Tag Archives: salesmanship

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…

 

 

Magic And Reality Walk Into A Bar. Only One Comes Out Alive…

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Friday, 1:46pm
Reno, NV
You want it, you take it… you pay the price.” (Bruuuuuuce Springsteen, “Prove It All Night”)

Howdy…

One afternoon when I was around 9, I found a $2 bill laying in the parking lot of the local plunge (where we’d just spent the day trying to drown ourselves and trick each other into doing belly-flops off the high dive).

I was as ecstatic as Sinbad when he discovered the Cyclops’ treasure cave. The rarity of the bill just added to the sense of forbidden loot and mysterious swag. Bought us a lot of candy back then.

However, it also changed me. I spent years looking under cars in parking lots after that, obsessed with the notion that vast caches of moolah were laying around, waiting to be found. It was magical thinking at its finest. I was half-convinced it might be a way to fund my childhood, just harvesting the cash laying around.

I mean, Santa had already been outed as “not real”. And Zorro, when I met him at a supermarket opening, was shorter than he looked on TV (and smelled like beer). I had these gaping holes in my belief system of “how things worked”, and since no one was offering better ideas, I just picked up on whatever silly notion entered my head and ran with it.

Later, when we realized The Monkees weren’t a real band, and Rock Hudson was gay, and Nixon lied to us, and…

It was HARD keeping a bullshit myth-laden belief system operating. You had to really dig in and ignore facts, and even get burned a lot.

Finally, when I became a freelance copywriter and there was real money on the line (and not just opinions or hurt feelings)… I saw the light.

And it remains one of the Big Revelations I had, early in my career: The role of reality in becoming a world-class salesman.

In order to persuade large groups of people to buy, act now, or even just begin to see your side of things… you have to see the world as it is. 

Not as you wish it was. Not as you believe it should be. Not as you were told it was.

As it is. The stark, cold reality of how things actually work, and how people actually behave.

This is often scary, at first. It requires you to look behind your go-to belief systems (which you may have had since you were a kid)… to challenge authority’s version of what’s going on… and — most important — you must willingly exit the shared delusion among the majority of your fellow humans that what they say they’ll do is more important than what they actually do.

This kind of critical thinking, of looking behind the curtain and not being lulled into false promises, drags you away from the main party… and can seem lonely. Folks will even get hostile at times, because you’re no longer playing along. (I had multiple occasions, before I learned to just let it go, of ending a family argument by pulling out a dictionary or encyclopedia… and later, hoping onto Google. Thus ruining everyone’s mood, because no one enjoys having their bullshit beliefs challenged.)

This sense of becoming alienated from friends and family sometimes keeps copywriters from tossing their myth-based belief systems, and diving deep into the murky waters of reality. They’re afraid it will change them for the worst. Make them azzholes and doubters and unpleasant realists.

But that’s not how it needs to work. Here are a few Starter Rules to help you get going:

Starter Rule #1: Observing how people act, versus what they say they’ll do, just gives you a tool to avoid being bamboozled. In its simplest form, you’ll notice that the folks who are most emphatic in their promises (“I will absolutely be there on time. No excuses…”) are the ones who will chronically let you down.

In the advanced form, your Bullshit Detector will start buzzing whenever a client says “money isn’t a problem”… because, much of the time, that means money is very much a problem. (Resist the urge to automatically assume the opposite of everything anyone says… even when your experience shows you it will often be the case. Don’t get into the habit of making rash decisions, based on what you’ve seen before. But DO put your instincts and experience into the mix.)

Starter Rule #2: And for God’s sake, don’t let this make you cynical. It’s not your job to call folks out on the inconsistency of their actions, versus what they insist is their intention. You can, however, quietly understand that the rare individuals who DO fulfill their promises are the ones you want around you professionally (and probably romantically, too).

Personally, I’ve found that you start to attract professionally-minded colleagues quickly, once your reality-based modus operandi kicks in.

When money, results and the success of a biz venture is on the line, promises count for nothing. The cold hard reality of how the market reacts to your ads is all that matters.. and you must react accordingly.

Starter Rule #3: Keep your ego out of it. At first, you’ll need to monitor your own bad habits of not following up on your promises… and this will change you fundamentally as a person. Don’t announce that you’re suddenly a “new man”. Instead, just start acting as if your word really does mean something.

Early on, I developed my version of a “professional’s code”: You are where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there, having done what you said you’d do.

This means you meet all deadlines, no matter what (even if it means staying up all night working, missing the big party, disappointing Susie Q, defying the insults and demands of your old pals who hate the idea of you becoming a pro and leaving their slacker butts in the dust). You honor your contracts, even if it’s just something you said (and could, if you weren’t such a pro, weasel out of).

You become “that guy” who can be trusted… not because you say you can be trusted, but because you really can be trusted.

Huge difference that requires behavioral changes at your cellular level. It’s hard to pull off, but you can do it.

Starter Rule #4: When you first start living in reality, there is a danger of becoming cynical and angry. Just move past it — your goal is to become a world-class persuader and provider of actual results.

