John: This, this, this thing going on and, you know, it digs deep and the reason it, the reason we don't understand when, until you get into classic salesmanship, you may not understand those, those kinds of benefits, is because we have this unrealistic idea of who we are.
Everyone thinks we're, you know, either very noble creatures on the planet who deserve a special place or at worse, they think we're a couple of steps out of the jungle and, you know, we're still, you know, moving along, but basically we're, you know, we're at a very advanced stage. In reality when you're a salesman you understand we've got one foot back in the jungle and one foot out. We haven't moved hardly at all.
John: Civilization has brought all the accouterments that let us believe us that we're okay, and when you watch TV, you never see people like, you know, go to the bathroom or, you know, do the things that, that, that, you know, eating, and, and getting sick.
They gloss over a lot of this stuff. The reality of life and especially the reality of marketing life and selling is closer to what happens in bad parts of town. You know, where there is no law, where there is no safety zones. You know, where there is no such thing as a quiet evening at home.
Michel: The biker bar mentality.
John: Pardon me?
Michel: The biker bar mentality.
John: Yeah, exactly. So by understanding that, and also I talk about, you know, I've, I've a degree in psychology and part of that was looking at animal behaviorism, how it related to possibly humans. You know, some people get upset about this. Just get over it. Go watch the gorillas at the zoo.
Stop being, stop pretending that we aren't related to them and watch how they interact and what they do and, after a few minutes, you will recognize Uncle Bob, or you may even see yourself in these, and it's the way they act, it's the way they protect things, the way they get what they want, the way they decide what they want, the maneuvers they go through to get what they want when they're not the top guy.
You know, how the top guy gets everything, but is tricked by his, by the females, or you know, when I'm talking about gorillas, typically the top gorilla has all the females, as all anthropologists know, the females are cheating on him constantly because otherwise the gene pool would get too screwed up.
So, and it just goes on and on and on; and the reality of, of, you can't have shades over, you can't have rose-colored glasses on your eyes and be a great salesman. You have to be able to see things as they are. Not as you wish they were or not as you were told they were.
John: How they really are, and what motivates people is often something you may, a lot of people may not even want to talk about. Like greed, for example. People have either a problem talking about how this is going to make you filthy rich. It's gonna make you filthy rich really quick, you know, and so when they, you know, they're kind of uncomfortable with this whole greed thing.
So when they get around to actually putting it into the copy, they either overdo it, you know, “You're gonna get so filthy rich that, you know, Donald Trump will be, you know, asking you for a loan or something.” And it just becomes unbelievable and unreal and over the top, or they undercut it so much, they say, “Well, you know, you could make, you know, you could, you could up response by 2, maybe 3 percent by this time next year, you know.
John: And usually when you talk to the guys that are doing this, you know, you say, is, is that the best you can do, and he says, well no, there's a guy that's working with me who's getting, you know, 25 percent, you know, every week, you know, in a bump.
Well, why don't, you know, that's the stuff you talk about is what people can attain, not the average middling stuff. You got to be bold, you got to step out, you got to make your case because you're tickling a very deadened sense inside of your, of your prospect.
Michel: Mm-hmm. Well, that's one of the things that I, that I usually tell people, especially when copy seems to be a borderline or even over-the-line hypie, or what people think is hypie, or what people are scared about –
Michel: — being hypie is that it's just laced with adjectives and adverbs and one of my prized possessions being in your insider's club is my power word list.
John: Right. Yeah, that's, once, you know, it took me awhile to realize what I was doing, but, Michael, you've read “Struck and White” right?
John: The element to start with.
John: The one main thing, the one main lesson from that is stop using adjectives. Okay, so that's one step, but the next thing that they talk about, which changed my life, was use action verbs.
John: And it's like one verb, you know, he walked down the street. He waltzed down the street, he floated down the street, he ran down the street in a panic. I mean, too many times we rely on, is it have, you know, to have, you know, verbs like that.
John: I've got something for you, you know. You start to explore. You should have a beat to death thesaurus on your desk. Don't use the one on your computer, because you should have the actual physical sensation of going page to page looking for the word you're looking up to find other words that mean the same thing or antonyms, and go to them because you'll have happy accidents when you have the actual thesaurus in your hand and in your lap.
