In 2010 I took on the most challenging sales job of my life. I started teaching biology to inner-city kids at a pilot school near downtown Los Angeles. I wanted to sell them on learning.
The trouble I quickly discovered is that our school system isn’t really helping students to learn anything. We’re really making them memorize things, and not doing a very good job at this, either.
Dr. Derek Cabrera does a great job of outlining the problem in this TED Talk:
If you ask almost any teacher, they’ll say kids aren’t motivated. Ahah! So education is a marketing problem! Or is it?
If kids don’t like school, what kinds of things do they enjoy doing, and what makes those things enjoyable? What’s going on in someone’s head when they’re playing golf, climbing Half Dome, or listening to a symphony? It turns out there’s a lot of scientific research on this stuff.
Marketing by Neuroscience
Let me give you one last marketing secret before this becomes a rant about brain science. When people are actively engaged in facing a challenge, solving a problem, improving their game or learning something truly new, the body produces dopamine and other rewarding chemicals.
This brain candy is natural. It’s not only good for you, it makes you want to do more of the activity that produced it. This is the reason video games, music, good movies and similar kinds of stimulation have such a hold on us. More to the point, it holds a powerful potential both for selling/marketing and for teaching and learning.
I’m officially employed as a teacher (for now), so I use this same info in a different way:
Magic happens when a student is actively thinking about a lesson, solving problems and not merely memorizing facts and procedures. They start to think more actively and clearly, and this active thinking triggers the same biochemical alchemy that makes things like skiing or Minecraft so much fun.
Control your mind and nobody else will control it for you
This summer I spent over 50 hours in trainings about how to teach students in a way that engages more of their brain, helping them learn to think clearly and building motivation to do more of this. I stumbled upon a fantastic, under-appreciated phenomenon:
You can actively monitor and control the way you think about something. There’s an emerging branch of science around this ability, known as metacognition. Metacognition literally means “thinking about thinking.”
When you practice metacognition, you put yourself in the driver’s seat. You can actively take control of the processes that take place in your brain. This might be the greatest discovery since yogis mastered meditation and breathing six thousand years ago. Your skills, intelligence, and even the physical health of your brain can improve by leaps and bounds.
I’m starting a new project. I’m building a team of tutors who will teach students how to practice metacognition. You can see the preliminary stages of this work here. We’re going to start a revolution in the way kids learn and think. We’ll soon overcome the entrenched, fossilized old ways of our public school system.
In the meantime, I have something for you that might be even better.
On my other website, you can begin getting tips on metacognitive practices. I’ve presented these as “study tips” for students, teachers, and (hopefully) the parents of students. But really they’re all about getting your brain in better shape, learning faster, and becoming aware of how to learn better.
If you’re interested, you can sign up for it all right here:
This was a gruff, hard-to-reach guy who I was calling to help out an old client. He was known to deal with programming code better than with people. Within fifteen minutes he had done everything I needed from him.
He also reminded me of something I had started to forget about persistence.
Before the big-shot company president took my call, I left a total of three–count them, three–messages with his receptionist. This was hardly a Herculean effort, but to his mind, I had been “relentless.” He isn’t used to someone making three attempts to reach him. This was such unusual behavior that he considered it relentlessness.
What this tells me is that most people give up after the first call.
I’m lazy, but it seems that most people are lazier than me. And this means you’ve got yet another reason to do what you already know you should.
If you’re in marketing, sales, or really any profession in which you have to get other people to do things, you can easily place yourself above your rivals. Just keep going. Be persistent. It seems that most people won’t do this.
You’ve probably heard the statistic that it takes seven contacts to make a sale. I don’t know of any actual research to back this up, but it’s a good principal. Back in my freelancing days, it was normal to do business with a client after sometimes a year or two of calls, postcards, and email. Most of my competitors gave up before they were even tired, and soon I would be the only one left.
You know that persistence pays off, even if you don’t yet know it in the core of your being, even if it’s not yet tattooed on the inside of your medulla oblongata. You’ve heard people say it enough. Get the tattoo.
The lesson I’m trying to give you here is that it doesn’t always take as much persistence as you’d think. Just be persistent once or twice, and you’ll soon be labelled “relentless.”
Relentlessness gets things done. Relentlessness is persistence that talks.
