Using Sex for a Sales Breakthrough

How does a marketer who sells a utilitarian, and arguably boring product, breakthrough in a multi-million dollar category? At least one secret sauce ingredient to their success: sex.

How does a marketer who sells a utilitarian, and arguably boring product, breakthrough in a multi-million dollar category? At least one secret sauce ingredient to their success: sex.

The original Dollar Shave Club viral video.
The original Dollar Shave Club viral video.

I first wrote about the Dollar Shave Club in 2012 when they released a video that went viral (with over 24 million views now).DSC introduced how to save a boatload on razor blades and related personal products. And in the interest of transparency, I became a customer myself a couple of years ago (look at my picture for the evidence that I use a lot of razor blades).

So, while the concept of a continuity program where you’re shipped razor blades once a month for anywhere from $1.00 to $9.00 monthly (depending on the razor blade you want) may be boring, it’s their cheeky marketing messages that make this product so much fun and appealing.

Dollar Shave Club's version of content marketing.
Dollar Shave Club’s version of content marketing.

Their blog posts are light, humorous and often touch on the topic of sex. For example, a recent email came with the subject line “Six Reasons Science Says Sex is Good For Your Health.” Who wouldn’t open that one?

I suspect that particular email had a high open rate because it included the word “sex” in the subject line, and it was used in a way that probably wasn’t offensive to most people.

Consider the primal human brain and the all-important amygdala. The amygdala is the primal “fight or flight” part of the brain that flags us to fear, hunt food and reproduce. Because the brain is primal, this explains why messages of safety, never being hungry, along with beauty and virility, can usually be effective. These all touch upon the mass desire of our hopes, dreams, fears and desires.

And it’s getting to these core mass desires that brings prospects and customers back around to razor blades. It’s ordinarily a boring product, but one brought to the forefront of the mind with DSC’s advice about grooming, health and style, with a peppering of sex thrown in here and there, all using highly provocative and clickable headlines. DSC successfully uses content to cross-sell other personal products like shaving cream, skin care, One Wipe Charlies (or “butt wipes” as they call them), and more.

Obviously the marketing of Dollar Shave Club has broken-through and disrupted old-guard consumer product marketers. Unilever acquired them last year for $1 billion.

So what are the lessons here? My takeaways are this:

  1. You can make a utilitarian, perhaps even boring, product sexy.
  2. Light-hearted content marketing works (note I didn’t say “humor,” which often doesn’t work).
  3. You can make light of products with descriptions that don’t dance around nicety, and gets right to what people think (e.g., “butt wipes”).
  4. You can attract the attention of the brain’s amygdala by introducing sex (and safety and eating).
  5. Subject lines and headlines now, more than before, make or break a marketer’s success.
  6. Videos, where the neuroscience of why people share kick in and lead to it going viral, can build a business quickly.

So, adapting the DSC subject line of “Six Reasons Science Says Sex is Good For Your Health,” I didn’t have a list of, for example, “Six Reasons Marketers Say Sex is Good for the Bottom Line” as I had considered.

But the reality is this: the headline of this blog used the word “sex,” and you clicked the link, and if you’re still reading this far. The point about using sex to sell has, arguably, been made.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

Why the Heineken Video Went Viral

Why is online content shared? To build one’s social standing? Or develop the sharer’s self-image? Those and related questions were answered last week in “10 Ingredients for Your Video to Go Viral” for the All About Direct Marketing Virtual Conference and Expo. I mentioned the recent Heineken viral video “Worlds Apart.” So today, here are a few reasons why.

How Heineken Went ViralWhy is online content shared? To build one’s social standing? Or develop the sharer’s self-image? Those and related questions were answered last week in “10 Ingredients for Your Video to Go Viral” for the All About Direct Marketing Virtual Conference and Expo. I mentioned the recent Heineken viral video “Worlds Apart.” So today, here are a few reasons why.

If you missed 10 Ingredients for Your Video to Go Viral last week, you can still watch and listen to it here.

Participants during my session posed some questions about making successful videos. Here is the Q&A, including my thoughts about the Heineken video.

How Do You Find Out What Your Customers Want to See if You Offer a Service?

Whether you offer a service or product, the obvious answer might be to ask your customers. But I’d actually suggest that your customers may prefer to be surprised. That is, avoid the obvious and consider the obscure presentation that no one thought to ask about.

