Sunday, 3:09pm
Reno, NV
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, unless you’ve got a black hole handy.”


Nice, short post here today. In keeping with the theme “KISS.”

Veteran entrepreneurs recognize this, of course, as an acronym of “Keep It Simple, Stupid“… easily some of the best biz advice I ever received in my long career. I carefully printed this slogan out, by hand, on a big notecard and had it taped above my desk for years (though, my sign was even more direct and vicious: Keep It Simple, Shithead. I wanted to get my own attention.)

I made good use of slogans during the early days. “Business before pleasure” was also huge for me, since I’d squandered my youth as a party-hardy slacker… and simply re-directing my energy first to biz (and having evil fun afterward, if I still had any juice left) instantly changed my entire existence. I made a vow to myself — my first real vow that I took deadly seriously — to follow that self-administered advice without hesitation or complaint… and to never apologize for basing my career on a hackneyed phrase that few people ever thought twice about. And that’s when things started popping for me, success-wise.

That was a key realization: All those dog-eared rickety slogans, as mocked as they are, have earned their way into the culture…

… because they work, if you let them. “Action speaks louder than words.” “First, be a good animal.” “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” “No good deed goes unpunished.” (I re-learn this one on a weekly basis. However, the caveat is: But you do good deeds anyway. Just don’t expect to be rewarded.) “Listen more than you talk.” “Do the right thing.” “Anything you can conceive and believe, you can achieve.” And so on. (The walls around my desk were thick with notes like these.)

But the Big One, for me, was always KISS. As my career blossomed, I saw — first in myself, and then in almost every entrepreneur, client and biz chief I worked with — a perverse tendency to complicate the hell out of everything, almost in knee-jerk fashion. And this often ruined very elegant original ideas.

Most good business ideas start out simple. A flash of insight, or a sudden realization, or a notion of something urgently needed in an underserved market. Then, because you’re human and your wiring has some kinks in it, you start adding complexity before you even get off the ground: “Hey! We could gold-plate it! And add partners! And have thirty levels of management! And create a job for my worthless brother-in-law…

This happens so much… on both a micro and macro level… that the slogan deserves to be tattooed onto the brain of every entrepreneur alive.

In writing ads, this translated often to another slogan (which I borrowed from Gary Halbert): “Just sell the damn thing.” In other words, when you’ve assembled a selling proposition that’s way long, bristling with tangents, and can’t seem to get to the point… you just step back, and try to see what the shortest path might look like.

That’s how I came up with my own simple formula for writing ads: “Here’s who I am, here’s what I have, here’s why you want it… and here’s what to do now.” Try to take a linguistic beeline from the headline through the body copy to the close in a breathless, ruthlessly focused ride. Murder every tangent, every irrelevant story, every word that doesn’t keep the reader zooming through the ad. (You may still end up with a long-copy pitch, but it will sing.)

In the primo mastermind I co-host with Stan Dahl, the most common advice I give is to simplify everything. The whole structure of a good Hot Seat is to break down all problems into component parts, which are infinitely easier to solve than the Big Damn Problem you think is holding you up. And the answer is almost never to make things MORE complex.

Nope. It’s to simplify. Get to the heart of matter, with specifics, and strengthen the fundamentals.

Often, this simplifying process has to beat down what the biz owner thinks he needs: More elaborate product lines, a call center, a new sales force, maybe a big roll of the dice with an expensive informercial. And new investors, and a new membership site, and…

Stop. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly.

Over the years, I’ve saved big lumbering companies on the verge of bankruptcy with a single (and, yes, very simply presented) sales letter touting a fire sale (to raise cash), or offering a mind-boggling deal loaded with must-have bonuses (to cold-cock the competition), or just waking up a bored list of past customers and making them fall in love with the client all over again.

Simple ideas. My goal was always to work with the resources that were already available, so nothing new had to be created (except maybe a fresh bonus or two). We’d have my ad out in front of eyeballs and bringing in results before the bloated (and untested) (and super-expensive) schemes of other consultants got off the drawing board.

When you’re starting out with a new project or biz, you can always add complexity later on, after you’ve nailed down the simplest profitable path. When you move from the kitchen table to real offices, and start hiring employees instead of relying on independent contractors, and get busy expanding your marketing efforts… then, you have to embrace a certain amount of complexity.

However, early on (even if you’ve got employees and offices and a board of directors), you need to make sure your new idea will be welcome in your niche and can quickly make a profit. Until you’ve proven that, keep everything as simple as possible: Match your product to the specific needs of the market, deliver it efficiently and price it to sell. (In other words, offer a great deal, in a great ad, and get it in front of prospects. You want to find out if it’s got legs as quickly and cheaply as possible.)

