Archive Monthly Archives: August 2007

A Brief Jolt Of Intense Pain, And Then…

Have you ever figured out your own personal learning style?

We all have one, you know. This inconvenient fact is the bane of educators everywhere… because the teaching strategy that does so well creating a love of reading in Suzy, also puts Timmy to sleep (and makes him hate books).

I was discussing IQ with a buddy of mine recently — very smart guy, who’d just discovered his lovely wife had the exact same IQ as he did (this might be a bad thing in some marriages, but it was good news in his) — and I suddenly remembered the disorientation and stomach-churning confusion I had felt when taking my first IQ tests back in high school. I scored high enough to give the finger to all those grim, humorless teachers who were sure I was stupid (how could it possibly be their fault I wasn’t learning much under their obviously excellent guidance?)… but the actual score had to have been wildly off, because I distinctly recall never having encountered many of the words used in the test (which the creators took for granted that I knew).

It wasn’t that English was a foreign language to me… but rather that I’d somehow escaped learning a whole bunch of math, and was extremely vague on what a verb was. Among other embarrassments.

Now, I’ve trashed the U.S. schools before, and I’m not gonna do it again here. Too easy a target.

And I happen to know a couple of dozen teachers personally… all of whom are wicked smart people, dedicated to teaching, and universally upset that bureaucrats and politicians interfere with the process of filling semi-empty minds with the fodder of academia.

Nevertheless… it is ABSURD to think there is any single way to teach anything to everyone.

It’s simply not true. There may be a finite number of ways to teach effectively… but there are certainly more than a tidy few.

This was one of the main reasons I got into teaching entrepreneurs. I noticed, way back when I first started producing marketing and copywriting seminars, that there were always a number of people in the audience who simply didn’t “get it” when I tried to explain some specific salesmanship tactic or copy strategy.

We both got frustrated, because we seemed to be living in different worlds, where one man’s communication was another man’s Tower of Babel.

I was curious enough to look deeper into this… and discovered that among those people who didn’t get it, there were further sub-cultures of folks who couldn’t understand me no matter what I did or said or explained.

Some of these people were just aggressively stupid. Others could only “value” what I tried to teach through their need to control the message — they were offended by any show of cockiness, they were insulted by any kind of humor (especially the raw kind employed by the likes of Halbert and me), or they were aghast at the lack of democratic input I would allow into the conversation. (I’m sorry, but if you insist on wasting my time arguing about whether anyone reads long copy or not, we’re not gonna get anywhere special as far as learning new stuff. You don’t get equal time with your untested bullshit.)

At first, this bothered me. I felt I was a failure for not somehow possessing a super-broad array of teaching skills that would conquer any barrier put up by a student.

Then I got over it.

I stumbled through my own educational days mostly clueless about everything. If I hit the books at all to study, it was only from the mad hope that somewhere in one of the many classes I was taking, a clue might appear on how to live my life in a meaningful way.

I wish someone would have told me “Good luck on that quest, Bucko”… because it wasn’t gonna happen.

So I grew up thinking there was something wrong with ME — first, because I couldn’t find the value in what was being shoved down my throat at school… and later, because I kept encountering people who insisted they wanted to learn what they’d heard I had to teach about marketing and advertising and copywriting… but couldn’t seem to understand me at all.

And then, when I finally looked at the problem in a different way, it dawned on me: I was amazingly effective as a teacher… with the right student.

The “right” student was often an entrepreneur or small businessman who had a few unique things going for him. He could put his ego aside. He had an open mind about new ideas, even when these ideas contradicted his prior belief systems. And he had the ability to “translate” what I was saying, into language that worked for him.

I had always suspected I wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea… but now I finally realized that it was pointless to pay ANY attention to those good folks who didn’t “click” with me.

Because those people I DID click with stood to benefit enormously.

This is why my first course was titled “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”. I still, to this day, get outraged emails from certain people who are deeply insulted by the term “kick-ass”. Many demand that I change it immediately. All decree that they would NEVER deal with a teacher like me, as long as I used such foul language.

