Sex Sells – Sort Of

Let’s talk about sex. Let’s talk about all the ways it gets used.    Let’s do some myth-busting.

Myth 1 : Sex Sells

Sort of.  Like everything in marketing, it’s about your target market, your product and context.  Remember, the medium is the message!

Example 1 – You work for FHM.  You target young heterosexual males.  Your goal is to sell more magazines.  Do you use a picture of a pretty young woman in a provacotive pose?

Answer: Yes – your target audience are teenagers / young adults who are dealing with more testosterone than they ever have.  This is exactly the kind of target market where ‘sex’ sells.

Example 2 – You are a funeral director.  Do you use a picture of a scantily clad, pretty young woman at a grave?

AnswerNo.  Wrong context.  Unless you are purposely going for a contentious advertising campaign, this is the wrong market.

Myth 2: People recall ‘Sexy’ Advertising Better.

Again, sort-of.  Research indicates that recall of the advertisement is higher.  However, recall of the actual brand is significantly lower!

So, your advertisement will do well on the recall level, but it’s much; much less effective on a brand building level.   Add that to the fact that multiple exposures to an advertisement is required before an effect is taken (i.e. recall levels appear; numbers quoted range from a minimum of 3 exposures up to 13!); you are reducing the effectiveness of your overall campaign.

Myth 3:  Sexy Advertising Breaks Through the Clutter

Again, not entirely true.  If everyone in your industry is using sex as their persuasion method, then the clutter is ‘sex’.  You’d do better to choose another form of persuasion and tone – humour, anger / sadness / other emotions, information dumps, etc.

Dove’s use of ‘real women’ in their advertising won them major points and saw a significant increase in their sales for a while (till they got caught out!).  No sex, just taking a different tone and form of persuasion.

Myth 4: People Who Don’t Like Your Sexy Advertisements Aren’t Your Customers Anyway

Again, sort of.  Context and format makes a big difference.  Would advertising ‘Save Your Ta-Ta’s’ sound good to you for breast cancer fundraising? If it did, you just angered breast cancer survivors and older women – part of your target market.

Sure, specific targetting can reduce the affect by a significant margin – especially if your target market is narrow.  However, with a broader target market; you risk alienating a portion of your market.  Depending on the target market, you might be alienating a significant portion.

Myth 5: Sexy Advertising Brings Revenue

Four words. Old Spice Body Spray.  On a pure recall perspective, it had everything – a memorable jingle, a hot sexy man, humour and great production values.  It was shared the world over, was parodied and copied by the masses.  What it didn’t do? Make a dent in their sales growth.

There are more factors than just advertising or sexy advertising that generates revenue.  A memorable ‘sexy’ advertisement that can be talked the world over still might not bring revenue.


I am not saying don’t use sexy advertising.  It obviously works sometimes, and companies have generated large amounts of money through the use of that form of advertising.  However, be careful.  Always remember and check:

  • Target market
  • Product
  • Context (Tone & Medium)

Sex is an obvious tool.  It’s often the most obvious.  Don’t just reach for it for blindly, add to your toolbox.

All in the eyes of the beholder

More and more, personalisation in web search has made tracking rankings an interesting journey.  The fact is, due to personalisation by Google and other search engines, what shows up for individuals in different locations / search histories can be vastly different.

Want to test it out? Pick a search term.  Run it while logged in.  Now go Private / Incognito and make sure you are logged out.  See how the search rankings and terms change?

What Does it Mean?

Personalisation is great for searchers in theory.  They can find the websites and information that they most want, in the fastest time possible.

However, as a website owner, personalisation can cause problems.  Depending on search history, IP location, heck even the e-mails you have opened; searches might direct potential customers to the same-old same-old websites.

Which means you need to be concerned about more than just your search placement. What you see might not be what your customer sees, so the idea of ‘generic’ placement is less important.

Filling in the Gaps

How do you fill in the gaps and move yourself upwards? Well, firstly make sure you are targetted correctly.  Let Google know if you are targetting a specific country (like Canada) via Google Webmaster Tools.  It’ll increase your placements for Canadians automatically, even if they aren’t logged in.

Secondly, watch total traffic movement from search engines – not just rankings.  If you see your traffic from search engines increase, you can be relatively certain rankings have gone up – even if to you your rankings might not have moved.

Thirdly, start looking at ways of being ‘outside’ of your sphere of influence – your website.  You’ll need more than just links but advertisements, e-mails, pins, such that viewers encounter you in more places.  That way you generate traffic from more than just search.  In addition, (pure speculation on this) Google might even start taking into account the amount of times / views that they see of you outside of your location, slowly pushing your rank up.  And no, I don’t mean just plain links; but pins and FB fans and the like.

