The Care And Feeding Of Your Future, Without The Soap Opera Drama And Trauma

Back when I started out in advertising… and even in the first year or so of my freelance career… I had to concentrate to remember exactly what “direct response” meant in the term “direct response advertising”.

Because a lot of the clients and agencies I worked with were oblivious. They understood the concept of advertising — you tried to persuade people to buy your cool new product.

How tough is that to be clear on?

But their heads got all fuzzy and fogged-up when the tactics of direct response came into play.

Ad so many people got it wrong, that… I finally realized… the whole concept is VERY tough to understand.

So I had to keep finding new ways to remind everyone what we were trying to accomplish with the ad copy I was writing.

The foundation of direct response is the “response” part. In most of the ads you see on television and in big magazines, there is no “call to action”. There may be a toll-free phone number thrown up, or a Website URL. But there is no specific reason given to call or link up.

That’s passive advertising. “Here’s my product. Cool, huh? Thanks for listening. Maybe, down the road, if you feel like it, you may sorta want to possibly consider… uh… maybe buying it. Or something. No pressure, dude. Just think about it.”

That’s how 99% of the ads out there approach selling. For rookie marketers, it’s just part of the learning curve — you think you understand advertising because you’ve seen so MUCH of it in your life. It’s about entertainment, right?

As your learning curve progresses — if you’re able to survive the initial financial disasters of bad ads — you realize that, to actually make a profit, you gotta start pushing for sales.

The guys making the Big Bucks back then were wizards at persuading people to buy.

However — and very interestingly — they were MORONS when it came to understanding the advanced meaning of “direct response”.

Allow me to illustrate what I’m talking about: Joe Karbo was one of the modern-day entrepreneur direct marketing heroes. (He wrote the book “The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches”… which was my FIRST purchase as a direct response customer. Me, and a whole bunch of other people.)

He wrote a killer ad (with the book’s title as the headline) that ran in every major newspaper in the country. Long copy, teaser bullets up the yin-yang, a powerful offer that rattled people’s cages and forced them to respond.

He earned millions, because he understood the first part of “direct response” — ask for action. Get the order. Be bold, be persuasive, be a salesman.

But here’s the kicker: Every time someone sent in the order coupon for the book… he cashed their check, mailed their book… and then threw away the customer’s name and address.


I know he did this, because he admitted it. It was a joke he told on himself. For all the wealth that ad brought him… he never again mailed a pitch to those customers.

No back end.

No list to nurture and work.

Later on, Joe finally did get hip to this more advanced layer of direct response. He started building up his list, and occasionally wrote to them to ask for another sale on another product.

For most marketers, the REAL money is in the back end. The first sale is great… but it costs something to get it. Online, you gotta figure in your PPC costs, affiliate splits, even your time spent writing banner ads, auto-responders, setting up PR article placement and everything else you use to lure people into your world.

The second sale, however, is almost all gravy. The customer (or lead) is already on your list, and you have the opportunity to develop a relationship, to deepen the bond between you, and to offer more complex (and higher priced) products and services. And he’ll be more inclined to consider what you offer… because he trusts you, and because the initial purchase he made was a pleasant experience and fulfilled his expectations.

Thinking ahead, there should be a third sale in the future, and a fourth, and on and on.

Your list is your future. All savvy direct marketers understand this. Many of the mega-wealthy ones are, in fact, quite willing to lose money on the first sale just to build up their house list for future sales.

Because that’s where all the real money is.

Sadly, I still see many marketers — rookies especially, but also experienced veterans who should know better — ignoring their lists. They focus almost exclusively on the first sale, try to make a killing up front, and generally treat their lists like unwanted guests.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

First rule of making a fortune: Respect your list. Nurture it. Make it happy, be generous with free stuff, treat it like the love of your life.

And… be wary of thinking you’re the only guy they’re dealing with.

I like to compare business to love and romance. The analogies are just too good to pass up.

So treat your list not like a casual friend, or even like a mistress. Instead… treat it like the most important person in your life — the source of your happiness, your wealth, your inspiration, and your future.

In other words… treat your list like you’re married to it.

And… expect to be treated BACK like the flawed dog you are.

I learned early on that all really was fair in love and war. Any naive notions I had about the nature of romance were cruelly and efficiently stomped to death in my early twenties. I learned that even best friends would conspire to steal your date… and that there were ALWAYS other offers being considered, even by seemingly innocent and happy mates.

For the record: I do believe “true love” exists, and you can live a happy life minus all the drama and trauma of the soap opera so many people suffer through in romance.

But you can’t do it with your eyes closed. People tend to be unknowable, over the long haul, no matter how much they promise fidelity or how much you “feel” they’re on your side.

No one gets through a full life without a little heartache and a few brutal reality checks.

Same with your list.

Every single name on your list is being wooed and seduced and sweetly lied to by other marketers… every day, in most cases.

Your customers may indeed love you and cherish the relationship… but the second a better offer (however they define “better”) arrives, they will be sorely tempted to cheat on you.

This is not cause for despair and hair-pulling, though.

It’s just the way things are. You get hip to reality, and then you deal with it.

I’m a fan of affiliate marketing. It’s a way to maximize the leverage you have on the potential of any list you have. When you’re out of your own products… or when you suspect your list is just tired of you, you, you all the time… doing an affiliate offer allows you to bring in fresh blood and products that complement what you have.

Just be aware of what you’re doing.

I see too many marketers take their lists for granted. One bad example is to be a whore about offering affiliate products. To your list, you quickly become the relative who just signed up to distribute Amway products, while pushing for donations to weird charities and subscribing to new magazines. Oh, and would you also like to buy some Girl Scout cookies from my niece?

Pretty soon, they’ll pull the blinds shut and won’t answer the door when you come a’knocking.

Just as bad, though, is the marketer who assumes your list will be faithful forever, because you’re such a nice guy. You’re generous with free stuff, you don’t ask too much of them, you nurture your mutual appreciation… and you don’t overwhelm them with attention and email.

Yet, you don’t blink when an affiliate deal comes along that innocently requires you to allow the collection of names and emails — for free — by the guy with the deal.

Be careful. This is like leaving a very handsome and confident friend alone with your date at the big party. The vague codes of “honor” we operate by dictate he should remain a gentleman, and your date should not cooperate with naughty behavior.

But get real. Allowing any other marketer to plunder your list for names with a free offer can end up with you wandering the party asking everyone where your date and your friend went off to.

If the other marketer is truly wily, guess what? They’re already on a plane to Acapulco, and you’re just a distant memory.

What’s that great political slogan? “Trust, but verify.”

I don’t care how much you trust your fellow marketer… it’s up to YOU to keep control of your list. Free offers are great, and good affiliate programs make use of them.

But you still need to know who from your list has signed on, and what’s happening to them once in the evil clutches of the other marketer. Seed your list prolifically (by putting in names and emails you can track) and pepper all affiliate deals with these seeds… so you know exactly what happens to trusting folks from your list who’ve signed on to the affiliate deal.

It’s also fair to have all paths to the affiliate deal go through your own channels. You collect the sign-ups, distribute the free offerings, and guide buyers into the deal.

Sometimes, of course, it’s just easier to relax and not be paranoid, and let the other marketer pillage your list. Happens all the time. Perhaps your list was even created using free offers that shanghaied names from another marketer.

Just be alert to what’s happening.

Your list is your future. It will tend to be promiscuous and unfaithful, and you just have to learn to deal with it.

Life is messy. When you’re facing up to the realities, however, it’s still fun and full of good healthy adventure.

It’s only when you put on the blindfold and expect everyone else to take care of you that the trouble starts.

Gullible marketers get digested.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. My coaching programs are off to shockingly-good starts. The forums are rocking, and the whole project has pumped fresh motivation and actionable advice into a lot of people’s lives (including mine).

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • BrettFromTibet says:

    With all due respect, yesterday you lost me from your opt-in e-mail list. I used to get an e-mail from you every now and again, and I didn’t mind reading it. But the past two weeks I have gotten what seemed like many e-mail & affiliate pitches that I thought “Carlton, again?!!?” and clicked the unsubscribe.

  • […] John Carlton on the Care and Feeding of Your Future – Very good article, as always, from John Carlton. […]

  • John,

    Great blog (as usual). You hit on this briefly but I’d like to reiterate the treat your list like you would a romantic partner again by saying: One of the main mistakes I see biz owners make is that they don’t create/offer products to their lists often enough.

    Most of my clients could/should have 5x the amount of products as they currently have. They are leaving so much money on the table its unreal.

    ~ Jason ~

  • It was a good advice. I don’t have a big list, however I know its importance, and I like to make sales when sending an email!

    I need to find a balance between offers and content. I am new to this blog, and I already added it to my “Best Blogs” list.


    When you feel disheartened because of the terrifying amount of effort it requires to hit upon what you are searching for, cheer up because you are one step closer to your goal….

  • […] John Carlton on the Care and Feeding of Your Future – Very good article, as always, from John Carlton. […]

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