Category Archives for Web 2.0

Part Deux: The Continuing Saga of the Sales Challenged Geek

And the firestorm continues to rage.

There are a number of issues that have reared their ugly head since I posted the first “Sales Challenged Geek” piece here. I’ve got a lot to say, so let’s just take ’em on one at a time:

1. The skills behind world-class salesmanship are aggressively misunderstood by most people. This is exemplified by the polls taken by news organizations after the annual blitz of Super Bowl ads: They ask which ad was the “best”… and millions of people toss in their two cents.

This is marvelous theater… but a piss-poor way to judge the effectiveness of advertising.

People believe they understand the function of advertising, because they’ve seen so much of it over their lifetime.

And yet, almost universally, they are dead wrong about what makes an ad “good”.

There is just one way for a biz to judge the quality of any ad they run: Does it work?

Not, does it entertain? Not, is it inoffensive in every conceivable way, so no one gets riled up? And certainly not, does your spouse “like” it?

If you are a rookie in business, please take this one piece of advice from a grizzled veteran: Be VERY careful who you take advice from.

You can gather two dozen of your closest, most trusted friends, and ask them for advice on how to market your biz. Their hearts will be in the right place, they will be sincere, and many will honestly believe they understand the function of advertising enough to confidently tell you exactly what to do and what to avoid.

And, if none of your friends has any actual experience in marketing… you can bet all that wonderful advice will be somewhere around 100% wrong.

World-class salesmanship may not be rocket science… but it is a very non-intuitive set of learned skills on par with, say, learning to play a musical instrument. It’s not normally part of the original equipment issued when you come into this world.

And, fortunately, your business can probably get by with less than world-class salesmanship… but you do need to at least need to learn the basics. The equivalent of learning to play a simple song on the piano all the way through, to follow the analogy. (And keep in mind, most people screw up “Chopsticks”… and can’t even clap in time to a simple beat.)

These analogies are important, because the default belief out there about advertising and marketing is aggressively wrong. You can see this in some of the comments left on my last post — people are so sure that what they believe about long copy is the Truth (with a capital “T”), that they will not hesitate to argue with people who make their living at it.

This is not surprising to hardened advertising veterans, by the way. We know from experience that belief always trumps logic (and even science).

You will never change someone’s mind just because you have facts and results on your side. People will stubbornly cling to a welded-in belief even when it clearly is hurting them. (Before I learned to parse out the most oblivious clients as a freelancer, I was frequently faced with biz owners who would interfere with a winning ad… because their spouse “had a better idea”… and refuse to admit they’d made a mistake even as their profits plummeted.)

The illogical nature of the human mind is precisely why high-end salesmanship causes such outrage among the clueless — it’s often counter-intuitive, and, yes, psychologically manipulative.

2. The stunning power behind this psychological manipulation is exactly why I urge people to study salesmanship — especially how it’s used in advertising copy — even if they aren’t going to be writing their own ads.

If you are so clueless that a stark “take away” tactic in a pitch is gonna make you swoon with uncontrolled desire for something you don’t really want… then you’re not going to live a very good life.

You are, in fact, an A-1 sucker.

And I don’t want ANYONE to go around being suckered, or conned, or manipulated. If I could re-design the world, I’d make the art of persuasion part of our basic equipment.

But that’s not the way the world works.

In my course “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”, I am emphatic (in the opening chapter) about hoping that anyone using these proven salesmanship tactics for unethical reasons… will go straight to Hell.

And I’m serious. Good direct marketing techniques probably deserve the black eye they have in the public’s mind. The entire advertising industry has a long history of touting rotten products, and scamsters make full use of every tactic in the book.

But that doesn’t make the tactics “bad”.

Listen carefully: Scamsters use the selling models they use… because those models work. Duh. Most cons know they only have ONE chance at a sale (cuz they probably need to either leave town fast, or take down their Website before being traced). So they don’t dick around with techniques that don’t get results.

None of us like this situation. In a perfect world, all scam artists would spontaneously burst into flames the moment they entered illegal territory.

But that’s not what happens.

