There is a spark of exceptional greatness in you.
You already knew that, of course. The hard part is finding that spark and using it to light a fire. You may not know what your spark is, but it’s already sitting there in plain sight. Or else it’s just underneath the hood.
I’m about to show you how to find it.
Some 50 years ago, a guy named Bud Robbins discovered the power of looking under the hood. He got a job trying to promote the Aeolian Piano Company. Ever heard of them? Neither has anybody else.
Robbins had to persuade the average starving musician to buy an Aeolian piano when they could get a well-known Steinway for the same price.
He took a tour of the Aeolian factory and found out that their piano weighed more than a Steinway because of a metal part known as the capo d’astro bar.
The capo d’astro bar is useless until the piano has been in use for 50 years. After 50 years, the capo d’astro bar prevents the aging instrument from warping.
The manufacturer saw this as a simple engineering fact, but Bud Robbins saw the potential story. A little bit of further research led him to the discovery that the New York Metropolitan Opera was using an Aeolian piano, and the extra longevity was starting to pay off.
When the Met relocated to the Lincoln Center, an opera singer told Robbins, “About the only thing they’re taking with them is the piano.”
Saying the piano was “built to last” wouldn’t be such an extraordinary tagline for an instrument which lasts generations. But the quote about the Metro taking the long-lasting piano with them–well, that became the headline for a full-page ad in the New York Times.
The outcome: Thanks to the story behind a hidden metal bar, the Aeolian Piano Company had a 6-year waiting list for their product.
Bud Robins later wrote about this experience and what it means for every business, every product: “No matter what the account, I promise you, the capo d’astro bar is there.”
Finding your bar
If I opened this post by you about the lifespan of a piano, you would have moved on within a few seconds. But you’ll listen to a story. A story about the underdog piano company, and the hero Bud Robbins who has to save the day.
Everyone loves a story. The most popular video games involve a story. We’ve been telling stories around the campfire for thousands of years.
Find your story, and you’ll find your greatness.
When I meet with a new client, one of the first things I do is try to figure out their story. Here are a few of the questions that will help you uncover yours.
- What were your dreams as a kid? What did you enjoy doing most in your spare time? What did you worry about?
- What was your first job? What was your first entrepreneurial effort?
- What is the scariest thing that ever happened to you?
- Who was your business’ first client? What was memorable about the experience?
- Who was your worst client? Why? If you could teach them one thing, what would it be?
- Describe your first year in business.
- When did you know you were going to make it? What was the decisive event?
- What is the first thing you do when a new client is interested in doing business with you?
- What is the last thing you do for your customer or client?
- What, if anything, do you do to follow up/keep in touch with past and existing clients?
- Why should I do business with you, instead of all the other alternatives, including doing nothing?
- Who is your most valuable partner or employee? What makes them so valuable?
- If you could put up a billboard anywhere, where would you put it and what would it say?
- What habits or outlook do you attribute to your success?
You should try to write out the answers to all of these questions. Better still is to actually talk to someone about these answers. More spontaneous ideas will come up, and you can test their power by the other person’s reactions.
I don’t want to give away my clients’ secrets, but here are some interesting quotes I’ve dragged out by using these questions
“Almost all real estate agents are lazy parasites who only do the minimum amount of work for easy money.” (A member of the California Association of Realtors)
“It’s heartbreaking when I talk to someone who might be five or ten years younger than me, and I’m teaching them about some new useful app or software that they’ve never heard of. You have to keep learning or you’re toast.” (A 47-year-old man who edits videos for companies run by millennials)
“I’ve been trying to find out why I’m still alive, what I’m meant to do on this earth. Helping you might be the answer.” (A business owner who had a brush with death in his twenties)
Any of these quotes could easily lead in to a compelling story that would make eligible clients want to do business with this person.
Now it’s your turn. What is your story?
Seven ways that you can dominate the web with fast and simple videos
This might be the most important post I’ve ever written.
Google owns YouTube. If you google almost any subject, you’re going to find videos on the first page, probably within the top 3 results. Many of your prospective clients are already searching YouTube for solutions to their problems. Should your company show up in the results?
Most people will only spend a few seconds reading your copy. But they’ll spend 2-3 minutes (or more) watching a video. Your videos have visual and audio information. You can engage more of the brain by making videos about your business.
In 2014 I made over 100 videos. In 2015 I did nothing. Now, in 2016 I’m still reaping the benefits of the work I did two years ago.
I’m preparing a quick, hard-hitting guide that will teach you how to make and use videos. In a few weeks you’ll learn how to make engaging, high quality videos at a low cost.
But today you’re going to get the prequel: How to make the most of your videos. Here are seven ways you can goose your marketing with YouTube videos:
- Choose a specific product or service that you want to promote. Make a 30-second video showing all the wonderful things it will do for your clients. Many people will find the video when doing their own search. But just to make sure, email the link to prospects who you think will need it
- Videotape testimonials from your clients. You can embed them on your website, and they will also show up when someone does a search for your company or your services.
- Announce big changes in your business, awards you’ve won, and upcoming events. It’s a video press release!
- Create an online class that educates prospects about a specific product or service you offer. “How to protect your data.” “Seven ways to get the maximum value when you sell your home.” “An employer’s guide to the new health care tax laws” Viewers who are searching for this information will be grateful. You’ll be their go-to expert on the problem. You’re the one they’ll contact when they need the service.
- Share casual footage from around the office, parties, and maybe even your personal life. This will put a human face on your company
- Showcase a physical product you offer. Demonstrate the product, show someone using it, and highlight the most important features (if a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth?)
- Do something crazy! Outrageous advertising is an easy way to separate yourself out from your competition. Make a video that maybe has nothing to do with your business but shows a quirky side of you that people don’t usually get to see. One of my most successful videos (of really poor quality) doesn’t even mention my business or marketing, but it has opened doors for me which ultimately put more money in my pocket.
You could probably think of at least seven more ways to use videos. I’ll have a nuts-and-bolts guide for you in a few weeks, but first, here are a few last-minute tips:
- Invest in good sound quality. Most people won’t mind a jumpy video that you made with your phone, but they’ll be turned off by static, wind, the sound of your breathing or an unclear voiceover. I own a few different microphones but my go-to microphone which won’t force you into bankruptcy is the Audio-Technica AT2020USB PLUS Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone
- Embed your videos on your website. Google owns YouTube, and web pages that contain videos will get higher rankings. Spread them around on relevant pages. Don’t limit yourself to a single page with a dozen videos on it
- Always include a link to your website
- Don’t be a bore. Your videos should be genuinely educational, entertaining, or both
- Pay attention to keywords. Choose your title and description based on the same keywords that drive the content on your website
- Multiply the effects of your video. Post it on your FaceBook page, and tweet it. Include the link in your emails and newsletters
If you want to know the future, just look at what fifteen-year-olds are doing today.
–Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad
I was going to harness and encourage the natural curiosity and energy of our youth. I was going to show them by example how they could make a life and a living for themselves and others by pursuing their passions.
It didn’t work out that way.
This year I formally resigned from one of the largest school districts in the country. I could share my story in this post, but I’d rather offer you something more valuable: A glimpse at the future. It’s not nearly as bleak as some people say, but you’ll have to be ready for it.
During my first year teaching biology, I tried to help a tenth grader get his GED. This would allow him to leave school a few years early and pursue his idea for a business startup. A few people expressed their shock that I, a teacher, would try to help a student get out of school.
But shouldn’t that be the goal?
A person in a high position told me my thinking was “dangerous.” He reminded me that school was really designed to train people to be punctual and obedient.
Some students would find their way and become successful business owners. Many more would go to college and possibly become professionals. “But,” he told me, “Walmart will always need people to drive the trucks. And we’ll always need people to build the roads.”
The Digital Future
I appreciated this person’s outlook, but we’re in a different world now. Anything I taught my students in an hour-long biology lesson, they could look up on their own in minutes. Even most of the poorest inner-city kids have a smart phone.
This means virtually anyone with ambition and drive has the chance to teach themselves anything they need to know to pursue their dreams.
We’ll always need people to pave the roads, and we’ll always have people to fill that need. But the web has increased everyone’s potential for upward mobility. We have a wealth of young people bubbling over with creativity, and I don’t want to work for an institution that merely slows them down and gets in their way.
Some people say that today’s teens are all video game addicts, that they spend their waking hours mind-melded to an electronic device with a screen. That’s not too far from the truth, but there’s another truth as well.
Many of these kids are amazingly smart and innovative.
The Gamer’s Education
There is a reason digital games are so addictive, and it’s actually good news. When you fail to reach a goal, you almost always get another chance in a game. You can try a different tactic, or finesse your approach until you figure out a way to succeed. Then you get to “level up.”
This is how the human brain naturally learns. It’s how most new things get invented and built. Video games reinforce that pattern, teaching kids to be resilient and persistent.
As a teacher, I got to see kids apply this persistence to the real world. I watched students approach everything like a video game. They would learn which answers would please a particular teacher. They would figure out just how to get the requisite amount of points on a project with the minimum amount of effort.
They would apply this technique to find the best ways to text in class without getting caught, to minimize their homework, to sell snacks to their classmates for extra money, and even to find a date.
None of these skills seem obviously useful in the traditional school classroom. But there are alternative ways of obtaining an education. I got involved in one of them early on, and I’m working on another one myself.
Education is going to become highly personalized and self-directed in the near future. Here are some of the results I think you can look forward to.
As a marketer, I’m a little bit scared. Even the best copywriting will only work if it’s added to videos, games, and apps. Even then, you’ better have a great product because the buyers of the future are going to be ruthless in their pursuit of whatever they want.
That said, if you can appeal to the emotions of this next generation, you’ll succeed as a marketer and an employer.
This is an exciting time to be in any kind of business. For myself, it’s an exciting time to be back in business. I’ve already collaborated with some young geniuses, and I look forward to hiring more of them to help you become more successful.
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.