The first artist to catch my eye, as a kid, was Wally Woods. His best work was in the “great” years of Mad magazine (before the asshole publisher fired Kurtzman and Elder and turned the rag into a creative blob)… mostly the decade between the Congressional hearings on the dangers of comic books in the early fifties through the election of JFK.
I liked Woods because he snuck “dirty” stuff into each scene, yes… but even more because he was able to infuse his panels with real movement and a sense of organic life. No one else came close, in the world of cartooning, until Robert Crumb.
I started my own mini-career as a cartoonist before I knew how to write. Pencil and pad of paper, and I was a happy little feller. My career peaked when I was given a weekly cartoon strip in my high school paper (for which I won a Quill & Scroll pin), and later another weekly strip in my college paper (which I kept up for a full year after I graduated).
What does cartooning have to do with marketing?
Not much. But give me a second.
I want to scare the living bejesus out of you.
The best cartoonists in the short history of publishing have actually been fine artists. (A famous critic once called R. Crumb “the Breugel of our time”, referring to the breakthrough Flemish painter who used real life village scenes, in action, as his subject matter. His work remains a rare glimpse into early Renaissance life among peasants.) The best work is mesmerizing, and you can stare at it for hours, or come back to it years later, and still find new stuff in it.
I sucked as a cartoonist, because I was self-taught and insisted on struggling to discover the “secret” of great graphic art all on my lonesome. No classes, no tutoring, no help at all from anyone.
What an idiot. But that’s the way my mind worked. I had to learn, the hard way, how to ask, to seek, to knock.
And though I’ve long since given up drawing for writing, I still like to check in on the whacky world of comic art every now and then.
My love of Mad, and then Zap, was augmented with an adolescent love of horror comics. Creepy and Vampirella were the quality publications back then. And the guy who did the ground-breaking covers (plus a few panels inside now and then) was Frank Frazetta.
Even if you have no idea who Frazetta is, you know his work. Because he is the most copied artist in commercial art today. (As the most ripped-off copywriter on the Web today, I feel a kindred spirit.) He established himself doing cover art for the Conan the Barbarian novels, which spawned just about every sword and sorcery fantasy movie made in the last half-century.
Schwartzenegger owes his career to Frazetta’s work, because of Frank’s faithful rendering of super-muscled heroes battling dragons and demons, while stunning maidens with impossibly lush physical charms screamed warnings.
It can also be argued that heavy metal music owes its lasting appeal to Frazetta… and the first piece of evidence is that about half of all the thunk and shred albums since Molly Hatchet have featured rip-offs of Frazetta’s work.
Now… it’s taken me all these years to even begin to understand what it was about Frazetta’s and Wally Woods’ art that grabbed me so effectively. Out of all the hundreds and hundreds of other artists I was exposed to.
The answer became clear after watching a documentary on Frazetta.
And the key was this: He always painted scenes that were about two seconds from some climatic action.
This was important. Lesser fantasy artists always paint scenes that are already IN the action — the fight is already on, blows are already being delivered, the action is engaged.
Not Frank. The pure, raw, and undiluted tension in his paintings capture that moment of lull, when every participant realizes that the clash is about to begin. Eyes are wide, muscles tensed, the incredible force of motion is held up just for one last intake of breath.
Imagine stopping a huge ocean wave inches before it crashes on the sand. Imagine a little crab looking up, way too late to escape, tensed for the chaos. Imagine a surfer, having misjudged the undertow, realizing he’s about to wipe out on hard-pack beach… but not just yet.
Not just yet.
Boring artists simply have their subject stand there. Impatient artists depict action in full swing.
But the guy who transcends mere representation and creates art that leaves an impression knows how to find that exquisite moment of truth.
To my mind, the great artists of the twentieth century aren’t Picasso or Warhol or Johns.
The greats are the craftmen, the illustrators and cartoonists who obsessed on finding that “moment” in life that rocked your soul. And they did with comic books.
Now… the reason I bring this up has nothing whatsoever to do with art.
Nope. The point I’m trying to make is all about that moment of tension before things happen.
Most people live their lives waiting for big noises. They plod through their days until something wrenches them out of their routine… and then they grind their teeth until they can settle into the next waking dream.
The big noise can be a world war. Or another deep recession. Or some new plague.
What was before, is now history. What is now, is new and scary.
If you aren’t hip to those exquisite moments of held tension, you’ll forever be taken by surprise.
And guess what?
We’re in one of those moments right now.
Last blog, I tossed out my intuition that the Gold Rush days of the Web are nearing an end. Amazingly, I got zero comments on that.
Not a peep from anyone.
So, let’s twist the knife in a little more.
Last Fall, Intel Corp., Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and AT&T all got together for a super-secret technical brainstorm session.
The ONE subject they discussed: The complete structural collapse of the World Wide Web.
They all agree that we’re running up on some serious architectural limitations. The main problem is that millions of new users are signing on every day. Putting wicked stress on the network.
And entire developing nations, like China, have billions eagerly waiting to get online. Each time computer technology gets a dollar cheaper, the Web groans under another load of new users.
The big companies are trying to get another network launched. I believe the working name is “PlanetLab”, but what’s interesting for marketers is that this new network will have built-in traffic monitering and security gates.
That’s code for “no more Gold Rush”. That’s code for “controlled by The Man.”
The Great Depression really got going when farmers ignored the warnings of overharvesting in the mid-west and drained the soil of nutrients. It was preventable, but it happened.
Today, we pride ourselves on being able to better predict and counter most threats to our economy. But we aren’t perfect by any stretch.
Again, don’t panic or sell the house and move into the hills.
But don’t doze through the coming shakeouts, either.
