“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...” (Omnipresent WWII song by Vera Lynn)
A big part of the mojo I bring to the consulting table is simply that I survived a fairly wild-ass lifestyle before and during my career…
… and took notes.
I come from a family of storytellers, and it’s always been second nature for me to concoct the way I’d relate the story of any adventure I was involved in… often while I was experiencing it. More likely, of course, the lasting model of any story came together over a few tellings, as I tossed out the boring bits, highlighted the more exciting or outrageous sections, and found that sweet spot that ended the tale like a punch line.
You don’t get away with aimless, pointless or dull stories in a family like mine. You either grab attention, hold it, and deliver a rollicking good telling… or you get swamped by a better story from a frustrated listener. Best possible training in the universe.
And I can’t think of a better segue into an advertising career. Humans are hard-wired to crave, love and remember well-delivered stories because before the written word, memorized stories were the primary form of sharing information. And persuading folks. And molding the contours of a socially coherent civilization.
Most of us are not great storytellers, however. It’s not a default setting in our brains… and if you don’t hone your chops, you’ll remain a naif at it.
However, if you DO choose to get hip (and I’ve got a ton of posts here in the blog archives on this very subject), then you get past the hulking bouncer at the velvet rope and into the “great storyteller” party.
I actually used to do that, by the way, as a hobby. Talk my way past bouncers. The last time was at a casino, where the Van Morrison concert was sold out. I had a cup of coffee and walked briskly toward the bouncer, saying “I got that coffee for Van” as casually as I could. The guy waved me through. Heck, other folks standing in line stepped back to let me past. I stepped into the venue, and just slumped.
“I can’t do it. Look, man, this coffee isn’t for Van. It’s just a cup of coffee.” The bouncer blinked at me. I wandered off, the fun gone forever in that game. Heck, it just got too easy.
Now, good consulting is also a form of storytelling. Usually, my client comes to me with a mishmash of complaints, problems, nightmares and quandaries… and none of it seems to make sense.
However, I learned long ago that almost everything makes sense when you get the right perspective on it.
But it has to be the right perspective… Continue reading
“I write because I cannot NOT write.” (Charlotte Bronte)
I want to cover three important things today.
Important Thing #1: Very exciting news this morning: My first Kindle ebook (“The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together”) elbowed its way into best-seller territory on Amazon in less than half a day. It’s #4 on the “entrepreneur” books-for-sale chart, with a bullet, and surging on the “business” charts (in the top 35).
This is like watching your latest album climb the Billboard rankings. I labored over the book (with superb editing help from our pal David “Flashman” Raybould) for many months, whipping it into shape and waiting for the right moment to dive into the wonderful new world of self-publishing that has just hit the Big Turning Point.
Now, it’s up to the reading public to decide if it’s worthwhile or not. A little scary, a little thrilling, a lot of fun for a writer who has craved being in control of publishing my own stuff, in my own damn way, for most of my life.
And, as satisfying as it is to read the great buzz-comments on the Amazon page (and in social media) for this new tome… it’s even more energizing to have finally busted my cherry in digital publishing. This first book took a while to finish and get launched. The next one will follow blazingly quick, and there are even more in the hopper.
If you are so inclined, you can check out a free preview of the book (or even, gasp, buy it) here.
Leave a comment, too. And hit the “share” button on the page. The tome is getting rave reviews, which makes sense since it’s a lovingly-revised compilation of my best Rant newsletters (which I mailed to subscribers for 6 amazing years). This is time-tested stuff, the best “here’s what Carlton’s been teaching all these years” resource possible.
Hope you enjoy it, if you buy it. Hope you stay awake all night thinking about it if you don’t buy it, and feel compelled to buy it first thing in the morning. Cuz it’s damn cheap as a digital book, and you really SHOULD own it. (And yes, we’ll be offering a paperback version down the road, but this digital version is what you need right now.)
Important Thing #2: I now know much about self-publishing ebooks that was a mystery to me before.
