Category Archives: salesmanship

Gratitude, Schmatitude

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Friday, 2:22pm
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones…” (Bob Dylan)

Howdy…

Lots of talk about gratitude these days. There are entire movements (run by schmaltzy guru’s in nice suits) centered on getting folks to feel the gratitude, to embrace and become it.

Like it’s magic or something.

It ain’t.

Knowing how to appreciate the important stuff in your life is a good thing, of course. Being grateful for what you have should be a daily moment, part of being mindful about what’s going on around you and within you (and around and within those you love, deal with, oppose and haven’t met yet).

Early in my career, while devouring self-help books — I read one Og Mandino for every biz book I read for awhile, just to keep my heart and soul moving forward along with my brain — I even went so far as to acknowledge the non-living things around me. I would thank a keyboard, for example, for serving me so well when I replaced it. And mean it. Give it a decent burial in the trash, introduce myself to the new keyboard and get back to work. Same with my shoes, my thrashed car (which needed the encouragement, I can assure you), my favorite pens, and so on. It doesn’t even seem silly now… it makes sense to be mindful of the tools that help us do what we do. Astronauts name their shuttles, sailors name their ships, and I assign my beat-up leather coat a personality.

So I’m an old hand at thanking the universe and the things and people around me as I move along.

But a little perspective, please.

For too many business people, there’s no real thought given to the notion of gratitude. They act like just saying the word creates a magical forcefield of wonderment and power.

So we get airline flight attendants urgently crooning over the intercom that if there is ANYTHING they can do to make our flight more comfortable, just ask.

Which is, of course, pure bullshit.

The things that would make me more comfy — like more leg room, wider and plusher seats, and maybe a mickey in the drunk’s beer next to me so he’ll shut up — are not within their toolkit. I mean, a foot massage would be nice, too, but even mentioning it would have the air marshals on your butt in a heartbeat.

So why do they even say it?

Sometimes it’s just habit, from the old scripts they used to read. The job requirements included big smiles, friendly demeanor even in the face of rudeness, and a steady stream of patter to calm folks down while the jet screamed through the heavens eight miles high.

So even in towns like Reno, you still get the pilots schmoozing about “we know you have a choice when you fly”… when we absolutely do NOT. And every passenger on the plane knows it. If you’re headed anywhere on the beaten track, it’s Southwest or the highway.

And AT&T robots love to drone while you’re on hold, about how grateful they are to have you as a customer. It’s all please and thank you and yes, sir. The gratitude practically drips from the phone…

but they aren’t grateful enough to hire more operators to handle your complaint. I mean, c’mon, people. Get real. Those 30-minute hold times are planned… to cull the mob down. Just part of the biz strategy created by evil fuckers with big smiles all bubbly with gratitude for your business.

Yeah, get real. Which is what I always advise entrepreneurs and biz owners to do when crafting their business plans and operating scripts. Don’t use the drivel doled out by big corporations when you’re creating pitches to your prospect and customer bases. Be real, tell the truth, and don’t make promises your ass can’t fulfill.

The worst are businesses that hire some PR firm to write up a “mission statement”. This is all the rage every so often, as the MBA schools recycle old tropes on doing biz. Not understanding what a USP is, and possessing no clue on how to actually deal with a prospect or customer, dazed biz owners will spend a lot of time and money positioning a statement out that is supposed to “define” the “culture” of the joint.

So we get lots of vague “the customer is king” and “you’re the boss” crap… which sounds great, but is just blabbering babble if not put into action.

Just like your old drinking buddy who would swear on his mother’s grave to pay you back for the ten-spot he borrows when he needs it… but, of course, has no ability to bring that promise along with him into the future, because he spends every dollar he makes, can’t plan to save his life, and gets offended when you become that asshole who wants his money back. Being true to your word is a vague concept without real meaning. Stop bugging me, man.

If you decide you want to shine at customer service, then DO IT. Don’t talk about it. Don’t slime me with your bullshit sincerity and grandiose promises. Just be really fucking good at customer service. The word will get out, trust me.

Think about this, and about your relationship with gratitude.

Yes, you’re VERY thankful to the grubby dude from the garage who drove out to fix your car in the rain. At the time he’s getting things done, and you’re sensing you’re gonna get out of this ordeal after all, you want to hug him. And you say, over and over again, how grateful you are that he exists.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. You’re not grateful enough to invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner, are you? You gonna help him move to a new apartment next weekend? Go watch the big game with him at the garage?

No, you’re not. Your main tool is expressing your gratitude, by saying it over and over. But once you’re off on your way, he’s a distant memory.

A nice twenty buck tip gets oodles more mileage than another heartfelt handshake. He may even go out of his way to rescue you the next time you run into a tree, remembering how monetarily grateful you were.

On the other hand, he may demure and not come at all, if he’s all creeped out over your slobbering hugs of impotent gratitude.

Lying is lying. The small lies in life set up the big ones. Nobody trusts nobody these days, for good reason — trust is and always has been earned, one act at a time. You can’t just announce that you’re trustworthy and have it mean anything.

In fact, one of the old street maxims is: Take whatever the guy says, and figure the opposite is true.

In biz, the client who brags about money not being a problem… has a cash flow problem. The colleague who talks big about trust is screwing your spouse. The accountant who has a mission statement centered on “serving the client” is embezzling. The joint is filled with liars.

This means there is always one darn good way to stand out in even the most crowded, cutthroat market out there. Just be honest, without making a big damn deal about it. In fact, don’t even bring it up. Don’t bullshit your audience, and don’t try to front-load your reputation with promises you can’t fulfill.

Your audience will let you know what your reputation is, soon enough.

Don’t be like that pilot blabbing about choices when there aren’t any. He is announcing to everyone that he is, at best, a mindless corporate shill. And if he wanders into the cabin during the flight and tells you something about not worrying, everything’s just dandy…

… you will be excused if your next act is to look for a parachute.

Consequences matter. Stop lying to yourself, to others, and to your business. Yes, to your business — it may not be a living, breathing thing, but it still operates in the corporeal world, just like the rest of us.

Don’t turn yourself into a lying shit heel, just because you want to sound all corporate-like.

It matters. Real gratitude has teeth, and is connected at the hip with action. Not bluster.

Thanks.

No, really, thanks.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Make sure you check out all the goodies available in the right hand column here. My books and courses make excellent Christmas gifts, you know…

It Ain’t Complicated

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Sunday, 8:15pm
Reno, NV
“I know what I want, and I know how to get it…” (The Sex Pistols, “Anarchy In The UK”)

Dept. Of Culture Shock, memo #1: I’ve been thinking about how Carlton’s First Inconvenient Rule of Entrepreneurship (“Step one is to implement a simple idea that succeeds; step two is to complicate the shit out of that simple idea so it eventually fails”) also applies to the civilization around us.

My father was perhaps one of the last men to actually experience a period where he completely understood — and could recreate and fix — almost everything around him. Born in the Industrial Age in 1920, he’d dug wells for water, tore apart and reassembled car engines, fixed his own plumbing, grew food in the back yard. He built things, including large government buildings, from blueprints. He knew how clocks and toasters and and asphalt and support beams worked.

Most of my colleagues, today, can’t even start a fire from scratch (let alone rewire the electricity in the house). And I clearly remember the day (in the early nineties) I was standing in a lot staring at the car I was about to buy, the hood open, wondering where the carburetor was…

… when the salesman casually informed me that engines were sealed now, and even if there had been a carburetor (which there wasn’t, since cars are all fuel-injected now), I wouldn’t be able to access it. Let alone fuss with it. Owners were no longer allowed to see, let alone touch, the working parts of the internal combustion engine anymore. If anything needed attention, I’d be alerted by a flashing light on the dashboard, and certified mechanics with bizarre tools not available at Home Depot would take care of it.

You? You keep your filthy civilian hands off the merchandise. Even when you own it.

As kids, we used to take telephones and radios and even TVs apart, and some of us could put ’em back together in working order. Not too long ago, an old and very savvy pal (who was handy building ham radios from scratch) admitted that he’d taken a laptop computer apart to see how it worked, and realized he had officially become a completely-clueless tech dinosaur… because there was zero way human eyes could even begin to see the tiny transistors inside.

Analog dudes living in a digital age. Not good. I can hear the Millennials laughing at us.

However, another Carlton Rule is: “There is always a way.” No matter what problem or situation you face, there is a way out. Saul Goodman (the lawyer from “Breaking Bad”) is the primary practitioner of this philosophy, of course (“I know a guy, who knows a guy… who knows a guy who does this”).

But it’s also the basis of all my high-end consulting. In 30+ years, I’ve never met a biz problem (or a personal problem) I couldn’t find a solution to. Or knew a guy who had the answer, one phone call away.