Okay, I promised a short post, and I can feel a whole bunch of stories bubbling to the surface, so I’ll quit with this: Just check out the Issacson biography of Steve Jobs. Over and over again, the guiding principle of Apple’s success was to simplify… products, delivery systems, user interface, design, everything. (My favorite quote is when Jobs asked one team to explain what a new — and failing — product was supposed to do. After hearing the list, he said “Then why the fuck doesn’t it DO that?” Seems obvious, but the world is crammed to bursting with products that no one has a clue how to use properly.) (How many buttons do you use — or even understand the purpose of — on your TV remote?)

KISS. A very sweet slogan you may have to learn over and over again (as I do)… but it’s worth it. Entrepreneurs with simple business structures that bring in simple fortunes lead simple, happy lives.

Do you have a story of how complicating a simple idea turned out for you? Let’s hear it in the comments. Meantime, I hope you’re enjoying your summer.

Stay frosty,



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  • Ben says:

    Wohooo! First one to comment!

    I also think any skill you learn is more about UNLEARNING than learning, moving more and more towards simplicity

    I experienced it extensively while learning to become better at meeting and attracting women… (also marketing right :)… )

    Now I experience it with figuring out how to get traffic to my website: I’m always looking for new information on the topic, fancy ways of getting “free traffic”, and so on…

    Instead of just buying an ad and fine-tuning it with little investments until you get a positive ROI… I had that realization today…

    An interesting thing with these “big lessons” is that you can find people saying them all through time. You can find this simplicity lesson said by people centuries BC, up until now…

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Ben. Nice note about unlearning stuff — it’s an overlooked, but very Zen way of simplifying things. What are you taking for granted, or ignoring, that is fueling what you’re doing wrong… that, once identified, you can let go of?

      Fancy, new, shiny stuff ain’t always the ticket.

  • Sharon A says:

    Hi John,

    Two years ago I realized the business I loved so much was starting to tax my health. The simple and obvious solution was to close it and move it online so I could make an income without killing myself. I thought about it, dreamed of how my life would be. I KNEW it was the right thing to do. But I didn’t do it.

    Enter the rationalizations: there was no way we could afford it. Husband had gotten wrongfully sued and lost (we lost everything and then some); then he got laid off—you know, all the stuff life throws at us. I was scared shitless…Also, what would my clients say? They were like family. How could I let them down? They depended on me.

    My mind took that simple solution and convinced me in a thousand ways it wouldn’t work and why. It always ended up with the same picture of Husband and I homeless and starving. So I ignored what I knew and kept pushing myself because “there was no way it would work”.

    Fast forward to this spring…Two weeks after I started work, I shattered five bones in my leg and ankle, dislocated my heel, and damaged almost all the nerves in a freak accident. I was outside when it happened. When Husband got home almost two hours later, I was hypothermic and in shock. I had tried to crawl to the house but couldn’t make it…It was windy and in the 40s and I had no coat.

    I was in the hospital for four days. I had four hours of surgery, including bone grafts, and left four days later with enough hardware in my lower leg to open my own store. After 13 weeks in a cast and a month (so far) in a brace, I am just starting to relearn to walk. I will need PT for 18 months minimum, and the nerve damage may be permanent.

    My point is, I can’t help wondering if things would have been different. If I had shut off all the rationalizations and done what I knew was right, perhaps this accident wouldn’t have happened. At any rate, it has forced me to make the decision I should have made two years ago when I could still walk. I had to close the business because I had no other choice.

    Things got simple real fast after I got hurt. Now I need to keep them that way. 🙂

    • John Carlton says:

      Wow. Thanks for sharing that, Sharon. Sorry to hear you got dealt such a raw hand there… but you seem to be processing it all right, and I’m glad you ended with a smiley face. Shows hope.

      Don’t obsess on what might have been. We all do the best we can, with what we have at the time. We all rationalize, we all have regrets, and we all live in a world fraught with danger and unexpected (and unexplained) chaos. Yes, your mind isn’t always giving you the best advice, or processing things as efficiently as we’d like… but we only really understand this in retrospect. While we’re in the middle of the adventure, it’s difficult to see what’s really happening. So — no regrets. Keep doing the best you can, with what you have. I just went through 6 months of PT for a torn rotator cuff, and while it ain’t exactly fun, it does help tremendously to get back strength and rotation and trouble-free movement.

      You play the hand you’re dealt. Some of us are tested to the limit, some get an easy ride, and none of it seems fair. It just is the way it is. When you’re handed a burden, you’re permitted to muse about “what might have been” for a short time, but then you need to get back to living as well as possible while dealing with the situation you’ve been thrust into. It sounds hokey, but sometimes unexpected good things come from bad turns — I swear to you I’ve experienced this myself, and seen it many times. You’ll never know, though, until you’ve played further into the adventure. So, chin up. Look forward, with less and less glancing backward…

      Good luck. Read some inspirational biographies, if you need a dose of optimism. See how others dealt with trauma.