For example… Continue reading
“Don’t let me be misunderstood.” (The Animals, #15 on Billboard, 1965)
I’ve resurrected another gem from the archives… just because it’s so freakin’ good. Many of the lessons I try to deliver in this blog need to be delivered over and over (the only guaranteed way to finally learn anything in life), and once I nail it, there’s no sense rewriting it.
The clarity I try to achieve below is a solid step toward leading a more examined life… which all great marketers strive to do. There are stages to this if you’ve hit adulthood and continue to labor under false assumptions and bad belief systems. The worst is thinking that what you believe must be true, because you’ve believed it for so long.
This kind of circular cognitive dissonance can hold you up for decades (or even forever)… because our very human minds are hard-wired to listen to our intuition, no matter how often it’s proven wrong or screws up our lives.
We’re stubborn beasts. As a civilian, you just go enjoy your bad self with your silly notions and absurd assumptions. I’d prefer that you not vote, but it’s a free country.
However, as a marketer who desires wealth and recognition and lasting success… you cannot rely on the flawed default settings in your brain. If you haven’t been constantly giving yourself vicious Reality Checks over your career, you’re risking being stuck in a non-productive zone where competitors will fly past you, and customers flee.
I, personally, am very hard on myself. Very, very hard.
My transformation into a real professional meant climbing out of a slacker lifestyle where I got away with laziness, unreliability, and a self-destructive refusal to change… Continue reading
“I’ll have what she’s having…” (When Harry Met Sally)
I figured I’d kick off the new marketing season here in a ball of fire, and just lay some Reality Checks out for you. Here goes:
Your First Big Reality Check: If you tried, really really hard, and weren’t successful last year…
… it was probably mostly your own damn fault.
Yeah, sure, the economy sucked, politicians were mean, your prospects are all screamin’ idiots, and God had it out for you. All totally excellent excuses for having a crummy bottom line again.
It’s not your fault. It can’t be your fault. That’s… that’s just…
… that’s just completely unacceptable that it even might be your fault.
And, hey, maybe you did piss off the universe, and spooky forces beyond your control mucked things up so you had a bad year.
I believe you. I really do.
After you’ve been around the block a few times in life, you start to notice some very interesting things about success.
And the big realization, I’d have to say, is that the idea that success is somehow magically bestowed on people in a spontaneous burst of luck and being in the right place/right time…
… is just bullshit.
It is. It’s total bullshit. Hollywood likes to pretend it’s a real plot point. And folks clueless about how the world works — who spend their lives outside looking in — use this myth as a comforting excuse for their own lack of goal attainment.
Once you’ve spent even a little time with successful dudes and dudettes, you notice something startling: They all have well-defined goals, and they focus on nailing them like terriers going after a squirrel.
They are not stopped by lack of skill, or lack of time, or lack of connections in the right places.
They are not stopped by ADHD (which a LOT of the entrepreneurs I know are saddled with, btw)… or feelings of inferiority (many of the best are entirely motivated by “I’ll show you” revenge fuel)… or lack of education (drop-outs galore).
And they are not stopped by the main reason most wannabe entrepreneurs never get past that “deer in the headlights” pose: Not knowing what to do next.
Every single excuse ever floated by anyone in the history of mankind…Continue reading
“Mongo just pawn in game of life.” (Blazing Saddles.)
Recently, I published a series of posts on Facebook under the theme “How To Win An Argument”. Over the week it ran, there was a vast and animated flurry of comment and interaction — the posts hit a nerve.
Fortunately, because that series got so much traction in Facebook, I decided to gather them and post the series here in the blog, so they’ll go into the archives (and thus can be easily accessed by anyone interested). I say “fortunately”, because apparently Zuckerberg and his evil Facebook henchmen decided that all my January posts before the 20th (which included the argument series) needed to vanish from the face of the earth (and the virtual earth that is social media). Poof. They’re gone. No explanation, no way to get them back (though I’ve been searching for tips and asking for help from colleagues — there are a lot of videos out there pretending to have the secret of restoring “lost” posts, but they don’t work).