Think about how you can use the news or headlines to create a story. Or perhaps there is an attitude or temperament you want to tap into. The Heineken Worlds Apart video, released on April 20, has had over 11 million views so far. They don’t sell beer. Rather, it’s a commentary about our culture, and that while some people may be worlds apart, they can agree to disagree, and perhaps even soften barriers over a beer. It’s a brilliant video, and at over 4 minutes in length, delivers a strong message that surely strengthens their brand. By the way, this illustrates that under-two-minute videos aren’t the only way to command views.

https://youtu.be/8wYXw4K0A3g

Behind-the-scenes can always be a pleasant surprise. Show how your product is made — or how it is used, out in the wild. Gather testimonials and let the word-of-mouth tell your story in an unexpected way.

If you’re a non-profit, show the outcomes — with real stories — of what you provide, and make sure it’s an emotional tug.

Is an Informal Video Stronger Than a Professional Scripted Video?

Sometimes. It really depends. The Heineken video doesn’t appear to have been scripted, but rather, a lot of footage was shot and it was edited down to create a compelling story that a lot of people have viewed, and perhaps embraced. More important that the video quality is the audio quality. Social media users forgive shaky smartphone videos, but if they can’t discern the audio or if there is distracting, loud background noise, they may not stay with it.

So Green Screen Videos Are Out?

A lot of interesting graphics and text can be used if you have a talking head on video and recorded in front of a green screen. People want to connect emotionally with interesting people, so I would suggest you need the right person to be on camera if you’re shooting in front of a green screen. Also, a green screen allows for simple, controlled, limited lighting in a confined area. In editing, you have options around the environment the speaker is in—and it can change during the video.

You Are What You Share: Why Videos Go Viral

What makes a video go viral? Is it because it includes kids, kittens or puppies? Or is it because there’s something much deeper? If you want your articles or videos to be shared, you must understand why and how your content will reflect on the individual sharing it.

What Makes Your Video Go Viral?For more on how to go viral, don’t miss Gary’s session on the All About Direct Marketing Virtual Conference, on May 4! Click here to register.

What makes a video go viral? Is it because it includes kids, kittens or puppies? Or is it because there’s something much deeper? If you want your articles or videos to be shared, you must understand why and how your content will reflect on the individual sharing it.

Why Shares Go Viral

Neuroscience and other research studies suggest that for a video to go viral, there are several deep-seated ingredients that must come together.

A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania neuroscience research lab team recorded brain activity from participants about how they reacted to New York Times health articles. Brain activity suggests that people have a two-part process to decide what to share on social media, and it all points to how shared articles or videos shape their identity:

  • Social relationships: How sharing an article or video will reflect on you
  • Developing self-image: Will friends be interested in the article or video?

In other words, people share things that they believe will improve their relationships, make them appear smart or, in one way or another, look favorable.

You Are What You Share

The deep dive, on a simple sharing impulse, is that your brain looks for information to share with others. It’s how we’re wired. Additional reasons for shares:

  1. To express who we really are
  2. To convey a sense of our ideal self and aspirations
  3. To nurture relationships

In a New York Times study titled “The Psychology of Sharing: Why Do People Share Online?” six sharing personality types where described:

  1. Altruists: Motivated to bring valuable content to those they care about
  2. Careerists: Focused on developing a strong network of personal and professional contacts.
  3. Hipsters: They like to start a conversation, debate or controversy. They are always looking to connect with like-minded people.
  4. Boomerangs: Motivated primarily by reactions; they like to start a debate and generate comments.
  5. Connectors: For them, they share mutual experiences and including others.
  6. Selectives: Shares information they feel will be of value to a specific person.

This same study found that 68 percent share to define themselves. Eighty-four percent share to support causes or brands that they care about.

In other words, you are what you share. You share to express who you are, deep inside.

10 Lessons From My First Viral Video

Creating a video and having it go viral is surely every marketer’s dream. Last month, it happened for me. The outcomes — ranging from monetization to brand awareness — were surprising, eye-opening and beyond my wildest dreams. Since you, too, may hope someday to have a video you’ve created go viral, I offer 10 lessons …

Creating a video and having it go viral is surely every marketer’s dream. Last month, it happened for me. The outcomes — ranging from monetization to brand awareness — were surprising, eye-opening and beyond my wildest dreams. Since you, too, may hope someday to have a video you’ve created go viral, I offer 10 lessons that I have learned with this viral video experience.

