Cut Through the PPC Clutter With One Simple Word

In addition to generating brand awareness and website visitors, PPC can serve several other important business functions. You can assess the competition quickly, comparing several players on a single search results page. You can test new messages, learn about prospect demographics, and psychographics, and quantify market size and cost per click. You can even perform go/no-go testing on start-up ventures before sinking a dime into building something no one wants.

In this article, I want to share another use for PPC: inspiration for innovation.

There are many ways to innovate, including brainstorming (“no judgment, the more ideas the better”), having your team ride around on adult-sized Big Wheels and shooting each other with Nerf guns, and moving to Colorado. But some recent research suggests that the most important element in producing meaningful innovation is the conscious imposition of constraints. (See, for example, the very smart and readable Inside the Box, by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg.)

“Make something new” can be an impossible imperative. “Make something better” can be quite easy if you power the quest with a single, simple word: WHILE.

Reality and Tradeoffs

The problem with reality is that it almost always involves tradeoffs. The bigger the camera, the better the photograph. The lighter the laptop, the shorter the battery life. The more land your home sits on, the farther you are from town.

Engineers live in the world of tradeoffs, shaving off a bit of weight in exchange for slightly degraded performance, decreasing the fidelity of the music a little while significantly slashing the size of the audio file, and so on.

And everyone in business is familiar with the calculus of good/fast/cheap: out of “good,” “fast,” and “cheap,” you can have two, but not all three.

In ordinary, rational thinking, we’re looking for the optimal spot on the bell curve where the compromise costs the least and delivers the most.

Innovators Take on the Tradeoffs

Innovators also live in the world of tradeoffs, but in the other direction. We seek ways to improve our products and services to achieve X WHILE Y.

Mirrorless SLR cameras take photos as high quality as standard-size SLRs WHILE weighing half as much.

Intel has released new PC processor chips that improve battery life WHILE speeding up 3-D graphics, according to press releases.

LED lighting is brighter, lasts longer, is programmable, and uses much less energy than incandescent or compact fluorescent technologies.

And my Systema martial arts classes teach me to fight and exert myself WHILE helping me relax at the same time.

Tradeoff Research

You may already know the key tradeoffs in your market. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to listen to your prospects on forums, in blog comments, and on social media. What they like, what drives them crazy.

You can also see what your competitors say about these tradeoffs. Do they acknowledge their existence? Do they take a stance on one side or the other (i.e. “quality above all, so we’re the most expensive”)? Have they attempted to resolve the tradeoff?

Next, identify a tradeoff and innovate a solution.

Tradeoff Elimination

Eliminating a tradeoff may seem daunting, or even way out of your league. After all, you can’t exactly lock yourself in your office and invent a new form of lighting, or pack more transistors into a microchip.

But most innovation isn’t technological. It’s simply thinking of a better way of doing something. It identifies a constraint that has been imposed by human habit or unquestioned assumptions, rather than one imposed by nature.

And mediocre marketing of a truly useful innovation is many times more powerful and effective than amazing marketing of a run of the mill product.

So while this isn’t exactly a standard PPC strategy, taking the time and focus to improve your offerings to eliminate or minimize a tradeoff can be the most high-value activity you can engage in.

And while I can’t give you a formula, I can share a couple examples of tradeoff-busting innovation to show you how achievable it is, even without a million-dollar R&D budget.

Meal Kits

The tradeoff: Home cooking is time-consuming and often daunting for inexperienced cooks, while eating out generally means less fresh and less healthy options.

The innovation: Meal kits, such as those sold by Blue Apron, Plated, and The Purple Carrot, make it easy to cook gourmet food from scratch WHILE maintaining control of the quality of the ingredients.

High-Intensity Interval Training

The tradeoff: Most exercise regimens are too long for many people to fit them in, or too short to show meaningful health benefits.

The innovation: Working out really intensely for short bursts, as little as 20 seconds, provides many of the physiological benefits without the need to spend hours a week on a treadmill or at the gym.

Writing the WHILE Ad

Once you innovate a solution to a tradeoff in your industry (and again, I’m not trivializing it – if it were easy, someone would have done it already), you can cut through the clutter on the search results page by highlighting the two benefits that are no longer mutually exclusive or a zero-sum game.

Let’s take one of the most expensive PPC keywords, auto insurance price quotes, to see how this might work:


The obvious tradeoff here is price versus coverage. The tradeoff seems like a law of nature, or economics at the very least: You can’t provide comprehensive coverage at low rates.

And all the listings above, save the Geico ad, focus on low prices. None tout the advantages of a high-quality, high-price package. Presumably their testing has shown that low-balling works better to generate clicks.

What if you’ve innovated a way to offer better coverage for less money? Just off the top of my head, maybe a lot of accidents occur in parking lots, so you give all your customers an inexpensive backup camera. Maybe your actuarial research shows that fatigue plays a big role in crashes that lead to expensive settlements, so you give discounts to customers who install health and energy monitoring apps on their phones and make better decisions about when to drive and when to pull over. Maybe you create defensive-driving MeetUp groups and offer high-value coverage discounts to attendees who pass certain tests.

You can then write some WHILE headlines that cut through the clutter:

  • High-end car insurance at low-end prices
  • Become a better driver and lower your rates
  • Lowest rates and lowest deductibles

The Future

As my friend Perry Marshall points out, even a decade ago good marketing was a scarce commodity. If you understood the principles of direct response, if you could write decent copy, and if you knew how to drive Google AdWords, you had an automatic competitive advantage in practically any market.

Now, even great marketing is becoming a commodity. What’s not a commodity, what can never become a commodity by definition, is a superior product. And what can never be commodified is the willingness to think creatively about a market and its unmet needs.

(This article by Howie Jacobson was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.)


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