“It seems like a waste of time. No one is making any money selling information on the internet.”
Those were the words of my boss – the owner of a Baltimore-based information publishing company and one of the smartest, most business-savvy people I’ve ever met – back in 1996 or 1997.
He was absolutely convinced that efforts to sell our investment newsletter content via the relatively new “world wide web” were likely a waste of time.
That may seem outrageous now, but it actually made sense at the time. (To a degree.)
But the important lesson – and why he was so incredibly smart as a businessman and entrepreneur – was that he was absolutely willing to be proven wrong.
One of the most valuable things this mentor taught me in the years we worked together was simple, yet powerful:
You always have to listen to the market.
No matter if you think an idea is great – or if you think an idea is terrible – there’s only one way to find out for sure. And that is to test it.
As it turns out, this mentor was dead wrong about selling information on the internet. But he was willing to let people within his company keep exploring the best ways to do it…and eventually his business grew to heights he had probably never imagined.
This was far from the only time he taught me this lesson.
With two of the company’s most successful promotions (maybe more…I only know about the ones I was involved in) he was convinced that the promo would fail.
The first was the great “Plague of the Black Debt” book package, which I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago.
The copy for this particular promotion was already proven somewhat successful. What was being proposed was a format test, where we would take a traditional #10, letter-based promotion and turn it into a small paperback book.
Paperback books had a history of success in the fundraising space but had never been successfully tested to sell investment newsletters.
I remember the discussion where all of the negatives were brought up: “It will be too expensive to print and mail” … “it will take too long to get valid test results” … “the books might not hold up well in the mail” …the list went on and on.
But the only thing – importantly – that the owner didn’t say was “no.”
Instead, he simply said, “I don’t think the test will work – but go ahead and try it.”
As it turns out, he was happy to be wrong as the test was a blockbuster success…one that ushered in a new level of prosperity for the company.
A few years later, the very same business owner was absolutely convinced that an idea for a newsletter promotion was terrible. He said it wasn’t credible…and that people would not go along with the guru’s line of reasoning.
But again…he was willing to let the idea be tested.
This happened to be a promotion based on the impending Y2K crisis – and, again, it turned out to be one of the most successful promotions the company had ever seen at the time.
(Of course, he was right to be skeptical about the Y2K crisis as a whole. But the copy was written so well it whipped up strong emotions from the prospects it reached and increased the paid subscriber base for one newsletter more than five-fold.)
These three examples are just a few of the instances where this happened. On a smaller scale, this sort of thing happened all the time at this company.
And I’ve never forgotten the lesson.
No matter how strongly I feel about an idea, I am not the final arbiter of whether or not it will work.
The only way to know for sure is to test it.
Of course, this concept doesn’t apply to terrible copy or sloppy design. Those things can make a promotion absolutely dead on arrival.
But when it comes to evaluating big ideas, it’s important to remember that it’s not what you think – or what the client thinks – that ultimately matters.
You have to test the idea and let the market decide.
The answers often surprise even the smartest, most seasoned marketing veteran.
Jody Madron is a results-oriented copywriter with 30 years of breakthrough marketing experience. To learn how Jody can deliver results-boosting copy — ahead of your deadline — visit www.MadronMarketing.com.