Tag Archives: salesmanship

How To Be A Sap, Redux

Wednesday, 10:36pm
Reno, NV
To the moon, Alice!” (Ralph Kramden)

Howdy…

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

The Envy Cure

Saturday, 3:17pm
Mendocino, CA
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…):

Friend…

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

First Fork For Entrepreneurs

Saturday, 11:29am
Reno, NV
She’s so fine, there’s no telling where the money went…” (Robert Palmer, “Simply Irresistible”)

Howdy…

I’ve been counseling entrepreneurs (both rookie and veteran) for, oh, about 30 years now. They come to me when their progress, or dreams, or plans have been hijacked by events or forces seemingly beyond their control…

… and they need a hard-core reality check, fast. Plus a detailed list of steps to fix things, and get back on track.

Even if you get an MBA somewhere (and while studying the history of biz and learning the methods behind success are important, I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who was helped by getting a fancy degree like that)… you can’t really understand the cycles, problems, surprises, horrors and pleasures of running your own biz until you dive in.

You can read every book ever printed (or watch every video) on what’s it like to run a biz… but you won’t truly understand how it all works until you’re actually running ads, setting up deals, shipping product, hiring and firing and moving and shaking.

When you catch yourself looking over your shoulder at the competition the first time (or waking up in the middle of the night with angst over a new campaign), THEN you know you’re a real entrepreneur.

I really enjoy consulting with entrepreneurs whose noses have already been bloodied. Life has already done the hardest part of my job for me… by kicking the idealism and dumb-ass belief systems to the curb. Your biz won’t succeed because you’re a sweet guy, or because dammit, your product is just the greatest thing ever.

No. Your biz will succeed becauseContinue Reading

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

Cynics, Sociopaths & Garden-Variety Azzholes

Monday, 12:48pm
Reno, NV
Use all your well-learned politics, or I’ll lay your soul to waste.” (Stones, “Sympathy For The Devil”)

Howdy.

Today, I’m gonna share with you one of the nastiest, yet most valuable lessons you’ll ever get in your career.

It’s all about the firestorm of conflicting personality types you’ll encounter in the Big Game O’ Biz. It took me ages to figure all this out (and get it into a simple concept that’s easily explained)… and many, many times it has saved my butt from disaster.

This is the mostly hidden part of being in business. The other fundamentals… honing your skills, dealing with technology, managing moolah… all seem to be fairly straightforward.

If only we didn’t have to deal with human beings to get through the day, everything would be just dandy.

However, sizzling underneath every interaction with another Shaved Ape lies a volcanic pit of emotional, physiological/biological, intellectual and metaphysical goo. Experienced professionals intuitively learn to negotiate this roiling obstacle, eventually… but usually can’t explain what they’re doing. They rely on a code of ethics, first, that eliminates or salvages biz relationships with the most common kinds of crooks and monsters out there.

However, waiting for the other guy to violate your code before jettisoning him from your life means you’re a punching bag while the truth about the human capacity for evil slowly dawns on you. (And most folks never really understand any of this. Which is why the neighbors of the freshly-caught serial killer always express disbelief — “He seemed like a nice guy. Always mowed his lawn. Sure, there were screams from the basement sometimes, but…”)

I studied this stuff — and figured it out — only because I was completely on my own in the early part of my career as a freelance copywriter (where I constantly dealt with new people, and needed all the insight to make quick-yet-correct decisions I could muster). I had a smidgeon of a hint, through an otherwise-worthless psychology degree I snagged in my youth…

… but the real breakthrough came because my quest to become an expert in salesmanship forced me to go deep with how people actually react to a sales pitch. This was my introduction to “street level psychology”… Continue Reading

Congratulations… Now Stop Being A Wuss.

iPhone09-2 225

Monday, 7:55pm
Reno, NV
But it’s all right… in fact it’s a gas…” (The Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“)

Howdy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Ya Feel Lucky?

Saturday, 2:21pm
Reno, NV
Well, do ya, punk?” (Clint Eastwood, “Dirty Harry”)

Howdy.

What’s Lady Luck done for you lately?

Humans have a strange relationship with Luck. Rome conquered the known world, yet firmly believed in a goddess named Fortuna who ruled over their fates. More modern successful folks than you can count consider luck to be a con-game. “I make my own luck,” is a common refrain… and yet these same smug studs often indulge in stark superstitious behavior.

I imagine more than a few folks have earned a PhD or two going deep into the concept of luck. Is it a random thing in the universe (like snake-eyes rolling exactly when you call it)…

… or part of a pre-determined script you’re just playing out (so of course the dice came up ones — it was part of your life’s plot-line)?

Or is it something much more mysterious and powerful?

You’re really got to settle this for yourself, I learned… Continue Reading


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