You may not like the solution, but it exists. You may have to change direction (or your attitude or bank account) radically, or entertain options that are distasteful to you… but there is always a way around a problem. My example of this, in “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”, is the drug war. Who are you gonna bet on — the multi-gazillion-dollar-funded US border security complex, with the most advanced helicopters, drones, submarines, scanners, weapons and computers…

… or the little Guatemalan farmer with his stash of weed he wants to sneak into the country?

Hint: Take the farmer. He’ll find a way.

And these two rules go hand-in-glove with each other. Yes, the culture (and everything around you) is getting more and more complex, spiraling away from your ability to understand any of it…

and, at the same time, yes, there are ways around being a slave to complexity.

Getting hip to this can save your butt, in biz and in private life.

Let’s take rock and roll as another example. In the early seventies, bands had gotten better and better in musicianship, stagecraft, and working in the studio. Just a few years earlier, garage bands without knowledge of electronics or soundscape management could still weasel their way into a studio and record a record live… and have it sell. “Louie, Louie”, by the Kingsmen, was recorded live in a garage. One take (cuz the lead singer was too drunk to do another). Mono, one mike hanging from the ceiling, a “good at the time” tape machine, no sound check. It was a different time, back when do-it-yourselfer’s could win.

But then things kept getting more complicated. By the early seventies, rock was taken over by bloated musician-heavy bands like Yes and stagecraft-oriented groups like Genesis. The garage bands were hopelessly outmatched in skill, technical ability, and resources.

Then, punk arrived. As a reaction to the bloated sound and restrictive nature of “professional”, expensively attired bands. Suddenly, it was a free-for-all again, and details be damned. Garage bands thrived for a second time.

The music had found a way around the problem.

Today, folks consider moving from an iPhone (phone, computer, web access, personal robot all-in-one) back to a now-ancient flip phone as a brave act of moving away from dependence on the Grid. Of course, they still can’t fix the flip phone if it breaks. It’s an illusionary and futile mission.

And I’ve met my share of pure geeks — guys who make the cast of The Big Bang Theory look like slacker hippies. They DO understand, and can manipulate (or hack) the digital world around them. However, they also tend to be weak on interpersonal skills with their fellow humans. Even freshly armed with state-of-the-art “pick-up artist” tactics, they can’t easily find love or intimacy or any of the interpersonal stuff they crave. And plumbing, growing your own food, and understanding how the infrastructure around us works isn’t on their radar.

In marketing, a few years back, you could build your own website on a laptop, find online traffic for cheap, and create an information product to sell in a weekend. With PayPal, you didn’t even need a merchant account. People were literally starting hot new businesses on their kitchen table, overnight.

Eventually, things got more complex. The rules changed, Google started slapping site owners who didn’t follow the fast-changing rules, Facebook started punishing folks who used their page for biz (after urging them to do so), affiliate mailers started demanding more sophisticated sales funnels with high-production video and pro-level design, federal regulations took aim at online biz…

… and things just got more complicated. Rookie entrepreneurs looking to break into online marketing can be excused for fainting at the sheer volume of stuff they have to learn to just get started. The heady no-holds-barred Wild West days of the Internet have drifted away into memory.

And yet…

… and yet, just like corporate bands forgot that the real magic was in the music, and not in the outfits or stage show or pompously produced records…

… a lot of today’s online biz owners forget that the raw fundamentals of salesmanship are still more important than the gaudy glitz of flashy tech.

It’s still simply about having a good product or service that someone wants… put in front of an audience of hungry prospects… and sold with a persuasive message that covers all the basics of a standard face-to-face deal. A good hook, some believable credibility, a real solution to a problem that is interrupting your prospect’s life (whether it’s something major like needing money, or something nagging like needing special tools to finish your daughter’s swing set out back).

Plus a simple delivery system for the product or service that makes everyone happy. So you can sell more stuff on the back end (where all the real profit is). (You DO have a back-end, don’t you?)

It can all be very low tech, too. Uncomplicated. Sure, you want to eventually test all the ways other marketers are successfully closing their deals — with video, launches, elaborate cross-marketing campaigns, affiliates, the works. All of which require a bit more know-how, probably some hired help, and lots of math.

But you get into that AFTER you establish you’ve got a winner. Make a few initial sales, get good feedback, make sure the value is there, and the profit. THEN move onto more complicated methods… when you have money coming in to pay for it.

A good rule (not mine — it goes way back): Find out as quickly and cheaply as possible if you have a winner or a loser. Ignore hunches and gut feelings — just create a prototype that is “good enough”, and see if people buy it in the Real World. Your house list is fine to go to first. Or do a low-cost Adwords campaign — you can run a few hundred bucks worth of ads, based on the insight to what’s working now from Google searches (which you can access for free via your free Adwords account). Just get moving with the resources available to you now. (And “free” or “cheap” is always a good thing.)

I talk all the time to wannabe entrepreneurs who get it in their head they need $50,000, or $100,000 (or more) just to get started. And you don’t.

There is a way around every problem in biz and life. Including being broke. Save up enough for a “war chest” to test your ideas. A few hundred bucks can do it…

IF you have the basics handled. That would be understanding salesmanship, having a good grasp of how to write your own sales messages (including ads, emails, pitches, etc)…

… and having access to a network of folks who can help you fill in the blanks in your skill set and information.

You CAN make a garage-band-style of entrepreneurship work. And you can still do it from your kitchen table, if you want, despite what all the “experts” are now trying to tell you.

The Web isn’t magic. It’s just another vehicle for helping marketers bring their product and services to prospects. It does this VERY WELL, and because it’s reach is global the number of prospects you can reach with an online message far, far exceeds what was possible in the old days where you only had newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.

What’s more, the costs involved, online, are a fraction of what it takes to run a print or broadcast ad campaign.

But the one thing that never changes, no matter where you present your product or service… is salesmanship. The fundamentals of crafting a damn good sales message that persuades people to buy your stuff.

That’s what this blog has been about since 2004. Smart entrepreneurs of every level (from rookie to veteran rockstar) have been browsing the archives as a daily ritual… because the joint is crammed to bursting with articles on every aspect of being a successful entrepreneur.

So, while it’s still early in the year, why not get into the habit of reading a handful of articles each week, starting today. The education you’ll get — for free — exceeds anything you’d get from a single seminar or book on biz. Even more, in some cases, than you’d get from a couple of years in certain biz schools (cuz the idiot running those classes have never actually been successful in the real world).

The thing is, get started. And know that no matter WHAT your problems are, or what your sticking points are, or what your biggest fears are…

there is ALWAYS a way around them. Solutions exist. And many of them can be found here, in the blog.

Happy reading.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Okay, while we’re talking “cheap”…

… it needs to be pointed out that the membership dues of the online Insider’s Club we run (hosted by my biz partner Stan Dahl, and where I have a virtual “desk” that I hang out at) is still just $29 a month. With no commitment beyond your current month. No sneaky obligations. Nothing standing in your way.

And yet you will immediately have access to the kind of resources that veteran biz owners lust after — coaching on the latest trends and fads, networking with the members and staff (very important), lessons on creating products and ads, archives of great ads to swipe (with instructions on how to do it successfully), interviews with the greats of marketing and advertising…

… plus a wide-open opportunity to get a personal phone consultation with me and Stan. On YOUR biz, or what’s bugging you or holding you back. Copy critiques, business plan help, emergency intervention in campaigns… we do it all, every month.

And, that part is free. Part of being a member. Your measly $29/month covers all of it. (Regular consultations with me run $2,500.)

If you aren’t part of a hot network of working entrepreneurs, writers and experts… then you’re just ROBBING yourself of the main resource successful biz owners enjoy: Networking.

Check it out here: See What The Insider’s Club Is All About.

 

 

Gratitude, Schmatitude

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Friday, 2:22pm
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones…” (Bob Dylan)

Howdy…

Lots of talk about gratitude these days. There are entire movements (run by schmaltzy guru’s in nice suits) centered on getting folks to feel the gratitude, to embrace and become it.

Like it’s magic or something.

It ain’t.

Knowing how to appreciate the important stuff in your life is a good thing, of course. Being grateful for what you have should be a daily moment, part of being mindful about what’s going on around you and within you (and around and within those you love, deal with, oppose and haven’t met yet).

Early in my career, while devouring self-help books — I read one Og Mandino for every biz book I read for awhile, just to keep my heart and soul moving forward along with my brain — I even went so far as to acknowledge the non-living things around me. I would thank a keyboard, for example, for serving me so well when I replaced it. And mean it. Give it a decent burial in the trash, introduce myself to the new keyboard and get back to work. Same with my shoes, my thrashed car (which needed the encouragement, I can assure you), my favorite pens, and so on. It doesn’t even seem silly now… it makes sense to be mindful of the tools that help us do what we do. Astronauts name their shuttles, sailors name their ships, and I assign my beat-up leather coat a personality.