The Web has opened the floodgates of scams that used to operate at the fringe of socieity. Back in the pre-wired days, most scams were conducted face-to-face, individually. Direct mail was too expensive, and newspapers wouldn’t accept print ads from identifiable con men.

Now, though, even the most pit-bull spam filter can’t begin to catch all the illicit and criminal crap hitting your inbox every hour of every day. Cheap email has made it profitable for crooks to spam.

But none of this discredits the effectiveness of good salesmanship.

3. Why not?

Because successful marketers understand the inherently hostile relationship between seller and buyer. The marketing graveyard is crammed to bursting with fabulous products that failed… because the marketing sucked.

And you’re using products right now, every hour of every day, that are overpriced, under-performing, and right on schedule to be obsolete long before you’ve gotten full value. (How’s that nifty new iPhone working out for ya?)

Sellers want to get the best price they can, while delivering what they believe is decent value.

Buyers want to get the most bang for thier buck, scoring the biggest bargain possible.

And that’s just on the surface.

Further down, in the murky depths where all psychological battles are fought, it starts to get really interesting.

Even the simplest transaction is fraught with peril for both seller and buyer. Say you need some nails, cuz your hammer’s lonely. Unless you’re a carpenter, you’re gonna find yourself in Home Depot staring slack-jawed at a bewildering array of pointy-tipped products. Row after row of them, too.

A rookie might consider this the easiest kind of sale possible. Guy wants nails, you got nails… what’s the problem?

Information is the problem. Somewhere in that armada of sharp metal is the perfect nail for the job you have at home. But you don’t know where that nail is. Or how much you should pay for it.

Or even what quality of that type of nail you should get.

Enter advertising. First, probably, in the guise of the helpful employee, who tries to steer you to the right shelf. He’ll ask you questions, narrow down your search… and present you with a choice.

In most retail situations, it’s the old “good, better, best” choice. Sears started it — if price is your main consideration, we got these cheap-shit nails in a plain plastic bag. They’re good enough. If you want something better — and don’t mind paying a bit more — we got these other nails over here… better quality material, more trustworthy, probably some form of guarantee.

Or, if you want the best… we have the snooty brand name nails, in the sturdy box, with the rebate coupon, the free hammer, the endorsement of The Tool Guy, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Sure, they cost more. But doesn’t your hammer deserve the best?

This is all very advanced salesmanship, rife with psychological manipulation. The SAME mind game stuff used by scamsters, in fact. A little bit of take-away, a lot of credentializing, a whole bunch of risk-reversal.

And a complete rout of your objections.

You go to Home Depot for nails, you’re coming home with nails, dude.

Why is so much salesmanship needed for such a basic transaction?

Because of the perversity of the human mind. The guy who thought he knew what he needed is faced with a bewildering array of choices. His first thought is to flee. He’s thinking “I don’t want to make the wrong choice. My buddies would think I’m an idiot. Maybe I should ask my uncle about this first…” and so on.

The objections pile up fast and furious. Because the desire to buy, and the need to sell, are part of an inherently hostile interaction.

Yes, even when it seems to be in everyone’s best interest to have the deal go down.

And this is just for nails.

In the Information Age… with information and knowledge the stuff being sold and sought… the objections multiply quickly. With retail products, like nails, you can do cost comparisons right there in the store. You may even have a sense of what is too much, and what truly is a great bargain.

But how do you price information? Prospects come into your world with vague, unformed desires… and a straight checklist of features won’t do the job of selling them.

So here’s the bottom line: If you honsetly have a product of quality and worth… that your prospect truly needs and can make good use of… then it’s your JOB to do what you need to do to make the sale happen.

Shame on you if you let your prospect go away unhappy and unfulfilled and empty handed.

You gotta answer all his obvious questions… and counter the unconscious objections he isn’t even aware of yet. He needs rational reasons to buy, as well as irrational reasons to soothe his un-named fears.

So you explain the benefits. You establish yourself as a go-to guy. You help him understand why the price is what it is… and help him “fit” that price into his head. So he can confidentally explain to the doubters in his life why he just bought.

You remove his fear of being suckered. You let him know he got the better end of the bargain. You take away all risk, so he feels safe in buying right away.

