Marketing Pitches: Don't Strike Out With Your Audience

One fundamental mistake most marketers make is "burying the lead." Let's explore what that means, and how it can affect your results as a search marketer.

This article draws heavily on material from Dan and Chip Heath's recent book, "Made To Stick." I also previously wrote about ideas from this book in "Keep Your Ideas Simple and Increase Conversion."

The "lead" refers to the most important point of an article or a piece of marketing copy. In most cases, it's the main idea that leads off the article, so it's the first thing the user sees. "Burying the lead" means that articles or copy aren't presenting the lead front and center. It's something that many new journalists do with a news story: they focus on the wrong thing when writing their story, and mention the most significant event or idea as an aside later in the story.

This issue can affect search marketers in several ways. How does your copy present its major point on critical landing pages of the site? How about the e-mail pitch you sent asking someone to consider reprinting a great article you wrote (in return for a link)?

What's in it for Me?

One critical question you must answer for a reader in the first three seconds of their looking at your material is why they should bother reading it. Everyone is too busy today. No one will look at your stuff if you don't answer this question quickly.

I can provide you a couple of personal examples from my own e-mail inbox. I get thousands of spam e-mails per day (unsolicited stuff of no possible interest to me). When I sort through my spam-filtered e-mails, do you think I open any of them? Of course not.

Either I have to spot that the e-mail comes from someone I know, or the title of the e-mail needs to grab my attention. I probably spend 10 seconds scanning a list of 50 emails. Now that's a challenging environment.

Here's another example. E-mails in my regular inbox go through triage as well. I get hundreds of these real e-mails a day as well. Based on the title, if I don't think there's an action in there for me because someone else is handling it, I simply file it in the appropriate place without opening it.

People in my organization have learned to flag things that require my attention in the subject of the e-mail, with the beginning of the subject line using an obvious flag such as "Action:" or "Urgent:". Of course, this only works if the e-mail is from someone I know. If someone I don't know tries this tactic, I'm hitting the delete key.

The Context

This latter point touches upon a second critical point about how you tell people what's in it for them: it must fit the context. If the nature of the pitch doesn't fit the context of the recipient, your pitch is toast -- another victim of insufficient time spent on the front end to give the recipient a pitch that they might be interested in.

One of my favorite examples of a pitch that's completely out of context is that accusation pitch, such as: "You are paying too much for your auto insurance." This pitch appeals to a person's fear that they're wasting money. It must work sometimes, but in my case, it just falls flat.

Even if I'm paying too much for my auto insurance, I'm not going to give my business to a company that starts their pitch with a statement that they can't possibly know to be true. It's a statement without any context at all.

Notice how much better GEICO and Progressive Insurance are at this. They also appeal to the fear that you're paying too much, but in much more creative ways. They likewise make the pitch that they may have the cheapest auto insurance for you, and make it easy for you to figure out if that's true. In Progressive's case, they even admit that they aren't always the cheapest, but they make it incredibly easy to check.

Applying All This to Search

There are many places where this affects us as search marketers, including:

  1. PPC ad copy: Did you get the click-through or did your competitor? Position surely matters, but so does your ad copy.
  2. Meta description tags: This is exactly the same issue as ad copy. The meta description tag is frequently used as the description associated with your natural search listings, so it plays a big role in driving CTRs from organic search.
  3. Landing pages: Once you receive the visitor, do they turn around and leave? They will if you don't tell them something they want to hear. Don't think landing page optimization is a search-related issue? Don't say that too loud, or SEW Expert Tim Ash will be really upset with you.
  4. E-mail pitch letters: If you ask people to look at your site as a potential site to link to, or are looking to syndicate content to others in return for links, you have to tell them what's in it for them immediately as well.

Ultimately, it's about understanding what you have to offer, and how to let the person seeing your pitch learn what's in it for them. Getting to be really good at this is part art, part science, and definitely part journey.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Chicago December 8-12 at the Chicago Hilton. The only major search marketing conference and expo in the Midwest will be packed with 60-plus sessions, multiple keynotes and Orion Strategy sessions, exhibitors, networking events, and more.