Why an embarrassing mistake taught us that buying marketing formulas doesn’t work

Tempted to invest in a ready-made marketing formula, funnel or template that is guaranteed to bring in sales? Find out why they might not live up to the hype.

Many years ago I studied to be a hypnotherapist (bear with me here, this does have relevance to marketing!). And, while most hypnotherapy courses around at that time coached you using pre-written scripts, the year-long course I took didn’t.

Instead we were taught the skills of hypnotherapy and to adapt these to each individual client. This meant that we never used scripts, and that no two clients would have the same session.

Why did they do this? Simple. Because people are very different, and a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work.

To explain the reasoning behind this, let’s look at one reason why someone might visit a hypnotherapist: to lose weight.

The reason why one person may be overweight in the first place would be very different from another client. As would their motivation for losing weight, the barriers stopping them from losing weight already, and the vision for the ‘new’ slimline them.

Their use of language would also differ. So how could you have one single, identical script for every client who wanted to lose weight?

We experimented with an email marketing formula

The same applies to marketing and sales – a lesson that made clear to us last year when we tried an experiment in the marketing equivalent of a hypnotherapy script.

A friend had invested in an expensive email marketing course written by the top copywriters in the online course world. These US-based writers were personally responsible for the sales emails for pretty much every big player you could name in online courses.

Now, with 22 years of copywriting experience working for the world’s top agencies and brands, and several prestigious awards under my belt, I have always written our own copy.

But I was curious about the fail-safe system this course promised – and the amazing results they claimed to be consistently getting. So my friend shared the email templates with me, and I decided to test them out.

This ‘fail-safe’ system was very different from our usual style of writing. Rather than supporting, empowering and encouraging, it identified people’s biggest pain points, and prodded, poked and shamed the recipients about this pain point over a series of emails. (The course didn’t actually describe it as ‘shaming’, but it was clearly the intention.)

We received plenty of complaints… and no sales

So, I copied the template and adapted it for one of our courses. It felt strange writing emails using this system, but we were determined to give it a go. After all, the results it claimed to get were so much greater than ours, what did we have to lose?

Quite a few subscribers, as it turned out!

If you were on our list last year, you may recall the rather strange series of emails we sent out. You may even have been one of the people who emailed us to ask if we’d gone crazy, or to complain at the rather patronising tone. (We ended up apologising a LOT!)

In order to properly test the success of these emails, we used no other marketing for this course, something we have done before with success. So we scheduled in the emails, then sat back and waited for the sales to roll in.

Only they didn’t. We made not one single sale – something that has never happened to us before or since.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer

So what was the lesson we learned? Just because an email template, marketing formula or funnel works wonders for one business, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a success for everyone. Indeed, it could actually give you worse results than your own efforts.

So, rather than spending money buying a ready-made system, funnel or script, it’s much wiser to invest in learning how something works. To equip yourself with the skills to apply it to your own business, for your own products and your own customers.

Yes, it’s slower than buying a ready-made solution. But you’ll understand why it works, and be able to adapt it to anything you sell. You’ll also sound like you, rather than a copycat version of something that customers have seen several times before.

This advice applies to marketing, sales and even Facebook ads copy. Learn how to write it yourself and for your audience. (And for your culture too; what works in America doesn’t have the same impact in the UK or Australia we’ve learned, and vice versa.)

Today we create our own bespoke marketing solutions

This realisation has slowly dawned on us for virtually every element of sales and marketing over the years. From sales pages to product launches, we’ve dabbled with ‘surefire’ tricks and experimented with ‘proven’ formulas. But the only method that’s worked for us is finding our own way.

Yes, we research what other people are succeeding with or recommend, and we’ve spent many a day reverse engineering the sales pages of industry leaders. But ultimately we’ve come full circle to working out our own bespoke solutions.

The sales pages that we have built based on the information we think our customers need to know, written in a way we’re comfortable with, have far outperformed any we assembled using industry formulas. And all our product launches are planned individually, based on what we’re selling, the time of year, and the people we think the product is right for.

By learning the basic principles of what works and why, we’re now able to create authentic marketing that doesn’t rely on systems created by another business for a different audience. We’re making up our own marketing versions of those hypnotherapy scripts as we go along. And that feels much more natural to us.

How can you learn the skills to DIY your marketing?

So how can you learn the skills you need to DIY your own marketing and sales? There’s no easy short cut. You need to spend the time understanding the basics of marketing, and research best practice for the various marketing elements – then try them and see what works for your customers.

If you can afford to, we always recommend getting professional help with marketing – it will save you a lot of time and stress, as well as money.

If you genuinely want to understand how marketing works, and build a funnel that works for YOUR business, we recommend reading this article that explains the six stages of the buying process – and how to build your marketing roadmap. (We’ve also linked to come there articles that may be helpful to you below.)

And finally, if you’d like help from me to identify where your current marketing and sales may be going wrong, and to plan new steps forward based on what your customers will respond to, you can book a 121 Business Booster session here.

Need more marketing and sales advice?

You can read more tips on marketing and sales in these articles:

Photo by Cherry Laithang