Clayton Says, “Everything You Know is Becoming Obsolete …”

We copywriters often rely on what early copywriting masters wrote … masters like Hopkins, Ogilvy, and Caples. And, we do so for good reason.

But today, we’re going to hear from Clayton Makepeace – a 42-year veteran of multimillion-dollar controls – that maybe it’s time to stop asking what these masters said … and start asking another question when we turn to them for inspiration.

Because, if you ask Clayton, everything we used to rely on in copywriting may no longer be good enough.

Today he’s going to show you how to protect yourself from falling into the “what used to work” trap.

Are These Three Marketing Sea Changes Killing Your Response?

  • Why your marketing model is failing you …
  • Why your sales copy is losing its effectiveness …
  • Why everything you think you know about attracting new customers and selling to existing customers is quickly becoming obsolete …
  • And, what you must do NOW to create explosive response in the mail and on the Web …

I’m so old, I’ll betcha my tie has gone in and out of style at least five times.

Not that I pay much attention to such things, mind you.

My professional life revolves around marketing trends. And there again, my advanced age means I’ve seen many promotional styles go in and out of vogue over the years.

Actually, the changes have been a bit more intense than that; more like the undulations you’d see watching a 350-pound belly dancer struggling to stay upright in a 7.3 earthquake.

Take successful direct-mail formats, for example …

When I started out in this racket, just about everyone was using Monarch, #9 and #10 envelope packages. Then, suddenly, just about every financial control was mailed in a 6”x9” window envelope. And, just as suddenly, the magalog, bookalog and tabloid each took its place at the top of the format heap.

Now, it’s not like all the big mailers got together and arbitrarily decided to switch formats (or, if so, I sure as heck didn’t get the memo).

In each case, each new direct-mail format climbed to the top of the pile simply because it gave mailers a greater ROI than its predecessor.

Some formats got greater attention, readership and response simply because they were new; different than the ho-hum junk mail our prospects had come to expect.

Others, like bookalogs, appeared to have value – and, therefore, weren’t as susceptible to the indignity of being instantly and unceremoniously thrown, unread, into the nearest trash receptacle.

And, still others – magalogs and tabloids, for example – jumped to the head of the pack because they: 1) Offered marketers greater visibility in the mailbox … 2) Gave us more external real estate with which to “sell” prospects on reading them … AND 3) Appeared to be magazines, which, like books, are perceived to have value.

So, whenever someone asks which format I’m likely to use, I know to stick my finger in the wind before I answer.

But, while many direct-mail formats have come and gone throughout my career, the principles of creating effective sales copy pretty much stayed the same – and for one, simple reason:

Our prospects weren’t changing much

In 1975, for example, the average 65-year-old prospect for financial and health products had been born in 1910. In ’85, I was talking primarily to folks who’d been born in 1920. In ’95, I knew my average prospect had been born in 1930.

All of these folks had common cultural experiences and common values. They all had memories of the Great Depression in the ’30s … World War II in the ’40s … and of gathering around a flickering black-and-white television for Leave It to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best in the ’50s.

Their world view was formed at a time when a man’s word was his bond and when good character meant everything.

They were raised by their parents and conditioned by society and the media to revere the government … trust the friendly family doctor … respect the companies that employed them … believe what TV, radio, magazines and the newspaper told them … and also to assume most of the advertising they saw and heard was pretty much true.

It was for these generations that Kennedy, Lasker, Hopkins, Collier, Schwab, Caples, Reeves and Ogilvy created their legendary ads.

And, it is from these generations the great advertising masters learned their lessons about what worked best before passing them on to us in their classic volumes.

Now, that generation is being gradually replaced. The prospect who was 50 when I began writing in the 1970s is 94 today. The 55-year-old who bought the rare coins I sold for Blanchard in the ’80s is now 89.

With each passing day, more members of that generation check out of our prospect groups. And, also every day, more of their children and grandchildren check in.

Oh, what a difference a single generation can make!

Today’s 65-year-old prospect was born in 1949 – way too young to remember World War II – let alone the Great Depression.

More importantly, he turned 18 in 1967 and proceeded to acquire his skills as a financial decision-maker and consumer smack-dab in the middle of the “Don’t-Trust-Anyone-Over-30” and “Question-Authority” era of the 70s. The era just after Vietnam and of Watergate produced the most skeptical and cynical generation America had seen.

What’s more, that generation did an excellent job of passing its skepticism on to its children. Those hyper-cynical, ultra-skeptical “Generation Xers” are now your 35- to 50-year-old prospects.

We’re getting cynicaller and cynicaller

While our older prospects are being continuously replaced by their far more skeptical children and grandchildren, two additional sea changes have been busy giving our prospects even greater reasons to distrust anything they see, hear or read in the media – including our ads …

The first of these two developments began at our supermarket checkout counter – when copies of The National Enquirer made their appearance, packed with stories of alien encounters, Bigfoot and other such horsepucky.

Soon, more publishers figured out they could get rich appealing to our baser instincts with stories of the lurid and bizarre, of gossip and scandals – and tons of “me-too” tabloids began springing up like crazy.

Finally, the national media figured it out, too – and most TV news programs and cable channels began spending less time covering news that matters.