So I’m an old hand at thanking the universe and the things and people around me as I move along.

But a little perspective, please.

For too many business people, there’s no real thought given to the notion of gratitude. They act like just saying the word creates a magical forcefield of wonderment and power.

So we get airline flight attendants urgently crooning over the intercom that if there is ANYTHING they can do to make our flight more comfortable, just ask.

Which is, of course, pure bullshit.

The things that would make me more comfy — like more leg room, wider and plusher seats, and maybe a mickey in the drunk’s beer next to me so he’ll shut up — are not within their toolkit. I mean, a foot massage would be nice, too, but even mentioning it would have the air marshals on your butt in a heartbeat.

So why do they even say it?

Sometimes it’s just habit, from the old scripts they used to read. The job requirements included big smiles, friendly demeanor even in the face of rudeness, and a steady stream of patter to calm folks down while the jet screamed through the heavens eight miles up.

So even in towns like Reno, you still get the pilots schmoozing about “we know you have a choice when you fly”… when we absolutely do NOT. And every passenger on the plane knows it. If you’re headed anywhere on the beaten track, it’s Southwest or the highway.

And AT&T robots love to drone while you’re on hold, about how grateful they are to have you as a customer. It’s all please and thank you and yes, sir. The gratitude practically drips from the phone…

… but they aren’t grateful enough to hire more operators to handle your complaint. I mean, c’mon, people. Get real. Those 30-minute hold times are planned. By evil fuckers with big smiles all bubbly with gratitude for your business.

Yeah, get real. Which is what I always advise entrepreneurs and biz owners to do when crafting their business plans and operating scripts. Don’t use the drivel doled out by big corporations when you’re creating pitches to your prospect and customer bases. Be real, tell the truth, and don’t make promises your ass can’t fulfill.

The worst are businesses that hire some PR firm to write up a “mission statement”. This is all the rage every so often, as the MBA schools recycle old tropes on doing biz. Not understanding what a USP is, and possessing no clue on how to actually deal with a prospect or customer, dazed biz owners will spend a lot of time and money positioning a statement out that is supposed to “define” the “culture” of the joint.

So we get lots of vague “the customer is king” and “you’re the boss” crap… which sounds great, but is just blabbering babble if not put into action.

Just like your old drinking buddy who would swear on his mother’s grave to pay you back for the ten-spot he borrows when he needs it… but, of course, has no ability to bring that promise along with him into the future, because he spends every dollar he makes, can’t plan to save his life, and gets offended when you become that asshole who wants his money back. Being true to your word is a vague concept without real meaning. Stop bugging me, man.

If you decide you want to shine at customer service, then DO IT. Don’t talk about it. Don’t slime me with your bullshit sincerity and grandiose promises. Just be really fucking good at customer service. The word will get out, trust me.

Think about this, and about your relationship with gratitude.

Yes, you’re VERY thankful to the grubby dude from the garage who drove out to fix your car in the rain. At the time he’s getting things done, and you’re sensing you’re gonna get out of this ordeal after all, you want to hug him. And you say, over and over again, how grateful you are that he exists.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. You’re not grateful enough to invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner, are you? You gonna help him move to a new apartment next weekend? Go watch the big game with him at the garage?

No, you’re not. Your main tool is expressing your gratitude, by saying it over and over. But once you’re off on your way, he’s a distant memory.

A nice twenty buck tip gets oodles more mileage than another heartfelt handshake. He may even go out of his way to rescue you the next time you run into a tree, remembering how monetarily grateful you were.

On the other hand, he may demure and not come at all, if he’s all creeped out over your slobbering hugs of impotent gratitude.

Lying is lying. The small lies in life set up the big ones. Nobody trusts nobody these days, for good reason — trust is and always has been earned, one act at a time. You can’t just announce that you’re trustworthy and have it mean anything.

In fact, one of the old street maxims is: Take whatever the guy says, and figure the opposite is true.

In biz, the client who brags about money not being a problem… has a cash flow problem. The colleague who talks big about trust is screwing your spouse. The accountant who has a mission statement centered on “serving the client” is embezzling. The joint is filled with liars.

This means there is always one darn good way to stand out in even the most crowded, cutthroat market out there. Just be honest. Don’t bullshit your audience, and don’t try to front-load your reputation with promises you can’t fulfill.

Your audience will let you know what your reputation is, soon enough.

Don’t be like that pilot blabbing about choices when there aren’t any. He is announcing to everyone that he is, at best, a mindless corporate shill. And if he wanders into the cabin during the flight and tells you something about not worrying, everything’s just dandy…

… you will be excused if your next act is to look for a parachute.

Consequences matter. Stop lying to yourself, to others, and to your business. Yes, to your business — it may not be a living, breathing thing, but it still operates in the corporeal world, just like the rest of us.

Don’t turn it into a lying shit heel, just because you want to sound all corporate-like.

It matters. Real gratitude has teeth, and is connected at the hip with action. Not bluster.

Thanks.

No, really, thanks.

Stay frosty,

John

 

Bad John, Good John

Amazon Best Sellers - Marketing - Direct copy 2

Sunday, 11:59am
Reno, NV
You’re so vain…” (Carly Simon, dissing Warren Beatty)

Howdy…

I’ve been meaning to explain some things to y’all for a while, and there’s no better time than now to do it.

Cuz, huzzah, my latest ebook just zoomed to the top of the pile in multiple categories on Amazon last week. “Simple Success Secrets No One Told You About” is the first (of several) “best of” compilations from the archives of this blog… and anyone who’s enjoyed reading my drivel should probably pony up the $2.99 and grab it. (Here’s the link.)

Great for you brain. Great for your motivation. Great for your bottom line (if you’re after wealth and happiness). Great all the way around, I gotta say.

However…

I still feel the need to warn folks that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Long-time readers of my rantings know what to expect, of course — deliberately mangled grammar, lots of cussing and outrageousness, and absolutely no quarter given to bullshit at any time. This is hard-core biz and living-well advice, tactics and solutions.

Plus…

… most of my stories revolve around my misadventures out there in the cold, cruel world.

This is not because I’m some rabid egomaniac. (I actually advocate murdering your ego, because it does more harm than good in anyone’s life. Including mine. At the beginning of my seminars, I always spend some time theatrically having people “toss” their ego, so the event can progress without folks getting offended, feeling personally attacked, or just getting their panties in a twist because their ox got gored. Ego sucks.)

No. The reason my books and lessons usually feature a look inside my head is simply because that’s how I learned everything I know about life and business. Since the very first days of my career, I have tried to live an “examined life”, just like Aristotle advised. (Or was it Socrates? Never mind.) I reconsidered my life as an ongoing movie, and I had input to how the script played out…

… so I strove to understand what happened to me each day. And then I deconstructed each event — what the facts were, how I reacted, what I did that was okay, what I did that was clearly a dumb-ass blunder, and what the other “actors” did or didn’t do to contribute to the scene.

This is how I managed to find the great lessons of life and biz. You do something, things cook or explode or simmer, and consequences ensue. And then you study every shred of it. 

I was a one-man living laboratory for testing out the theories and advice and tactics I encountered. Because my freelance career kept me busy with a now-uncountable number of fresh clients (all with unique businesses and situations and neuroses and problems), I had a front-row seat for the biggest show around: How things get either done or botched-up in reality.

If I read a biz book that offered advice on negotiating with clients, for example, I could often put it to use the very next day. If it worked, I used it again and kept refining it. If it didn’t work, I tried to see how I could have screwed it up… or how it was bullshit advice in the first place. (This happened a lot, by the way. Books are essential to learning, but theories that do not actually WORK in the real world are useless. And yet, maybe half the biz books out there are just spring-loaded bullshit dispensers.)

Same with all the tactics I picked up from other writers and mentors, or observed during biz transactions. And also with all the advice for how to prosper, or live healthier, or reduce stress, or a thousand other nuggets of insight (or drivel) that could affect the quality of my life.

I was relentless, too. I wanted to figure out what created success, and what triggered failure. There were HUGE lessons no matter what happened — in fact, I learned more from failing than I ever did from accidentally doing anything correctly…

… as long as I dissected what happened, and learned from it.

I’ve often said that — because I was so freakin’ clueless when I started out — I made most of the mistakes possible in the first decade of my career (and throughout my private life). And… I learned SO MUCH from those mistakes, that I’m sorry I didn’t make EVERY mistake possible. It simply would have expanded my self-education even further.

So…

… when I write about a lesson in biz or life in general… it’s a lesson I’ve learned personally. Usually by making a mess, and immediately cleaning it up, examining every detail of what went down, deconstructing the good and bad points… and figuring out what I could have done differently.