I’m kinda stunned… but glad I’d already copied and pasted those initial posts here. I’m doing the same with other FB posts from the past — just getting them copied into a Word doc, in case Zuck goes berzerk again. Jeez Louise, you probably need to take the same precautions if you have valuable posts you don’t want to lose.
So, Lesson #1: Do not trust Facebook to archive anything. The joint is crawling with post-devouring demons or something.
I’m not saying that everything I post there needs to be carved in stone. But I do write some cool shit on my wall, occasionally. It’d be nice if it remained there.
Anyway, below is a mildly-edited collection of that series on winning an argument. I didn’t save the dozens and dozens of comments, and that’s a shame — it was a great thread, full of other lessons. For example: The easiest way to get a whole bunch of folks frothing is to talk about (a) sex, or (b) their belief systems. They go nuts. As you’ll see below, I just laid out my views on how to handle people who want to argue and how to define “winning” for yourself… and that just pissed off some folks. Even discussing arguing inflamed their knee-jerk need to argue. Humorous, ironic, and illustrative of how whacko human beings can be. Also, as a marketer, informative — especially if you want or need to introduce some form of argument or alternative view into your advertising.
And, yes, this entire series is very much aimed at marketers. Great ads seldom argue, though they may be pushing buttons right and left. The psychology is subtle, but awesome.
So, without further ado, here’s that series. Love to hear your comments… which will all go safely into the blog archives, where Zuckerberg can’t touch them:
How To Win An Argument, Step 1: The primary rule is simple — never Continue reading
Special Note If You’ve Just Come Here From My Facebook Rant On Winning Arguments: If you’re looking for a fast, thoroughly fun way to quickly learn high-end salesmanship skills… for a screaming bargain, no less… grab a copy of my must-read book “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” here.
Okay, on to the current blog post:
“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…)
I’m re-publishing — for what has become a very popular tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.
What you’re about to encounter is a slightly tweaked way of looking at the best way to start your new year…
… but this tweak makes all the difference in the world. I’ve heard from many folks that this particular technique finally helped them get a perspective on where they’re at, where they’re going…
… and why they care about getting there.
So, even if you’ve read this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2013, trying to wrap your brain around a plan to make the year your bitch.
This is a critical step for entering any new period of your life. To keep your life moving ahead, you need to set some goals, dude. And most goal-setting tactics, I’ve found, are useless. Worst among them is the traditional New Year’s resolutions (which seldom last through January).
This tactic I’m sharing with you (again) is something I’ve used, very successfully, for decades…Continue reading
“To the moon, Alice!” (Ralph Kramden)
I’m recycling a post from a little while back, because it’s on a subject that can never be discussed too many times…
… especially when it’s important that you establish a real, visceral connection with people to make your business work.
In fact, what I’m bring up here is much more critical to creating effective advertising than many of the obvious things people tend to focus on (like “long copy versus shot copy”, or how to test offers).
Listen: If you understand how to use the powerful tool explained below…
… you can screw up almost every other part of creating your ad (or video, or website, or email, or whatever you’re using to get your story across)… and still crush it with results.
So ignore the details in this dusty post (like references to “Six Feet Under”, that great HBO series now long-gone)…
… and know that the insight revealed here will forever be one of the most influential you’ll ever use in marketing.
In fact, it’s just becoming more and MORE important as social media and info-overwhelm continues to nudge everyone toward ADHD-Land, where attention spans are pathetic and fundamental human emotions like empathy wither.
Here’s the post (with a few edits and some added stuff):
Jeez Louise. Did you catch Sunday’s episode of “Six Feet Under” on HBO, with the jarring funeral scenes?
It was… shattering.
I was jarred back to every funeral I’d ever attended, and had emotions wrung out of me I’d long forgotten about.
Screw reality TV. The truly well-written fictional shows (most of them on HBO) can still rattle your cage like classic literature.