We live in the most prosperous and strange times in the history of the world. No one knows what the place will look like even five years from now. It could all be just fine forever. Or, it could be a roller coaster ride. Or… something else.
We’re in a lull. The tension is palpable, if you can feel it.
And keep honing your old-school chops.
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I am not psychic, can’t see into the future, and haven’t got any special insider info that isn’t available to anyone else willing to dig a little bit.
What I do have, however, is some wicked-long experience in marketing… and I’ve seen this movie before. I know how it ends.
I’m talking about the free-for-all climate on the Web right now. My instincts, for a couple of years now, have been saying we’re deep into the “Gold Rush” stage of online business… sort of a Wild, Wild West, where anything goes and restrictions are minimal.
This lawlessness is what makes the Web dangerous, charming, and a license to print money… if you know how to break the code on reaching customers.
Very savvy marketers are making the rules up as they go, based on rigorous testing. This is why you see so many entrepreneurial sites that look the same — similar typefaces, similar layouts, similar graphics, similar closes and methods of collecting money.
These guys talk to each other.
Testing is the same tactic used by all marketers in the past, but the Web has made everything immediate. Faster than immediate, sometimes. If you’ve got heavy traffic coming to your site, you can change headlines or prices as often as you like, and count up real-time hits and purchases to judge what appeal or offer works best and what sucks.
The result is the ability to craft an appeal targeted at the unconscious heart of your market literally as fast as you can put up alternative copy. You can even automate this testing, so you can go to bed while your program counts up the results of Ad Number One versus Ad Number Two versus Ad Number Three, ad nauseum, and wake up with a clear, proven control waiting for you.
Gosh, that’s exciting for marketers.
This Web-based marketing just rocks.
However, there is something very important that you online guys need to keep in mind: All gold rushes end.
Right now, you’re strolling through a virtual Garden of Eden, plucking low-hanging fruit and wondering why anyone ever thought business was hard.
Us geezers have seen this before. With infomercials in the late 1980s, just to name one example. When the technology first appeared, it was wide open — no rules, almost no costs, and you could shoot a sloppy half-hour infomerical in the afternoon, have it run for free on after-hours cable that night, and count up the orders before the show was over.
If it was a winner, you ran it again the next night (or even the next hour). If it was a loser, you tossed the film can over your shoulder into the trash and ran the other informercial you shot that afternoon instead. No editing. Not a lot of thought about quality or anything other than getting your sales message on the air.
For the few marketers who got hip to the amazing — and unexpected — profit being ignored in late, late night cable television, it was (like now) a license to print money. The Gold Rush was on, big time.
Things changed fast, though, once other marketers caught on to the game.
The cable networks stopped giving away late night slots. Started demanding production values in the ads. The feds arbitrarily wrote up new rules to follow. Expenses shot up.
Nowadays, you need over a hundred grand just to get an infomercial shot and tested. That’s a lot of money out the door, before knowing if you even have a winner or not.
And you can’t get good times to run it anyway on your own — a few savvy moguls bought it all up years ago, and dole it out for huge smackers.
It’s been “game over” for entrepreneurs for a long time now.
You think the Web can’t suffer the same fate?
Let me tell you — it may seem like magic when you log on, and there are all these people out there in cyber-ville hungry for what you’re selling. But it’s not magic. There is a lot of hardware that goes into making the Web come alive, and that means the entire thing is vulnerable.
To attack, and to regulation. The weak point, I believe, are the servers. Maybe you can remain anonymous, more or less… but your server can’t. Spammers are finding that out.
If the government and Big Business ever gets their collective ass together and decides to regulate the Web, the Web will be regulated. Postage for email, individual state taxes on all sales, obedience to a new alphabet agency that loves bureaucracy, overseer spyware on all computers sold in the U.S., draconian laws against avoiding that spyware…
We’re in a fresh sci-fi game, folks.
The Gold Rush ain’t over, not just yet. But it’s coming. I can sense it.
I haven’t gone off on this before much, because what the hell do I know, really? As my younger colleagues love to say, I’m “old school offline.”
However, at a recent brainstorm session down in Los Angeles, I cornered half a dozen VERY savvy “new school onliners”, and asked them if they thought my instincts had even a twinge of possibility.
They all agreed with me. To a man.
But let’s not panic. Stay calm, tend to your herds, compile your lists, keep testing your offers and appeals. There’s nothing you can do to change what’s in the works. You gotta roll with whatever punch comes your way.
More important, you need to keep honing your “old school” chops. It’s the one “X” factor that will survive any change in the cyber economy. Wicked, nasty, confident salesmanship.
Just a friendly heads-up to my friends.
P.S. On another, less deranged matter: I’m sorry for not getting back to everyone who emailed me about the Freelance Course. I’m updating it, right now, and expect to have the new version ready in about two weeks. This update is critical, and involves everything I’ve learned about getting clients and getting paid the big bucks… including everything that has changed in the last year or so online.
It’s hot stuff. The potential incomes are just jaw-dropping.
So please be patient. I will alert you all to the new site when it’s up. Thanks for your interest in freelancing.
Just got back from a very interesting meeting-of-minds down in Beverly Hills. I’m revealing the tastier parts of the story in the upcoming issue of the Rant… but for now, let’s just say I spent a couple of days in the company of some very savvy entrepreneurs and business owners.
In a 30,000 square foot Tuscan mansion. With Rod Stewart and Eddie Murphy as neighbors. Bodyguards, more servants than I could keep track of, private chef, private sushi bar, a DJ and bartender in the billiard room, for crying out loud.
It was a luxury gig all the way. And the quality of the other experts and honchos there was just staggering. Whispered deals were made in every room, handshakes worth a fortune exchanged on every break, earth-moving bonds established at lunch. This was the kind of event rookies have wet dreams about.
