Clear not clever

Freebie Friday continues!

If you missed the last two weeks’ editions, then check out Getting Great Testimonials and Training People To Be Trained By You.  This week’s release is Clear, Not Clever Titling, which will help you in your quest to name your products and services in a way that increases the chance people will pull their Visa cards out. (Yay!)

For those new to Freebie Friday, we are sending out samples from our BIG LAUNCH class (opening up in late December) so you can get a feel for what’s inside.

These freebies are what we call the “Launch Multipliers”, which are 108 tactical training modules that come with the class and are designed to boost your conversion during a launch.

So! Without further ado, let’s get to today’s lesson.

(We have links for you to download the audio or written version below, followed by the full text of the lesson.)


Clear, Not Clever Titling

… or, read it below!

Clear, Not Clever Titling

Hello, and welcome. I’m Naomi from IttyBiz and you are listening to the BIG LAUNCH launch multipliers. This track is called Clear, Not Clever, Titling.

We’re talking about product or service titling a lot in this month’s modules, since subtle changes to your title can be one of the simplest ways to bump up sales. Or, in some cases, changing a poorly performing title to a better title can take sales through the roof. You never know.

But despite what our mothers always told us about not judging a book by its cover, the truth is we all judge a book by it’s cover. And it’s title. Just like with products. Because the name of a product doesn’t just do the job of revealing what the product is all about – it reveals how well the marketer behind the product understands the audience it’s being sold to.

We gave an example in one of the other multipliers about Tim Ferriss’s book “The Four Hour Workweek.” Tim originally was thinking of calling the book “Drug Dealing For Fun and Profit”, because he had developed his particular work strategies via a nutritional supplements company he owned.

But after running split tests on various titles, the market declared “The Four Hour Workweek” the winner. Why? Because apparently, out of all the things in his book, that was the outcome that made his audience’s mouth water the most.

And it was a very clear title. Very outcome driven. No one could mistake what was being sold to them. So the title did a very good job of communicating the most important outcome that readers cared about.

Which, in Tim’s case, was a bit of a marketing ploy, since the book wasn’t about working four hours a week at all. As one blogger famously commented, “Nobody works as much as Tim Ferris does,” and Tim has a rather creative definition of work. Apparently, if you enjoy what you’re doing, those hours don’t quite count as work. That didn’t seem to make it into the blurb in the dust jacket for the book. Hrmm. We’ll just leave that one alone.

The point is, clear outcomes tend to do you a lot of favors when you’re trying to sell something. They tell the person who is considering buying your lovely thing what they will get – or potentially get – as a result of handing over the money.

This is helpful to you as the seller, particularly when you don’t have much in the way of an ad budget.

Let’s talk about that for a moment, before we get into the clear vs. clever debate.

We will often get asked why we advise people to be clear with their titles when other companies can get away with doing the exact opposite. That’s a fair question. The answer is ad money and branding.

If you are Chanel, for example, you could get away with naming your next big line of perfume something like “Cube” or “447″ or hell, you could just forego naming all together and put a picture of a horse on the bottle and not give it a name.

If you are Steven King, you could release a book with those same names. A Steven King book with nothing but “447″ on the cover is going to be an international best-seller.

When you have millions of advertising dollars at your disposal, and you have a brand that’s pretty much a household name, you can name things anything you want. That’s because people will pay attention to you because of your brand alone, and you can throw tons of money into ads that do the explaining for you.

When Steven King fans see his latest book is called “447″ they immediately think “I can’t wait to find out what the book is about.” When Chanel fans see a new bottle of perfume with no name an a picture of a Palomino, they think “I can’t wait to find out what this perfume smells like.” And they will pay very close attention to all of the ads plastered everywhere that carefully explain what’s inside.

That’s fantastic if you’re a household name with an ad budget approaching infinity. Clever names are really exciting for those customers, because they’re willing to wait to discover what the product is all about.

But if you’re not a household name, tough cookies. If your product has too clever a name, if it’s not more or less immediately intuitive what outcomes are going to be gained by purchasing that product, the average consumer is going to think “Ok, I don’t get it,” and then they are going to move on. They’re not invested enough to figure out what it means.

