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

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  • ken oneill says:

    This is one of the most valualble ideas i have seen anyone share online. Or atleast for me it just put and idea i have been workign on for a few weeks into focus. Thank you.

    John this might sound funny. a book a really want to see is one by you and Seth Godin. You messages are similar. You have great stuff. And he has publishing contacts and a wide readership for his books.

    Maybe it is wrongof me to share an item on my wish list.


  • It’s an interesting concept and, like so much of the solid and interesting information you share, kind of a “slap on the forehead” moment of DUH! to me (and many other folks, I would imagine). You’ve clearly illustrated the point that most marketers miss when creating audio versions of their products…

    Despite your emphasis, most marketers will still probably miss it requires a shift in thinking and the reworking of material. Creating audio products that are designed to be listened to while distracted is vitally important because, like you say, they ARE going to be interrupted regularly.

    Even when I’m not driving I’ve got to listen to most audio stuff two or three times because it’s interrupted constantly by my own random thoughts and the various things that ‘pop up’ in real life.

    I’m going to have to do some more thinking on the subject and figure out how I can apply to my products and those of my clients. Thanks for the light bulb!

  • […] Carlton had an interesting post recently over at his Big Damn Blog about those poor folks who actually have to get get dressed and get into the car to go to work. […]

  • Mike says:

    Take a page from the political consultants play book. When it comes to marketing with audio, you want a salient sound bite. It helps to use alliteration and make sure the words spoken have a rhythm to them so they’re better remembered. Studies show that easily remembered phrases often have a rhyme to them.

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