But even deeper: You know (because you’re an uber-salesman) that he still won’t pull out his wallet if there is an easy way “out”. You know that even though he’ll kick himself later for not buying right then and there, and even though he wants it desperately… if he feels a lack of urgency, he will act against his own self-interest, and decline to close the deal.

Thus: You use limitations, deadlines, one-time offers, bonuses and whatever else you have in your arsenal to light a fire under his butt.

Because, as an experienced salesman, you know that once he leaves without buying, the odds of him returning later are very, very, very low. He walks, and you’ve lost the sale, most of the time.

Is this starting to make sense now?

4. The geeks who rail against the perceived scam-i-ness of long copy ads are engaging in another common human foible that all veteran salesmen recognize: The need to protect yourself against Voodoo.

People who do not understand advertising — but believe they do — are so terrified of being “taken”, that they set up a psychological “electric fence” around their brain. They become convinced they are so savvy about the wiles and tricks of marketing, that they are now immune.

One of the most dangerous aspects of unchecked belief systems is the false confidence they offer the believer. You can believe — with all your heart and soul — that you’re the baddest ass in the bar… the prettiest girl getting off the bus in Miami Beach… or the savviest hustler on the street.

And it’s always ugly when belief runs up against reality. Always.

You know what a world-class salesman wants to see in a prospect?

A tight wall of reasons why he’s NOT gonna buy.

You know why? Because even the most rock-solid psychological “electric fence” of resistance… is just a rickety pile of simple objections. You give a good salesman an objection, and he will reduce it to ashes.

All day long.

And when he’s done, you’ll be standing there thinking “He’s right. I do want that thing.”

Believe otherwise if you like. It’s your privilege to believe anything you want.

But old time door-to-door salesmen knew that the easiest marks on any block were the ones with the “No Solicitation” signs on the porch post.

5. This is why I want to teach salesmanship to everyone.

People who understand salesmanship lead better lives. Not because they’re better people… but because they are unencumbered with the burden of stupid beliefs.

And, they understand the process of selling that is going on in every store, on every Website, in every magazine, on every TV station… and between every set of humans alive — spouses, friends, neighbors, colleagues, enemies, and even strangers.

6. I’ll bet I get brow-beaten over this post in the comment section.

You challenge people’s beliefs at your own peril.

7. In fact, one comment kinda rankled me last time. Some yo-yo wrote “I don’t like what you’re pushing here”.


Dude, I am not pushing anything. This blog is free. And, if you’re honest about it, I’m delivering a ton of great info here.

For free.

I never push anyone into anything. You like what I’ve got to teach, and you want to go deeper with it, I’ve got courses and coaching programs. No, they’re not free. Neither is Harvard or Yale.

Is my advice worth the hefty price tag? Absolutely not, if you believe there is nothing I could teach you. Rock on, dude. I am not, and have never claimed to be, everyone’s cup of tea.

I earned my reputation as one of the highest-paid freelancers alive by getting results for over 25 years… often in the toughest markets out there. I’ve taught massive numbers of people the deep, dark arts of world-class copywriting and salesmanship for almost as long (and that would be why, my main site, is so crammed with excited testimonials).

So, disagree with me, if you must.

But don’t distort the argument. I never mentioned “get rich quick” schemes in my prior post. If you’re a geek who has made the sticky connection between long copy and scams in your head, that’s fine. Make a case for another path, by showing me results, though — not boring rants about your beliefs.

You know who uses long copy… with all the advanced salesmanship tactics available?

You’re not gonna like hearing this…

Reader’s Digest (they even use “grabbers” like pennies glued to their long-copy direct mail letters)…

Prevention Magazine point-of-purchase (published by the folks behind the mega-successful “South Beach Diet”)…

Men’s Health magazine…

Sharper Image catalogs…

Sky Mall catalogs (in the seat-pocket in front of you)…

The Wall Street Journal (owners of one of the most famous long-copy direct mail letters in history)…

Time-Life — their hour-long informericals for music CDs are legendary…

The ACLU… both political parties (and most third-party candidates)… and every charity out there: the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Cancer Society…

and on, and on, and on.

You think people bought iPods because of a few bitchin’ commercials featuring the Vines?