“I don’t get it” is one of the worst things a customer can think when it comes to buying your stuff.

Customers, being humans, are distractible. And if your title doesn’t do a good enough job of distracting them from funny cat videos on YouTube, and get them thinking about something relevant to them in a way that turns them on, the chances of getting them to pay attention go through the floor.

Sometimes a clever name can do a great job of distracting them, and we’ll talk about that in just a little bit. But sometimes it doesn’t distract them, and the reason for that all comes down to context. In order for customers to consider your product, they have to consider the relevant context to their lives.

That relevant context is basically how they decide if they want it or not. And while relevance is different for every customer, you can take an educated guess on how any particular title might resonate with them. Putting just a little bit of extra thought into this, plus a little bit of split testing, can make a significant difference in the number of the sales you make.

So, let’s talk about titles so you can figure out how to do this really, really well for the rest of your natural life.

We often get asked “What’s the right title for my product?”. Well, there’s no one “right” title for a product, in the same way that there is no one “right” outfit to wear.

If some random person on the street pulled you over to the side tomorrow and said “Hey, what should I wear?”, you wouldn’t be able to answer the question. You’d need more data.

For one thing, you’d need to know where they are going. Are they headed to a nightclub or to wedding? A job interview or lunch with an old friend? The context of where they’re going completely change the answer that you’re going to give them.

If they tell you they’re going to a wedding, you’re not going to tell them to wear a sundress or a bikini, because that wouldn’t be appropriate for the situation.

Unless … what if the wedding were at the beach, with one of their friends from college, who was a bit unconventional and having a very casual wedding? A sundress might actually be a great choice. It might even be the kind of wedding that you could go barefoot in.

So the context of the event matters, but the context inside the context matters, too.

If it were a job interview at a bank, maybe a suit is in order. If the interview was with a really hip startup in Portland, maybe jeans and a t-shirt. So there’s no set answer even inside the event itself. You need more context.

And even after that, you need additional context around the impression you want to make. Is this the kind of event where you’re trying really hard to impress everyone? Maybe this is the wedding of your boyfriend’s brother, and you might want to look as nice and neutral as you can to impress the parents.

Maybe it’s the wedding of your ex from college, and you want to dress to the nines and upstage the bride so everyone knows you were the one who got away. We don’t judge. Sometimes that’s just what you want to do.

The point is, when it comes to picking an outfit, it depends on a lot of factors. And all those factors boil down to what kind of impression you want to make and on whom. It depends how you want to position yourself, and what your goals are, who your audience is, and what outcomes you – and they – are looking for.

So, all that said, let’s stop talking about revenge dressing at weddings and get into how this applies to titles.

You will often hear us – and the rest of the copywriting world – say that your titles need to be clear and not clever. That is true … to a point. As we said earlier, if you are not a well-recognized brand, or you don’t have a lot of ad budget to spend exposing people to your product and all the finer points of it, yes, you will probably want to veer into “clear and boring” as much as possible.

However! The more you know about the context and the impression you want to make, the more you actually can go into the clever arena without losing sales. It’s just that when you’re starting out, you want to play it safe. Like they say, first you have to understand the rules before you can break them.

The reason people say “be clear, not clever” isn’t because clever is bad for sales – it’s because most people don’t know how to be clever while still staying clear. They get clever and end up with something that doesn’t communicate enough context for someone to be interested in learning more.

Let’s go back to the 4-Hour Workweek, or it’s original titles.

“Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit” was certainly clever, but it kind of sucked at being clear. If the book was actually about drug dealing, well, we’d have to say that title was fantastic. But it wasn’t. And the author didn’t actually want people to think it was about drug-dealing, he probably just thought it was clever and controversial and would catch attention.

And in a way he would be right. “Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit” would probably capture people’s attention for a moment, and they would think “Wow, I can’t believe someone was crazy enough to write a book about selling drugs like that.” But it wouldn’t hold their attention, unless they were actually looking for a book on drug dealing. For the rest of the world, you’ve got 7 billion people who would NOT be scratching their heads thinking “Gee, I wonder if that’s a book about lifestyle design and early retirement?” They’d just move on. That would have been a title “fail.”

