Google search page for your business’s keywords is the magic ticket to wealth and prosperity, all you have to do is follow this simple formula:
- Get more links (the more the merrier)…
- Use your main keywords all over the place…
- Post more content, regardless of quality…
You put all this effort into following this formula, and you wait… and wait…
Did you follow the formula?
Did you make sure your headlines were laden with power words?
Are your headlines keyword-rich?
Now, in that neat little story I went through some of the old SEO tactics that used to clog up the guru blogs (which thankfully have been debunked).
But the bottom line is this…
Marketing Superstitions Are Powerful… And Misleading
Marketing superstitions are powerfully persuasive for one reason:
People want to feel that they are in control.
We want to believe that if we take certain actions we will achieve our dreams… or at least avoid pain.
We don’t like being victims of circumstance (well, some of us do… but that’s an article for another day)…
Superstition is our way of taking back control–if only in our minds–of situations and circumstances that seem beyond us.
This is why you see so many people spend hours and hours watching the gurus reading tea leaves, giving us the Guru Truths, and not taking action to understand what works and doesn’t work for their own situation.
I know, because I’m sometimes guilty of this myself.
But you see it everywhere.
Don’t get me wrong: research is very important. I’m not advocating for jumping into a new business situation without doing your homework, but at the end of the day…
The worst quality action is more effective than the best quality thinking. [Thanks Ray Edwards!]
So what are some common marketing superstitions?
Just for giggles, here are some popular marketing and copywriting superstitions, aka Guru Truths, for your reading pleasure:
[Warning: These Guru Truths may work for The Guru, Guru Disciples, and even You… But I’ll explain later why you should take them with a grain of salt…]
Paid Search Helps Improve SEO Results
Paid Search Does Nothing For SEO Results
Headlines should be less than 8 words long
Headlines should be less than 7 words long
Before writing your blog post/email/advertisement, you should write your headline first
Before writing your blog post/email/advertisement, you should write your headline last
Social media is the newest, bestest way to drive targeted traffic to your site
Paid search is the proven, bestest way to drive targeted traffic to your site
I think you get the point…
People Are People
People have a predictable way of being unpredictable in how they react to content, ads, emails, and anything else we marketers decide to put in front of them hoping to influence an action.
That’s why we have to take this stuff with a grain of salt…
What works for Guru One and his tribe doesn’t work nearly as well for Guru Two and hers…
And the confusing part is that both can probably back up their positions with hard data.
No wonder we cling to Guru Truths and superstition!
Which leads me to wonder…
What should we do?
Question In Forum
The other day a copywriter asked a question in a private forum I’m a member of that really highlighted the contradictory information that’s out there…
And the answer made me realize something about the Guru Truths and marketing superstitions…
But first, her question.
This copywriter is writing sales copy for a client’s website, and she asked how long the copy should be?
Her inclination is to make the sale copy longform, and really take the prospects through a classic sales letter structure…
This would end up being a long… probably very long… webpage.
Her [paraphrased] question was, “Isn’t this too long for a web page? Shouldn’t I get to the offer super-fast since it’s online?”
Her question was rooted in some articles she’d been reading where it was said that people’s attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish.
(For those of you who are curious, a goldfish’s attention span is 9-seconds. Don’t worry, I think I’m in that group too.)
These articles suggested drastically reducing the length of sales pages and online articles in general, otherwise it wouldn’t be effective as sales copy.
What was my response to this confused copy-wielding marketing heroine?
Maybe It Will, Maybe It Won’t
Let the data guide you.
In a word…
I told her that there are best-practices out there, Guru Truths, but that those are only guidelines, suggestions, and advice that worked for the experts and (maybe) their tribes.
What worked for them might work for you. Then again it might not.
The only way to be certain of what works is to test.
I suggested that she write a condensed version of the copy, and also a longform version.
Send traffic and see what works.
In the end that’s all we can do, and letting the data be our guide is the best ritual we could hope for.
So what did we learn with all of this?
- Superstition is our way of seeking to control our destiny.
- Guru Truths might be true for the gurus… but they might not be true for us.
- Action, testing, and data are our true guides. Everything else is theory.
Marketing truth lies in testing our hypotheses.
Marketing truth lies in action.
Marketing truth lies in data.
Data doesn’t lie.
Happy Friday the 13th / Full Moon…
Be safe out there… 🙂