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Table of Contents

Lead Story

Online networking has come of age: Is your next sale a mouse-click away?


Industry Update

East Coast cabbies "walk" over payment requirements

Visa says upgrade or pay

Fair Isaac and NYCE tag team against data thieves

Mercator weighs upstart payment options

Help someone soar on NAOPP's board

2007 & 2008 calendar of events


GS Advisory Board:
Unsettled economic times - boon or bust? Part I

Advanced-function ATMs register on college campuses

Bill Yackey


A quick test to up your ethics quotient - and profits

Steve Schwimmer
Renaissance Merchant Services

Fewer checks, faster process

Patti Murphy
The Takoma Group


Street SmartsSM:
Would you rather have a boss or be your boss?

Dee Karawadra
Impact PaySystem

Time's up for one cash advance patent

Adam Atlas
Attorney at Law

Raising the green bar: EV SSL

Mike Petitti

Think negative

Nancy Drexler
Marketing Moguls

Merchant account fees demystified

Jason Felts
Advanced Merchant Services Inc.

Company Profile

YourTownMall Business

New Products

Secure customer data by not storing it

MES e-Commerce Payment Gateway and MES Virtual Terminals
Merchant e-Solutions

Virtual assistant for real biz travel

Verbal Expense Tracking
Virtual Management Inc.


Congrats, you're an expert



Resource Guide


A Bigger Thing

The Green Sheet Online Edition

September 24, 2007  •  Issue 07:09:02

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Think negative

By Nancy Drexler

John Martillo was not just my boss; he was my friend. In all my years as a marketing pro, I've never met anyone with his ability to motivate, excite, encourage and delight his employees.

When I worked for John at Cynergy Data, the company he co-founded, I was given free reign to try new things, explore new ideas and create different kinds of marketing communications. When he responded positively to one of my ideas, he made me love my work even more.

But during those wonderful years of working together, John and I often knocked heads over one issue: my criticism of his work. In short, John would propose an idea, and I would punch holes in it.

I would tell him everything that was wrong with his concept and all the ways that it might confuse or fail to attract consumers. John would get frustrated and yell at me, "You're so negative!" I would remind him adamantly, "That is what you pay me for. It is my job to be negative."

John never liked it, but he understood that negativity (or being fiercely critical) is crucial to successful marketing. And that is my lesson for today.

Mind your words

We all remember the childhood taunt, Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me. But, through personal experience, we learned how untrue that saying actually is.

Names, which are words, can be lethal. They can cause pain, shame, disdain and even self-loathing. Like anything that wounds, spoken words cannot be taken back. And the wounds they cause can take a long time to heal, often leaving invisible, painful scars.

Written words are just as powerful. Of course, text from a magazine or newspaper ad will probably not cause a reader to feel intense bitterness, remorse or pain.

Nevertheless, every letter, e-mail, direct mail, ad or promotional piece we write, as marketers, has the power to either advance or harm our relationships with prospects and customers.

It is our job to make sure these words do the former for our clients, not the latter. For each marketing project, we must read through every word with a critical, even negative, eye and ask questions. For example:

Even something as small as a typo can make our clients, and us, look incompetent, silly or careless. Our words must advance our clients' goals, not set them back.

And it takes careful troubleshooting, and a negative attitude, to make sure that they do.

Avoid boasts, lies, exaggerations

Following are examples of advertising copy that seems harmless enough. But, viewing it through a negative lens provides a very different perspective on what the statements may actually mean.

Each example is followed by potential adverse reader reactions to it that come to my mind when I view the copy with a critical eye.

Note: The last example is a slightly modified magazine-article headline. The article refutes the headline. But people who only read the headline may get a bad first impression.

The bottom line: Readers scan text and visuals.

If you can capture readers' attention, or offer something they are interested in, they may read on. But, except for the final one, these examples are broad, general statements that boast of a company's prowess rather than address the real needs of potential consumers.

Only a fantasy company can deliver the world. And consumers have heard such promises before. They are not inclined to believe them, let alone act on them.

More importantly, these ads are virtually indistinguishable from one another. While you've seen versions of them - probably more than once - I'll bet you have a hard time remembering which companies they represent.

An investment in advertising and communication is intended to build brand recognition: Readers should begin to know you and associate you with a positive mental picture. If your marketing does not do that, you are not doing your job.

Don't ask inept questions

A rule of thumb in marketing: Never ask a question you don't want the answer to. Again, here are some headlines followed by potential damaging reader reactions:

Once again, when you use a negative lens and ask hard questions, you come up with answers that might make you reconsider your marketing strategy.

Asking hard, critical questions can be difficult and time consuming. But don't see this as a detriment. Instead, look at it as a way to guard against weak advertising and a benefit to your ultimate goal: attracting customers.

Use appropriate comparisons

"Us versus them" ads can be extremely effective if they clearly and quickly demonstrate the difference between your product and your rival's offering.

Campbell's Soup Co., for instance, used two pictures: a bowl of Campbell's chicken soup filled to the brim with noodles next to a competitor's bowl containing just a few meager noodles.

If you can quickly establish a meaningful difference between your brand and your competitor's, the comparison approach has merit. But look at these attempts at this technique, followed by potential adverse reactions.

Be negative for positive results

When evaluating your written communications, ask yourself these questions:

When all your answers are positive, you've appropriately used the negative. And that's the best way to do your job.

Nancy Drexler is the President of Marketing Moguls and its division, PIMPS (Processing Industry Marketing and Promotion Services). She can be reached at

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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