I've been using the same one for the last 25 years. It is, it is decrepit beyond belief, but I, it's a, it's a friend, you know. You just, when I flip through it, sometimes I'll just stop and read a page because a word will catch my eye.
Guess what? When I'm flipping through a thesaurus and a word catches my eye, when I'm looking for something in the Ws and something in the Rs catches my eye, guess what that word is? It's a power word.
John: So, you know, it's, that's another thing about caveman technology. Well, actually Gutenberg technology, you know, having the written actual dictionary and actual thesaurus in front of you, it's just, you know. Technology changes and sometimes it makes our lives easier and sometimes it, it, it hurts us. People, you know, I'm running into more and more people who have had their little addiction to Grand Theft Auto, you know.
You don't want to get in the car with them until they've calmed down, after a ten-hour session with it. And guess what? They're gonna, the first time they cop an attitude in a, you know, in a store or something, you know, thinking that they're gonna pull out their secret machine gun and, you know, gun them down, it ain't gonna happen and they're gonna get their clock cleaned.
Michel: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
John: You know, reality is very much different. So technology has its drawbacks.
Michel: Right. Well, it's, it's coming back to, when you say the process of looking for a word and very often, even an action verb, it's not necessarily the fact that it's an action in itself. I think personally it's because of the fact that people can instantly, in their mind's eye, think and see the action being taken.
John: Well, there's with words like humiliate, for example, or embarrass. All of us have a visceral reaction to words like that.
Michel: Right, exactly.
Michel: Because, I, I, I tell this story often where if you tell, you know, there's a, I took a media communications course many years ago and, and they were talking about the fact that the mind thinks in relative terms, it never thinks in direct terms, because it goes back into its memory bank and its databank to find something that it has like a reference point that it can compare it to; and it's like, you know, saying to people, “Think of a garbage can.”
Is that person gonna start thinking G-A-R? No, of course not. They're gonna picture a garbage can in their mind, and this media communications course had this news report about a forest fire that was devastating the Midwest, and, and the show had this news anchor with the background picture of a helicopter view of the forest fire, and he, he turned around and he says, “Sally's in the station helicopter right now above the scene of the fire.
Sally, how big is the fire?” Sally responded, “Oh, it's about 104 acres of land” or whatever, I can't remember the exact number.
Michel: But what she said after it because see, acres are 104, the numbers right. The mind doesn't think in numbers, it thinks in pictures Mark Twain said. So she said it's about 200 football field back-to-back for you and me.
Michel: Boom. You know, the mind had something it could fall back on.
Michel: And, and it's the same thing with your power words because who wants to beat their competition? Who wants to increase your sales over the competition? They don't want to do that. They want to murder –
John: That's right.
Michel: — the competition.
John: That's right. Slaughter them.
Michel: And that's, that's something that you've, that you teach a lot that I just, it just really is the key.
John: Well, you know, it's interesting, Michel, that the literacy of America is actually going up because of the net. My, I have family members who haven't written a letter in sometimes 50 years, and they got email and their first emails were obviously hunt and peck, very short, misspelled little missives.
You know, hi, got your, got your gift, thank you, that kind of thing. Now, they're writing novels, and they're very comfortable. Their typing skills have come back and they're doing it, and I think, you know, there's a resurgence of interest in writing with the web, especially with the amount of sales copy that's being written for the web.
John: So, it's you, what I'd like to see, you know, I, you know, I don't want people to think wrong of me. I love music. I'm a musician. I love stuff, but in a lot of ways, the current kind of music that's out there right now, the popular music, is degrading the language too much.
Back when I was listening to rock and roll, and you too, language was still very much a part of it. It was, you know, the large part of the hook of the song was the way the words rolled off your tongue.
Michel: Oh, yeah.
John: On the chorus or something like that, and some of the great writers like Mick Jagger were, were excellent wordsmiths.
John: And you have, you know, to love the way, you know, Americans don't love the language enough. French love their own language. Unfortunately it's not the lingual franca of the world. You have to learn English. English, guess what, is more rich than French because we have more power words.
We have more ways to say the same thing and to, you know, to just tweak it a bit here and there; and by having a thesaurus, by having a dictionary, when you're, you know, your main tool as a writer are the words that you use.