What they do not realize… is that using the term “kick-ass” is a big damn cleaver I use to separate those folks who will NEVER learn from me in any meaningful way… from those who are PERFECT students for my teaching style.

Their learning style matches up.

I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not, and be an effective teacher. I’m never gonna wear a tie, or go to bed at a decent time so I can get up early, or create an academically-approved syllabus for anything I teach. Not gonna happen.

I’ll stand behind my balls-to-the-wall, street-savvy teaching method anytime… because I’ve got a loooooong line of people willing to testify that my style worked with them, where other styles failed. There’s often a brief jolt of pain from my methods, as the bullshit falls away and you enter, new-born-like, into the world of honest salesmanship and wicked-good copy… but it’s invigorating, not scary.

And for the right student — a savvy, independently-minded realist, who embraces the world for what it is, and doesn’t waste time wishing it was something else — this re-birth can be the start of anadventure that changes everything. Forever. In your business, and in your life.

The world is big, and people are wired with all kinds of kinks and passions that — when you’re playing it smart — fit into your sales funnel perfectly. You just gotta know what to say.

I liken it to teaching a foreign language. I suffered through six years of “formal” Spanish classes… and I still couldn’t have a real conversation with anyone fluent in the language. They tried to teach me by boring me to tears first, and wilting vast areas of my brain with useless info. (Who CARES where the friggin’ library is, already?)

However… had the program started out by teaching me how to make it through a day in Tijuana buying firecrackers, scoring booze and negotiating my way into strip bars (and out of trouble with the federales)… man, I would have studied overtime.

Teaching the advanced levels of marketing and copywriting aren’t much different. Most of the books you can read on the subjects tend toward the snooty “let’s look at this scientifically” angle… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But in my long years as a successful copywriter, I’ve learned that getting “real” with your reader whenever possible increases your odds of breaching the skepticism and hostility most prospects bring to reading cold copy.

And no, you shouldn’t tell naughty stories to bank presidents when you’re writing B2B… but you DO need to write in a voice that rings true to him. (Dirty secret: I happen to have known some bank presidents in my time… and they are, sometimes, wild and crazy guys who are just as bored with formal business dealings as you are thinking about them. If you’re real good, you can sneak into their good graces through a side door no one else is using…)

My teaching style is vicious, fun, and shockingly effective… with the right student.

With the wrong student… not so much.

So one of my first jobs when pitching a seminar is to discourage the “wrong” people from attending. No sense of humor? Stay home. Indignant about being taken apart by a mere copywriter? Go get an MBA.

Can’t wait to roll up your sleeves, put your ego on a shelf, and get down and dirty with the reality of what it takes to write world-class advertising?

You’re my man. Or woman. Or extraterrestial, I don’t care.

My small, workshop seminars are such a hit because I let people self-select themselves as candidates to attend. I make no secret of my teaching style… so it’s up to you to decide if I’m the guy you really can learn from or not.

There are enormous, and very broad, marketing lessons in this attitude, by the way. If you use a lot of personality in your marketing, you’re going to offend some people. It’s unavoidable.

You could — if you’re the suicidal type — make yourself so bland and inoffensive that you blend into the background. No one will get insulted… but then, no one will consider you a “go-to guy”, either.

On the other hand, if you let your freak flag fly — and you’ve got the chops to back it all up — then while you may forever deal with smaller lists than your competitors… the intensity and passion and acceptance of that smaller list will dwarf the bottom line of your nearest Mr. Milquetoast competitor.

I’m not pitching you on my upcoming Copywriting Sweatshop here. (There probably isn’t room for you, anyway… but if you care to see what’s up, go to (Better hurry, though — as of this afternoon, there are only 2 spots left…)

It’s just that the process of teaching and learning is a hot topic right now… as more and more people enter the online business world, and discover they need to get hip — fast — to a whole bunch of insider stuff no one warned them about.

The most successful marketers subscribe to the “student for life” concept — and are forever searching for the right kind of teacher to help them discover the shortcuts and little-known cutting-edge breakthroughs that will KEEP them successful.