THEN… and this is important… I went back out (often the very next day) and DID IT RIGHT. Whether it was negotiating with a client, using naps to organize my thoughts (like David Ogilvy), writing better bullets, dealing with a disgruntled customer on the phone, finding the best lists to mail, or whatever…

… I learned my lesson, and re-engaged with the world to see if what I learned was spot-on, or needed refinement, or was part of that “nuanced” arsenal of biz tactics that require focus, new skills and multiple decision points to put into action.

So, yes, I’m the dude in the center of the story. I’m not discussing theory here, or something I’ve heard about from some wonderful source.

Nope. My stories are about me, out there in the jungle, chewing up scenery and knocking stuff over and making huge messes…

… and then figuring out how to do better, and then DOING better almost immediately.

The charge I sometimes hear –that I’m an egomaniac who is arrogant about giving advice –is just pure bullshit. I’m a total introvert, and prefer to spend the majority of my life away from crowds. My books seem autobiographical simply because sharing the best lessons require giving you a peek into my life… and so that’s what I do. I share what I’ve learned (the hard way) as a copywriter, as a business owner, as a consultant, as a regular person just trying to do the right thing out there.

I’ve lived a great life, crammed with adventure, heartache, stark terror, love, and more success than I’ve ever felt I deserved. I’m humbled that others consider me a resource for learning, and proud that my career of blunders and missteps can serve as a shortcut for others. So you don’t have to spend decades making every mistake out there, just to figure out what the good lessons are. I’ve already done that. I’m bruised, scarred, and grizzled from the process, but happy to share.

In truth, you’ll still want to learn some of the really juicy lessons yourself anyway. Like “money doesn’t buy happiness”. It’s just more effective (and often more fun) to discover that for your own bad self… though, having a little foreknowledge from a trusted dude like me will at least prepare you when Reality smacks you in the face (and wallet, and soul, and heart) later.

I knew NONE of the essential lessons when I started out. I was like a babe in the forest, blundering along with nothing but a small amount of skills, a huge amount of chutzpah, and a raw determination to get it right (based on my flimsy plan, which didn’t have an alternative to making freelancing work as a new career.) I literally had no idea what I’d do if I failed — a situation I do NOT advise anyone else to attempt, though the motivation was pretty spectacular (if scary as hell).

There is plenty of real arrogance and “full of yourself” attitudes in the biz world. I’ve dealt with a vast mob of clients, colleagues, customers, prospects, looky-loo’s, rubber-neckers, jerks, heroes, lovers, haters, n’eer-do-well’s and basket cases…

… and I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out what makes them tick. And buy. And flee, and get mad, and go off the deep end, and melt down, and everything else this crazy human race is capable of.

I love it all. And I love my fans and readers dearly, and really care about making this process of learning fun, funny and memorable.

So that’s why I write my stories from a personal point-of-view.

And it’s why those tales are so vivid, and crammed with twists and turns. It’s real life. I want the freakin’ pain I experienced getting educated to have had a purpose.

Again — I’m honored that you find my blog, my books, my courses and speeches worthwhile. I get chills when I hear from someone who had a breakthrough, or a sudden success, or even just started on a better path because of a lesson I shared.

Get the latest ebook, or don’t. (Just click on the icon at the top of the right hand column here.) You can wander through the archives on this blog for free, of course, and track the posts down in their original form. That’s why we priced this ebook so low (it’s just $2.99), because it’s all from the blog. But it’s edited, and organized, and in a pretty awesome presentation. Easy to read, nice to have on your Kindle or iPad or whatever, a damn good kick in the butt for any entrepreneur or freelancer wanting to take your game up a few levels.

If you don’t mind, if you DO purchase the ebook, go back to the Amazon page (here) and leave a review. No matter what you thought of the stories and advice, other potential readers rely on reviews like yours to help decide whether to invest some time in the ebook or not.

Some of the reviews I’ve had for other books have been outraged at my language, at the raw honesty, and at what they perceive as my “arrogance” in writing from a personal point of view.

Doesn’t matter. For every person who is insulted or angered, I know that multiple other folks were relieved to have found a nutcase like me who tells it like it is, and has the experience, savvy and track record to help out.

Stay frosty, my friend.

John

P.S. Love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section. I’ll wander in there to see what kind of ruckus you’re causing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Congratulations… Now, Stop Being A Wuss

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Monday, 1:32pm
Reno, NV
But it’s all right… in fact it’s a gas…” (The Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”)

Howdy…

It’s time for another orgy of graduation rites across the land…

… and, in honor of it all, I am re-posting my now globally-notorious big damn rant on the subject. This was one of the more popular posts I’ve written, so it deserves an annual rediscovery.

So, without further ado… here’s the fifth redux of that post:

Nobody’s ever asked me to give the commencement speech for a graduating class.

That’s probably a good thing. I’m pretty pissed off at the education system these days, and I might cause a small riot with the rant I’d surely deliver.

See, I have a university “education”. A BA in psychology. (The BA stands for, I believe, “bullshit amassed”.) I earned it several decades ago…

… and while I had a good time in college (height of the sex revolution, you know, with a soundtrack that is now called “classic rock”), made some lifelong friends, and got a good look at higher learning from the inside…

… that degree provided zilch preparation for the real world. Didn’t beef me up for any job, didn’t give me insight to how things worked, didn’t do squat for me as an adult.

I waltzed off-campus and straight into the teeth of the worst recession since the Great Depression (offering us Nixon’s wage-freeze, record unemployment, an oil embargo, and near-total economic turmoil)…

… so, hey, I should have a little empathy for today’s grads, right?

Naw.

While today’s graduates are facing similar grim economic times, there’s been a significant change in the concept behind a college education. Somehow, over the years, a bizarre mantra has taken hold in kids minds: “Get a degree, and it’s a ticket to the Good Life.

A job is expected to be offered to you before the ink is dry on your diploma.

And it really, really matters WHICH school you get that diploma from.

You know what I say?

Bullshit. Okay, maybe if you go to Yale or Harvard, you can make the connections on Wall Street and in Washington to get your game on. Maybe. (More likely, those connections are already available, if you’re gonna get ’em, through family bloodlines… and the Ivy’s are just playing up their famous track records in a classic sleight-of-hand. And good luck to you if you’re not an insider.)

Put aside the advancement opportunities offered to spawn of the oligarchy, though… and the realities of life-outside-of-academia do not jive at all with the propaganda doled out by the university systems.

Many of the richest guys I know are drop-outs. Some are HIGH SCHOOL drop-outs. The few friends who did go to the kind of school whose name causes eyebrows to rise…

… are ALL working far outside their major. To the point that nothing they learned has proven to be even remotely useful to their adult life. (Unless they stumble upon another over-educated dweeb at a cocktail party and get into a bare-knuckle Trivial Pursuit marathon.)

Too many people get all confused and bewildered about “education” as opposed to “going to college”.

It’s not the same thing, folks.

Some of the most clueless individuals I’ve ever met have impressive diplomas… while nearly all of the most savvy (and wealthy) individuals I know done got educated all on their lonesomes.

I learned more about history, business and psychology in 2 weeks of serious pre-Web library surfing (with a speed reading course under my belt) than I did in 4 years of college.

And I learned more about life in 3 months of hanging out with street-wise salesmen than I did from ANY source, anywhere, up to that time.

By all means, go to college if that’s part of your Master Plan to having a great life. You’ll meet interesting people, and it’s a Rite Of Passage for many Americans these days.

But don’t do it blindly. Just cuz The Man says it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.

Do some critical thinking before you jump in.

And if you really want that degree in Russian literature, or women’s studies, or political science, or whatever… then fine. Go get ’em. Grrr.

Just KNOW that you can probably educate your own damn self on those subjects… and even get a deeper understanding of it all… by reading every book written about it, and interviewing a few experts. And if you can get private mentoring from someone, even better.

This can all take place during evenings and weekends, over the course of a few months, while you hold down a day job. Even if you buy the books, instead of hitting up libraries, you’ll have spent less on this specialized education than you’d pay for a single semester in “real” school.

And, unless you’re the laziest screw-up ever, you’ll actually learn MORE in those few months of intense immersion… than you would with a full-on degree.

You know how I can make this bold claim with a straight face?

Because this is what I’ve been doing as a freelancer for decades. Every time I wrote for a new market, I spent weeks immersing myself in it… learning everything I could about it from the inside-out. And this process often made me more of an expert than the client himself.

And I did it over and over and over again.

It was just part of the job. All top freelancers do this.

Once you lose your fear of self-education…

… you can finally let it sink in that WE LIVE IN THE FREAKIN’ INFORMATION AGE. The joint is crammed to bursting with books, ebooks, videos, websites, courses…

… the whole world is CRAZY well-stocked. There are teachers and coaches and mentors available if you need supervision. (I’ve partaken of this opportunity frequently over my life.) Boards and fan-zines and forums and membership sites abound (for bitching and moaning, as well as for networking with peers).