Regular readers know that I do the marketing work for an internationally acclaimed chorus that has appeared throughout the U.S., Canada and the U.K. The performers, including myself, are all volunteers. We sing for the love of singing, bringing richness and emotionally touching people’s lives.

It’s been my dream, for years, that someday we’d have a video go viral. Instinctively, I knew it wouldn’t be a polished, professionally produced video, but rather, a video showing a side of the chorus that the public generally doesn’t see.

A confluence of factors set the stage. One of the chorus’s most beloved songs is “Hallelujah,” written by the great singer, songwriter, musician, poet, novelist and painter, Leonard Cohen. He passed away on Nov. 10.

As we had planned to rehearse “Hallelujah” for an upcoming Christmas Show that evening, word spread of his passing. I realized that honoring Cohen by singing “Hallelujah” would be a moment to acknowledge this great modern-day composer. We had experimented with Facebook Live Streaming in recent weeks, with very positive audience response and a few thousand views. So we decided to live stream this unscripted moment to our thousands of Facebook fans, as we remembered Cohen and sang his song to honor him.

In a moment of spontaneity, we gathered our thoughts and I asked one of our teenage performers to hold his iPhone for the live stream. In a hurry, he didn’t have his tripod, so he held his phone in the vertical orientation (natural when using any smartphone) instead of horizontal (which would have better filled the frame for most viewers). Our director, by his own admission, rambled in the early seconds of his introduction. And yet, through this less-than-ideal setup for a video, it has been viewed by millions.

We recorded it at about 10:00 p.m., toward the end of our rehearsal. By 8:00 a.m. the next morning, it had already been viewed 30,000 times. We were thrilled, but then the groundswell continued. The next milestone of about 100,000 views came at about 1:00 p.m. Then a half million by 10 a.m. the next morning. One million in just over 48 hours.

And now, just a month after it was recorded, it has been viewed more than 8.2 million times, with the post seen by about 19 million. The numbers continue to grow — even after 30 days.

Equally impressive: More than 184,000 people have shared the video, and about 52,000 have commented. The comments came from all 50 U.S. States, and dozens of countries. I’ve always felt it important to promptly respond to comments of an inquiring nature. We have kept up with them, but at 52,000 comments, it’s been a heavy lift to read and respond accordingly. Engagement breeds further engagement. You have to do the work.

Along the way, the media in Dallas-Fort Worth (where the chorus is based) picked up the story with interviews and mentions on a local TV station, the Dallas Morning News, a highly rated radio station, and smaller community newspapers.

The 5 Assassins of Innovation

Every company talks about innovation and recognizes the need to be innovative. But then why do so many promising ideas die an untimely death? Let me introduce you to the assassins of innovation who have your next big idea in their crosshairs:

Every company talks about innovation and recognizes the need to be innovative. But then why do so many promising ideas die an untimely death? Let me introduce you to the assassins of innovation who have your next big idea in their crosshairs:

1. Low self-esteem Larry: “We’ll never get away with it. We’re not (insert name of impossibly cool brand).” Don’t be fooled by his self-effacing facade. Larry is one of the most prolific eradicators out there. He strikes early and takes down ideas in their infancy. How to defend yourself against Larry?

Try this: A recent study from Millward Brown found that there was no significant correlation between brand or category involvement and likelihood of viewing and sharing viral video. Think about the most popular viral videos in recent years and the categories they represented: bottled water, a mobile provider and deodorant — not typically the types of things most people get worked up about. Well-executed ideas are what make a brand cool, not the other way around.

2. Benny the Brain: “We don’t have the data.” Benny’s right. Odds are, you won’t have the data to justify a truly innovative effort because data is inherently backward looking. Data can tell you the “what” but not the “why.” Nor is it about asking customers what they want. (Think back to the Henry Ford quote, “If I asked my customers what they want, they simply would have said a faster horse.”) The type of data you really need comes from talking, following and watching your customers to understand their needs, then creating a solution based on that understanding.

3. Practical Paulie: “[Insert name of brilliant idea] is just a fad.” Unlike Benny, Paulie usually has all the numbers at his disposal. For every idea, he’ll have a few stats to prove why it won’t work. The biggest issue with the industry reports and studies he cites is that they’re rarely specific to your audience, category or situation. Try turning the tables on Paulie. If 25 percent of mobile phone owners only use an app once, that’s 75 percent who are using it more than once. Innovation is rarely mass adoption; it’s about seeding a new idea, reaching early adopters and gaining traction.

