Performancing Metrics

One of the key elements of writing to sell is testing various elements of a promotion to see if you can improve your conversion rate — the number of visitors who become paying clients or customers. Changing a headline, elements of body copy, or even link architecture can often produce drastic differences in your conversions and therefore your return on investment. We’ll be discussing testing quite a bit in the future here at Copyblogger.

There are plenty of ways to filter and qualify raw traffic in order to make a concentrated sales effort. But the beginning point of all web conversion analysis is your basic traffic and referral logs.

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Number One at Amazon

That’s right. Viral Copy is currently the top bestseller at Amazon.

OK, not exactly, but let me explain.

Those of you that read my free viral marketing report may have noticed that the first page has a “permitted distribution” statement. I basically tell people that they are free to give the report away, as long as it stays in original form, and I also tell people that they can bundle the report with another product they are selling. This is a tactic Mark Joyner developed over ten years ago.

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You Must Respect My Authority

Blog Triggers

One of my favorite episodes of South Park is when crass little Eric Cartman puts on a police officer’s uniform. He trolls around on his Big Wheel, screaming “Respect my authori-tie!” before bashing people with his baton.

In his quest for authority, Cartman knew what he was doing by putting on that uniform. And given that he was on the giving and receiving end of electric shocks in The South Park Movie, he probably would have loved to participate in the following rather disturbing study.

Shocking Results

You see a newspaper ad saying the psychology department at Yale is running a little “experiment on memory.” Paid volunteers are needed for the hour-long study, so you figure what the heck. Upon arrival at the lab, you meet two men — a research scientist in a lab coat, and another volunteer just like yourself. The researcher proceeds to explain the study to you both.

He tells you that the study is about the effects of punishment on memory. The task of the other volunteer will be to learn a series of word pairings (he’s called the “Learner”). Your job as the “Teacher” will be to test the Learner’s memory of the word pairs, and administer electric shocks for each wrong answer. And also for every wrong answer, the voltage goes up.

You’re not sure about this whole thing, but it must be OK, right? The testing begins, and when the other volunteer misses a question, you pull a lever that delivers a mild shock. Over time, though, the shock levels increase, and the Learner is grunting audibly. At 120 volts, he states that the shocks are really starting to hurt. At 150 volts, he tries to quit.

The researcher tells you to keep going, and that the electricity will cause “no permanent tissue damage” to the Learner. At 165 volts, the Learner screams. You continue questioning and delivering punishment for incorrect answers. At 300 volts, the Learner refuses to respond any longer, as the shocks are impairing his mental capacities. The researcher tells you to treat non-responses as incorrect answers. The Learner is screeching, kicking and pleading for mercy with every subsequent shock, all the way up to 450 volts when the researcher finally stops you.

This couldn’t possibly have really happened, right? Well, actually, it did, in 1963 at Yale, during a series of experiments by Stanley Milgram.

But here’s the real scoop about the Milgram experiment: there were no actual electric shocks; the Learner was an actor; and the study had nothing to do with memory. What Milgram wanted to know was how far the Teachers would go when told to continue to deliver those shocks, since they thought they really were.

About two-thirds (65%) of the subject administered every single shock up to 450 volts, no matter how much the Learner begged for mercy. However, without the researcher’s encouragement to continue, the study found that the test subjects would have stopped giving punishment quite early on. A 2002 meta-analysis of the original data confirms the validity of the findings.

The results shocked the Yale psychology department, and have become a part of modern lore. Every aspect of the experiment had been carefully vetted to pull test subjects from a standard cross section of ages, occupations, and education levels. In other words, these were not sadistic savages, they were people just like you and me. What could possibly lead to this behavior?

Milgram says it’s our deep-seated sense of duty to authority. We’re trained from childhood to respect authority, and the obedience that comes with it stays with us throughout our lives, even when we feel something may not be quite right.

Perception of Authority Matters Most

Our deference to authority is driven mostly by perception. That’s why a lab coat, police officer’s uniform or $4,000 bespoke suit alone can facillitate influence over or control of others. We even act differently toward other people depending on our perception of their authority level, sometimes even adopting their mannerisms and speech patterns.Another study mentioned in Influence: Science and Practice analyzed episodes of Larry King Live, and observed the ability of perceived authority to alter speech patterns. When King interviewed people with great levels of social standing or prestige, his voice style changed to match theirs. When interviewing people of lower status, King remained steadfast, and the voice styles of the guests shifted to match his.

The most important aspect of the data demonstrating the power of authority is that context matters more than actual content. In other words, if a person is perceived as an authority figure, what they say is taken at face value and accepted as fact more readily. It helps someone bypass otherwise common objections. Building authority is therefore crucial to building a business, especially if you are selling services or knowledge products.

Content Creates Context

Good blogging creates authority, plain and simple. Writing consistently about your area of expertise makes you an authority figure within your industry and niche. You will enjoy a definitive advantage over competitors who do not blog, and likely even over those who have been blogging for shorter time periods.

Professionals and other business people have long been writing for trade publications and newspaper columns to build authority, coupled with networking in the community and at trade shows and conferences, all in an attempt to build word-of-mouth referral business. With blogging, you’re building authority and networking all at once, and on a global scale if your business model benefits from that kind of reach.

The goal is not to be on the A-List as determined by the Technorati Top 100 Blogs. Your goal is to be on the A-List for your niche, geographic region or industry. Hopefully you’re well on the way with your own blog.

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And the Oscar Went to…

The 78th annual film industry publicity stunt Oscars are now in the bag, ably hosted by Jon Stewart, with a whole host of Daily Show-esque comedic interludes voiced by (who else?) Stephen Colbert. The big news, however, was the upset victory of the racially-charged Crash over front-running gay cowboy flick Brokeback Mountain.

