Category Archives for salesmanship

The Ego Echo Chamber

Well, happy new year to y’all.

Are we having fun yet?

I was kinda hoping my first blog post of this brand-spankin’ new year would be a positive one, full of good tidings and all that.

But I waited too long. One week into aught-seven, and the fur is flying already.

So my first post is on… Read more…

The Tangled Web 2.0

After listening to people (mostly geeks) wax rhapsodic about the wonders of “Web 2.0” for, oh, almost two years now… I decided to go deep and see what the fuss was about.

The reality?

Nothing much to see here. Move along. We’re just tearing down the set, getting ready for the next act.

Web 3.0 and 4.0 are getting dressed and ready to take the stage.

2.0 (or “The Tooster”, as his friends call him) is pretty much history. The term was really just a glib marketing gimmick meant to separate “today’s” Web from the bad old “bubble” Web circa 1999 and 2000. The mainstream media — clueless, as always — decided the bursting of that bubble signalled the death-blow to this “Internet-nonsense fad”, and promptly found other things to be ignorant about.

(The scariest example of just how out-of-touch mainstream culture is toward the Web is the fact almost NONE of the federal government is wired in any significant way — not the FBI, not the Supreme Court, not the politicans. True to form, just as The Tooster is fading away, those in charge are finally beginning to upgrade to DSL.)

The term “Web 2.0” is useful only as shorthand when you want to refer to the notion that — yet again — technology is changing fast. (Imagine that.) The implied secondary notion is that — yet again — these changes will affect us all in profound ways. (Ooooh, don’t be scared.)

And — yet again — the reality simply doesn’t live up to the hype.

I’ve coined a phrase that, for me, helps explain why the “experts” get so preoccupied with announcing the latest revolutionary upheaval in human development through technology.

The term is “Paleo-Tech”… and it means, simply, “ancient technology”. We are (according to Professor Carlton) in the Paleo-Tech Age, which mimics the Paleolithic age, when Man (with a capital “M”) was just beginning to use technology.

Back then, it was fire and stone and metals… and for the next ten thousand years or so, we played around with better ways to cook, melt, forge and build stuff.

Today, it’s Java script, XML and the “semantic Web”… and because the development of new technologies is so super-condensed, by the time most people catch on, it’s already ancient history.

Thus, we are living in a time when all newly-developed technology is instantly on the way out. Almost, anyway.

Paleo-Tech. It’s driving Hollywood nuts, because no matter how much they try to make the technology in their scripts brand-spanking-new, they risk looking like dorks by the time the movie comes out six months later. (I recently saw a two-year old flick that might as well have been made last century, because the meant-to-be-hip cell phones used were embarrassingly out-of-style.)

But this is what I find interesting: Entrepreneurs are almost always on the cutting edge of the newest and flashiest tech. (The military drives most of the coolest advances, but they’re trying to kill people, not earn an honest living.)

And this creates an ongoing “situation” that requires the direct intervention of grizzled old veterans like me.

The situation is this: People are easily dazzled by shiny new objects. And lots of the new online technology is VERY pretty and seductive.

But here’s the mantra I want you to repeat, often: Technology doesn’t sell stuff. Salesmanship sells stuff.

I’ve seen a LOT of sci-fi quality technology in my career. I started my advertising career in Silicon Valley back when the Internet was just a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye… I had inside connections with the Stanford Artificial Intelligence labs… played the very FIRST online games ever invented… began working on a PC (sorry, Woz) back when I had to load DOS on a 5-1/4″ floppy each time I booted up… wrote one of the very first online ads… and on and on.

I also worked on some of the very first modern infomercials, helped clients create prototypes that begat e-books, had one of the first ad-related podcasts posted to iTunes, participated in the earliest e-mail blasts ever done, and have tended this blog for a very, very long time (making good use of functions like RSS and tags before most marketers had even heard of them).

The Tooster and his application-drunk buddies 3.0 and 4.0 don’t scare me even a tiny bit.

I will make full use of every blip of technology I discover… and learn the stuff I need to learn, and pay other people to stoke the fires of the crap I suspect will soon blend into the woodwork.

Because every bit of tech that matters to entrepreneurs is just another way to communicate with other humans. From smoke signals to cuneiform tablets to the Guttenberg press to radio and TV and now the ever-wondrous Web… it’s still just one creature with a cerebral cortex talking to another one.

It’s fun. It’s like living out a sci-fi fantasy.

But the foundations are still the same as they were back when our ancestors were incinerating each other trying to find new uses for fire.

Humans want to get the basics of suvival settled… so they can use new technology to entertain themselves, kill each other… and buy shit.

As a business owner or entrepreneur… you want to sell shit for other people to buy. So you need to separate out the hyped tech that is mostly about entertainment (and for God’s sake, keep your hands off the evil lethal stuff).

And learn the simple secrets of using all new technology as a way to channel your salesmanship.

The technology, all by itself, will not magically generate profits for you. (In the still-current Paleo-Tech Age model, the only people who are supposed to get rich from new tech are the creators and share-holders. As Google proved with its profit-murdering “slap” at sites trying to use pay-per-click to build lists, entrepreneurs are seen as suspicious usurpers of technology, and must be thwarted whenever possible.)

I know people who are ecstatic about getting massive numbers of hits for their funny video on YouTube… who spend days figuring out how to use Slingbox to catch TV shows on their cell phones while they travel… and who prefer texting to talking.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that.

But a million hits for your video of Farquar falling off his skateboard won’t put a nickel into your pocket.

And why are you still wasting so much time watching TV? There’s a brave new world spinning out there, wondering when you’re gonna show up.

