Category: Psychology

When It Pays to Praise

butterI’ve gotten a few copy critiques in my day. I’ve given a few, too. And I’ve discovered there’s one essential element to making them effective: “ego butter.” Let me back up a bit, so I can explain by way of example.

Some years ago, I was part of a conference call with a freelance copywriter. He’d been commissioned for a small job, which was tweaking the lift letter on a much larger, longer control (one I’d written, in fact).

Leading the call was friend and mentor o’ mine, the inimitable Michael Masterson. The letter was, well, weak. Michael took control of the call and made a series of what I thought were brilliant suggestions. We all concurred, except for the freelancer.

After the critique was over, the receiving end of the call went conspicuously silent. “Hello?” we said, thinking he’d slipped on a kumquat or something equally plausible.

“Mail it,” he said. “Mail it and see if it works? Then I’ll revise it.” Clearly, he was peeved.

Not, dear reader, the protocol of a copywriter seeking much repeat business. This guy, no matter how slighted by the review, clearly lost his cool. With some guys, there’s nothing you can do. Their skin is so thin, you could pop it with a tossed marshmallow.

But here’s the thing…

While I despised that copywriter’s behavior, it does occur to me now that, at some level I couldn’t help but sympathize.

No, not all copywriters are the egoists and temperamental “artistes” like this guy might have been. But we are only human. Good copywriters put a lot of work goes into what they produce. Great ones put a little heart and soul into it too.

By the time we’re finished the first draft, we’re connected with the result. In such a way that criticism — even the good kind — can’t help but set one back at least a little bit.

The good writers, unlike our phone call friend, take it with a smile. But there’s a way to get an even better result. And it’s simple. You simply start with the positive.

Not excessively so, not insincerely. But clearly and immediately. “I liked the headline. And oh wow, the typing was nice. And hey, is this scented paper? Nice touch. Now, let’s talk about your lead. I think I see a way to make it even stronger.”

Pandering? Perhaps.

But what’s the goal of the critic? Is it to toughen the recipient’s skin or to get the best possible result?

(I, by the way, really DO think that the purest professionals become immune to most negative criticism. But when you’re in a situation where you’re giving direct review… still say this advice is going to get you further. Try it yourself and you’ll see. Or better yet, try the peer review technique perfected by my friends over at AWAI.)

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Ten Years After

flag memory wall signed 2 good-2.png

This has almost nothing to do with copywriting, but if you don’t mind — and even if you do — I’m going to continue anyway, yes?

See, these days, you’ll already seen and heard some heartbreaking tributes to the Twin Towers and, well, all that. I’d like to kick in for a second with a slightly alternate point of view.

First, let me say that… 9/11 happened.

When it did, I was just as deep in the moment as anybody We were in Paris at the time. With the time difference, it was already afternoon when the news crackled in over an office radio.

My French wasn’t good enough yet to understand what my French colleagues were wide-eyed and crying about. But knew it was something big.

“Excuse me for asking, John” said Luc, sounding a little more than panicked, “but where is your wife?”

My wife had been singing New York on the night of September 9. Her flight out was in the early afternoon the next day. So by the time the time that last “normal” morning dawned on Europe, she was already sleeping off jet lag in our apartment.

A plane, he explained, has hit one of the World Trade Towers. And then, “I’m sorry to say, but another plane has hit again.” I don’t know if Luc even knew anybody in Manhattan, but he looked close to tears as the newscasts came pouring in.

Just two months earlier, we’d moved to Paris, from a rented apartment in the Manhattan’s West Village. We had friends worked in or near the Towers.

All escaped injury except for one, a childhood friend of my youngest sister, who worked in a financial firm on a high floor. I hadn’t seen her since she was a little girl, maybe five or six years old. But at 25, apparently she ran marathons, always smiled, and was considered an “angel” by her friends.

She never made it out of the building.

Over the next few days, we stayed glued to CNN. Less than two weeks later, we were back in New York and in our apartment — we shared it with a part-time sublet — cleaning caked-up ash from the air-conditioner filter.

My mother sent an email message. “We’ve crossed a bridge,” she said. And there was no way to go back to the way it was just one day earlier. Of course, I had no idea then how right she would prove to be.

Over the next few years, anniversaries of 9/11 came and went. So did the news coverage, replete with montages and music, the amateur videos, and the purple prose. Fear and anger rose and fell, but never quite faded, eventually lapsing into a dull ache that would not go away.