When we speak, and especially if you're speaking to someone, you have the advantage of, you know, of, of using facial expressions, of pounding the other person in the chest with your finger, or jumping up and down or making little, you know, charade-type things. When you're writing, you don't have that advantage.
However, people may be thinking, hey, soon we're gonna be selling with video on the web. It's gonna all be video all the time. That isn't gonna happen. Reading is always, and to my mind, always will be the secondary to the face-to-face sales job. The reading. It engages a part of the brain that isn't engaged when you're watching video or TV or something.
John: And it's a more active part of the brain.
Michel: This is just a little comment and I'll let you go on, but I was asked that question one time. Mike, do you think that the video is going to take over the web or should I do all my, my, my copy in audio, or whatever? And I said, you know, the, the eye needs to have some kind of thing that makes it, that keeps it busy.
If you are, especially on the web, if you're going to try to sell with audio and video while it's going on, that person's gonna, you know, check out another couple of windows, they're gonna Google something, they're gonna have somebody pinging them on MSN, they're gonna download their email. They're gonna be so busy that they haven't captured maybe that one little thing you mentioned on your video that might be the key, the hook, the pivotal point that's gonna and close a sale.
John: And also need to be able to go back to it. How many times have you read a sentence and said, what the hell did I just read, and have to go back and read it.
John: Can't do that on video. Well, you can, but the physical action of that is, you know, kind of, you know, mitigates the, the advantage to it.
John: So that's, sure, that sounds good. I forgot what else I was talking about, Michael, so let's move on. Oh, you know what? I wanted to say something about, I think, would you agree that people are a little concerned about the spacing, the blank page thing. Do you want me to say a little bit more about that?
Michel: Yes, yes, please actually.
John: Um, I say that writer's block is a myth. It's because there's always something to be said, there's always something to be done, but when I first started out as a writer, facing down the blank page and writing that first couple of words or getting going was kind of hard to do.
So there's a couple of rules that I felt that really worked, and one was kill trees. Use as much paper as you can. Whenever I write, fortunately, on the, on, now that I'm working on a computer all the time, you know, I started out working on a typewriter. Not just a typewriter, but a manual typewriter at that, so that's how old I am.
Anyway, you know, thank God we can go back and edit without having to print. However, I print all the time anyway. I print every hour or so when I'm working on a draft of something, ‘cuz I don't, I don't want to permanently erase something that may have been there when I'm trying it some other way. You want to keep a log of that.
So writing by long hand actually has its advantages if you can see what you crossed out or how, you know, where the genesis of where you're at now, where your verbiage comes from. But getting those first words down sometimes is a real drag.
So just start writing. I think Howard actually talked about that before, you know, it's, it's the idea of don't be afraid to write something you're gonna throw away later. One of the great tactics that copywriters know about when they're doing it professionally is that even for bettering copywriters, when you're finished with a piece and you have an 18-page letter or something, the first page and a half to three pages, you can toss.
Michel: You can call it clearing your throat, I think.
John: Right, clearing your throat. It's, it's, you know, we do it all the time. When I'm going back and I got to edit something, say it's gonna, it was a letter and now it's gonna go in as a magazine ad or something, I got to edit it. I'll look at the first part I write and I'll say, you know what, I said the same thing six times and here's a whole paragraph that's absolutely irrelevant and, you know, often when I'm critiquing things, I'll just go to the second page.
You know, halfway down the second page, I'll, I'll close my eyes and just stick my finger down and there's a thing that starts and the guy will say, “Hi, my name is Jim Smith and what I'm about to tell you is going to up your, you know, your response on the blah, blah, blah”, you know, and it's like before that, what was he talking about, you know, you know.
I imagine that you're really frustrated with business you know, and all this rambling and mumbling and all the stuff that goes on. It's like, hey, here's where you start. Get rid of all this stuff.
Michel: My –
John: So don't be afraid to be able to do that. Be brutal with yourself. Here's, here's another tactic when I was first starting out. I had writing clothes. I had a hat that I put on. I had a stinky set of sweats and a T-shirt and I had big floppy socks that would not allow me to put shoes on.
Now, when I put that on, it did two things. One, these were my writing clothes. You don't, they could have been a Superman costume or they could have been women's lingerie, you know, and it didn't matter. When I put those on, I was gonna write. So I sat down.