If you’re gonna be an effective entrepreneur, you gotta brush the stars out of your eyes and see all the technology tumbling down the chute ONLY in terms of how you can use it in conjunction with your salesmanship skills.

I’ll post more on this soon.

It’s fun, I gotta admit. I LOVE all the new tech gadgetry. The X-Box bored me, mostly (it really was just a small step up from playing Pac-Man drunk in a loud bar), but I’m excited about the Wii’s potential for truly gnarly gaming.

And all the career adventures I’d craved in my youth are now available again, thanks to technology advancing faster than The Man can censor it. (I can now have my own pirate radio station, publish and distribute my own books, and produce any type of late-night-quality TV show I like… all from my cluttered little office, digitally, online. I get shivers just considering all the possibilities.)

I’ve got some pretty valuable insights to share with you, too.

But I’m tired. I wanna surf the Web a bit, buy some more oldies on iTunes, enjoy a microbrew (another modern invention courtesy of the harnessing of fire long ago), and get a good night’s sleep on my Tempurpedic. (Space-age sleeping technology!)

Let’s pick this up later.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

The Right Woid

Friday, 2:33pm
Reno, NV
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” (Mark Twain)


There are two things that distinguish top copywriters from the rest of the hoi palloi —

1. A deep, reverential knowledge of street-wise salesmanship… and…

2. A love affair with the English language.

I talk endlessly (endlessly!) about the salesmanship stuff, because that’s the thing most rookies lack. And I get a huge thrill when it finally sinks in, and one of my students rips out a truly killer ad that gets even my jaded greed glands quivering.

However, force-feeding a love of language into someone is a much harder gig. At least here in the States. My burgeoning British and Irish subscribers — only recently hip to hard-hitting, direct response style advertising — seem to have an advantage here.

Europeans look at language differently than Yanks, probably because every fifty miles or so everyone is speaking a completely foreign tongue.

Language is identity. Across the pond, it matters how you form your vocal outbursts, and large vocabularies impress.

Back here on the farm, most local dialects of English have degenerated over the generations. Americans have pathetically tiny vocabularies (though most understand more words than they routinely use when speaking).

Language gets a bum rap here.

Which is great, if you’re a serious writer. Because words carry power… and learning how to use words to convey ideas makes you a powerful individual.

First, the Thesaurus. Then, the world!

Actually, I’m only half-kidding with that. I just had an Insider ask me for a better way to find better words to use.

And here is what I told him: Write out your headline and copy without paying any attention to how weak your word choices may be. Just get the pitch laid out, so you have an actual sales message.

Then, the fun begins.

Top writers have a Thesaurus in their head… but only after years of actually using a physical one. We’ve just memorized a bunch of different word choices, through the act of beefing up our writing over and over again.

Rookies need to get an excellent Thesaurus — an actual book, not Gates’s lousy Word version — and start the process of dog-earing the pages.

(You want a real book, because using computer versions takes away both the tactile experience of searching for words… and eliminates the “happy accidents” of coming across a completely different word in your search, which you may use now or store for later in your head.)

I call it “Creating Power Word Charts“. Most rookies choose common verbs as they write. That’s fine. During editing, though, whip out the Thesaurus and see what other choices are available for that dull, over-worked word.

Write them down on a piece of paper.

Then, look up each of those words, and see what other connotations exist. And write some of the best of those words down.

What you will have is a page full of choices, all connected like a geneology chart back to the initial word.

For example, let’s say you used the word “run” in your copy. On page 693 of my trusty, beat-to-shit Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus, the synonyms for “run” take half a column.

Let’s see… dash, scamper, scoot, scurry, sprint… and a suggestion to check out scuttle. Related words listed: race, bustle, hurry, rush, speed, scorch.

Lots more: Trot, chase, herd. Idiom suggestions (great for seeing how to see the concept of “to run” might be changed): Hot foot it, make a break, run for it, take flight, take to your heels.

Just a sampling, kids.

Now, for the fun of it… because as we all know, writers have soooo much time on our hands… let’s go check out “bustle” on page 112: It’s an old word, not often used today. But the synonyms open up some bitchin’ new possibilities: Whirl, whisk, flurry, fuss, commotion.

I like commotion. Also fuss.

So go check out those words, too.

All this work…

… just to find ONE “right” word?

You bet. It may seem like a hassle, but it’s just detective research on the “language vehicle” that will carry your pitch.

The “right” word in your headline can transform the level of interest you create in your reader.

However, don’t make the rookie mistake of going overboard with this. Most of the “vanilla” verbs and other words you use are just fine in your copy. You’re not trying to challenge the reader, by leveling odd and trippy word choices at him with every verb.

No way. It’s the critical verbs and phrases that you need to tend to — the parts of your pitch that suck your reader in, and hold him tight while you shovel your sales message into his amydala.

Probably, you don’t need to change the word “run” in your copy.

Still, I like the idea of saying “So I bustled over to the counter to place my order before the crowd realized what was happening.”

It adds flavor to the “voice” in your copy. I mean… what kind of guy would use a word like bustle? In the right sense, it actually conveys confidence and a little self-depricating humor… always a good trait in a salesman.

The English language is the most adaptable and useful language in the world. It’s just that we don’t make full use of it… which is a shame for the communicative powers of your average Joe, but a criminal act for a writer.

Words are easy to fall in love with. They have the power to seduce, entrance and slay.

Get hip.

And stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Happy accident on page 113, while looking up “bustle”: the word “buttinsky” — to butt in, a kibbitzer, meddler or pragmatist. (Pragmatist?)

Also the word “butcher”. I’m gonna use that one tonight, in a piece.

P.P.S. Were you thrown by the word “Thesaurus”? Look it up in your dictionary first.

Then high tail it over to the local book store and BUY ONE.

Do it.

Fall in love.

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