I Don’t Know How This is Legal

Do you mind if I rant for a minute?  I promise to make a point eventually.


Take a look at this full page ad from the October 2015 issue of Architectural Digest:

Natural American Spirit organic marketing

What do you notice?

1) Natural/Organic. The market for organic products is getting bigger and bigger. Now you even can buy 100% natural lung poison.

2) The feel of the ad itself. The visual elements have a light feeling. The fresh baby tobacco plant (which look strikingly similar to a sprig of mint), the rustic table the cigarettes are sitting on, the color palette and smooth sans serif typeface all gently whisper “clean,” “pure” and “natural.” Maybe even “wholesome.”

3) “Additive-free.”  At first glance, you may think it says “Addictive-free.” That’s exactly how the first few people I showed this page to read that “headline.” Misleading, right?

4) Disclaimers that essentially destroy the story the rest of the ad is telling. “Additive-free” organic tobacco does NOT make a safer cigarettes.

5) Oh, and a strong front-end offer. A pack for $2 is a steal these days!

It’s crazy how much creative energy spent is spent fabricating a disingenuous marketing statement. If only these admakers were using their powers for good!

(Note: In August, the FDA began pursuing regulatory action against 3 cigarette manufacturers, including the one that makes Natural American Spirit brand, for these marketing tactics.)

Fighting the Tide

You’ve seen those “Real Cost” TV commercials, right?

Recent statistics show that ad campaigns like “The Real Cost” and “the Truth,” as well as other factors have decreased smoking to an all time low in the U.S. That’s the positive power of marketing at work.

(Interestingly, sales of Natural American Spirits have increased 86% since 2009, even as the tobacco industry is shrinking. The power of marketing at work.)

What you may not have seen are the warnings on cigarette boxes in Thailand. They’re a lot stronger than Surgeon General’s warnings. The images show the long-term effects of smoking RIGHT ON THE PACKAGING. You have to see it to believe it. Warning: these pictures are very unsettling, so much so that I’m not going to put them here. If you’d like to see some examples, click here or just Google “Thai cigarette warnings.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Scary stuff. But they’re are honest and realistic. What’s really scary is that something like 40% of the men in Thailand still smoke.

What Gives?

Everyone knows smoking is bad for their health. And that truth is increasingly “in their face.” So why doesn’t EVERYONE quit?

That’s an important question to ask because these are the forces you have to face as a business owner/service provider trying to persuade people to buy from you.

Normalcy bias – If it hasn’t happened yet, people often don’t believe it will ever happen. “It” can be anything. Our brains are designed that way. It’s good for maintaining our sanity, but it makes changing customer buying behavior more difficult.

If you rely on fear-based marketing or sale messages, you need to be aware of this bias.

Force of habit – Most of the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are habitual. Our buying behavior is very much impacted by force of habit. Convincing people to change their routine, or even getting them to realize they’re not consciously thinking about that routine, is no easy task. Even if it’s bad for them.

You really have 3 choices: attach yourself to your potential customer’s already-established habit, come up with a way to make him turn off autopilot and choose you (a really good front-end offer can be a great way to do that) or approach him where he hasn’t developed a habit.

Social proof and peer approval – People care what other people think about them. How are you using that to your advantage?

Contrary/competitive messaging – You need to say something uniquely valuable, and you need to say if often enough to grab some real estate in your prospect’s mind.

Plain old disbelief – According the Mark Schenk “if you assert something as a fact – even if it is a fact – less than half of the people listening will believe you.” (Mark gives his remedy for that reality in this article.)

What’s the point I’m getting at? It’s this: Marketing can be powerful. Use it responsibly and honestly.

I know, this is all pretty surfacey.

But hey, what did you expect from a rant?


Start Your Freelancing Thing

Direct Response Copywriter

“No man, who continues to add something to the material, intellectual and moral well-being of the place in which he lives, is left long without proper reward.” ~ Booker T. Washington

These wise words have served as a guiding principle for the way I operate as an entrepreneur over the past 6 or 7 years. I’ve said it a number of times; it’s my goal to be the most generous guy you’ve ever met.

One of the main ways I’ve added value to the “place in which I live” is by creating piles of instructional content. After working tirelessly to develop my craft and become something of an expert in copywriting and direct marketing, I always tried to help other succeed along the way.

Sometimes I got paid, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I should have been paid, but wasn’t. But I always had my sights fixed on making valuable contributions to the business community I came in contact with.

I had the opportunity to talk about this process on Monique Welch’s awesome new Start Your Thing podcast. It was quite a privilege. If you’d like to hear more about my journey, check out Episode 1 here. The podcast is also available on iTunes.