Apple orchestrated a tsumani of planned articles for a year in advance. Very much the equivalent of a stretched-out long copy ad… using every salesmanship trick in the book.

You think Ford and Toyota and the other car makers sell just from their splashy television spots? Get real. The big sales and rebates (great examples of desire-inflaming take-aways, by the way) are just to get you in the door. Once there, you are in for a spoken “long copy” sales pitch.

You wanna talk about scams?

How about the bullshit shoveled out by Big Pharma every night during prime time? Happy, healthy people dancing along tropical shores or sleeping like untroubled babies… while the list of admitted side effects are glossed over matter-of-factly (and the truly nasty side effects only make an appearance as headlines when people start dying).

Is Coke a “reputable” company? Nice, graphic-heavy ads. Nothing hard-sell, or offensive to be found.

Right. It’s sugar water. Not just with zero health benefits… but with negative health implications from the corn syrup, the fizz, the “secret ingredients”, even the caffeine.

In blind taste tests, I seem to recall, Pepsi even wins against Coke head-to-head… though Pepsi remains number two world-wide.

So, is it the nice, friendly ads doing all the selling?

Nope. It’s all about shelf position in the store, and monopoly status in restaurants and vending machines. Hard core, cutthroat, street-level salesmanship. They’re good at it, and have been for a century.

It costs them pennies to make the goop and bottle it. You pay a vast multiple of their cost for the privilege of dousing your guts with nutritionless sugar water. And the proceeds keep them fat, rich, and with an advertising budget bigger than the GDP of most nations.

And you’re pissed about the Nigerian bank scams, just because they offend your sense of “dignified advertising models”?

Well, okay, I’m outraged at the scamsters, too. They have sullied the skills of legitimate, world-class salesmanship, and given teachers like me an uphill battle when helping clueless newbies get their business chops together.

But really. Stop equating graphics-heavy, clever, entertaining ads with “reputable”. It’s bullshit.

And unless you take the trouble to at least learn the honest basics of real salesmanship, then you’re ripe for being a sucker over and over again for the rest of your days. In every human interaction you engage in, from buying crap to keeping the romance alive in your main relationships.

Get hip, stop fussing with belief systems, and get over your fear of Voodoo.

You can make your ads look nice. No rule against that.

But you cannot get world-class results without salesmanship. If you’re happy with your results, and content to be clueless, great. Carry on. Be well and happy.

But if you’re NOT happy with your results, then… just maybe… learning a few honest selling techniques can turn your life around.


I got on a friggin’ roll there…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

The Continuing Saga of the Sales-Challenged Geek

So it’s a gorgeous day, I’ve snuck out of the office on reasonable pretense, and I’m cruising down South Virginia Street with the top down and “Kid” by the Pretenders laying waste to my eardrums.

And I’m thinking to myself: Why don’t I get outa the office more often during the day, and drive around aimlessly like this?

South Virginia is a busy main drag, but traffic is moving fast, like feed through a goose.

I’m blissed out.

Suddenly, every lane north and south comes to a screeching halt, the cars hitting the brakes so abruptly that their rear ends bounce up like cockroaches running into a wall. I fishtail, and somehow everyone avoids a pile-up.

The problem? Some dude in a thrashed Riviera blowing across four lanes of heavy traffic from a cross-street with no light… and getting a good look at him, I start laughing my ass off.

He’s staring straight ahead as he barrels through, his left hand held aloft, giving a defiant middle finger to everyone he’s just given an adrenalin dump to.

Hey, you gotta get across a busy street, you gotta get across the busy street.

Hit the gas, and damn the torpedos.


Two thoughts pass through my mind as traffic starts moving again.

First thought: This is why I don’t get out more often. People go all whack under the summer sun.

And my second thought: Hey, I know that guy.

Okay, I don’t actually “know” him. Never seen that warped Buick with the peeling Landau roof before in my life, or the “proud to give the world the bird” driver.

But I know his type. All my life, I’ve gone out of my way to hang out with different kinds of people. I’m not sure why I’ve done that — probably some vague sense of wanting to sample everything out there — but it’s sure helped me as a marketer.

And I’ll tell you why it helps in a minute.

