The late advertising great David Ogilvy once remarked about Drayton Bird:
"he knows more about direct response marketing than anyone else in the world"
Drayton spoke at a conference I attended in Washington many years ago and his ideas are both simple and effective. Today we cover some valuable copywriting and marketing concepts. I have consumed every newsletter and course he has published:
Summary notes from this interview between Drayton Bird and James Schramko
- Drayton has been teaching direct response marketing for over 40 years to thousands of people
- He once worked for David Ogilvy (who is considered to be one of the greats of Copywriting)
- The most important element for your marketing is relevance not originality or creativity
- Most marketers do too little study
How do you Innovate?
- Stick with what works
- Study and adapt what has worked before
- Take existing elements and put them together in new and exciting ways
- Study any category you are working in very deeply
On Change and Testing
- Change is meaningless without testing
- If you change more than one thing you dont know what made the difference
- Testing is the bedrock in this business
- Test one or test all
- Test everything
- Is you are not testing you are going to fail
- Video works. Put it everywhere
- Nothing fails like success (avoid complacency)
How Do You Craft Guarantees?
- Be as generous with guarantees as you can possibly be
- Focus on the benefits rather than the features
About Marketing Ethics
- Focus on the customers problems (not yours)
- You will do better if you do the right things than make outrageous promises
- Explore every conceivable means of solving and communicating problems
I watched this straight down the line copy training series from Drayton Bird and found it insightful and easy to implement. Your business will be more profitable when you apply the core concepts of writing for persuasion:
Drayton Bird Training
James: James Schramko here, and I’m so pleased to be able to bring you a video of Drayton Bird answering some questions I put to him after really being enthused by the way he approaches copywriting.
Drayton: I’m answering questions from James Schramko who strikes me as being pretty smart because he said he was going to ask me three questions and when I looked at them, there were about eight, but I will try and answer them.
Stick to what works
The first one is about being creative. He saw me speak in Washington at Yanik Silver’s Underground Event and I said you should stick to what works rather than being creative. I said that because far too many people waste time trying to be clever when they should just be selling. David Ogilvy once remarked that people spend their time skidding about helplessly on the surface of irrelevant creative brilliance. The interesting word there is irrelevant. A lot of research showed that it is relevance, not originality or creativity or smart ideas that makes people buy.
The secret of course is to study, to see what has worked in the past because in any creative field, believe it or not, and I’m talking about music or painting or anything you like, you will find that the great writers and painters and so on study and adapt what has worked before. There’s actually an exhibition right here in London at the moment which compares the work of the French painter Claude with the British painter Turner to show how Claude influenced Turner. The same sort of thing applies to great music. But you must study. What’s wrong with most people in this business, I tell you, they don’t study. They don’t read. I was interviewing a copywriter yesterday, a very successful one, and he said he was staggered at the way that people haven’t read all the great books. They haven’t studied. So there you are.
How to innovate
James asked me, “how do you innovate?” and I have suggested, almost suggested, that you don’t innovate. You just copy. Well, that’s not true. What you do to come up with something slightly different that will work is you take elements that you’re familiar with and you put them together in new and surprising ways. That is what creativity is all about, because there’s nothing new under the sun. Not really. There’s just new variations. So you take things that have worked and put them together in new and surprising ways.
And sometimes, almost exactly copy and the most famous example of that is David Ogilvy’s advertisement which sold the Rolls Royce which said “at 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the New Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” Well, that was actually taken directly from an advertisement for another car called the Pierce-Arrow which had run 20 odd years previously, maybe 30 years. I think 20 years previously. David Ogilvy said that he used to study all the advertising in any category for the previous 20 or 30 years before he wrote anything. You should do the same. The more you study, the more you know, the better you are able to innovate. Simple as that.
The importance of change
James asked me an almost impossible question – how important is change in direct response? Well, change is important in anything but what is the role of change? Where does change come in? And the answer is that change is meaningless without testing. If you think, “I’ll change this or I’ll change that,” rule no. 1, if you change more than one thing at a time then you’ll never know what made the difference. So that’s very important. The golden rule in testing is, my golden rule anyhow, is test one or test all. In other words, you test an entirely new approach or you just change one particular element.
Testing really is the bedrock of success in this business. Richard V. Benson observed many years ago, and I’m not sure if he was the first to say it, that there are only two rules in direct marketing. Rule no. 1 – test everything. Rule no. 2 – refer to rule no. 1. If you’re not testing enough, you’re going to fail. And I’m amazed I haven’t failed because James asked me another question and I’m going to answer it honestly.