But I think they’ve got a bright career ahead of them.
When you feel down in the core of your being that people owe you something, you’ll be able to ask for it with conviction every time. And you won’t take “no” for an answer.
Napoleon Hill wrote a story about this in his famous book, Think and Grow Rich. A young black girl had to ask a white man for fifty cents. This was in the South, in the days of Jim Crow laws and other injustices. The man repeatedly told the girl to leave, but she persisted. Finally he threatened her with violence, but just before he struck the blow she looked in his eyes and shouted, “MY MAMMY’S GOTTA HAVE THAT FIFTY CENTS!” (Hill uses all capital letters in this story)
The man was defeated by the little girl’s conviction and will power. He handed over the money and left her alone.
Chutzpah always wins. And it can be cultivated.
Think of the guy sitting on the sidewalk with a paper cup and a cardboard box, asking you for spare change. You’re getting something for your money. A smile, good karma, the feeling you helped someone, or at least the peace of this guy leaving you alone once you pay up.
He talks to hundreds of people a day. He faces rejection more than a dozen times every hour. Yet he persists. I’ve had people follow me down the street just to get a quarter. The clever ones have an answer to every objection I raise.
This is excellent sales training.
But the real secret, I think, is that some people truly believe you owe them. They have a right to your money. They are entitled to it. This belief can make you rich.
If you just can’t psych yourself up to feel entitled to something, Zig Ziglar offers another way. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically he said, “I’ve got your product here in my car, you’ve got my money in your pocket, and I ain’t leaving until you get your product and I get my money!”
This is actually an essential attitude if you’re in sales, or really if you own any kind of business at all. If you believe the person is entitled to your product, and you demand reasonable compensation for it, then you’re unstoppable.
If I ever need to hire and train a salesman, I might start looking in skid row.
There’s a quote attributed to Thoreau, although I haven’t managed to verify it. He says:
Life is a series of experiments. The more experiments, the better.
This always resonated with me, even before I became a science teacher. Almost everything significant you do is a simple matter of asking, “What will happen if I …” and then you fill in the dots with some kind of action and see how your question answers itself. This is how businesses are started. How Nobel Prizes are won.
I once watched an 8th grader systematically tap a pencil on his desk, on the wall, on the radiator, and on his shoe. He got a different sound out of each one of these. With enough time and ambition, he could have written a new song. Some people would scold me for “not doing my job” because I didn’t make him stop playing and finish writing up his lab report.
I’d respond that my job is to encourage this creativity and experimentation.
At my best, I’m still experimenting. And therefore, the reason for this post. I’ve got a lot of experiments in the pipeline, each of which perhaps deserves its own category. I’ll be inventing new products to promote just as a way of honing my copywriting and marketing skills. At some point I’ll find a means of direct selling, Zig Ziglar style, and you’ll read the blogs here.
Or better yet, don’t read this blog. Go out and do your own experiments. Lick the terminals of a transistor battery. Have a scoop of vanilla ice cream in your beer. Come up with new, creative ideas that will improve our lives and enable you to have the lifestyle you want.
As for me, I’m going to think up new products and services, one at a time, and promote them by applying everything I thought I knew, everything I need to know, and everything new I learn about selling, marketing and copywriting. Wish me luck, eh?
It’s been years since I’ve posted anything on this site. Literally. It’s a brave new world, and I’ll try to be quick about what I’ve been doing and why you should care.
We’re slowly emerging from the second worst economic period in our nation’s history. You can point your fingers where you will–blame the bankers, the Fed, the mortgage brokers–but ultimately this whole thing happened because we let it happen.
Some people should have known better. Most people didn’t, and that’s a brutal condemnation of our culture, our educational institutions, and what we’re teaching kids about business and economics. Masses of consumers bought houses they couldn’t afford, ran up debts they couldn’t pay.
Sure, the banks and the government made it easy to do this. Sure, some unscrupulous sales people encouraged everybody. But if most Americans had been smarter with their money, the crisis of 2008 could have been largely averted.
I’m on a mission to make Americans smarter.
In 2010 I turned down a project from an old and trusted client (and believe me, I really needed the money) in order to teach biology at a pilot school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in L.A.
I very quickly saw that virtually nobody in our public school system knows about marketing, how to start and run a business, how to sell anything (including your own services). “Entrepreneur” may as well be a French word. None of my students or colleagues knew what it means.
