Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is "Good" better than "Best"?

In his classic book "Ogilvy on Advertising", David Ogilvy quotes his business partner Joel Raphaelson:

In the past, just about every advertiser has assumed that in order to sell his goods he has to convince consumers that his product is superior to his competitor's. This may not be necessary.

It may be sufficient to convince consumers that your product is positively good. If the consumer feels certain that your product is good and feels uncertain about your competitor's he will buy yours.

If you and your competitors all make excellent products, don't try to imply that your product is better. Just say what's good about your product - and do a clearer, more honest, more informative job of saying it.

Ogilvy was the driving force behind the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather. In 1983, when "Ogilvy on Advertising" was published, Ogilvy & Mather was one of the four largest advertising agencies in the world, with 140 offices in 40 countries. At that time, their total billings were in excess of three billion US dollars, and their clients included General Foods, Lever Brothers, Bristol Myers, Campbell Soup Company, Shell, American Express, Sears Roebuck, IBM, Morgan Guaranty, and Merrill Lynch.

Without knowing Ogilvy & Mather's history and reputation, it might be easy to dismiss Raphaelson's opinion as strange and irrelevant. But I have to wonder what would happen if software developers took this approach to advertising their desktop and laptop programs, cloud applications, software as a service (SaaS) programs, and iOS and Android apps.

One of the things that distinguished Ogilvy & Mather's ads from their competitors' ads has always been Ogilvy & Mather's success with long copy. In his book, Ogilvy cites example after example in which he successfully used incredibly wordy sales presentations to sell everything from luxury cars to symphony orchestra tickets.

Long letters have always been the staple of successful direct mail campaigns. Ogilvy brought the technique to print advertising, to the delight and enrichment of his clients. Today, if he were working with websites, I sense that he'd be shouting down the notion that web pages should be short, or that advertisers should try to keep their sales messages "above the fold."

Will prospects read a long sales presentation on a website? I'm sure it depends upon a number of factors: 
  • Are you offering business software or consumer applications?
  • Are you marketing to a general software-buying audience, or do you offer a highly vertical niche application?
  • Are you operating in a mature market, or are you offering emerging technologies?
  • Are you the market leader, an also-ran, or an unknown brand?
  • How badly do prospects need software like yours?
  • How well do your write, and how strong is your sales message?

With download-to-purchase conversions hovering around one percent in much of the software development industry, microISVs can't rely upon the try-before-you-buy model to build their software businesses. Many developers try to have their software listed on the major download sites. Your website has to be rich with the important keywords that prospects will use when they search for your programs. And your story needs to appear in computer consumer and trade magazines.

Perhaps it's time to incorporate Raphaelson's sales philosophy with Ogilvy's affection for long copy. It's a myth that the highest quality products generate the most revenues. A popular fast-food franchise in a small city will generate significantly more revenues and profits than a five-star restaurant in a wealthy suburb. People buy a lot more bottles of low-cost table wine than Chateau Petrus. Chevrolet's gross revenues are much larger than Rolls Royce. Perhaps it's time to replace the short, simple statement about your software being the best available with a long, clear, honest, informative description of why your software is very good.

As with every marketing idea, measure your sales, change your sales presentation, and measure again. It's good software marketing.

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