And I’m not saying I’m that guy, for you. Sure, I’ve helped a MOB of people break the code on creating wealth and living life with more gusto.

But I’ve easily offended many times more that number.

And I couldn’t care less.

The truth will set you free… but only if you find someone willing to TELL you the truth, in a way you can understand and use.

Okay, I’m done.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. Hey, one more thing. I almost forgot.

I just did my very first video. Well, not my first video overall — I’m on dozens and dozens of videos and DVDs, from my participation in seminars and other events. (Nothing naughty, either, I assure you.)

No. This is my first “home office” video… just me and the Webcam, at my desk, delivering a short message to marketers.

If you’ve ever wondered what my secret cave-office looks like, check it out. Short video. Online video is, of course, a force that’s quickly taking over marketing (excellently, when shot using good copy, and boring when too much winging takes place), and I’m getting into it heavily.

To see my first one, hop over to

Beware — there are opportunities lurking…

Salesmanship’s Black Eye


There’s a small brouhaha in the copywriting/salesmanship world. If you put all the participants in a room together, fisticuffs might be thrown.

If you want to join the fun, start by getting hip to these valuable skills over at

You may as well grab my free report while you’re at it.

But the gist of it all concerns the role of salesmanship in the real world.

There’s a poster who insists that top copywriters should be able to sell anything to anybody. No matter what. This view has been offered by him after multiple professional copywriters (including myself) have both elegantly and inelegantly told him there’s no market for what he’s selling.

He’s adamant about being right. And that’s a whole other issue. (I often run into stubborn marketers who would rather lose everything chasing a failed scheme, than ever admit to being wrong.)

But what he perceives as the “motto” of pro copywriters is somewhat bothersome. If I have ever said I could anything to anybody, no matter what, I don’t remember saying it. And shame on me if I ever did, through some lapse in my thought process. Throughout my long career, I have been careful to qualify the limits of my abilities.

I may have said I could sell almost anything to almost anybody… and that’s something I can stand behind.

But anything? To anybody?

Naw. No one can do that, and keep his soul safe from brimstone.

There’s an old compliment that goes “He could sell ice to Eskimoes.” The image is, of course, that Eskimoes, surrounded by ice, would have to be subjected to one hell of a pitch to buy ice.

It’s a backhanded compliment, though, in many ways… because it implies an unethical transaction.

The joke about “I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you” is based in truth — during the time America was being flooded with refugees and immigrants from Europe (just before WWI), con men actually took money from gullible newcomers who thought they were buying the bridge.

That ain’t funny.

In my course “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel“, I clearly make the point (in the introduction) that great advertising has the power to defy reason. A world-class piece of copy can sell the bejesus out of a bad product… in fact, it can (and sometimes has) sold a non-existent product.

But I make that shocking point as a counterpoint to the other side:

Bad copy can’t sell the best product on earth.

The marketing graveyard is crammed with truly fabulous products that failed because the marketing sucked.

I am also careful to admonish anyone burdened by the notion that learning great copywriting skills gives you the sudden voodoo to be able to jack people around. I write in the introduction that I very much hope you rot in hell if you use the power of salesmanship to do unethical things.

There is no lack of great products out there. There is no lack of niches desperate for new stuff, for information, for another way to indulge in their passions.

If you sell junk, you’re doing it because you’re a lazy sociopath. With the tools and advantages of the Web and new global ecomony, it is just as easy to create a valuable product as it is to work up a con. You have zero excuse for shirking your duty as a marketer to provide something of value and worth… especially if you sell it by promising such things.

Are we clear on this, then?

However, the fuss on the forum brings up another point:

Can great copy sell a product the market really doesn’t want?

The answer is: Yep.

You can sell it. You can write a blind ad that stretches the truth, inflates the worth of what you offer, and ignores the flaws.

You can sell it.

But you can’t make the sale stick.

And no copywriter with any self-respect would take on a job like that. It truly is whoring out your skills.

I’ve seen TV commercials for used cars where the blustery, evangelical salesman points at the screen and declares that no one walks home without a car at HIS lot.