Last year I enrolled in an intensive, accelerated teaching credential program. I am now fully authorized to teach science. As soon as I get a teaching job I’m going to teach biotechnology. And self-direction. How to argue for your ideas and, more importantly, how to sell them.
There are others like me. Education is going through a revolution, and when we finally change the way people learn and the skills they develop, it will change society. There are entrepreneur teachers out there, not many of us but it’s a growing movement. You won’t find an organization (at least not that I’m aware of) but you’ll find us one by one on LinkedIn, Edmodo, and brave little blogs like this one.
I’m on the faculty for an online, entrepreneurial educational program called the Ron Paul Curriculum. I’m not fully aligned politically with RPC and the people running it, but what they’re trying to accomplish is important and inspiring. I’m honored and excited and grateful to be a part of it.
We need to teach the future Generations about self-direction, personal responsibility and empowerment. This is orders of magnitude more important than standardized tests.
Becoming a teacher is the toughest marketing job I’ve ever taken on. I have to win the hearts and minds of students and their parents. I have to sell my ideas to administrators. I’ll be doing some things no other teacher has ever done, using every marketing tool I’ve got in my arsenal, and of course constantly learning.
I don’t know what my “day job” is going to be a month from now. Even if I’m not in a classroom, even if I’m managing the social media for some new startup, I’ll still be teaching in one way or another. I’ve got my own new website in addition to the Ron Paul curriculum.
On some level, marketers have always been teachers. Now teachers have to be marketers. And entrepreneurs. I’m going to help them all find a way. I’m going to create outstanding learning opportunities for students, parents, and teachers around the world.
If you want to follow along on the adventure, check back here from time to time, or subscribe to Bold Words. I’ll soon be resurrecting that venerable publication, and I’ve got some surprises in store that will curl your ears.
I found a new technique based on an old marketing trick I read about a few years back in Response magazine.
The magazine article suggested testing a few different marketing messages with radio ads. Each ad should have a toll-free number, a website, or some other way that people could resonse. The response for each ad needs to be different, so you can compare the response from each of your radio spots.
Once you’ve found a clear winner, you can use it to unroll a more comprehensive (and expensive) marketing campaign.
The take-away from all of this is to test your copy and your marketing ideas with cheap media. This keeps your expenses down. Then you can raise the stakes once you have marketing copy that has already been proven.
But even a simple radio ad will cost your company thousands of dollars. So here’s an even easier way to test your copy, your offer, and possibly generate some leads in the process.
Start with a sales letter. This is the canon of all marketing, and I’ve mentioned it before. If you don’t have the resources to print and mail a sales letter, you can adapt the copy into a web page and draw traffic through AdWords, classified ads, cold calling, or many other tactics.
The reason I start with this model is because it’s the most inexpensive way to present and test a “hook” that will get the attention of your best prospects, address the pain that they’re feeling, provide a solution and break down your offering into a solution to their problem.
When you’ve tested a few different sales letters, you’ll have a clear picture of the best offer, the best hook, the most profitable markets for a project and a viable strategy for bringing it all together.
Testing a sales letter is the best way to tweak and test your message. Copy is the foundation of every effort. So once you’ve got it right, then you can re-apply it–with amplified results.
Is marketing irrelevant?
I just had a bizarre experience which convinced me that if your clients feel they’re getting real value, you’ll get their business. It doesn’t matter how incompetent, rude, or irrational you are.
It started with a mysteriously threatening letter I received from the City of Los Angeles. After some entertaining verbiage about “Protecting the interests of the city” the letter informed me that I was delinquent on a city tax.
When several phone calls failed to resolve the problem, I gathered up a sheaf of requested documents and went to City Hall to take care of the situation in person.
Protecting the Interests of the City, Part I
Once I found the right room, The woman behind the desk told me to take a number, even though there wasn’t anyone else waiting. She took a few minutes to make a call on her cell phone, and then called out three or for numbers ahead of mine. When my number came up, I approached the desk and was informed, “I can’t serve you until you place your number in the receptacle.”
I jumped through a few more hoops and then finally got to explain my situation. The woman behind the desk asked what kind of business I was in.
“I’m a copywriter.”
A blank, inquisitive, uncomprehending stare.