First, I gotta tell you who that guy reminded me of.

Back in my first year out of high school, I had worked my way into some pretty tough crowds. My long hair and minor skill with a guitar was my back-stage pass to Hoodlum City, and I was eager to experience life outside the mostly-safe, “Leave It To Beaver” lifestyle I’d been raised in.

In fact, I spent close to a year hanging out with bikers and ex-cons and other riff-raff. The dregs of society.

I loved it. These guys had a total “up yours” attitude to mainstream America, and purposely violated every rule and social more they could find. Looking back, it was like playing in a lion’s den… but at the time, I felt dangerous and “real”.

And because I was so skinny and naive and young, I enjoyed the privilege of being considered something like the kid brother some of those monsters never had. So I somehow never got my skull bashed in.

Okay, I’ll leave the stories of debauchery and gettin’ chased by cops for another time.

The reason I bring those guys up now is their peculiar world view. I got to know it well, and watching that maroon in the Riviera nearly cause a twelve-car collision today — while flipping off the strangers he’d nearly killed, just to make his point of “don’t give a shit” as poignant as possible — clarified a whole other issue for me.

Here’s that other issue: Last month, my ears started itching. It was because a heated discussion about me was reaching fever pitch online — and I just hadn’t caught wind of it yet.

But my partner Stan noticed a serious spike in views to my main page,… and tracked them to a blog that had started a thread about “long copy Web sites”, with my site as the primary suspect hoisted up for inspection.

No harm there. In fact, I’m flattered. The blog in question is actually more than “just” a blog — it’s been called the top hit-getting Q&A site on the Internet (after Yahoo Answers and MicroSoft QnA).

Perhaps you’ve heard of it — MeFi, as it’s affectionately known by insiders. Or Metafilter, the real name.

It’s truly an amazing site, started back in 1999 by a 35-year-old programmer who wanted to have the best blog in the universe. You’d be hard-pressed to find a subject that doesn’t get covered within any 3-day period on MeFi… from technology, shopping and health to law, fashion and religion.

Oh, and advertising.

It’s as close to truly broad-based community as I’ve ever found online. A cacophony of voices, ideas, opinions, and — primarily — getting questions answered.

Anyway… the founder floated a rather innocuous question last month… wondering if anyone knew if “long copy” Web sites were efficient or not in getting desired results.

And he offered up three samples. Mine was first.

Oh, my goodness, but the stoning began immediately, and went deep.

Let me tell you something: The dust-up over the “Web 2.0” bullshit is pretty much over in the active online direct marketing community. The top marketers may toy with fancier stuff here and there… but they still rely on long-copy sales pitches when it’s crunch time.

However… outside the tidy niche of entrepreneurs and small biz who track results… there’s a raging debate still going on about “nice looking”, high tech sites… versus the “scammy-looking” efforts of the marketers who dare to post copy that… well… looks like mine.

The horror!

I’ll give you the link in a moment, and you can go see how vicious the comments got. (I can recommend Metafilter, regardless, as a resource site. I’ve spent some time surfing it, and I like it mucho.) (Even though they used me as an ideological punching bag.)

The comments were brutal and cocksure. I could tell most of the writers were competent geeks, too, from the way they brandished high-tech language.

In thier view, long-copy sites were ugly blots on the virtual landscape, definitely scams, and obviously maintained by brain-addled low-lifes who were clueless about how to sell anything online.

Reading through the comments, I’m in tears… from laughing so hard.

I mean, I’ll cop to being brain-addled.

But clueless about selling online?

No way, dude.

And today — watching the Bird Man flaunt common sense (and safety) in a way that reminded me instantly of the biker drop-outs from my youth — the lesson here just coalesced in my mind.

It’s all connected.

And it’s about belief systems… and how they will screw your life up.

Harken: All humans are a perverse lot when it comes to logic.

There isn’t, and never has been, any kind of real “common sense” to be found throughout history. We like to believe we possess common sense, and also a clear-eyed view of the “truth”.

But the key word there is “believe”.

For most folks, common sense and truth are as real as the tooth fairy.