And now, I too am tempted to sift through my pictures from that time. I had some shots I’d taken while we were visiting — of “Still Missing” posters, of piles of flowers, and of the withering wreck at Ground Zero.

I found some.

But I found something else too. Other photos from that same year, and a growing sense that there was a lot else subsumed by the shadows of that event. Other things well worth remembering. And it seemed only right that the best tribute to getting on with life, as one should after any tragedy, was to draw those memories back up to the surface too.

For instance, it happens that 2001 was the same year I started the e-letter behind this website. And 2001 is the year my wife and I got married, too. We had a great wedding and a gorgeous Italian honeymoon. Months later, when we moved to Paris, armed with less than 10 words of French. But we made do.

On the more painful side, 2001 is the same year my wife lost her father. This was also not long after 9/11. We flew over in an almost empty airliner and went from the airport to his hospital bed, where he had gone into a coma after heart surgery. He died less than two hours later, surrounded by the family.

That same year, my father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was too late for conventional surgery, the doctor told him. But my mother found a breakthrough new procedure online. With radioactive iodine seeds and computer-mapped blasts of radiation. Only one center in Atlanta performed it and he would have to move their for eight weeks. They did and it managed to buy him another 10 years.

In that time, he met all three of his grandchildren, took over a scholarship fund for fatherless boys in Philadelphia, and went on more than a few adventurous trips with my mother, including two visits to Paris. He stayed in touch with other patients in the center. Some didn’t survive as long. Others did. And today the procedure is a standard treatment.

It was spring of 2004 when our son was born. Our daughter followed two years later. We also added two more nieces and a nephew. Family members got married. And we took multiple great trips to London, Lisbon, Vienna, San Francisco, Barcelona and other places.

We made progress in French and made several friends in those same years. Tragically, we also said goodbye to two. (Cancer.) We learned enough of the language to get dangerous, but not enough that our bilingual don’t fail to correct us. Yet, somehow they still remain adorable.

In those ten years, I also wrote a few good promos, some books, and gave a lot of pretty good seminars. My income tripled and my savings grew tenfold. And we have, knock wood, stayed healthy.

But then, more terrible things happened too. From a heatwave that killed 40,000 in the EU… to the Boxing Day tsunami that killed over 200,000 in Asia… to earthquakes, Katrina, and two endless wars, the world took a beating. And we passed milestones of every shape and tenor.

One thing, though, you could not miss. That, while all tragedies remain tragedies, it was quickly clear that none exist in a vacuum, least of all 9/11. For awhile, it was the thing that sucked the life out of us. But now it seems different, like it’s life that’s overdue to absorb the event.

I say all this not to forget what happened. No doubt there’s pain that remains immediate to the 9/11 families. No doubt it’s altered the course of everything, in an infinitely more complex exercise of the butterfly effect.

But as we look back and dig into the photos and stories, as we re-open the old wounds, the question seems to present: at long last, is it time to place this one big memory in it’s space, relative to all those other things, rather than isolate it the way we have these year’s since?

Perhaps, I’m saying, it’s time to finish crossing that bridge; to step boldly, if greatly changed and more complicated, onto the other bank. Not to forget, but not to stop exploring whatever else there is.

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The Single Secret to Success?

mountainMy old friend Michael Masterson ran a fascinating piece of info, which he had picked up from a book by writer Tom Bay, about Harvard Business School Grads and their financial success — or lack of it. About 10 years after graduation from what’s supposed to be the echelon of rockin’ good business brilliance, here’s how the students’ status reports came in:

  • As many as 27% of them needed financial assistance.
  • A whopping 60% of them were living paycheck to paycheck.
  • A mere 10% of them were living comfortably.
  • And only 3% of them were financially independent.
  • How could that be?

    Shouldn’t a guy who paid top-dollar for Harvard wealth-making acumen get an automatic reserved place on the Forbes 400 list of worldwide wealthiest?  You would think. Yet, the reality proves different.

    So what was it that made or broke these genius grads?

    Per Michael and the book he borrowed this from, it was very simple.

    See if you can spot it in this next set of data from the same study…

    • The 27% that needed financial assistance had absolutely no goal-setting processes in their lives.
    • The 60% that were living paycheck to paycheck had only basic survival goals.
    • The 10% that were living comfortably had only general goals.
    • The 3% that were financially independent had written out their goals and the steps required to reach those goals.

