Direct Marketing

They laughed when I said this LinkedIn advertising headline would work. But when they saw the results……..

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Photo of a lady laughing
This lady found the headline downright hysterical

If you recognise this headline you’re either old or a learned marketer. Or maybe you’re both.

It is an amended version of a classic advertising headline written by John Caples; a true advertising legend.

It was used in a newspaper advertisement to sell a distance piano lesson course over 80 years ago.

Obviously the success of the advertisement wasn’t down to the headline alone. Everything else – body copy, images, emotion, offer – all supported the headline and added to its success.

It has been applied 1000’s of times the world over to sell all sorts of things.

And I used it recently on a Linkedin pay per click advertising campaign for professional services. I tested its click through and conversion rates and against 7 other headlines.

And it won hands down.

It also worked as a headline on a posted direct marketing campaign I wrote to sell commercial legal services

In truth, the posted mailing only pulled a single response from the mailing of around 200. But the people on the mailing list had never heard of us and it was our first and only piece of communication with them.

More importantly, the one person who did respond became a client whose fees paid for the communication, with some extra for profit. And as the objective of the direct mail was sales, it was a success.

Do you know why I think it still works today as it did over 80 years ago?

Old couple in black and white photo
This couple probably had the same basic wants as you.

It’s because, contrary to popular belief, people don’t really change.

You and I still have the same basic needs, wants and desires as we’ve always had.

And you and I are human beings, meaning we are emotional. People buy on emotion much more than they do logic, even in business-to-business.

This concept of us not changing much is explained in this quote. It’s by another grand old man of advertising, Bill Bernbach.

The next time you’re planning a marketing campaign, you might find his words useful.

“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”


This free 7 point marketing brief stops you making mistakes

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Billboard advertisement saying Life is better without crap ads
Actually I rather like this

“A tried-and-tested marketing brief to supercharge your communications”

When you have to produce marketing work, what do you use for help or inspiration?

Do you just fly straight into developing your creative idea, shaping your message along the way?

If you do, you’re in good company. That’s what most people do. Heaven knows I’ve done it 1000’s of times.

I’m not sure about you, but the reason for me rushing straight to developing the creative is simple: time. Or, to be more accurate, a lack of it.

You are probably busier now than you have ever been.

You have a dizzying number of marketing channels to write for, but sadly, the same hours in your day.

But don’t despair, this free 7 point brief could save you

And it doesn’t matter if you’re writing for social media, email or posted direct marketing, press, radio, TV advertising or even events and experience marketing – it works for them all.

It was developed by Steve Harrison, one of the most successful advertising men of the last 30 years.

Steve and his agency, Harrison Troughton Wunderman, produced advertising for some of the biggest brands in the world, including Vodaphone, The AA, IBM and Microsoft.

If you’ve not heard of him, he’s one of the most successful creatives the UK has ever produced; winning the inaugural ‘Cannes Lion Direct Grand Prix’ award. On top of this, he has won three gold, five silver and two bronze Lions at the world’s biggest annual awards for professionals in creative communications.

I had the pleasure of watching Steve present recently at Drayton Bird’s European Academy of Direct and Interactive Marketing (EADIM) conference in London.

What a fantastic experience it was. And if you ever get the chance to see him – or any of Drayton’s events – I urge you to take it.

So, here is your free 7 point creative brief. I hope it helps you.

Use it. Maybe you’ll end up collecting a Lion or two of you own!



How to write your marketing brief

The simplest way of looking at a brief is like this: your client or prospect has a problem. You think you can solve it for them.

When you are writing your brief, keep this in mind as you answer the below questions. It helps maintain logic as you go; ensuring your argument builds irresistibly to your proposition.

1, Who are you talking to? 

Describe your prospect. Who are they? What do they do? How does your service fit into and affect their lives? Do they currently use your service or do they use a competitors offering? If neither, how are they coping without you?

2, What do they think before receiving your message?

This is your opportunity to describe the problem, the need, the want or the desire. This single insight or truth shapes the whole brief. Put simply, you might start by saying “My job is fine but I keep having to……..”. Or “I’d get the promotion I need if only I could…………”. Or “I’m working late every night because …….”. Or “I’d like to eat healthy food but……..”.

3, What do we want them to think after they have received your message?

This is where you will describe how your service will provide a solution to your prospects problem, their need, want or desire. Put simply, you could say “Great, now I can start to ……….”. Or At last I Can…”. Or “Now I no longer have to work late because…..”.

4, What do we want them to do once they have received or read your message?

