Advice is a tricky thing, especially when dispensed en masse.
The answer to most things, if we’re being honest, is it depends.
There are certainly principles that are near universal, and I try to stick with them as much as possible around here, while showing how those basic principles can be applied in a new and quickly evolving medium.
Aaron Wall’s recent confessional post about advice got me thinking about this topic a bit more than usual. In reality, everyone’s situation is different, and what works for me might not work for you when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details.
Now, of course this truism won’t stop all the opportunists with their Gobbledygook Manifestos telling you that the entire world has turned upside down thanks to social media. And of course, only they have the high-priced new ideas you so desperately need to avoid going out of business.
During Web 1.0, the purveyors of Gobbledygook tried to convince us that e-commerce altered the fundamental rules of economics.
I think you know how that turned out.
This time, they’ll try to convince you that technology has altered human nature.
If you’re inclined to believe that, bookmark this post and come back to it in a few years so you can tell me I was right.
The truth is, most so-called “new” business ideas suck, and only distract you from the fundamentals that lead to success. Much of what you need to know has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Whether it be Plato or Aristotle, or simply copywriting techniques that have been around for a century or more, you’re often better off looking to the past for the fundamentals to apply to the ever-shifting present. And people who give advice based on applying the timeless in new ways are probably a safer bet than the “everything’s different” hucksters.
- What can Socrates teach you about copywriting?
- Why is Alexander the Great a Sales Role Model?
- Who Was America’s First Blogger?
- How Can a Goethe Novel Help You Build Buzz?
- What Can Christopher Columbus Teach You About Marketing?
A few years ago, Robert Hagstrom published a great book called Investing: The Last Liberal Art. The book encourages investors who want to better understand markets to study biology, economics, mathematics, philosophy, physics, psychology, and literature, rather than focusing only on technical analysis.
The same is true for new media marketing. For instance, you’re much better off studying social psychology than learning to code in Ajax.
But that’s just my advice. Take it for what it’s worth.
Or don’t. 🙂
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Reader Comments (14)
I agree wholeheartedly with every part of that O’ Blogger of Copy.
Tony Robbins makes a killing by rehashing old principles, using new marketing.
The key is to use tested, tried and true principles, while fitting them into your strategy and using today’s tools.
Oh, but you’ve already said that, what …. er, about 101 times ?
I heard ya, I heard ya.
David Meerman Scott says
Brian, Great post. Yes, it will be fun to come back to it in a few years. (There were some interesting perspectives on dot-com 1.0 mania that were written in about 1999 or so that are fascinating now). Cheers, David
Mark Goodyear says
Brian, I completely agree.
New technology can range from iron metalurgy to social media. But technological advancement is always only a way to repackage the same old ideas.
They may not turn a quick buck, but good ideas, true ideas, beautiful ideas will gain momentum and win out in the end.
Roberta Rosenberg says
Absolutely on point! When I opened my experimental online gift & bookstore in 1999 in the red hot flush of 1999, I did it with about $500 and a deep knowledge of my niche market and basic biz101 principles.
I remember reading about an ecommerce site called “Violet.com” that had generated about $500,000 in VC. I looked at the site and thought, “Pretty site, but who is this store targeted to and why buy here?” I didn’t have a clue.
6 months later, they were belly-up. 7 years later, my little corner of the cyber universe continues to chug nicely along.
Know your market, what makes them tick, respect the inflow/outflow of running your biz, and you have a pretty good chance of doing okay, or better.
I agree. After the Internet bust of 2000-2001 when I was laid off, I started my own 1-man corporation; I just wanted to see if I could do it.
I concentrated so hard on coding the site, getting the e-commerce right, and layout design issues, that I forgot the off-line essentials of networking, promotion, etc, etc. The business lasted several years and I learned a great deal, but I got caught up in exactly what you talked about and am now neck-deep in the 9-to-5.
Copywriter Underground says
The basic craft of copywriting will never truly change.
But I disagree that nothing’s changed.
The technology surrounding “Web 2.0” has opened doors that were formerly closed to marketers.
Suddenly, today’s copywriter has a chance to sit down and chat with his audience – assuming he’s done his job well enough to attract their attention in the first place.
Is the holy grail of marketing finally sailing into view – the ability to truly engage customers instead of simply marketing at them?
Perhaps. In the past, the cost of “engaging” a reader over time was often too high. Now those cost barriers are fading, and the copy can flow to a connection-hungry audience as quickly as it’s written.
What this means to the modern copywriter is that it’s time to get real. Because it’s one thing to persuade a reader over the course of a single conversation.
But newer media channels mean your conversation with readers can last weeks, months – even years (assuming you’re doing it right).
In that time, killer headlines and great bullet lists will be just as important as they used to be – provided your readers believe you’re authentic.
If they sense bullshit, you’re toast.
Are we witness to the rise of the copywriter as serial commercial novelist? Possibly. Probably even.
So yeah, Buzzwords are buzzwords. And the basic craft of copywriting hasn’t really changed.
But it has. Or at least the goals seem to be.
>>But I disagree that nothing’s changed.
What you’re talking about is application. People haven’t truly changed deep down, even if they are less inclined to swallow hype.
As for blogging, most of what I teach here I learned from publishing ezines. Same relationship methodology, but with the added benefit of the blogosphere conversation, plus social media bookmarking and voting sites.
Again, the environment has changed, but the fundamentals of relationship marketing have not.
But you’re absolutely right about the way copywriting is applied being different. People who try to take a typical direct response style will crash and burn in the blogosphere.
For example, as brilliant a copywriter as Clayton Makepeace is, he doesn’t seem to get blogging at all. He did finally put all his newsletters online so we could link to them, so I think he’s coming around.
Meanwhile, Bob Bly is writing a book about blogging, but his own blog is not very engaging. He went so far in the opposite direction from direct response and tried to turn it into a discussion forum instead of really sharing his knowledge.
I think Michel Fortin gets it from a content standpoint.
So… I’m not saying application is not hard… cuz it is, even for pros. Everything really comes down to execution, and just as with everything, you’ve got to understand your audience and the environment they dwell in.
I guess what I’m really saying is… application is hard enough, without some bozo telling you the fundamentals have changed too! 🙂
Loren Feldman says
I’m not very smart. I’m handsome, but not verysmart. Thankfully my mother realized this and said to me “Keep it simple stupid”.
Andy Strote says
The headline you were looking for to top this email comes courtesy of the great Neil Young:
Take my advice, don’t listen to me….
That would have been perfect, Andy.
Now I’m bummed. 🙁
“This time, they’ll try to convince you that technology has altered human nature.”
(I’m a time-traveler)
Now Facebook and twitter are supposedly changing our interactions on a fundamental level. Something about being more open…
Where’s my flying car?
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