5 reasons why this 97-year-old marketing book is more relevant than ever
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The 1923 Book Scientific advertising by Claude Hopkins spawned the modern world of direct marketing. He’s praised by many legendary 20th century marketers and copywriters, including agency king David Ogilvy and legendary writer Gary Halbert, and his message only became relevant in the digital age.
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While the controversy is still brewing as to whether our attention span has actually shortened, the opportunities to fracture our focus – whether it’s multiple tabs on a browser screen or texting while driving – have likely occurred with the proliferation of the smartphone. Entrepreneurs are tasked with capturing their prospect’s attention faster than ever.
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Video marketing, perfect Instagram feeds, and awesome TikTok filters are blowing us up with flashing lights and novelty. But when it comes to influence and sales, the pillars of persuasion described in Scientific advertising have remained largely the same. (The book is even in the public domain and you can read it in its entirety for free right now.)
As a content marketer, I work day in and day out to capture and hold users’ attention in the most cost effective way possible. The principles of Mr. Hopkins’ founding book allow me to do this, as they are considered the cornerstone of direct response marketing.
Here are 5 important points from the book that still apply almost a century later
1. To capture attention, create clarity
Mr. Hopkins swaying out, noting that “good talkers are rarely good salespeople.”
It can be tempting to slip into industry jargon or fancy language, but often this attempt to present itself as a clever or bossy backlash. When your reader has to struggle to understand your point, they lose interest and move on.
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Chipotle nailed this approach in a recent poster campaign. Rather than wasting space on high-definition close-ups of airbrushed burritos, they used the entire billboard to display a single sentence:
“We wanted to write about our natural, locally sourced ingredients, but short billboard titles are better. “
The sentence was then grayed out except for four words, which remained in black capitals, spelling out a new sentence: “NOS INGREDIENTS ARE BETTER. The title is witty and economical, and even when you’re driving on a freeway, you get the message at a glance.
An example shown in Scientific advertising displays an ad for Mead Cycle Company; the business owner found the ad so lucrative that he didn’t want to change a single word. The opening paragraph below makes a clear and compelling proposition.
“Try before you buy. Select your favorite bike from 44 styles, colors and sizes in the popular Ranger line. We ship it on approval and 30 DAYS TRIAL, freight paid to your city. Come back if you are not satisfied and the trial costs you nothing.
Add charm or details later. Your first goal in tighter marketing is to communicate your value proposition quickly and correctly.
2. Measure the data or risk losing money
Scientific advertising is considered one of the first books to extol the benefits of split testing. You need to test, measure, and adjust your approach based on the feedback your numbers give you.
Many modern online marketers are first encountering split testing thanks to the glory of email marketing, as they use an email service provider to automatically send different subject lines of the same newsletter to one. list and determine which topic gets the best engagement rate.
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But even Mr. Hopkins’ data measurement techniques for coupon redemption and tracked phone calls carry weight today, both in analog and digital form. Google UTM metrics are essential for an online entrepreneur to properly track where their website traffic is coming from, and affiliate marketing’s personalized links have made it a double-digit growth industry every year.
The approach is simple: test different campaigns, slice up initiatives that fall flat, and do more of what works.
3. Leveraging human psychology
We can try to tell ourselves that the world is different now and that humans have different motives than they did almost a hundred years ago. But part of what makes Scientific advertising so timeless is that the fundamentals of human psychology haven’t really changed much.
The good news, as Hopkins notes, is that since human psychology doesn’t change, once you learn these critical marketing triggers, you never have to unlearn them again.
A few tactics particularly lauded in chapter six of the book include
Curiousity. Unexpected and exciting details capture the heart and mind of an intrigued consumer.
Price. Mr. Hopkins points out that no one likes cheap products, yet everyone likes the idea of a deal.
Guarantees. The ability to try a product without risk changes the psychology and defense mechanisms in a buyer’s mind.
Samples. Rather than desperately giving samples to everyone, educate your followers first and let them request a sample or try the product. When the initiative is taken by the prospect, psychology is on your side.
Nectar uses the psychology of collateral to great effect. When Nectar wants to sell you a mattress, they give you a 365 day trial, more than 3 times their industry competitors. “Which of the following do you think is best, a 100-day trial or a 365-day trial?” Is a powerful title rooted in psychology.
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Even as photography, videography, and other forms of content production are growing in popularity, these psychological triggers continue to drive the show behind the scenes. Any entrepreneur looking to market or sell should employ one or more of these tactics to gain a prospect’s interest.
4. Stress relief surpasses prevention
The sad truth is that it is much easier to identify a consumer’s pain and offer to remove it than to encourage precautionary measures. This doesn’t mean you have to be pessimistic, but you do want to stir up tension somehow when trying to persuade others.
A large number of Scientific advertisingThe examples still apply today. Toothpaste ads that promise whiter teeth outnumber those that tout ongoing cavity prevention. Soaps that promise more radiant, glowing skin will always surpass a title like “stay clean”.
To inspire others to act now and not later, focus on the issues and how your product, program, or service addresses those issues.
5. Consumers Buy Full Stories
Nielsen report found Americans spend 11 hours and 27 minutes a day consuming media, a number that is increasing year by year.
It’s because stories sell, whether we pay with our dollars or with our time. Mr. Hopkins notes that it’s an advertiser’s job to sell a full story or proposition in one ad, and then let the consumer decide whether they are for or against the proposition.
Hopkins notes that at $ 10 a word (about $ 151 / word in today’s dollars) every word has to be a “super-seller.” It seems like every word has to be a ‘super storyteller’ too, and in this scenario, your value proposition is history.
Whatever your area of expertise, it’s a valuable use of time to learn and master the strategies that persuade people to click or buy.
Whether your dominant marketing approach is SnapChat or direct mail, the principles of Scientific advertising are timeless, proven, and a tactic you can start implementing for free today.