    Really incredible, don’t you think?

    The difference between living on the dole or high-on-the-hog was, very simply, setting goals. And not just any goals, but actually working out the specific steps needed to achieve those goals over time.

    I mention this because, sure, it’s just as vital an insight to your copywriting career as it is to anything else you’ll try in life. But also because it gives me a chance to send you over to Michael’s blog, where you can also sign up for his e-letter, “Early To Rise.”

    You can find the original full article from Michael, right here.

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    How to Tell if You’re a “Natural Born” Copywriter

    friendly hand.pngA personal confession: I don’t just like being a copywriter. I also happen to like copywriters in general. As people, I mean. Why?

    Before you accuse me of being too kind to my own, consider.

    How many copywriters do you know that seem extra welcoming and easy-going, as well as willing to answer questions and offer advice?

    I know more than I can count.

    What’s more, speak with them once, and they’ll usually remember what you’ve talked about. Introduce somebody and they’ll be happy to shake hands. In restaurants, they almost never snarl at a waiter. And I don’t know a single one among them who would ever kick a dog.

    Every profession demands or at least cultivates certain character trains. Why should the copywriting field be any different?

    For instance, I’ve found almost across the board that those colleagues of mine who happen to have those qualities… also seem to do better over the long run as copywriters.

    Why? Simply because you need that insight into other people and what they’re thinking about to write all the best kinds of copy.

    There’s a dark side to the typical copywriter personality, of course. At least in direct response, everything we do is measured to the penny. It either works or it doesn’t. And everybody notices, either way.

    We’re hired, fired, and respected based almost entirely on performance. That can make one more than a little self-conscious. Even defensive and arrogant. In a debate, we can also be stubborn — simply because we spend so many working hours piling up proofs to back our claims.

    What else have I noticed about copywriting types?

    I’ve yet to meet a good copywriter who doesn’t have a good sense of humor, even though humor is something so rarely used — at least overtly — in direct-response sales writing.

    And not just a passion for jokes. “It’s dry,” says my wife. We’re also observant. But sometimes, observant to a fault. That is, we can get caught up in subsets of details… while even bigger trends and events blow right past us, simply because they exist outside of whatever we’re focused on at the time.

    Most copywriters I know also read widely. Some read history books, others read blockbusters, still more are sponges for trade journals, news clips, blogs, and popular magazines.

    We like movies. And music.

    In fact, we’re generally drawn to popular culture, even more than most, because it’s yet another way to soak up what our target markets are talking about.

    Strangely, a lot of copywriters I’ve talked to don’t watch much TV, even though that flies in the face of what I’ve just said. Why?

    Again, I can’t say for sure. But I can guess. TV eats up time, but gives back little in exchange. It’s also addictive. And that’s something else about copywriters. Like a lot of other writers, we can have slightly addictive or compulsive personalities.

    Not necessarily the usual compulsions, either.

    For instance, a lot of the copywriters I know are collectors. Of everything from puns and trivia… to chateaus and high-priced automobiles. For me, there was awhile there that I couldn’t help buying cheap used guitars. Until I acquired a few nice ones.

    Which is another thing… I don’t know why, but easily 8 out of every 10 copywriters I know seem to play an instrument. And more often than not, that instrument is the guitar.

    Not all of us are good, mind you. But we at least appreciate music. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve sat past 2 am, muddling my way through Dylan and Stones covers with fellow writers.

    Copywriters are also a curious bunch.

    By that I mean, we tend to be especially inquisitive. About everything. Even those things we’ll never write about.

    David Ogilvy once said that curiosity was the key trait he looked for when hiring a writer. Be warned, if you don’t like asking questions, this might not be the field for you.

    We’re storytellers. In print or conversation, copywriters love to default to the story form. Sometimes, more often than our listeners can stand.

    The same goes for analogies.

    We make — or should I say test — a lot of them. Analogy lies close to the core of creativity. A good analogy can make a complex idea sound simple. It can make an unfamiliar idea feel like an old friend. That doesn’t mean we always get the analogy right. But you can bet that when we don’t, we’ll try again.

    A handful of the copywriters I know are doodlers or artists, yours truly included. That’s not a universal trait in this industry. But common enough to make it worth mentioning.

    I think it’s because copywriting demands an especially strong mix of both left and right brain thinking. During the research mode, you’re all strategy and calculation. But then you need to jump to the other side of the divide, where your passion for the rhythm of word-craft resides.