I flew home this afternoon all excited and stuffed with motivation and ideas… and tried to communicate my excitement, and some of the cool stuff that happened, to my Significant Other.
Who was notably UNimpressed. She didn’t recognize any of the names I dropped (these are industry insiders, and most are not well known outside the entrepreneurial niche). And she had only a vague notion of my rather famous host.
Nothing I said could crack her polite interest — we have to live together, after all — and generate the kind of awe I wanted to install in her mind. I wanted to share my good vibes.
Here’s the kicker, though: We bopped over to the local fish joint for dinner, and met some acquaintances, who joined us. At some point, one of them asked me where’d I just flown in from, and I mumbled something about Bill Phillips’s mansion down in Bever…
Instant excitement from the other side of the table. “You mean you were at Bill Phillips’s house? I am a total fan of the guy. His book helped me drop, like, 19 pounds fast, and I feel so much better! This is amazing…”
And she went on to talk for some length about Bill’s “Eat For Life” book, which was an instrument of wonderous change in her life.
And HER excitement sparked the interest of my no-longer-yawning mate. Suddenly, my little adventure had real potential in her eyes.
Nothing I had told her about it had gotten across.
But this near-stranger’s astonished rave spoke volumes.
There’s a lesson here, I thinks to myself.
It’s the raw power of unexpected third party testimonials. My story was suspect, because of course I would be expected to pump it up as much as possible. Everything I said was run through my Sig Other’s cruel “bullshit detector”, several times. And even though I was NOT embellishing, the details of this unique event seemed over-the-top, no matter how much I pulled back on the “wow” effects.
You married guys, I don’t need to explain this to.
But this is very much like trying to get your sales message across to a prospect. Even a prospect who knows you, and should be giving you the benefit of the doubt, will not lend huge weight to anything you say that might be construed as bragging.
You just lose them entirely no matter how hard you try. In fact, the harder you try, the worse it gets.
Bring in someone else, though… who obviously has no stake in the matter, but who also gets very excited about the subject… and you’ve awakened the interest and believability in your reader.
This is important. I see it violated all the time in the critiques that pass my desk.
You simply cannot expect your reader to believe anything you say at face value. You must proceed on the assumption that they actually YAWN at any excitement you try to generate.
It’s the nature of the beast. We all hate braggarts. Even braggarts hate other braggarts.
Touting your own wonderfulness goes over like a lead balloon.
But having someone ELSE do it carries massive credibility.
Simple, mega-powerful salesmanship tactic.
P.S.: If you’re gonna blow four hours watching the Academy Awards, at least try to spend a little of your viewing time being aware of the meta-story playing out in front of and behind the camera. Try to understand the appeal of celebrity… and try to predict who will be savaged by the critics on Monday for having muffed their speech, or dressed badly, or snubbed someone, or whatever.
The Cult of Personality is insanely strong in this country. But it’s also fickle. Stars attempt to brand themselves, fit into niches where they have little competition, weather damage control, and try to add value just like companies do in tough, passionate markets.
And, just like the business world, you can lose by winning. Your very success makes you a target. It’s a jungle. Getting into the head of the audience — not the stars, which are shallow vessels of inch-thick ego, but the audience — can give you some real insight to ALL human-based markets out there.
Consider what is rational, and what is irrational about the people who get passionate about this stuff.
Very important psychology there.
We just watched last week’s episode of “The Apprentice”, thanks to TiVo. It’s the only prime time show I watch, and I can tell it’s about ready to jump the shark… but for now, it’s still compelling television.
Dan Kennedy watches the show, too, by the way. So do quite a few other business people I know. And not in a passive way. Nope. We watch this crap because there are nuggets of marketing and business genius in every episode.
It’s like a little brainstorm session. There’s nothing remotely like it anywhere else. But I’m sure the network will screw it up soon.
Anyway, if you watched, the “Book Smarts” group lost again. The “Street Smart” group — mostly young entrepreneurs who barely finished high school — have been steadily kicking their ass. Literally knocking the smug looks off those Ivy League mugs.
Here’s why I’m blogging on it: A couple of recent behavioral studies discovered a very interesting thing about your fellow human beings. I’ve written about it twice in the Rant — namely, that there are people who are completely incompetent… yet do not recognize this flaw in themselves.
Finding out about this study resolved so many questions I’d had bugging me for years. I feel better knowing what’s going on, and I now feel prepared to deal with similar situations in the future.
What the study found is that an unnervingly large part of the population consists of people who will screw up everything they touch. Everything. Because they do not have the skills needed for even the simplest job. And they will never acquire the skills, either. For they are incompetent at the cellular level.
However, they view themselves as highly competent. It’s massive denial, and soaring self-deception. But they aren’t fooling themselves.
They actually believe they are really good at everything they do. It’s not an act.
And when things go wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. Or there are other reasons why they failed. Sometimes these reasons are mysterious, and hard to explain.
It is never, however, their fault.
I don’t even have to ask if you’ve ever met one of these types in your life. They are unavoidable.
And their sincere belief and insistence that they are great at what they do, and couldn’t possibly be the reason things failed, is very convincing. You begin to doubt reality.
Certain situations have haunted me for years. My mind and experience told me a particular person was responsible, and obviously so… but their heated defense made me doubt my own senses.
Now, I’m on the look-out for clueless incompetents. You will never convince them they’re losers, however. Don’t even try. The self-delusion runs too deep for even advanced psychotherapy.
Back to the Trump show: Michael, the guy who got fired last week, is a pure example of this syndrome.
I was so stunned to see incompetence and denial in action that I ran to write this blog after the show ended.
