More or Less…

We’re well into the New Year. And everywhere I turn, the air of uncertainty smacks me in the face. I’m pretty used to uncertainties; freelance copywriting is full of unknowns, surprises and WTF-moments.

These days, the uncertainties are external. The impending GST, falling Ringgit and steadily ascending inflation have concocted an aura of economic doom and gloom here in Malaysia.

The signs ignored, voices hushed and belts further tightened.

The situation seems out of our control, with our captain-less ship at the mercy of global economic winds and undercurrents of mismanagement. We need to fend for ourselves; work harder, spend less and save more. Yes, I’m venting a little here.

But they say necessity is the mother of invention. In marketing communications, a flourishing economy and big budgets does not automatically translate to great work.

Less is More
Have less > think different > get results > put some clothes on…

I know, because I’ve worked on campaigns for big brands with big budgets; only to see the work often become needlessly complex and hopelessly off the mark. And when budgets are cut, it is used to rationalise ineffectiveness and less-than-desired results.

These days however, I work mostly for start-ups, entrepreneurial businesses and SMEs. They usually don’t have a marketing budget or even a marketing department. But what they do have is the willingness to try new things, allow creative incubation and exhaust all strategic avenues.

The money is then spent to expound and execute a good idea, and not to bombard the media with a scratched-up campaign hoping for a miracle.

Perhaps the economic doom and gloom presents an opportunity to revamp our preconceptions of marketing. In today’s marketing there are no set formulas, cure-alls or guaranteed results, brands need to spark conversations, have a social persona and navigate the wilderness of technology.

Budgets may be trimmed, but we’ve got to roll with the punches.

Less is more, more or less, yes?

Feels Two Good

Two years ago, with no serious planning whatsoever, I decided to become a full-time freelance copywriter.

24 months, that’s a pretty long time to go without a pay cheque. And the fact that I’m still standing is a miracle of sorts… almost too good to be true.

VictorySign
Two good years, but nothing peaceful about them either...

But it was not like I didn’t have to work my butt off to get to this stage. Obviously finding clients was among my major headaches when I started. Eventually, this blog (yes, this very sorry excuse for a blog) became my number one lead generator, and still is.

Now, all my clients I work with and the projects I handle are the direct result from the enquiries I get from this website. Of course, I still had to convince these leads to become clients, which wasn’t easy nor was it always successful.

Sometimes, I get a barrage of enquiries within a space of a week, which is great. The downside to this is that I can’t work on turning all these leads into clients, without creating a backlog. And recently, I had to let go many opportunities that came my way.

This is something I hate to do. It feels like I’ve let myself down.

Being a self-employed copywriter, I tend to wear multiple hats. Often the writing itself is only a small portion of my daily routine because there are meetings to attend, clients to lunch with, brainstorming sessions to go to, materials to pick up and quotes/invoices to send.

There is only so much I can handle without compromising my quality of my copy, which is often how I’m judged on.

It’s a case of keeping existing clients happy vs. bringing in new business. I suppose I’m a loyalist rather than a capitalist.

Anyway, I would like to thank all my clients and readers for making the past year a great one. I’ve learned so much over the year that no book, classroom or even job can ever teach.

Finally, for those of you who enquired about my services, and in turn received a very polite message saying that I was very busy, please accept my sincere apologies. I truly hope our paths will cross again.

Whoa! Top 3…

A lot of things have been said – by many people – about Search Engine Optimization or SEO for blogs. Now is my turn, and here they are:

  1. Content is really king, especially if it is shareable content. Also, please stick to your context or keywords and never ramble.
  2. Never, ever employ black or grey-hat techniques. Goggle is extremely smart these days, you’ll regret it.
  3. Be persistent… keep those blog posts coming. If you write insightful, relevant and shareable content, your ranking will rise.
  4. Have patience. It takes time to get onto the first page… usually years. And years more to have Top Half presence.
  5. Believe in yourself. A lot of people will laugh at your efforts, sometimes to the point of ridicule. Give them the finger!

Now, I am not an SEO expert. But I have been running a blog close to 3 years. And truth be told this blog has generated more leads that anything else for my copywriting business.

