Tag Archives: copywriting

How To Critical Think, Redux

Saturday, 2:33pm
Reno, NV
When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…” (Paul Simon, “Kodachrome”)

Howdy.

As I was writing a new article to post here, I used a term I invented: “Critical Think”. It’s not all that original, as ground-breaking terms go… but the idea behind it is very important for anyone seeking to move up a level or two in their career (or in their quest for ultimate happiness).

So, I’ve dug up the post where I first explained Critical Think, and I’m dragging it back onto the dance floor.

Really, this is timeless stuff. Enjoy:

Howdy.

Someone recently asked me to offer a clue on how to nurture critical thinking.

It’s a fair question.  And while I’m no neuro-scientist, I talk about critical thinking a lot, because it’s the foundation of great writing, killer salesmanship, and engaging the world with your throttle wide open.

However, it’s not an easy subject to grasp if you’ve seldom taken your brain out for a spin around the Deep Thought Track (as most folks have not).

So let’s explore it a little bit here…

Critical Think Point #1: Yes, I know the headline on this article is a grammatical car wreck.  It should be “how to think critically”, or at least “how to critically think”.

But this botched phrasing is actually part of the lesson I’m sharing here.

Consider:  The vast majority of people sleep-walk through their lives and careers, never going beneath the surface of anything.  They process, at most, a small fraction of the information they see, hear or read about.

It’s pretty much GIGO.  Garbage in, garbage out.

So the first job of any good marketer is todeliver some level of brain-rattling wake-up call for the prospect.  To literally jolt them out of their semi-permanent reverie, and initiate a more conscious state of awareness.

Cuz you can’t expect a somnambulant zombie to be proactive about following through with your request for buying something.  Or opting in.  Or even just continuing to read.

Thus: Good ad writers make full use of the incongruous juxtaposition of compelling sales elements – or, for short, the “hook”.

Ideally, you want the induced “WTF?” reaction strong enough to unleash a splash of adrenaline, or even physically make ‘em bolt up and take notice.  (As in, “That can’t be right! This violates my entire sense of what’s real!”)

HoweverContinue Reading

K.I.S.S.

Sunday, 3:09pm
Reno, NV
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, unless you’ve got a black hole handy.”

Howdy.

Nice, short post here today. In keeping with the theme “KISS.”

Veteran entrepreneurs recognize this, of course, as an acronym of “Keep It Simple, Stupid“… easily some of the best biz advice I ever received in my long career. I carefully printed this slogan out, by hand, on a big notecard and had it taped above my desk for years (though, my sign was even more direct and vicious: Keep It Simple, Shithead. I wanted to get my own attention.)

I made good use of slogans during the early days. “Business before pleasure” was also huge for me, since I’d squandered my youth as a party-hardy slacker… and simply re-directing my energy first to biz (and having evil fun afterward, if I still had any juice left) instantly changed my entire existence. I made a vow to myself — my first real vow that I took deadly seriously — to follow that self-administered advice without hesitation or complaint… and to never apologize for basing my career on a hackneyed phrase that few people ever thought twice about. And that’s when things started popping for me, success-wise.

That was a key realization: All those dog-eared rickety slogans, as mocked as they are, have earned their way into the culture…

… because they Continue Reading

R.I.P. Elvis Sightings & Exploding Preachers

 

Thursday, 2:52pm
Reno, NV
He was a one-eyed, one horn, flying purple people eater…” (Sheb Wooley)

Howdy.

In the spirit of screwing off as much as possible this fine July, I’m replenishing the blog with another oldie-but-goodie post from the archives.

So you’ve got something good to chew on, while I wander off to the beach to get pounded by merciless surf and fried by an uncaring sun. You know: Good times.

Anyway, I love meandering through the archives here… especially when I find a post that still packs some mojo.

Here’s a nice short one from ’07, on the non-scientific process of finding great hooks for your headlines. At the time, I was bummed that a favorite newsstand shock-rag was ending its run… however, the good news is that WWN is still alive and kicking (just like Elvis) online. (Today’s headline: “Saturn Ready To Explode!” Um… okay.)

The ability to find a way to hook readers (and drag them into your story) is what separates the Big Dog writers from the wannabe’s. And creating hooks (especially from otherwise boring raw material) is an art form that needs to be developed. It’s not a skill that comes with your standard brain equipment.

Here’s some insight to how the best veteran copywriters do it, slightly edited, via the Archive Time Machine, from July ’07:Continue Reading

TMI Department: “Circus Halbert”

Tuesday, 3:39pm
Reno, NV
Well, you’re sitting back, in your rose-pink cadillac…” (Stones, “Dead Flowers”)

Howdy…

I’ve been going through shoeboxes stuffed with old photos, discovering treasure right and left.

Hard to believe some of this stuff is decades past, but since I’m forever being asked what it was like working so closely with Gary Halbert for so many years, I thought you might get a kick out of some virtual album-viewing.