  • Marc (aka doceye) says:

    I’m reminded of a product I was involved with in the cutthroat cosmeceutical niche. The MDs and formulators kept trying to lard on ancillary benefits. Every swinging dork had an opinion … most were very wrong.

    In the process, the whole marketing circus got very far away from what was intended. To the point where the central focus of this simple product was nearly lost.

    “Stop. What does it do, geek boys?”

    “Uh, well, it tightens skin and ‘removes the appearance’ (f’in FDA) of wrinkles.”

    Okay then.

    Long story short, we pulled way back on what this creme did for folks (and it did work … believe it or not) and simply focused on that one benefit: It’ll tighten the skin all over your body so much you won’t be able to chew food efficiently (when applied to your mug), and you’ll be unable to fart (if you smear it on your hiney).

    I exaggerate for comedy’s sake …

    But the stuff sold like gang busters. It ended up in GNC, Costco, Walmart … you name it. The company then sold it off, and the idiots who bought it screwed with the K.I.S.S. thing JC’s addressing here, and sales plummeted.

    Last I heard … ah, okay … I’m not giving up any more info. I’m gonna have soulless suits on me fo’ sure if I keep going.

    Moral of the story? Selling stuff really is simple if you know what your customers want and then deliver it. So simple it doesn’t seem possible, right?

    It is.

    So much so, ads will write themselves, right?

    Well, hold up there … almost.

    Otherwise Brother John wouldn’t have anything to sell us, right?

    • John Carlton says:

      Excellent tale, Doceye. The fortunes lost from “hey, let’s just add one tiny more element here…” thinking is staggering.

      In an odd way, reminds of the Famous Last Words Of A Brother Redneck: “Hey, watch this…”

  • Pete says:

    Not my story here John, but what you say reminds me of a classic Gene Schwartz anecdote that really rang true with me recently…

    The key point he made is this:

    When he met with the founder of Boardroom Inc, he LISTENED to the client talking about the concept… took notes… and then wrote up his copy. Success, of course, followed.

    “My copy was 70% his conversation” says Gene afterward.

    Often, Keeping It Simple (Stupid) starts with the product owner/marketer telling their writer what they want the copy to say…

    …and then the writer simply translating that in the best way possible to the market.

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, Pete, most of the old-school ad wizards I hung with (Rutz, Barwick, Bencivenga, Abraham, Halbert, etc) were “vertical” in their copy: They covered a few hot points, deeply. So their long copy was focused on specific ideas, explored, exploited and explained in details that excited the reader. Totally the opposite of a writer who tries to be all things to all people, and covers vast ground shallowly, never giving the reader a sense of immersion into any subject.

      Great ads suck you in and wrestle total focus of your brain away from everything else going on. The world around you fades into the background, and you (the reader) are ONE with the writer. When you find a great ad that is also in your target area (addressing something you care deeply about), you experience something akin to a Zen state of transcendence, with your entire system feeling effects (happiness, relief, hope, an outlet for rage, a sense of impending adventure that’s already begun). It’s not actual meditation, of course, but it is a RARE experience in most people’s lives. A great ad is simple, yet deep… and it begins a process of transformation in the reader.

      Yeah, big praise for something as mundane as advertising. But we’re talking about Schwartz and other copywriters who are among the most skilled writers in history. And that includes great fiction writers and reporters and poets and playwrights. When you study the best, you’re studying greatness…

      And, to get back to your point, Pete… they nearly ALL embrace simplicity as a fundamental starting point in everything they write… no matter how “complex” the subject matter is.

      • Pete says:

        “Vertical copy” – I like it.

        Nice description of the ‘great ad effect’ there John.

        And on your thought about “embracing simplicity as a fundamental starting point”: yeah, I guess sometimes a gut reaction leads to a winning message…

        (As long as that ‘gut reaction’ comes after hours of studying the greats and researching the market!)

        • John Carlton says:

          Yes — very important not to confuse “simplicity” with “not doing your research first”. I’m not advocating laziness (though I may one of the laziest bastards you’ve ever met). Just simple end-games. Thanks for the note, so we could clarify.

  • Never have truer words been spoken, especially in the realm of male/female relationships. The more words I use to communicate, the worse it gets. For me (the female) the trick is to be short and sweet, without all the deep emotion I am yearning to convey. One well thought-out sentence can move mountains. Sometimes I have to write pages in my journal to get to that dynamite sentence, however.

  • Janet says:

    Or, to put it even more briefly, Occam’s Razor. (“We consider it a good principle to explain the phenomena by the simplest hypothesis possible”, Ptolemy)

    • John Carlton says:

      A little different — O’s Razor seeks to explain what happened. KISS is action-oriented advice. But, yeah, basically talking about the same thing. Thanks for the note, Janet.