It’s a cornucopia of knowledge, experience and adventure out there.

Yes, there are blind alleys and pitfalls and wrong turns…

… but once you’re committed to learning something, these are just brief excursions off the main drag… and you can use even your failures as advanced learning tools as you gain expert status. (In fact, it’s really required that you screw up at least a little bit. Otherwise, you never get perspective.)

And best of all…

… you can engage with life as you go. And skip the jarring nonsense of the Ivory Tower bubble.

(One caveat to self-education: You must, early on, read up on how debates are actually taught. Or join a debate club.

I’m serious. Best thing I’ve ever done. As you sample debating, you should demand that you get to defend the OPPOSITE viewpoint that you currently hold for any subject. This forces you to look beyond your petty biases, and open your mind to other points of view.

This is a HUGE advantage to have in your toolkit throughout life. Everyone else will be hobbled with un-examined party-line nonsense and indoctrinated crap they can’t even begin to defend when challenged…

… while you — with your rare ability to walk in anyone’s shoes, and to feel the pain or glory of alien thought patterns — will forever more see beyond the sound bites and cliches. And be able to eloquently explain anything, to anyone.

You will actually begin to sense vestiges of “truth” in the wreckage of our modern culture.

I don’t have to tell you how that might apply to marketing, do I?)

Most people will not go this route of self-examination and immersion-learning, of course. The concept of taking control of your own education seems kinda threatening and foreign to the majority out there.

We spend the first years of our lives sitting quietly in classrooms, being brainwashed to believe we don’t know shit (and that Teacher knows everything). That’s excellent training for hitting a groove in college and post-grad pursuits…

… but it’s piss-poor preparation for Life In The Concrete Jungle.

Again, nothing wrong about going with the status quo. No shame.

Just don’t expect to learn much about the way the world works. You’re learning how academia works. Different animal.

Wanna hear my short speech on how to prepare yourself for life? (I’ve edited this from a recent post I wrote for the Simple Writing System mentoring program. Lots of great stuff keeps coming out of that gig…)

(Okay, quick plug: Check out www.simplewritingsystem.com to start your own adventure as a high-end sales master, if you’re so inclined…)

Here’s my mini-rant: I’m extremely prejudiced about this subject, of course. If I ran the world, everyone would get at least a taste of being an entrepreneur, during their formative years.

It will taste bitter to most people. And that’s fine. No harm, no foul. Move on to getting that job with The Man.

But for some… it will be sweet nectar. A thrill like nothing else they’ve ever experienced before.

Being an entrepreneur takes balls.

But you don’t have to “be” a ballsy kind of person.

You just have to understand how to implement your goals… which requires a little savvy about getting stuff done in the face of opposition and obstacles. Which is the definition of “ballsy”. Most folks who are successful at achieving goals were not born with the necessary attitude.

They learned the skill of living life with guts, just like they learned every other important skill associated with the gig.

I OFTEN intervene even with long-time professionals (like freelance writers, or veteran biz owners) who are screwing up their efforts to be successful.

My main advice: “Stop being a wuss. Everyone is scared. The successful ones acknowledge that fear, put it aside, and just get busy taking care of business.”

It really is that simple.

Life beyond childhood is for grown-ups. If you’re scared, you can take a regular job somewhere, and stay far away from the risks and realities of being your own boss.

On the other hand… if you’ve got entrepreneur’s blood in your veins… and you really DO want to be your own boss…

… then allow the reality of doing so to wash over you, and embrace it.

Everyone is unsure of themselves out there. There are no guarantees in life for anything… and getting into biz is among the riskiest things of all to do.

A tiny percentage of skydivers will die each year while jumping… but a vast chunk of rookie business owners will fail.

This is why you pursue the skills of salesmanship. Learning how to create a wicked-good sales message, how to close a deal, and how to bond with a target market is the PRIMARY weapon you want walking into ANY business environment.

Will you still fail? Maybe.

But you will NOT fail because you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. If knowing how to persuade and influence can make your business sizzle, then learning salesmanship means you’re armed to the teeth. Like everything else in life, having the right tools for the job at hand is the best way to put the odds in your favor.

MOST people are not meant to be their own boss. The world needs followers, too.

Here’s what I tell students in the Simple Writing System, when doubts about their future bubble up: “Just by diving into the SWS, you have shown that there is something different burning inside you. No one held a gun to your head and forced you to come here to learn these skills. You decided to join all on your own.

“Even if you’re not yet sure why you’ve joined us here… you need to understand that MOST people would never even consider doing anything like this.

“Independence freaks most people out. The thought of standing up and taking responsibility for the birth and success of a business is terrifying… and most will refuse to even entertain the thought.

“This is, by the way, why you should always enter the entrepreneurial world WITHOUT relying on your current crop of friends for support.

“They will not applaud your efforts. They think you’re batshit crazy for daring to even consider being your own boss. They will (consciously or unconsciously) sabotage your progress if they can, and rejoice in your failures… because if you DO succeed, that kills their main excuse for not succeeding themselves. Most folks believe success is all about luck and magic. When you dig in and actually do the work necessary to succeed, you piss all over their world view that The Little Guy Can’t Win.

“If you’ve made friends or started a network of fellow travelers here in the SWS, great. Most entrepreneurs have to operate alone (until they stumble on places like this, where they can find help, advice and coaching). That loneliness just intensifies the fear and sense of risk.

But I’ll tell you the truth: As scary as being independent is…

“… once you’ve tasted it, you’ll be hooked.”

Most entrepreneurs who enjoy even a little success instantly become “unemployable”. After thinking for yourself, after taking responsibility for your success or failure, after engaging the world fully aware and experiencing the thrill of living large…

… you’re worthless to a boss. He can’t use anyone who thinks for themselves.

Are you wracked with doubt?

That voice you hear — the one knocking you down, digging a knife into your gut and highlighting your worst fears — is JUST A VOICE.

In psychoanalytic talk, it’s your “Super Ego”… the scolding parent’s voice, the doubter of your abilities, the whiny little bastard bent on keeping you down.

And it can easily be sent packing.

Most people allow others to rule their lives. Rules and bad advice and grim experiences dating back to childhood somehow become “the way it is”…

… and regardless of any proof otherwise, they will obey that voice until they die.

And yet, all you have to do…

… is acknowledge the voice (“Yes, I hear you, you little shit”), realize it’s not your friend… and lock it in a dungeon deep in your brain, where you can’t hear it anymore.

I speak from experience on this subject. I was ruled by The Voice Of Doom for the first half of my life. I didn’t even try to take responsibility for my success, because The Voice told me it was hopeless. That I was hopeless. That Fate had nothing but failure in store for me.

Then, I realized that The Voice was actually full of it. I proved it, slowly at first, by setting a goal outside The Voice’s warnings… and then achieving it. And then doing it again.

It’s like superstition. I used to be the most superstitious guy you’ve ever met. Literally, my life was dominated by superstitions.

Then, one day, I just decided to see how real those superstitions were. So I violated every single one of them. On purpose. If I had previously thought some action was “bad luck”, I would do it, blatantly, just to see what kind of bad luck occurred.

And, of course, no bad luck ever appeared.

The human brain is crammed with nonsense like this. Superstitions, bad rules, dumb beliefs, unfounded fears and ridiculous feelings of guilt and shame.

Especially guilt and shame.

You know what a fully functioning adult does? They don’t approach life believing it should be a certain way, or wish that life was a certain way.

No. They engage with life the way it really is. You make your own luck. Rules sometimes make good sense, but deserve to be broken when they’re clearly stupid. Belief systems often have nothing to do with reality. (You can “believe” you’re gonna win the lottery with all your heart and soul… and it won’t change reality one tiny bit.)

Fear is a natural part of our defense system… and it can get out of hand in modern times.

So you need to dig in and get to know your fears. Some are fine — don’t walk down that dark alley if you’re not prepared to deal with the things that happen in dark alleys.

Others are counter-productive — you had a bad experience once when you were 12, and so what? Get over it, put on your Big Boy or Big Girls Pants, and re-engage with life.

And shame? Guilt and shame are useless. On the road of life, feeling guilty about something is like setting up camp and refusing to move or progress any further.

Instead, try “remorse” — recognize when you’ve done something wrong, clean up the mess, fix what you’ve broken as best you can, and make amends to people you’ve hurt.

And don’t “vow” to do better next time.

Instead, actually DO something to change your behavior or habits. Promises are bullshit. Action is the only way to move through life in a positive way.

Don’t promise to do better. Just do better. This will probably involve learning something new — a new skill, a new way of dealing with life, a new set of behaviors.

Doing this will set you apart from the majority of other people out there, too.