This month, April, is the fifth anniversary of Gary’s exit from this mortal coil. He remains dearly missed, and the great work he accomplished in his career still reverberates loudly among entrepreneurs (including those who only learned about him long after he split).

I was just hosting our Platinum Mastermind group, in San Francisco, this past weekend… and damned if Gary’s teachings and stories didn’t pop up in the interplay frequently and with shocking relevance. His effect on the marketing world was profound. I am one lucky, happy bastard to have spent so much quality time with him as co-conspirator, partner and close friend.

In fact, I’m staring at my phone right now, knowing that if he was still alive, he’d be calling right about now. To chew over some absurd matter in life, to share business gossip, to discuss a book, to float new project ideas, to rip into life with gusto again and again and love every freakin’ second of it.

The teachings of Gary will endure. There are precious few videos out there with him, but that’s all right — his audios, which are plentiful, are like experiencing him in your brain, and I recommend them. His sons, Bondo and Kevin, are doing an amazing job keeping Gary’s prolific writings available (and relevant).

Still, you kinda had to be there in the room with him to get the full brunt of his personality. He was truly a force of nature, unique, powerful and unwilling to settle for anything less than spectacular in his dealings with the universe.

Anyway, if you haven’t read my post “For Gary” yet (which I wrote in the hours after learning of his unexpected, untimely passing) go here.

You’ll find multiple other postings related to the dude all over the blog archives, too. All free, of course.

But today, I’m just gonna share a few photos I’ve dug up, and maybe a related story or two.Continue Reading

Garage Band Entrepreneurs

Friday, 1:48pm
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Cuz the thought that I coughed up my head is the event of the season…” (“Mr. Soul”, Buffalo Springfield)

Howdy…

You like music, don’t you?

And you like getting filthy-stupid rich in business, too, right?

Well, join the club. In fact, it’s astonishing to me how many wily online entrepreneurs are not just music lovers (we’re talking the “nutso” category of fan here), but also musicians. Some keyboards, a drummer hither and yon… but more often guitar. It’s something we quickly bond over…

… even though I’m a totally old-school rocker, and most of the younger dudes are either speed-thrashers (who worship Yngwie Malmsteem) or Tone Monsters who embrace the technical side of digital music-making (with an engineer’s-level command of effects).

Which just pisses me off. The story of my early musical career fits right in with other geezer tales of walking ten miles to school in the snow (and eating gravel for lunch). We were as close to analog as you can get and still be pumping noise through electronics.

Back when I started playing, the Beatles were still touring, and everyone plugged their guitars straight into the amp (which had actual springs for reverb). The only “effects” we produced was the occasional accidental squeal, or — if we were lucky — a gutteral growl from a blown speaker that was still alive.

My first stomp box was a simple one-button fuzz-tone that mugged the signal and distorted it like a mofo. (My pal Bob made it in Shop Class.) (It sounded like a Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to eat the building, and sometimes startled dancers near the stage.) Later, I bought a used Morley wah-wah… and even later I loaded up on Boss pedals and digital amps with sampled sounds and all hell broke loose.

But basically, I’m still that guy who was most impressed with Dave Davies of the Kinks (who slashed his little amp’s speaker with a razor blade before recording “You Really Got Me”). Simple, non-technical abuser of equipment (and pentatonic modes).

So what’s this got to do with making money?

A lot… at least as far as becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Because it’s all about attitudeContinue Reading

Brain Tempest (Downgraded From A Storm)

Saturday, 2:23pm
Reno, NV
Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” (Travis Bickle, “Taxi Driver”)

Howdy. Sorry about being such a potty mouth right off the bat there… but that Taxi Driver quote is just too perfect for setting the stage.

Here’s what’s up: I’ve been involved in high-end, professional-level brainstorming and masterminding for, oh, around 30 years now. I think I’m starting to get a handle on it, too.

Okay, I’m joking. After spending half my career butting heads, arguing and mentally-wrasslin’ with legendary thinkers like Gary Halbert… with a LOT of money, reputation and consequences on the line…

… I actually DO know a little something about working over an idea, ripping away the bullshit, and uncovering the overlooked, ignored, and spot-on nuggets of truth and success-potential most people miss.

The process is very much like sausage-making: Not pretty, and not for the weak-kneed.

However, if you truly desire to run an idea, project or plan through the gauntlet of REAL brainstorming…

… it’s still the fastest way to load up your war-chest with tactics, strategies and solid creative mojo. So you can get moving on conquering the world (or your niche, whichever).

But here’s the kicker: Hardly any veteran marketers have a clue how to brainstorm effectively.

Folks just naturally suck at it. And recoil in horror when confronted with the real thing in action. (“No!“, they cry. “It just CAN’T be that brutal!“)

At least… Continue Reading

So, How’s That Working Out For You?

Friday, 12:26pm
Phoenix, AZ
Been there, done that…

Howdy.

I am, today, resurrecting a post from a very long time ago…

… because the subject matter just won’t die. Like a zombie, it just keeps getting back up and stumbling forward to irritate and annoy me.