4. Helga the Historian: “It’s already been done/We’ve already tried that.” Helga lurks in unexpected places, including companies that are considered innovators by most standards. She’s the one who reminds the team, “We tried mobile back in 2002, and it was a disaster.” Let Helga know that it’s 2011 and times have changed.

Facebook didn’t invent social networking. Remember MySpace? And before that Friendster? And if you go way back, GeoCities? Sometimes it’s just the right idea at the wrong time. Other times it’s the right idea but it’s executed poorly. There are countless reasons why innovations fail. The key is to learn from your mistakes and the successes of others to maximize your odds of producing a winner. Think about your most admired companies. Chances are few, if any, were the first to market. Let Helga know it’s not about being first, but about being better.

5. Big Al the Accountant: “We can’t afford it.” The economic downturn has lavished Al with a lot of extra ammunition. Companies believe they’re doing the right thing by staying with the tried and true, avoiding the risks of bringing a new idea to market. However, it’s companies that are continuing to invest in innovation during tough times that are emerging from the recession with higher growth rates. In this case, think small. Distill down a grand vision to its essential components and propose ways to execute it quickly and inexpensively.

Arming yourself against the assassins
The assassins aren’t invincible (otherwise, I’d have made them superheroes). Know how they’ll attack and be prepared. To summarize, here are quotes from a couple of the smartest people I know: Sun Tzu: “Know your enemies and know yourself and you will win countless battles.” My mom: “Don’t forget to do your homework.”

5 E-Marketing Lessons from Social Media News Links

“The stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press,” says the Pew Research Center‘s Project for Excellence in Journalism in a recent study, expanded here on Journalism.org. “But they also differ greatly from each other.” These differences highlight traits in these mediums that e-marketers must understand to effectively market through social media channels.

“The stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press,” says the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in a recent study, expanded here on Journalism.org. “But they also differ greatly from each other.” These differences highlight traits in these mediums that e-marketers must understand to effectively market through social media channels.

1. “Bloggers gravitated toward stories that elicited emotion, concerned individual or group rights, or triggered ideological passion,” according to Pew’s report on the study. Obviously this highlights the partisan boil of recent U.S. politics, but it also exhibits what bloggers want: something to talk about. To have a marketing or PR campaign picked up in the same way, it has to be a conversation starter, something that inspires bloggers and their readers to comment. If you’re going to feed bloggers, make sure there’s meat on the bones.

2. Bloggers gravitate toward newsy items more than opinions. According to Jounalism.org’s expanded report, 83 percent of the news items bloggers link to are news reports, and only 13 percent are opinion pieces. This makes sense when you consider that bloggers want to voice their own opinions on subjects, and are therefore more likely to pick up stories that report — or publicize — core facts about which they can pontificate. Your own opinionated items tend to speak for themselves, and could get picked up by bloggers more to argue against than discuss.

3. For Twitter users, “the mission is primarily about passing along important — often breaking — information in a way that unifies or assumes shared values within the Twitter community.” Twitter is known for its discussions, but it’s not a great discussion space. Updates are fast, widespread, easy to ignore and perfect for passing on actionable information: “Company X is giving away free thingamajigs! LINK. #YourCompany.”

4. YouTube’s “most watched videos have a strong sense of serendipity. They pique interest and curiosity with a strong visual appeal. The ‘Hey, you’ve got to see this,’ mentality rings strong.” However, videos don’t have to be funny or outrageous. Outrageousness can seem like the only videos that go viral because that’s what shows on the web and TV (“Web Soup,” “Tosh.0”) make famous. But any video that’s really interesting can go viral and drive sales. Companies like Dynomighty Design have had success driving whole product campaigns with simple videos showing how cool their products are, such as this video for the company’s magnetic jewelry.

5. “Across all three social platforms … attention spans are brief.” This goes both for the length of the message and the length of time it’ll remain relevant. The majority of top stories remained top stories for no more than three days, especially on Twitter. The study also found that social media picked stories up much more quickly than traditional media. Combined, these traits mean lift can be short from any one message. A marketing or PR message delivered on Sunday and picked up by Tuesday will likely lose its buzz before the weekend.