Although I’m not the type to trumpet myself, check these out:

Google Ranking 1
For the keyword 'Copywriter' in Google.com.my - Click to Enlarge >
Google Ranking 2
For the keywords 'Freelance Copywriter Malaysia' in Google.com.my - Click to Enlarge >
Google Ranking 3
For the keywords 'Malaysia Copywriter' in Google.com - Click to Enlarge >

And that’s my 2 cents about SEO. Cheers to micro businesses!

Funny Business

Advertising and humour often go hand-in-hand. But do funny ads actually work?

As you may be aware, I am a fan of comedy. I just love being humoured; by comedians, sitcoms, friends and sometimes, ads too.

For a copywriter like me, humour offers a much-needed respite from all the mind-numbing chaos.

So here’s a recent ad from Maxis that I thought was really funny. Yes, I am amazed at myself for showcasing a Maxis ad positively, considering how I whacked them the last time. But credit is due where it is due I suppose.

But wait. On with the ad first…

Now, if you are like me – someone who absolutely hates online videos that go into buffering mode – you may have found the ad funny. But did the ad compel any kind of action from you?

Again, if you are like me – someone who can be a real lazy arse sometimes – you didn’t take any action. As in call Maxis, look for more info online or run to the nearest Maxis outlet to register for this wonderful fibre internet.

Clowning
Don't clown around, unless you are promoting a clown...

This is the problem with funny ads. While they may steal your attention and be memorable; it doesn’t guarantee a response from consumers.

And don’t for a moment think being funny improves brand awareness either.

People usually only remember that a particular ad is funny, but often struggle to remember the brand or product. Think about your favourite funny ad; do you remember the product?

Ace Metrix – a television and video analytics agency – studied funny ads in the US for over a year and drew the following conclusions:

  • Funny ads were memorable and appealing, but were less likely to increase desire or purchase intent
  • Humour in ads work better when it is used as a supplement rather than a replacement

When consumers are not compelled to take action after seeing your ad, it usually means money down the drain.

So be funny at your own peril, or risk becoming a joke.

Marketing the Manchester United Way

If you don’t know already, then yes, I am a fan of the greatest football club in the world – Manchester United.

While some will argue about the ‘greatest’ statement, this post is not about glorifying my beloved team, but more about what it takes to be a winning marketer.

ManUnited Crest
May your marketing be as successful as Manchester United (bro, thanks again for the jersey!)

But still, there is this little fact about Man United being the most successful English football club. And they didn’t get there just by playing awesome football. There are other elements at play, based on my humble opinion:

1. Leadership
Manchester United’s most successful period have been under Sir Alex Ferguson. He is a manager, mentor, tactician, dictator and most of a believer. The person leading any marketing effort must not only be good at what he does, but also believe in the product or service.

2. Persistence
The ‘never say die’ attitude that is legendary of Manchester United players have brought them back from many lost causes. When you think your marketing efforts aren’t working, you got to persevere. Employ different tactics, ask the right questions and take some risks.

3. Patience
In this hurry-burry world of instant success and overnight miracles, it seems there is no time for patience. Alex Ferguson was appointed manager in 1986 and will take 4 seasons to win his first trophy, the FA Cup. And another 3 seasons more to end a 26-year league title drought. Don’t expect your marketing efforts to bring you instant results. Time is your ally; monitor, enhance and tweak constantly.

4. Perfection is an Illusion
Man United have played a total of 4,318 leagues games as at 11 March 2012. Of that they have won 2,061, drawn 1034 and lost 1223. That’s not even a 50% winning rate, and yet they have a record 19 league championships. Don’t strive to get everything perfect on your marketing plan, but fine-tune along the way to achieve success.

5. Money Isn’t Everything
In 2006, after losing the league to Chelsea for 2 consecutive years, United only spent 16 million pounds to bring in Michael Carrick. Chelsea by contrast spent over 60 million pounds and will go on to lose the league to Man United for the next 3 seasons. Having a big budget is great, but spending it on nonsense is not.