  • Andrew says:

    An old boss of mine had a great phrase when ever we launched a new project.

    Inevetiably, as young guns eager to impress, we would try to add on the gold-plating, bells, whistles and any other extraneous doodah you can imagine. But he would always remind us about “Project Creep” ie stick to the original objectives, do that and then add on the other bits….. if they are necessary.

    Thanks as ever John


  • Colin says:

    Hi John, I’ve long said that KISS is American Genius in action. As a frequent border-hopper and bar-fly, I’ve noticed that Americans will always lead a discussion down to the simplest level and then come up with a simple answer. I’m not saying that I always agree with the answer! But I noticed how it gets things moving in a hurry. Innovation, creativity, opportunism are all great. But Americans’ ability to take action is a big trump card. And KISS seems to be an essential element.

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks for that cool insight, Colin. There’s a story out there about how rookie American troops in WWII were able to beat the veteran Nazi’s because the Americans just figured out what needed doing and did it, without having to wait for orders… while the Germans were a total top-down organization, unable to adapt or move without orders. Probably not entirely true, but it’s a good anecdote for explaining how anyone who DOES think for themselves might have a leg up on reluctant action-takers — and how keeping it simple can be key to pulling off amazing stuff. (Plus: Using the resources you already have to solve problems, and moving forward using your wits even when chaos surrounds, is so obviously a good skill to have).

      It’d be interesting to see how objectively different cultures are in this regard across the globe…

    • Jose says:

      IMHO. In my opinion it is about the American society vs the rest of the world.

      America is an egalitarian society that uses mainly money as the status differentiator. In the rest of the world is different.

      I live in Europe, and European scientific books use to be terrible. Why? Because the authors want to impress you over complicating everything so they look smarter. They have to keep their status as “smarter than you” people.

      Like a magician that does not want people to discover the tricks he uses, so are european-asian scientist.

      American scientific books are so simple, everybody could understand it. But when the trick is revealed, the illusion vanishes and the magician loses power.

  • Michael says:


    Great post, and as usual your take is relevant to my current life/work situation.

    As of today I’m STILL in the throes of trying to simplify my message to customers. I make a unique, valuable product (videos and music for kids that are equal parts education and entertainment).

    Trouble is, several years in I’m still not hearing the cash register ring enough. When there’s a media hit, I convert some. Not enough. And I know (or at least I suspect) it’s because my story is too complicated.

    Why do customers buy my stuff? Believe me, I’ve asked. The answer I get over and over is “we love them.” Great. That’s a great USP: Buy this product. You’ll love it.

    Oh, and the icing of irony atop this mess of a cake is that for years I was a highly paid Madison Avenue Copywriter. And not, by most accounts, a bad one.

    I know I’m probably too close to the products I make to give a cold-blooded 1-2-3 sales pitch for them. God knows I’ve tried.

    As for K.I.S.S., I’ve yet to top my simple four-word description of our product line: Learning disguised as smiling. I still like that. But if biz doesn’t pick up soon they’ll be putting it on my tombstone.

    I know, I’m whining. I guess it’s time to pore over your site once more and rewrite my sales pages.


    Thanks for listening, oh frosty inspiration.

    • John Carlton says:

      Stop whining and get back to your desk to write up your USP and feature-benefit lists, Michael. Just do it. “Learning disguised as smiling” is clever, but not a USP, not a selling point, and not a good element for a pitch. Get specific on how what you have directly (and quickly, and inexpensively) addresses the exact problems your prospects have. If they’re not telling you more specific things when you talk, then get more ballsy and start grilling them. Don’t accept vacuous statements — most people do not understand, at first, what compels them to buy. But if you stay with it, and ask pointed questions about how their lives have changed, what specific problems were solved, and what the “before/after” pictures look like in their life/biz… then, you start getting the good stuff you need to sell to others just like them.

      Before and after, Michael. What was their life like before they found you, and what has changed.

      Go get ’em.

    • Michael says:

      You nailed it, John. Great advice. And I have a number of superfan-type evangelist customers I can really press about their reasons for buying. Plus I may just start offering free stuff to people right after buying to get them to tell me why.

      And thanks for the pep talk. Needed that.

  • James King says:

    Killer post as usual. In this case I kinda wish it wasn’t so SHORT; I always savor whatever you put down on paper.

    And just so you know, I have a couple of YOUR “slogans” hand printed on paper and pinned to the wall in my office.

    You once said:
    “Everybody in America lives on the surface. They don’t think deep. They don’t act deep. They don’t live deep.”

    OK, so maybe that’s not actually a slogan, but anyone who had the guts to make that statement was worth following and paying attention to.