    Not everybody can do both.

    Copywriters can be extroverted, but most that I know are not. On the other hand, we rarely shy away from a debate. We’ve got deeply felt opinions on everything, including a few things we don’t know much about… yet.

    This list could go on.

    But you more than get the picture.

    There’s plenty about this trade that can be taught. But even the best techniques and tools aren’t worth much unless you’ve got the right kind of knack for this career in the first place. I’d be cheating you if I told you otherwise.

    But let’s say you’re not at all like the person I’ve just described, but you still want to find your footing in this profession? No worries. Just like everything else, there’s always the option to simply do your thing and let the market decide.

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    Ego-Butter: How to Give a Copy Critique

    redink.png I’ve gotten a few copy critiques in my day. I crave them, no matter how harsh, because that’s what makes the writing better.

    I’ve also given a few copy critiques, too. And I’ve discovered that when I’m on the handler side of the red pen, there’s one essential element to making those recommendations more effective: “ego butter.”

    Let me back up.

    Some years ago, I was part of a conference call with a freelance copywriter. He’d been commissioned for a small job, which was tweaking the lift letter on a much larger, longer control (one I’d written, in fact).

    Leading the call was friend and mentor o’ mine, the inimitable Michael Masterson. The letter was, well, weak. Michael took control of the call and made a series of what I thought were brilliant suggestions. We all concurred, except for the freelancer.

    After the critique was over, the receiving end of the call went conspicuously silent. “Hello?” we said, thinking he’d slipped on a kumquat or something equally plausible.

    “Mail it,” he said. “Mail it and see if it works? Then I’ll revise it.” Clearly, he was peeved. Not, dear reader, the protocol of a copywriter seeking much repeat business.

    This guy, no matter how slighted by the review, clearly lost his cool. And with that, he also lost a repeat client. It was really too bad, because I distinctly remember plenty of high-paying work to go around. With some guys, there’s nothing you can do. Their skin is so thin, you could pop it with a tossed marshmallow.

    But here’s the thing…

    While I despised that copywriter’s behavior, it does occur to me now that, at some level I couldn’t help but sympathize.

    See, while not all copywriters are the egoists and temperamental “artistes” like this guy might have been, there are reasons why — if you’re on the critiquing side of a creative exchange — you might want to take the writer’s position into consideration.

    First, remember we’re only human. Remember too that good copywriters put a lot of work goes into what they produce. They spend a lot of time with it too.

    By the time we’re finished the first draft, we’re connected with the result. In such a way that criticism — even the good kind — can’t help but set one back at least a little bit.

    Again, if you’re a great writer and a smart one, you’ll take even the sharpest comments with a smile. But on the flip side, if you really want results from a hired gun copywriter, there’s a step you could take to get much better results. And it won’t cost you a dime.

    Very simply, start with the positive. Not excessively so, not insincerely. But clearly and immediately.

    Example: “I liked the headline. And oh wow, the typing was nice. And hey, is this scented paper? Nice touch. Now, let’s talk about your lead. I think I see a way to make it even stronger.”

    Okay, of course I’m kidding here.

    The point is, if the copy is salvageable, there’s something in it you like. Don’t save it for last. Talk about it up front. You can be honest about the stuff you don’t like to. But lower the resistance to your suggestions first.

    Is that pandering? Perhaps.

    But ask yourself, in any situation alike this, what’s the goal of the critique? Is it your aim only To toughen the writer’s skin… or are you out to get the best possible copy you can get?

    The latter, I’d assume.

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    A Surprising Storytelling Secret

    stories book.png I recently gave a Skype interview on how to use stories to make sales.

    I’m sure you guys know, I’ve talked about this a few times in my weekly e-letter (see the sign up box on this page).

    We even had a full chapter on it, in the book “Great Leads,” which I wrote with copy mentoring great, Michael Masterson.

    (I swear to you — it’s *finally* going up on Amazon.com, sometime this week. I’ll get you a link as soon as there’s one available.)

    I had a great time doing the interview. Enough that I kept thinking of things I wanted to add, long after finishing the call.

    I’d just come across a few great tips, for instance, from a semi-surprising source (though not so surprising when you think about it): Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the cartoon South Park.

    Parker and Stone popped in on a freshman writing class at NYU –where yours truly also studied some screenwriting — to talk for a few minutes about how they keep their story ideas compelling.

