Required Reading: Cooking Up Marketing’s Secret Sauce

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Before Internet search engines, marketers relied heavily on TV and radio to persuade customers to buy their products or services. But as people became empowered with more tools and information, they resisted the influence of the outfits that stood to profit from them. And as they’ve become less impressionable, they’ve also developed shorter attention spans and become much harder to seduce, notes Harry Mills, CEO of the Aha! Advantage, in his newest book, Secret Sauce: How to Pack Your Messages with Persuasive Punch. Associate Editor Oren Smilansky spoke to Mills to learn more about the recipes that work for modern marketers.

CRM: You write that fewer than 10 percent of today’s marketing messages are “truly compelling.” How would you describe those?

Harry Mills: Messages must pass a higher threshold than they have in the past. They have to pass the SAUCE test. To pack a persuasive punch, a message must be simple, appealing, unexpected, credible, [and] emotional. Compelling messages that pass the SAUCE test with flying colors do three things exceptionally well.

What are those three things, and who’s done them best?

First, the core idea has to communicate its central truth in a way that is both simple and profound. There is no better example than De Beers’s “A Diamond Is Forever,” which was penned by the copywriter Francis Gerety way back in 1948. It is hard to think of a better way to say “I love you” or to remind men and women which brand the gift of a diamond conveys.

Second, compelling messages surprise. The message is intriguing and engages our craving for novelty. Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” ad is a clever example. The ad offers free shipping for items not available in stores. The ad begins with a customer replying to a Kmart salesperson’s news of free shipping with “I might just ship my pants.” The ad shocked, amused, and turned shopping into a slightly titillating experience. It worked. YouTube views of the ad reached 20 million within four months.

Third, compelling messages have a strong emotional hook. Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, spent a decade on uncovering why emotional messages get shared. His surprising answer was physiological arousal. Physiological arousal kindles our emotional fire. Emotions such as anger and excitement are high arousal. Awe is another high arousing emotion. A clip from Susan Boyle’s uplifting performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent amassed over 100 million views on YouTube.

How does the advice you offer B2B firms differ from the advice you offer B2C firms?

B2C and B2B customers are motivated by different needs. The financial consequences and risks associated with making a mistake in a large B2B purchase are usually greater than those for a typical B2C purchase, so B2B purchasers will place more weight on the credibility of the message. The selling process in large B2B plays involves courting four or more stakeholders who all need distinctive tailored messages. B2C messages are more likely to appeal to the heart than the head; the emotional hook has to be stronger. Message making where five to seven decision makers have to reach consensus is more complex.

So can copy ever be just “good enough”?

“Good enough” messaging rarely works. Most of the messaging content developers currently produce belongs in the trash can. We shouldn’t be surprised; content analysts tell us 85 percent of content is ineffective. Messages that pass the SAUCE test take time to create. A skilled writer can produce a promising message usually in two to three drafts. It takes five to six drafts to produce a compelling message that passes the SAUCE test.

Is there a channel or technology that is more important to focus on now?

About 52 percent of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI. Shoppers who view video are 1.8 percent more likely to purchase than non-viewers. The most effective video messaging is personalized.

Idomoo, a start-up, has pioneered the use of customized video. Digital personalization allows you to get the scale of a broadcast and a success rate of a one-to-one conversation. A personalized video for an Idomoo bank customer increased loan applications by 70 percent. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a personalized video is probably worth 100,000 pictures. It’s that powerful.

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