  • Shaun says:

    Hi John, good post. In many ways this is why the internet has been the death of many a good man. Too much opportunity to over engineer the heck out of every simple idea.

    Technical people, you know corporate programmers that get ejected and use their severance to go it alone are doomed to die through the much loved art of over-engineering that they learned on someone else’s budget (yep that’s me). Well of course they don’t even test the market to find out if the product is actually remotely wanted and that little gem is probably even more powerful. So I will write on my wall “Find out the stripped down essence of what they want and give them that and nothing more”

    Love your stuff and you are pretty much the only guy on my RSS speed dial. – Shaun.

  • Raja says:

    Hi John,

    Earlier today, a client’s partner confused simple (not simplicity), with greedy success.

    They wanted to sell a £3995 trading product to a 50k house list, with ONE email.

    I said to the client, NO, don’t let them do that.

    Break the list up into various segments.

    Send a 3 step communication to each segment. (Add a direct mail into that if you want, I said)

    Follow up with a video based final email.

    Each part of the sequence can be simplicity in motion.

    Of course, they refused.

    I saw the email. (T’was ugly)

    They ended up today with a grand total of… ZERO SALES.

    Oh dear.

    Another story:

    A friend of mine charges 150k per client, per year, (all upfront) for personal and business coaching. He tells me that the only thing he really teaches his clients is… SIMPLICITY.

    And guess what? He has a waiting list of prospective clients EAGER to pay him!

    A final story:

    I heard an interview with the fastest man on the planet after his big Olympic success – Usain THE LIGHTNING Bolt.

    He was asked about his antics and shennanigans on the start line and how come he’s so relaxed whilst everyone is so tense and teeth gritted focussed.

    He said that he likes to simplify his routine.

    He gets relaxed. Smiles. And then, he runs… FAST.


    Super post John.


  • Carl Picot says:

    Great post John …

    and just at the right time for me! I’m about to release my first product and keep overcomplicating the process and putting it off over and over again.. instead of just getting on with it!!

    I’m nearly there … just think there is an innate sense to se it all as a huge foggy cloud rather than to break it down in to simple processes which can be achieved easily.

    To much complexity = brain paralyses. K.I.S.S. … Ive just printed it out and stuck it on my wall!!

    Thanks 🙂


  • Fazila Patel says:

    Dear John,
    Still grappaling with the remote control.
    Did read Steve jobs book. Bought it two days before you mentioned it in one of your other post. Thought it was like reading ‘back to the future’ in paper back. & following week promptly got an i-touch. As for well written material I can appreciate and get hooked ( no doubt am here)but at times
    dislike repetitiveness.happen once with spiritual writer book series must have bought good ten, before I realised it, actually took a step back to reflect; up to book 3 couldn’t fault it. Dawned on me that got sucked into writer personality/ charisma / energy or just plain hype. Mmm… It was enough to be discerning in future reads. Neway love & light 🙂
    Ps reason for buying Steve Jobs book in the first place, admits to being an azzhole in opening intro what an honest dude 🙂

  • DUH!!!!! How True, How True!
    Maybe Nike REALLY has it right…..Just Do It!

    I’m one of many that keep dreaming of success and keep buying all kinds of shiny rocks. Every time I see a sales page I start thinking of all the ways I might reach success from the product and frequently I end up wasting a whole day screwing around without getting any real work done.

    Maybe I need to close my brain instead of keeping it open so much. 🙂

  • dANNY8 says:

    Here’s my comment. It’s to praise Johnny boy, and proclaim him a genius for all the world (wide web) to see. He gets all this, for recognizing the beauty, efficiency, and profitability of simplicity and sharing it with us.

    What to do next: Post your own damn comment, and send me five dollars.


  • Val says:

    Boy, what a perfect post for me right now, John. This current program launch started simple, then has mushroomed into a giant cloud of balls in the air and many on the ground that have crashed because we lost our project manager at a crucial time in he launch.

    I tried to use a 3 level pricing strategy that is very cool,on paper. However, trying to describe it in a talk offer? Explain it clearly in the sales page and email copy? Not so much. People are confused. We’ve had few sales so far and I’m not sure what to do. What do you think? Any way to salvage this train wreck?


    I’m SO disappointed. My motto for the year? KISS.

    Older and wiser, but not richer… yet.

    Val 😀

    • John Carlton says:

      It’ll come, Val. You’ve got the hard part nailed: Dust yourself off, learn your lessons, re-charge, and get back in the game. As you move forward, the attitude part will always be the most important. That, and keeping it simple…

      Thanks for the note.

  • Orestes says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for another great post.This one I´ll keep it to reminds me that the best way to do things and move forward is with the KISS.