I hope there’s something help you and inspire you to build your expertise and go start your own thing!

P.S. Along the lines of creating value, I came up with a variation on that clever “2 secrets of success” quote you’ve likely seen floating around the internet. Naturally, this advice won’t work for everyone, but I can tell you, it has worked for me.

If you’re willing to work harder than anyone else, or do a “common thing in an uncommon way” to quote Booker T. Washington once again, you probably won’t have to worry about too many people stealing your ideas and your customers.

secrets to success content marketingI’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you more of an info-hoarder or an uber-sharer?



The Problem with Starving Crowds

“If you and I both owned a hamburger stand,” Gary Halbert famously asked, “and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?”

You’ve probably heard this one before.

The answers vary. Some entrepreneurs want the freshest beef. Others go for the tastiest buns, a high-traffic location, the lowest prices, etc.

Gary only wanted one advantage: a starving crowd.

When people are hungry, they need to eat. If they’re starving, they’ll pay anything, there won’t be objections to overcome, and the food doesn’t even have to be that good.

There’s a lot of wisdom in that idea. If YOU want to sell something, you gotta find some customers hungry for what you bring to the table.


Is a Starving Crowd Enough?

The part of the story that usually gets left out is this: Halbert’s imaginary burger-selling contest is, well, imaginary. There are starving crowds everywhere – but in most cases, the market is teeming with burger joints competing for the same customers.

How do you keep from becoming a commodity?

You can’t just step out there, expecting people to throw money at you. Having a high quality product doesn’t guarantee success, either. You have to do something unique. Something

  • better
  • faster
  • more specifically targeted
  • easier
  • more glamorous
  • funner
  • less painful

…or you have to be cheaper. Or engage in hand-to-hand combat with the “big boys” (and a bunch of smaller competitors who probably want it just as bad as you do).

Benjamin Franklin Plumbing is a great example making of a very “boring” business, where competition is fierce, much more interesting. (I break down the company’s unique angle and how you may be able to apply the same principle in Lesson 1 here.) Hint: it involves one of the strongest guarantees you’ll see in anywhere.

Businesses only exist because there are problems that need fixing and desires that need fulfillment. There are starving crowds out there. Are you serving what they’re hungry for? Is there a good reason they should buy from you instead of anyone else?

Think about it. Then commit to do something about it.


Escape from Retail Jail: A Copywriter’s Tale

expert Copywriter

People sometimes ask me how I became an expert at copywriting. My answer is always the same; I smirk a little and say “I decided to become one.” Naturally, the story is more involved than that, but that decision — followed by commitment — is the crux of the it.

I had the opportunity to explore this decision and how it impacted my life on Episode 7 of Jason Leister’s Incomparable Expert Podcast. This was a special treat for me because of the massive respect and admiration I have for Jason. (If there’s was an incomparable individual on the call, Jason was him.)

The conversation was very raw. Jason didn’t tell me what he was going to ask, and I’m not sure he stuck to any kind of prearranged series of questions or topics, either.

So we were all over the map, talking about

  • the fact that your ideal customers probably have characteristics similar to the average serial killer – and what it’s going to take to attract and keep them
  • what “providing value” really means
  • Jason’s patent-pending “village model of evolution” and why doing business in the vast expanse of the internet is reverting, in some ways, to the old neighborhood structure
  • when content creation is just plain stupid
  • just how elastic price is — and how to start banishing the notion that you have to work harder to be worthy of making more money from your mind

One of the big takeaways is the magical power of “showing up.” I realize that one of the main reasons I reached any level of success is because I decided to keep going. Even if you’re not very talented, there’s a good chance you’ll find your status elevated simply because you consistently came to work.

Jason said it well: “Anybody with a heartbeat COULD be consistent. But it’s rare, it’s as rare as gold.”

I’ll testify to that.

Steve Lahey said it was my best interview yet…

Steve Lahey tweets Copywriter

…and I’d love you to have check it out on the Incomparable Expert site.



I Always Listen to My Clients, But…

“I always listen to everything my clients have to tell me. And then I ignore them… I write it the way it’s supposed to be, up to, and including, sometimes changing the offer without their permission.” ~ John Nicksic

So much for permission-based marketing!  …I’m kidding.

Seriously though, there an a few important lessons here. Today, I only want to talk about the most obvious takeaway.

No Disrespect Intended

If you’ve never heard of Mr. Nicksic, let me fill you in. He’s one of the highest-paid old-school direct mail copywriters around. He’s learned a few things about printed persuasion over the years.

When he says he ignores his clients, he’s not being a jerk. He’s simply using his best judgement as an expert in getting stuff sold. He explains it this way:

“I’m a much better direct mail copywriter than they are, so what do I do? I seize control of the message without asking their permission…

“I rely on the power of the copy I hand them for the first draft. I let them read it and see for themselves how much better it is my way than what they had in mind… They quickly see what I’m up to, why it makes more sense, and why it is time for them to readjust their thinking.”

It’s not an issue of hijacking the words that end up on the page. In most cases the copywriter is expected to lead that charge. The thing that needs to be changed is quite often the proposition itself.

Many business owners are sadly mistaken about how boring their offers are. If the product or service you’re selling doesn’t:

  • promise a benefit that gets the ideal prospect’s blood pumping
  • describe a danger hiding just out of sight, waiting to pounce and devour the ideal prospect
  • offer secret knowledge or exclusive access to something the ideal prospect wants to get his hands on

…or some other such exciting result, it will be next to impossible to write sales copy that’ll fix the problem.

Sales copy isn’t designed to make lame products exciting. It’s supposed to

  • extract the interesting and useful elements of a quality product
  • shine a spotlight on them and
  • draw buyers over to take advantage of the newly-exposed value.

A boring offer is a problem that needs to be fixed. Sometimes that means ignoring a client.

I Missed It Bad…

One of my clients had the opportunity to write an email to the subscribers of a well-known personal finance newsletter last week. (I’m excluding names to protect everyone involved, except myself.) The list was 29K strong, all paid subscribers. My client sells a product these subscribers KNOW they need. The tricky part is, a lot of them already own one.

Positioned properly, it could have been a slam dunk.

I spent 3 days writing a 300-word email that would planted doubts about the quality of the product they already owned, insinuated that there is critical information they’ve never been told and gave them access the “hidden truth” in a nonthreatening way.

The marketing director loved it and sent it up the chain for final approval.

The big boss vetoed the free info offer. Instead, he opted to go for the sale immediately with an educational but generic pitch.

The results: 28,987 emails delivered, 14% open rate (which I’m told is over 3 times the average for marketing emails to that list) and 6% click per open.

email marketing client

The number that matters? The email only produced 3 leads. That means only on in about 10,000 people who received the email became leads. When I checked on the results yesterday, none of them purchased the product.

I was bummed out all day.

70% of Copywriting Success Is in the Offer

Denny Hatch estimates that the efficacy of an online marketing promotion depends 70% on the offer, 10% on the list, and 20% on creative (copy and design).

In the case above, I missed it.

I could have taken a more aggressive stance, as Nicksic recommends. I caved without a fight, hoping to keep the client happy. As a result, a pretty massive opportunity slipped through our fingers.

Take note: Even with a great list and a solid product, you have to have an enticing offer.

P.S. I always advise clients and colleagues to make it easy for customers to take the first step. Going directly for the sale isn’t always the best idea.

What are you doing today to make it easy for your “should-be” customers to take the first step toward you?



Psychologically-Proven Ways to Get Anyone’s Attention

get anyones attention creatively

I love this quote from Steuart Henderson Britt — “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.”

The same is true for writing valuable web copy. If you can’t seize the attention of the people you can help, you might as well be winking in the dark.

Unfortunately, attention is one of the scarcest commodities in the world today.

There are 3 things that are psychologically-proven to draw the attention. Well, really there are 4, but one kinda goes without saying

  • danger
  • entertainment
  • curiosity
  • surprise, which is sort of a combination of the other three.

In my guest post on the Orbit Media blog, I discuss specific ways web writers can leverage danger, entertainment and curiosity to surprise their audiences and grab their attention. The article also includes some of the best examples of other writers putting these psychological forces to work.

Here are a few that didn’t make the cut:


How about this example from my inbox today:

danger attention bill bonner

Doom and gloom is a powerful motivator, always has been. And with the recent craziness in the financial markets, “danger” headlines abound.

Your wallet (which you are quite fond of) is in trouble, and if you just read this email, you’ll be prepared to protect yourself.

For a certain audience, headlines like this are nearly impossible to ignore.


Your camera advertisements can talk about frames per second, lenses and apertures — or you can shoot a video like this:

Did you watch the entire 4 minute video? Exactly.

The title of the video is pretty attention-grabbing, too: Locked in a Vegas Hotel Room with a Phantom Flex. The active verb (locked), the intrigue of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”… and for camera fiends, the prospect of playing with a $100K camera. All juicy details.