Go to a website? Return an enquiry form? Call a helpline? Order a sample?

5, What is a proposition?

What is the single-minded promise that will solve your prospects problem? It must, in just one sentence, encapsulate what your product or service offers your prospects. Do not try to write your proposition as a clever headline. Just write it as clearly and as simply as possible.

6, What is the support for your proposition?

Why should the prospect believe your promise? Only give reasons that are relevant and persuasive. Quote facts. Quote figures. Maybe highlight your awards. Quote any tests you have conducted that show your strength against your competitor. Explain in detail how your product or service gives the benefit you have described in your proposition.

7, Other benefits that will persuade your prospects to buy from you

Describe all the advantages your prospects get by using your product. Keep asking yourself “What’s in it for them?”

PS. If you have not already got it, buy and read Steve Harrison’s book ‘How to Do Better Creative Work’. It is without doubt one of the most useful books I have ever read on marketing communications. 

Hacking will hurt Snapchat, but will this $10b advertising gamble march it to a digital graveyard?

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Girl looking at mobile phone
PMSL. Thanks for another great advertising experience Snapchat guys. Keep em coming

Whether you use it or not, I reckon you’ve probably heard of Snapchat.

But if you’re one of the few that hasn’t, Snapchat is a social media platform that lets you take photos and short videos, add comments and send them to your network.

It’s different to other social networking because your photo, or snap, disappears after a few seconds.

It does what all good services should do – digital or traditional – it makes your life better.

And you can’t argue against Snapchat’s phenomenal success: 0 to 100m users in just 3 years. Yes you read the right, I said 0 to 100m users in just 3 years.

And according to research over 50% of all US based 18-24 years old use it.

Co-founder and current CEO, Evan Spiegel, just announced the platform is to start running advertising to generate money. After all, when your 3 year old brand is valued at an eye watering $10billion despite not making a penny, you need to start working on your marketing plans.

But here’s where I sniff a couple of problems. Because Spiegel says users, who will need to opt in for advertising, will see “pretty cool” adverts.

The first problem is that the overwhelming majority of users won’t bother opting in. To put it simply, people just do not like be advertised to.

I mean, how often have you heard someone say “If only there were more adverts in this magazine it would make for a better read?” Or “Thank goodness I’ve finally found a website that launches advertising pop-ups every five minutes.”

And how many times have you run to your front door only to be disappointed that you’ve received no direct mail?

You haven’t. And you never will. Most people have one action in mind when it comes to advertising: avoid it.

That’s why platforms like YouTube force you to watch the advertising they carry. Well for around 30 seconds anyway, after which time you can – and very probably do – hit the close X in the top right hand corner.

Another example of this is Sky TVs box sets. You can’t forward the 2 or 3 advertising spots that are played when watching your favourite show. Believe me, I’ve tried!

And people seem to be more keen to avoid advertising on social media. Research shows that people see your marketing messages as an invasion of privacy.

And people are also starting to understand – and resent – that social media platforms know literally everything about them and use it to sell relevant advertising.

The second problem, which is linked to the first, is that adverts are not “pretty cool” as Spiegel says. They are messages created by marketing folk to sell products.

I think it was Claude Hopkins who once said “advertising is salesmen ship in print.” And even though he said that around 100 years ago, I think his opinion is still valid today.

Spiegel has covered himself in this area though by claiming his platform offers an opportunity for companies to brand build.

So the marketing directors and senior advertising agency people who spend money brand building on Snapchat probably won’t analyse their results. There will be little time devoted to looking at sales spikes, content downloads, promotional code redemptions or movements in brand positioning.

I also see a third possible problem, which is probably the biggest facing Snapchat: user defection.

As I’ve already said, you should never underestimate how much people hate being advertised to.

So there is a real danger Snapchat users will simply defect to another advertising free platform for their communications.

After all, Snapchat built a massive user base on the back of millions of people dumping Facebook. So what’s stopping this trend continuing?

One thing that social media platforms have not cracked, but has always been the Holy Grail for brands, is loyalty.

Users of social media platforms haven’t paid a penny. They are not customers. You could view them as free-loaders jumping from one free platform to the next.

So loyalty is nowhere to be seen.

There is one social platform that is trying to develop good old fashion loyalty: WhatsApp.

Their business model, which saw them bought by Facebook for a whopping $19b, is to keep their platform totally advertisement free, instead raising money from subscriptions charged at $0.99 year.

Maybe this model is the future of monetising social media platforms.

Or maybe there is a middle ground is where you can pay for an advertisement free service, or save your money by watching adverts as a penalty.