“I write marketing copy that businesses use on their websites to get more customers,” I explained, with all the confidence and enthusiasm I could muster.
“And people pay you money for that?”
“Isn’t that why I’m here?”
She scowled, sighed, rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Well, Mr. Bear,” she finally said, “It looks like we were unable to determine how much money you made, so the computer picked a random number and that’s the income you’re being taxed on.”
I took out my state and federal tax returns, printed records from QuickBooks, and showed her the correct figures. But when one item was still missing, she angrily shoved the folder back at me and demanded, “How could you NOT bring that?”
Don’t blame me, I’m the creative one…
Protecting the Interests of the City, Part II
In the end, I got everything sorted out. The City of Los Angeles has given me permission to continue to do business here, with the Mayor’s blessing. But there’s a useful marketing lesson here as well, and it isn’t the obvious one about good customer service
The truth is, the city of L.A. offers tremendous value to me, so I’ll happily pay whatever I’m reasonably determined to owe them.
Maybe we need bureaucracy. Surely I do. Let me explain.
The city supports a large industry of attorneys, CPAs, IT professionals and others to help people and businesses deal with situations like mine. These organizations hire numerous bicycle messengers, whose high-energy caffeine addictions support the coffee shops where I often ply my trade on a laptop. Better still, these organizations need copywriters, so they keep me in the green and allow me to pay taxes to the city. What comes around goes around.
Not to mention the woman of my dreams works for the City of L.A., makes less than half of what she’s worth, and manages to support several of her family members and a whole menagerie of cute, furry animals.
In fact, just the Los Angeles Public Library by itself has done more for me than 4 years of college. That’s worth giving a few bucks to the city.
What I’m saying is without any advertising, horrible PR and abysmal customer service the City of LA still retains me as a loyal customer because her numerous and elusive products and services are immensely valuable. I get my money’s worth. Value trumps marketing.
So here’s the bottom line. Be good at what you do. If your clients really feel you’re delivering great value, doing far more for you than the dollars they pay you, they’ll stay with you and protect your interest. Then use your copywriters and marketers to make the outrageous, irresistible promises that you know you can deliver.
Don’t tell anyone I revealed this. I’ll get enemies left and right. But here’s the reason I always talk about missing 20% of your best opportunities. Because even the best copy only accounts for 20% of your results. There are two other factors that are twice as important: Your list, and an offer.
But before you even get started writing copy, or especially before hiring someone else to write copy for you, get clear on the two things that may account for up to 80% of your marketing success: The right offer to the right people.
Be the demanding client for a moment, and let’s see how this works.
The backpacker principle
Suppose you’ve earned some free time, and you want to do something special. You’ve always wanted to go backpacking in the remote parts of Hawaii. You want to climb volcanoes and watch them erupt at night. Hey, you’re even going to sleep in a lava tube if you get the chance.
Four hundred travel agents are competing for your business. But they’re not all on a level playing field. After some initial research, you start getting emails from 100 travel agents that are based in Hawaii, and specialize in travel there.
Which one will you choose? Out of 100 possible agents, fifty of them advertise on outdoor adventure websites. You now have 50 agencies that specialize in outdoor Hawaiian adventures. They know where to find the most comfortable lava tube beds. They can get your camping gear safely on and off the plane, and bring you to the best trailhead.
Ten of these companies are offering special discounts or premiums for the month you want to travel. Guess what? Out of 400 competitors, these 10 are the only ones in the running, based on choosing the right list and the right offer.
Who will be the winner? Assuming the 10 finalists offer comparable value, then and only then will the copywriting make a difference.
What the research says
A lot of market research over the last 30 years has produced the same conclusion. Getting the client is 40% list-building, 40% the offer, and only 20% the copy. A good copywriter will help you write a good offer, and could therefore contribute 60% to your success. But finding the right list is critical. Don’t waste your time selling lava tubes to clients who want a 5 star hotel.
Does copywriting still matter?
These are tough times. There are still plenty of people spending money, but everyone is more careful about where and how they spend it. Focusing on a narrow list is critical. (You can have multiple lists, but you need to market to each one separately.) Constructing a worthwhile offer is vital.