Now, as we said in another module, another potential title for the book was “Broadband and White Sand.” That’s a very clever title. It rhymes. That’s often helpful. But it doesn’t exactly tell you what the book is about. You can almost picture Tim Ferriss pitching the book saying, “Ok, let me explain. The internet is so awesome that you can build a business that will let you be able to run it from a beautiful beach in the tropics. So, ‘Broadband’ … and ‘White Sand!’ Get it?”

Anytime a description of your title accompanies the words “Ok, let me explain” or “Get it?”, you are in trouble.

There are a million things competing for your customers’ attention. Very rarely will they spontaneously want you to explain something to you. Very rarely will they just “Get it.” And if they don’t get it, they sure don’t want to be made to feel like they have to say to you “Oh, now I get it. Clever.” It doesn’t works with jokes, and it doesn’t work with titles.

That said, “The 4-Hour Workweek” did a good job of grabbing attention. It was clever, yes, because it took the typical association of a workweek being 40 hours and removed the zero. And it kind of made a promise, too. Your work week, the title implied, was about to get a lot shorter. That’s definitely something that will capture and hold attention. Nobody had to “get it”, because everyone already knew what a 40-hour workweek was. So you have a lot of leeway in the clever department if you are making a play on something that is universally understood. So there was a lot of clever without sacrificing any of the clear.

So, how do we tie all of this into something that can take the sales you make in your next launch up?

Let’s give you a little bit of an exercise in crafting your titles.

We’ll start with step one: Brainstorm titles that are as boring as possible and speak to a specific outcome or purpose.

In this stage we are just calling the product what it is. If you’re selling a physical thing, like an office chair, you can come up with names like “Black Office Chair” or “Memory Foam Office Chair” or “3-Way Adjustable Ergonomically Designed Office Chair.”

If you’re selling a book or an information product, you can come up with titles that just tell it like it is. “How To Pay Less For Your Next Car.” “Online Natural Birthing Class.” “How To Launch A Product.”

If you’re selling something that’s a service, start with boring. “Career Transition Coaching.” “Golf Coaching.” “Branding and Marketing Coaching.”

These are not meant to be your final titles, but one of them may end up being the one that sticks. The main point of this part of the exercise is to get you looking at every boring, practical way of explaining what your product is and what it does for the customer so that you have a bank of extremely clear ways to describe what you’re selling. You have now given your left brain a serious workout.

Now we move on to step two: Brainstorm titles that are as over-the-top clever as you can manage.

This may seem counter-intuitive based on everything we’ve covered so far, but there is a method to our madness.

When you spend some time brainstorming titles that are extremely clever and don’t necessarily do a great job of saying what your product does, “Broadband and White Sand” style, you’ll be bringing in your right brain for some creative work. You’re going to come up with titles that you would never use in a million years, but this s where you let yourself have some creative freedom.

This does a few things. On one hand, it gets you having a little fun with the naming process. On the other hand, it gives you a lot of titles that might – maybe just might – be the seeds of a great title. Sometimes you will hit upon a name that is so mind-bendingly clever and just so happens to be extremely clear at the same time. That’s a good thing, because you get all the benefit of a well-branded, creative title at the same time you communicate what needs to be communicated.

For some reason the Snuggie comes to mind. You know that blanket with sleeves? That name is ridiculous. Yet somehow it does communicate the outcome that the customer wants – snugness under a blanket – with something fun. You may not come up with something like that, but if you give yourself the freedom to come up with names you don’t intend to use, you might just hit a winner. So spend some time coming up with the cleverest, most potentially obnoxious names you can think of.

And when we say obnoxious, we don’t mean intentionally obnoxious. We’re just talking titles that you immediately say “I could NEVER name my product that.” The reason for this is because there are perfectly good products that you love and enjoy buying which have names that, had you been the product creator, would never have gone with. It’s a lot like song lyrics. Take your favorite songs, and imagine you were writing the lyrics. Had they come out your mind, you would have said “No way.” But you ended up liking them nonetheless.

Now, once you’ve done that, you can move on to step three – finding a middle ground.

This is where you look at the boring names and the clever names and you see if they can somehow be combined, merged or massaged to make something that has the benefits of being clever while still being clear.