It’s beautiful. This guy has bad ideas, is a walking hunk of negativity, and actively does things that guarantee failure.
Yet, in his eyes, he is brilliant, sexy, and the ONLY guy who could have saved his team. It was ONLY through the ineptitude of everyone else that things went south. They are doomed, without him.
This guy will never learn. He will never have that “aha” moment, where he sees that the huge problem in his life, all this time, was him and no one else.
He will go from situation to situation, screwing things up, blaming everyone else, and walking away from the smoldering ruins amazed that no one recognized his genius.
Even better, new situations will continue to open up for him… because often, bullshit walks. You tell me you’re brilliant, that you can do all this wonderful stuff, that you’re the most competent and talented guy around… and it sometimes will get your foot in the door.
Well, that is, it would have before I got hip to what’s going on.
In music, it’s easy to see who’s full of it. Just hand them an instrument, and you’ll know immediately if they can back up their bragging.
Unfortunately, in bidniz, it takes a little longer.
Still, fore-warned is fore-armed.
Side note: In case you’re wondering, I think Trump is a nutcase. He’s not near as savvy as he perceives himself, and I’m constantly appalled at the butt-kissing his assistants do. That organization looks like a living hell to my eyes.
But the format of the show still has legs. This match-up of street vs. college was a brilliant concept.
And egos are getting smashed. Always fun to watch that happen.
Last night, bluegrass/folk legends Peter Rowan and Tony Rice were in town. Now, I am a slobbering fan of many musicians, but Tony’s picking and Peter’s voice ranks up there with the best I’ve ever heard.
When God puts together his all-time all-star choir, Peter will be in the front row (next to Gram Parsons, Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and James Brown). And Tony will be in the orchestral pit (next to Roy Buchanan, Jimi Hendrix, and Danny Gatton).
So this was a show I desperately wanted to see.
That’s the set-up.
Now, here’s the story: For reasons I cannot explain to myself, other things were more important over the last two weeks than securing tickets to the show.
When I finally called the joint holding the event, they informed me it was sold out. Oversold, in fact. The fire marshall was sniffing around.
This is a lesson I apparently have to relearn over and over again. I had a chance to see Jimi Hendrix when I was 19. I had gone to many concerts at the venue, had wheels, had friends to go with, had the money. But something was more important that night, and I missed the show. Jimi died soon after. I never did see him perform.
I don’t recall what was so damned important that I decided to skip that show. But I do remember missing the show.
The lesson is: When you have priorities in your life, you must do your due diligence to follow through on them. There will ALWAYS be a competing reason not to follow through. Our brains work that way — always looking for a reason to be lazy.
Always looking for a reason to bail.
I can tell you that whatever reason I had for not going to that show had absolutely no longterm impact on my life. I may have believed, at the time, that it was a reason that prevented me from seeing Jimi. But in reality, it was a lame excuse, whatever it was. Even if it was work-related, I could have rearranged things. The girlfriend would have understood. The family wouldn’t have missed me that much.
I could have made it up to anyone who felt the least bit slighted by my absence.
There was NOTHING as important to me, at 19, as seeing Jimi.
Your mind will derail you. You gotta stay on top of it. This is your job. No one else will do it for you.
In business, there will always be phone calls you really, really, really don’t wanna make… or projects you really, really, really don’t wanna start… or a whole pile of sundry details and major things that must be done that you would prefer not to do.
If a particular thing is routinely onerous to you, you should re-examine what you do for a living. Maybe you’re in the wrong gig.
But resistance happens even when you’re doing what you love. Every writer I know struggles to sit down and face the empty page. Much easier to go play Nintendo, or take a nap, or call a friend, or masturbate, or go eat something, or do ANYTHING else.
Discipline hurts, sometimes. Okay, it always hurts a little bit.
I love Tom Hanks’ line in “A League of Their Own”, when his star player says she’s quitting playing baseball because it just “got too hard”. He says: “It’s SUPPOSED to be hard. That’s what makes it so special. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
Keep that in mind when you need to pat yourself on the back… or hunker down and get past your resistance on something.
Second part of the story: I drove by the Rowan/Rice concert anyway. Asked if there were any tickets. Looked for someone to bribe.
But it was a very small joint, and they were packed to the rafters. And there was a gaggle of people ahead of me asking the same lame questions about getting in.
Now, it happens that I recognized the guy producing the show. Moe has a small company here in town, and brings in quality acts for small venues. We’re very lucky to have him.
He doesn’t know me, but over the past years I have made a point of looking him in the eye whenever I’ve seen him and saying hello. Nothing more.
Just putting some coins in the bank, so to speak.
So, I’m working my way up the chain of command — from ticket taker (“No way, Jack”) to the bouncer (“Uh uh”) to the restaurant manager. And just as I’m about to offer paying ANY price, to stand anywhere in the room, Moe walks by. I pause and say “Hi, Moe”. And the manager does a double take.
Moe stops, and recognizes what’s going on. (He’s been in the game for a long time.) Puts a hand on my shoulder and tells the manager that he expects 20% of the room to leave at the break. So, if “guys like him” wanted to come back for the second set, I could probably get in.
Fine with me. I hung out, came back at 9:30, found Moe again, and he escorted me to the door guardian and said “Let this guy in.”
And they all refused to take any money.
Do you see what happened here? It’s the power of simple bonding. I wasn’t a pest, wasn’t asking for special treatment (much), and didn’t push for anything.
I knew that Moe wouldn’t recognize me as a personal friend, but because most people don’t know who he is at all, I identified myself as someone who was a regular at his shows. Worthy of at least a little extra effort.
This is knocking, so the door gets opened. Asking, so you may recieve.