Those bikers had a very romantic mythology built up around themselves. They were outlaws, just a band of brothers unfairly hounded by The Man and hamstrung by a society intent on crushing their spirit.

And, to be fair, most of them had huge hearts and an admirable sense of loyalty and honor. I liked most of them immensely.

But their outlaw status was primarily the result of bone-headed, irresponsible behavior. They didn’t have rap sheets from robbing the rich to give to the poor. Often, they did time because they got high, lost control of their bike, and took out a lamp post.

Or forgot they were “carrying” when they flipped off the wrong cop, showing off to friends.

Nevertheless, to them it was a vast conspiracy by society to harsh their mellow.

The Bird Man in the beat-up Riviera?

Same thing. I’m sure of it, just from the glimpse I got of his defiant smirk.

In his world-view, rules and courtesy and order are for suckers.

Of course, Dr. Phil might ask him: “And how’s that working out for you?”

If you’ve got anything going for you at all — any measurable success in life — it’s probably easy for you to see the wrong-headedness of would-be outlaws and wannabe sociopaths. It’s one thing to be a non-conformist, right? And quite another thing to just ask for it by taunting the laws of man and physics.

Ah, but here’s the lesson for marketers: That same trap awaits you, every day.

It’s the trap of drinking your own Kool-Aid… and not having anyone call you on it.

The geeks trashing my long-copy site are a perfect example.

I’m sure they’re good people, and honestly believe what comes out of their mouths.

But that’s the problem. When you believe you know a certain truth… and no one around you refutes that belief, or challenges you on it… then you start to confuse belief with reality.

And whether your belief is “I’m a bad ass outlaw”… or “I understand advertising”… or even “no one reads long copy”… then that belief can become cemented into your head as truth.

Even though it’s bullshit.

Sometimes, you’re not an outlaw… you’re just a dick.

And sometimes, your ideas on what “works” in advertising is so wrong, it’s laughable.

Hey — we all suffer from the effects of an “echo chamber” at certain times in our lives. It just happens — we surround ourselves with people who think like us, we stop getting alternative input, and soon we start regarding everyone who doesn’t think like us as the “Other”.

So everyone with a toehold in the power structure is out to get you.

And everyone aggressively trying to sell are scamsters.

That’s just the way it is. That’s what you believe. And what you believe must be true, because you believe it so deeply, and never question it.

Like I said… we all fall victim to belief systems. We all have a love/hate relationship with reality.

In the case of the geeks, however, it’s just silly.

If you read the posts in the thread about long copy on Metafilter, you’ll see certain phrases pop up like weeds: “I don’t like it…” “I think it’s…” “This is obviously…”

And it’s all belief. No actual facts, or reality behind any of it.

Like I said — in the community of successful direct marketers, the question of long-copy versus graphics-heavy short-copy isn’t even on the table anymore. It was settled long ago by guys who test, and pay attention to what works.

And here’s the way it works: If you’re selling something, you start at the beginning of your pitch, move through all the things you need to say to establish credibility, incite desire, hold attention, counter objections… and move your prospect through every other stage he needs to go through to get tweaked enough over your offer to pull out his wallet.

If you can accomplish that with a few clever bon mots and a nice table of ironic animation, go for it.

However, if you haven’t tested anything… and you simply believe you “understand” what goes into good salesmanship because you’ve seen so many ads in your life that you MUST be an expert already… then please take a time out.

You need a reality check, dude.

Entrepreneurs who model their selling tactics on what Madison Avenue does with Coke and Toyota do not remain entrepreneurs very long. They quickly become ex-entrepreneurs, and are soon forced to get a nice, safe day job to pay their bills.

Business owners who have something to sell… and want to sell it… had better pay attention to the successful marketers who actually understand and employ real salesmanship.

It’s not entertaining… it’s not often pretty… and it’s not about “branding” or creating cool art.

Or even being “liked”. God knows those of us who champion long copy and aggressive sales tactics have suffered our share of slings and arrows.

Like I’ve always said: If I wake up tomorrow, and the laws of the universe have changed… so that pretty, clever, soft-sell ads suddenly sell product like hotcakes… then I will be the first veteran to start creating pretty, clever ads full of graphics and minus hard-core salesmanship.