There are a lot of ways to do this step. You can simply combine part of a boring title and part of a clever title. You can take certain words you came up with and replace them with other words that are part of your customer language. You can look at the titles you came up with and say “That’s not the right title … but if we changed a few words it could work.”

In this step, you also want to take into account the factors we talked about with what to wear to the wedding. You want to consider what impression you want to make as well as how you want other people to feel about the product.

We’ll give you a few examples as we close from some of our own products.

This class, BIG LAUNCH, is less on the clever side and more on the practical side. But we wanted people to be excited about the class and think of something big. So it’s very clear – it’s about big launches, but it’s in all caps. It’s really short and punchy. It has gravity. It’s actually based in client language. Clients say “I’m getting ready for my big launch.”

Another class we run is Your Next Six Months. We could have called it “Business Plan in a Weekend,” but that would have been flashier than we wanted. We actually want that class to have a boring feel, because the topic is boring and practical. But we put the word “Your” in there to make it feel more personal, to soften it up. Again, it was based in client language. Every summer they would tell us “I want to plan out my next six months.” So practical, with no splash.

A third class we offer is Fast Track to Fully Booked, a class for coaches. We wanted this one to have a bit of clever appeal, so we put “Fast Track” in there. But it’s also clear, because it actually is an 8-week intensive fast track. Again, client language helped us put the “Fully Booked” part in there. So this title was designed to communicate energy and action, the opposite of boring. So we veered on to the clever side there without sacrificing clarity.

One other example – we have a class called “Let’s Fix Your Business.” That slides way over to the clever side, because the outcome isn’t as clear as with the other classes. So it’s almost – almost – a title that fails the clear, not clever test.

But the thing we wanted to communicate here was togetherness. The class is an 18-week intensive with constant and ongoing live support, so we used “Let’s” in the title to communicate that. The “Fix Your Business” is a curiosity play, but it still passes the test. The customer may not know exactly what they need to do to fix their business, but they sure know it needs fixing. So like The 4-Hour Workweek, it’s is easy to wrap your head around.

We hope those examples give you some real-world ways to see how you can be clever while still being clear. If your audience is practical enough, you may be able to pull off titles that are boring, and still win. How To Win Friends and Influence People is a title that has proven very successful without having to be catchy.

So go through this exercise and come up with the boring ones, the clever ones, and some in between and see which title feels best for your product. The more time you spend trying to nail it, the better your odds are at driving sales up.

And that’s it. The secrets to titling revealed. Hmm. That sounds like a good name for a book. Maybe I should write that down. Where’s my pen?

Thank you so much for being here with us today. You’ve been listening to the BIG LAUNCH launch multipliers, Clear, Not Clever, Titling. I’m Naomi from IttyBiz, and I’ll talk to you very soon.

If you liked this Launch Multiplier, make sure to check out Getting Great Testimonials and Training People To Be Trained By You while you’re at it. And hop on our newsletter if you want updates on additional Freebie Friday lessons as they’re released. (You’ll also get some free marketing courses for doing so.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

How to clean up your email list

This post is by request from Beth. If you’d like to ask a question or suggest a topic of your own, you can do so at the Request Line.

List bloat! The bane of online marketers everywhere! (Or so it’s said.) For the uninitiated, we’re talking about inactive subscribers on your email list.

These may be truly inactive subscribers (abandoned email accounts or people who filter out your email) or de facto inactive people who tend to never open – or respond to – your emails.

These inactive individuals create what’s called “list bloat” (well, at least that’s what we call it), and from time to time a little spring cleaning may be in order.

Beth asks:

“I know for CERTAIN that I have bloat on my list, and I’m not sure what to do about it. So my question is, ‘How can I get rid of the non-buyers who are clogging up my list and inflating my numbers?’”

So let’s talk about that, shall we?

Here’s why people tend to want to clean up their email list in the first place.

Inactive subscribers on your email list aren’t necessarily the bane of your business’ existence – but they can have minor financial implications and not-so-minor psychological ones.