The modern Renaissance Man or Woman is something awesome to behold. While the rest of the world increasingly sinks into a snoozing Zombie-state — indoctrinated, fooled, manipulated and played– you have the option of becoming MORE aware, more awake, more alert and ready to live life with gusto.

However, no one is going to force you to do this.

If you want to join the Feast of Life, you have to step up and earn your seat at the table. You will not be invited in. You will not stumble in by accident, or stroke of luck.

Nope. You must take responsibility for your own life… figure out what you want… and then go get it.

It’s a daunting task for most folks… too daunting to even contemplate.

For the few who know it’s what they want, however… it’s all just a matter of movement and action.

Yes, it can be scary. Life is terrifying, at times.

It’s also only worth living, for many people, when you go after it with all your heart.

There are no replays on this game. No second tickets for the ride.

You’re allowed to sleep through all of it. Most folks do.

If that’s not good enough for you any more, then welcome to the rarefied air of the entrepreneur world.

It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s scary, and there’s no safety net below you.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And that’s the commencement speech I’d give.

Put you to sleep, didn’t it.

Okay, my work is done here.

What would YOU tell new grads? Lay it out in the comments, below…

Stay frosty,

John “The Prof” Carlton

That’s Not Funny, Part One

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Wednesday, 8:59 pm
Reno, NV
What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” (Nick Lowe)

Howdy…

One of the first things you hear, when you’re learning about fundamental copywriting and ad creation…

… is to avoid humor like the plague. The great David Ogilvy said “People do not buy from clowns.” This pre-dated Jack-In-The-Box’s latest commercial model (where they’re so obviously going after the stoner market with late-night “Munchie Meal” take-out boxes that it’s funny on multiple levels)…

… yet, overall, most high-end marketers still agree with it.

Even the funniest copywriters I know (and let me assure you that many of the best bust-your-gut-laughing humans alive are, indeed, copywriters) (weirdo bunch, totally) almost never insert humor into their sales copy. Almost. Occasionally, when it’s absolutely safe (like writing to your own house list, full of folks proven to have the EXACT same sense of humor you have, right down to the Animal House reruns and Adult Swim shows you all watch)… they may go off the reservation and aim for making readers spit up their morning coffee over an email.

But it’s rare. More likely, the funny-guy guru’s you follow have a “meta-text personality” that includes some risky guffaw moments here and there, just to position them in their market as too-cool-for-school (and thus intellectually superior to their competition)…

… which they’ll jettison at the point of closing any sale.

Cuz money is serious biz. And most buyers (not looky-loo’s, but buyers) aren’t keen on being the butt of a joke, and tend to distrust salesmen who seem a bit too… funny. (Even the word “funny” means both being humorous, and also being weird, brain-damaged and untrustworthy.)

Now, I’m a fairly humorous fella. (And any brain damage I’ve sustained is all better now.) I’ve made a colleague snort coffee through their nose as recently as… well, yesterday, on the phone. Other writers collect my private emails, and read them to family and friends. (Part of that may be a self-defense strategy against their spouse’s assessment of a life in advertising as being “boring”.) I’ve also caused entire ballrooms to laugh so hard, some attendees almost wet themselves. And I’ve even used “okay, you got me” sarcasm to get my point across to a reluctant client during consulting.

Of all the things I value the most in life… laughter and humor rank in the top five. (Just below sex, In ‘N Out hamburgers, craft IPA beer, and the NBA.) (Oh, and my Jack Russell terrorist dog. Sorry, girl. Almost forgot you…) (And my ’64 Stratocaster. And Turner Classic Movies. And…)

Okay, whatever. It ranks high, anyway. It’s a big part of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a friend, colleague, writer and consultant.

And yet, when a sales process gets down to the shorthairs…

… I’m as serious as a mortician.

Losing a sale because you screwed around is NOT funny. It is, rather, a fucking tragedy.

So all the top writers I know have a strict rule against tickling the funny bone of a prospect… at least, when things get to “that point”.

However, we also really, really, really want to find exceptions to this rule. We figure there’s GOT to be an exception, somewhere.

Which means we’ve all become minor experts on the topic of humor. Because, it turns out, while everyone believes they own a “great” sense of humor… the truth is, few (if any) civilians understand humor at all.

So, I thought I’d share some of the research I (and some of my colleagues) (including writers like Kevin Rogers, who spent a decade as a stand-up comic before getting into advertising) have dug up…

… in no particular order…

… just as a starter guide to why we mostly don’t (but sometimes do) use humor in our marketing:

The Joke’s On Us #1: In the last few decades, Ivy League universities have started studying humor, trying to get a baseline understanding of what’s funny to most people, and why.

And their first biggest discovery was that many people have no sense of humor at all. None.

However, while these funny-challenged folks have no idea why you’re bent over laughing at a certain joke or situation…

… they are often very astute to the social cues of humor, and will be holding their bellies right along with you, laughing out loud.

They’re faking it. Or, more precisely, they wait a beat after observing other people laughing, and join in as a social “bonding” routine. They’re supporting the good vibes that mass laughter brings to any social setting… kinda like nodding in agreement, or applauding.

Researchers figured this out by tricking people in studies — seeding a small crowd with actors who laughed on cue at non-funny things, and recording the actions of study participants. Folks with actual senses of humor would smile in a bewildered way, wondering why they weren’t getting the joke. But the fakers had no such objective judgments — the crowd laughed, so they laughed, too.

Reading about these findings blew my mind. I’d suspected something like this was going on, because I had friends who laughed a bit too hard, or who seemed to mainly use loud guffaws as a way to show dominance in a conversation. So I did some of my own testing, watching closely when fakers actually began laughing (a beat behind everyone else).

If you ask, most people will say they have a great sense of humor. Insider their world, they do. Whatever they find funny (or socially acceptable to laugh at, as a bonding process) is what’s funny. This is how humans operate. All measurements of behavior begin with what you’re doing as the universal standard for normal, or moral, or just “the right way”… and if others don’t agree, then they’re just wrong.

Marketer’s Insight: While no one is sure what percentage of the population is actually humor-challenged, it IS a large chunk of your fellow citizens. So when you’re creating marketing aimed at a large group of prospects, you cannot assume that ANY of them will grok your sense of humor.

Just like half or more will reject your politics (and yes, I know you have a superior understanding of politics to everyone else on the planet). And your religious views.

The rule in bars is “no talking about politics or religion”… because it leads to fights.

For marketers, you can add “no funny stuff” to that list. You simply cannot predict what any list will find funny, or not find funny, or be offended or baffled.

The Joke’s On Us #2: One of the first challenges the researchers found was agreeing on how to “measure” what’s funny.

Turns out it’s not a simple thing at all. In fact, the commercial uses of humor is relatively recent — the stand-up comic was invented during vaudeville, which required between-act ring-leaders to keep the audience happy. Shakespeare and Mozart and other post-Enlightenment entertainers made liberal use of what we now call slap-stick (the term literally refers to Medieval clowns using a paddle on each other) and “low brow” humor to delight certain audiences… and more intellectual mockery and sarcasm to make the sophisticated elites titter.

So the people creating entertainment, or trying to influence public opinion or sway a vote, might know how to get a response… but it was an inexact science. Making one part of the audience laugh might offend another part.

The researchers have gotten lost in the weeds trying to define humor. (Some studies have claimed to be able to determine your socio-economic status by what you laugh at, in fact. Fart jokes and pratfalls for the working class, existential stories based on willful misinterpretations of esoteric knowledge for the elites.) (The flaw in this kind of study, of course, is that semi-illiterate yahoo entrepreneur’s can make buckets of moolah with a good biz, and over-educated snobs may be dead-broke slackers.)

It’s gonna take a while for researchers to get it all straight (if they ever do).

The thing is, humor is complicated.

But it’s also a major element of business and social life, so thinking critically about it gives you an edge.