Online Competition

If you are starting an online business now, you’ll realise that you aren’t gong to find it that easy to build traffic. Nevermind getting your message out there; you’ll also need to deal with competitors.  It’s easy and cheap to start up an online business; and the real costs don’t really start factoring in till later.

Need a website? Sure – pay $50 and you can host a website.  Oh? Your server is having issues? I guess you’ll need shared hosting.  We start at a small price of $100 a month…

Oh look, you need a credit card processor.  PayPal works right? Sure, if you don’t mind losing customers and 0.3 – 0.5% of each transaction.  Bah, that’s not much! Except it is when you are processing $50,000 a month.

And on, and on.  You can’t work out your garage anymore, you need a storage space.  You can’t just walk-in and drop the packages off, but Canada Post isn’t picking up from a storage lot so you need a warehouse.  Oh look, you need at least 1000 sq ft for a warehouse.

On the other hand, your competitors are starting up small.  They don’t have to worry about paying themselves a salary yet or the higher cost; so they can be lean machines.  There’s an inflection point there where it goes from a hobby to a business and some never pass it, but till they hit it they’re your competitors nibbling at your heels.

Remember, hold tight to what you know and what you are.  Build it right, it’ll get there eventually.

The Victoria Secret Fashion Show and Selling the Dream

Watched the Victoria Secret Fashion Show last night and I was surprised by just how well done it was. Both the production values, the editing, the musical guests and the cut-in segments showing just how much work goes into it.  It was an amazing branding exercise, one that I’m just in awe of us as a marketer.

Speaking with a friend afterwards, we discussed what Victoria Secret really sells. It’s not bras & panties.  Those you can get at Target or Wal-Mart or Marks & Spencers.  What they sell is a dream.  They sell sexiness and beauty.

It’s probably the hardest thing to sell, a dream.  It requires such a tight balancing act.  Your entire brand has to be in sync all the time because a moment of wakefulness for a viewer and the dream could be over.   Look at Lululemon – they screwed up, and instead of owning it, they accused their customers of being the problem.  Poof.   What? Not everyone can look good while working out? You aren’t selling the dream of looking good while working out? You aren’t granola munching love-the-world individuals? Oh…

It’s an incredible job to do that, to sell a dream.  It requires dedication and belief and the ability to see what is missing and the commitment to push through the slow periods.  On the other hand, once you have sold that dream… well, who wants to wake up from a good dream?

Adding products to your site

One of the most time consuming aspects of running this business is adding new products to the site.  Now, unless you are able to hook up your site to your manufacturer(s) or distributor(s), you’ll need to do most of this input by hand.  Which means it takes time.

In addition, there’s always the consideration of SEO.  Unique content is a must, and that means rewriting your product descriptions as much as possible.  However, to do that you  need time and expertise.  It’s not enough to just throw up some content and hope it’s good – you need ot make it both good and relevant.

So, what can you do?

Contract it out – you could hire some writers to work for you.  A writer with copy-writing (and web writing) experience could rewrite product descriptions.  It’s not a bad idea, after you input the product basics.  Costs would probably be in the $0.10 – 0.25 range per word; so not too bad unless like us, you have a constantly increasing amount of products / rotating products.

In-house – you could train people to do it in-house.  Of course, the question then is how good the training is.  Still, it gives you better control of what is happening in your business.

Copy & Paste – take a selective approach.  Rewrite the one’s that make the most sense, the one’s which have the best sales once they’ve done well. The rest – just copy and paste.  After all, not all pages have to rank – just the one’s that will give you funds.


E-Commerce Business: Web Development / IT Thoughts

If you want to run an e-commerce store, one of the major factors is that your entire business runs off a bunch of code.  You could run a B&M store without a single piece of electronic equipment in the store, but there’s no way you could do that with E-Commerce.  As such, you need to start considering how you want to manage the IT side of the business.

Within this, you have 3 major areas:

  1. Web Design – what your website looks like.  The HTML / CSS / Javascript side of the business for the most part.
  2. Web Programming – sometimes, it’s not a matter of adding new design elements to the site but adding new features.  Upsell / Cross-sell options, new payment gateways, new shipping methods, etc. all fall under this.
  3. Hosting – where your website lives on the Internet.