On the financial side, email list providers charge you based on the number of names on your list. Once you cross a threshold, you go into the higher pricing tier. If your list is on the smaller side, this may mean paying an extra $10 a month. If your list is larger, the jump can be hundreds of dollars. So, getting rid of the proverbial dead weight can keep your list pricing down.

On the psychological side, list bloat can mess with your head. If you’re sitting around worrying about inactive subscribers on a regular basis, you’re not exactly preserving those neurons of yours for more strategic thinking.

  • If you’re running reports, you may see metrics like open rates and click-through rates seem like they’re going down as your list grows, which can be a bit unsettling. Getting inactives out of your email system can make those rates jump back up to where they “should” be since your data is now a little more accurate.
  • Not every business needs to care about this, though. If what you’re really tracking is end-of-the-day sales, that’s the metric you’re watching more than open and click-through. (Which isn’t a bad idea. Getting your click-through rate up by 15% is generally not as useful as getting your sales up by 5%. Just saying. You can’t pay the mortgage with click-throughs.)

So what do we do about all this?

If you’re looking to clean up your list and get rid of inactive subscribers, there are plenty of ways to do it.

Here are four off the top my head, and my preferred method at the very end. (SCANNERS: NOT number 4. The very end. After number 4.)

1. Deliver more content than usual (for you) over a specific period of time.

There are a percentage of people on your list at any given time who want to unsubscribe, but haven’t done it yet. If you’re not emailing all that often, your messages are probably getting archived or deleted by these people along with all the other emails they archive or delete en masse when they open their inbox.

For these people, it’s not worth the effort to unsubscribe because they don’t see your messages that often. If you happened to, say, double the frequency of your emails for a while, you would likely cross that magic threshold where it does become worth it for them to open your email, scroll down to the bottom, and unsubscribe.

One way to accomplish this is to run a series of informational emails, since that’s a valid enough excuse to mail more frequently. If you’re normally publishing once a week, you could run a 5-part series on the topic of your choice, and maybe mail twice a week or once every three days.

You’ll get a good number of unsubscribes that way from people who don’t want to be on your list, and you’ll probably make the people who do like you like you a little bit more, since they’re getting more from you than they’re used to.

2. Run a good, solid launch.

Very little primes people to unsubscribe like a good launch. Promotional emails are bold enough to snap people who are ready to unsubscribe out of their ennui, even if your emails are more of the soft-sell variety.

Keep that in mind, because it’s easy to think that people are unsubscribing because you’re trying to sell them something, and it can shake your confidence if you interpret it that way.

One portion of your unsubscribes will be those people from the prior point – people who were planning to unsubscribe anyway. The other portion will be people who really don’t want to look at you as a seller of things, and you don’t really lose anything when those people leave.

Note! Remember that there will be a lot of lifelong non-buyers who will stay on your list because they like what you’re giving them in your non-promotional emails. These are good people and we like them.

Some marketers will tell you that non-buyers on your list are dead weight. Ignore the advice they give you. Non-buyers are often your biggest fans and most effective advocates in spreading the word about you.

3. Cull-by-numbers.

This is another option. Some email list providers will allow you to run a report showing people who aren’t opening your emails so you can delete them from your list.

If your provider doesn’t do this you have the option of doing it manually – just look at the reports for the last half-dozen emails you’ve sent and you can delete people who haven’t opened any of those emails.

This is good in theory, but maybe not so good in practice. Email tracking is a notoriously imprecise science. Some people who open your emails regularly may never appear to do so, especially if they’re receiving it in text-only format.

Many email services use an invisible pixel to track opens – so if the image loads, then the system registers that email as opened. That’s a big “if”. So if you take this route, you may end up deleting people who are actually opening your emails religiously. Ah, technology. You’re a playful beast.

4. Ask people to confirm they still want to be on your mailing list.

You don’t get more straightforward than this approach. You send an email that says something along the lines of “Hey, please click this link if you want to stay on the list.” Usually there’s some copy there for a reason why you’re asking them to do so.

Some people do this and then delete everyone who doesn’t click the link. Again, good in theory. Not so good for those not checking email or who accidentally archive/delete your message. Personally, if I were doing this I’d just send it to the segment of people who fit the third point, above.

