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Inbound Marketing Lessons from the PitchMen

Billy MaysYou’ve seen those commericals before. “Hi, Billy Mays here for Oxi Clean, the stain specialist; powered by the air we breathe, activated by the water that you and I drink.” Many people called him annoying. Others thought he was a fool. Some thought he was just plain crazy.

I say he was crazy like a fox.

If you’ve never seen the television series “PitchMen” on the Discovery channel and you’re a marketer, do yourself a favor and buy the DVD. This series goes behind the scenes with super-successful pitchmen (the late) Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan. It shows how they research, select, price, market and pitch their products. The more episodes you watch, the more you learn that there was a formula to their success that can be applied to any area of marketing.

When it comes to inbound marketing, landing pages are your pitch. So let’s see which inbound marketing lessons can be applied from these professional PitchMen to create killer converting machines.

Start With the Problem

Every one of their commercials begins by defining the problem they’re solving within the first few seconds. They are instantly pre-qualifying their audience by showing and telling everyone why they should continue watching. Examples:

  • Oxi Clean: The stain specialist, powered by the air you breathe and the water we drink.
  • Quick Chop: The fastest, easiest, safest way to chop, mince or dice any vegetable – guaranteed.
  • Mighty Putty: The easy way to fix, fill and seal virtually anything fast and make it last.
  • Handy Switch: The new wireless light switch that lets you control any lamp from anywhere.

Did you notice anything else about those opening lines? They’d fit pretty neatly into 140 characters, wouldn’t they? But most of those commercials were shot long before Twitter existed. They knew that words are precious and the series shows how they obsess over every single word used in a product description.

Inbound marketing takeaway: Get to the point quickly and succinctly. Describe the problem you’re solving.

The Power of Demonstration

Another non-negotiable tactic of the PitchMen is demonstration. The key element of every one of their commercials is a compelling and dramatic product demonstration. Throughout the series, Billy and Anthony pass on hundreds of products. Often, it’s a great product but they pass because they can’t think of an effective way to demonstrate it on television.

And the ways that they demonstrate these products is impactful. Using the same examples cited previously:

  • Oxi Clean: A carpet stain magically disappears when Oxi Clean is squirted on it. A huge tub of swirling, filthy clothes instantly changes from nasty brown to pure white in a matter of seconds.
  • Quick Chop: Obviously, the product is shown chopping a variety of foods. But they also demonstrate its power by chopping a pile of ice. They show the product up close to illustrate how it works and why it’s different. Another shot illustrates how easy it is to clean the Quick Chop.
  • Mighty Putty: Like the other products, there are many shots of practical uses for the product. In addition, they show negative demonstrations of competitive products not working. But the money shot for this product is a demonstration of Mighty Putty able to tow a fully-loaded, 80,000 pound tractor trailor.
  • Handy Switch: This product pitch doesn’t have quite the dramatic scenes that other have, but nonetheless it effectively demonstrates a very simple solution to a very common problem (more about that later).

Inbound marketing takeway: You may or may not be using video on your landing pages, but you can still use demonstrations in the form of pictures, downloads, or even customer testimonials. The key is to use as many of the PitchMen techniques as possible; illustrative solutions, over-the-top proof, testimonials and competitor discreditation (not particular brands, but inferior technology).

Now How Much Would You Pay?

Morondava anchor, par Franck VervialThis is a technique that has become the butt of jokes in our lexicon, but there’s a reason why it is consistently used: It works. The psychological term for this approach is called “anchoring.” It has to do with the way our brains calculate probabilities. As we watch a commercial or read a landing page, our brains are constantly trying to conduct a cost/benefit analysis. How much will this thing cost? Is it worth it?

Anchoring occurs when we are given our first data point. In most cases, it’s the price. Our brains start clicking away trying to determine whether or not we’ll open our wallets. Scientific studies have shown that our brains are frightfully suceptible to the power of suggestion. When we’re given a number, it “anchors” our thought process and we tend to use it as a reference point. Here’s how it works in our examples:

  • Oxi Clean: “We’ve sold millions of our 2.5 pound tubs for $40, but if you call now we’ll cut the price in half.” They set the anchor at $40 and then make you think you’re getting twice the value.
  • Quick Chop: “As a special bonus, we’ll also include our quick-grater, free.”
  • Mighty Putty: “Through this exclusive TV offer, we’ll double it and send you two more sticks, free!”
  • Handy Switch: “You’ll also receive our handy stick-up light, absolutely free.”

But wait, there’s more! Of course you’ve heard this line too. It’s still the anchoring effect but the informercial pros always take it to a third level. All four of the pitches above have another, final bonus thrown in to maximize the anchoring effect.

Inbound marketing takeaway: Use anchoring in your landing pages to show how much alternate solutions might cost or else throw in a bonus item or price cut.

Here’s How to Order

Inbound marketers understand the importance of a strong call to action. Don’t leave it to the visitor to figure out what you want them to do – tell them! Every one of the PitchMen’s commercials ends with the same call to action: “Here’s how to order…”

Inbound marketing takeway: Always provide a clear call to action in your marketing pitch.


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