That episode was quality emotional-wringing.
Got me thinking, too. About empathy. And writing.
I’ve known people who seem to have shut down their empathy gears… and it becomes evident when they lose the ability to get outside of themselves and see the world from other people’s viewpoint. Movies require you to emotionally connect with the characters…
… and I recall uncles who fell asleep during the pea-soup-spewing scenes in “The Exorcist”…
… friends who laughed all through “Jaws”…
… and (in a real-world example) even an acquaintance who wondered what the big deal was when a colleague freaked out over a cherished cat’s sudden demise.
I also first saw “Saving Private Ryan” with a friend who was still a little shaky over his years in Vietnam during the war. He’d asked me to see it with him for moral support… and while he didn’t seem to have a tough time watching the movie, I kept an eye on him anyway, not sure what sort of poison might be brewing back up.
Those three films — and my experience with pets and people dying and careers ending and relationships imploding — were all emotionally jarring on various levels. And they were executed by master craftsmen, using scripts written by writers who knew where the tender spots were in most audiences.
I always feel a little estranged from people who either are — or claim to be — removed from emotional reactions.
In real life, we mostly experience things from inside our heads or along the contours of our immediate senses. It’s a claustrophobic point-of-view even the best Hollywood-quality cameras can’t yet mimic. In real life, everything happens just outside (or just within) our personal space, moment by moment, with no editing and no replay button.
When you personally feel emotional trauma, it’s a shock-inducing trial by fire that consumes you.
However, watching a TV show or a movie is a removed experience — pure voyeurism. You’re not there. It’s not happening to you. It shouldn’t have the same power as real life.
And yet… sometimes all the emotion of the real experience IS there, bubbling up from deep inside.
All the good writers I know are drenched with emotional self-knowledge and empathy for the emotional experiences of others. We aren’t walking around sobbing hysterically… but we are easily overcome with the feeling of a situation.
Sometimes Continue reading
“Under my thumb is a squirming dog who just had her day…” (Stones)
Howdy. I’m republishing this article from 2010, cuz it was one of the most-discussed and helpful posts I’ve written. And it’s on a subject most biz books not only ignore, but aggressively seek to dismiss. Yet, in my decades of consulting, I see it bubble up in nearly every entrepreneur I meet at some point.
So, enjoy another nugget from the archives. (And I hope you didn’t eat much — again — at Thanksgiving…):
Do you suffer from the heartbreak of envy?
Are you jealous of friends and colleagues who attain success, while you continue to struggle?
Would you like to learn a simple cure for feeling inferior to others?
Well, then step right up…
Here’s the story: I grew up with the definite impression that ambition was a moral failing. The operative phrase was “Don’t get too big for your britches”…
… which was a cold warning to anyone who dared attempt to rise above their (vaguely defined) place in life.
And one of the greatest joys was to gleefully watch the collapse and humbling of the High & Mighty. I believe there’s some evolutionary fragment left in our systems that wants a solid check on keeping folks from leaving the pack.
Now, if you risk failing and succeed, that’s great. We were there for ya the entire time, Bucko. Rooted for ya. Got yer back.
I think our innate need for leadership allows for a select few to “make it” without hostility. And, as long as they provide whatever it is we need from them — protection, entertainment, intellectual stimulation, decisive action, look good in a tight sweater, whatever — they get a pass.
But we seem to have a ceiling of tolerance for others moving up the hierarchy too fast. Whoa, there, buddy. Where do you think you’re going?
And when the unworthy grab the brass ring, it can trigger a hormone dump that’ll keep you up all night. Because, why did HE make it, when he’s clearly not the right dude towin. This is totally fucking unfair, and makes ME look bad now.
The lucky creep.
I hope he screws up and gets what’s coming to him…Continue reading
“I’m busy 24 hours a day, I fix broken hearts, I know that I truly can…” (Del Shannon, “Handyman”)
Today, I want to share with y’all a simple pro-level tactic that just might change your career path forever… if, like most entrepreneurs out there, you’re laboring under a huge and common misunderstanding of how things work in the real world.
