Online Marketing Explained…by a 100 Year Old Book

The following quote is 100 years old and it explains perfectly what online marketing and advertising is all about at its core:

“Advertising is salesmanship. Its principles are the principles of salesmanship. Every advertising question should be answered by the salesman’s standards. The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales. Treat it as a salesman and force it to justify itself.” – Claude Hopkins, Scientific Advertising:

It’s amazing the number of pay-per-click ads, banner ads, text link ads and others forms of web marketing that I come across that seem to forget this fundamental web marketing principle. (Even more amazing is that it took a 100 year old book to remind me!)

Online marketing, and any online advertising you do is really online selling. What it all comes down to is good old fashion salesmanship: buyers and sellers connecting for mutual benefit and all that good stuff.

The quote above is just one of many pearls of wisdom that I’ve “discovered” in legendary ad man, Claude C. Hopkins book, Scientific Advertising.

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

Or so the old saying goes. Here are a few more spot on observations from one of modern marketing’s forefathers:

“One must be able to express himself briefly, clearly and convincingly just as a salesman must. But fine writing is a distinct disadvantage. So is unique literary style. They take attention away from the subject. They reveal the hook. Any studied attempt to sell, if apparent, creates corresponding resistance.”

All of us have seen evidence of the above paragraph at work, even in this day and age, in 2009. You know what I’m talking about, the bland, 0-personality corporate speak brochure like websites that are nothing more than glorified electronic business cards. What value do they serve?

If only the people behind these sites knew:

“Successful salesman are rarely good speech writers. They have few oratorical graces. They are plain and sincere men who know their customers and know their lines. So it is in ad writing.”

And youtube videos….It never ceases to amaze me the number of videos on youtube.com that receive hundreds of thousands or millions of views. So many of them seem to serve so little purpose. Of course each one offers a lesson, a lesson in what a fraction of the population is interested in for a period of time. Sometimes all they’re after is pure entertainment. Other times it’s music or instruction or information but in every case it’s an emotion, a feeling of some kind that results. What is often the case, as pointed out in the paragraph above is that many of these videos and many of the most profitable websites are often pretty plain looking, unrefined and un-fancy. Yet they work because they deliver whatever it is the viewer is interested in.

My own website is an example of this. It’s quite plain yet it does its job of communicating to people what I’m about, how I can be of service to them and that I have some credibility. It is no means complete or perfect. So how could I improve it? Well, I could make some educated guesses, or I could take another dose of 100 year old Hopkins wisdom and act on the following advice:

“There is one simple and right way to answer many advertising questions. Ask yourself, “Would this help a salesman sell the goods?” “Would it help me sell them if I met the buyer in person?” A fair answer to those questions avoids countless mistakes.”

In Internet marketing speak: does each page of your website, each piece of content-help or hinder your efforts to get your visitors to take a specific action that will lead you and them closer to a sale? (Hint: this refers to conversion optimization which is something I will speak about more in future posts.)

Another related maxim Hopkins urges his readers to take to heart is the idea that none of us on our own has enough knowledge of the general population to make an accurate decision in regards to how to advertise. To say this a bit differently, he tells us to test everything rather than make assumptions about what is right.

That piece of advice continues to be as true in 2009 as it was in 1890. When working with clients I see it time and time again: we tend to make decisions based on inaccurate information or by what is commonly held to be accepted. Now for some things that’s fine. But when we’re talking about the profitability of the online side of your business, why not test major assumptions and be prepared to make changes if you’re wrong? In fact, I’d suggest you adopt this as part of your online strategy and thinking: your web presence should be ever evolving and never remain static for very long.

So if your site is going to always be changing, and growing, what’s the best way to go about doing that? Again, Hopkins answers with clarity:

“Some say, “Be very brief. People will read but little.” Would you say that to a salesman? With a prospect standing before him, would you confine him to any certain number of words? That would be an unthinkable handicap.”

He goes on to state that your copy needs to be complete. Just as a salesman needs to be able to fully communicate the benefits to a prospect and how a product or service will satisfy his needs, your site and your ads need to fully explain everything your potential customers need to make a decision about taking the next step with you.

This is another important distinction: your site’s goal really should be to get every visitor to take some kind of action, even a small one that signifies a step closer towards buying from you. Even something as small as adding a Twitter follower to your list or receiving an email address in return for some free information: it’s all a form of progression down your sales funnel.

So how do you get people to take action?

“When you plan and prepare an advertisement keep before you a typical buyer. Don’t think of people in the mass. That gives you a blurred view. Think of a typical individual man or woman, who is likely to want what you sell.”

Is there anything Uncle Claude doesn’t have an answer for? Again, he reminds us to focus in on the buyer. You need to answer the question “What can I offer them and what action can I get them to take as a result” “What do they need, want, value or desire that I can provide?” Answer that and you’re on the right track.

Stumped? No worries. The following piece of advice will have you figuring out what your customers want in no time:

“Some advertising men go out in person and sell to people before they plan or write an ad. One of the ablest of them has spent weeks on one article, selling from house to house. In this way they learn the reactions from different forms of argument and approach. They learn what possible buyers want and the factors which don’t appeal. It is quite customary to interview hundreds of possible customers. Others send out questionnaires to learn the attitude of buyers. In some way all must learn how to strike responsive chords. Guesswork is very expensive. “

“The advertising man studies the consumer. He tries to place himself in the position of the buyer. His success largely depends on doing that to the exclusion of everything else.”

Such a fundamental marketing lesson isn’t it?

Reading this book reminded me, heck it taught me several fundamental marketing and advertising principles that I never came across in school or read on the massive numbers of Internet marketing blogs, websites and forums I’ve ever come across.

This is a great reminder that there are some principles that have survived over the years despite the rapid and far reaching changes that have been taking place online and off in recent years.

So now that you’ve just had your own blast from the past or kick in the ass depending…what are you going to do about it?

Personally I’m rethinking client projects, and my own websites, sales process and marketing materials in light of this “new” wisdom. So should you.