    One secret they offer is… get yourself a deadline. A hard, serious one that drives you. Stone and Parker write an episode per week. “We’ve got a scary deadline every Thursday morning.”

    Another tip I’m sure you’ve heard before, which is to put your ideas out there quickly. Don’t wait until they’re fully baked. And when they get out there, make sure you’ve got a roomful of critics who understand they need shaping, rather than critics who will just shoot the idea down.

    First ideas are rarely amazing.

    And here’s the tip I like best. When you’re writing out a story to sell, to tell, or whatever… look for what writers call the “story beats.”

    These are the spots where you plot twists and turns, the angles on which you frame an outline.

    Once you have those beats, read through and see if you can put the phrase “and then” between each beat.

    If you can… that’s a problem. Every “and then” is a moment where you could lose your reader (or viewer) to some distraction.

    Better is writing that turns on the phrases “therefore” or “but.” That is, every moment in the story either forces the next one, creating continuity, or flips away from the last “beat” in a way that creates tension.

    In selling, the stories you’re telling are usually short, just long enough to illustrate an idea or sneak in a proof or promise.

    But this is a good way to think about your copy throughout, too. That is, is your sales letter just one long string of disconnected sales points? Or does it follow a flow that your reader can’t swim against?

    And just when they think they know where you’re headed, are you waking them back up with a rhetorical explosion or “twist” of their expectations?

    Something worth thinking about.

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    7 MORE Ways to Thank Your Customers Like You Mean It

    8C6AB08B-CD89-47B3-92BC-7D8F3BEEEEA1.jpg In the last post, we figured out how to heap lots of “thanks” upon the plates of our best customers.

    And yet, like a plump uncle, the customers sidle up to the table for more. Should we give it to ’em?

    Sure, why not.

    Without further ado — and all the microwaved gravy you can stand — please enjoy the second half of our “14 Ways to Thank Your Customers Like You Mean It” article from last week.

    (And numbered accordingly…)

    8 ) THANK-YOU “COUPONS” FOR THE NEXT PURCHASE – Okay, this one is a little self-serving, you might say. Your customer places and order and what’s his prize? Other than your excellent product, he also gets an offer for the next great deal.

    Maybe it’s a half-off future purchases, maybe a break for his friends and family, maybe an invitation to get a free “refill” of some kind or some kind of free servicing agreement.

    This, of course, encourages them to come back to you again. But it could also help them feel good — justifiably so — about being loyal to a company that believes in its own product (and why wouldn’t you?)

    9) THROW IN FREE SHIPPING – Awhile back, my wife signed up for “Amazon Prime,” the club-like service from Amazon.com that gets you free shipping.

    It’s a great deal if you shop a lot online (we do). And it always feels like a “thank you” reward, even though we pay to have that perk.

    But even more importantly, guess where she goes first now for most of our online shopping? Testing by other businesses too also show that “free shipping” is a powerful addition to offers.

    Even better, try a phrase like, “As my way of saying thank you, I’ll even cover your shipping costs. You’ll pay nothing.”

    10) MAKE IT PERSONAL – If you’re open to giving a big discount anyway, why not ‘translate’ the savings into a thoughtful thank you gift?

    That is, instead of mentioning the discounted sales price, offer the lower price plus a gift of equal value. Depending on what you’re selling, that could be anything.

    A small gift basket with a thank you note, a bag of gourmet coffee, a corkscrew in a fancy case, or something else that matters to your prospect.

    If it’s a really big-ticket item or you have a small but big-spendin’ client base, you could make the gift even nicer or more personal.

    I recently read a note about a real estate broker who gave a house buyer some fine wine glasses. He says the realtors name comes up — and gets praised — every time he and his wife have friends over for dinner.

    (For an even more complete example of this idea at work, see today’s “Second CR” article later in this issue.)

    11) THANK THEM PUBLICLY – I don’t know what it is about the human animal, but we do crave our fame.

    So why not give weight to a thank you by doing it publicly? Honor loyal customers on your website, honor success stories that feature your product, and just brag generally about your customers like you like them (as you should).

    Try posting video interviews of customers on your website, feature them in ads, and just generally be proud like a parent, hanging their proverbial ‘work’ on your public refrigerator.

    12) SURVEY WITH CARE – If you’ve read past CR issues, you know I’m not crazy about customer surveys.

    They have their uses, for sure. But they’re often as confusing as they are useful, especially when the questions are written poorly.

    However, there IS a way to send your customer base a survey that can make them better customers.

    How? Simply by making it clear the survey is not about how to make them buy better, but how to give them a better product or service to enjoy.

    In short, show you care. And follow up on that display, when you can, by finding the prospects that reply with unsolved problems… and solve them.

    13) INVITE THEM OVER – Here’s an interesting way to “thank” loyal customers. Find out who they are and invite some of them over, specifically to celebrate their loyalty. Done right, there’s a good chance they’ll buy from you again. But the pictures you take at the event and post online could help show other prospects what a friendly business you are.

    14) GET THEIR BACKS – In times of urgency that relates to your product, like say a financial meltdown or anything else newsy, put together a timely “summit” of your house experts.

    Then record what they talk about and give it to customers out of the blue. Make it a surprise, to show you’re looking out for them and anticipating their questions and concerns.

    You could tailor this idea for just about any kind of information product and plenty that aren’t.

    And one more…

    Bonus Idea – GIVE THEM WHAT THEY PAID FOR+ – What business would purposely deliver less than they sold? Sadly, plenty. And that’s partly why new customers are often a tough sell… because they’ve been jaded before.

    But what better way to thank your customers for doing business with you… than by insisting on doing business with them at the highest quality level?

    It’s the deal we make when offer something to somebody and ask for money in return. Better still if you can over-deliver.

    So there you go.

    Do these things or even some of them, and you could end up with some seriously grateful customers.

    And isn’t that where you want to be?

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    Why Only Some People Are “Creative”

    homer.jpg On D-Day, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops pulled off the largest invasion in history, forcing their way into Nazi-occupied Europe.

    Strategy was key. So was equipment.

    But the real mettle of the moment came from the soldiers staging the invasion.

    This included, naturally, pilots who had to navigate a sky thick with German anti-aircraft fire.

    Long before the invasion, military strategists knew this would happen. They also knew they needed top-notch fliers.

    At first, they tried using intelligence tests to pick candidates. But intelligence alone as an indicator turned out to be useless in determining which pilots would be inventive enough, in a tight situation, not just to save themselves but also to save their airplanes.

    Creative cognitive ability, it turned out, was only partly connected with smarts. Around the same time, a psychologist from the University of Southern California identified the crucial difference between convergent and divergent thinking.

    Convergent thinking is the kind we’re used to on I.Q. tests and in math and science textbooks. It’s a way to find the single, logical, and usually most orthodox solution to a problem.

    Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is more widely cast. It searches many routes, finds many solutions, and then might settle on one or the other depending on what the situation dictates.

    The best fighter pilots, not so surprisingly, were those more adept at divergent thinking. When the context required, creative survival tactics prevailed.

    So if it’s not IQ that matters, what is it that makes one person a convergent thinker and another person a divergent or more creative thinker?

    Another study reported in Scientific American relates the story of a 43-year old art teacher in San Francisco. For most of her life, she had been a painter. She even took a job teaching art later in life.

    But suddenly, she could no longer do her job. Lesson plans confused her. She couldn’t grade projects. When she could no longer remember her student’s names, she retired and took her troubles to a neurologist.

    He did a brain scan and found dementia damage to her frontal and temporal lobes, mostly on the left side of her brain.

    The teacher gradually lost some speech abilities. She also lost some control of herself in social situations, both of which are common with this kind of neuron damage.

    But something else happened.

    As her inhibitions in public waned, her creative powers grew. Her art grew more prolific, emotional, and expressive.

    The neurologist dug deep into research on the disorder and found others who also had new bursts of creativity after the damage had set in, even in some who had never before been artistic or considered themselves “creative” before.

    What’s this mean? No, I’m not saying that a little brain damage is something to hope for if you want to up your creativity.

    But I’m sure you heard, by now, you’ve heard that there are “right-brained” and “left-brained” people. The idea is that “left-brained” people are the type you’d expect to find at, say, your accounting firm’s Christmas party.

    “Right-brained” people, on the other hand, tend to be more artistic and possibly a little eccentric or scattered. Like, say, the bulk of ex-poets and actors working the tables at your local coffee shop.

    Like most generalizations, this isn’t quite right.

    While many of us have a bias in either creative or rational powers, the fact is that most people have both halves of their brain kicking into gear most of the time.