But then, in the end, when you’ve done all your hard work and research and you’ve made the right offer to the right market, all of your efforts can go to waste. Because when you’ve fought your way into that last handful of carefully-selected candidates, you’re competing with businesses that did all of their homework too. You’re up against the toughest and smartest competitors, and they’re going to fight you with everything they’ve got.
This is when you need a copywriter at your back.
Last week 4 companies contacted me about writing/setting up blogs, FaceBook, and Twitter. This topic is hot, and it’s definitely hit mainstream. Here’s my take on everything you need to know about social media.
First off, a few things to keep in mind.
Social media is cheap, but it demands a lot of time to do it right. Have a plan, approach it with discipline, and be sure the time you spend is worthwhile. Some of your efforts will never get you anywhere. Know who you’re trying to reach, and be sure to entertain and enlighten them or they’ll stop following you.
Twitter’s not so big with the up-and-coming generation, the Millennials.
I happen to know a bit about this, because for the past tow years I’ve been working with a client who is all about marketing to Millennials. Early last year we co-authored a white paper on social media, which involved interviewing people in their late teens and early twenties–some of them hadn’t even heard of Twitter yet, many of them didn’t like it for some very specific reasons.
Twitter, I think, has the most potential with very close communities. The businesses that use it successfully are the ones with super-eager customers–they want to know the location of a lunchwagon, they’re eager to hear the latest news or research, the company CEO has celebrity status or the product is inherently interesting.
In other words, if your business is full of frequent news that your clients sincerely want to know about, you should Twitter. But if you’re just going to Tweet about what you had for lunch, you won’t get much business from your efforts.
Marketing your face on FaceBook
FaceBook seems to be the best keep-in-touch option for social media. The only people who see your FaceBook are the ones you choose who also choose you. The biggest challenge with FaceBook is that there’s not really a way to separate clients and prospects from friends and family. Here’s what I suggest.
First, get a fan page for your business. This will let you truly devote the page to business, but the downside is a lack of easy visibility. Unless you’re selling something cool that people like to talk about, your fan page won’t get a lot of traffic on its own. But you can fix that.
Post lots of good, interesting, valuable content and then cross promote it via Twitter, blogs, and your regular FaceBook page.
The second strategy is more “soft” but it’s a lot of fun, and ultimately more productive. Use FaceBook and all your other social media to promote yourself, and build your brand. As prospects get to know your personality, they’ll be more inclined to do business with you. As friends and family get to know your business, they’ll be better sources of referrals.
Business becomes pleasure, and pleasure becomes business
This “personal branding” is probably the best part of social media. Whatever business you’re in now, you won’t be doing it for the rest of your life. But once you’ve build a strong network of friends, family, fellow skydivers and homeschoolers–your network goes with you.
One of the best resources on this is the book Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuck.
You’re not just a salesman/consultant/CPA/coach. You’re a multidimensional person with many talents and passions, and so are all your prospective clients. Social media lets you put all of your personality into your marketing.
Use social media to make friends, build relationships, find markets and invest time in future clients–maybe the distant future. Today’s posts are like a bond that matures in 10 years (well, maybe not that long). You never know who might be listening, who might be useful.
Response Magazine often talks about a low-cost way to test your infomercial, before you spend a fortune on DirectTV.
They suggest running a long radio spot with the same or similar script that you plan to use for your infomercial. Many long-copy radio spots have been successfully morphed into high-yielding infomercials. And if your radio spot bombs, you can change the script or the concept before you’ve spent a fortune on TV advertising.
But even a simple radio ad will cost your company thousands of dollars but the priciple is useful no matter how small your advertising budget may be: It’s better to discover a failing campaign before you when the costs are low.
Since copy is the backbone of every ad campaign, along with a solid offer, you’re best off testing your copy and your offer as cheaply as possible. If it’s successful, you can invest more money to get your message out there on the expensive media.
Start with a sales letter, and make 2 slightly different versions so you can compare the response. Maybe change the headline, or they layout, the “p.s.” at the end or the call to action.
Mail each one directly to 100 or 1,000 of your most likely prospects. Send out the different versions as an email to everyone on your list. Post them on your blog, and link a few relevant Google ads to the pages.
Track your results, and find out what works This is the time to tweak and test your message. Copy is the foundation of every effort. Once you’ve got it right, then you can re-apply it–with amplified results, over other media such as radio and TV.