I think music streaming service Spotify tried this, but eventually gave up and went to charging people a monthly fee.

Jeff Bezo, founder and chief executive officer of, one said “advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.”

So maybe watching advertising is the price you pay for paying nothing for a social media service.

How these simple tricks get your marketing read

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It really is all about you, you, you.
It really is all about you, you, you.

If part of your job is writing to motivate people to buy – or to make people feel a certain way about your brand – you know it’s tough.

Obviously you can use a brilliant image that, in a heartbeat, shows your product and its benefits, whipping your prospects into a ‘wallet out’ buying frenzy. Or maybe your image creates the right positioning for your brand: from luxury to budget or something in between.

But even though your images can be incredibly powerful, it is the words you use that really create impact.

And one of the most useful tricks you can use to achieve this is using the words: you, your, and you’re more times than any other.

In fact on average, three times more.

You might be thinking that the rules of writing copy for social media are somehow different? Maybe because of the speed at which your audience read (or miss!) your messages in their news streams.

So here’s the content of a tweet you might find interesting. It is from Cindy Greenway, Editor in Chief of

It strengthens my opinion that, regardless of the marketing channels you use, your messages should always be about your reader.

And this gives some good insight into headline writing too.


You know that strong headlines that attract attention to your blog post, articles, ezines, emails (and more) are very important. How would you like to know which words you can use that will do exactly this – attract the attention of your readers? Imagine a stronger interest in your law firm blog posts, simply with a few tweaks to your headlines?

The team at Ripenn undertook extensive research and study to determine how to write a great headline and what works to use in headlines. This information was posted on the Blog earlier this month.

3,016 headlines from 24 top content sites were examined – the most popular words found in their headlines are below.

What does this all mean? Here are some of my key takeaways:

  1. YOU and YOUR are two of the most common words. This means sense considering that the content you created is (or should!) created to help others. Make sure your content is not about you, the writer, but you, the person who needs legal information.
  2. When you use the word ‘this’ in a headline, the reader’s mind switches to a concrete view of whatever you are talking about. The power of ‘this’ is in its specificity.
  3. What, Which and When – These 3 words are all question based. Phrasing headlines in the form of a question does increase click-through rates. In fact, it more than doubles them, on average.
  4. Video – You know video is a must these days. Including the word ‘video’ into a headline (naturally), is a great tactic – it lets people know up front that your post contains video.
  5. ‘How To’ in headlines isn’t only popular, it’s effective! How to in a headline signifies a certain level of education on the subject matter.
  6. The average length of a viral headline is 62 characters. This will be of comfort to you if you struggle with keeping your headlines super short.

Take a look at the headlines you have written in the last couple of weeks. Can you revise some? What will you do differently moving forward to create more attention from your headlines?


So there you have it. Proof that the old tricks of copy writing work across all channels.

And remember, it really is all about you, you, you.

Could he help you with marketing?

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How do you try to improve your business and marketing success?

Obviously you know that the best way of learning is doing. But that can be a very expensive way of learning what works – and what doesn’t.

Do you ever study, attended seminars or use consultants?

I ask because I attended the Nottingham Post Business Summit the other week. It had four seasoned speakers including Josephine Fairley, co-founder of the Green & Blacks chocolate brand.

But the stand out speaker for me was a guy called Geoff Ramm; someone I’d never heard of before the event.

He gave thought provoking marketing advice on getting your brand to stand out from the crowd. And showed some great examples of how people had done this on a shoestring.

Some of his stories were downright hilarious.

He has written a book called OMG Observational Marketing Greats, which I think I might add to my reading list.

You might want to do the same.

Or speak with him directly to see how he could help you.

Here’s the most expensive Google product ever made. And a great piece of DM (with photos)

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What do you think this new Google product might be? A new app? Maybe a swanky titanium Nexus 10? Or how about a pair of gold Google glasses?


It is a woolly hat. And it was worth every penny of my budget.

Let me explain.

I am a Google Adwords user. I ran a fairly large campaign over the course of a few months. It created a healthy rate of £60 per enquiry. Which given the competitiveness of the market – and value the service – was OK.

Anyway, in today’s post the below package turned up. It created a fair amount of excitement in the office…..

Google Box
This understated box created excitement from the moment we received it

I opened the package to reveal this…

Google Hat in a Box
My sort of free hat from those nice folks at Google

A nice message on the swing tag

Google swing tag on hat
Everyone likes being thanked. Even if you have paid for the privilege many times over.