In a field loaded with controversial subject matter, spawned from a year of lackluster overall box office returns, Brokeback Mountain was the heavy favorite for Best Picture, after sweeping the preliminary “feeder” awards. But Crash, a gritty movie that takes place in 36 hours of intersecting stories, prejudices, and redemptions in Los Angeles, scored the big prize instead.

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People Really Want to Help You

Blog Triggers

Understanding human nature is crucial to great marketing, and many believe that the key to success is to cater to selfishness. You hear quite a bit about needing to relentlessly focus on “what’s in it for them” in your marketing activities (especially around here).

But I’ve always tended to believe that human nature is not the root problem. Rather, it’s the competition, materialism, scarcity, and cynicism that can result from simply living life that hardens people. And the mass media machine sure hasn’t helped.

The early blogosphere has been built on principles of openness, transparency, and cooperation. People linked freely to one another; sharing conversations and readers. Now, many worry that the spirit of cooperation is doomed. As social media comes to look more like society at large, how can that spirit possibly remain?

Simple. Successful people have conducted business with that spirit long before Al Gore invented the Internet. A strategy of “give, give, give to get” will always work if you maintain it religiously.

New research published last week in the journal Science shows that the somewhat utopian ideals of the blogospere and social media may not be off base. Human nature isn’t the problem; it’s getting back to human nature that’s the challenge.

Psychology researcher Felix Warneken has found that the capacity for altruism (helping someone when there’s nothing to gain) is innate in humans, and emerges in babies at 18 months or even younger. Of course, there’s always something to gain from altruism — it makes us feel good. And you’ll recall that another powerful human psychological trait (reciprocation) rarely allows good deeds to go unrewarded.

Here are some of the key findings of Warneken’s study:

  • Warneken performed a series of ordinary tasks in front of toddlers, such as hanging towels with clothespins or stacking books. Sometimes he pretended to “struggle” with the tasks, and over and over, each of 24 toddlers offered help within seconds — but only if he appeared to need it.
  • The toddlers didn’t bother to offer help when Warneken deliberately pulled a book off the stack or threw a pin to the floor.
  • To be altruistic, babies must have the cognitive ability to understand other people’s goals plus possess what Warneken calls “pro-social motivation,” a desire to be part of a community.
  • A toddlers’ endearing desire to help out actually signals fairly sophisticated brain development, and is a trait of interest to anthropologists trying to tease out the evolutionary roots of altruism and cooperation.

Here’s what I took away from this new study:

  • There’s never been a better time to be a bootstrapping entrepreneur using social media to build a business. Don’t hide the fact that you’re winging it on a shoestring, relish in it. People will help promote you if they think you need it, but there’s not a lot of altruistic love for big corporations. Small is the next big thing.
  • Don’t be a drama queen in an attempt to get promotional help. Manipulating the altruistic tendencies of your clients and customers will get you burned.
  • Build a community. Encourage interaction at every opportunity with your blog. Jump into your own comments section often, directly answering questions and thanking readers for encouraging words. Answer every email.
  • It’s up to you to give, give, give. You’re not being altruistic, because you do have something to gain. But you should give like you’ll never get anything back, and simply accept it when on occasions you don’t. You’re going to have to work hard to cut through the cynicism and get back to human nature.

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Public Relations vs. Publicity

Just in time for the first update to the Viral Copy section of Copyblogger, the debate about the relevancy of press releases explodes. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Tom Forenski of Silicon Valley Watcher posts Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!, and characterizes a press release this way:

Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. They often contain praise from analysts, (who are almost always paid or have a customer relationship.) And so on…

No, Tom, that’s a crappy press release. Although you have my sympathy, as I’m sure you saw plenty back in your reporting days.

Steve Rubel chimes in with Everything’s a Press Release, a title that just about sums up his position — he says everything you blog is, in fact, a press release. While I agree with Steve’s sentiment, I take issue with his semantics.

Everything we blog may qualify as public relations, but not everything we blog is a press release. There’s a difference there that’s quite important, as we’ll see.

Finally, Kevin Dugan over at Strategic Public Relations contributes:

It’s the content, not the format, that’s the problem.

Bingo! We have a winner.

Here’s the deal, press releases aren’t dead, but how they’re best used has changed completely, and for the better. A press release is an opportunity to tell a great story about your company, your product, or your blog. What’s more, you can then have that story distributed in a powerful fashion that allows you to connect directly with prospective readers, clients and customers.

And if it also results in either mainstream or new media coverage? Rock on.

The key here is the difference between public relations and publicity. Public relations implies that you have a public to relate with, and that’s who you are speaking to. Preaching to the choir is another way of thinking about it, and I think that analogy applies even to damage control, since the choir gets pretty upset when the preacher disappears with the collection plate (see Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, etc.)

In that sense, blogging is, and should be, the new PR — no doubt about it.

Publicity is something that helps you connect with people who don’t know about you yet, or those who may have heard about you, but are still on the fence. The emerging social media environment allows you to connect with these people in a whole host of ways outside of the mainstream media.

Having a great product or service that gets people talking is key. In the blogosphere, you’re taking the most powerful marketing channel ever (word-of-mouth), and adding the reach and speed of digital communication. The result is word-of-mouth on steroids.

But when you’re just getting started, you need to introduce enough people to what you have to offer before viral word-of-mouth can kick in. The modern press release can definitely help with that.

So here’s your first Viral Copy update How to Use the Modern Press Release. You’ll find out why the press release is still extremely valuable for promotion, plus you’ll get another free PDF download, this time from David Meerman Scott of Web Ink Now. Also, if you haven’t bookmarked the Viral Copy main page yet you might want to, as there’s more cool stuff to come.

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