Archive Monthly Archives: March 2006

Just Check It Out, Already

I have been hot and heavy into experimenting with online selling lately.

Good Lord, it’s wicked fun.

Profitable, too.


Now, I’ve been screwing around on the Web since the mid-1990s… and actually wrote one of the first Web-based sales letter, waaaaaaaaaay back before there was a Paypal and before Google became a verb. I’ve done damn well, too, and helped a lot of other people get their act together online.

It’s a little different than other direct marketing vehicles… but, then, ALL the ways direct marketing is used are a little different than each other. There are quirks and separate rules you need to master in the mail, in print advertising, in the Yellow Pages, on infomercials, selling door-to-door… and, gosh, even the Web has some weird twists and turns to the “standard” salesmanship model of saying “Here’s what I’ve got — how many do you want?”

I’m as hip as anyone about what works on the Web today. Over time, my instincts have proven correct on vast numbers of issues that people used to argue with me about. For example: Allowing links to interupt your sales message… relying on audio or video as “eye candy” without making the graphics “earn” their place in your pitch… and cramming good (not lame) testimonials into the first “screen page”. (The now-common design element of having a long damn list of testimonials run down the right hand column is all mine, I don’t mind saying. And they laughed at me when I first did it…)

What spurred this latest love-affair with testing and experimenting is simply having a good friend decide to do some joint-ventures with me. I “tricked” Stan into getting excited, by cavalierly inviting him along to a seminar my colleague Harlan Kilstein put on recently in San Francisco… I knew that getting a taste of the potential profit picture available online would put ants in my friend’s pants.

Stan dove into the technical side of getting sales via the Web with a passion that’s contagious… and now I’m all nervous and giddy again, eager to get back after this brave new online world.

Frankly, business had started to drag for me. I’m always tempted to retire, and go write bad novels or start another bar band, whenever I get bored with marketing and advertising.

But the reason it gets boring, is because I get too isolated sometimes. There’s NOTHING boring about great marketing, and making tons of money. I love it.

And mostly, I love the daily grind of doing business. Unless it gets too predictable… or too frustrating.

Being an entrepreneur takes care of the predictability problem — there’s nothing like working without a net on hair-brained projects to get your blood moving.

But over the last year, I’ve just had one bad experience with “technical guys” after another. I searched out the best geeks around, got personal recommendations, paid them a lot of money, even gave them marketing help. Still, each one failed me, miserably. Disappeared for months at a time without finishing projects for me, left nagging details unresolved no matter how often I talked to them about it, and generally behaved like high school kids with spring fever.

My sites languished without name capture pages put up. Simple copy changes never got implemented, resulting in embarrassing mistakes that affected sales. And critical links sent people off into the ether, never to be found again.

I absolutely hate working with jaded, irresponsible people.

I have finally found some technical assistance I can not just rely on… but I can also enjoy being around. Having a pal get involved is refreshing… and seeing the potential of the Web through his blossoming excitement restores my sense of wonder and awe at this amazing marketing machine that has changed our lives so thoroughly and deeply.

(I’ve also found another techie who — amazingly — has a brilliant understanding of how the Web “works”, combined with true old-style professionalism. And I will never reveal her name, because I cannot stand the thought that she might get too busy to remain the reliable veteran she is.)

Anyway, I’ll be sharing what I learn (mostly in my newsletter, the Rant) from this latest bout of experimentation and testing. One of the great things about online marketing is that there’s plenty of opportunity for everyone, and it’s just silly to be selfish with discoveries and information.

Right now, I’ve fooling around with offering some screaming deals via a new website: The “edu” is my attempt at humor, mimicking the “.edu” of educational sites.

Actually, what we’ve got at is a market test. My “insider’s list” had first peek through a special email blast several days ago… and now I’m alerting you. Hop over there, and see what the fuss is all about.

Not sure how long the site will be up during this test. We’re experimenting with little details and paying attention to how every design and copy tweak affects results.

As always, things are changing at lightning speed online. I’ve been advising people not to get too stuck on any technical trick or model, no matter how successful it seems to be. Because tricks and models mutate. Right now, there are some amazing marketing models involving Google Adwords (done right, not done poorly), name capture pages (again, done right), and super-clever follow-up to buyers and non-buyers.

Also, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in foreign sales on all my sites — especially in Asia and Europe.

This has me thinking about putting on a European seminar. That’s how much this new excitement has changedmy attitude — from being ready to retire, to getting jiggy with bold plans to conquer the world again.

Check out the market test, will you?


Stay frosty.

John Carlton

Empty Bragging, Noxious Excuses

I promise not to obsess on using The Apprentice as my main subject in this blog… but, gosh, it’s just so damn juicy with great story lines.

