In 2007ish, I did something I recommend all copywriters and direct marketers do.
I started a direct marketing “side project.”
This one started as more of a coincidence than a plan.
My dad had a video he’d recorded on cutting foam wings for model airplanes. It’s his hobby. He’d developed a unique method he thought would be helpful to other modelers. So he and a friend recorded this tutorial video, and started selling it on eBay.
At first, it sold like crazy. Always demand. Always multiple bidders. Always a high final auction price.
Then, demand waned. Fewer bidders. Sometimes one or none. And eventually, prices so low he was basically taking a loss by selling the video.
Then one day I offered to build a website to sell the video instead.
We could set our own price, and drive traffic. I could write an autoresponder series, and build an email list.
We did, and it was good — for years. The niche is small, so it would never make us rich. But for that tiny audience, it was impressive that we pulled thousands of dollars out, almost on autopilot, month in and month out, for quite a long time.
And I got the primary benefit behind doing something like this — the whole reason I recommend you do it today…
I learned a TON about what’s important and what’s not in direct marketing, because I was in control of the entire marketing process, soup to nuts.
It was my first-ever personal ecommerce venture… And a success!
And on it went, for about half a decade, with very little management on my part.
Then, sales started to fall off — which brings me to the topic of today’s lesson, and how I think Dan Kennedy is now being proven wrong by a shift change in consumer demands…
You see, Dan Kennedy is famously known for “ugly.”
What do I mean? Well, he teaches that to increase response to your ads and sales letters, you should junk them up. Put them on plain paper, not fancy. Make the design look home-made, not professional. Use highlighters, hand-written margin notes, crumpled paper, the works…
And he’s applied this principle to content. His newsletters have traditionally looked like they were done in Microsoft Publisher, in the early 90s, and not updated since. The handout he gave to attendees at The Titans of Direct Response was similarly ugly — as are most of the binders and workbooks he hands out at seminars.
He even teaches this as a principle! Hollywood DVDs with great graphics are obviously mass-produced, and the expected price you pay is low as a result. Magazines and books are the same. They’ve been designed to sell en masse, which requires flashy graphics and high consumer appeal.
Expensive, limited-quantity business content, on the other hand, should be about the content — not the presentation. And so you should actually plan your presentation to look more ugly than you otherwise could. It may seem counterintuitive, but as Dan teaches it, it justifies the higher price.
Now, I’m not going to say Dan is wrong about ugly marketing, but I will say my experience says consumer behavior may be changing regarding ugly content…
My dad’s foam wing cutting video was originally recorded on a VHS camcorder, on someone’s shoulder. And I think the editing was done in one take, as the video was transferred from one tape in the camera to another tape in the VCR.
It’s shaky. The quality is low. I even warn about it in my sales letter for the video.
And from when we launched it in 2007 (and before that on eBay) up until sometime in 2012 or maybe 2013, it didn’t matter much.
We have a no questions asked refund policy, and we almost never got refund requests.
All we got were compliments on the video. Maybe not so much the quality, but the information in contained.
But then things started to go downhill — slowly at first, but accelerating recently.
Here and there, more folks started to complain about quality.
For the most part, they didn’t want refunds. But they did want to let us know they weren’t happy with the poor recording. That they’d love it if we did a professional re-shoot.
Then, the complaints got louder, and more frequent.
Until now, in January 2015, 100% of the (very limited) sales have resulted in refunds. With all refund requests citing the video quality as at least a contributing factor.
I believe we’re in the middle of a shift-change in consumer expectation regarding production value…
I’ve resisted this for a long time. I’ve been in Dan’s camp regarding content. It’s okay if it looks ugly, as long as the content is great. And experience supported that assumption.
However, my recent experience is shifting, as I’ve just shown you.
Consumers want higher production values. Why? Well, I think it’s driven by the trailing edge of desktop publishing. Not the leading edge — for a long time, folks at home have been able to match professional quality, with the right tools and experience.
The trailing edge is what matters because it’s what even folks who are barely technology literate are able to pull off.
And with the technology we have today, even someone with minimal video experience can record a higher-quality video than that old VHS tape. All it takes is a smart phone — now ubiquitous — and video editing apps that can be downloaded for free.
Likewise, publishing quality in print, online, and other media is going up, too. This must be considered. If your parents or grandparents (depending on age and tech experience) can do it better than what you’re selling, it may be time to update the production quality.
And I should note, I’m not getting this feedback selling to a young, tech-savvy market. The model airplane market is mostly old farts (to use my dad’s word, with no offense intended!). Most of them are more comfortable working on the internal combustion engine on the front of the airplane than they are using Google. And still they are wanting a higher production value.
I believe this trend is here to stay.
For renegade publishers — as many of us here in the direct marketing world are — who have traditionally been more about good content than good production quality… It may be time to update our assumptions.
Otherwise we risk getting left behind by someone who recognizes their 14-year-old kid can produce Hollywood-quality video edits with free software downloaded off the internet, and who pays them a generous allowance to handle all the video recording and editing…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets