Archive Monthly Archives: April 2007

Travelin’ Blues

I’m gonna blog on the run here. It’s been a very hectic couple of weeks, full of gut checks and forced reflection and the never-ending flow of “Details That Will Not Be Denied” that come with being in business.

And now I’m trying to prep for 3 straight weeks of intermittent travel. Chicago for a seminar, back to Los Angeles for a memorial, then off to the Northern California coast to see what the ocean’s got to say for itself.

Still, I don’t want to neglect my blogging duties.

And I have a fairly cool observation I want to share that is pretty important for all marketers.

First, though: There is a memorial service planned for Gary Halbert, down in Los Angeles, for May 5th. To get the details, go to Gary’s site,, and sign in for the RSVP link. I will be there for sure, to help Gary’s sons with whatever they need help on.

If you knew Gary, and you want to pay your respects, this is the place to do it. Most of us who were close to him have finally slipped into the “acceptance” stage of grief, and this memorial is a way to be proactive about giving Gary his due.

Second: Back to more mundane marketing notions.

There is a great article in the April 16 New Yorker magazine on commuters. The writer put in a few facts — which got my salesman’s mind reeling — and a lot of Studs Terkel-style “man in the street” profiles… which offer a psychological portrait of an increasingly average Americann consumer.

As a marketer, you should always jump on info like this. It’s priceless demographic knowledge, explained in a way that keeps the humans involved at the center of the story.

Here’s the gist: According to the Census Bureau, one of every six Americans now commutes more than 45 minutes each way to work. Over 3.5 million travel 90 minutes or more… each way. (That’s double what it was in 1990, when the last census was taken.)

That’s a LOT of time in the car, sitting on your ass.

My take: They can’t read, can’t watch DVDs, can’t watch TV, and have limited patience for learning while crawling through jams.

Still, a good percentage are going to be YOUR customers. A literally captive audience, potentially.

This used to get radio advertisers all excited… but radio ad revenue is plummeting, after years of cramming so many obnoxious ads into each hour that people just stopped listening to commercial radio. (Radio does this slow-suicide dance every decade or so — recently, the average talk radio station had more ads than talk each hour. They just push it until they lose listeners, and then scramble to become “relevant” again. Dumb. But it’s the way the biz is run.)

People learn to zone out, or jockey around the dial, or escape to commerical-free satellite radio and CDs. (Or NPR, which is hit-and-miss on being interesting.)

Think about it: Frazzled, frustrated people hating thier lives, forced to stay awake during a routine drive that is too unpredictable to lose focus while you’re suffering through it.

These are people with a problem — essentially, wasted hours that cannot be replaced. It’s purgatory. Quiet desperation.

For savvy marketers, this could represent an opportunity to be the most exciting part of your prospect’s day.

Back when I worked for The Man, I had opportunities to sit in “parking lot” traffic jams in Silicon Valley (on the 101 between Palo Alto and Santa Clara), and the 405 nightmare between the SoCal beach cities and the Sunset Blvd offramp (which includes LAX). Two of the most notorious and horrific commutes in the country.

If you have NOT experienced true traffic psychosis, you probably should go sample it.

Just to understand what it is many of your customers are going through.

Why? Because, for most information products (and even many services), you can and should be providing audio options. (There is also a place for audio with retail products… if you do it right. Most physical products — especially high-ticket items — are only purchased after information is digested.)

But there’s a caveat: You need to understand your prospect’s state of mind, in order to create a CD or mp3 that doesn’t create a disconnect in his head.

And this goes for both audio products, and for audio pitches.

Most smart direct marketers know that providing audio versions of their products can increase sales dramatically. Many people simply prefer audio over visual (whether it’s reading or watching video).

Very few entrepreneurs, however, have yet realized the opportunities for putting your pitch into audio format. That is changing, as test results come in.

But I know of few marketers who tailor their audio for commuters. And thinking about how commuters digest audio input will help you in EVERY effort to communicate clearly and effectively, regardless of the format.

Here’s the key: Your presentation must be in short, identifiable chunks — because your listener’s concentration will be constantly interrupted by sudden braking, the need for snap decisions, and occasional outbursts of road rage.

Keeping things in chunks means any rewinding is brief, and there are no long, delicate trains of thought to be shattered.

Most of the audio I’ve heard — both in products, and in the few audio pitches I’ve seen marketers produce (mostly via podcasts, but sometimes through downloaded mp3 or snail-mailed CDs) — make the outrageous assumption that your listener has the luxury to “sit back, relax, take the phone off the hook, and listen to a tale…”

I’ve actually critiqued a LOT of ads over the years that use pretty much that identical language.

So get straight on this: Online and offline, your prospect is never in a place where he can — or wants to — sit back and listen to you ramble.

Both pitches and products should be as long as necessary to deliver what is needed for your prospect or customer to get the desired result. So, yes, I still write very long emails, Web site copy, and print ads… but they never RAMBLE.

And I present very long workshop seminars, teleconferences and Web conferences. And this “never ramble” tactic is the key to making them all work.

It may require some time to make your point… but in all cases, you still need to GET to your point immediately. And stay there, without wandering off on tangents.

Even long-copy ads — when done right — deliver bite-sized chunks of info… tied together in fascinating ways that ensure your reader stays with you. (The “Bucket Brigade” technique of holding interest.)

But you do not want to overwhelm him with stuff. Give him a little bit of info, help him digest it… and smoothly segue to the next bit of info. Navigating your reader through a pitch (or the info in your product) is very much like running along uneven terrain.

Consider how you would run along a mountain trail next to a river. Lots of rocks, gopher holes, tree stumps, puddles… you can’t rush mindlessly headlong toward your destination, or you’ll quickly stumble.

You can still move quickly… but you’ve got to pay attention to each step.

In copy, each chunk of new info is a step. Present your point, make your point, tamp it down in your reader’s brain… and then smoothly transition to the next point.

That’s the key to making long copy work.

So when you create audio — which is just “spoken” copy — that you suspect (or know) is going to be consumed in the car… don’t construct elaborate arguments or points that require long-term memory. (The all-too-common “I’ll get back to that in a minute… but first, I want to tell you about…” tactic is a sure sign you’re dealing with a rookie copywriter.)

When you deliver your material in short, digestible chunks, you can go on for hours and never “lose” your listener. This is how master communicators command attention fro long periods.

The commuting culture — which ain’t going away anytime soon — is a target audience that hasn’t been fully tapped. These are people who are ripe for certain products and services… if only the info can be delivered in a way that doesn’t make their brains bleed.

Commuters listen to books, and sometimes attempt to learn foreign languages. There’s no reason why they can’t consume your info product, too… or listen to your pitch.

Here’s a nice exercise to do in your spare time: Consider all the products that could be put on audio for consumption in the car (or on an iPod during a train ride).

Audio is different than reading… but the tactics for delivering content are the same.

Okay, I gotta go pack.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

How To Reach Gary’s Family Directly

First, I want to thank everyone who posted a comment here about Gary Halbert. The outpouring of admiration and respect is a wonderful thing to behold. I read every single post, recognized many of you, and deeply appreciate everyone taking the time to write something.

Second… while the shock of Gary’s passing hasn’t faded much, there are pressing matters to attend to.

Gary’s son Kevin asked me to write a short post for Gary’s newsletter site, explaining a few things. I won’t go over the same material here — just go to this URL and see what’s up:

I urge anyone who wanted to personally say something to Gary’s family to use the email contact provided there. And, if you think you might want to attend the upcoming memorial service, use the “RSVP” sign-in list to get more information.

Thanks again.

John Carlton

For Gary

Ladies and gentlemen… I shall try not to be gloomy or morose here. In honor of a man who deserves such an honor (and who would have heartily appreciated the rock and roll reference)… I will borrow the famous line used to calm to the crowd after Elvis had ended his concerts:

“Gary Halbert has left the building.”

He died peacefully in his sleep, in his apartment in Miami Beach, sometime during the night of Sunday, April 8, 2007.

He was my friend, my colleague, my partner, my mentor… but mostly my friend. For over twenty years (many of them the wildest of my career), we shared a close, comforting relationship that included adventure, drama, tears and laughs.

Mostly laughs, of course. He was bigger than life, and could suck the air out of any room he entered without saying a word… preceded only by the shock-wave of his hard-earned reputation. He had a lust for experience, an astonishingly huge appetite for everything available in life, and took great pleasure in being who he was.

And he truly was a great man. He single-handedly changed the nature of modern direct response advertising… and through his teachings, spawned three generations (and still counting) of rabble-rousing entrepreneurs and marketers who continue to force the business world to bend to their will.

He was generous to a fault, never suffered fools, and earned the love and admiration of everyone he met. All genius has a few rough edges, and Gary’s rough edges were legendary… but none of us would have had it any other way. He was a total package, and his life was full and well-lived.

We shared a lot of tragedies, in between the triumphs, and it was his sense of humor that helped us to survive, and even come out stronger than ever.

I know, from personal experience, that when things got so bad even your closest friends shied away… Gary would stand next to you and weather the storm, blow for blow, refusing to let you down. And, when you just couldn’t cry about it any longer, he would make you laugh.

It rattles me to my core to think I’ll never hear that warm, lusty laugh again. Someday, I’ll be able to listen again to the recorded stuff we did together… and you cannot listen to anything Gary did for very long before you’ll hear him laugh.

I hear it now, in my heart, strong and clear and reminding me to stay strong.

He was a brave, formidable, brilliant man with more real talent and genius than seemed possible.

And godammit, he’s gone. I had a nice, invigorating chat with him on Friday, received an email from him on Saturday… and then today, I got one of the worst calls in my life. His sons Bond and Kevin, who I watched grow from teenagers into a strong, confident men, delivered the news.

Gary Halbert. Born June 12, 1938. Passed away April 8, 2007, just shy of his 69th birthday.

He leaves a void that will never, ever be filled. No one with any sense will even try. No one still around comes close to being worthy.

For twenty years, I have lived in a world with Gary close by. Even when he moved to the east coast, we remained bosom buddies, not just staying in touch, but desperate for word from each other and eager for long chats. We could talk for hours on the phone, just trying to make sense of the chaos and sharing our wonder at the ludicrous nature of reality.

I would not be who I am today without that long, amazing friendship.

This isn’t the loss of a single, good man.

This is a rip in the tender fabric of the universe. I can feel his absence, as if a large part of me has been hacked off.

Today, the world is smaller… more hostile… and vastly less fun than it was yesterday. Yesterday, when I still could have picked up the phone and enjoyed Gary’s soothing voice and thunderous laughter.

There will be a lot said of Gary in the coming months. He deserves a legacy fit for a king, and I will do my part in making that happen.

But for now, I don’t want to share my memories with you. For now, those memories are for me and his family alone, while the grief and shock runs its course.

A great man has moved from this corporeal adventure, to somewhere else where genius writers are welcomed and cared for. And while I strongly feel we will meet up again… for now, I must hold tight to the fading echo of our last conversation. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to tell him I loved him, one last time.

And I did love the man. Everyone who knew him did. For many of us, he was a rock, an anchor in a world roiling in confusion and danger.

Let no one say he didn’t live an amazing, purposeful and productive life. He touched a lot of lives. He shall be more than missed… and he will never be replaced.

Ladies and gentlemen… Gary Halbert, my dear friend, has left the building.

John Carlton

The Sweet Spot of Success

Hope you’re having a swell weekend.

It’s a working weekend for me… but I will “owe” myself the time back later, doing something fun and not work-related.

Because success sucks if you can’t enjoy it.

I’ve experienced burn-out a couple of times in my long career… and eventually learned both how to spot the oncoming symptoms, and take corrective measures to get back in the groove (where I work hard and play hard and get maximum bliss from the entire process).

There’s a sweet spot you can find where you can’t wait to get back into the office each workday, and also can’t wait for the fun days to arrive. You are totally absorbed in everything you do (and not thinking about work when you play, or wishing you were playing when you’re at your desk).

Not very many entrepreneurs or small biz owners attain this Zen state of functional bliss. They get sucked into working (and thinking about work) 24/7, and fry their cerebral cortex to a cinder. (Hint: If drinking yourself into oblivion is your primary way of relaxing, you’re toasting yourself.)

On the other hand, the vast crowd of wannabe’s who just can’t seem to get started tend to give playtime higher priority than work, and get stuck in the shadowy world of unfulfilled ambition and wasted dreams.

Most of the “mega-successful” marketers I know are workaholics. Some of these guys hit the office before dawn and don’t leave until Jay Leno’s on. It’s hell going up against these beasts, if you’re competing, because they will crush you with the sheer volume of hours they put in.

Until they crisp-out, that is. Every single workaholic I’ve known has, sooner or later, hit a wall and crashed. They’ll earn millions, lose millions, pile up the divorces, and plow through health kicks in futile attempts to recharge their damaged batteries.

No thanks.

If you’re competing against workaholics, there are plenty of sneaky tricks to beat them without matching their self-destructive ways. One is to just give ’em enough rope to hang themselves — simply by maintaining yourself in a healthy groove that is productive enough to stay even remotely competitive, while enjoying life to the max, you can outlast them over the long haul.

I don’t have scientific studies to back this up, but my experience has been that workaholics have at most a two-year cycle — two years of kicking ass, followed by two years of grief and collapse. That cycle can be as short as six months, too.

None of them escape the Reaper.

Another tactic is to just never go up against them. Go around them, instead. No matter how hard they work, they can’t keep a too-broad USP (unique selling position) covered completely. There will always be vulnerable areas… and that’s where relaxed and focused marketers can smoothly walk in and exploit exhausted competitors.

That sweet spot is really sort of a controlled obsession. While you’re working, you’re riveted on work, just like the workaholic.

The difference is… you set up your business so it won’t collapse when you take time off. And then you take full advantage of that, and take time off.

And stay riveted on having fun.

It’s not a place you get to accidentally — you must decide it’s where you want to be, and then create a plan to get there.

And stay there. Easy to fall out of the sweet spot.

Most marketers bounce back and forth — too much work for a while, followed by a depressed reluctance to work, interspersed by attempts to take time off without good planning.

I just want to remind you that the sweet spot exists, and it’s available to anyone who wants it. You must learn to channel your passions, so they don’t contaminate each other. When you’re working, you work hard — set and meet deadlines, and schedule everything as realistically as possible. (This takes practice.) When you play, you do the same thing.

I knew a professional coach who specialized in the medical field, where burn-out starts immediately in a career. Every client he had was frazzled, stuck on a treadmill, and working too hard to make any real money.

And one of the first things this coach forced each client to do… was to set up one short vacation every month. Could be just a weekend, but it had to be a real vacation — go somewhere and do something. Laying on a beach drinking Mai-Tai’s didn’t count. Educational jaunts were the best — get your mind working, hard, in another direction.

Nearly all his clients, at first, were appalled. They hadn’t taken any vacation at all in years… and the concept of one a month was terrifying.

This tactic works like a magic elixir, though. It’s a good mix of work and play, and the definitiveness of the monthly get-away not only restores your mental energy… it also allows you to work as hard as you need to, knowing there’s a wonderful break just ahead to recharge the batteries.

Success has never been about piling up cash. Right now, I know half a dozen people who are in serious health situations… and they would gladly give away every penny they have to be back in their prime.

It’s not just a cliche. You only get one go-around in life, with no reset button. And from personal experience, I can tell you the best groove to be in involves lots of productive work, coupled with excruciatingly-fun breaks.

Settle for half the money, if it means twice the enjoyment of life. Even the grandest of goals shouldn’t require the sacrifice of your will to live.

Now, go outside and play.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

Why Clueless Marketers Are Terrified Of The Web

If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner… and you’ve been earning a few bucks online using any of the tactics you’ve learned from me (or any of the other veteran marketers online)… then pat yourself on the back.

You’re doing something that many “mainstream” businesses haven’t yet figured out how to pull off.

And… if they continue to ignore the basics of direct selling (which you’re taking for granted as necessary for profits)… they won’t be “mainstream” much longer.

They’ll be extinct.

Bye bye.

Here’s what I’m talking about: The Web has “officially” become the Number One source for advertising for many of the culture’s biggest advertisers — a year earlier than predicted. Gazillions of bucks that used to be channeled through “traditional” media (newspapers, magazines, direct mail, television, radio, etc) have now been measurably diverted online.

For the people who keep track of this sort of info, this news is astonishing and troubling (if not unexpected).

The entire foundation of our capitalistic economy is shifting, and most of the former movers and shakers simply are not prepared for the change.

The obvious signs of upheaval are the disappearance of entire market segments. Like most of the music-selling stores (Tower, Wherehouse, your favorite former local hipster CD haunt).

Less obvious is the way the Web has changed profit margins in markets like new cars — buyers are walking onto lots armed with reams of research on price… and they’re totally hip to ALL the old fall-back upsell tactics. (The last time we bought a new car, we had the salesman literally in tears as every one of his price-raising schemes was shot down… and none of the “invisible” tack-ons made it through the sale. Because of their stubborn reliance on scamster-style price boosts, we figuratively stole that car from them.)

Currently in the news — ironically — is the plight of the daily newspaper.

And there’s a lesson here for all of us. A basic lesson in fundamentals.

Harken: Nearly every newspaper in America now has an online presence. They’re working out the kinks of suddenly having the ability to cover stories in real time (which changes the very nature of reporting and writing stories)… with varying degrees of success.

The local paper here in Reno actually has a great site. Many of the national papers — like the New York Times — could pick up a few good tips from, in fact.

Yet, nearly all newspapers (both locally owned and chain-owned) have the same complaint: They still aren’t able to turn a profit providing an online product.

And, if you have any entrepreneurial chops at all, you gotta be shaking your head in wonder.

The NY Times, for example, gets millions of hits each week. Millions. And then more millions. They are connected to thousands of other sites who link to them — blogs, other news channels, e-zines… it’s a network of feeds to die for.

And they COMPLAIN about not being able to make a profit?

