• Don’t rely on facts alone

    By phillipkp

    In an article on Influencing, I read this: “With rational persuasion, you persuade others with solid facts, clear explanations, and logical arguments.”

    It reminded me of my early days in selling classified advertising. It was at a time when that branch of advertising was still rather primitive, even though job advertising …read more

    Source: PKP Communicators

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  • Phillip Khan-Panni

    By your grammar shall they know you

    The Bible says, By their fruits (works) shall ye know them (Matthew 7:20). In the business world, and especially when it comes to recruitment, it is equally true to say By your grammar shall they know you.

    Correct grammar is the mark of education and erudition, both desirable attributes at the higher levels of employment. Grammar is more than a set of rules: it is the process that gives your communications clarity and meaning. Let’s set aside exceptions to the rule, and even those historical ambiguities that are trotted out as excuses for ignoring the rules of grammar.

    Instead, let’s take two examples that I encountered in The Times this morning, a journal that should be setting a better example. One example is the common wrong choice of two words that look similar but which have directly opposite meanings. The other is simply a confusion between the subject and object in a sentence.

    In the Weekend section, agony aunt Marie O’Riordan was asked how to ditch wild friends from university days. Her reply included this: “Start by making yourself available only on rare occasions … This infers that you are expanding your social circle.” It does not. It implies that.

    To infer is to gain an understanding of something. To imply is to let others gain that understanding. “Infer” means you receive or deduce it, while “imply” means you give it. She could, of course, have said, “(the friends) will infer that you are expanding your social circle.” See the difference? You imply, they infer.

    The second solecism was in the Saturday Review, and was perpetrated by Matthew Parris, a man who should know better. Reviewing Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher, he wrote this: “As to her father, Alderman Roberts (whom Moore suggests may have been etc.)” It’s a common misuse of the word ‘whom’.

    Take out the words “Moore suggests” and you are left with “whom may have been etc.” Clearly it should be “who may have been.”  Who is the subject of the sentence. It would have been easier to get it right if he had written either “who, Moore suggests, may have been ,,,” or “who may have been …, according to Moore.” When you clearly separate the subordinate clause “Moore suggests” by the use of commas, or by placing it at the end, you can easily tell what is right.

    Correct grammar makes for greater precision in communication. It also avoids creating an unfavourable impression of the writer. Worth doing, wouldn’t you say?

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  • What exactly is Database Marketing?

    Small businesses don’t always have a Marketing Plan. And when someone suggests Database Marketing, they often ask:”What the heck is Database Marketing?” or, if they know what it is, “Isn’t Database Marketing only for the big boys?”

    The answer is No. You do not need an expensive system to set up a Database. You can use a simple spreadsheet to record the essential information about your customers.

    These are the details your system should record:

    Recency: date of last purchase

    Frequency: how many purchases made

    Money: total spend with you so far

    Average order: Money divided by Frequency

    Trend: are the Frequency and Average rising or falling?

    Your marketing should focus on Recency, Frequency and Money – the RFM factors, as they are called in Direct Marketing.

    Those who bought from you recently, and often, are the ones most likely to buy from you again, because they have accepted you as a preferred supplier, and do not need much reminding of the benefits of doing business with you.

    And those who buy frequently could quite readily be persuaded to shorten the gap between purchases or to order something new between their regular purchases.

    The total money spent with you will also determine how important they are to your business, and how profitable.

    Obviously, Recency, Frequency and Money will have different values in different businesses.

    For example, the gaps for buying computers will usually be much greater than for consumables like stationery. You should monitor all gaps and learn what is normal for each type of product, not only among your own customers, but in the industry.

    It adds important information to your Database – information that can guide your Marketing decisions.

    The other factor to consider is creativity – copywriting and design. Start with an email to“> or call 0845 165 9240 . The initial consultation is free.

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  • The 5th level of competence

    I was talking to a Sales consultant recently, and he was asking me about my special skills. It’s a conversation I have had before, when I was exploring the skills of a friend or colleague. Now the boot was on the other foot.

    At some point I said, “I don’t know what I know.”

    I explained that I could articulate the subject matter of my training courses, as I have done on my website and in promotional literature or ads promoting specific courses, but that would not really explain my special skills. It’s a common problem, and one that you must have encountered yourself.

    Think about situations when you have been training or helping someone to solve a problem within your area of expertise. Under pressure, you come out with insights that derive from a deep understanding of your subject – wisdom that you’d find hard to explain or call to mind out of context.

    You could call that the fifth level of competence. It’s what distinguishes the true expert from the specialist.

    The other four levels are well known:
    1. unconscious incompetence, when the person is unaware of a deficiency in knowledge or skill
    2. conscious incompetence, when the person realises that deficiency, perhaps when trying to apply it
    3. conscious competence, when the person can apply the skill at will, recognising the level of competence and noticing how it improves with practice
    4. unconscious competence, when the skill or competence becomes automatic and second nature, like driving a car

    Some people progress further. Their knowledge of their subject moves to a higher level, so that they understand the principles underlying it, and can enable others to cope with any problems within it. Unconscious competence is about being able to carry out the skills themselves. The fifth level is about becoming expert and developing ‘wisdom’.

    Think about medical consultants, or lawyers who can find unexpected interpretations of the law. They, too, would find it hard to tell you what they know, but it’s much more than the stuff you’ll find in text books.

    When it comes to communication in business – speaking, leadership, presentations, sales letters and such like, I don’t know what I know. But I know I’m at the fifth level of competence. That’s my ‘specialness’.


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  • How to avoid some common mistakes in email

    As you know, these days much of our business correspondence is conducted by email rather than the conventional ‘snail mail’. Unhappily, certain conventions have been lost or overlooked in the process, and can get in the way of doing business, especially when there are cultural differences involved.


    • Sloppy layout
    • Poor spelling / typing errors
    • Incorrect grammar or punctuation
    • Wrong forms of address
    • Lack of formal opening and closing
    • Missing reply information
    • Wrong tone for the person being addressed
    • One country’s conventions not acceptable in another country
    • Risk of virus infection
    • Divulging others’ email addresses
    • Manners

    Sloppy layout: Get professional help to establish templates. If possible, use a header, to make your email look like a regular letterheading. Otherwise how will it look different from the many spam messages?

    Spelling/Typing: Always use the spellchecker, but also use an English dictionary (spellcheckers are American). Be especially careful to avoid writing “their” when you mean “they’re” and “your” for “you’re”.

    Grammar/Punctuation: If in doubt, ask someone who knows. Phrases such as “between you and I” will diminish you in the eyes of some clients, and so will misplaced apostrophes. Never use one for a plural. “I received your letters” is correct. “I received your letter’s” is wrong.

    Language: The phrases and vocabulary you use will pigeon-hole you, perhaps at the wrong level. For example, “some cool stuff” and “Cheers” are not ideal for business letters.

    Forms of address: When approaching a business contact for the first time, it is unwise to write “Hello there” or “Hi” or even “Dear John”.

    Opening/Closing: Some emails leave out the salutation altogether. Others omit the name and title of the sender. If you are running back and forth with reply after reply on the same topic, and to someone you know well, it’s all right to omit the salutation.

    Tone: Err on the side of caution. Don’t be familiar with a client or someone senior, and never write what you may regret the next day.

    Conventions: See Opening/Closing. In some countries you are expected always to use a salutation.

    Virus & Junk: In business circles, it is considered very bad manners to send a virus, so install and regularly update your virus checking software. It is also bad form to pass on chain letters, however well-meaning they may be. And never pass on email advertisements.

    Divulging addresses: If you send an email to a whole group of unconnected people, use the BCC (blind carbon copy) to avoid exposing others’ email addresses without permission.

    Manners: Capital Letters in emails are regarded as SHOUTING. Use *stars* for emphasis.

    For a confidential course in Business Writing, email

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  • One answer to the long or short copy debate

    Should your sales letter be long or short? Is it true that the more you tell the more you sell? Or are people too busy to bother with long letters?

    The answer may surprise you. It arises out of a significant shift in our reading habits, a shift that makes the appearance of a letter (or blog, article or brochure) a significant element.

    I realised it myself this week, when I found myself reading a number of blogs in a hurry.

    I read them because they were discussions on topics that interested me, and had attracted quite a few comments from well-informed people. However, I struggled with them.

    The reason I found them hard going was this: the paragraphs were too long.

    And there were too many paragraphs.

    In Ecademy blogs, for example, the text is set in 10 point (I think), with a line length of about 110 characters. That’s hard to skim read, and you have to move your head as you read each line. Too much work.

    Easy on the eye

    In contrast, some online sales letters from the USA run to many pages, but the paragraphs usually consist of single sentences and are almost NEVER more than four lines long. The line length is short too.

    Some paragraphs are one-liners like this.

    They also have subheads like the one above, to segment the subject matter and break up the grey text.

    Why that works

    We all suffer from Attention Deficit. It may not be a Disorder (yet!) but it gets in the way when we are at work.

    Every day, we are all assailed by huge numbers of messages and calls for our attention: radio, TV, emails, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, posters, tannoy announcements, traffic, phone calls, conversations, meetings …

    We cannot cope with more than one thing at a time, so we have developed the ability to switch off. In fact, it’s a reflex that kicks in very quickly.

    So what’s the answer?

    The answer is to deliver your information in small bites. Like this blog. Make it attractive to the eye and it will be easy for the reader take in each new idea or piece of information. It will increase your chances of being read all the way down the page. And page after page.


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  • The language of lies

    In marketing by mail and email, there is an unfortunate tendency to use language to deceive, confusing manipulation with persuasion. Those who do so use weasel words (terms that imply or suggest more than the reality), and even lie outright. My email inbox regularly receives examples of verbal deceit.

    There is one chap who sends me emails with things like “Facebook message” in the subject line. The email itself has nothing to do with Facebook. It’s just a crude device to get me to open the email.

    To my mind it falls in the same ditch as the person who says, “Sex! Now that I have your attention …” Astonishingly, there are still some folks who use that cringingly awful “Hook”, either in writing or in speech.

    I promised myself that the next time I heard a speaker open with that I would rise and leave the room in a marked manner. And I shall.

    Another devious device is to offer something free, and then renege on it. Here’s one I received last week:

    Im (sic) giving this away Totally FREE!

    But when you click on the link, this is what you get:

    Regular Price $197
    Today only $37/mon

    TODAY’S PAYMENT: $44.40
    Includes the first month of service

    It goes from FREE to $37 PER MONTH! and on to $44.40 (per month) without missing a beat.

    Let me now turn to weasel words. They are terms we use to imply something more than the reality. The intention is to deceive.

    One of the most common examples these days is “You have been approved”. It implies a selection that never took place, other than inclusion from the database. It even suggests that you have applied in the first place.

    A close relation is the long-standing “Three Stage” copy approach favoured by Reader’s Digest, which states, “You have come through two stages of selection and are now in the final of the Prize Draw.”

    The first two stages actually consist of selecting names from the database (known to be interested in the product being offered) and the allocation (automatically by computer) of six numbers in the Draw. There’s nothing illegal or even immoral about this approach, but I think you can see how the wording implies more than what actually takes place.

    Another favourite involves a sealed envelope that you have to tear open to see if you are a lucky winner. The weasel words in this case will be, “Find a Lucky Six for a chance to Scoop the Jackpot”.

    Once again the implication is that there is an element of chance, whereas every sealed envelope contains a six. The key word is “Find”. For a genuine element of chance there would be the word “If”, as in “See if you have a lucky six.”

    A poor copywriter will either lie or come close to deceit. The skilled copywriter will raise hopes without being untruthful. Direct Marketing is salesmanship in print, so it must use the stratagems of a professional sales person, and (usually) follow the AIDA sequence (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) of persuasion.

    Deceit is not the best basis for starting a customer relationship, so my advice is this: Always tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating!


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  • One of the main reasons why sales letters fail

    This morning I received a prospecting letter from an insurance specialist. They want me to switch my home insurance to them, and they have a good proposition, but it’s poorly put.

    On the first page there are 11 short paragraphs, no less than nine of which begin with either “I” or “We”. It’s a common failing in mail shots from SMEs, and may be the main reason why they fail.

    Here are some of the most common openings in such sales letters:

    • We at XYZ Company believe …
    • At XYZ Company we …
    • We believe …
    • We are …
    • We offer …
    • I know …

    Returning to this morning’s letter, its most powerful motivator is on the back page! Not only that, it offers an incentive to ask for a quote, but places it near the bottom of the front page! Easily missed. What’s worse, they spoilt it all by adding (Terms and conditions apply) immediately afterwards.