    It came at the right time for me as I´m working on an idea to start my own business.The respond in the survey so far has been amazing but cuz of that I started to think too far to complicated things.So is was good to be
    here hearing the Mastes´s advice and for sure I´ll keep the slogan tattoed onto my brain.

    And about – It’d be interesting to see how objectively different cultures are in this regard across the globe…

    Well here in Spain where I live for now(I´m cuban)just forget about it.They are stuck in the old complicated way
    and don´t even try to talk them into new simple thing as
    they know more than the Creator.The other day I asked the
    owner of a restaurat I visit in the old Marbella if they
    have a present in Google Places which is good so people
    know where they are and the answer(almost upset)was:”you
    put in restaurat in Marbella and will come out thousands”
    so I said to myself just tell his right as you know you´re
    talking to a wall and get the hell out here and so I did.

    It pretty sad but when I start watching which is something
    I love to do then I don´t wonder why some don´t prosper
    while others excel.I have not experience in business but I
    guarantee you that behind any that is a mess there is a

    Thanks again John and be blessed!


    • Jose says:

      “you put in restaurat in Marbella and will come out thousands”

      Well, that’s true.

      This is like putting a restaurant-Hotel in Cuba, or a Shop in Manhattan. The environment is so rich and great that is doesn’t matter much else, you could probably get by even with a bad product.

      Americans wet dream was always to conquer Cuba, probably they will(de Facto or de Jure).

      • Orestes says:

        Hola Jose,

        To your comments,

        To the first do to yourself a favor and get the Ultimate
        Guide to Google Adwords by Perry Marshall and Bryan Todd or join the Mastermind Club…you´re welcome,

        and to the second I´ll be short for respect to this Blog,
        but we cubans would be a million times better off with the
        Americans than with those…..at lest we all would be FREE,and that has not price!

  • Thanks for the reminder John!

    It’s so easy to look forward to how your idea “could be” and get lost in the complexity of all of the “what ifs”…

    And like you said, many times you might not even have a product anyone wants anyway, so why spend all the bucks developing it if no one wants to buy it?!

  • Dave Bross says:

    Simplicity is the real elegance.

    And we’re losing it by degrees as a culture.
    Boiling the frog slowly…

    The comment above about Euro vs. USA textbooks is a classic. Any time I need to understand a complex subject quickly I look for a textbook (or kids book) pre 1960s. We “got over” simple explanations somewhere in the sixties.

    A thought (and empathy) for Sharon on the accident.

    I wasted years being angry about being torpedoed in a very good business by evil people.

    In hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened to me then.

    Major life lesson?
    Some of the worst stuff brings a major lesson/benefit as a gift.

    Be looking for that lesson when things go wrong. You can definitely get a jump on waiting for the hindsight if you’re aware.

    Even when it’s hard to get around the fear, anger or complications.

  • James Artre says:

    Damn good writin’

    – James

  • Phil Lomboy says:

    As a recovering geek and tech junkie, I can absolutely relate to this.

    I clinched a job in a former life when one of my interviewers asked me, “So what kind of computer do you have?” It was for a tech sales job.

    “I’m not sure,” I replied, “Cuz I built it myself.”

    “Shiny object syndrome” was deeply imbedded in my psyche from the time I touched the keys on my first computer: a Commodore 64.

    Looking forward to the next new upgrade, gadget, or toy became a lifestyle.

    As I work on projects today and I find myself in a muck of my own making (as I’ve piled on more and more tactics, angles, fancy plugins, all of which are pushing my “deadlines” even FURTHER out), I’m appreciative when I hear your voice saying Gary’s words, “Just sell the damn thing!”

    I’m far from being a KISS master, but getting better every day, in every way.

    Cheers, man.


  • Harold Ward says:

    Hi John, a good teaching post. Very good points. My air
    conditioner went out today but a techie got it going again. I want to come back to this later.
    Have a great week.

  • Another great post full of useful info…

    I know Ive been neglecting this principle, I’m going to go back through my stuff and reapply it.

    I love your simple formula for writing ads “Here’s who I am, here’s what I have, here’s why you want it… and here’s what to do now.”

    I should tape that above MY desk!


  • Alan Little says:

    I learned about KISS long ago from wiser beings than I. I’m a marketer today, but my roots are in software. I thought of code as poetry, to create something awesome efficiently and beautifully. That will kick your ass – or it did mine and I do miss it. Still I know it was a means to an end. Under the thin veneer of civilization we remain cavemen (and women) inside – that is our essential humanity. Good marketing pushes those primitive buttons, ‘cuz they have never changed. Hit that limbic system in a beautiful way, with love and possibility, not fear and the world will take notice. I will experience love and hate but never irrelevance. I fully embrace that in my 59th summer and it rocks! I can conceive of no greater service.

