Marketing Fluff, Step Aside: An Interview With Ian Brodie

on December 21, 2014

Marketing Fluff, Step Aside: An Interview With Ian Brodie

We recently “virtually” sat down with Ian Brodie, the straight-talking marketing veteran who has no patience for fluff, and is known for his actionable advice. With decades of experience under his belt, he was chosen by Salesforce.com for their “Social Business Dream Team,” and has also written an Amazon #1 bestseller!

Read on to learn his insights on optimizing marketing CPAs, connecting with industry thought leaders using old-school methods, and devising creative marketing strategies to boost lead generation.

1. What is your professional background? What attracted you to marketing?

I studied mathematics at university, and then became a project manager in IT – which I did for half a dozen years. I initially pursued an MBA in order to become a better manager, but when I took my first marketing class 20 years ago, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. So basically, it’s all Professor Chris Easingwood of Manchester Business School’s fault!

2. As an industry veteran, besides the digital revolution, what is the primary change you feel the marketing industry has undergone between the 90s and today?

You know, I don’t hang around much with “the marketing industry.” I do my work with consultants, coaches, and other professionals who need to get results from their marketing for their business. So, honestly, I have no idea how the marketing industry has changed.

That being said, I actually believe that it’s the customers and audiences that marketers target that have changed. They’re both more sophisticated – not to mention less tolerant, than before. Personally, I just don’t put up with being “marketed at.” Instead, when I look for a certain product to purchase, I do the research on my own terms.

That doesn’t mean that classic principles don’t apply. I’m sure if Ogilvy, Schwartz, Reeves, or Burnett were starting out today, they’d still be a raging success. However, they would need to adapt their approaches accordingly.

3. In your writing, you constantly emphasize your straight-talk approach. Why is it that most marketers are keen to keep on writing fluff and using gobbledygook? How can we avoid this?

Originally, the “straight talking” tag came from a client. I hadn’t realized that it was any different to anyone else until that client pointed it out, and then I started noticing how much nonsense most marketers actually write.

I think the tendency to write fluff and gobbledygook comes from three sources: first, at university, we’re taught to write academically, and we have to unlearn much of that. Second, most of us still have an underlying need to try to impress people. So, even subconsciously we use “clever” language and fancy phrases to sound intelligent. And, finally, fluff and gobbledygook is often a sure sign that the writer doesn’t actually understand what he or she is writing about.

Marketing-FluffImage Credit: Flickr @ginnerobot

Marketers talk in abstract principles because they don’t have any specific examples. They dance around an argument because they don’t fully understand it.

How can we avoid it? With experience and feedback. If I look back at my early blog posts, I cringe at how “professorial” the tone was, and how often I used complex words and sentences instead of just saying what I meant. Over time, by getting feedback and by reading good writing, my style improved. One specific technique that works for me is simply writing exactly as I speak.

4. Apart from blog posts and social media, what is the most effective strategy that marketers can implement in order to generate leads?

I’ve always found that the “big three” for me have been guest posts, co-hosted webinars, and digital advertising. Joint ventures such as webinars, which are co-promoted by partners to an active email subscriber list, are really an excellent strategy. One other way which I have found helpful for generating leads is advertising on Google Adwords, as well as on Facebook.

5. It’s clear that the marketing industry is undergoing a shift from B2B/B2C to H2H. Can you provide advice on how to make lead nurturing (emails, social posts, calls) more personal?

You know, I think that good marketing has ALWAYS been human-to-human. I don’t think it’s anything new. I encourage you to read Martin Conroy’s classic 1975 “Two Young Men” advert for The Wall Street Journal – it’s a remarkable example of person-to-person marketing.

HandshakeImage Credit: Flickr @Aidan Jones

In the past, bad marketing has been impersonal, filled with jargon, and stiff. But that’s no different than bad marketing today. Sometimes I suspect that phrases like “H2H” were created so that marketing gurus can generate interest in their books, courses, and services.

That being said, the way to make marketing more personal is to really understand who you’re marketing to on a very deep level. No doubt, everyone is familiar with developing personas to represent ideal customers. But, typically, these personas go no deeper than a few surface demographics and a clever name.

You need to dig deeper into each persona’s goals and aspirations, problems, and issues. What do they love, who do they trust? What are they frightened of? Who do they hate? The more you understand someone, the easier it is to write to them on a personal level.

6. As marketers, we keep reading about the importance of building relationships with thought-leaders, especially on Twitter. What’s the best way to do this?

Personally, I’d start by finding thought leaders I liked and whose material I found valuable. I wouldn’t try to build a relationship with them just because I thought I could get something out of it. But if I did like them, and thought there might be some way I could help them, I might start by retweeting some of their tweets, or tagging them in posts with interesting content.

If I really wanted to build a relationship, I’d find something specific I could do to help them, or thank them for what they’ve given to me through their thought-leadership. Apart from Twitter, reaching out by e-mail, giving them a call, or even writing to them are all effective approaches.

I’d basically go the extra mile. Any idiot can connect and try to build a relationship, but thought-leaders are only going to pay attention to the people who go that bit further to try to help them.

7. You’ve written that “curiosity + benefit” is the winning formula for writing great headlines and subject lines. Can you give us a few good (and bad) examples?

I have to credit Gary Bencivenga for publishing the idea well before me, and it was probably in use well before him, too. The concept is that we’re interested in topics that promise or hint at benefits we’d get by reading on. However, if we think we already know what the content is going to say, we lose interest.

One generic subject line that’s always worked well for me is “My WORST ever X.” X could be “email”, “sales meeting,” “investment” etc. Sometimes, I use “My WORST ever X (and how you can avoid it),” but usually that’s not necessary.

Following this formula, the benefit that’s being offered is learning how to avoid making the same mistake that I already have. The curiosity lies in finding out what my worst ever email, sales meeting, etc. was. A bit of schadenfreude I guess!

Other subject lines that have worked well for me include: “Can this 13 word email get you more clients?,” “How I simplified my business,” “5 Success Principles for 2014.”

All of these have generated higher than normal open rates, specifically because they combine the promise of a benefit that people will receive with curiosity.

8. The “non-promotional” approach has been drilled into every marketer’s mind. However, what tactics can be used to “indirectly” sell to audiences while providing them with value?

I’m not so sure about a “non-promotional” approach to marketing. Sounds a bit like a “non-scoring” approach to football. I think your phrase “indirect” is better. Sometimes the best way to score a goal is to pass it around looking for an opening, while other times it’s best to get the ball on the head of the center forward as soon as possible. It all depends on the situation, and I’m very happy to be directly promotional when the time is right.

Sold-SignImage Credit: Flickr @MarkMoz12

However, if someone is reading a blog post, then trying to sell to them straight away is usually a step too far and won’t help. In fact, I almost never sell directly from a blog. All of my efforts on the blog are to get people to leave their emails, so that I can communicate with them regularly. That way, I have plenty of time to build up credibility and trust and make them offers when appropriate.

Sometimes, I’ll also use list segmentation so that I only send email on a particular topic to people who’ve already demonstrated an interest. For example, people who have clicked on a link in an email, or have visited specific web pages. That way, I know I have more leeway to promote my product in a related area, given that it’s something they’re interested in.

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