Like everyone on earth who loves smiles, laughters, puppies, friends, buffets, and not waking up to dodging bullets, I have never been a fan of violence.. let alone wars.
In fact, my grandmother survived through the shitty times during the Korean war era. Her husband died, cousins separated, neighbors killed, people displaced, and of course, her children had to live in the worst possible condition to make ends meet. Like eating tree bark and what we now consider “weed”, as part of their daily diet.
It’s incredibly sad. They even have shows where the family separated by north and south are reunited. Sometimes their separated as kids / young adults, only to see each other again as senior citizens. Their whole lives completely severed up to that point. Super sad thing to see.
Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on things that I would never be associated with, and I happen to come across this movie called “Bulletproof Salesman“.
It’s a documentary about a German salesman who sells armored vehicles to people in wars.
Within days of the coalition forces entering Baghdad, Fidelis Cloer has arrived as well. He sells armored cars. Over the next few years, he sells more than 200 in Iraq. We watch him examine the wreckage of destroyed vehicles, gathering information on how to improve his product. He talks about his competition.
We visit a testing center in Bavaria where Cloer’s researchers blow up vehicles. Talking to the camera, Cloer gives advice on safety and blending in. Near the end of the film, he’s in Kabul, repeating his pattern of research and sales. He’s philosophical, confident he’ll always have work.
At first, my initial thought was “you piece of shit, low life, blood money asshole”.
Then I saw the movie, and I started thinking otherwise. If you ask me, he’s actually doing the exact opposite: providing a badly needed service in a time of crisis.
IN fact, I think a lot of markters can learn from this guy.
1. Crisis = Opportunity
Most people would cringe at the idea of entering a warzone. But for someone who makes a living from selling armored vehicles, war is basically his time to go to work.
In 2001, when the dot com bubble burst, everyone went into hiding. The ones that did well are the ones who took advantage of the situation.
Look at Google. Amongst the 30+ search engines that existed, Google is the one that triumphantly won out because they kept innovating and improving.
2. Look for trend setters and learn from them
Fidelis Cloer watches CNN every day to find out where the dangers are. Because after all, the best news is in the crappy areas with all the shootings and killings.
His logic? The CNN guys CHASE after the bad stuff. If he watches them, he can find out where the action is so he doesn’t need to do all the work.
If you’ve never done certain type of advertising, sometimes it can be nerve wrecking to think that you’re going to risk hundreds of dollars on an unproven traffic source. It’s ok. You can LEARN from experts in that field through their blog and see what worked for them.
I personally learned my marketing skills from other marketers who have tried & tested marketing ideas, and have shared them.
3. You don’t sell product, you sell a “feeling”
What is the #1 thing that every marketers and salesmen are taught day 1 in their career training?
FOCUS on BENEFITS, never the features.
When you buy an armored vehicle in a war torn era, you don’t really care what’s underneath the hood. You (really) don’t care if it has leather interior. You really don’t care how many horsepowers it has.
You care about one question: “will I be alive if I get attacked?”
If you’re focused on selling him ‘nice interior seats’, ‘fine handling’, ‘anti lock brakes’ … while he’s having to dodge bullets, you’re not gonna speak to his heart.
Salesman sell EMOTIONS that comes from using the product. Never the actual product.
When you do your copywriting, always focus on answering the WIIFM (What’s in it FOR ME) to improve your conversion rates.
4. #1 competition for great product is “good enough” product
Imagine you’re the head of security for a war torn country.
You need staff but you can’t find any good guys, so you decide to get temporary contractors.
Of course, you don’t wanna be douchey so you provide armored vehicle for these people. But you have a choice.
A fully armored $350k German engineered vehicle with state of art protection… or a cheap $80k SUV with strong plastic on doors.
Believe it or not (according to the movie), a lot of people chose the cheaper price even if it meant the product could not save lives.
Same reason most people go to WalMart or flea markets. Cheap.
The enemy of your company isn’t your competitor per se, but people seeking cheap crap.
Of course, plenty of companies are willing to fill that need, even if it means at the sake of tarnishing their reputation. Yet they don’t realize they’re playing with people’s lives if things were to go haywire. What is more important? Price of a car or price of life?
The main character in the movie had a good point. That he would much rather go to sleep at night knowing that he told people the truth – that he believed in his products and that he gave them his word. Even if the product did have some problems, he had a clear conscience knowing that he didnt’ lie for sake of money.
As marketers, we’re often in grey lines… somewhere between where the head says yes (for that sale) but the heart says no (your ethics kicking in).
It is up to you to listen to your heart and act accordingly.
Remember, money comes and goes.
But you can’t die in peace knowing that you’ve screwed someone for a sale. (Which is why I stopped doing blackhat marketing in the first place).
5. Getting “killed” is the only way to innovate
Fidelis brings a good point: that the ONLY way to find out if a product is bad is if someone dies in one of his products.
Imagine if you sell someone a crappy armor vehicle but he never gets into any battle situations. You might think that “hey, this is a good design” and end up making a million of them. Then a whole bunch of people die as a result of this thinking that this poor design is the optimal design.
But if someone dies, you’d start asking questions and looking for ways to innovate. You can’t possibly predict every possible situation of how the product is used in real life, so you wouldn’t conclude that it was the salesman who had a faulty pitch, right?
It’s no different in marketing.
As marketers, we might have to launch 10-20 tests just to find that one winner… which might or might not last.
But if you’re not thick skin enough, you might start wondering if it’s YOU.
So if you lose a marketing campaign, it’s ok. Maybe it’s the product. Maybe it’s pricing. Maybe it’s the messaging. It’s not YOU.
Just keep on innovating.
6. Your competitors have the same information as you do
Well armed military with all kinds of tanks, planes, cruise missiles, hummers, guns, grenades, etc. from the world’s most powerful country on the planet
Dudes with guns in flip flops.
Who would you guess has the most favorable odds?
Yet, Iraqi insurgents were successful in causing huge damage to the American troops.
How? They had access to the internet, just like everyone else. They can Google “how to defeat armored vehicle”.. they can research on home made explosives (ah shit, I hope NSA doesn’t pick this up), … they can look up all this “stuff” to give them the competitive edge.
In another words, the intellectual “prowess” that the “leaders” had is no longer an advantage, thanks to proliferation of information via internet. In fact, your competition is always one step ahead of you.. or at least you should think they are.
If you’re an ecommerce site selling the same stuff as everyone else and rely on same ol’ advertising to sell your stuff, oh you’re SCREWED.
Anytime you rely on a set of “commoditized” system where implementation can be replicated by anyone with 2 arms and 2 legs, you WILL be fighting on margins and that’s a war that you cannot win.
What that means is now you have to fight on content marketing, email marketing, copywriting, story telling, etc etc. .. the stuff that SEPARATES you from the rest of the crowd.
7. Running tests are the ONLY competitive edge
One of things Fidelis’ companies does is blow up a $80k vehicle on a regular basis to see if their design actually works as they say do. If you watch the movie, they blow up 4-5 cars… that’s $300-400k of testing they do.
How many companies in engage in that kind of costly yet super important R&D to really understand how their product works in (almost) real life conditions?
I can tell you (from consulting so many) that not a lot. In fact, the only ones doing any kind of testing are the ones that are kicking ass.
Some people might argue that they can afford to do crazy amounts of tests because they ARE kicking butt. But I would argue that they are kicking butt because they do the tests.
It’s no different in online marketing.
How many landing page variations are you testing? How many headlines are you testing? How many email subjects are you testing?
But most importantly, are you testing regularly?