Go Online, or Go Under

More than 12 million Facebook users. National broadband penetration is over 80%. Almost 17 million total internet users. And how much are Malaysian businesses spending on online advertising?

A measly 1% of their total advertising budget.

A report released recently by Google and McKinsey & Co shows that Malaysian businesses hardly see internet advertising viable. In fact, Malaysia is placed at the bottom 10% of the 57 countries surveyed.

Cars on Key
You can reap unexpected rewards advertising online... kacching!

Look, I’m no advertising genius. But doesn’t this seem like a severe case of head-in-the-sand ignorance?

Just 10% of Malaysia’s Facebook population is still more than the total daily readership of The Star, which is at about 1.06 million.

But that’s not all. We Malaysians spend more time on the internet than on watching television or listening to the radio combined.

If you ask me, I think we spend more time online than even talking to our spouse, family and friends combined.

If anyone out there thinks online advertising is crap – it can be annoying if improperly executed though – here are 5 good reasons why you should take your next campaign online:

  1. Costs a fraction of TV, Print or even Radio ads
  2. You can measure results and effectiveness almost immediately
  3. Internet allows for almost pin-point targeting, bases on niche interests
  4. Those in their 20s and 30s are active internet users; a consumer goldmine!
  5. Almost 40% of purchase decisions are made on the net; making online presence critical

In times of dwindling marketing budgets and an ever-evolving consumer landscape, please feel free to double or even triple your online marketing efforts this year.

If you still want to spend RM40,000 or upwards on a one-time-only print ad (I’ve got some tips for that too) instead of a highly-targeted, response-oriented online campaign; then go right ahead.

So We’re Bashing Up Customers Now?

If you can’t serve your customers, bash them up. A method practiced by a certain KFC employee; allegedly of course.

But you can’t refute the video evidence. Even if he was provoked, this is still no reason for an employee of a global fast food chain to get all Bruce Lee with anyone; let alone a customer.

But strangely, I wasn’t all too surprised.

That’s because I’ve been noticing the lowering standards of customer service in Malaysia for many years now. I’ve also written about my own experiences and the possible reasons behind such dismal customer service.

The KFC tagline these days is “So Good”. I guess they are not only referring to the chicken (again, allegedly), but also to the whacking that one would get from disgruntled employees.

But that’s the problem isn’t it. The brand spends millions to say something and the employees – who are probably working long, unforgiving hours for pittance – say another. There is hardly any synergy between what you see and what you get from Malaysian businesses these days.

KFC is Smackin Good
He was, after all, a Colonel... don't be charmed by that smile!

And the worst part, no one is bothered.

Like the many customer service mishaps of the past, this video will be forgotten and conveniently dismissed as a one-time-only incident beyond the company’s control.

But I would really like to see is Ronald McDonald kick someone’s ass though… that would be awesomely funny!

Lose the Ego or Lose Customers

You hardly get a ‘thank you’ these days. Service with a smile? Forget about it! Being served up to expectations is as rare as a working public payphone. Yet we let companies, businesses, service providers and brands get away with it.

The truth is we have become so accustomed to shoddy service that we don’t really care anymore.

“Just give me what I want, and I’ll be out of here” we say to ourselves.

30-minute service
Damn! It never crossed my mind to do this... but my time will come. Wuahaha!

Don’t businesses know that customer service is way too important to neglect? Businesses do know it, but the people who deliver the service don’t.

A business can make its employees wear as many “Service 1st” or “I Serve with a Smile” badges for the sake of improving service levels. But if the person delivering the service is not bothered, the badge may well be another piece of office accessory, and nothing more.

Humans, by nature are proud. We want to be recognised for our efforts and every mini achievement is celebrated like a roaring success. Over time, we think we are better than the people around us.

A simple example; how many of you think you are better-than-average drivers?

My guess would be that everyone thinks he/she is a good driver than the next person. It is this kind of thinking that has killed customer service.

“I am doing my best already”

“Nobody can do it better than me”

“You think standing behind the counter is easy?”

The practice of overestimating our ability actually serves as a confidence booster. This egotistical behaviour is great for overcoming challenges or problems but only makes one look disinterested and nonchalant when delivering service.

