5 timeless lessons from a marketing genius

Repeat after me… Schwaaaaaartz.

Repeat after me… Schwaaaaaartz.

Gene Schwartz, average-looking dude, marketing genius.

Gene Schwartz, average-looking dude, marketing genius.

I’ve written about Gene Schwartz before. He’s a guy most people haven’t heard of, unless you’re an advertising/marketing geek, like yours truly.

Schwartz is considered one of the best marketing writers of all time, if not THE best. He invented many of persuasive techniques most of us take for granted today, and his work was famous for its response rates. After a stellar career working for advertising agencies, he broke off to do his own consultancy in the mid-1950s and subsequently made millions.

Even today, people still steal from his work, ideas and headlines. If not thievery, perhaps you can call it the highest form of flattery.

Interestingly, he spent most of his riches collecting fine art and donating it to museums around the world. When he died in 1995, The New York Times obituary barely covered Schwartz’ career in marketing—from the headline, it lovingly focused on his art benefaction.

Schwartz was a well-known intellect, and he had a lot of great advice about a lot of things. I’ve read most everything I could get my hands or eyes on from him, and here are 5 particular little gems I think are really worthwhile. Follow these, and you’ll be a better marketer, almost immediately.

  1. Be a superb listener and observer. To be an effective marketer, you have to be in tune. That means not only knowing your target audience, but also the culture at large. Schwartz was a huge proponent of staying up on the latest trends, movies and fashion. Even if it’s not to your taste, it’s still on the bigger culture’s mind and in their hearts. When you’re in touch, you understand; and when you understand, you sell better. Today, that translates to staying on top of social media, the news, and the golden age of television we seem to be back in, among other elements of the zeitgeist.
  1. Talk about what your product or service does, not as much what it is. This simple marketing shift of consciousness will immediately focus you on benefits and connecting you to your audience. Emotional benefits will make your message even stronger. This may seem obvious, but I see messaging mishaps every day that break this basic tenet.
  2. Work like a maniac—in small doses. This is something that strikes us modern humanoids as totally alien in our society, but Schwartz believed strongly in working on your stuff in short, highly intensive spurts. Don’t do anything else but the task at hand, and put all your energy into it. I know, easier said than done, but science backs him up on this. Study after study shows that multitasking actually lowers productivity, sometimes severely. So put the iPhone in a desk drawer, shut off email, close the door and work like a loon for 30 minutes. You’ll be amazed at what you churn out.
  3. Don’t let being “creative” intimidate you. All of us have pressures to be original. Schwartz maintained, as many experts do, that creativity is nothing more than combining elements in ways that haven’t been done before. To do that well, you just need the elements. So know your product, brand, company and audience inside out. Keep feeding your muse with information, and she’ll repay you by combining things in interesting ways.
  4. Write simply and directly. To me, there’s nothing more refreshing than something that’s written well… that’s clear… and interesting. It’s a pleasure. Schwartz was a master at taking complex products or ideas and making them very accessible. He had a little trick for doing this: Pretend you’re writing to a 14 year old. It changes how you think and approach it. Instead of trying to impress, you aim to be clear, memorable and direct. It works like magic.

Sometimes, I see people dismiss advice like this. Somehow, they think because it’s old, it doesn’t relate anymore. Schwartz may have lived in a simpler time than we do, and much of what he advises on is no longer relevant (like writing long newspaper ad copy, for example). But many of his bigger concepts and ideas are still alarmingly striking and pertinent—often more so today than they were in Schwartz’ own time. That says something.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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