3 Marketing Techniques from the 1900s that Still Work Today
Written by Caitlin Johnson
27 June 2017
With all the modern lingo and the furious pace of the online marketing industry, it would seem easy to discard old-school marketing and copywriting as a thing of the past. Sure, there’s a ton of things that have become obsolete, but some of the basic principles that are still in use today have their roots in the first printed publications.
For example, between 1900 and 1920, the advertisement industry in the US has seen a major growth spurt from the fairly modest $540 million to a little bit under $3 billion, mostly due to the creation of major corporations from the mergers of smaller independent firms.
The growth of the industry also brought significant changes in business structure and with it also came first organized and high-level marketing efforts, and as one thing lead to another, the idea of a sales funnel was born.
Now, this little history lesson in itself isn’t that important. Almost everything we use today, from airplanes and computers to marketing and politics stems from some previous idea or concept – this evolution is perfectly reasonable and normal.
The problem arises though, when we insist on the obsolescence and identify everything “old” as “bad”.
Simply put, the chase for the newest and best can make you underestimate the effectiveness of tried-and-true methods that can still be utilized with great success if we apply a bit of creativity to the task at hand.
For that reason, here are 3 concepts that are sometimes overlooked by marketers today, but shouldn’t be:
1. Create ads and headlines with the customer in mind
Robert Collier was a renowned self-help author in the first half of the 20th century, but he was also an influential copywriter and marketer of the time, with many ideas that have shaped the world of advertising.
He was one of the first to promote the idea of writing the copy and ads with customer needs and pains in mind. Or, as he put it in his copywriting course:
“Put yourself in his place. If you were deep in discussion with a friend over some matter that meant a great deal to both of you, and a stranger came up, slapped you on the back and said: ‘See here, Mister, I have a fine coat I want to sell you!’ What would you do? Examine the coat with interest and thank him for the privilege, or kick him and the coat down the nearest stairs, and blister both with a few choice adjectives in the process?”
In other words, you have to be aware of the story that is going on in the heads of your customers. You can’t just jump in and cut them off in the middle of it with your pitch.
In a way, this is more and more prevalent in digital marketing as inbound, or customer-centric, paradigm grows in strength. Still, it is important to have this in mind, as we often forget what should be the end result of your advertising efforts:
Getting people to buy.
Oftentimes, marketers get to know all the ins and outs of the product they’re pitching and they are in love with it, or in love with their own work. In their desire to show this off, they sometimes forget that all of that is worthless if that love is not transferred to potential customers.
Going around and shouting tall orders and empty promises how your products is the best and guaranteeing that they will like it sounds very much like that Collier’s coat peddler.
It is extremely important to align what you write with the feelings of your readers. Your message should resonate with them and awaken the proper emotional response so that people who identify with the pain points you’re alleviating pay attention to what you have to offer.
You have to decide what is the desired effect that you want to produce in your reader, and it all starts with a headline. Ideally, your headline would address an existing desire or pain in your audience and be an unobtrusive way to change topics from their internal conversation to the one you had in mind.
If you do this properly, the rest of your job becomes significantly easier.
2. Simplify your writing with everyday language
Even if you make a killer headline that piques the interest of your readers, their attention is a valuable commodity that you shouldn’t squander away. That’s where Claude Hopkins and his idea of clarity step in.
He embraced the idea of a scientific approach to marketing, and after a significant amount of time spent on testing and studies, he found that simple, everyday language works best for ads and copies. And it makes sense.
For the most part, people don’t have time nor energy to indulge in overly complicated messages. It is your job as an advertiser to make it an enjoyable and hassle-free experience for them to read your copy. In general, a 6th or 7th grade reading level is usually considered the norm, and writing in such fashion is actually more difficult than you might think.
However, while the simplicity of writing is important and you should generally aim at a comprehension level of a 6th grader, it is important to note that this is not a definitive rule, and you should use your own judgement. Depending on your audience, too simple might sound patronizing, or it might ruin the flow and style you are going for.
Still, even though it is important to stand out, the fact of the matter remains:
Your priority as an advertiser is to get your message across as clearly as possible, and simplicity is your friend in that endeavor.
This means that vague promises or meaningless superlatives will also make your prospects skim over the text, which in turn will lead to abysmal conversion rates.
3. Make the funnel flow
As already mentioned, the idea of the sales funnel isn’t a new one. A man with a fairly curious middle name, Elias St. Elmo Lewis, defined it way back in 1898 as a so-called AIDA funnel.
He supposed that every advertising journey has four distinct stages:
So, the basic idea is to increase awareness for your product, then create interest, instill desire, and in the end, inspire your customer to opt-in to your lead magnet or make a commitment. As we move down this list, fewer people will be willing to make the commitment, and thus the funnel shape appears.
Now, even though modern funnels are defined in slightly different ways than this one, the principle remains the same. And that is all good and well, but Lewis preached that the funnel itself will work well only if you make the transition from each step to the next as smooth as possible – a fact that is often overlooked by modern marketers.
Whenever you design a sales funnel, you should ask yourself:
- Does this have a natural flow to it?
- Is the transition between the steps smooth and enjoyable to your prospects?
In order to do this, each step has to be well designed and fulfill its purpose. If you don’t awaken interest in your prospects, it is hardly likely that it will feel natural to them when you try to induce their desire to own your product.
As you can see, all of these concepts are intertwined, and it only goes to show that while the rules have changed over the time, the game has remained the same. The emphasis on the customer side of the story has been promoted by these (and many other) advertising pioneers, and today we have more opportunity than ever to actually utilize such an approach.
Not only does the Internet allow for the inbound marketing methodology, but we can also test and analyze the effectiveness of our ads more easily than ever before.
It is a fool’s errand to invent the wheel again, and a successful modern marketer should be aware of all the hard-earned knowledge his predecessors left him, as exploring some of the seemingly obsolete concepts could both save the time and bring out new ideas that could improve the performance of an ad, funnel, and even a whole campaign.
Caitlin Johnson is an Austin, Texas blogger and digital marketer with a passion for content and social media marketing. She is the newest member of the Performance Marketer team and brings years of writing and content marketing experience.