Let’s talk about stealing…
Last year I caused a bit of a stir. I wrote a post called, “If you do this, you’ll never make it in the copywriting ‘Big Leagues.’”
In that post, I trashed the well-known strategy of “swiping.” Just in case you’re not familiar, that’s where someone takes copy from another successful ad, and uses it pretty much word-for-word in their own.
I explained how that does work, in some less sophisticated markets.
But when it comes time to actually write big direct response packages for the top direct marketers on the planet, they don’t let you get away with it.
First, they know it’s a mark of amateurish copywriters who steal rather than thinking for themselves. Rarely is there a breakthrough package created where more energy was put into stealing than into thinking.
But second, in the more sophisticated markets who get a steady stream of marketing delivered to their virtual and physical doorsteps, they’ve actually seen it all already. And by coming across as “me-too,” you immediately put yourself at a selling disadvantage. You’re less likely to get the attention of a novelty-seeking prospect, and thus less likely to get their order, too.
Instead, I recommended you don’t swipe words, but you swipe the underlying strategy of the copy. What psychology was the original writer trying to capture? What emotions were they trying to evoke? How can you — in your own words — capture that psychology and evoke those emotions?
The key isn’t so much whether or not you’re inspired by the original work. And in fact I strongly suggest studying effective advertising on such a deep level that it DOES show up in what you write.
There’s no use risking profits trying to create a brand new angle or appeal when you can put your own spin on something that’s proven to work. The key is, make it feel new and original, even if it contains a hidden hat-tip to the classic and well-known, for those in the know.
Swiping copy though, just scratches the surface, and is not nearly as big of a breakthrough as another kind of swiping you can do in your business and marketing…
Today I’m going to share how you can “Copy & Paste” effective strategies from completely unrelated industries to massively grow your business.
Before I go into a handful of examples, I want to address the thinking behind this.
Most breakthroughs do not come from insiders. They don’t come from people or companies inside an industry, or inside a business.
This can be the biggest value you get out of hiring a consultant. A set of fresh eyes. Someone who has an outside perspective on your business, and who is able to ask really simple questions that seem quite obvious to everybody except those who are mired in the business full-time.
In fact, my company name, Fresh Look, Inc., comes from this concept. It’s admittedly a kind of vague and potentially confusing name. Who knows if I do graphic design, or eyeglasses (yes, I’ve gotten calls), or whatever else. But the idea behind it was that I will help you take a fresh look at your business to identify sources of increased sales and profits.
Even though it’s clear and demonstrable that most breakthroughs come from outside of a business, it’s rare to find a business person who looks outside of their business and industry on a regular basis to find these breakthroughs.
Instead, so many businesses suffer from the “My business is different” delusion. They think the auto industry is different from the mail order industry. The restaurant business is different from the bank business. The internet business different than the mail order business. And so on.
And yet I’m going to show you examples that prove all of these wrong, to encourage you to “think outside the box,” and start finding other industries from which you can copy and paste strategies that might have a multiplier effect on your profits.
When GM sales were falling, they used “Copy & Paste” to borrow the mail order business’s guarantee strategy…
GM, the American automotive manufacturer, had seen revenue peak at just over $200 billion in 2006. By fall 2009, they were on track to cut that in half, with revenues just over $100 billion for the year.
That was the middle of The Great Recession, and they were as much of a financial business as anything at the time. But their car business was as important as any other, and sales were suffering.
And so they did something as rare as hen’s teeth in the car business.
They guaranteed your satisfaction.
This type of guarantee is commonplace in the mail order or direct marketing business. Your satisfaction is guaranteed for 30, 60, 90, even 365 days… If you’re dissatisfied for any reason, return the product, and you’ll get your money back.
And yet, for a whole host of reasons, most car manufacturers are hesitant to adopt a similar strategy.
Well, in Fall 2009, GM tried it. With sales sagging, it was worth the attempt.
Seeing as how they had a whole host of lawyers to appease, they threw in a bunch of anti-consumer small print that made it harder to return the car than your average info product. But hey, they tried it.
And, smartly, they made it the centerpiece of their marketing.
Although they only tried it for a short period of time, it was widely considered a huge success. Their return rate was less than 1/10th of 1%. During the guarantee period, they sold 439,000 cars backed by the satisfaction guarantee.
And in 2010, their revenue increased by about 40%.
And so, in 2012, they tried it again. As a summer special to move new Chevy cars, they offered a 60-day satisfaction guarantee. “Love it or return it.”