It’s all about understanding the powers and limitations of high-end salesmanship. Even low-level recognition carries enormous weight with people. In business, your customers have learned to be anonymous with almost every company they deal with. They expect not to be recognized.
Well, guess what? Reverse the above bonding process. And put some coins in the banks of every one of your customers… by recognizing them. The simplest way is to personalize your emails and letters.
But it doesn’t hurt to go even further. In a recent Rant, I talked about the amazing results you can get from a simple contact by phone with customers. It’s easy to break through the great sea of anonymity people slog through in their lives… and they apprecitate it.
If you’re in a niche, it’s even easier. Cuz you can talk about your shared passions in ways that “feel” personal, even when you’re addressing your entire base.
Bonding works. Amazingly well.
I’m no biz school whiz kid, but I’ve got enough advanced formal education under my belt to know most of it’s not going to help you in the real world.
If, like me, one of your guilty pleasures is watching the Donald Trump “Apprentice” show, you’re aware that the game is on between street savvy and book smarts in the culture. I don’t really feel the two groups on that show are good representations — they’re too young, mostly, and I think the producers picked people they knew would generate ego-driven drama (the stuff that boosts ratings). But the whole concept is intriguing enough to keep talking about, anyway.
I’ve always said I could turn a near-illerate street-wise salesman into a killer copywriter faster than I could someone with a Ph.D in English Literature… because the hard part is waking up your Inner Salesman, not learning how to cross t’s and dot i’s and conjugate transitional verbs.
I’ve also discovered that this kind of choice seldom comes up in my teaching duties. The vast majority of people who come to me for advice are entrepreneurs. The Ph.D’s and the Business Majors are attracted by the corporate structure of the mainstream marketing world, where bullshit and attitude can actually get you promoted. Entrepreneurs are often (like me) the sort who wither in tightly-controlled chains of command.
Working for the Man sucks, basically. Unless you enjoy it, in which case I don’t have a lot to say to you. Go for it, dude. Enjoy the nonsense and the back-stabbing and your sterile corner office.
Of course, while we entrepreneurs smugly tout our independence, integrity and real-world approach to Operation MoneySuck… the corporations are where the really, really, really big money is. Halbert and I often lament the sad fact that — while we know exactly how to sell a ton of any kind of car GM cares to offer — we will NEVER get the big multi-gazillion-dollar contract. Because we don’t have fancy offices, and we can’t talk the kind of Power Point happy talk the Madison Avenue suits spew.
Corporations don’t trust freelancers, because they don’t trust truly effective tactics. They like it nice and safe, and they like rigged games where they can’t lose. So they pump money into politicans for pork barrel consideration. And keep their marketing on a tight leash.
I’m thinking about all of this after reading about Carly Fiorina’s outster at Hewlett-Packard. She was all bluster and fancy presentation, and her one “big idea” as CEO was to merge with another company. To create “synergy”. And the board of directors let her do it. They are enthralled by words like synergy. Sounds edgy.
Oooooooh. I get all tingly just thinking about synergy.
Of course the merger sank HP’s stock (and the big winner will probably be Apple, since the merger also swallowed up one of their more savvy competitors and left a gaping hole in the market). And Carly was humiliated. With a $21-million goodbye package.
She’d better be friggin’ humiliated. Cuz that’s the only thing stockholders have to enjoy. Barron’s still rates HP as a “no buy”. It’s a wounded duck, because for 6 years the company was run by a CEO who was clueless about selling stuff.
Anyway, here’s the lesson for us entrepreneurs: It’s all about the point of diminishing returns. You can earn a million bucks without much extra help at all these days on the Web, with some decent marketing and basic “job it out” know-how. But something happens when you start bringing in the big bucks. I’ve seen it so often, I’m starting to think it’s a given.
You get the urge to become more “respectable”. You hire an assisstant. Get a nice office somewhere. Hire more staff. Take on a partner. Branch out with new projects in every direction. Invest in wild, “fresh” directions, cuz you got de magic touch.
One day you discover you own a warehouse.
And suddenly you don’t look like an entrepreneur anymore. Worse, when you crunch the numbers at the end of the year, you aren’t earning as much as you did when it was just you and the dog at the kitchen table making it work.
Think of it this way: If you take on a partner who’s 50-50 with you, you have to double your gross to earn the same. Add staff and real estate and better clothes (cuz the sweats aren’t going over big at the office anymore), and you’ve got to bring in four or five times your original income to match it for take-home.
Even worse, you now have a monster to feed every month, whether you feel like it or not. And everyone who’s had to meet a payroll knows that there are times when everyone else gets paid, while you do not. You, as the boss, are the sugar daddy to a whole new family now.
And, at some mysterious, point, you cease being an entrepreneur and transform into an appendage of The Man. (Though you probably will never have a $21-million bail-out package waiting for you, should you fail.)
So be sure you understand what’s important to you before the money starts rolling in. Because madness awaits those who are unclear on the concept. If you became an entrepreneur because of the freedom and independence, you have no business shackling yourself to a burgeoning organization that requires your total immersion 24/7.
And really… though I know it sounds stupid and cliche… the piles of money aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. There’s a point where it just gets ridiculous how much you have… and that point comes much sooner than you expect. And you’re suddenly faced with that horrible question: Are you the job, or are you a real person?
As an entrepreneur, you have total control in how that question gets answered, even if you need a little time to figure it out.
Corporations demand (and get) your soul. If you decide you’re more than the job, you gotta leave. Or get punted out.
Something to think about, as you rake it in.
I had a deja vu experience reading the Wall Street Journal the other day. It was like I’d seen the article I was on before, and could even close my eyes and predict what the next paragraph would be about… and I was right.
But it wasn’t anything spooky going on. I was merely reading yet another “the market is holding its breath” story, which are almost boilerplate at the WSJ. Investors, as a lump, are either waiting for the latest profit reports from some conglomerate, or waiting to see what the Fed is gonna do with interest rates, or waiting for some political event to happen.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. There’s a sense that, as a culture, we’re just lurching from crisis to crisis, like a desperate frog leaping on lillies while avoiding the alligator tailing him.
We all need breathers once in a while. It’s good to step back and take a look at where you’re at, versus where you want to be.
But you shouldn’t make this kind of reflection permanent. That’s like setting up camp in a rest area — you gotta hop back on the highway to get anywhere.
The winners in business keep moving, and they refelct a lot. You must be awake to do this. Most of the population are sleep-walkers, stumbling through life in a daze that never lifts.
The uncertain nature of civilization does this to people. The title of this blog entry refers to the existentialist play where two characters do nothing but wait for this guy Godot, who never shows. It’s a bit baffling, if you’re expecting raw entertainment, but the concept of existentialism is worth knowing about.
The first world war knocked everyone for a loop. An overwhelming dread bubbled up, and even non-intellectuals were asking “what’s it all mean?” All the hard work of making cultures and economies and governments function properly and fairly seemed useless — whatever was created was destroyed by war. What was the use of even trying?
People partied through the twenties, suffered through the thirties, and — like a married couple just itching for a fight, fed up with the status quo — finally succumbed to the urge to go to war again.
It was part of a repeating cycle. Cycles are fascinating to history buffs… but they represent opportunity for savvy marketers. It pays to get a handle on the Big Picture of our culture.
There is, right now, a powerful sense in the world that we’re all just hours away from something monumental happening. And so people wait. And put off decisions. They don’t want to get burned in another stock market bubble. They don’t want to be away from home if another terrorist attack occurs. They don’t want to buy a liquid screen TV until they’re positive it won’t be obsolete in six months.
This sense of “why bother” comes and goes in the culture. I’m old enough to remember it from the mid-sixties, when nuclear annihilation seemed imminent. You can’t predict exactly what the next part of the cycle will be, based on what happened before… but you can come pretty damned close.
We are a fairly predictable species, though no one wants to admit it. Understanding how some of this predictability can be used in your business plans is a profitable exercise. People need and crave certain things at certain times in each cycle. Right now, for example, huge swaths of the population are desperate for something to give their lives meaning. This started to show itself with the amazing boom in psychic hotlines just two years ago.
I’m not suggesting you start your own religious movement… but you should pay attention to the fact that other people are, in droves.
Just consider, as you advertise whatever it is you’re selling, that your target audience is caught up in the same general cycles as the population at large. There are forces acting on their ability to make a decision that you need to know about, so you can address them.
And, to make a sale, you need a decision. Ask yourself: What can I say or do to get someone to act… while they’re in “waiting mode” for almost everything else in their life?
Answer that, and you’ve got a campaign that will burn through the market like wildfire.
Here’s a couple of books to check out, to get a better idea of how people act predictably, and make decisions: “Generations: The History of America’s Future 1584 to 2069” by Wm. Strauss and Niel Howe. And “Blink”, by Malcolm Gladwell.
Don’t wait around with everyone else. The other shoe is always dropping, somewhere. Movement creates results. Even when you feel like you’re slogging through molasses, each slog is still an action that will generate consequence. Good or bad, marketers thrive on consequence.
Did you see the Superbowl? Turned out to be a real game after all. And, in the peculiar world of sports betting, the Eagles won by losing. They beat the spread.
But the game has turned into a sideshow. People tune in because it’s an event that gets talked about. Last year, chat around the water cooler was all about Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. Buzz. Marketers get sucked into the hooplah, and wanna be part of it.
The top story on the MSN home page right after the game was NOT the score from the gridiron. Nope. It was how viewers ranked the ADS. The circus came to town, and as the dust settles, the captialist system waits with beating heart to see what happens next.
I shouldn’t have to mention this… but the track record of big splashy ads is not good, if increased profits was the goal. Madison Avenue went completely insane long ago, and convinces clients their ads must be hilarious to “work”. They count up the votes they get for “best ad”, and the “buzz” they generate around water coolers… and claim victory when the culture picks up any line from the copy and starts repeating it. “Where’s the beef” kinda phrases.
The sad truth is that entertaining ads do not sell product. In the worst case, people laugh their ass off at the ad, and tell their friends about it… but can’t remember the name of the product. Or confuse it with the competition. Because it was just tacked on after the mini-clown routine, as an afterthought. All the creative effort went into entertainment, and not an ounce into actual selling.
Not that being remembered is any guarantee people will buy your shit. “Oh, hey, there’s that cereal they advertised on TV! Gosh, that was a funny commercial… let’s buy it!”
Jack In The Box is an exception — they skillfully entertwine product and pitch into the play. But you still shouldn’t use them as a template for any of your own ads… unless you have a campaign war-chest in the high millions. These guys rely on massive repetition for results. Most entrepreneurs have one good shot at the sale, and need to pack as much salesmanship into each ad as possible.
What Madison Avenue does wrong with 99% of their television ads is to create funny stuff that has no relationship with the product whatsoever. The advertiser simply prays that being associated with such humor (or, occasionally, bravado) will rub off in a good way. Or something.
However, most of these ads are completely interchangeable. It could be Ford, or Chevy, or Toyota financing the yuks (or doing the bragging). Doesn’t matter even a little bit.
And so the commercial doesn’t rub off at all. You remember the punch line, but couldn’t come up with the right brand name if you were tortured.