When considering each area, it’s worth considering whether you want to go to a:

  • in-house solution
  • contracted solution
  • Software-as-a-Service (hosted) solution

Your choices will vary depending on the amount of in-house expertise you have, the reliability of your contractors (and their expertise), your available funds and the frequency of updates in each area.

My personal recommendations generally boil down to keeping hosting contracted and varying between in-house and contracted solutions for web design & development depending on the size of the business.  If you are starting out, and don’t have the skills to back it up, SaaS systems are probably the best option.

Not to sound alarmist or anything…

Has anyone else noticed that this Christmas season has had a slow start? Normally, right after Rememberance Day; like clockwork we get this huge surge of sales on our site.  It goes up by 1.5 to 2x and just keeps climbing till a week or so before XMas.

Right now, it’s gone up but not to the same amount. I’d say we are at 1.3x our normal sales volume.

A bit worrying since we have been banking on a good Christmas to cover some bills.  Anyone else feeling the heat yet?

E-Commerce Perceptions

It’s strange working in the e-commerce field talking to disparate groups.  If you talk to your ‘run-of-the-mill’ general folk, once you explain what you do ‘sort of like Amazon‘; most of them nod their head sagely and go ‘oh yeah, great field; you are the next big thing‘.

Then you talk to people who work in Brick & Mortar stores, people whose livelihood are impacted by our new venture, by the Internet and you get a completely different point-of-view.  We are predators, we are everything that is evil and wrong with the world.  We destroy local businesses and savage communities. In short, we are the enemies of all the right thinking men.

It’s a huge contrast, from a quiet ‘yay, you’ to ‘death to the heathens’ attitude so many bring.  Sometimes, you’ll see it couched as other forms of discussion, how we are really ‘irrelevant’ or unimportant, how we are a small part of the economy.  If we are (and we are to some extent); why are you bothering to even comment?

It’s funny sometimes standing in the middle, just trying ot make a living.

SEO is Dead. Long live SEO

Every couple of months we see a new post decrying the death of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).  There’s actually some very good reasons for these posts, but when you’ve heard the boy cry wolf for over a decade, it can get old.  Yet these days, I think they’ve got a point…

Black Hat & White Hat

Let’s be clear – black hat SEO seems to be doing well.  It’s mostly white hat’s that have been hammered by Google.  If you did everything they said you should do, you can still find yourself in a really hard place – unable to develop the authorship, the link profiles, the relevance and authority that you need by playing their game especially with new properties.

On the other hand, going down the black hat route is fraught with danger.  Make a mistake and you can wipe out – completely.  You could lose everything you’ve built up, or worst – build up in anticipation (or with current sales) and see it all disappear in a blink of the eye when Google catches you.  Not a great thing… I’ve seen it happen before.

So, is SEO dead? Is white hat SEO dead?

Just A Name Change

Not really. What’s happened is a name change – a rebranding.  Now all the white hat SEO’s are calling themselves ‘inbound marketers’.  They’ve expanded their game, from pure manipulation of on-page content and on-page information to include things like content creation, Public Relations and events and the like.

It’s not new – it’s been happening for a while now, but the focus has continued to expand so much with the changes Google has forced us on all that it’s now the thing.  You can’t drive links in anyway other than via PR or good content creation.  You have to plan for some real ‘whiz-bang’ in your marketing now, or else it’ll just die.

It’s possible to do it other ways, to do it slow and quiet; to get guest posts and to reach out to bloggers and the like.  Yet, that’s still PR – just in the guise of link building.  It’s certainly made start-up costs much, much higher.  Now, you’ll have to be willing to shell out real money to get content and views; all in the hope that somehow it’ll get you what you need.

The game’s changed, and frankly; it’s not for the better I think.  Capital needs have definitely gone up.

Finding your passion

So, let’s talk about passion.  If you are starting a new e-commerce business (or a business in general I guess); you should consider doing a project that has you passionate about it.  Or at the very least, excited

You can obviously buy and sell any product you want (within reason, liquor, drugs, etc can require more start-up / legal requirements) but the simple truth is, for the first few months if not years you’ll be earning no money from this business.  In light of that, you want a business that you’re interested in, even excited about.

If you launch a business you aren’t interested in, it’ll go nowhere.  Trust me – I know.  I’ve launched a dozen side projects which I never got off the ground, partly because I didn’t have the time or funds to do it properly and partly because I just didn’t have the desire to push it through.

Quick wins happen, but mostly you are looking at the long grind.

So find a business or type of business you are interested in and launch that.  Don’t launch something just because it might make you money – it’s not good enough.  Not if you’re going to dedicate years of your life into it.