(Note: Don’t get me wrong; you do have to talk about the features of your product or service. But, more often than not, you should lead by demonstrating the benefits, the transformation that your product creates.)


Bill Jayme’s famous direct mail envelop for Psychology today is a classic study in curiosity. Questions are always a good way to engage people, and a question like “Do you close the bathroom door even when you’re the only one at home?” is a doozy. It does more than force your brain to come up with an answer; it makes you wonder, “why do I do that?” and “what does that mean about me and my personality.

Bill Jayme Curiosity Attention

The teaser copy makes you want to find out more about the human mind — YOUR mind to be precise. And now that you’ve started thinking about it, your brain practically begs for more insight into the meaning of it all.


Read the full article, The Psychology of Attention: 10 Lessons for Web Writers from Deez Nuts  on the Orbit Media blog.

Pretty much formula for selling, e.g. AIDA, starts with attention. Without attention, you don’t have a chance of selling, educating or effecting any kind of change for your readers. You are constantly competing for space and time in the mind of your competitors and every other distraction your should-be customers have to deal with.

This study on the psychology and application of attention will help give you an edge in this battle.

(You may also like to check out Attention-Jacking with Terry Crews)


Big Mistakes Small Businesses Make: Podcast

copywriting mistakes small businesses make

What’s are the biggest mistakes small business owners and solopreneurs make?

Well, I can name a handful of major ones — and I dealt with a couple of them during my guest appearances on the Rhino Daily Podcast with Steve Sipress.

Steve is a well-respected, well-connected guy in the direct marketing world. He gets excited about big marketing ideas that help small businesses make big money.

Naturally, we get along very well.

He brought me on the show to talk about some of the most painful mistakes entrepreneurs make when sitting down to write sales copy…and how to fix them. In the short time I had, I gave a few specific tips:

  • Make your message about your customer, not so much about yourself. Even your “About Me” page should really not be about you
  • Never forget to appeal to the emotion. I gave one tip that even the least exciting industries can use to crank up the emotional volume of their messages
  • Boring = marketing death. How do you make a boring business interesting? What are the only two things your prospects are guaranteed to be interested in? You’ll have to listen to find out my prescription
  • “3 strikes and you’re out” is bad way to think about marketing, but it’s better than the “one and done” approach. Strangers rarely turn into paying customers the first time they see your marketing material. Don’t give up! Build follow-up and multiple touches (in multiple media, if possible) into your strategy

Check out Episodes 171 through 174 of the Rhino Daily Podcast on iTunes or on the Rhino Daily website. All 4 are less than 14 minutes long for your listening convenience and enjoyment.

I’ve also contributed a few articles to the Rhino Daily blog in the past, just in case you were wondering. You can read here if you like.




Free Resource for Bonehead Husbands (like me)

Got a question for you:

Are you the man and husband you decided to be? Or did you get to this point in mostly on autopilot?

Seems like a strange question, but I have a good reason for asking you.

A buddy of mine is offering pre-release copies of his book, Husband on Purpose: Your 30 Day Action Plan to Become a Better Man and Build a Better Marriage, for free until the end of the month. If you aren’t the best husband you can be — but you’d like to be — I think you’ll want to get your hands on this book.

Husband on Purpose

I got to read an early version of the manuscript and I’ve gotta tell you: the message is phenomenal.  I don’t want to sound hypey, but I believe it could revolutionize a lot of marriages. It’s really helped me  get my head on straight — and I thought I was doing pretty well!

“Most of us get married on purpose…then we end up being a husband by accident.”

Conrad Deas (the author) is one of the most intelligent and passionate guys I know. In this book, he lays out specific action steps to help men, including the boneheaded among us, find out what their wives want and give it to them EXACTLY the way they want it.

Impossible? Conrad shares a simple way to cheat your way to success. (Actually, this IS impossible if you don’t cheat.)

I’d like to tell you the path to becoming a Husband on Purpose is easy. That would be dishonest. The road gets tough sometimes…but it’s not as tough as having a crappy marriage.

If you’re interested, you can get a free PDF copy at http://www.husbandonpurpose.com/. You will have to opt in with your email address, though.

Husband on Purpose has earned my highest recommendation.

P.S. If you know of any men who could use some advice on reading their wives minds, would you mind passing the link along to them? Don’t forget: the FREE pre-release copy will only be available until August 31st, 2015.

Progress doesn’t happen accidentally. Don’t settle for being less than a purposefully-growing husband.



Love + Active Verbs = The Start of Strong Copy

Donnie Bryant on direct response copywriting

“Make the verbs do the work.”