  • RStevens says:

    Thoughtful post and some great comments. When it comes to KISS, food comes to mind… The over complicated, fancy French dishes often leave one with a feeling of having had a great meal but not the complete satisfaction that comes from having a peasant inspired feast enjoyed with lively friends. KISS. A simple steak, potato and salad sometimes can’t be beat! Local food prepared simply…. yeah….

  • To be honest, I always find your posts to be somewhat on the abstract lines.

    But this one truly hit the point…direct and hard. KISS!

    I recently joined the member circle of AWAI, and in my quest to learning copywriting, I realized one thing soon.

    Copywriting is JUST selling the damn product! Whether you write one word or 3000 words, what matters is the conversion rate. Not your grammar, not your spellings, not you, yourself matter.

    The way you laid it out:

    “Here’s who I am, here’s what I have, here’s why you want it… and here’s what to do now.”

    …and a ultra-smooth flow from the headline to the P.P.S

    As simple as it gets.

    • John Carlton says:

      Dude, I can’t believe you skipped past the Simple Writing System, or at least “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” and wandered into the shallow waters of AWAI. Good luck over there, regardless. And when you’re ready for more of exactly the above kind of pithy, spot-on, veteran-generated advice… come back here. (There are entire lessons on precisely that formula in the SWS.)

      Abstract? I like to thoroughly dive into subjects, and a blog allows for free-floating tangents that include philosophy… but abstract? I dunno.

      Anyone else think I’m too abstract?

      Anyway, Ron, thanks for the honest feedback, and you’re always welcome to post here. Your realization is sound, and means you’re on the road to master copywriting.

  • mark says:

    I guess all of us including “little old me” are guilty of either making things too bloody complex,or just stopping the presses and partying my ass off for years, despite not making enough moula to support myself.

    Maybe that’s just me. I finally figured out at least some stuff in my 49 years and have made some money. I’m not an internet marketer but I’ll keep things simple more often in the offline world that I inhabit.

    Thank’s John.

    Mark in Canada

  • Vince says:

    Hey John…

    At 54 years old and having been in business for myself most of my adult life (2 very brief runs at the corporate word lasting less than a year), I found the IM world made everything very confusing. Every day I would wake up to a new “must have” product in my email box and it seems like I bought them all. First time in my life I couldn’t make any money. Not a dime! So many moving parts. I didn’t know the steps to take, let alone the order to put them in… what to do first… where to begin?

    Then it hit me one day! Back to basics! You only need 2 things to make money… something to sell… and someone to sell it to! (and not necessarily in that order) That’s it! Very, very simple!

  • ken c says:

    great point about vertical focus in one of your replies above, that’s a real gem.

    lol re too abstract; John’s like the definition of anything but, the hard-hitting tell it like it really is guy on the ‘net, down to earth.

    from your earlier fl seminar remembering the graph (which is still on my whiteboard here to this very day in front of me, 8 yrs later) about complex difficult hard reality at bottom left of sales curve, and simple/easy to use at high right end of curve, to remind me to k.i.s.s.

    part of simplifying is in organizing content, chunking, blueprints, message-market matchups; also key is maintaining trust, relevancy and authenticity with an ever-mistrustful audience, big picture. great stuff as always, thanks.

    – ken

    • John Carlton says:

      Great summary of the top point, Ken. Thanks. And, yeah, I used that “Appeal-O-Meter” chart for years to show how the closer to get to effortless magic, the higher the response, was indeed a cloaked way to get across the idea of simplicity to marketers wondering how to pitch their stuff. And thanks for the reality check on “abstract” thinking… that came from so far out in left field, I was wondering if it was a blind spot for me…

  • Giles in NZ says:

    Hi John
    Great post as per usual. I think it applies to all areas of life not just business and I always try to live by it (not always successfully mind you).
    Are you planning to open the ‘Simple Writing System’ again soon? I’m already the proud owner of ‘Kick Ass…’ and your Freelance course.
    All the best from wintery New Zealand

  • Scott Harvey says:

    I’m pretty sure that this post was a biography on my life…

    I’m the guy that would have a good idea, add to it in my mind before the original idea was even fleshed out, add more to it while writing it down on paper for the first time, then add more as I was typing it into Word, then convert it from a Word doc to an Excel doc, add 17 more items, then go back and start prioritizing into short-term and long-term…all before I ever returned to thinking about (or God forbid executing) the one brilliant idea in the first place!

    (Yes, writing that paragraph above as one long sentence is to try to illustrate how crazy I was.)

    I’ve gotten much, much better in KISS thinking, but since I was so far down the Non-KISS path, it’s been a long road.

    We’ve recently changed our hourly or bundles or monthly retainer or _________ business model to one way of going to market. It either works for a client or it doesn’t. After all, sales is dis-qualification – another KISS tenet, right?