The problem is an utter lack of a USP. A real one, with reasons why and credibility and proof… and not a fake one, tested in focus groups by people without a drop of salesman’s blood in their veins.
And pay attention — these large companies are about to come to the Web in force… and it’s likely they’ll be using the brand new “online” divisions of the Madison Avenue ad agencies. They will have presence, and gobble up bandwidth like a brontosaurus wading through your backyard garden.
Entrepreneurs will feel the pinch. And that’s where having classic salesman’s skills will be your life saver. If you’re in a market niche that’s creating big profits, you’re gonna have competition soon. The days of “low hanging fruit” on the Web are about to expire, and it will happen fast. Like, yes, a tsunami.
Learn the craft of selling, now, while the Huns have not yet reached the gates.
Blatant pitch: Most readers of this blog already have my stuff. However, if you don’t… and you’ve been dicking around putting off buying it… you will want to know that I’m about to restructure everything I offer. Prices are going to rise across the board, as soon as next month. I’m writing the new copy right now.
I have not raised prices in three years. My stuff is now embarrassingly-cheap, compared with what other “experts” are gouging people for. (And many of these experts learned everything they know from veterans like me, Halbert, Abraham and a tiny handful of others.) But that’s not a reason to buy. The reason to buy is more simple: Nothing will happen in your life until you learn to write sizzling copy… and learn what to DO with it to bring in the moolah.
I’ve been teaching people how to earn massive piles of money, both online and in the “old world” markets of direct response, for many years now. I know what to do, I’ve done it over and over, and I can teach you how to do it, too.
And it’s about to get more expensive to learn the secrets. So you might wanna get off your duff and take the plunge now.
How’s the New Year shaping up for you so far? Having fun yet?
P.S. The ONLY ad during the Superbowl that created real buzz… was PULLED after one airing early in the game. It was the spot for www.godaddy.com, the new site registering domain names for cheap. They used a buxom blonde in a phony congressional hearing set-up, and echoed the fuss over the Janet Jackson thing. I’m not sure how salesworthy the ad was, since it was hard not to stare at the buxom beauty’s bounty (and ignore the pitch)… but it was a ballsy move. Risked the wrath of our new Puritanically-inclined culture of titillation. I like that.
The network pulled it, however. No word on why.
Sex will sell. Sex will create buzz.
Sex will also get you in trouble with the Man.
P.P.S. The first time I turned on a television in Paris, there was a naked lady standing on a bare set selling laundry detergent. Starkers. Very casual about it, too.
Say what you will about Europe’s “values”. They kicked the Puritans out five hundred years ago, and have been more relaxed about things ever since. Lucky us.
One of the most popular taped interviews I’ve ever done is “The Go-To Guy”, which I recorded with Gary Halbert over two years ago. It’s also one of the most valuable interviews… if you can “get” the lesson.
Trouble is, a lot of people just can’t wrap their minds around this kind of teaching. They scowl, shake their heads, and are sometimes energized enough to email me to complain.
They want “actionable” advice. Stuff like “… Step 12: Now lick the stamp and place it in the upper right corner of the envelope. Be careful not to put it on the back, because the postal people have to see it!…”
Anything other than that just goes over their head.
Listen: It’s important, when you come across stuff that looks like rambling from an expert, to stop and try to see if you’re not missing something. It’s true that you need lots of concrete advice to get really good in marketing, because the details are what gets your site posted, your ad mailed, and your orders filled.
But not everything is going to be cut and dried. When I was coming up through the ranks, I worked with a lot of amazingly talented veterans. And while I took copious notes about the tricks they used, I also paid close attention to the nonspecifics — how they dealt with clients, how they treated information, even the warm-up routines they went through before working. I couldn’t use everything I observed, because it often didn’t fit my style.
But often, by listening carefully to what seemed like tangents or rambling, I would come across details that changed my life.
This is why I tell so many stories in the Rant. I’m not trying to be colorful, or even interesting. I’m just relating the entire experience to you. Because a cold-blooded listing of the concrete lessons would miss some of the profound underlying genius.
Anyway… I just went through a brief email exchange with someone from Europe who complained that I wasted too much time being “entertaining”, and not enough time conveying true advice. The guy is not a meathead — I just liked the sound of that in the headline here.
But he very much DOES miss this lesson of “seeing the lesson within the telling” of the story. I guess it’s a little Zen thing. But you don’t have to be a Zen master to “get” it.
Not at all. All you have to do is empty your mind of contradictory and skeptical thoughts… and allow the story to come to you.
That said… here’s a few tidbits from my “Salesmanship 101” file that don’t require any mystical or intuitive understanding:
1. The whole concept of “reason why” copywriting can be summed up thusly: Give your prospect a reason to buy.
The trick here is… it often doesn’t even need to be a good reason. I’ve found that having a good reason for being in front of him with an offer works to a higher degree. As in: “I’m writing to you today because of a special opportunity that just came up. It’s a way for you to save 50% over what everyone else is paying for a very popular item… but you must contact me today. There are only a few of these items available at this price, and when they’re gone, that’s it.”
Most rookies will just say “buy this — it’s available.” Moving up a notch, they will include either the urgency factor of limited supply, OR the story of why this opportunity came up, but seldom both.
The pro’s pack their pitches with this stuff. It’s urgent, and here’s the reason. It’s in short supply, and here’s the reason. It’s the biggest bargain of your life, and here’s the reason.
Imagine your prospect standing in the virtual aisle of your virtual store, holding your product. He’s checking the price, looking around to see what similar items go for, frowning as he tries to remember what the price was last week, wondering what he’d say to his mate if he came home with it and she yelled at him for wasting money.