The other advantage to make sure that I was gonna write was I couldn't go outside dressed like that. I wasn't, I wasn't fit to meet people, so I wasn't gonna go anywhere and I was sitting in front of the, you know, sitting at my desk and there wasn't anything else going on.
You know, the TV was in the other room and I don't have a radio in there and I'm sitting in there and, you know, okay, fine, so let's just, you know, sometimes I'd food myself and say, and again with these little five by seven notepads, I would say, I'm just gonna write down a list of a couple of features. I'm not even gonna be exhaustive about it. And then you write those down and you say, I'm just gonna write a couple of benefits. In other words, give yourself room to be a loser, I guess.
John: What happens is that once you engage, once that thing kicks in, once your, once your inner salesman wakes up, he doesn't want to go back to sleep. So you will find a common problem with writers, and I'm sure you've had this too, is writers asphyxiation.
John: Writers tend to slump in their chair, breathe very, very shallowly, and the kind of sweat you produce is actually the kind of sweat you produce when you're starving yourself. It's like ketosis. It's a very stinky sweat.
But what's happening is that you're breathing very shallow, you're hooked into a part of your brain that is connected right to your fingers whether you're writing longhand or whether you're typing, and it's just, and, and, I'm sure, you know, I'd be astonished if you didn't have the same experience that, that I've had which is I'll look up and two hours have gone by, just like that. I have no idea where those two hours went. I'll look up and suddenly I've got all this stuff written and all this stuff down, and it's because of total immersion.
Michel: John, I wrote my best copy and it took me a couple of days, and I realized I didn't bathe, I didn't shave, I didn't eat, I didn't sleep.
John: Yeah, yeah. It's hard to, it's hard to have people living with you at that time, and I've got a very, very understanding person living with me, you know. She, she knows that there's gonna be some quirky stuff and there's gonna be me walking through muttering to myself and I'll be staring at the wall sometimes, you know.
So as long as they understand, but writing is taking the internal voice that's going on in your head and setting it all up and, and bringing it all out onto the page. So having writing clothes actually works. I don't do that anymore, well, actually sometimes I do. But you know the hat was great. It was one of those Sherlock Holmes hats, you know.
John: You can't wear outside ‘cuz they're ridiculous. But I always liked them, you know. It could have been a Greek, you know, war helmet, or something. It's just, you know, and, but a part of that that I didn't cop to or I didn't understand until later was the idea that I was also stalking the computer
What would happen is I'd stand there, I'd look in the room, and it's kind of like if you've ever lifted weights, what you have to do before you life a very large weight? You got to stand, you take a deep breath, you kind of move your shoulders around and you look down, and then there's that moment of truth where you're gonna reach down and grab it and you're either gonna pull it up or you're not. And until you get to that stage, you're not gonna pull it up.
So you just, and it's just like, finally it's like jumping in the pool. It's like, I talk about, you know, in other ways people standing on the edge of the pool of life bothering everybody that's already in with questions like “How deep is it? Is it cold? Will the chlorine sting my eyes?”
When really what you got to do is jump in, whether you dive in, fall in backwards, do a belly flop, doesn't matter. Get in the damn pool.
Well, that's the same thing with writing. You know, you just, and when I talk about stalking the computer, sometimes I will circle the desk because it's not time to write yet, it's time to be thinking about this, and I'll be, I'll just, sometimes I stalk the desk, sometimes I actually go outside and take long walks.
Sometimes I take long showers, and I just, I'm thinking, I'm thinking, you know, and I'm mad and I'm getting, and I'm trying to get in touch with that part of me that is passionate.
And sometimes I'm not passionate because I'm a freelancer. Sometimes I couldn't care less about this product. Well, I got to. That's where the idea of the writer is the prostitute comes in because you, you know, you got to love the product at least at the time that you're writing the thing. And we learn how to do that, we learn how to just turn it on and you, and guess what, you can do it too.
However, if you're writing for your own stuff, you've got to have that passion there anyway, so just hook in there and think about it. Think about this when you're sitting down to write. There are, if you really have a product of value, then you owe it to the world to sell that product to the people, to let them know you have it, to let them know that here's how they can get it, and to wake them up to the fact that it's out there. That's your job. That's why you're here on earth.
Now, think about this. You know, your job is to sit down and do this. There are people walking around out there who want, need, and will thank you for letting them know that your product is available out there. If you have a product of value, then that's what's gonna happen.
Here's the part that pisses you off. There are a bunch of people walking around out there with money in their wallet that belongs to you. It's in their pocket right now, it should be in yours. The only reason that they haven't taken it out of their wallet and put it into yours is because you haven't asked them the right way; and if that doesn't piss you off, then you're not, then there's not much I can do for you.
Michel: Well, it comes back to what you were saying earlier about technology and one of the downfalls of technology, and this is probably why in your case so good to use a typewriter, is technology also gives you the convenience to procrastinate or it gives you the convenience to edit yourself constantly.
Michel: And I tell this to a lot of people that there's a difference between a copywriter and copyeditor, and tons of people know, you were talking not too long about switching on the inner salesman, and I tell people switch off the inner editor.
John: Oh, absolutely.
Michel: And the one thing that a lot of people do that's a big problem is they'll, they'll, you know, you call it the Ernest Hemingway disease where people stop halfway and they, you know, they think that they're gonna be selling to grammar cops.
John: You know, and they're not. You've got to keep on writing. Who cares, like you just said, who cares if it's lousy, and then you can edit, you can go back and edit. Of course, you're not gonna put out some really crappy copy, but in the process of writing, don't stop.
Michel: Sometimes you will. Sometimes crappy copy does it. I use a lot of slang and I use a lot of words that would cause Mrs. Williams from, you know, the woman who tried to teach me English in the, in junior high, would cause her to have a heart attack and just keel over, and it's because you're not writing to please an English teacher.
You're writing to get the message across, and when you start writing more in the way people talk or in the way people think about copy, then you're getting farther and farther away from the very, very stilted way that people who have too much education write.
You want to write as, you know, when, when, one of the funniest things that happens when you transcribe something, it's like what I just did before. I said that I stuttered for about three or four things, you know, just little words come out, and I've actually had transcriptions come back with every single um, aw, and you know.
And it's hilarious ‘cuz you'll look at it and you don't know, I don't notice it and most of the time people that you're talking to don't notice it. You, we'll leave out words, we'll, we'll, we'll finish thoughts with incorrect, you know, we don't speak in correct sentences all the time.
Now, I'm not saying you should write like that all the time because as I said, you should be able to send out a piece that is like you would talk if you could go back and edit what you said.
So you take out all the “ums” and “ahs” and all that stuff isn't there, but basically, you're presenting it the way you would if you were speaking, if you were speaking, if you had a really good command of the English language.
Now some of us, through the years, have a, somewhat of a good command of the English language, but I don't speak as well as I write. When I write, I'm hooking into, there is some kind of selection process that goes down. But sometimes I can stop and say, no, let's not use that verb.
Let's try this one. Oh, and there's another verb I've been waiting to use for a long time, you know. That, that's where the love of language comes in, you know.
Michel: And you get to throw that word in, and it becomes second nature so quickly. And you know, we almost all write, can write right now better than we speak.
John: Um, but you know, we still want to, you know, you don't want to get rid of the slang. You want to keep that, that freshness, that aliveness, you know. The sales letter that goes out is a living being. It's a, it's something that is vibrant in the person's hand if it's a letter or on their screen that they're reading. It's not, it's not this boring recitation of what's going on.
It's the difference between the old boring cooking shows, you know, where they go, okay, three eggs, you know, crack now, whip it. And guys like Emeril, you know, bang, you know, and all this stuff. It's theater, it's the, it's having a little fun with this because remember, people aren't, you know, they're not leading interesting lives. They don't get to do anything. They don't have any interesting friends.
You, you can be that interesting friend who shares their passion. You know a lot of guys, like bowlers and stuff; if you're really passionate about bowling or if you're an accountant. Say you're selling stuff to accountants.
You know what that accountant doesn't get to do. He doesn't get to go home and talk about his day to his wife because she's been sick of hearing about accounting since the day after he met her. He doesn't get to regale the kids with stories about how the books weren't balanced in the X-Y-Z perforation ‘cuz they could care less.