You may become a quieter person… because all that time you once spent trying to convince someone you were going to do something is no longer required. You simply agree to do it, and then do it. On time. With all the expertise you can muster.

You never, ever need to explain yourself. You become a Dude Of Action. This becomes your reputation over time — not because you’ve announced it, but because this is who you’ve become. You’ve got to be patient, and hold yourself accountable for everything you do.

And yes, I’m serious when I say “everything”. Stop lying, pretending, wishing and cheating. It’s stunningly easy to do, but it requires a commitment.

Starter Rule #5: There is never a need to argue. As a rookie copywriter, I realized (after meeting my twentieth VP of Marketing or CEO or entrepreneur) that incompetence is the RULE, not the exception, in business.

Most bosses — no matter how good-hearted they are, or how smart they are, or even how experienced they are — simply cannot know all there is to know about every part of running a biz. So they’ll insist on using certain (dumb) sales angles, demand that offers be presented in specific (dumb) ways, and — worst of all — have their niece with the degree in English Lit edit your work.

Early in your career, this is not a problem to worry about. Get your money up front, with any other royalties or payments in written form, and just keep moving. Most of your clients will suck, and not follow through, and botch the marketing up. That’s just the way it goes.

As you gain experience, and especially as your reputation allows you to have more of a voice in what goes down, you’ll eventually be in the position of forcing every client to do what you tell them to do. But that doesn’t happen right away.

(For more on these high-end freelance tactics, including details on how to get paid, check out The Freelance Manual, available here.)

When you work through reality, the mysteries of the world play less and less a part of how you proceed. If you don’t know something, you don’t pretend that saying you know it makes it so. You go learn it. Or hire someone who’s proficient at it to do it for you. You research, you comparison shop, you do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal.

You say “I don’t know. I’ll find out,” a lot.

You are relieved from the task of keeping your lies and boasts and pretend-knowledge straight.

And suddenly, you’re spending your time honing your chops, filling in the gaps with actual skills and know-how, and getting shit done.

Most folks prefer the world to remain full of mystery. It’s that childhood thrill of simply deciding that something is so, and then never questioning it again, even as evidence mounts that it’s bullshit. (I never did find another $2 bill on the ground. And I missed a few rainbows along the way, because I was always looking down…)

Reality is unforgiving, and requires you to be responsible, take action, and stop pretending. But it’s really the only way to go. I found that, rather than making me more cynical about people, I actually loved them more. I instantly forgive them their bullshit promises, even while fulfilling all of my own. I also never allow someone to steal time from me, or ruin my day with a failed promise — I give them a reasonable window, and when they’ve failed, I go to Plan B.

You always have a Plan B (and Plan C, and Plan D) when you live in reality. Sometimes you find yourself saying goodbye to unreliable friends and fun-but-sketchy colleagues… and you have to be okay with that. You’re going after long-term and short-term goals, and it takes commitment and sweat to reach them. If your old crowd still believes that success comes from luck (like finding a $2 bill on the ground), you may have to find a new crowd.

There will always be a little mystery in life. You encounter new stuff all the time, in business and in relationships and in everything you do.

But each mystery can be broken down into knowable parts, and figured out, and solved. Every time. Eventually, after you’ve worked with a lot of clients in a lot of markets, you realize you are never stumped by the obstacles that freeze most entrepreneurs up. There is always a reason why sales are down, or returns are up, or something that used to work ain’t working no more.

When the reality of business and life become second-nature to you… you become That Consultant Every Biz Owner Wants To Hire. And the top copywriting experts are all consultants first, solving the mysteries with reality-based solutions. The writing comes later.

Does this make sense to you?

This entire subject is often the main entree at our masterminds, and in every Hot Seat consultation I do.

Living in reality is a much better way to go, every time. And it really can make you a happier, more fun and pleasant person… who just happens to get a lot done.

Love to hear what you think, in the comment section below.

Stay frosty,

John

 

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

Psst! C’mere, I Got Something For Ya…

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Friday, 5:24pm
Reno, NV
Step right up, we got bargains galore…” (Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”)

Howdy…

I’ve had a flood of new folks wander in through the side door of this blog lately…

… so I thought I’d just catch everyone up on what’s happening.

Happenin’ Thang #1: I’m speaking at my dear friend (and legend in the biz) Joe Sugarman’s seminar (in Vegas, baby!) on the 24/25th of October.

The line-up of speakers is pretty shocking — Joe Polish, Jon Benson (VSL wizard), just a mob of snarling experts who rarely are in the same room at one time.

Rather than re-explain how awesome this seminar will be (and it’s a “must be there” event… and nearly all the hottest “A List” copywriters I know booked their spot the moment they heard about it)…

… I’m just gonna post the URL, so you can check it out for yourself. Time is tight. And anyone who understands how unique this kind of event is, and why it’s so critical for entrepreneurs to hang out at live seminars and brush elbows with experts is already salivating over the opportunities this opens up.

Go here to see why so many pro’s are going to the Sugarman event.