And although they seem hesitant to use this as more than a promotional deal on new cars, they have implemented what appears to be a permanent guarantee on their certified pre-owned vehicles. Take it home, drive it for 3 days and up to 150 miles. And if you’re not completely satisfied, bring it back and exchange it.
While most in the car business would insist that a satisfaction guarantee would be a near-impossible addition to their offer, GM gets credit for trying it. And although revenue still has not hit their pre-recession highs, their total vehicle sales have hit record highs for the last two years running.
But that’s only one example…
McDonald’s is the most famous user of “Copy & Paste” in borrowing this strategy from banks…
Ray Kroc didn’t invent the drive-through window. Nor was McDonald’s the first to offer it at a hamburger restaurant. But once they did it, suddenly everybody else did. And now you can’t open a fast food restaurant without a drive-through window, and hope to be successful. (In fact, there are now drive-through ONLY fast food restaurants all over the place, which are little more than a kitchen with a drive-through window.)
In a 1930 issue of Popular Mechanics, there was a short blurb with the title, “Autoists Do Banking From Their Cars.” This is the first recorded instance of a drive-through window on a bank. It reported that the Grand National Bank in St. Louis created a drive-through window to allow patrons to conduct business without leaving their cars. The picture with the blurb showed a drive-through window very similar to the ubiquitous drive-through bank teller windows today, although without the fancy vacuum tubes that allow a single teller to support multiple lanes of traffic at once.
It’s hard to say who borrowed this first in the restaurant industry. There are claims it was tested by the Texas Pig Stand chain as soon as 1931 — a year after that first bank drive-through. In 1947 though, a restaurant called Red’s Giant Hamburg, on the famous Route 66, in Springfield, Missouri, opened the first “drive-through restaurant.” It was originally a gas station, then a cafe was added, with emphasis on the hamburger. “Red,” the proprietor, had been running back and forth from cars to kitchen and back again, taking orders and delivering food. Tired of that, he decided to cut a hole in the wall, to take orders directly from the restaurant. And if there wasn’t a drive-through before then, this was definitely the first.
Independently, others landed on the same idea. In-n-Out Burger had their first drive-through in 1948. Jack in the Box added an intercom in 1951, which was quite confusing to early customers.
In 1975, a McDonald’s franchise in Sierra Vista, Arizona, next to the Fort Huachuca military base, was simply trying to serve their customers. There was a prohibition against getting out of your car in fatigues, so McDonald’s added a drive-through to serve customers who otherwise would have trouble ordering.
It stuck. Soon nearly every McDonald’s in the world had a drive-through option. And as McDonald’s goes, so the world of fast food goes. And so quickly nearly every other fast food chain followed suit.
But again, this wasn’t a matter of invention. And it’s an idea that would have been rejected whole-cloth by so many in the restaurant business at the time.
But by doing “Copy & Paste” of the drive-through window strategy, a whole new way to buy freshly-made food from fast food restaurants was born.
How the world’s best internet marketers used “Copy & Paste” to bring the direct mail world online…
The dot-com boom of the late 1990s happened because there was a fundamental belief that the internet was a whole new game.
Build a website, make a mint. That was the story everybody bought into at the time.
(The beliefs about social media platforms are not too dissimilar today.)
But that boom quickly went bust.
Somewhere along the way someone realized that a website, in itself, is not a revenue strategy. That a website — even if it has massive traffic — without conversions is nothing more than a digital pit into which you throw money…
Suddenly, support for the latest dot-com dried up. Then there was a mass exodus of the speculators who hoped to get rich on the first big digital gold rush.
But then, in the rubble of the dot-com era, a number of astute direct response marketers had a crazy thought.
These were folks who were making a mint in direct mail in the 1980s and 1990s. Who’d been content to keep sending “junk mail” as long as the orders kept coming in — even while the rest of the business world was going gaga over 1s and 0s.
These direct marketers thought, “What if the internet isn’t a whole new game, but is instead simply a new media?” And then, what if we “Cut & Paste” the direct marketing strategies that work in direct mail, and apply them online.
You know the outcome of this story.
Entire industries that at one point existed almost exclusively in direct mail have moved to now generating more revenue than ever through the internet.
How? By using the same copy-centric direct response marketing that worked in direct mail on the internet.
Ken McCarthy, who was the godfather of this approach, who was simultaneously consulting with Silicon Valley superstars and direct mail behemoths in the mid-1990s, summed it up when he called the internet “direct mail on glass.”
These examples are just a few of many more…
“Copy & Paste” will always be a smart strategy. There are huge breakthroughs to be had by looking at other businesses, and other industries. And instead of looking at all the ways in which they’re different… Focusing on what strategies might be able to be borrowed and adapted to your business and industry.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets