by Ryan Evans
May 24 '16

Using David Ogilvy’s Wisdom to Sell

David Ogilivy

David Ogilvy believed that the best way to get new clients was to do outstanding work for existing clients. He was right. His ads were certainly creative. But he didn’t grow his massive firm and become an advertising legend because his ads were creative. He’s famous because his ads worked. They drove sales.

And while David Ogilivy started his company in 1948, his core principles still apply today:

“Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn’t sell much of anything.”

Now if you’re a skeptical type like me, you might be thinking “Uh yeah, a 2,700% increase in my conversions sounds great but tripling my conversion rate at each stage ain’t exactly easy.” And you’d be right. Hard work scares people. It scares people into making lazy ads that send people to boring landing pages that don’t convert. So Mr. Ogilvy’s estimation that 99% percent of ads (and landing pages) don’t sell anything sounds about right to me.

“Leaders grasp nettles”

(Side note: This is just an old-timey way of saying leaders do the unpleasant work that needs to be done. I grew up on a farm and have first-hand experience about nettles. They are these nasty plants that sting when you touch them and then they itch for an eternity.)

The fact that improving conversion rates dramatically is difficult is actually good news. Being in the top 1% is a little misleading because most people aren’t even trying. So if you are willing to do the work, you can kill it. But you have to do the work.

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

There is a lot to do. You have to finish reading this post, then you have to sign up for Tend, then you need to launch an ad campaign, etc. You’re in a hurry to plow through that to do list. But, a few tasks on that list that are high leverage. Doing them well will have disproportionate benefits to the time invested and writing effective headlines is one of those things. Take your time and do it right.

Everyone is on internet time. Holding someone’s attention for a few seconds can be worth a lot of money. People may not read the full feature list or the body of your sales copy, but they will read the headline. And after they read it, they will either become one step closer to a customer or they’ll leave immediately. Many of the people who do leave will never be back.

“Most advertising promises nothing. It is doomed to fail in the marketplace. A promise is not a claim, or a theme or a slogan. It is a benefit to the consumer.”

For a lot people this is where the problems start. People don’t care about your tagline, your mission statement or even your features. They want to know how it benefits them. Every time you do anything in marketing, ask yourself “Does this really matter to the people I’m trying to reach?” If not, don’t do it.

“Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”

Have you ever sat in a meeting with some guy spewing bushels of buzzwords without actually saying anything? Don’t be that guy. People aren’t impressed by big words. In order to get someone to buy into your big promise they have to understand it first. Pick one thing. Make it important and easy to understand.

“The best ads come from personal experience. Some of the good ones I have done have really come out of the real experience of my life, and somehow this has come over as true and valid and persuasive.”

People need to relate to the problem that you promise to solve. You need to understand that problem intimately. The best way to relate is to have had the problem yourself. And if you haven’t had the problem yourself, you need to talk to as many customers, and potential customers, as much as possible. Ask questions and listen to not just what they say, but why they are saying it. Otherwise, it’s going to be very difficult to make a promise that matters to them.

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

So you’ve spent time understanding the customer, writing a great headline and making a simple and tantalizing promise and then…nothing. No improvement. No new leads or sales or even email addresses.

Get over it. Don’t fall in love with what you’ve done. Tweak it. Or kill it and start over. The beautiful thing about selling online is that you can spend a couple hundred bucks and know if something is going to work or not. Ogilvy never had that luxury. There is no excuse for creating ads, landing pages, blog posts or emails that don’t sell.

Oh, and if you want to see exactly which marketing tactics lead to sales, sign up a free trial of Tend here →

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