Do you test enough?
James said to me, “Have you tested the sales pages on one of your websites? Have you tried a video?” Well, the answer to that was yes and no, or rather no and yes. I’m thinking of creating a mini course called “10 Stupid Things I Do that You Shouldn’t Do.” My mother always used to say, “Don’t do as I do. Do as I say” and I guess as we get older we get more like our parents, though I don’t really look much like my mother. I do not test enough. I really do not test enough. As it happens, I do stick videos in practically everything I do because I know they work, but I don’t test enough. The reason I don’t test enough is because I’m doing okay. This is very very bad. I have a saying which I rather like, which I coined about three or four years ago, which is “Nothing fails like success.” The minute you start to think you’re doing well, you neglect these important things. So I don’t test. I’m sort of sitting there thinking, well, I’m making a pretty good living but I know I don’t test enough.My excuse is I don’t have enough time, I have a small business and I’m an old man [laughs]. I hope that answers James’s question.
Guarantees vs. Risk-free
James asked me about guarantees. Essentially said, should we offer very very good guarantees better than risk-free because people tend to take advantage of them. And he said, I’ve seen people who deliberately put in their diaries a note to cancel offers when they get what they want. Well, you know there’s always going to be people like that. To my mind, you should be as generous with you guarantees as you possibly can. My guarantee that I give for practically everything I do, let’s take my course IDM which runs every year here. I always say, if by lunch time on the first day, you don’t think that this is going to be worth 10 times, I think I’ve actually said a hundred times what you pay on one occasion, then I’ll give you your money back. And in some cases I say, I’ll give you your money back and your travel expenses. In 30 odd years, 40 odd years of doing talks to tens of thousands of people, I’ve only ever had one person ask for his money back. And to be absolutely honest, when I asked my PA why she said I think he’d come to the wrong event. He didn’t even realize what the event was about. Be as generous as you can with your guarantees.
James asked me, what’s a good way to craft a guarantee? In other words, how do you create a guarantee? I’m not entirely sure what he meant, but I’ll tell you what I do think. I think that if you don’t really emphasize the benefits of the guarantee in the same way that you emphasize the benefits of what you’re selling, then you’re missing a trick. If I just say, here’s a guarantee, you get your money back, that is what I would call the feature of the guarantee yeah? That’s what happens, that’s what the guarantee does – it gives you your money back.
But the benefit of the guarantee is that you don’t have to worry. What can you possibly lose? Years ago, I was offered a job by a brilliant man called Joe Karbo who wrote a marvelous advertisement headed The Lazy Man’s Way to Get Riches. And I always remember, at the end of the copy for the advertisement which ran all over the world including Australia – somebody who worked for me ran this product in Australia, at the end he said “Look, you might be full of hot air, Joe, but what have I got to lose?” That’s the benefit of the guarantee as opposed to what the guarantee is. That’s a very good question from James. All the questions that he has asked are pretty good. I’m not sure if my answers are any good, but that’s another subject.
James asked me one more question which I didn’t quite understand, and I’m going to read it. He said, how do you feel about these young guns who think it is all about EPC, earning per click, before the customer? Is there a line between solving the customer’s problems versus solving the marketer’s problems? Quite frankly, if you don’t solve the customer’s problems, you ain’t going to solve your own problems. It is certainly true to say that there are a lot of roads, far too many roads around, who make outrageous promises and gets away with it because the internet is not policed very well. But the truth of the matter is, to go onto a broader field, you will not do as well as you could if you don’t do two things – if you don’t spend most of your time thinking about your customer’s problems and if you don’t explore every conceivable means of solving those problems and every conceivable means of communicating with customers.
A lot of people at the moment, I read something today that suggested that the internet is the way, email is the other. Well, email responses are going down and down. Meanwhile, I interviewed someone yesterday, a very good copywriter that I know, and I said, do you use direct mail? And he said, yes. He uses direct mail more than anything else. That’s another thing that I don’t do. That’s another mistake I make. Direct mail still works because more and more people move over to email, fewer and fewer people use direct mail. Big mistake. Thanks for asking the questions, James. And I hope the answers were helpful.
James: I’d love to get your comments and let me know how this video training has helped you with your ideas about copywriting. Tell me what you’re going to change as a result of watching this.
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