Actually, if I was trying to clean up MY list …

I’d do more of items number 1 and 2. That way I’d know that anyone who got off the list did so of their own accord, and everyone who stayed did so honestly.

Plus, item number two makes you money.

And it’s generally a good business practice to put more of your mental space into making money than you spend trying to find a small portion of your list to cull.

(Hope that helps, Beth.)


About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Signature service

It is generally accepted as lore that if you want to be a Very Important Coach Indeed – or, in fact, be able to purchase Christmas gifts for your loved ones – you must have a Signature Service.

A signature service, also known as “Off The Shelf”, “5 Step Program”, and a few other things that enterprising gurus have trademarked – basically means factory coaching.

The client comes in one end, goes through a prefabricated set of steps in a pre-assigned set of time and hocus pocus alakazam, comes out fixed, whole, and ready to refer rich friends to you.

So. Is a signature service right for you? Will your practice crumble without one? Let’s find out.

A signature service needs at least one of two factors to be present. (Having both is better.)

1. The coaching topic itself lends itself to a prefabricated system in the first place.

Some topics lend themselves to steps. Others don’t. Yoga For Beginners – yes. Find Your Passion – maybe. Work Through Your Grief – probably not.

2. The coach is the type of person who likes that sort of methodical, prefab process. Not everybody does. Some people color code their file folders and have realistic to-do lists every day. (My esteemed partner, for example.)

Other people institute a paper-full office policy and officially only read written communication scribed in magic marker or crayon. (Moi.)

The former would be good at signature coaching packages. The latter, not so much.

Unknowns, enigmas and spanners in the works.

A big part of your decision about what kind of coaching package to offer comes down to what your customers are looking for and how possible it is to give it to them. Just because they want it to be a simple process doesn’t mean it can be.

We’re talking about unknowns and x-factors here. Unknowns are the things you don’t know about the person coming in. Where they are in the process, for example. You may have a six-week program that your client may not be ready for.

If we offered a signature service called “Get Your Book Launch Ready in Six Weeks,” we don’t know where you are. You can give us your money and when we take a look at your product and list size, it may come out that you need a lot of work before you’re even ready for week one.

On the other hand, you may have already done so much that you don’t need the first two weeks of the signature program. Oops, looks like you’re not hiring us. Sucks to be me. You just don’t know what unknowns are out there.

Then you have the x-factors, the things that could throw that Spaniard in the works. There may be something unique about a client’s situation that actually means the process in the signature service doesn’t apply to them. They may legitimately not be able to use pieces of your process. They may have a more complicated situation than your easy-peasy, cookie-cutter process can handle.

Basically, the fewer unknowns your client has, the better candidate you are for an off-the-shelf service.


If you are offering something like weight loss coaching, the process generally doesn’t change no matter how much weight the client has to lose. You can also predict a range of “special cases” to factor into your process – wheat allergies, bad knees, busy schedules – and create a system that can accommodate them relatively easily.

In other words, the chances of being able to say “Just go do this” for the vast majority of your clients is high.

If you are counseling spouses of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, the process can be anything but straightforward. The unknowns and x-factors here make this situation a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a taco.

So the chances of being able to say “Just go do this” for the vast majority of your clients is very low.

So that’s the basic guideline. The fewer the unknowns, the lower the chances that an x-factor could hose you, the better a candidate you are for an off-the-shelf program.

A quick and easy way to know if YOU are a good candidate for offering an off-the-shelf coaching service.

Someone suggests to you that you create a standardized system, a formula of sorts. 12 weeks, standard process, same for every client. What is your response?

1. This is my idea of heaven.
2. This is my idea of hell.

Your homework for today.

Read this blog post again, think about it, then do whatever you like. No matter who tells you that it’s a crucial, must-have-or-you’re-going-to-the-food-bank… they’re just plain wrong.

We have never offered a signature package and we are still alive and kicking. Other people would die without one. So much depends on what you like to do, what market you’re in, and what your customers want.

And that’s up to you to decide, based on all your unique factors, which neither your gurus nor I have access to. If it seems like a good idea for your topic and your personality, go for it. If it only seems like a good idea for your bottom line, think hard.

Further reading:

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.