Here’s the problem: Most folks only see the surface of the culture, and seldom get to peek behind the curtain to see the infrastructure that supports everything.
Now, if you’re stumbling through life as a slacker or a follower… just bobbing to and fro like flotsam… then learning how stuff gets created isn’t important.
But entrepreneurs do not have that luxury. Once you take responsibility for the survival of a business, you better get hip to the Big Picture.
This means understanding the process of arriving at a finished product. Which requires rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty (or virtually dirty, in the digital world).
Here’s the quick tale of how I was introduced to this realization: Back in school, I was that doodling kid who just kept getting better at it… until one day the journalism teacher found one of the endless homemade comic books I was pumping out, and insisted I create a weekly cartoon for the high school newspaper.
Now, I loved the comics page in the local rag (the LA Times). The idea of drawing a comic strip of my own, however, was terrifying. I didn’t have a clue how they were actually made. Up to that point, I drew only in pencil, on big sheets of scrap paper, with no limits to sizing or length. Now, suddenly, I had to work in ink, inside a 3-inch by 4-column format.
And meet a deadline.
In retrospect, I should have just hit up the art teacher for tips on producing a cartoon in a publication. Or called up the local “real” newspaper and ask a production artist how it’s done.
But I had never had to research anything before. Like most American kids, I had spent my youth tearing things apart, not building them. I’d never asked anyone how something was done, ever. I just figured it all out for myself, in my own idiosyncratic way, thinking that’s how it had to happen. You “should” be able to figure everything out.
It’s a flaw in our brains.
Back then, the hard part of doing a weekly cartoon was coming up with jokes that fit into a four-panel format. But what consumed the most time was producing the final strip. I bought a double-aught nib in a wooden holder at the crafts store, plus a big bottle of India ink. And I drew veeeeeeery carefully…
… because I believed that published cartoons were drawn that way. You know, that Charles Schultz just sat down and inked out a Peanuts strip from left to right.
And if I made a mistake…Continue reading
“I can’t seem to face up to the facts, I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax…” (Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”)
I’ve gone back to the archives again, just cuz they’re so freakin’ stuffed with excellent posts that should NEVER fade into history.
When I find timeless posts that deliver essential tools for your Entrepreneur’s Survival Kit, I like to re-post them here (cuz I know you’re too lazy to go searching for them yourself, you dangerous slacker, you).
So, in this emotionally-charged election year, with the economy and the fate of the globe on people’s minds, I’m thinking another little primer on stress is needed. (The best advice I ever heard from a medical professional was… after I’d said “I’m not feeling so hot, but it’s just stress”… “It’s never JUST stress, Carlton. Stress is bad, bad, bad, and it’ll kill you just as readily as having a piano drop on you from the 6th floor.” That woke me up to the reality of the chemical stew I was brewing in my system, bubbling with bad hormones and corrosive juices.)
We’re not built to survive on a steady diet of stress. We self-destruct when it gets too severe.
Okay, here’s the post. See if you can relax enough to at least read it…
What’s the matter, Bunky?
The news got you down? The economy keeping you up at night? Are sales in the toilet, creditors stalking you, clients not returning calls, the sheer angst of living in a modern tech-drenched world chewing holes in your gut?
Would you like to hear how grizzled veterans handle the evils of stress?
It’s good stuff… because, as everyone should realize, you don’t get to BE a grizzled veteran if you can’t handle stress. Cuz that shit will eat you alive and send you to an early grave.
In fact, this is easily one of the fundamental tools for surviving the Never-Ending Cage Fight O’ Bidness. I noticed, in the first years of my freelance career (when I was searching semi-desperately for clues on how to become successful), that there were biz owners who were having fun… and there were other owners not having any fun at all.
Age had nothing to do with it. Nor health (though the fun-havers consistently were in better shape). Nor gender, nor — and this is important — Continue reading