You don’t have to even watch it to fathom the main lessons, either. Just listen in to the water cooler chat, and you’ll get the gist.

Couple of quick insights to how ego and self-delusion can destroy you: First, last week the obnoxious beefy guy got the axe. Not much of a surprise there — he’d alienated his entire team, and was clearly in the midst of a personality breakdown.

What I found interesting was his “guarantee” of not getting fired. He said, to the camera, “I guarantee I will return from the boardroom.” And he said it so emphatically that spittle rained toward the camera. (“I… WILL… RETURN… etc.”)

Emphatic. Believe me or else.

This effort to twist reality by sheer impotent force of will echoed in the ad created by his team for the cereal product project. Now, these apprentices can be forgiven for not having advanced marketing chops — if they were already drop-dead experts, they wouldn’t be dancing for a spot in Trump’s hierarchy.

So I don’t fault them for being lame. Rather, I want to point out that, as utter advertising rookies, the copy they came up with is dangerously close to efforts I see while critiquing my Insider’s ads: Introducing The Next Generation… Finally, The Cereal For Everyone.

Honest teachers will immediately try to beat the urge to use “introducing” type headlines out of you for good. It’s weak copy, and makes Barnum (the guy who really knew how to introduce something to a gullible public) roll in his grave every time it gets dragged out.

Rookies get confused. They’re told the company is introducing a new product… and after hours of banging their heads against the wall trying to be “creative” and “clever”, they end up trying to bull their target audience over with the force of being emphatic.

The beefy guy’s emphatic promises were hollow, despite his vehemence. And the team’s ad was stupid, despite their delight in pretending to be a circus ring-leader.

As kids, I remember many times betting someone a million dollars that I was right about some minor point or another. It was supposed to carry the power of a double-dog dare, and blow him away — who, after all, could withstand the confidence of a boy willing to bet a million dollars on something?

Didn’t work then. Still doesn’t work in the adult world.

Second interesting point: A couple of shows ago, a team member lost the project by insisting they could cross Manhattan in twenty minutes to reach a crucial meeting in time. The irony was that the guy actually lived in Manhattan, and should have known better. They missed the meeting by forty minutes, and the fed-up executives they were supposed to interview just split.

That guy got fired, as well he should have.

But there’s a deeper lesson there, too. Namely, professionalism.

This is a serious point of contention for me, because I hate having my time wasted, and I took the trouble to discipline myself not to waste anyone else’s time, either.

It ain’t that hard.

My idea of professionalism is simple: You are where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there, having done what you said you’d do.

In school, you can get out of being graded harshly when you fail if you have a good excuse. That’s a piss-poor fall-back position to bring into the business world, though.

You miss a deadline, and it can cost vast sums of very real money. And ruin your reputation in very real ways.

Some people are chronically late because they relish the power. It’s a passive-aggressive thing… and if you suspect someone is chronically wasting your time for the small thrill of holding you hostage to their sick need for control, leave now.

Other “late people” are just victims of thier own delusion. They remember the one time they got across town in twenty minutes, and ignore the four hundred times it took longer. There’s a reluctance to summon the energy required for the trip, and a reluctance to begin gearing up for whatever new kind of thinking the meeting will drag out of you. So you put it off as long as possible… and often longer.

If you’re chronically late, you need to change your behavior NOW. And you cannot accomplish this by simply being emphatic with yourself about it.

Even you won’t listen to your bullshit promises.

No, you need a plan. It sounds simple, but it escapes a lot of people just the same.

If you must be somewhere at 4 pm, you will be late if you start getting ready to leave at 4 pm. Yet, I know people who do this.

In fact, if it takes forty minutes to get where you’re going, you are late if you’re still in the office at 3:20. The Theory of Relativity does not bend just because you’ve got rotten planning skills.

Here’s the pro rule: If your meeting’s at 4, you are not walking into the room at 4, nor pulling into the parking lot at 4, nor sitting at a traffic light a block away at 4. At 4 pm, you have already been sitting calmly in the place you’re supposed to be for at least five minutes, with your thoughts gathered and your friggin’ shit together.

You do not “lose” the time you spend waiting for a meeting to start. It’s still your time. Meditate, read, work on notes, or just sit and enjoy being alive. But do it where you’re supposed to be… not back in your office or home getting ready, pretending you can navigate forty minutes of traffic in ten minutes this time.

Figure out the worst time it’s taken you to get across town. Then add ten minutes.

This way, you won’t have to watch for cops as you speed, you won’t be a menace trying to blow lights you’ve missed, and you won’t arrive with an adrenaline level through the roof.

Remember: No matter how good your excuse is, the people waiting for you don’t want to hear it.