John: They don't understand it anyway. You get to come in and be that guy where you can share not only what he knows about it, but guess what? You're gonna let him inside a world that he can't otherwise get into.
And you're gonna share inside secrets and give him the, you know, the ability to expand his passion and be able to indulge in it to his heart's content. I should have written that down, that's pretty good.
Michel: This is the point. I think you've mentioned also in either a seminar that I've been on or went to or heard you from, and ties it a little bit in with this.
You know, we're talking about switching off the inner editor and it's the same thing I think whenever you present your copy to a client, and this is a question I keep getting from my clients with web copy is, “Should I have a page for about us, another page for pricing, another page for this, another page for that”, and there are ample studies and tests, split tests have been done to prove that long copy, long schooling copy outsells multiple-page copy. This is for a single offer.
But the problem that people don't understand is, it's just as much that we have a tendency to procrastinate at every opportunity, readers will procrastinate at every opportunity.
Michel: And by putting multiple pages or giving, you know, or putting lengths to other web sites or whatever, you're giving them every opportunity to procrastinate or to go on a tangent or to click on pages that will give them specific information that does not follow the flow that you want them.
You know, to me, to me copy and sales copy is like music. You know, you've got the intro, you've got the verse, the chorus, the solo in the middle, and then you've got the outro.
John: That's right, and before the solo, you don't stop the music and say, by the way, we did another song ****. Hey, Bob, play a stance of that song. Then you say, okay, now we're going back to the song.
John: It's a greased slide ride.
Michel: You mentioned this, and this is what you said I think on a previous seminar is where you said, “Do you actually sit down with a client and do a presentation face to face, belly to belly, and in the middle of your conversation, you say, okay, hang on, stop, one, two, three, okay, now keep on going?”
John: Right. And you know, you say you're giving an excuse to procrastinate. Guess what? You're inviting it. You are almost, you are, you are gonna murder your bottom line by doing that stuff. Links are one of the worst technological advances that have ever been invented for as far as the sales pitch goes. Now you can link the stuff, you know, later.
You know, you, once you've sold them, then you have another page where you can have links up the ying-yang ‘cuz it doesn't matter ‘cuz they're in your fold at that time, but to bring them in the first time, oh, my, God. Think about that process of what you've got to do. We didn't talk about the synambulant blob welded to the couch.
John: But, you know, basically that's the way I look at all of my prospects. I imagine this huge gelatinous mass of humanity welded to the couch that wouldn't move to save itself from the burning building, and I've got to get it to, to watch something for a few minutes, you know, or read something and actually, you know, lean over and kind of pull it's wallet out and pick up the phone and call or fax in an order form and fill it out.
My God, what a, what a difficult process that is ‘cuz this synambulant blob is snoring, doesn't want to be woken up, doesn't want to move and sure as hell doesn't want to give me any money. So I've got to make the case. I've got to get this guy motivated, and you know how you make a synambulant blob move from the couch? You light a fire under its ass.
Michel: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
John: So, you know, this is why we have things, this is why we talk so much about urgency, about limits, about making this a one-time offer, about, about making the most famous copywriting acronym or whatever, A-I-D-A.
John: That's the most common one that's been used, it's the best. I think John Caples came up with it. It's the one, it's A-I-D-A, stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.
You know, so when you break copy down to four basic things, the fourth one is action, and that's where people, people really miss the boat, because you are asking this guy to do something he doesn't want to do, doesn't normally do, may not have ever done before in his life, you know, the whole idea of sending money for something.
Think of the fire you got to light under his ass to get him to move to take out his wallet and do that.
Michel: Very, very similar to something I teach often, John, is the, my, I call it my three simple steps to writing profitable copy.
Michel: And the three simple steps is it's not easy specifically. It's easy in the sense that if people get those three down, they, they can write world-class copy and it's basically based on three immutable laws, and the first law is that people never read anything at first.
Michel Fortin is a certified digital marketing expert and renowned copywriter who specializes in a unique combination of SEO, CRO, and UX to improve traffic, leads, and revenue for his clients. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless wins, generating in excess of $300 million in sales and results that have broken many industry records. He has worked with thousands of businesses ranging from individual entrepreneurs to enterprise-level multinational companies. He's the author of two top-selling books and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.