And a customer service personnel that looks or talks like he rather be somewhere else is exactly the kind of stuff we customers hate.

So get your customer service guys or front-liners to lose the ego or get ready to lose customers.

This was a slightly long community service message brought to you by a freelance copywriter who’s pretending to represent all customers.

10 Reasons Why I Hate Astro

When just one company controls a particular market segment, it’s called a Monopoly. And nothing says monopoly better in Malaysia than cable TV operators Astro.

As a consumer and an ad-man, I like competition.

When companies compete, consumers win. Usually with cheaper prices and better value; think about the hypermarkets and how they slash prices like crazy to pull-in customers.

And we freelance copywriters, art directors and designers get more work to do when companies compete; because they then have to run aggressive promotional activities that require our services.

Asstro
Don't be an ass, Astro!

Of course with Astro, there’s no such thing. Their only competition is free-to-air TV, which might as well not exist.

I’ve been a bill-paying customer of Astro for close to 10 years, so I think I have earned the right to speak my mind. Hence the reasons why I hate Astro:

  1. I now pay double in fees for the same package I have subscribed since day one. Remember, more channels does not mean more value; I can only watch one channel at a time.
  2. Astro always cite the rising costs of programming globally when increasing their prices. Why not pass on these costs to advertisers rather than us consumers?
  3. Sometimes it feels like I am paying to watch ads. There are way too many ads for a subscription-based service.
  4. The programming is much left to be desired. Repeats after repeats of old programmes. If you’re a fan of Jamie Oliver, you know what I’m talking about.
  5. Absurd packaging of channels. Only one or two decent channels in a package. The rest is garbage. Why not let us choose the channels we want, individually?
  6. Rain, solar interruption and sometimes even when it’s just very cloudy; you get the very familiar “services currently not available” message.
  7. Even the 45-mins of watching a live football match is littered with on-screen running tickers, cross-promos and ads. My 32-inch TV is often reduced to a 21-inch!
  8. The Box Office packages are a rip-off. They often show old, B-grade movies on regular movie channels and charge a premium for decent movies.
  9. I’d probably have more luck getting an appointment with the prime minister than getting hold of someone on the other end of their customer service hotline.
  10. They say Tutor TV helps school children learn better; but in actual fact they are just turning kids into TV addicts.

Ahhhhh… it’s nice to get stuff off your chest. Now where’s the damn remote!

Sleep More, Consume Less

There’s a reason why your mum always told you not to stay up late. Because the longer you stay awake, the more money you’re going to spend by being a consumer.

Remember Citibank’s “The City Never Sleeps” tagline? It suggests that Citibank will serve its cardholders round-the-clock. But that’s not all. It also says why sleep when you can stay up and do all sorts of fun things with your credit card all night long. It made not sleeping cool, and getting into debt hip.

Sleepy Dude
Skip the RedBull and get some sleep, dude!

Even new products – like RedBull – were introduced to cash-in on the Sleep-Less phenomenon that swept across the cities of the world. Now there are probably hundreds of sleep-depriving. caffeine-loaded  drinks that are discreetly labelled as ‘energy drinks’.

The recreating, eating, shopping, partying and what-have-you till the wee hours of the morning presented businesses with a goldmine. The less we consumers sleep, the more money businesses make.

So it this just a case of businesses meeting consumer demands or is your friendly neighbourhood 24-hour mamak stall taking advantage of your insomnia?

Fine, we all could do with a midnight snack once in a while. But what about 24-hour gyms? Are people seriously pumping iron at 4 in the morning? Lately, hypermarkets have started extending their operation hours to 1am. Do we really have that urgent of a need for potato bread at that hour?

And that’s why they say “don’t sleep on it”, because if you do, then you are going to miss out of the bargain, deal or offer.

Sleeping consumers are no good because they not only can’t be sold to, but also can’t be advertised to.

But I’d rather my consumer have a good night’s sleep so that I am not selling to a groggy, sleep-deprived person with an attention span of a wasp.

So go to sleep guys and wake up refreshed to another day of buying or selling; whichever it is that you do.