So let’s file this under “Necessary Reminders If You Wanna Get Rich“…

… cuz it’s one of those fundamental lessons for anyone who got into business to create wealth.

As opposed to, say, getting into business just to have something to do during the day.

Every successful entrepreneur will tell you the foundation of their wealth comes from paying attention to the fundamentals. The wild-and-crazy ideas are fun, the vows to take over the world make you feel awesome, and gorging on fresh technology is invigorating.

But you won’t earn a dime off any of it without knowing the nuts-and-bolts part of putting ideas, vows and tech into action.

Just like being really, really, really eager to demolish your opponent in a cage fight will get you killed if you don’t have the fundamentals down of hitting and getting hit.

Enthusiasm is great. Skills and knowledge are how shit gets done, however.

Here’s that zombie post. Enjoy:

I tell rookies to never, ever assume anything about anything. Ever.

Especially about your target audience. One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is to assume your prospect knows as much as you do about whatever it is you’re selling.

And it’s almost never true. You’re dealing with your product/biz/service day in and day out, and you’ve dealt with the details so often, it’s all second-nature to you.

But your prospect isn’t working in your office. Even if he’s in the same general market as you, he has other priorities. He may desperately need what you offer… Continue Reading

The Reality Check Mom Never Gave You

Monday, 3:32pm
Visalia, CA
“Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.” (Sicilian proverb)

Howdy…

I’m handing the blog over to our good buddy Jimbo Curley again this week.  He’s done several guest posts, all hilarious, all excellent insight and info for marketers, writers and anyone in biz.

Jim and I go back a looooooooong time.  And my favorite story of how we became brawling colleagues is included here — this tale sends grown men into gasping fits of laughter whenever Jimbo re-tells it in the bar (where, during seminars, all the REAL networking and professional bonding takes place).  Last week, it was the Phoenix Hilton, for Joe Polish’s and Dean Jackson’s shockingly-good “I Love Marketing” event.

So this is fresh stuff.

Jim’s the real thing.  A top, consistently smokin’ hot copywriter and a keen observer of human behavior (and buying psychology).  He’s an original teacher in the Simple Writing System, and one of the very few writers I’ve personally asked to write FOR me.

This post is must-reading for anyone wondering how their latest and greatest ad is gonna do in the real world.

Warning: Do NOT drink coffee while reading this.  Or you’ll snort it through your nose during the funny parts.  Which is funny in itself, the image of hundreds of readers all over the globe spitting up coffee at their desks at the same time, courtesy of a master storyteller.

Okay, you’ve been warned.

Here’s Jimbo:

Thanks for the intro John.

I’ll dive right in.

Today I want to talk about a Street-Marketing lesson I call “How to take it in the shorts… and love it”.

It’s about how to get qualified critiques for your writing.

First, I’ll hit you with the big setup statement.

Here it is: Continue Reading

Cross-Cultural Exam #9: Boomer v. Xer. (With PRIZE!)

Monday, 8:28pm
Reno, NV
Just take those old records off the shelf, I’ll sit n’ listen to ‘em by myself…” (Bob Seger)

Howdy…

At the end of this post, I’ll explain how you can win a bitchin’ prize that will make you the envy of all your friends forever.

First, though — let’s learn something about marketing to humans, whadya say?

Here’s two quick “how to deal with the screaming chaos” tips for everyone in business today who’s just a tad freaked-out at the way things seem to changing so damned FAST:

Screaming Chaos-Dealing Tip #1: If you’re older, you need to cultivate solid relationships with younger folks who can help you understand the Zeitgeist of the dominant culture out there.  (Yes, even if you hate it.  Especially if you hate it, actually.)

And I’m not talking about having your nephew program your TV remote while you mow the lawn.

Nope.  I’m talking about entrepreneur-minded young adults, who just happen to be totally wired into the Grid…

… and can translate current trends while offering you some solid, smart perspective.

And…

Screaming Chaos-Dealing Tip #2: If you’re a young entrepreneur, you need to cultivate relationships with geezers who can give you some perspective on how we GOT to this current state of affairs.

Key thing to remember: Continue Reading

How To Murder Stress, Part 1

Tuesday, 3:29pm
Reno, NV
I can’t seem to face up to the facts, I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax…” (Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”)

Howdy…

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 your ass alive and send you to an early grave.

In fact, this is easily one of the fundamental tools for surviving the Bidness Never-Ending Cage Fight.  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 — how successful they were.

The difference was simply how they handled stress.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.

Many people do not implement anything I teach them. I can't make anyone follow my advice, and I obviously can't promise that our advice, as interpreted and implemented by everyone, is going to achieve for everyone the kinds of results it's helped some of the folks you read about and hear from here achieve.

The income statements and examples on this website are not intended to represent or guarantee that everyone will achieve the same results. Each individual's success will be determined by his or her desire, dedication, marketing background, product, effort, and motivation to work and follow recommendations. There is no guarantee you will duplicate results stated here. You recognize any business endeavor has inherent risk for loss of capital.

© 2004-2014 John Carlton. All rights reserved.