Writing “The new sales letter pummeled the previous version,” paints a more vivid picture than “the new sales letter is better than the previous version.”

“Pummel” paints a powerful picture. That’s what verbs do for writers.

I adore adjectives, but overusing them usually ends up sounding like hype. Hyperbole causes allergic reactions for many would-be buyers.


A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being Adam Franklin’s guest on the Web Marketing that Works podcast. I’ve come to admire Adam quite a bit over the past few months, and I was honored to be on his show.

We talked for about half an hour, discussing what I believe are the most important elements of direct response copywriting and marketing:

  • a desire to understand, empathize with and provide value for your customers (which I refer to as “falling in love” with them)
  • communicating clearly and directly, rather than trying to be cute or clever
  • watching out for hype, without undercutting the strength of your promises and big ideas
  • etc.

It was a lot of fun. Have a listen over on the Bluewire Media site.

While you’re over there, check out all the other helpful resources and information Adam and his partner Toby give away. They give away 33 marketing templates from their book Web Marketing that Works. I highly recommend that you pick them up (opt-in required) and put them to use.


Becoming the Most Productive YOU Ever

Productivity: Make it Happen

Contrary to the opinion of many, productivity is not a function of speed. It’s all about results.

Making 20 sales calls in an hour is working fast. But if you make a bad impression on 20 good prospects, the hour was unproductive.  (Cold calling is rarely productive, by the way. At least for most of us.)

Entrepreneurial people live in what Dan Sullivan calls the “results economy,” not the “time and effort economy. Working harder, faster, and taking fewer breaks may seem like a more productive way of living. That’s not necessarily the case. In the end, the value you produce is what matters.

All things are not equal. Knocking out 90% of the tasks on your checklist may be unproductive…if you’re doing it to avoid the handful of things that will have the biggest impact.

Now, I’ve never claimed to be the world’s leading authority on productivity. But as an obsessed freelance copywriter with 4 kids and a gorgeous wife who deserves my attention, I have to maintain a degree of focus. Not just activity, but money-in-the-bank results.

My more productive days have distinctive characteristics that my unproductive ones. When I’m “on,” here’s what’s usually happening:

  • I get into motion. Inertia kills many people and projects at the starting block. It drains our reservoirs of enthusiasm and energy. Getting going is tough! Sometimes it makes sense to make the first step ridiculously easy to take. Get the forward momentum started and accelerate from there. Don’t overthink!
    • Once momentum is working for you instead of against, you might be surprised how productive you can be. A little step forward, a mini-victory can go a long way.
    • As a writer, this is HUGE. Don’t stare at a blank page for too long. Start writing. Your thoughts will clear up before you know it. Then go back and edit.
  • I prioritize in advance. I decide what results I need to accomplish and plan activities accordingly.
  • I prepare in advance. The work starts before you start working. You wipe out a lot of dilly-dally if you come fully prepared.
  • I set deadlines. Without them, I’m practically dead in the water.
  • I use methods already proven to work instead of reinventing the wheel every time out.
  • I schedule my day, slotting my high-priority action items into times when my energy levels and focus are likely to be high – that’s usually evening for me – and my time will be uninterrupted.

The Other Part of Productivity

You have go beyond affecting your own mental and work habits. You’ve gotta produce an effect on other people.

How do you avoid doing all the right things only to fall flat when dealing with customers?

Go after the right prospects. Vegans don’t buy steaks.

Who wants what you sell? Who’s most likely to buy in the near future? Who has the ability to say “yes”? Who is already inclined to do business with you?

Strengthen the messaging. There’s a reason good copywriters and salespeople make a lot of money. Communicating persuasively multiplies productivity. I’ve seen conversion rates rise 400% and more simply by rearranging some words.

If you’re going to make sales calls or send emails, you might as well close some deals.

Use leverage. Make your intelligent efforts stretch even farther. Productivity levers include

  • authority
  • relationships with your existing customers
  • strategic alliances
  • expanding from one-to-one to one-to-many
  • repurposing existing materials.

A Word About State Management

I’ve found that I’m most productive when I’m excited about what I’m working on. Creativity emerges more effortlessly when I’m confident in my abilities and knowledge.

Negativity and disagreement put me into a funk.

You have to figure out ways to get yourself pumped up and confident that you’re going to knock it out of the ballpark.

One last thing.

I wanted to share this cool infographic. Salesforce Canada did some research to uncover “Simple tips to Becoming the Most Productive Salesperson Ever.” Good stuff for you to think about.

salesperson productivity