April 17, 2021

If you are someone who only seeks fame and the roar of the crowd, this blog post is not for you. 

However, if you are someone who gets complete satisfaction from being the world’s best at what you do–whether anyone sees you do it or knows it’s you doing it–please read on. 

In marketing, this phenomenon of being the wizard behind the curtain takes place in all areas—in copywriting, media buying, customer service—and while that may have been obvious to you, I only realized it by being a baseball umpire my entire life…and finally got this question 10 years ago:

“Why would anybody want to be an umpire?” 

Those of you who are outside the U.S., baseball is our national pastime and an “umpire” is the “referee” of the game…and like in all sports–spoiler alert!–no one comes to the game to see the umpire or referee.  

And if and when they are noticed during the game it’s usually bad news for said umpire or referee. 

Read how life imitates direct marketing for more about my umpiring hobby…and to give more context to today’s topic of why being invisible is a virtue…at least in marketing. 

Umpiring gave me the window into why the best marketers seek excellence without recognition. 

They simply get recognized in different and unforeseen ways. 

Let’s look at this through the lens of the “invisible” copywriters, media buyers and customer service people we work with every day…or if you work in one or more of these specialized areas, see if at least some if this rings true for you.

The invisible copywriter 

To relate this concept to copywriters, I will share an excerpt from an obituary written by publisher/financial guru Martin Weiss after we lost superstar Clayton Makepeace last year (who I wrote about in When the student is ready):

In his 45-year career he wrote for hundreds of magazines, newsletters and books. At least 200 million copies of his works were printed and avidly read by millions of Americans from all walks of life. His works published online reached an even larger audience.

His prose is rich in history, current events and predictions of the future.

His style is friendly, engaging, motivational and often riveting. Among all others in his field, he easily provided the best combination of creativity and prolific writing.

But like many in his profession, he rarely penned his own name to his work. He had no desire to become famous or receive public acclaim. He was more than content to remain anonymous.

You see, Clayton Makepeace was not a typical writer of fiction or nonfiction. Nor was his work sold in bookstores or on Amazon.

Rather, he was a marketing copywriter, and his mission was primarily to promote America’s leading investment and health professionals [and their products].

He was their ghostwriter, speechwriter and marketer.

They were the ones who became rich and famous.

Although unknown to the general public, Clayton gained great acclaim in his field and was also the best teacher of creative copywriting in America.

He devoted countless hours to mentoring others whose lifelong dream was — and is — to follow in his footsteps.

His copywriting courses and guidebooks, which he did author under his own name, will always be in great demand in the United States and around the world, leaving a legacy and loyal following that will endure forever.

If there’s ever a Nobel- or Pulitzer-type prize for copywriting, it will almost certainly be awarded, post-mortem, to Clayton G. Makepeace.  

This reminds me of the authors who will do anything to reach the New York Times bestseller list only to realize that it’s just a number. 

It may lead to fame…not necessarily fortune…and there is no guarantee of making a meaningful contribution simply by selling a ton of books. 

There is often much more satisfaction (and maybe even more profit) in selling fewer books to a feverish audience who then read and implement the work of the author. 

Don’t get me wrong–of course bestsellers can have a tremendous impact on the world too. 

But as I learned by selling tens of millions of books at Boardroom over the years, mostly through direct mail and “behind the scenes,” books that changed lives and saved lives, without kudos or recognition by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or Amazon, it was just as satisfying…maybe more so. 

And in the case of Clayton (and many other world class copywriters), writing a package, a sales letter, an email series, a video sales letter, a telemarketing script—that moves thousands (even millions) to action—is their ultimate reward. 

And a big juicy royalty check is nothing to sneeze at either. ☺

The invisible media buyer 

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, my company Boardroom Inc, often mailed in excess of 100 million pieces of direct mail a year…mostly for books and newsletters in the health and personal finance categories, mailed to affluent consumers. 

Simply put, during that period when direct mail was king, list brokers were the most important counselors…and finding the right lists to mail with the proper segmentation was critical to the success of any campaign. 

I remember some amusing (yet telling) conversations I had back then with our top list broker (and my lifelong friend), list wizard Michael Fishman. 

Conversations about how we were not simply “marketers selling stuff” but we were, in fact, saving lives: The more we mailed to an enthusiastic, targeted audience, the more money we made…which led to more people being saved by our lifesaving information. 

How’s that for a couple of “junk mailers” justifying our existence? 

We even once proclaimed that list brokers and mailers selling lifesaving information can actually cure cancer. 

There is some truth to that statement… 

We received a letter from a “rear admiral” (no pun intended) who took our advice in one of our books to schedule a colonoscopy when one wasn’t warranted based on standard protocol and his particular situation…but there were circumstances in his case to do one based on the advice in the book. 

It saved his life…and he wrote to us to tell us about it…a letter that hung on the wall of our offices with hundreds like it from buyers and readers of our publications who had similar experiences with our content. 