Google hat on my head
And here it is in action!

You might be thinking, as my wife does, that I look like someone from a Police line-up.

You also might be thinking this hat is a bit naff. And you might be right. But that’s a matter of opinion.

But what this demonstrates is a great piece of posted direct marketing by the kings of digital advertising.

Because me and my team were genuinely excited when the package arrived. We couldn’t wait to open it to see what was inside.

And when we did – we all thought this free hat was cool. And that’s not a funny play on words for a hat designed to keep you warm.

We also liked the little swing tag with the simple thank you message from the Google Adwords team.

The whole direct marketing piece made us feel a bit special. A bit flattered. So like all good marketing, this is more emotional than practical. After all, the money I spent on Adwords could probably have paid for 15,000 of these hats.

Personally I think it could have benefited from a personal letter to me – maybe with an Adwords offer: particularly as my campaign has been paused for about three months.

Nonetheless, I think this is a great piece of ‘old school’ direct marketing from the undisputed kings of modern day advertising.

Here are the only 3 headlines you should ever use in your advertising

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The most important part of your advertisement, direct marketing, poster, email or social media campaign is your headline.

The majority of people read little else. As proof of this, think about how you read. What draws your attention to the stories you read in your preferred newspapers, websites and magazines? I’d bet it’s the headlines.

And, just like the headlines used in news stories, your advertisement’s headline has one goal: to interest people enough to make them read on.

In fact, it’s not an overstatement to say that your campaign might win or flop entirely on your headline.

So how do you write a good one?

Obviously your headline depends on what you are selling. But no matter what your headline is, it should fall into one of these three categories:

  • Self interest: The best headlines are those that offer the reader some kind of benefit. They offer your reader something they want – something they can get from you. Here’s an example:

“Your cold sore gone in 5 days with Vutuexin – or your money back”

This headline targets its prospects (people with cold sores) and instantly offers two benefits: to get rid of their cold sore in 5 days (which is what they want) or they get their money back.

Who can argue with that proposition?

This headline uses the problem / solution concept. Which is probably the most successful recipe you can use to create your advertising.

And it gets the brand name in too.

So all-in-all a pretty good headline.

  • News: Research shows that people love to get news. Think about how often you seek it out yourself. How often do you read newspapers, news TV channels or news websites?

This is particularly successful in business-to-business advertising. Here’s an example:

“Announcing the new way for you to improve your business’s cash flow – effortlessly”

How many business owners and finance directors would like to improve their cash flow? And do so with very little effort? I suspect quite a few.

Here is a news headline taken from consumer advertising. It’s from a banner advertisement running on the Sky News website at the moment. It’s for Boots No7.

“Now there’s a new serum to reduce the looks of ages for all women”

Like the cold sore one, this is good for other reasons too. It uses the word ‘now’, which conjures up the thought that this is something new. This is then backed up/confirmed by the actual use of the word ‘new’.

It also defines its target market too by clearly pointing out it’s for women. The visual then scrolls to show the different products for their different target age groups.

  • Curiosity: This is the most common type of headline used in advertising, although research shows it to be the least successful.

Here’s one I literally just found in my wife’s latest copy of Vogue Magazine:

“Life, intensified”

Do you know what this headline is for? Does it get your attention. Or make you want to read the copy that follows?

To be frank, this headline is meaningless.

But curiosity headlines can work. For instance a headline that stated “What’s wrong with this picture?” successfully sold a course for self- improvement. This headline urges you to read on. It taps into your subconscious because you automatically try to find out just what is wrong with the picture.

Some people think headlines will make sense when used with a relevant and engaging image. And to some degree that’s right; a great image can rescue a poor headline. But not always.

It is always sensible to write the best headline you can. That way your great headline, used with an attention-grabbing photo, has the best chance of being a winner.

And never look for an image and try to write copy that suits it. Always write the copy first, then get an image to dramatically and interestingly make your point

Here is a simple trick to quickly check how good your headline is

Write your headline down on a piece of paper. Then use nothing else other than your logo / branding and position it where you usually would do.

Show your paper to someone who knows nothing about your business / product or service.

Do they understand what you’re are advertising? Do they understand the general benefit? Would they be interested in reading on?

If yes – then  find a great photo to illustrate your advertisement and bring it to life. If no, look at re-writing it.

So the next time you’re writing headline copy for an advertisement, direct marketing, poster, email or social media campaign or any other item you want people to read – make sure it falls into one of the above three categories.

And by the way – the meaningless headline I mentioned early was for Porsche cars.