    On the left-side, we’re processing details and performing convergent thinking. On the right side, we’re applying abstract associations between details, the work of divergent thinking.

    Stroke patients who lose power on the left side of their brains tend to lose logic and language, but may suddenly become more creative. Patients who suffer right-side damage may be seem creative but also might seem more uninhibited or scattered.

    The good news is that both left and right brain can work together to produce a result that’s both logical AND creative.

    Take Einstein. Certainly, he had incredible powers of logic and process. He did the math, just as it had been done before he came along. But he also made the leap to creativity, finding new mathematical associations nobody else had recognized before.

    Here’s the better news…

    While few of us want a touch of neuron damage… and almost none of us, surely, were born an Einstein…

    There actually ARE ways you can increase your creative function. And many of them simply have to do with channeling the filtering function of your left-brain.

    One very simple way is just to keep reminding yourself to approach most moments in your life with curiosity.

    Another is to consistently reset your attitudes toward convention. That is, simply repeat to yourself that the way things have always been done is not necessarily the way the always have to be done.

    There there’s what researchers call “detail fermentation.” That’s a fancy way of saying, “do your homework.” It’s also the explanation I typically give when I tell people I don’t believe in “writer’s block.”

    That is, when you fill your mind with facts and data and details relevant to the ideas you’re trying to create, the more likely you are to succeed at creating them.

    Somehow, satisfying the left brain’s hunger for logic and process first… allows it to relax and let the right brain step in to find the overall creative associations between those details.

    Einstein did this while searching for “E=MC2.” For years, he studied not just physics and mathematics, but astronomy and philosophy and other fields too.

    So the next time you’re feeling like a failure creatively, before you give up try this tapping into this technique instead: Stop, drop, and study.

    Dig into the facts and materials you have to work with. Then, and only then, see if the bigger and better ideas come.

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    #486: A Sweet, Dark History of the Promise Lead

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    candies.pngYou’ll remember from the last post, I’m showing you guys some of the raw material for a book on six types of leads.

    And we’ve been looking at what my co-author Michael Masterson and I call the “Promise Lead.”

    Admittedly, this is a tough one.

    Why, you ask?

    (Don’t look at me all confused like that… I HEARD you ask something… right?)

    After all, don’t ALL sales leads have a promise implied inside them somewhere?

    Yes, they do.

    And we said as much last week.

    But haven’t pure, flat-out promises been so overexposed in sales leads that the world is chock-a-block with skeptics who no longer hear said promises anymore?

    Yes, that too is true. Well, mostly true.

    My take on that last point is this: First, Promise Leads work very well with a certain kind of customer.

    No, dear reader, not the stupid ones.

    They work best, rather, with a prospect that’s sitting on the fence… ready to buy, but still awaiting that last nudge.

    Any more ready, and you’d just hit them with a juicy “Offer Lead,” right out of the gate.

    Any less ready, and you’d try something a little more subtle first, so as to shut down those filters we all wear to guard against an onslaught of too-much-the-same, unbelievable messages.

    But in those moments, with an almost-ready prospect, busting through the saloon doors armed with a big promise can be an excellent choice.

    So this week, let’s pick up where we left off.

    Again, this is raw stuff… fresh out of the oven, not yet dressed for the table. Proceed at your own risk…

    How a Promise Made This Candy Famous

    When writing a Promise Lead, where should you start?

    The default for most marketers is to study the product and just figure out what it can do best. We’ve all heard, after all, the lesson about “features” versus “benefits.” First you make a list of the products best features, and then you translate those into what they will do for the customer.

    Simple.

    It’s a lesson you may have heard connected before with one of the most successful product pitches in history. Forrest E. Mars grew up in candy maker’s house. And with some big shoes to fill. His father’s home business grew to invent and sell some of the world’s most famous candy bars, including Snickers, Mars Bars, and Milky Ways.

    But Forrest’s father didn’t want to expand the business and Forrest, fresh home from Yale University, did. So he sold his share in the business back to Dad and moved to Europe. That’s where he took up with other candy makers.

    It’s also where he first spotted the breakthrough that would help change the chocolate business, the course of World War II, and millions of kids’ birthday parties — and indirectly, the advertising industry.

    It was a tiny pellet of chocolate, wrapped in a candy shell, found in the field kits of soldiers fighting the Spanish Civil War. The chocolate gave them quick energy, the shell kept it from melting under harsh conditions.