And you know what? If you don’t count the homeless drunks who get tossed, his claim might be true.

And, if driving home in a car that is marginally “yours” is something you desire, then that can happen. You won’t have a very good deal going, you may stand to lose all the collateral you had to put up, and have the car repossessed in three months… but you won’t walk home.

But, really.

Part of the guy’s clownish behavior and shouting schtick is meant to scare off the part of the market he doesn’t want to deal with.

A rational, middle-class car enthusiast who insists on having a mechanic check out the ride, and who knows the standing market value, will give that salesman a headache.

He prefers the easy pickings.

The whole notion of being able to sell anything to anybody is silly.

And it keeps direct response advertising’s black eye shining. People understandably get royally pissed when they decide they’ve been “sold” on something they don’t really want, or have just bought something that doesn’t begin to live up to expectations.

I’ve known marketers who — either by design or by circumstances — have allowed shoddy product to go out under their name. You gotta have a thick skin to withstand the blowback from frustrated, angry buyers. This is why the classic con games involve lots of moving around — after you dump your evil payload on the local populace, you gotta leave town.

An ethical marketer will make good on all guarantees and bend over backwards to fulfill on all promises.

And, if he hasn’t learned the lesson of being clear (even on bold, outrageous promises) about how he’s going to meet expectations… he will soon learn it.

I run a damn good operation, myself. I’m the bottom line for most of the offers, through critiques and consulting and the exhausting fact that I write everything that goes out under my name. So when someone complains about something, there are only two reasons why it’s happening:

Either he has a legitimate reason to gripe (such as not receiving his package, due to some shipping problem either with us — hey, it happens — or with the shipper)… and we jump on fixing it.

Or the complainer is unclear on reality. (As in, yes, if you order something, we do actually expect you to pay for it, as agreed.)

There is a percentage of the population that is unclear on most concepts of modern life.

And there is a larger percentage of the population that feels entitled to exercise their drama queen behavior with your staff, just because they bought something from you. It’s the old 80-20 rule. And there’s no way around it… except to spot the trouble as soon as it pops up, and whack it down asap. (Yes, even if it means refunding a customer who didn’t ask for a refund. If you’re spending too much time with someone because their gripes never seem to cease, you may have been snagged in a high maintenance web. It’s fair to say you simply cannot work with that person, and offer a fair refund to end the relationship.)

So let’s be clear on this:

Salesmanship is powerful.

That power can be used for good, or for evil. The buyer in any capitalistic transaction has a responsibility to perform due diligence — “let the buyer beware”.

This is why I stress finding someone you can trust as a resource to help you stay on the shortest path to success (however you define success). There are several copywriting and marketing forums out there, and I recommend many of them because I know the guys running them.

These forums are such a great tool because — even if you’re trapped in the hinderlands, isolated from other marketers — you can still enjoy the brainstorming and the power of the collective. Working alone sucks. The virtual “family” of a damn good forum can change your life.

But you’ve gotta get over your idealistic stubborness, if it’s holding you back. Many people suffer from glaring ego problems, and are actually energized when the crowd disagrees with them. I know, I know — history is stuffed with people who were ridiculed for their ideas at first, who later succeeded wildly. So there’s always the chance that you’re right, and everybody else is deluded.

But the other part of that history lesson is this:

You may yet succeed… but you’ll do it without your detractors ever being convinced.

A lot of people died smug in their conviction that man could never fly, that electricity was a cheap parlor trick, and, well, fill in the blank with your favorite contrarian victory.

But really… if you can’t convince veteran salesmanship experts that what you have is worthwhile, then you’re kinda out in the cold. The advantage of brainstorming includes the very common realization that you need to dump the project you’re so in love with.

The thing is… while mastering salesmanship isn’t exactly like learning how to perform brain surgery…

…it nevertheless is a skill set that you do NOT understand until you take the time to be taught the lessons.

(You can learn them the hard way, as I did, over a very long time… or you can shortcut the process by trusting a good teacher.)

