Marketing Fail: How the Fundamentals Make Us Fools

7 minute read

Upland Admin

“We forgot to tell them the price,” my wife texted approximately ten minutes after the first email went out.

Her tone was a mix of anxiety and disgust. Well, as much anxiety and disgust as you can pick up from a text message, anyway. I immediately picked up the phone and called her to make a plan.

See, we had done a handful of product launches for her business over the last few years, but this was a big one. This was her first online course. And she’d been working on it for months.

She asked me to write the sales page and the launch series to help her get the word out to her list. Despite the two of us having read the sales page copy and email series a million times, we’d left a glaring hole in the very first email. As good as it was—and ticked all the great email boxes—we had failed to mention the cost of the course.

“How could I be so stupid?” I asked her on the phone. “How many times did we read those? And neither one of us caught it?”

Overlooking the Obvious

Tom Stafford, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield studies typos. His research says it’s not stupidity or carelessness that cause these glaring omissions, but the high cognitive load of the task.

“When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high-level task,” Stafford says.

It is too easy to overlook your own mistakes when you’re mired in the work. This blindness has bitten every person I’ve ever known, in one way or another—especially writers.

Because we know the meaning of what we’re trying to convey, our internal versions of the work often take precedence over the external versions, causing us to miss what’s glaringly obvious.

Compounding this problem is the fact that familiarization leads to even more detail blindness. How many times have you been on a familiar road and end up missing your turn because of an old route you used to take? The same idea applies here.

I had written the emails and the sales page. I knew what the price of the course was. And because I had read the copy so much and became so familiar with it, I simply overlooked it, as obvious as it should have been. And while my memory is a little shaky on this fact, I’m guessing that I also (falsely) believed the sales page would take care of it.

The problem is, good copy must stand alone. You can’t rely on a sales page to do some of the heavy lifting for you. And vice versa. They work in tandem. And I’d broken that connection.

Finding Formulas

The most obvious answer to avoiding mistakes like this is to have a third party read your work. Ask the reader to poke holes in your copy’s consistency. Tell them to find points of confusion.

Even in my case, though, that didn’t help. My wife became too familiar with the work after the third or fourth read, too, so she was just as susceptible to overlooking omissions as I was.

There was nothing we could do about that first email, but we did have a few options available:

  1. Panic and give up
  2. Don’t panic and trust our plan
  3. Do a quick audit to find and fill any other gaps we might have overlooked

While every instinct in us said to choose number one, we went with number three.

So we made a quick list of all the fundamental elements of good copy, persuasion, and product launches and started combing through copy.

  • Does each email have an engaging subject line?
  • Does each email follow a simple formula?
  • Does the series as a whole follow a complete, persuasive story arc?
  • Did we write about common persuasive frameworks?
  • Do all emails direct people to the sales page (CTA)?
  • Do we offer multiple ways for readers to get to the sales page?
  • Do the emails build excitement and sound fun?
  • Do we write to one reader and give them one action?

This is where writing formulas and checklists can come in handy. Even if it’s as simple as the questions above.

Structuring individual emails around formulas like PAS (Problem, Agitate, Solution) or AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action) and mapping out story arcs for an entire email series can keep you on track, helping you nail every important detail.

When we reviewed each email for basic elements, we realized we weren’t in as bad of shape as we thought. We’d actually included the price in every email after that first one. I know, from experience with her audience, that this is a common question, so we like to address it right away. (Note: this may not be the case for you.)

When I looked at the series as a whole, though, I realized I hadn’t written a “value add” email. Prior launches have shown us this type of email generates a ton of enthusiasm and results in a sales spike.

But because, when I wrote it, I purposefully sprinkled valuable information into all of the emails and had written the sales page, which was jam-packed with these value statements as well, I’d completely missed it as a stand-alone. It wasn’t until I reviewed my overall email series outline that it became apparent.

Knowing this, I sat down, wrote the email, revised it a few times, and added it to our email flow. Yes, I’d forgotten to frame the price in the first one, but I was able to do that in a new, follow-up email. No need to mention the mistake. No need to try to do anything else. Value was the sole focus.

Was this ideal? Of course not. But, crisis averted—lesson learned.

I could have saved a lot of time, effort, and panicked energy had I done one simple thing: referred to my formulas and checklists.

Some good did come of the experience, though. Although it was born of a mistake, that value-add email went on to be the best performing email of the bunch, generating thousands of dollars that day (for reasons we can discuss another time).

I’ll never know if we could have done better or worse if I’d included the value-add email from the get-go. And, honestly, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes you just do the best you can with what you have on that particular day.

After all, I’ve done this a thousand times. I should have known better. Yet, I didn’t. Because it’s not the big mistakes that get us. It’s the missed fundamentals that lay waste to our smart, well-researched, perfectly planned work.

So, keep your formulas handy. Make checklists of the basics and keep them next to you as you write. Because, while we’ve all been doing this awhile, it’s the fundamentals that make us feel like fools when we miss them.

Oh, and if you want to brush up on some formulas or test out a new one, Copyhackers has your ultimate list right here. Not to mention, we’ve got the templates to help you ensure the best laid plans actually translate to a perfectly executed campaign.

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