    We know it now, of course, as the M&M.

    Forrest took it back to the States and patented his own formula for the candy in 1941. Within a year, the U.S. was committed to World War II. And not long after, M&Ms made their way into soldiers’ field rations. When the soldiers came home, the candies were a hit with the general public.

    But sales were about to get even bigger.

    Forrest realized that television — making it’s way into the mainstream at that time — was the next place he wanted to go to sell M&Ms. He hired a copywriter named Rosser Reeves to do it. It turned out to be another groundbreaking move.

    Reeves, at the time, was already a success. He was both copy chief and vice president of his agency in New York. But when he sat down with Forrest Mars to talk candy, he listened and took notes like a first-year copywriter.

    “He was the one who said it,” claimed Reeves in the version we’ve heard told. “He told me the whole history and then I pressed him and he said, ‘Well, the thing is they only melt in your mouth, but they don’t melt in your hands.'”

    That was all Reeves needed.

    Within four years, Mars was selling one million pounds of M&Ms per week. M&Ms have since gone on Space Shuttle flights with astronauts. They’ve been the official candy of the Olympics. And according to Business Week, they’re the best-selling candy in the world.

    Mars died at ate 95 in 1999, with a $4 billion fortune. And his candy company takes in over $20 billion per year, with 30,000 employees worldwide.

    It’s no accident that Reeves went on to his own kind of fame. And not just because Reeves happens to be the real-life model for the character of Don Draper on TV’s series, Mad Men.

    You might know him even better, after all, as the father of what every copy cub and professional advertiser memorizes as the “Unique Selling Proposition” or “U.S.P.”

    To Find the Promise, Find This First…

    When Reeves first wrote about it the U.S.P. in his book Reality in Advertising, he was writing down the formula you can use to write any effective Promise Lead.

    Reeves formula had three parts.

    The first part, for Reeves, also meant starting with the product. And only if that product was actually good enough to almost sell itself. As a preacher’s son, Reeves was fundamentally honest and felt all advertising should be too. The product must be able to do what you’ll say it can do.

    But an even better reason for starting with the product is the second part of Reeve’s formula. What the product does and by default will claim to do has to be original. That is, the best products do something competitors won’t or can’t. That’s key because the U.S.P. — the promise you’ll make — has to sound and feel different from everything your prospect has heard before, too.

    Then there’s the final part of Reeve’s formula. This is the one most forgotten, but it’s impossible to overlook if you’ve got any hope of coming up with a powerful promise. Every promise must target your prospect’s core desire. That is, they have to already want what you’re promising.

    This is worth repeating.

    Reeves believed, and so do we, that you can’t create desire in a customer. You can only awaken what’s already there. This is especially true in a pure Promise Lead, where you have nothing but the claim pulling all the weight. The more tightly you can target those core desires, the more likely your ad will work.

    It’s that simple.

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    Can You Judge a Customer By His Cover?

    apple.png Or maybe that title should read: “Can you judge a customer by his… computer?”

    You’d have to live on the moon to have missed Apple’s long running ad campaign, “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC.” It was textbook psychographic targeting, associating the product with a personality type.

    It worked, but why?

    Maybe this will help explain:

    In a recent study (I’m afraid I no longer have access to the source) it turns our more than half of Mac users live in the big city. Meanwhile, PC people are about 18% more likely to live in the burbs and 21% more likely to live in the countryside.

    By a wide margin (50% more), Mac people love to throw parties. Or at least say they do. While about 23% of PC people say they’d rather not.

    However, nearly 30% of PC people like to fit in with the group. Not so with Mac people, who tend to crave their own “uniqueness,” generally speaking.

    PC people lean more to cake and candy snacks. Mac people? They’re about 7% more likely to go for peanuts and potato chips.

    PC people tend to like tuna fish sandwiches more. Mac people supposedly favor bistro-type fries.

    If you’re PC, you’re more likely to drink California Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. If you’re Mac, you’ll crack open a Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon instead.

    Believe it or not, Mac people are more likely to think of themselves as tech-savvy nerds.

    PC users are 43% more likely, meanwhile, to feel about as comfortable with computers as they are with learning a foreign language. Or so says the poll.

    Who watches more “60 Minutes?” The Mac users. And who watches “20/20?” That would be our friends on the PC.

    “Moby Dick” is more a Mac novel. And “Great Expectations” leans more toward the PC.

    And on it goes.

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