    We’ve finally gotten a new, much better website almost done by our partner which isn’t everything we wanted, but it is much better than what we have. I’ve still got things on the list for the future, but we are almost done with executing, which is nice. We’d be 6-12 months away if I approached it the old way.

    I could write a book on all the different ways not keeping it simple has impacted me, but I think you get the point.

    One of the other reasons that I know I didn’t keep things simple throughout my life is because I was too busy trying to please everybody.

    Yes, this was mostly in terms of products and services to offer, to ensure that we could do anything for anybody (that’s a wonderful business model, huh?)

    But it was also to make sure that co-workers, strategic partners (and sometimes even strangers for f***’s sake) would all be wonderfully happy and everybody “got theirs” even when I or the company didn’t.

    NO MORE!

    I’ve been a recovering Non-KISS person for a while now, and I’ll admit it is still difficult. But I agree with you that this could very well be one of the most important things to keep at the forefront of my mind.

    In fact, it goes hand in hand with not pleasing everyone, which is another thing I think is very important.

    Thanks for your wonderful wisdom as usual, and for letting me sound off here…


  • Ian Rich says:

    Hi John,

    Short post? I feel cheated! Hmph!
    Now what am I going to do for entertainment this evening?!! …guess I’ll have to wait for the next one 😉

    Yours is one of the few blogs I actually read, even though it sometimes takes me a couple of days because of the torrent of incoming e-mails…

    This reminds me of a situation (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) when I was working as a the Editor-In-Chief of a well-known tech magazine. One of the major cellphone manufacturers had invited me and a few other editors to a meeting about a new service that they were offering to customers. After sitting through 45 minutes of what we’ll loosely refer to as a presentation, I still didn’t understand what the hell they were talking about and what they expected the consumer to understand.

    So, I raised my hand and started asking a bunch of questions (believe me, the other guests were just as confused as I was) and finally (after mercilessly grilling the “presenter”), boiled it down to the 3 main points, which I encapsulated and enumerated for everyone present “so it does this, this and this?”, to which I received the response “yes”.

    Then (I couldn’t help myself), I said “well why didn’t you just say that in the first place?!!” …and the room erupted into applause. I kind of felt bad… but this kind of thing is really, really common (I’m reminded of my high school teachers).

    Anyway, in my own business, I’ve noticed that the simpler I make things, the better the results. Eben Pagan calls it “one choice marketing”. People are so bombarded and overloaded these days with everyone competing for attention, that you’re just shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t make things as simple as possible – not only for you, but also for your customers.

    p.s. …love the formula in your post “Here’s who I am, here’s what I have, here’s why you want it… and here’s what to do now”. Awesome!!

    • ken c says:

      absolutely true w/one choice… I know conventional wisdom is single-offers, and in testing extensively I’ve found that to still be true. when I offer choices I kill sales. That’s challenging when you have a lot to sell, because it’s tempting to do holiday promos and offer several different products/services w/time limited discounts. or single vs multi-pay. or platinum vs gold. not working nowadays. single offers w/product launch model is still what converts best I’m finding. rifle shots not shotgun.

  • I too wish to become a copywriter when I grow up. Having reached the “double nickel” everyone that gives a shit about me hopes it happens soon.

    I nearly invested in that slick AIWA course, because I’m really good at buying shiny objects.

    I’ve read every comment to your post John, my preference is to KISS, that’s why I’m buying the shiny object in the plain brown wrapper on the sidebar of this page…

    My stuff stays Frosty!


  • I like when I find stuff on the abstract lines; to me that is the advice that makes the most sense. I’m writing the copy for a vacation rental in Santa Teresa Costa Rica right now, and although I have lots of ideas for who to market it to, the best advice is KISS. This is especially in true intravel writing with all of its cliches. So, I just have to sell the place, simply.

  • I think everything said made a bunch of sense. But, think on this, suppose you were to wrte a awesome headline?
    I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your blog,
    however what if you added a headline that makes people want more?
    I mean K.I.S.S. is a little vanilla. You ought to peek
    at Yahoo’s front page and see how they write article titles to grab viewers interested.
    You might add a video or a picture or two to grab people interested about what
    you’ve written. In my opinion, it would bring your posts a little livelier.

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, no. Screw click-bait. It’s a shallow way to bring in shallow readers. For a biz venture, sure, go for the most traffic you can find. Chew up the scenery with the wildest promises you can ethically make.

      But I do not write my posts like I do my ads. I’m not out to “lure” anyone anywhere. This is mentoring. And I don’t sugarcoat the mentoring.

      If you don’t find my posts “lively”, then you’re looking for something other than what I’m offering, dude. Still, I appreciate you taking the time to offer a suggestion. Thanks for that.

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