Lifetime value (in this case literally) increases the longer someone loves you and wants to buy from you in the future…like they have in the past. 

Living longer is the first step in enabling the relationship to go on much longer…which makes everyone in the relationship happy. 

Simply put, saving lives is a solid mission in marketing. 

No one rewards the list broker, the Facebook ads buyer, the SEO specialist when their media is spot on and there is a match made in heaven between audience and message. 

And like the copywriter, the media buyer can feel proud that they created that bond to somehow better the world…and in most cases they also get paid for it which is gravy. 

However, there won’t be a parade for them…which is just fine…because like the copywriters this is their life’s work and passion. 

And it is how they make their valuable contribution to the “marketing mix” without being noticed and without fanfare. 

“Media buyers saving lives.” 

It has a nice ring to it.

The invisible customer service representative 

Chapter 8 of my book Overdeliver is titled “Customer Service and Fulfillment” and if you are a regular reader of these weekly blogs, you know that I can’t repeat this enough:

Customer service and fulfillment are marketing functions

And in my post marketing by walking around I go into the details regarding why this is so…from the CEO listening in on customer service calls to “secret shoppers”… and much more. 

Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs and business owners treat their customer service and fulfilment as an afterthought (and not just the “function” but the people they hire for those jobs too). 

These short-sighted executives act as though the actual real-world interaction with real-life people who buy from them doesn’t matter once a sale is made. 

Big mistake. 

And these execs should also be aware that their fulfillment manager, or customer service rep, invisible on his or her best day, will get the equivalent of “nice game ump” (a refrain I hear when I umpire a good game with no incidents…just the way everyone on the field likes it). 

If there are no problems, the customer service rep (or the umpire) remains invisible… but when they “blow a call,” they become the least popular employee in the company. 

It takes a certain kind of personality to be a fulfillment manager or customer service representative. 

Taking pride in giving exquisite service — and being willing to do it without being noticed or acknowledged— is an extremely rare quality. 

My advice then becomes obvious: It is up to YOU to give them the proper attention and kudos when they do their job well. 

While they tend to not be your most needy employees (i.e. always looking for positive reinforcement), they still deserve as much praise for a job well done as anyone on your staff. 

After all, they are human. 

And they deserve the same kind of accolades you give to your copywriters and media buyers despite being on the “back end” of the business rather than the sexy front end of making the sale. 

Keeping existing customers happy is as important—even more important—than attracting new customers.

In addition, pay close attention to the hiring of these people… and pay them well. 

They are far from “anyhow employees”…I will maintain that they could be among the most important hires you will make in your business. 

They are your first line of defense to protect against leakage of your best potential customers; and they are your last line of defense against customers you want to keep as part of your “family,” ensuring they don’t leave you forever over something that is easily resolvable. 

Also, always remember that “satisfaction” cuts both ways when you think about customer service as a marketing function. 

For example:

1) From the wonderful telephone operator’s perspective: When they solve a customer’s problem behind the scenes and save an order (or avoid a cancellation) it feels like they are part of “sales” and “revenue creation” (or what we can call “revenue saving”). 

And the folks I know who are the best at customer service feel so much satisfaction in saving the day this way whether it’s noticed by one or by many.

2) From the delighted customer’s perspective: They enter the situation angry and agitated but when they receive a positive outcome, their day is made and they might just become a customer for life. 

Make sure you look after every part of your customer service and fulfillment because the only way to stay in business for the long haul is to focus relentlessly on keeping your customers happy. 

I know that sounds obvious…but it should be written in stone (or at least on paper or on posters) and in view of every employee all day, every day. 

You must do everything in your power to prevent delays, keep your returns to a minimum, and to make sure that every interaction the customer has with your business is a positive one. 

Even if things go wrong, as long as you and everyone on your team is committed to making things right (i.e. saving every customer with every interaction, no matter how negative or potentially damaging), you will build resilience into your business — because, as we know, all businesses thrive on repeat purchases.

You can even base your entire differentiation strategy as a company on how you treat your customers. 

Creating what is called a “barrier to switch” is a big part of this discussion and you can read more about that in Chapter 8 of Overdeliver and in marketing by walking around. 

For now, I will just say that your product or service is only a commodity if you allow it to become a commodity.

Now that we’ve come full circle and established that the umpire is the most important person on the field at every baseball game… 

…it’s time to recognize all of the heroes in your business who don’t “need” to be praised but it’s a good idea to treat them like gold anyway. 

These are the people writing for you (through their expert messaging talent), selling for you (through the media they buy), and keeping your customers completely satisfied (through pristine customer service). 

They are your secret weapons…secret (and mostly invisible) to the outside world…but not to you. 

Always ask yourself every evening:

It’s 10:00…do you know where your invisible employees are? ☺   



About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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