As I pointed out in earlier posts about the sales-challenged geeks… your belief systems can foul up all the incoming data, so you hear what you want to hear. The advantage of dealing with veteran copywriters is that they’re completely jaded about being pitched on “the next best thing since sliced bread”. All it needs is world-class copy, and we’ll all be rich!

You betcha.

No credible top copywriter I’ve ever known has ever claimed to be able to sell anything to anybody, no matter what. Not because they couldn’t actually do it, though. Because it’s stupid and wrong to distort or manipulate salesmanship in a way that creates unhappy buyers.

Learning great salesmanship includes learning how to judge markets and products.

Most of my longterm clients quicky included me in all discussions about future products, because they knew I was outside their echo chamber, and could see clearly what they might miss.

That’s the job of a copywriter who works beyond just slamming out ads.

The whole mix includes the vialbility of the product, and demographic value of the target market, and the hooks that will hit the sweet spot of the prospect.

Hope my logic in this post wasn’t too twisted for folks to follow — the point is worth making. It seems like it should be obvious, but my experience tells me it’s not (at least not in a way that people “get” easily).

People who understand salesmanship lead better lives.

Yes, the whole concept of being a good salesman carries some unwanted baggage — including a well-deserved black eye for all the scamsters out there abusing their skills. But that doesn’t negate the fact that salesmanship is the foundation of capitalism. The world isn’t perfect, nor is it always fair. Learning salesmanship at a deep level includes massive and continuing reality checks about human behavior… and after the initial shock, you discover it’s a good and necessary advantage to drop the idealism and see people as they truly are.

The human race is still loveable and the world is still full of fun and wonder.

But sometimes, even that product you know, in your heart, is fabulous and a boon to mankind… will be refused by the marketplace. It happens.

Successful marketers acknowledge the reality of the situation, and move on.

Yes, they could probably use blind ads to sell it anyway… but then they would have to deal with overwhelming returns, refunds, and pissed off buyers.

Life’s too short. Learn the lessons of the marketplace, and adapt.

You don’t need to sell anything to anybody.

You just need to master the basics of providing great value to a niche that appreciates it…

…and make sure you tell your story through the wonders of great salesmanship.

Do so in a way that your market gets the message and feels good about acting on your offer.

Okay, I’m done.

Stay frosty…


P.S. If you’re looking for even more resources to help you succeed as a marketer, look no further than this checklist right here.

P.P.S. Hope you’re enjoying your winter. Another one almost gone, but ain’t it a sweet season? Life truly is too short, and I’ve been reminding myself to slow down and experience the way the world is shifting through the heat toward autumn. It’s always High Definition outside, even in the melancholy gray days…

Basic Business Survival Skills Most Businesses Ignore

Couple of quick items I thought you’d find interesting.

First Interesting Item: The Wall Street Journal ran a great story the other day on the follies of MBA-powered mismanagement.

Well, I thought it was a great story, anyway. No one else seemed to pay much attention… probably because it doesn’t fit into the average person’s belief system that a Master’s in Business Administration is good for anything.

Seems that Harvard lost $350-million bucks in a hedge fund… run by guys with Harvard MBAs.

Let that idea roll around in your head for a moment.

If you have a stake in believing that MBAs rule, then it’s just an annoying news item. Move along. Nothing to see here.

However, if — like me — you enjoy these tidbits of proof that MBA actually stands for Massive Bullshit Acquisition, then the irony is truly delicious.

I’ve always maintained it is harder to teach people with too much education how to run small biz and entrepreneur shops, because the nonsense is piled so deep and thick in their skulls. An MBA is often a red flag that trouble lies ahead… like getting in a car with someone behind the wheel who learned how to drive solely from books.

A lot of the people who come to me for private consultation have MBAs. They can wax prolific on all sorts of business theory… but when it comes down to actually making sales, they’re like a babe in the woods. Helpless, clueless, and desperately trying to bluff their way through whatever disaster they’ve created.

