Copying Other Peoples’ Marketing

I love this quote by Mark Twain:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Looking at the sales and marketing strategies people have used through history – and even looking at different marketing strategies being used today – we see the same old pieces of coloured glass.

I don’t think it’s possible to truly “copy” someone else’s marketing. (After all, we have unique groups of people we sell to, and unique needs our products address. So, unless you’re in a heavily commoditized industry, how can anyone expect to simply copy someone else’s promotion and expect it to work?)

But I think it’s valuable to draw inspiration from other peoples’ marketing, and find beautiful pieces of coloured glass for our marketing kaleidoscope.

1. Look for the big ad budgets

Marketing is a game of disparity and imbalance.

The top 10% of companies tend to get 90% of the market share.

On level playing fields (like international ecommerce), where the “little guys” can compete with big brands globally, marketing strategy tends to be the factor that makes some companies big, and keeps other companies small.

If one company is better at making sales than its competitors, it’ll be more easily able to buy up ad inventories, expand its targeting, and become the biggest player in a market.

So, big or small, look at who is spending the most to advertise in your market, online. Chances are, they have the best online sales strategy.

2. Find the messaging that motivates

Once you’ve found the “best-sellers”, look at how they’re selling.

Little insights like “free shipping” vs “buy now, pay later” offers, or describing the reason to buy in one way versus another, are easy to spot – but can make an unexpectedly huge difference to sales.

Can you learn from it? Can you adapt it to your market and products? How can you put this coloured glass in your marketing kaleidoscope?

3. Investigate where they’re marketing

To borrow from the John West slogan, it’s the customers that your marketing strategy rejects that makes your marketing strategy the best.

One of the easiest ways to increase the profitability of an advertising campaign is to simply narrow your targeting. In other words, to stop spending good money targeting bad leads, and instead reinvest that money into targeting your best type of customers.

The best performing marketers understand this. They’ll know that who their product is NOT for is just as important as who it IS for. How do the marketers who inspire you communicate this through their words and imagery?

Likewise, the places where they’re promoting their products (conferences, online ad networks, etc.) are harder but can be found with some digging. Do you find their ads on one platform (i.e. in the Financial Times), but not on another similar platform (i.e. The Wall Street Journal) – and if so, what does it tell you about their targeting?

4. Look at their Price and Terms

If you’ve ever been skiing, you’ll probably notice that there are some chairlifts that are easier to get off than others.

The ones that are easiest to alight are the ones where you finish on a slope that whizzes you away from the lift. The ones that are hardest are the ones that force you to shuffle quickly away from the lift before the next chair arrives.

When I imagine price and terms, I imagine the end of the chairlift. They’re the last part of the sales and marketing journey – and we can either make things easier for customers, or harder.

I’ve seen so many clever ways to reframe offers over the years, but my favorites tend to be a mix of low entry price, risk-free trial, and no-worse-off satisfaction guarantee.

If you want to see similar deals in action right now, look at the (highly competitive) mattress-in-a-box industry. Most brands offer a risk-free trial of 30 to 120 days! What’s particularly counter-intuitive about these kinds of offers is that the LONGER a trial or guarantee period tends to be, the FEWER people tend to take them up. After all, it’s easy to remember your 7-day guarantee, but it’s much harder to remember that on the 5th of May your 90-day guarantee will expire. And maybe you’re not completely satisfied, but you’ve got plenty of time to “do it later”. There’s no urgency to refund now. So you delay. And inertia here leads you to end up keeping the product instead of sending it back.

$1 trials are also brilliant. 1 cent trials would likely be even better.

Offering financing can be magical. When a building I own an apartment in needed to be repainted (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars of work), the owners corporation chose a painting company that offered to finance the work across several years over a cheaper competitor who demanded a lump-sum payment.

Money-back guarantees are always great – but how can you make it a better-than-money-back guarantee? For example, “If you’re not completely satisfied, send us the shark vac back, and keep the bonus mini shark vac as our gift.”

Also, consider how hard you make it for people to buy. What’s the minimum commitment you can get from someone? (The most seamless one I’ve seen lately was asking existing customers on a webinar to type “I’m in” in a chatbox if they wanted to upgrade to a new product during its launch. It was two words – no credit card details required, no filling out forms, no asking the customer to mess about. Admin then processed those sales against stored customer credit card data.)

5. Back-Loading

Ryan Air is more convenience store than airline. The carrier makes more of its profit through “ancillary revenue” like lottery tickets and snacks sold onboard flights than it does out of actually flying passengers.

Similarly, car yards make more on financing and scheduled servicing than they do on cars. And when Ian Norman and Gerry Harvey founded Harvey Norman, it’s said one had the skill in retail and the other, the skill in finance.

The masters of marketing tend to make the “real” sale later. Their offers tend to be back-loaded. They’re cheap for the customer up-front (creating easy buy-in and long term commitment), and profitable for the business down the track.

If you run training programs, consider running a small easy-to-say-yes-to program up-front that is the first “module” of a much larger journey.

These are five beautiful bits of coloured glass to find in your marketing kaleidoscope.

I recommend taking some time to look for them in your competitors’ marketing, your suppliers’ marketing, and your favourite brands and companies’ marketing.