Here’s how I’ve broken it down (through a long life of observing):

  • There are two basic “professional” uses of humor (in biz settings) — as a weapon to establish a better status position… or as a bonding tool (which can be an innocent way of forming friendships, which may later become alliances). All of my close longtime friends have wicked senses of humor, for example. Others who I consider good people, but whose funny-bone isn’t so funny to me, never penetrate the Inner Circle. This has not been done consciously — it’s just the way things sift out. But it’s very interesting to note, isn’t it?
  • The weaponized use of humor employs mockery, sarcasm, and crude jokes that seek to identify “winners” and “losers” (or “The Other”). It’s very risky when you don’t know your audience (and that political or racist joke falls flat), but it can be nastily effective when dealing with the home crowd (so your insinuation that all Yankee fans are slobbering Neanderthals goes over big in Boston every time). (It’s true, by the way, that all Yankee fans are slobbering Neanderthals, but that’s another issue.)
  • There are a few broad divisions in the way humor is used that matter to marketers. The first is shock vs. bonding — you get a laugh by purposely violating some social norm (which can delight or offend, depending on your audience)… or you cozy up to everyone’s comfort zone, and we all laugh while agreeing on what’s being discussed. Do not try to use shock humor unless you are very, very experienced with it. Backfires are common. On the other hand, mild bonding humor can go a long way to establishing relationships… or bore the bejesus out of everyone.
  • The second main division is wit vs. jokes. Have you ever been with a group of folks who just toss zingers at each other, piling up the wit like stacking wood? It’s a joy to behold, if you’re witty. There is no preparation beforehand — you’ve got to live by your ability to quickly counter, support or twist whatever is said. It’s freeform funny conversation… which is the opposite of telling memorized jokes. Someone with an arsenal of jokes can quickly take over a conversation (often with the support of the less witty folks who prefer a more stable environment). I’ve seen many high-flying conversations completely gutted by a series of jokes (which require, by design, that everyone remain quiet and respectful while the joke is told).
  • Don’t get me wrong — I like jokes. But I have none memorized, because I prefer free-form wit. I used to know a lot of jokes, though — so many that a couple of friends and I can simply smile at each other and mention a portion of the punch line (not even the whole line), say “Joke number 37”, and get the SAME laugh that telling the entire joke would have generated. (Example: “Well, maybe it’s not like a river…”. Funny, right?)

Marketer’s Insight: Just understanding the fundamentals of how humor is delivered and consumed can help you immensely. If you’re not a witty dude, don’t try to fake it. You can’t. If you like jokes, go ahead and memorize some… and use them when you’re in a situation where everyone is yukking it up over memorized jokes.

But consider the audience, always. Don’t shock when it will offend. Never assume your audience shares your religious or political views (and triple-check your perception of this before wandering down the very dark alley of potentially-offensive jokes). And it’s fine to just be part of the audience, to laugh and enjoy the wit or the prepared humor — you’re actually bonding with your supporting laughter.

Quick Story: A well-known colleague of mine — a really nice guy, liked by everyone, and a killer marketer — once took me aside and asked how he could develop a more interesting personality. He was lost in witty conversations, had no jokes memorized, and didn’t understand why some folks found some stuff so fucking funny.

I took the challenge, and with my pal Kevin Rogers (the former stand-up-turned-copywriter), we gave him a list of things that might help (which included watching George Carlin routines critically — figuring out how each story unwound, and when the laugh points popped up… memorizing a handful of jokes from the Playboy jokes page and also from Reader’s Digest — so he had something a tad ribald, and something very middle-of-the-road… and critically reading witty authors like P.J. O’Rourke or Molly Ivins — one conservative, one liberal.)

It didn’t work. I know you can develop real wit, because I’ve progressed myself from a joke-telling kid (sharing stuff from Mad magazine or jokes my drunk uncles used to shock the aunts), to a rookie good conversationalist, to a high-end witty dude who can hold his own in any crowd. On any subject.

But I think you need to start with a basis sense of humor… which we’ve discovered is not default equipment with all humans.

Still, by all means, learn how to tell a joke properly. Find them written out, and memorize them, right down to the exact words used. It’s like memorizing scripted lines for a play. Some advanced actors may wing it occasionally… but if you can’t do that, don’t wreck the scene by trying. Study the process, if it interests you, but otherwise just follow the path already laid out.

Another Quick Story: Gary Halbert and I loved to mess with each other’s minds on stage at seminars. The ultimate prize was getting the other guy to lose his cool by laughing too hard to speak (or come back with a wittier line). Spitting coffee through your nose was a bonus point.

We’d get vicious, too… using insults, practical jokes, rumors, everything was fair play. It kept us loose and happy during long weekends of Hot Seats.

But it also taught us a good lesson in the limits of humor. During one break, Gary and I were chatting at the side of the stage… and an attendee walked up and leveled a gross, tasteless insult my way. Then he laughed heartily. In his mind, he was inserting himself in the Inner Circle — he’d thought, “Hey, I’m a funny guy, too”, and figured insulting me was an easy way to get special attention.

Cuz, you know, Gary and I were so vicious with each other.

It doesn’t work that way, of course. Neither Gary nor I laughed. We just stared at the guy until he slinked away, humiliated.

Hey — I can call my friend a fuckhead and get away with it. Because that’s how we roll.

But YOU call him a fuckhead, and I’m in your face in a heartbeat. You’re not allowed that privilege.

If you have to ask whether you’re in the Inner Circle or not… you’re not in it. This is pretty much universal in human experience. You can loudly berate your bowling buddies and get a laugh back… but that goofy yahoo on the other team says the same thing, and them’s fighting words.

It’s stunning how often people don’t grok how this simple social paradigm works. And it can ruin business situations for you, handled poorly.

Just a word to the wise…

The Joke’s On Us #3: Finally, for this primer on the subject, never underestimate how much some people value humor…

… while an equal number are threatened by it.

Look critically at long Facebook threads for evidence. You’ll find in-jokes that you cannot possibly understand, because you’re aren’t privy to the back story. You’ll find other people gleefully trying to keep up with the witty back-and-forth’s, who miss the point entirely. (You can get real-world examples of how different people find different stuff funny… and keep in mind the research claiming to predict status by what you laugh at.)

And you’ll find many examples of people trying desperately to disrupt funny threads. Every time someone inserts comments like “First-world problems”, they’re trying to kill the conversation. Ask yourself why they’d want to do that. Often, it’s simply being uncomfortable with the discussion, and yet feeling desperate to comment. Just as often, though, it’s a crude attempt to establish dominance. (It’s the same with comments like “Bang! for the win”, which attempts to control through judgment.)

I consider these kinds of disruption offensive, because they can murder a good thread. Hard to continue laughing about some modern situation when reminded that kids are starving in India. It’s Debbie Downer on steroids.

It’s the same with sarcasm. Shielding cynical comments by claiming “you’re just joking” is a blatant cop-out, and a failure to take responsibility for the consequences of your statements. It works, unfortunately, in politics and personal grievance. “Can’t you take a joke” is the icing on the insult.

Humor evolves on a society-wide level. What was hilarious a decade ago in a movie is now a cringe-inducing example of obliviousness. Outside the US and Britain, stand-up tends to be joke-oriented… whereas our comics and cartoons careen toward the absurd, employing more long-form stories than standard punch-lines.

Humor is very important to some people. It’s my main defense against a heartless universe obviously out to get me.

And at the same time, humor is a very foreign and scary thing to others.

This is why it doesn’t mix well (usually) with serious sales pitches, where money is on the line.

Make sense?

I may do another post on this, if folks are still wanting more.

Meanwhile, love to hear your take and experience with humor in biz situations, in the comments section below…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. One last tactic: If you’re going to use humor in biz settings… it’s a good idea to make yourself the butt of any joke. It’s called “self-deprecating” humor, and it allows you to use every shred of your wit, sarcasm and sharp humor to make a point… you simply make yourself the target, rather than risk offending or insulting anyone else.

I make sure my audiences at events understand that I know the answers to so many problems… because I personally failed or got waylaid by nearly every problem possible in life and biz myself. It’s absolutely true… but a less forthright speaker might avoid spoiling his reputation with confessions like that.

If I nail an attendee with some shocking assessments (like calling him an idiot)… I make sure he understands, first, that I’ve been the biggest idiot in the universe myself. Many times. And making mistakes, learning my lessons, and then using those lessons the next time is how I became successful.

In fact, I don’t know of any other way to progress in life and biz.

Do you?

P.P.S. By the way…

… if you’re a victim of what my colleague David Garfinkel calls “intellectual loneliness” (where you’re withering away because you lack witty, funny, smart-as-whips pals… who also happen to share your passion for business, copywriting, marketing and the entrepreneurial lifestyle)…

… then it might be time for you to seriously explore my Platinum Mastermind group.

It’s a small (under 20 members) group that meets four times a year… where we do Hot Seat-style consults on each member’s situation (problems, biz plans, ad copy, anything at all that’s bugging them)… with a focus on GETTING SHIT DONE. No vague philosophy. Just hard-core, detailed, specific brainstorming and sharing of experience that leads to actual things you can do to unclog the moolah spigot, and get your biz and life back on the fast track.

We also have guest experts who come by just because they like the way I operate. And they share, and help brainstorm, and just pour themselves into the weekend. Recent guests: Joe Sugarman… Gary Halbert’s sons (Bond and Kevin)… Jay Abraham… Brian Kurtz (former CEO of Boardroom, Inc)… Dean Jackson (marketing superstar)… Joe Polish… and many more.

Just see what’s up, for cryin’ out loud. The site won’t bite you: Carlton’s Platinum Mastermind.