Happenin’ Thang #2: As many of you already know, I’ve been co-hosting a killer new podcast series called “Psych Insights for Modern Marketers” with my colleague Kevin Rogers (who has authored several guest posts on this blog).

It’s killer stuff… all focused on going deep into the street-level salesman’s psychology of what makes people buy. You won’t find subject matter like this anywhere else, and you sure as heck won’t get the deep-behind-the-scenes insight from grizzled professionals like me on any other podcast.

Plus… it’s free.

Go here to check out the latest podcast. I hang out in the comments section, too, so feel free to start a thread or join one of the existing brouhaha’s already getting frothy in there.

Happenin’ Thang #3: If you haven’t subscribed to my Facebook page, you’re missing out on the frequent posting I do there… especially the Monday Mentoring Sessions, which reveal the essential lessons I’ve learned (always the hard way, by getting bloody first and only then figuring out where I went wrong and how to fix it next time) on becoming a happy, successful dude.

I’m usually over the limit on “friends” there, so just subscribe as a “follower” — you get the same privileges.

My Facebook handle is: www.facebook.com/john.carlton

Last note: I’ll be posting more original articles next month.

For now, if you’re jonesing for more stuff to dive into, just hit the archives over in the right-hand column here.

Coming up on nine years of material in there. All free.

Be sure to sign up for alerts, though, so you find out when new posts are added. Top of the right hand column, in the “Keep Informed” box.

Use your best email, not your slog one. I’m not gonna spam you, or send too much stuff — I usually send out no more than a couple of emails each month, all related to things you (as an entrepreneur, writer, biz owner or freelancer) will appreciate discovering.

Okay, that’s it for today. Lots of great stuff available here, and you ignore any of it at your peril.

Enjoy your Halloween, and I’ll see you here next month.

Stay frosty,

John

Risky Bidniz

IMG_2258Monday, 2:26pm
Visalia, CA
He wants to dream like a young man, with the wisdom of an old man. He wants his home and security. He wants to live like a sailor at sea.” (Bob Seger, “Beautiful Loser”) 

Howdy.

We’re in for a treat today.

One of the best storytellers in copywriting — my longtime cohort Jimbo Curley — has sent us a riveting tale sure to send shivers up the spine of every entrepreneur alive…

… while simultaneously delivering one of the most primo lessons in getting after your own success. I laughed out loud several times — Jimmy has a real talent for doing that to readers.

Enjoy… and reap the profits of learning the lesson. Here’s Jimbo:

Thanks for the intro John.

Something crossed my mind the other day — just after I ran over my neighbor’s dog.

Here’s what I was thinking: As an entrepreneur, a business manager, or just a plain working stiff, you may not be taking enough risks.

Or perhaps not the right kind of risks.

I’ll tell you about poor Rex in a second. For now, fasten your seatbelt. You’re in for a wild ride.

“Risk” is the base ingredient for success. It’s the secret sauce to landing a spouse who’s outta your league. The mechanism for pole vaulting over your competitors. It’s how you’ll win big, and make your nay-saying friends and family look like idiots for ever having doubted you.

I’m serious. Today I own and operate a couple companies that earn in the millions each year…

… but twenty-something years ago it wasn’t like that. Back in the early 90s I was managing a near half-million dollar marketing budget for a hardware and contracting operation – at $28K a year. I figured I had a secure job, a good title, and would safely “ride my way up” the escalator of success while others risked their necks climbing up the rickety ladder.

Rookie.

I opened my eyes. The media reps who landed me as a client were wearing silk ties and gold watches. The guy running the crumby print shop I frequented was driving a new Beemer. The owners who employed me were living in obscene homes and enjoying three or four lavish vacations a year.

And yet there I sat for 8 to 12 hours a day at a particle-board desk. I ate a bag lunch and drove a 10-year old beater.

I wanted new stuff. I wanted lavish. I wanted obscene.

It began to sink in.

Achieving such noble and lofty goals in total safety was a delusion.

Simple math and ruthless honesty made it clear — I could NEVER get there “working my way up” from $28K a year.

In the “death zone” of Mount Everest climbers must use ropes and ladders to traverse a sheer 40-foot rock-face before they can reach the peak. It’s called the Hillary Step. (It has nothing to do with Clinton, but Sir Edmund Hillary, the first nut-job ever to summit Everest and come back alive.)

One screw-up on the Hillary Step… one minor bobble… and you’re dead meat. 

Yes, you CAN refuse that terrifying climb up the Hillary Step, but it meansContinue Reading

Your Own Private Crystal Ball

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Monday, 6:16pm
Reno, NV
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...” (Omnipresent WWII song by Vera Lynn)

Howdy…

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

Bamboozled By Babble, redux

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Tuesday, 2:47pm
Reno, NV
Don’t let me be misunderstood.” (The Animals, #15 on Billboard, 1965)

Howdy…

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

Top 10 Secrets To Make 2013 The Best Freakin’ Year Of Your Life (all of which you’re either ignoring or screwing up)

Saturday, 3:44pm
Reno, NV
“I’ll have what she’s having…” (When Harry Met Sally)

Howdy…

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.

However…

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


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.