If you’re late, you’re going to have to rely on your history. If you’re chronically on time, you’ll be forgiven. If you’re a “late person”, all you’ll ever get are eye-rolls as you waste more of their time trying to make your boring tale of wrecks, detours and slow tourists sound believeable.

This kind of simple discipline is not hard to pull off.

It’s just rare.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

‘Nother Glitch

Quick note: If you have emailed me in the last three days, there is a good chance your missive was sent into “Nowhere Land” by ghosts in my machine.

Despite having backup behind backup — fortified by multiple firewall, virus and cookie protection — some sneaky ass little application tunneled into my hard drive and is happily chewing up my productivity. Massive tech help is on the case, and I expect things to return to normal this afternoon… but be advised that any silence on my end probably means your email never arrived.

It’s like the old Silk Road, back during the days when info and goods had to travel by caravan. No matter how smooth the ride would be in a perfect world, it’s a dangerous adventure in the real world. Thieves, con men, viruses and the perverse humor of Nature all conspire to keep anyone from reaching Grandma’s house without incident.

Keeps life interesting.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

Lessons From The Donald

Okay, I’m now completely sucked into this round of The Apprentice.

By the laws of Hollywood, it should have jumped the shark already… I at least expected the show to start obsessing more on the personal relationships of the group, to amp up the “soap opera” element for viewers too dim to follow the business lessons.

But the producers have resisted doing that… and good for them. They’re right to gouge deep into the “personalities” of the participants, because that’s a huge part of real business life. And this is a competition, with a lot at stake.

And yet, show after show somehow manages to present actual marketing lessons, interspersed with the mayhem and back-stabbing.

I like the whole approach. It’s riveting for a marketer.

This past show was good on several levels. The wonderful woman I share my life with — who is a marketing expert in her own right (but in the corporate world, not the entrepreneurial realm I lurk in) — noticed last season that the producers were “fore-shadowing” during the show… so, if you paid attention, you could actually predict who got it in the end.

Not so this season. There’s a tasty element of the board game “Clue” here — it’s nearly a murder mystery type of plot, with each character playing their role to the hilt. It’s Grand Guignol high theater.

And yet, it’s also real life. These people weren’t assigned roles, and aren’t reading from scripts. These are the types of deliciously-perverse characters that you can only hope populate your slice of the business world at some point or another.

During a dinner I hosted for the experts at my recent seminar, the table was packed with one of the strangest cast of real-life characters ever seen in one place. It was a legitimate version of the Algonquin Table… with all the clash of egos and flash of genius wit you only get when you’re really, really lucky.

I’m used to it, but it was refreshing to be reminded how lucky I am to have such larger-than-life people in my circle.

Let me tell you — it’s never boring when your colleagues include brilliant nut-cases and charming drama junkies.

And the current Apprentice cast isn’t boring, either. It’s like watching a good novel being written, and the characters evolve. There’s the arrogant smart guy (who gets his ego handed back to him in a bloody mess the first show)… the stout guy with the social skills of a chimpanzee (targeted as “must go” by the rest of his team, despite his proven ability to survive and see his enemies crushed instead, ala “Art of War”)… the sociopathic woman (shocked, shocked to discover her looks aren’t keeping her safe in this raw environment, and coming to terms with being out of control for the first times in her life)… the innocent kid, the jaded Israeli soldier, the scheming lawyer, the brewing emotional basket case…

It’s just fabulous theater.

Last week, hubris again won out. That seems to be standard operating procedure early in the show, because it’s happened a lot — project managers obsess on getting rid of someone they hate, and refuse to put their “friends” at risk in the boardroom (forgetting this is a game first)… and Trump tells ’em to take a hike, based almost entirely on the stupidity of not bringing the right people back in front of him to be fired.

God, it’s Shakespearean.

After the first few rounds of blood-letting, we no longer get to see the stunned faces of people who have never been told “no” in their lives before coming on the show… they all seem to get culled early.

Coming from humble beginnings myself, and surmounting a fair amount of adversity to get where I am, I cherish those moments of the privileged running face-first into a nasty life lesson like that. If they’re smart, they’ll allow the lesson to help them grow.

However, in the cab ride out, given the opportunity to have the last word, most choose to exonerate themselves, blame everyone else, and refuse to acknowledge they could have possibly been wrong about any decision they made.

Sounds like our current political landscape. The country is overflowing with hubris these days.

The Apprentice wannabe’s who survive to fight another round get to examine their belief systems more closely than at any other time in their careers. You can believe you’re an “idea guy”, or that your mere presence in a brainstorm meeting is magic because that’s what you’ve been told, or that “attitude” is what it’s all about… until those beliefs get shaken.

This group is lucky. They’re getting their belief systems rocked, hard, often and early. The opportunity to learn massive lessons in business are in their face every day.