Oh, yes. This could be the day you remember forever, where everything changed for you…

 

 

Year-End Roundup Of Good Stuff

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Saturday, 1:10pm
Reno, NV
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…” (Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”)

Howdy…

A lot of my social media focus lately has been on Facebook. As much as I distrust and mildly despise The Zuck, I have to hand it to the little sociopath for figuring out a dynamic that allows for real interaction with folks…

… which lasts, on average, around one to three days. Then, even the most viral post disappears down the social media rathole and is gone forever.

So I like to rescue some of the better posts I’ve carved into the FB newsfeed, and stack ’em up here on the blog… where they’ll survive in the archives for as long as this rickety thing exists. (We’re officially at the decade mark, by the way. Ten years of posting monthly… except for January of 2012, where I inadvertently didn’t publish an intended article in time, so the archives have that single hole in them. That’s pretty freakin’ awesome.)

Anyway, no need for context here. If you’d enjoy seeing the comment threads on any of these posts, just hop over to my FB page (where you should already be following me, anyway, what are you thinking?). It’s www.facebook.com/john.carlton.

And, as always, I love to hear what you’re thinking in the comments here (where I often hang out and interact).

By the way… that photo up top is from the big damn AWAI seminar I was a featured speaker at, back in October. Everything about the photo (and yes, that’s Dan Kennedy sitting with us) is explained in the Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast I link to below (in one of the posts) (and yes, this is a tease to get you to read this entire thing).

Enjoy the year-end Facebook roundup:

Take This To The Bank, Part 11: Most people’s daily actions (eating, buying, loving, hating, grooming, working, all of it) are based on beliefs… which they regard as “true”.

You better grok this, if you want to communicate with, sell to, or persuade folks in any way.

As irrational and unfounded in reality as these belief systems can be, they become unshakeable foundations for all behavior, thought and decisions.

Rookie copywriters like to bowl readers over with facts and data and science. Yawn. These are humans you’re writing to. Reality is very subjective, and by the time perception gets past the internal obstacle course of flawed senses, emotional distress, and knee-jerk denial… your facts will get ambushed and slaughtered as efficiently as a 30’s-era mob hit.

Real persuasion occurs in the murky soup of people’s ancient, mostly-unconscious belief systems. Timid efforts ain’t gonna cut it.

Bold, and even spectacularly whacky beliefs trump crunchy facts every time.

Just something to keep in mind as you explore persuasion expertise…

A life well-lived will be roiling with stories. Seems pretty obvious.

But it’s the same with a business well-run. And a career with lofty goals. Even a project you’ve thrown yourself into. Or a single day of enthusiastic productivity.

The world spins in the greased grooves of stories. All around you, and deeply intertwined with your very existence, are stories of romance, harrowing adventure, small and large heroic episodes, and the fascinating history of your impact on everything you touch. Yes, you.

Your stories swirl and crash into the stories of your friends, colleagues, lovers, clients, family, enemies and random encounters.

Recognizing these stories, and molding them into snarling tales with a set-up, a point, and a punchline or lesson, can kick you into a higher level of conscious living. The slumbering masses ignore, deny and deflate their stories… and yet, the hunger in all of us for well-told tales is never sated.

There’s no big secret to success. It’s not the moolah or power you accumulate… it’s the wealth of experience, feelings, brain stimulation, and your impact on others generated by living large.

It’s hard to become, and stay conscious. Your stories help you catalog the good stuff, and keep you enmeshed with all the other actors in your life’s movie.

The best marketing is alive with stories, because it’s all just an extension of life well-lived.

Go chew up some scenery. The only real crime in the universe is squandering this unique, scary and wonderful existence you woke up with today…

Continue Reading

Why Is This So Freaking Hard To Do?

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Friday, 2:33pm
Reno, NV
Get away from me, kid, ya bother me…” (Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”)

Howdy.

So, let’s take on the entire advertising model of western civilization, what d’ya say?

Here’s a good place to start: It’s the end of baseball season, playoff fever in the air. I’ve been watching the SF Giants stumble-bum their way through a summer swoon (barely making the last NL wild-card spot)…

… and generally enjoying the age-old process of heartbreak and joy. I followed sports religiously as a kid, but paid less and less attention to it as the real-life adventures of adulthood took up all my time… and now, having a wee bit more time to indulge, I’ve returned to the fold.

But I record the games, and watch them after-the-fact.

Because of the mind-numbing commercial breaks.

I’m not alone, of course. Across the country, grown men and women run screaming from rooms when someone inadvertently turns on the evening news, for fear of hearing the score in a game they’re recording for later.

And being forced to endure the entire broadcast — including the endless, mind-melting commercial breaks — in, say, a bar or a friend’s house is pure torture.

The SAME commercials will play over and over, sometimes twice in the same break. Some of the national ones are mildly clever (at best), but hardly classic films that deserve repeated views. And the local stuff is just awful. (The locals can be excused, of course — tiny budgets, no insight to how persuasion actually works, and they’re at the mercy of clueless ad agencies or a brother-in-law with a camcorder. There’s even some charm in the awkwardness of homemade spots… sometimes, anyway. Mostly not, but you might get the flavor of the area at times.)

But the national spots have no real excuse. Yes, there is value in repetitive views — the average buyer sees a late-night cable infomercial something like 7 times, in pieces lasting a few minutes, before pulling out a credit card. There’s a process to the art of long-form, chew-up-the-wee-hours commercials.

However, the model of jamming a single pre-recorded commercial into every break in a sporting contest just begs to be ignored. Any thinking creature knows to check out mentally during the break, and go do something else. If you’re welded to the couch (say, in the midst of watching a blowout, weighed down by one too many beers), you still do not “watch” any commercial for the 20th time… Continue Reading

Buzz And Awe, Redux

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Tuesday, 2:08 a.m.
Reno, NV
Is there gas in the car? Yeah, there’s gas in the car…” (Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne”)

Howdy…

Those of you in the loop know we’ve re-launched the coaching program of the Simple Writing System again.

We rarely offer this hand-holding, personalized, one-on-one mentoring (by coaches who are also successful copywriters). The last session was a couple of years ago.

No idea when another session will come around… if it even does.

We take this one program at a time. It’s notorious among marketing insiders, because of how effectively we’re able to transform almost anyone into a sales-message-producing machine… quickly and efficiently. It’s life-changing, and business-changing mojo…

… and that’s why the top marketers in the game have demanded that the folks in their organization responsible for marketing TAKE this course.

The personalized coaching in the SWS is extremely interactive Perfect for anyone who knows that hands-on mentoring is the best way to learn the simplest possible system (crammed with short-cuts) for creating all the sales messages needed for a profitable business…

… including all your ads, websites, video scripts, emails, AdWords, blogs and other social media broadsides…

everything that pumps eager prospects into your Sales Funnel.

So you can close the heck out them.  And get filthy rich and happy, and become the most successful entrepreneur or biz owner possible… because without killer, persuasive copy, you’re not going to find, nor close very many prospects.

Most marketers wander through the wasteland of Bad Business Practices their entire career…

… and never figure out how to SELL anything.

So, no matter how totally hot and good and righteous your product or service might be… Continue Reading

How To Hire A Copywriter.

photo-1Tuesday, 2:14pm
Reno, NV
Are you going on this crazy voyage?” (Sailor in “King Kong”, 1933 version)

Howdy…

It’s high time for a little “public service” message here, for any marketer wanting to hire a freelance copywriter.

Cuz it’s a jungle out there.

There’s a veritable mob of available writers, of all levels of expertise (from world-class down to “should be hung”), charging all kinds of fees and making all kinds of promises.

It can get confusing, abruptly, and you can end up mismatched (or getting roughed up financially) if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So, here’s a Quick Start overview of what you – the dude or dudette doing the hiring – should get straight on before heading into the Big Scary Jungle Of Freelance Copywriters to find your perfect scribe. (This works for hiring ANY consultant, actually, so pay attention.)

Step One: Deconstruct and list what you want done.

Do you need a single ad written, or do you need your entire website created or overhauled? Do you need someone to write the necessary emails, Video Sales Letters and sales pages for a launch? Do you need a sales funnel created, starting with Adwords and traveling through landing pages, auto-responders, landing pages, and sales support?

Or what?

Step Two: Admit it if you aren’t sure what you want (or need). Double admit it to yourself if you’re absolutely clueless.

This is a critical step.

You’re about to shell out a lot of money, and put a lot of your hopes and dreams on the back of the writer you hire… Continue Reading


All testimonials and case studies within this website are, to the best of our ability to determine, true and accurate. They were provided willingly, without any compensation offered in return.

These testimonials and case studies do not represent typical or average results. Most customers do not contact me or offer share to their results, nor are they required or expected to. Therefore, I have no way to determine what typical or average results might have been.

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