Anyone with a drop of salesman’s blood in their veins has got ot ask: “What’s the friggin’ PROBLEM?”

I work with entrepreneurs and small business who earn fortunes with a flow of traffic that wouldn’t even be a ripple in the NY Times readership. Not even a tiny little splash.

What would YOU do, if you suddenly had access to millions of hits… all spending oodles of time on your site, reading and paying attention?

You’d… um… sell something.

No brainer, right?

Not to the brain-clogged morons running the show at those big sites.

Go take a look at the ads running on any of the big newspaper sites. Pathetic.

I chose one banner ad, at random. Lots of real estate taken up, nestled next to a riveting front page crammed with content… and the advertiser has a nice photo of a shoe, with some tiny, tiny, tiny printing saying “Introducing the Spring 2007 Collection”.

That’s it, my friend. Shoe, five words. No obvious link.

I ran my cursor over the space until I discovered a link… the designer did a great job hiding it… and I was whisked to a site with a bigger photo of some nice wingtips… the words “distinction being noticed without standing out” (sic), a link “View the spring collection”, and the logo: Allen Edmonds.

Pretty much it. Oh, wait. Six-point type links (all delicately lower-case) that look like border designs: “about allen-edmonds”… “”store locator”… “contact us”… and a Search box.

I spent ten minutes navigating this site, seeking out the secret entrances to something even remotely like a page SELLING something.

And hey — if you’re stubborn about it, you can actually find a way to buy a pair of shoes.

But you better have some time on your hands. And really, really, really want those shoes… cuz buying them isn’t easy.

The insanity of all this is clear: The advertisers shelling out for banner space at the newspapers don’t know how to sell online… and the newspapers aren’t clued-in enough to help them.

The blind leading the blind.

Were I running the advertising department of the Times (I shudder at the thought), I would first get hip to what entrepreneurs are doing to actually SELL stuff online… and then I would help educate my advertisers to the same tactics.

Because, if they learn to sell stuff… and keep track, and see the results of putting their ads in front of millions of eyes riveted to the content of the newspaper… they will see the very great advantages of buying up banner ad space there. And become repeat clients, willing to pay lots of money for that banner.

Clueless, they get to continue to ignore the Web. “We tried advertising online. It does’t work.”

Well, yeah. Because your online ads SUCK.

This is horrible news for big-name advertisers. To really succeed, they’ll have to killl everyone in their marketing department, and somehow replace them with new people who are hip to selling online… and good luck to ’em on that quest.

Because they’ll continue to rely on Madison Avenue ad agencies for their ads… not realizing that few folks at Mad Ave have a clue what to do.

This is great news for entrepreneurs and small business owners online, of course. Because you are on equal footing with everyone else online, more or less. You may not have the big fancy store in downtown Manhattan, and you may not have any staff at all (let alone a marketing department)… but online, your ad can outsell the Big Guys by vast margins.

Because you know how to sell.

The Web is getting crowded. But classic salesmanship still rules the roost (as it forever will).

While traditional businesses — used to being bullies and dominating their market by sheer size and access to advertising media — stumble and flail impotently online… you can enjoy all the low-hanging fruit still out there.

The way people buy things is changing, fast.

But people still buy things.

It’s just a great time to be selling online. I do hope the NY Times gets its act together, and doesn’t fold for lack of understanding the nature of commerce on the Web.

But I’m not holding my breath, either.

Keep paying attention to the basics of classic salesmanship. All the noise about “new” ways to sell online is coming (mostly) from marketers engaging in fantasy play. The large ad agencies still can’t sell their way out of a wet paper bag. Don’t listen to ’em.

“Introducing the Spring Collection”, indeed. Those kinds of all-attitude/sales-phobic tactics — beloved by clueless marketers with zero salesmanship chops — will murder a whole bunch of businesses trying to make it online before the traditionalists give it up and start paying more attention to the way entrepreneurs do it right.

But the food chain is pretty thick with cluelessness right now.

We live in interesting times.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. I got on this kick today because I was just interviewed by Garrett Sutton (one of the Rich Dad/ Poor Dad authors) for his e-radio show on… and we were talking about classic salesmanship tactics.

I can go off for hours on every part of a good sales pitch — the hook, the close, the take-away, urgency, credentials, whatever. It’s just second-nature to me, after all these years of crafting killer pitches.

And yet, it’s still amazing news to “sales rookies”. Even the fundamental drop-dead basics are a revelation.

Something to remember, as you keep testing and improving your sites. Don’t be afraid of going after large market niches seemingly dominated by traditional bullies. Check out their sales tactics… and if they suck, maybe you’re the guy to teach them a lesson.