I don’t write long copy ads because I enjoy sweating out vast sales pitches.

Nah. I’m too lazy for that.

I write long copy ads because that’s what works.

What you “think” about these ads is irrelevant.

That you don’t “like” them is beside the point.

When your belief system butts up against reality, reality wins every single time… at least when money’s on the line.

You can believe that three-of-a-kind beats a flush with all your heart… but you still won’t take home the pot.

The first time I voted for president, I was positive my boy would win in a landslide… because all my friends thought exactly as I did. The other guy running was a putz, no one with any brains would ever vote for him, and our platform was so reasonable and fair, we were a shoo-in.

That was 1972. I voted for McGovern, who got pounded by Nixon in the biggest electoral slaughter in US history. McGovern carried his home state, and nothing else.

I was in shock for a month, my youthful (and very naive) idealism shaken to its core.

But I’m glad I got that kind of vicious reality check so young. It healed fast, and forever after, I was suspicious of people with loud opinions that weren’t backed by practical experience.

There are, essentially, two groups of people in the world of small biz owners and entrepreneurs: Those who believe they know what should work in advertising… and the rich guys who KNOW what works.

Hey… I’m kinda fired up about this, aren’t I.

Just be clear: I’m not trying to embarrass anyone here.

I’m just taking my job as teacher seriously.

And I say this because I know — from personal experience — that getting slapped by reality can jar your entire world view.

It’s very much like getting busted by The Man… unfairly, rudely and wrongly.

How dare reality be so ugly and against my grain?

Ah, heck. Maybe I’ll get into this more later…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Check out that site — — when you get a moment. My partner Stan and I have crammed the available mentoring opportunties there with free goodies that should get your greed gland quivering.

That is… check it out if you’re not scared of a little long copy.

P.P.S. Lastly… any rumors of me giving another “copywriting sweatshop” seminar, where I personally rip into your efforts at writing a good pitch, are just that: rumors.

I do have a small, intimate event coming up… but you can’t get into it unless you’re on my “private invite” list. Sorry.

P.P.P.S. Oops, almost forgot. Here’s the link to the Metafilter thread:

Why Clueless Marketers Are Terrified Of The Web

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

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

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

They’ll be extinct.

Bye bye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’d… um… sell something.

No brainer, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blind leading the blind.

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

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

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

Well, yeah. Because your online ads SUCK.

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

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

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

Because you know how to sell.

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

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

The way people buy things is changing, fast.

But people still buy things.

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

But I’m not holding my breath, either.

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

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

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

We live in interesting times.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

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

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

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

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

Schedules, Scalability, and Screaming

Sorry I haven’t been blogging much lately. Very exciting stuff going on, and time has been at a premium.

But I’m back now, eager to bother you with all sorts of fresh wonders and scary advice.

I’m reorganizing my entire life here… plus traveling hither and yon to seminars in such far-flung joints as San Diego, Chicago, Melbourne and San Francisco. I’ve squeezed as much action and adventure into the last three weeks than I managed to experience all last year combined.

Operation MoneySuck is in full tilt boogie mode, finally. My old pal Stan has signed on as partner, and his first order of biz was to drag me — kicking and screaming — into the world of schedules, scalability, and outsourcing. He’s a long-time operations expert, who just hit a wall working with house-hold-name corporations in Silicon Valley and Europe… and succumbed, after several years of cajoling on my part, to the lure of the entrepreneurial universe.

My loyal and much-overworked assistant, Diane, is breathing a deep sigh of relief, too. We accomplished amazing things as a two-person office, but my lack of operations savvy put an automatic crimp in every project’s potential.

That was then.

Suddenly, my personal workload has dwindled to almost obscenely-logical proportions, with not a whiff of being overwhelmed. Every hour I log now has trackable consequences that mean less work down the road, and more money coming in.

It’s just friggin’ amazing what a little planning can do.

Stan and I drove back together from the copywriting seminar in SF I just held with my buddies Harlan Kilstein and David Garfinkel, talking biz the entire trip… and spent Tuesday filling up flip-charts and mapping out the conquest of the Western world.