    Ordinarily I would have discarded the letter within seconds of opening it, but it has provided a useful example for analysis.

    These are the things I would recommend:

    1. Lead with the strongest benefit
    2. Focus on the reader, not yourselves
    3. Minimise the use of I and We at the start of paragraphs
    4. Make it easy on the eye. The back page is so cluttered, it’s hard to know where to look
    5. Link your incentive to the call for action
    6. Get your grammar right
    7. Line up the benefits in a sequence that grabs attention and builds up the excitement, instead of the current higgledy piggledy display
    8. Keep T & C and similar distractions away from the sales pitch

    Most of these points would be addressed by a professional copywriter. Sadly, too many clients write their own sales letters, or they use a copywriter without a background in selling or direct marketing.

    This is part of a short series of practical tips on Direct Marketing. Next time I’ll deal with the blight of ‘weasel words’ – those which appear to offer a benefit, but don’t.


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  • How to influence response to your mailings

    The level of response to direct mail is one of the most shocking facts in advertising.  A few years ago, the Direct Marketing Association surveyed 1,122 industry-specific campaigns and came up with an average response rate of 2.61 per cent. That’s a failure rate of over 97 per cent!

    The figures for 2010 are not much better, on either side of the Atlantic. The DMA in the US reported 3.42 per cent response from a house list and 1.38 per cent from a prospect list. Email to a house list got a 19.47 per cent open rate, 6.64 click through rate, and a conversion of just 1.73 per cent.

    SME’s report a typical direct mail response rate of less than one per cent. Forgive me for throwing all these figures at you, but I think you’ll agree that such results amount to a waste of time and money.

    I once approached a blue chip company that was mailing its members to offer membership renewal by continuous credit card authority (direct debit by credit card). Their large ad agency had just achieved a 12% response, and everyone was celebrating.

    I offered an alternative approach, and got a 32% YES response.

    The point is that it is not written in the stars that you should have a single-digit response rate. There are things you can do to deliver a better return on the money you spend. Here are a few:

    1. Provide an incentive to reply, even if it’s to say No thanks. The more replies you get, in total, the higher will be the Yes response.
    2. Plan a series of mailings and other follow-ups, not just a single shot. Some people need seven contacts before they say Yes.
    3. Segment your list and make a specific offer/approach to each segment, rather than the same message to all.

    One more piece of advice.  Use a professional copywriter with experience of direct mail. Unless you are one yourself, do not write your own mailings. At the same time, do not expect a copywriter to wave a magic wand. Give him or her a chance to develop the right relationship with your prospects and customers.

    It will be money well spent.

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  • Basic Direct Marketing

    I was talking the other day to a close friend who has a successful business in the service sector. Because of my background in direct marketing, she was asking my advice on a mailing she was planning.

    She was intending to send out a tri-fold leaflet with a covering letter. Pretty standard practice among SMEs. I asked her what she would be testing, and she looked blank.

    “What is there to test?” she wanted to know. “I have an established ‘product’, a good reputation in my market, and I just want to stimulate a few more sales.”

    “Who will you approach?” I asked.

    She said she was going after people who had not yet used her kind of service, whether provided by her or her competitors. New blood. I replied that her pockets were not deep enough to convert non-users, and she’d go broke before she succeeded.

    Concentrate on users, and convert them to your brand, was my advice. But test.

    Again she asked what she should test.

    In direct marketing (mailshots, if you like) you always need to test to be sure you are using the most effective marketing elements.

    There are six elements you should always test:

    1. The market: find out which section of the population is most interested in your offering.
    2. The product: is it right for the market in today’s circumstances?
    3. The offering: is it offered or packaged in the most accessible way?
    4. Price. Are you charging enough? Or can you stimulate a big increase in sales if you drop your price a bit?
    5. The creative: can you dress up your offering differently? Can you offer some incentive to buy, some bonus or ‘extra’ to sweeten the deal?
    6. The material: letter plus leaflet, or letter alone? Long copy or short copy?

    She wanted to know more, but we ran out of time …

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