Okay, there’s probably some worth in getting advanced degrees in biz. If you’re looking to nail down a soul-devouring gig in middle management at some faceless corporation, for example, it’s definitely the way to go.

And it will, at the very least, force you to read some books. I guess that’s a good thing, too.

But a vast number of the most frightingly successful entrepreneurs and small biz owners I know have zero college under their belt. Many dropped out of high school.

And yet you would consider them intellectually “inferior” at your peril. They’re usually smarter than the most “officially” educated guy in the room, and possess infinitely more real-world “pedal to the metal” savvy. The world of small biz doesn’t do so well using theory and grand concepts like “branding”. Entrepreneurs generally do better by breaking rules, and employing old-time classic salesmanship to deliver targeted product via killer pitches to hot markets.

All my mentors were self-educated. That generally means they were obsessive about reading. If rumor of any good book in any MBA program leaked out, they were on it. And because they filtered all incoming data through the real-world crucible of making sales happen, I would bet on their comprehension level being higher than any student’s.

But they never relied solely on books. Often, they would stop reading the latest bidniz best-seller half-way through, having quickly picked up the essential knowledge they could use. Books are tools.

It’s how the info works in the laboratory of everyday selling that counts.

I’m a broken record on this, because it’s important: Whatever happens to the economy (and things are, admittedly, getting scary)… whatever happens in your market (including the sudden threat of increased competition)… and whatever happens in your life in general… the one key survival skill will always and forever be raw, classic salesmanship.

Learn how to sell. Learn how to identify your best prospects, how to find them, how to nurture their innate desire for what you offer… and, most importantly, learn how to needle their emotional sweet spot to get them to act. To buy, to try your stuff out, and to allow you into their complex, fuzzy-focused lives as a “go to guy” provider of goods, services and content.

And remember — if the dudes teaching the MBA courses really knew their stuff, do you think they’d be grinding it out in academia?

The School of Hard Knocks remains the best university out there.

Second Interesting Item: Last night, I had dinner with a friend who also happens to be the top real estate broker in Northern Nevada.

Nevada, you may or may not know, went from being one of the top ten hottest real estate markets in the country… to being one of the top five worst. And we did it in a matter of shell-shocked months.

Most real estate-related businesses around here are in full panic mode, laying people off, closing up shop, fighting off bankruptcy, wringing their hands and hiding under the covers.

Ask your average agent how things are going, and he’s liable to burst into tears (and ask to borrow twenty bucks for lunch).

My friend, however, is doing just fine. He’s not matching his record-setting pace from the recent boom years, but he’s not far off, either.

And how, you ask, is he able to survive and thrive while others struggle and fail?

The answer is very simple, it turns out.

He ignores all the strategies other agents and brokers rely on.

And, instead, he uses old-time classic salesmanship to help his clients sell when no one else is selling, and buy when no one seems to be buying. Any good salesman would immediately recognize his skill-set as bonding, smart message-to-market targeting, and (most notably) working within the rules of the real world.

No theory. No tricks. No special magic at all.

Most agents simply do not know how to sell. They violate the most basic principles… like forgetting that it’s not all about them, but rather all about the prospect.

You never “sell” a house to anyone. You create the opportunity for a prospect to sell himself. And you do this by completely understanding his needs and desires, and genuinely matching him up with the right house. However you need to define it.

Most agents get all caught up in self-defeating conversations about “no one’s buying”, “the market’s in the tank”, “we’re in a recession” and all sorts of other nonsense. The glass is half empty, and leaking.

A great salesman assesses the situation, adjusts, and stays frosty.

And they get real. People are still buying and selling, even in the most dire market conditions. Sure, they’re harder to find, but they’re there. The housing industry is a fluid, moving parade of action. And there is always a way around a problem. Always. The reality of the solution may not thrill you, but there are endless choices and alternative paths.

The world may or may not be headed for some kind of economic Armeggedon. We may weather the coming crises just fine, or we may all be living in caves in a few years.

But however the reality plays out, one stark fact remains: Those who survive and thrive will be the ones with the most real-world experience, and the best salesmanship skills.

It has ever been thus.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton