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Cooper vs Wanamaker

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Cooper vs Wanamaker

You’ll like this; it gives you the chance to do impressions. Tousle your hair, stagger slightly, put on a gruff, slurred voice – if you like you can even wear a fez – and when you’re ready, say the following: “I went to the doctor’s yesterday. I said ‘it hurts when I do this’. The doctor said, ‘Well don’t do it then’.

OK, so you sounded more like Arnold Schwarzenegger doing Dalek impressions, but that’s not the point. The point is that today I’m going to hold up Tommy Cooper as a marketing guru. And on the way I’m going to make the same deposit on John Wanamaker that pigeons outside the British Museum make on Horatio Nelson.

John Wanamaker, so we’re told, originally coined the phrase “I know half of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half”. If I’m lucky enough to be remembered when I’m gone, I hope it’ll be for something less fatuous. If Tommy Cooper had been around in 1886, he’d have fixed Wanamaker with that glorious bloodshot, gap-toothed stare and said, “Well don’t do it then”.

This thought came to me on the road to Damascus. Well, OK, the road from Barnsley to Stafford, using that really cute road across the Peaks. I’d just been to see a new client who showed me the adverts they’d been running in trade magazines.

What I saw was typical trade magazine fare – quality, customer service, excellence, all the words to fill your BS Bingo card. I asked how well they worked and braced myself. Sure enough “I know half my…” etc. Suddenly I sensed the ghostly figure of a 6 foot three drunk magician at my elbow and, with all the conviction of Derek Acorah preparing to make Yvette Fielding’s pupils dilate even further, I grunted “Well don’t do it then”.

This client sells to multi-million pound players in a clearly defined market. He has maybe 100 potential new customers in the UK, and any one of them can add a million pounds to his annual turnover. To meet his growth targets he needs two new clients a year. So why is he advertising? If we take his existing marketing budget – of which apparently 50% is wasted – and turn it all to bear on that small, defined market, surely we can win two new customers in the next twelve months? If we spent, say, £1,000 on a drop-dead pitch to one new customer, what conversion rate could we expect?

Obvious, yes. But don’t judge my client too harshly. They’re running one of the most successful businesses in their industry. They’re smart people. But they’ve fallen into a trap that I see at least once a month. They’ve seen what other people do in their marketing, and simply done the same.

Don’t do this. If Tommy Cooper had done it he’d have been just another reasonably competent magician. John Wanamaker made his millions the same way: he looked at what other people did, and told people about what he did differently.

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