If you answer all those meandering objections, he feels confident. And, he’s armed with information he can use to make his case. “Yeah, I just got this for half-off. There were only 12 at this price, and they went like hotcakes, because it’s something all the players have…”
2. Long ago, someone tested having just one offer, versus having multiple “layers” of offers on the order form. They discovered that, sometimes, having just one offer worked better when you added a special bonus for ordering faster. This make it a multiple offer, with a choice. (Though it was a “set up” choice, since the free bonus was always something the prospect had to have.)
However, it was also discovered that reversing the order of multiple options increased sales of the higher priced option.
The “intuitive” way of listing products is to have the lowest priced version first, followed by the next highest-priced one, and then the next, and so on. You’d think, since the copy explaining each offer was so close to the next one, that the reader could do his comparing easily and come to a rational decsion.
Not so. Listing the lowest price first resulted in most purchases being the lowest offer. Reversing the order resulted in most purchases being the highest priced offer.
Lesson: Even in the seconds it takes to read an order form, there are subtle psychological earthquakes going on in the prospect’s mind. If he’s read through your pitch and gotten to the order form, he wants what you’re offering. But he’s still struggling with paying for it.
Letting him see the lowest price first gives him an “out” — his mind, which is forever making snap-impulsive decisions, can just say “Yeah, let’s get that.” And he may skip the copy for the more expensive option, out of fear of having to change his mind.
Once humans make a decision, it’s very hard to get them to change it. This is how MLM works — no matter how insane the facts of the deal are, MLM pushers (and they are pushers) know that all they have to do is get the mark to decide to go for it. After that, they may as well be in a cult.
3. Finally… to bump the results on your higher-priced options, be sure to use the “dump/gem” take-away tactic. Some car dealers use this by first showing a stripped down model, and making a show of the price — which is always the maximum they would ever charge for a car.
Then, they immediately show the premium version, as tricked out as a car can get. The premium price suddenly doesn’t look so bad. Outside the dealership, you may never consider paying $60,000 for a car. Out of the question. But inside, when you discover that ugly, common vehicles are being touted for $45,000… well, suddenly that luxury model seems like a bargain.
This seems to contradict the “list the highest priced version first”, but it doesn’t. In your sales pitch — before the order form is reached — you will generally “build” your offer, even starting with the lowest priced option.
But you’re not “building” in the order form — you’re asking for a decision, an action. It’s the moment of truth.
When you’re selling product through mulitple offers, make sure to have the lowest priced offer as expensive as you can possibly go and still make the sale.
Then — and here’s the trick — make sure your highest-price option has a jaw-dropping amount of added-on value. Stuff the prospect would drool over, and desperately wants… but can only get in the premium option.
And list that option first. If there are any snap decisions to be made, let the first candidate be your best deal.
P.S. I will be posting again after the Super Bowl. An embarrassing number of people watch this meaningless game, and of course the commercials are positioned to be the best Madison Ave has to offer.
Not a great track record. But always buzz. I’m betting there’s going to be something to be outraged about, no matter how PC they try to make the halftime show. They need it.
Pats by 20.
I hate technology.
I mean, I use it, I rely on it, I earn my living with it… but I still hate it. Too much control over how things turn out. And you can’t hurt a machine when it screws up, because it has no feelings.
Wait, that’s wrong. Machines do have one emotion: Glee at completely mucking up your life. It’s easy to imagine the toaster giggling as it burns your toast. Or the computer as it fries your data.
I just did an hour-and-a-half recorded interview with another writer. This was a very important call, something I intended to have transcribed, put on CD, flagged in my marketing, the works. And we nailed the subject, too — the talk was going just great… until, around 45 minutes into it, I realized the cassette tape I was using had snarled up in the recorder.
At least twenty minutes of our chat now sounded like Godzilla snorting in his sleep.
This was not just a disaster… it was embarrassing. Because the other writer had laughed at me for being such a caveman in the first place. No one uses cassette recorders anymore, he said.
And he had Fed Exed me a fancy digital recording device. Wanted to drag me, kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first century.
Well, I didn’t have time to learn how to use the digital thingie before the call, so I relied on my trusty Panasonic VSC recorder. It had worked perfectly for a couple of years, faithfully recording calls with no problem at all.
Fortunately, the other writer had recorded the call, too. On his sleek digital unit. So we were saved. I admitted, right there on the call, that he was right — I had been punished for relying on caveman technology. And he had rescued everything by being more modern.
Wait, this gets good. We finish the call, and I’m rolling up my sleeves in preparation of ripping the Panasonic apart before tossing it in the dumpster… and the other writer calls back.
Guess what? His fancy ass digital recorder had only recorded his part of the conversation. He sounded like an insane man responding to voices in his head for 90 minutes.
So old-school technology failed us, and cutting-edge technology failed us.
You know what didn’t fail us? Pencil and paper. I jotted down lots of notes during the call. If we can’t still rescue this recording — and it’s looking grim — we can do it again. From my notes.
It still sucks. Reminds of a guy they found a couple of years ago up in the Sierras. His car had slid off the road, and though he wasn’t mortally hurt, he died anyway. Stuck in the wreck. Had a cell phone that couldn’t get a signal, a $40,000 car that wouldn’t move or let him go, a wallet full of credit cards and cash, a nice suit, designer glasses and one last gourmet meal in his gut.
And he died anyway. Starved to death, just as easily and rudely as his caveman ancestors sometimes had. At the mercy of nature.
Sometimes, when the TV, the cell phone, the radios and iPods and DVD players and amps and microwaves and heaters and computers are all turned off… and there’s not even a hum of electricity anywhere to distract me… I wonder what the hell we’ve gotten ourselves into here.
Brave new world, indeed.