Kickin’ ass and takin’ names… that’s what it’s all about, here in the wonderful world of entrepreneurial capitalism.

I’ll be harping more on all this as things continue to pan out. Online entrepreneurs and small business owners have needed a good dose of operations voodoo for a long time… but we’re slow to realize it. Many of us came to the Wild West Web from the coporate world, and resist implementing anything that smacks of the stick-up-your-butt formalism that dominates nine-to-five office life.

But, as Stan has proven to me, basic planning can still allow for being a lean and mean machine… especially with the wonders of outsourcing. Which, coincidentally, is now a million times easier to do with the global reach of the Web.

And I’ve been thinking about that — about adopting the best parts of well-planned Cubicle City type corporations, while nurturing the sleek and fast jungle animal style of good old kitchen-table entrepreneurism.

It’s how I’ve survived so long in my career, in fact. I’ve never been locked into any particular way of doing things, and I never have a dog in any fight — I’m open to what works.

This came up at both seminars. In San Francisco, an attendee was just incredulous that people “still” read long copy online. “That’s all changed, hasn’t it?” she asked, innocently.

With the brouhaha of Web 2.0 still roiling the blog-0-sphere, she can be excused for her doubts. And the fact is, if I woke up tomorrow and realized the universe had changed in such a way that a decent sales pitch no longer required persuasion, proof, credibility, believable offers, and all the other classic ingredients… and we could now create sales with just a smidgen of copy here and there, like dabs of gray ink in the colorful wonder of an over-designed Web page… well, I’d be the first one writing short copy that day.

I don’t write long copy because I like long copy.

I write long copy… because that’s what works.

You start at the beginning of your sales message… cover the points your prospect needs to hear in order to make a decision… urge him toward the right decision (buy your stuff)… and close with panache.

When you can do that in a few terse sentences, or in a single brief whiz-bang video, let me know. I’ll be right on your heels with my next pitch.

After almost three decades in the front-line trenches of business — slogging through the fog and chaos of multiple technological upheavals — I’m not holding my breath, though.

Still, the nature of business requires flexibility.

And, curiously, this is NOT an age-related thing.

At both seminars, I encountered wizened old farts who were cleaning up online, totally hip to every cutting-edge burp and tweak of the Technology Beast… and I met bright young business would-be-wizards who couldn’t ossify and wall themselves up in a cave fast enough.

And vice versa, of course.

The guys, young and old, who were making it work were flexible jaguars, alert and eager to learn. The ones wandering off into the desert — young and old — were dogmatic dinosaurs, unable to change even when the case for change couldn’t be more obvious.

Two quick examples: (1) I met several too-young-to-be-considering-suicide online biz owners who were, indeed, considering some form of suicide… because the Google Slap of last summer ruined their only business plan. Without the easy traffic of unchallenged Adwords, they became depressed and sleepy and unable to adjust.

Get a grip.

(2) I also recently critiqued a direct mail letter that looked like it’d been written in the early 1970’s, fossilized, and put somewhere safe from every single change that’s happened to advertising since Jobs and Woz wandered bleary-eyed from their garage-lab, giddy with success.

I didn’t even bother getting into the copy — instead, I gave the mailer a focused little pep talk about what had transpired since the digital explosion.

The basic rule is simple and eloquent: Things change.

And most folks resist change. Yes, that super-tight polyester disco-era leisure suit in the back of your closet may yet come back into vogue… but nearly every aspect of successful advertising has moved along at a brisk clip.

The days of easy traffic online are now as quaint as the days when having a toll-free 800 number was an exotic luxury. Ancient history.

The good news: It’s actually fun to stay hip and wired into the cutting edge.

There never was a rule dictating that the adventure and excitement had to stop in your life after a certain expiration date.

The key is simply to stay loose and alert, like a jaguar. The action is still hot and heavy at the front lines, as it always has been and always shall be.

And if you need a little help finding your way through the fog and chaos of the rear ranks… well, that’s what guys like me are for.

We live in exciting times. I understand the urge to go hide under the covers… but I also know the thrill of going mano-a-mano with the great Technology Beast, and winning.


Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. Whole new killer piece of copy at the above site, too. Check it out, if you’re not scared of new stuff…

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