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Why most of what you read on marketing isn’t worth the pixels it’s made from (and a 3-point test to filter it)

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I bet you’ve read a ton of stuff on marketing.

With content marketing very much the flavour of the month, it seems that everyone is pumping out articles, infographics, videos and podcasts telling you how to do marketing.

But here’s the reason you can ignore virtually all of it.

It’s opinion. Not fact.

For example, it is not a fact that “long copy doesn’t work on the web”.

Nor, for that matter, is it a fact that “long copy does work on the web”.

Both of those statements are opinions.

Here’s a fact.

When they’ve tested it, many companies have discovered that out of two pieces of copy, the longer of the two has brought in more sales than the shorter.

Here’s another opinion I read yesterday.

“You should never use a bought-in email list.”

Why not, if you make a profit?

We are all guilty of holding our opinions so tightly that, to us, they begin to take on the appearance of fact. Nobody is immune.

Over the years, I have written hundreds of thousands of opinionated words on copywriting. They have been based on experience, but not always on testing.

Here are a few more opinions I have read recently, couched in the kind of cast-iron language that might make a rookie pause.

“You should always personalise your emails.”

“People don’t have time to read long copy so always keep your landing pages short.”

“Do not use automated Twitter software.”

“Write nine information-based tweets for every one self-promotional one.”

They are all worth considering. But really what they are worth is testing.

It may be that the authors themselves have tested these ideas rigorously, scientifically, and reaped the rewards of their tests. But that doesn’t mean it will work for you, of for your client.

You have to test too.

Here are a few tests we have run, or been privy to, at Sunfish, my copywriting agency.

With one client we tested a 300-word email against a 2,000-word email. The shorter outpulled the longer.

Another client tested a 5,000-word landing page against a 10,000-word landing page. The longer page won.

Still another tested 1-, 2- and 4-page sales letters for their conferences business. The 4-pager did best.

We have tested including recipients’ first names in subject lines. That increased the open rate significantly.

We tested using an image in an email promotion. It produced a significant uplift in clickthroughs.

When you’re looking around for ideas to improve your marketing, the content marketers are a reasonable place to start. After all, it’s all free.

But remember this old question: if it’s free, why is it free?

Full disclosure. My stuff is free because I believe that by showing you my credentials and helping you make more money, you will trust me enough to invest in one of my books or training courses.

That’s why everyone is doing it.

But there’s another potential downside to free stuff. Its quality.

You can publish your opinions on the web in about as long as it takes to make a bowl of pasta. Anyone can.

So not only do we have to distinguish fact from opinion. We also need to assess the credibility of the publisher.

One of the simplest ways I have found is to look at their background and specifically any signs that they have done any ‘real’ marketing, rather than just for the blog or website they are promoting.

If they haven’t, then their opinions and tests are somewhat circular. Too often they will be recycling other blog posts, which themselves are recycling a handful of core ideas first published in books anywhere from 5 to 90 years ago.

Do you really need to be told – again – that headlines should appeal to the reader’s self-interest?

Or that you need a strong call to action?

Here’s a three-point filter that I hope will help you get to the nub of it quicker:

One, ask yourself, what gives this publisher the credibility to tell me how to market my business?

Two, are they offering opinions or facts?

Three, if the former, are they original opinions, thought-provoking and stimulating my own creativity? If the latter, what evidence do they adduce to support them?

Categories: Content marketing.

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