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There is one overwhelmingly common reason why so many online marketing campaigns fail. In most cases, the reason is… you. (Sorry.) Here’s why.


This is the third installment in Anthill’s The 10 Essential Tools of Online Marketing eSeries. To register, click here.

There is one overwhelmingly common reason why so many online marketing campaigns fail.

As the publisher of a business that makes the lion-share of its revenue from advertising dollars, I get to watch approximately 20 campaigns a month. In other words, I’m in the privileged position of being able to see what works and what doesn’t.

To understand the third tool in this eSeries (to be revealed shortly), it’s important that I first share this common fundamental error. Like all good lessons, this one begins with a homespun analogy.

“What’s the difference between a vitamin and a headache cure?”

This question was posed to me in June 2010 by Chinese entrepreneur Nick Yang, founder of KongZhong, Chinaren.com and Wukong.com.

While the question itself has all the hallmarks of a riddle (a Confusianist riddle, perhaps?), the answer is simple enough.

There is rarely an immediate, urgent demand for vitamins.

But when a headache strikes… Get out of my way!

The unfortunate truth is that most organisations are in the business of selling vitamins — products and services with beneficial qualities. Only a very rare few are in the business of selling headache cures — products and services that their customers desperately need.

Does this sound familiar? Sucks, doesn’t it?

Well, there is a silver lining.

It’s not about you. It’s all about me, me… ME!

Bad marketers talk about their organisation’s qualities and achievements.

Good marketers realise that their marketing messages should never be about themselves.

Sure, your next customer might like to know that your organisation has 20 years experience. They might be pleased that you have won awards. At some point, you may even get the chance to promote the fact you have acquired a small army of happy customers. (“Check out my testimonials!”)

These are all good things to have. But, well before your next customer even begins to consider whether they intend to buy or not, the very first thing that they want you to answer is…

“What’s in it for me?”

Initially, your future customers only really care about one thing: How you can help them. They will not care about what you do or even how you do it. Only if you can answer this first question well, will you potentially earn the chance to explain the rest later.

In short, the first step to successful marketing is to realise this truth — your customer does not care about you. He or she only wants to know what problem you intend solve… for them.

Stop selling vitamins. Start curing headaches.

Above, I said that good marketers realise that their marketing messages should never be about themselves, and instead focus their messages on the problem that their product or services intends to solve for the customer.

But you don’t want to simply be a ‘good’ marketer, right? You want to be great!

If that’s the case, here’s what you need to do: Stop using your marketing dollars trying to sell your vitamins altogether, and start curing headaches.

Good marketers realise that customers just want their problems solved and then offer their product or service as the solution. Great marketers look deep into the hearts and minds of their target market, identify a headache and offer to cure it.

To make my point, let’s ditch the metaphor for a moment and get literal.

Let’s assume that you are in the business of selling… wait for it… folate (a vitamin proven to help pregnant women have healthy babies).

Which marketing message do you think is likely to get the most attention?

A) Discover why our folate has won the Best Folate Award at the Vitamin Expo!
B) Discover how you can save 20% on all new purchases of folate!
C) Discover the five things a pregnant woman must never, ever eat.

In this example, most new mothers know that folate is important. But few will know what foods are safe and which are not — because the rules seem to constantly change!

Message C isolates a ‘headache’ (uncertainty and fear about appropriate foods) and offers to cure that headache, despite its true commercial intent: To sell a vitamin.

The Third Essential Tool: The ‘Calling Card’

It’s time, finally, to reveal our Third Essential Tool in this 10 part eSeries.

And it’s… drum roll please… a ‘Calling Card’!

“What the!?” you may well ask. Put simply, a calling card is something of ‘high perceived value’ to a specific target market, usually offered not for free but in exchange for some basic prospective customer data, such as a name and email address.

As you’re probably aware, the web is littered with examples of calling cards — ‘Sign-up to get the eBook’, ‘Click here to unlock the Checklist’, ‘Tweet this to download the White Paper’.

Most will barely earn a glance of your attention, before you move on, and ‘bounce’ to another page. (Remember that expression, ‘bounce’. It will come up again in the fourth installment in this series.) But some will force you to pause, consider the cost (your time and often your email address), then trigger an action.

Simply due to the sheer volume of calling cards, most people discount the tool, usually with the bold justification “because I never sign up to those things.”

But, as you probably have already realised, this is a fallacy.

At some point, we have all subscribed to an email list, given away a small amount of information to downloaded an eBook or succumbed to a survey or checklist.

However, because we have also rejected so many, our minds play tricks. we tell ourselves that most calling cards are rubbish and, in doing so, we distinguish the few that have captured our attention (and email addresses) as something different, something… of ‘high perceived value’.

And what do we value? Things likely to cure our headaches!

Importantly, most items of genuine value are rarely of value to everyone. And this is why most calling cards seem like worthless clutter, because most (and the best) will only be relevant to the target market, at the exclusion of the larger audience.

Case Study: Venture capital eBook

In the first article in this eSeries, I offered a free eBook — Tom McKaskill’s ‘Raising Angel and Venture Capital Finance’. The ‘price’ was a Facebook ‘Like’, a Facebook ‘Share’, plus a name and an email address. (Get it here.)

Expensive, yes?

While I deliberately set the price high (arduously high), my goal was to force readers through several steps that will be discussed later in this series.

I could only achieve this end because my calling card is likely to be of high perceived value to my target audience — you — entrepreneurial business builders.

And here’s the best bit.

While attracting the right audience, this particular calling card actively discourages the wrong audience. In the same way that people who don’t need folate are unlikely be interested in the healthy eating practices of pregnant women, people who are not running businesses are unlikely to be interested in venture capital.

Anthill’s Three Favourite ‘Calling Cards’

A calling card can take many forms. Here are our three favourites:

The Checklist

This is simply a survey given a headache-curing purpose, such as:

  • Are you venture capital ready? Don’t approach an investor without first completing this checklist!
  • Are you properly safeguarding your baby against birth defects? Here’s a checklist that no mother should avoid.

This option is particularly helpful as a lead-generation tool — simply because the survey can be seeded with questions that can be used to inform a follow-up email, phone call or meeting. It is sooooo much more effective than a ‘Contact Us’ form.

The eBook

An eBook is simply a fancy name for a PDF file. It can also be described as a White Paper or Fact Sheet. The names seem to change depending on the length. The most important aspect of an eBook, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the name. Of course, the content needs to leave a lasting positive impression, but the name is what will trigger the action and this, naturally, needs to reflect the headache.

The eSeries

Of our favourites, this is our most favourite. Most likely, it is the model that has brought you here today. It generally involves a series of emails linking to articles on a website, presented as a series, often dispatched daily or weekly.

When a prospective customer signs up to your eSeries, not only are they providing you with their name and email address but they are actively inviting you to reach out to them. This provides multiple opportunities for you to sell your vitamins, while addressing the prospective customers’ main headache.

The specific products that we recommend to create any of the three suggestions above will be revealed in the next installment. Until then, just remember that the most common fundamental error any marketer (i.e. business owner) can make is to create a marketing message all about ‘them’. Don’t let your next marketing campaigned by undermined by… well… you.

TOOL #3: The Calling Card

In summary, poor marketing usually promotes the business, the product or the service.

Good marketing promotes the problem that the business, product or service solves.

Great marketing identifies a headache common to an organisation’s target market and offers to cure that headache.

This ‘cure’ should take the form  of a ‘calling card’ — an item of ‘high perceived value’ to the target market that is used to start a relationship with a prospective customer or client.

This was the third article in the 10-part eSeries. Check your inbox for future installments.

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