Instead, the U.S. media became obsessed with Joey Buttafuko, Lorena Bobbitt, Monica Lewinsky, Mary Kay Laterno, Anna Nicole Smith, the status of Britney Spears’ underwear – and, of course, UFOs and Bigfoot.

Now, I ask you: Can you imagine the venerable Walter Cronkite reporting on such things?

Neither can our prospects. Is it any wonder that we’ve lost respect for the media and come to question the veracity of just about everything we read, see and hear today?

And now, while the media we once trusted has been busy debauching itself, the Internet – a new and even less responsible medium – has taken center stage …

Despite the spam filters my ISP uses and despite the spam-shooters we have on our own network, I’ll get between 100 and 200 unsolicited e-mails in a day, and most will be obvious rip-offs.

As consumers, we also know that many websites can be equally hazardous to our financial health. Since you can pretty much say whatever you want on the ‘net – whether it’s true or not – many people do.

And so, for anyone whose IQ is larger than his shoe size, any advertising claim on the ‘net is taken with a grain of salt.

What does all of this mean to marketers and copywriters?

Well, for one thing …

Everything you think you know about attracting new customers and writing to existing customers is quickly becoming obsolete.

The Masters of our business – Kennedy, Lasker, Hopkins, Collier, Schwab, Caples, Reeves, Ogilvy and others – created their classic ads for a radically different audience than you’re addressing today.

It’s time to stop merely asking, “What do the Masters say?” and to begin asking, “What would Hopkins, Caples, Ogilvy and the rest HAVE DONE if they had been presented with today’s hyper-skeptical market realities?”

As a marketer, overcoming today’s pandemic of skepticism is your single, greatest challenge.

The good news is, it can be done. Because, despite the fact that our prospects are radically different than their parents and grandparents, they do have one thing in common with them:

They like to spend money.

The desire to feather our own nests … to purchase products that can make us richer or healthier … to buy things that save us time, effort or money … to spend money on things that assuage our boredom or loneliness or improve our status … is every bit as powerful as it ever was.

Nevertheless, if we are to enfranchise these new generations of ever-more-skeptical prospects, the way in which we marketers deliver our “gospel” – the “good news” that our products can, indeed, satisfy these desires – must change.

I see the effects this new skepticism is having on my response and ROI every day …

  • One-shot customer acquisition promotions are going the way of the dinosaurs.

Today, it’s all about the relationship between your company and your prospect … and building credibility and friendship over time.

While marketers who deliver value, invite involvement and create a sense of community among prospects before expecting a sale are growing by leaps and bounds, those who cling to the old models are losing ground.

  • Bombastic “big promise” or USP headlines are not working as well.

Today’s prospect is more likely to ignore sales communications that look and sound like sales communications.

Instead, topical, newsy and intrigue leads that key in on something your prospect is already thinking about often work best.

  • High-octane sales copy is losing its power.

Today, lower-key, value-added advertising copy (advertorials) that reward prospects for reading by delivering valuable, helpful, actionable information is leaving the language of the high-energy carnival barker in the dust.

It’s all about persuasion

Sleepwalking through the process of designing your marketing strategy – falling back on old-fashioned, even obsolete “in-your-face” marketing models – is easy.

Formulaic copywriting – falling back on the old ways and just throwing around a bunch of big promises and high-energy words – is easy.

Thinking is hard.

Climbing inside your prospect’s skin … fully understanding what he must first know and feel before he’s likely to purchase your product … then presenting that information in a way that’s engaging, lively, entertaining and credible – and doing all that without having your sales copy sound like sales copy – is the hardest kind of hard.

It’s worth it.

A while ago, I wrote a series of personal, warm, friendly, low-key e-mails inviting prospects to attend a free teleseminar on international investing.

More than five-thousand people signed up. The call delivered valuable, actionable advice to help investors profit in foreign stock markets that are jumping as much as 144% a year.

This friendly, low-key phone call sold somewhere north of $1.5 million in subscriptions in a matter of hours.

Meanwhile, we blasted a high-energy “obvious” USP-based promotion to prospects.

It barely even registered on the response Richter scale.

Worth thinking about …

Published with permission from Clayton Makepeace.

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Published: November 3, 2014

2 Responses to “Clayton Says, “Everything You Know is Becoming Obsolete…””

  1. Back in the 80's when Clayton was selling those rare coins I was being trained in 'Professional Selling Skills 1, 2 and 3' -- which was ALL about the relationship coming first.

    I became totally converted to the 'gospel' of relationship marketing.

    It's that background of training and years of in-field experience using it that helps me write effectively today -- in my eyes.

    Maybe 'relationship' in marketing is also doing a comeback like your oldie ties Clayton?

    PS I still own my paisley prints

    Mike SearlesNovember 4, 2014 at 2:34 am

  2. Yes,intuition is telling me the BIG PROMISE is unbelievable copy for my generation and younger. Disappointment is what most will not tolerate. We've been down that road. The bogus antics of a circus freak show will have most animal activists roaring. It sounds good but is it be best for our mind, body, environment, and not to mention the animals. What's the Big idea? Yes, skepticism rules the day. Nevertheless, as the market restructures, I am hoping that I can catch the next big wave of the copy trend as a newbie copywriter. Nevertheless, I continue to study each Master as I become aware of them. Something old always becomes new again. It all fits in the recycled, conservationistic world we are forced to live in.

    Regine BaptisteNovember 11, 2015 at 2:40 pm

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