Back when I was a slave to The Man in the corporate world, I would sometimes imagine myself being a character in a movie… just to survive the inanity and bullshit of the average day in the office.

I realize now that the tactic is actually a clue on how to live well. Count yourself lucky if you are surrounded by interesting characters, and your business presents a little drama now and again.

Life is about challenge.

So, if you’re gonna waste a few hours watching the boob tube, why not watch “deep” and learn more about the game of life. The Apprentice — for all its faults (including the jackass Trump, bless his larger-than-life heart) — is a giddy, exciting, real-time mystery novel I can’t wait to watch again.

And remember: The personalities you despise the most are likely reflections of your own personality. Maybe the dark side, maybe the side you’re just oblivious of right now. Pay attention to your reactions — your emotional response gauges only go ballistic when they recognize familiar behavior.

Something to think about.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

PS: I see that someone, in a past comment, defended The Donald as being “real” or something. I never said he isn’t real, and he’s certainly a success. My warning is about his ideas on business — he really doesn’t have much to say in the way of useable advice, because he’s so full of his own platitudes (which he never actually follows himself). Maybe you could pick up a few good tricks from him, but mostly he’s about leveraging money and using inside contacts.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that most entrepreneurs aren’t in a position to leverage money. They’re more about making it in the first place.

No. My beef is that Trump is just the ringleader of a great circus. He’s amazing entertainment, but not the reason the shows works like it does. The genius belongs to the producers, who set up the circumstances and games, and and stock the show with fascinating characters.

Martha Stewart is just as savvy as Trump… maybe more so, considering she actually did rise from nothing (where Trump was a privileged guy handed a headstart)… but her show bombed because she isn’t entertaining. She spouts the same platitudes as The Donald, but without the venom and viciousness.

Trump is almost a cartoon character, bullying and alpha to a ridiculous degree.

But, as a character, he shines.

I don’t like the man, but I love the character.

Done. Next.


Finally got a full night’s sleep here, after all the rigamarole and anxiety of putting on such an intense event like the Hot Seat Workshop last weekend.

It was a blast, and by all incoming accounts a fabulous success. Glad I did it, had fun, and no, I don’t think I’ll do it again. Sorry if you missed it.

I want to publicly give out a big, sloppy “Thanks” to all the world-class experts who attended and lent their savvy and insight to the Hot Seats: Dean Jackson, Harlan Kilstein, Sam Fishbein, Stan Dahl, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero and of course my good friend David Deutsch. In that amazing group, you have top copywriters with controls for the largest mailers in the world, recognized salesmanship gurus, consultants to huge companies like Exxon and Wells Fargo, and cutting edge marketers who for years have been the first to exploit the most advanced online tools available.

It was a stunning two-day display of insider secret-sharing, and going deep with the good stuff that makes marketing outrageously exciting and embarrassingly profitable.

Easily the most fun I’ve had in a seminar… and I’ve produced and co-produced something like fifty of the suckers in my career. This was something special.

And now, for my next act… another nap.

These events are exhausting.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

Important News For Snow Wimps

Two quick points:

1. All the slots in my big damn Hot Seat Workshop are filled. I couldn’t wedge anyone else in if you bribed me — in fact, it’s so full because the last guy I accepted had the good sense to bribe me to get squeezed in.

So, please — no more attempts at bribery for this event. She’s locked up tight.

2. Now… about those hysterical reports of an incoming storm. This is for all the attendees coming in from overseas and across the continent: THE STORM IS A BUST.

It must be a slow news day. I just fielded a call from my pal Dean in Florida, who was wondering how many feet of snow he’d have to plow through to reach the hotel.

Answer: Zero.

The storm is a total loser, folks. There’s some brisk (okay, icy) air swooping down from Canada as a lame-ass low pressure system attempts to stumble across the Sierras. But any snow we get will be a light dusting.

It’s no big deal. Check for Reno, NV before you leave home, if you need an update. And relax already.

Heck — I moved to this little patch of high-desert, nestled in the bosom of the gorgeous Sierra Nevada range, because of the mild, but still vivid, actual seasons. The spring and fall around the valley is just stunning, the summer appropriately toasty, and the winter cold and wet, like God intended.

Before the move, I lived on the beach in Los Angeles during a ten-year drought, when the temperature seldom went above eighty or below fifty-five. Yuck. It’s nice for a vacation, but boring longterm.

Give me a little raw, invigorating nature once in a while.

Not too much, mind you. Enough to keep the mountains snow-capped and the air bracing.

Real weather.

If you’re coming to Reno, prepare yourself before walking out of the air terminal — the sight of the Sierras in front of you will take your breath away.

Just wear a coat, okay?


John Carlton