5 Epic Lessons from Marketing Legends

Marketing legends aren’t born with amazing strategies. They are influenced, molded, and formed through their entire lifetimes. A local newspaper fired Walt Disney for not being creative enough. Advertising legend David Ogilvy started his career selling stoves prior to becoming the “Father of Advertising.” Steve Jobs dropped out of college and then drifted for quite some time before co-founding Apple Computer in the family garage.

Marketers can draw on the failures and successes of those who forged the way before them, applying those lessons to their brand. But where should you start? Here are five lessons from some of history’s greatest marketers.

John Caples: Keep It Simple, Starting With the Headline

John Caples is legendary in direct-response advertising. He wrote one of the most famous ad headlines of all time – “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!

This image depicts John Caples famous headline - They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano But When I Started to Play

He wrote the headline and accompanying text to solicit correspondence-course students for the U.S. School of Music. The ad was an instant success, and in fact, it was so good, copywriters imitated it for years, using “They laughed when …” as a lead-in for many ads that followed.

Caples insisted that marketers keep things simple. He said,

“To impress your offer on the mind of the reader or listener, it is necessary to put it into brief, simple language. … No farfetched or obscure statement will stop them. You have got to hit them where they live in the heart or in the head. You have got to catch their eyes or ears with something simple, something direct, and something they want.”

He found there are four main categories of headlines that produce results:

  • Self-interest. The self-interest headline appeals to a major pain point that customers have, and it presents a solution that relates to their self-interest. Examples of successful headlines include “Get Rid of Money Worries for Good” or “The Secret of How to Be Taller.”
  • News. The news headline announces something new about your product or service. For example, “Say hello to our new xyz product” or “Announcing a new location of XYZ Bank.” This type of headline pulls the reader in with the promise of something brand new, then solidifies how that addition will benefit the customer.
  • Curiosity. The curiosity headline hooks readers by making a claim that seems remarkable in order to pique curiosity. For example, “Are you playing fair with your wife?” This headline just as easily could have been written “How to be fairer with your wife,” but the results would not be as impressive or intriguing. Why? Because the first headline makes readers consider fairness, and possibly their own relationships, and, as a result, they want to read the body content.
  • Quick and easy appeal. Customers have a pain point, and they want a quick solution. Writing a headline that frames the solution as immediate and easy drives greater results. For example, “End Money Worries for Good with These 3 Fast Tips.”

Key takeaway. On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. If you want to capture more readers, more interest and more sales, use Caples’ formula for creating amazing headlines to drive better results.

Walt Disney: The Smallest of Details Matter

Walt Disney focused on the smallest of details, believing that when you devote attention to every last nuance of an experience, the brand will instantly create more loyal fans. He said, “Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done right.”

For example, when the company first opened its famous “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction, Disney insisted that all corporate and park employees ride through it prior to its public opening. He requested honest feedback, and one brave employee spoke up.

The worker declared that something was not right about the ride, but he was unsure about what was missing. Disney insisted he take the ride again and again until he could pinpoint it.

Born and raised in the South, the employee eventually realized the bayou scene didn’t feel authentic. Fireflies swarmed the skies in the real bayou, and that element was missing in the attraction. Disney listened intently, then added fireflies to the ride; they still exist today.

Key takeaway: The smallest modifications to how products are marketed can make a large impact. Take a tip from Disney and experiment with small but impactful changes.

Steve Jobs: Create Experiences

Steve Jobs led one of the largest corporate turnarounds in history. He took a nearly bankrupt Apple and transformed it into a highly profitable and successful company. Marketer Guy Kawasaki, who worked under Jobs, said, “Steve was the greatest marketer ever.”

During 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh computer with a Super Bowl commercial titled “Why 1984 Won’t Be Like 1984” that highlighted how Apple’s new technology would be used to give consumers freedom rather than to control them.

A leading market research firm tested the ad and delivered dreary news to Apple’s ad account manager. The research said the ad would be one of the least-effective commercials the firm had ever tested, ranking a 5 out of an average score of 29. But the company still moved forward and ran the ad.

Mesmerized by the ad’s state-of-the-art cinematography and promise of upcoming technology, consumers flooded stores across the country when the Macintosh was launched and purchased $155 million worth of these computers in the three months after the Super Bowl.

The ad is something that Apple described as “event marketing,” where the promotion is so revolutionary that the event itself gets coverage. In fact, the majority of keynote speeches that Jobs delivered resulted in fans lining up overnight to get a spot in the audience, as if they were attending a rock concert.

Key takeaway. Jobs understood the role of storytelling in creating the customer experience. People crave stories. For your next marketing campaign, find a story and frame it in a way that delivers greater customer experiences.

Estée Lauder: Influencers Make the Brand

Estée Lauder was one of nine children born to Eastern European immigrants in Queens, New York. She rose to become the head of her own international cosmetics conglomerate, including brands such as Estée Lauder, MAC Cosmetics, and Clinique. Lauder was the only woman selected for Time magazine’s 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century, and at the time she was the richest self-made woman in the world. At the core of her success were her marketing tactics.

She avidly deployed early influencer marketing strategies, understanding the power of putting product into the hands of those who could authentically share the brand’s message. Lauder provided free product to friends, family, and acquaintances so they could spread the word effectively and enthusiastically.

Key takeaway. Expand your reach by tapping into the audiences of those people who influence your target market. Create relationships, partnerships, and campaigns that are mutually beneficial and drive results.

David Ogilvy: Never Stop Testing

David Ogilvy is considered “The Father of Advertising.” He famously said, “Never stop testing and your advertising will never stop improving.”

It’s easy to fall into the pattern of doing what you know and not experimenting with new and risky marketing tactics. Ogilvy was an early adopter of “split” or “A/B” testing where marketers test two versions of a product or offer (or, in the Internet age, a webpage) to determine how customers will respond. When marketers use split testing more frequently, they can take advantage of small changes to produce great impacts. Here are a few tips for successful testing.

Determine your goal. What is the goal of the testing? Perhaps it’s to improve conversion rates or drive more repeat sales. Determine that goal up front to drive better results.

Select a variable. Based on your research, select a variable to test. For example, it might be an offer. Should you present the offer as a free trial or charge a nominal fee? Select a simple variable that you can explore and test.

Measure the results. If you found low conversions resulted from one or both approaches, isolate what is causing the friction and preventing closing the sale.

Retest. Once the changes are made, run the test again and measure the results.

Ogilvy also recommended using language carefully when communicating with the audience. He said, “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”

Key takeaway. Don’t be afraid to invest in testing, because what you learn can provide huge payoffs. For example, modifying the color of a download box on a landing page or modifying a couple of words can increase conversions significantly. Continue testing until you’re sure the results are maximized.

Applying the Wisdom to Your Brand

At the heart of everything brands do is the customer relationship. Do customers trust your brand? Do they love your products? Are they advocates who chose to voluntarily share your messages? Lessons from marketing legends provide a road map for creating these valuable bonds and crafting messages that truly matter to your target audience.

Ogilvy said, “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” Keep the customers’ pain points and desires at the center of all you do and results will naturally follow.

Do you have any marketing life lessons of your own? Share them here!