Big Announcement About Maguire Copywriting

This announcement is going to be short and sweet.

Starting today, I am now a full-time, in-house copywriter for a direct marketing company. BOOM!

I’m pretty excited about it. There will be lots to do over the next few months as I get situated in my new gig. I’ll also be tweaking this blog to make it more user-friendly.

So excuse the dust as I work on cleaning up the place. I’ll have much more to say in the future about topics like communication, creativity, marketing (always!) and life in general.

If you’ve visited Maguire Copywriting before, I’ll rework the navigational bar to show the older posts. But for now… enjoy the new, clutter-free environment. It won’t last long. ;-)

Review of AWAI’s 2014 FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair

Delray Beach, Florida Marriott Hotel

I attended the AWAI FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair from October 15 – 18 in beautiful Delray Beach, Florida.

I now have a history with the American Writers & Artists, Inc. organization. I learned about them sometime in 2011 and attended my first live Bootcamp in 2012 (reviewed here). I also purchased the “Bootcamp on Demand” home version in 2013.

As I mentioned in my previous review, there aren’t many organizations like AWAI. In fact, they really are in a league of their own when it comes to offering a variety of copywriting, graphic design, marketing, and business development courses – all geared to help an entrepreneur set up a creative freelance business.

Although to be fair, AWAI is more focused on “writers” than “artists.” The AWAI FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair is all about copywriting – and specifically, direct response copywriting.

After spending the last few years dealing with various types of clients and projects, I went into the AWAI Bootcamp and Job Fair with a different perspective. I was no longer a beginner but a copywriter who had more experience under her belt – and a more realistic expectation of the realities of copywriting as a profession.

“Expectations” is the key word, here. My goal with this review is to help anyone who is just starting to investigate copywriting as a profession to understand the realities of pursuing it and the realities of this particular conference.

So without further ado, let’s get to it.

The Good Stuff

AWAI has been hosting their annual Bootcamp for aspiring copywriters for years. The 2014 AWAI Bootcamp and Job Fair is their 17th conference, the first one being held in 1997.

The AWAI team was still top-notch this past October. They are very friendly and help attendees with any questions they might have. It still is a pleasure to attend a conference that has so many helpful staff people.

The hotel is decent although my husband and I stayed at Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel, which is just a few blocks away. We love Crane’s because they have kitchens in the rooms, which allowed us to cook healthy meals for our dietary needs.

The speakers that AWAI attracts are also heavy-hitters. Once you start to learn more about copywriting, you’ll begin to notice certain names being tossed around regularly – Dan Kennedy, John Carlton, Clayton Makepeace, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Donna Baier Stein, Carline Anglade-Cole, Richard Armstrong, Bob Bly, Nick Usborne and more.

AWAI gets as many of these highly accomplished copywriters scheduled as speakers as they can. And the information they share is indeed valuable. You’re given a huge binder with the slides of all the presentations and an area to take notes. I suggest you bring a separate, smaller notebook or journal with you to jot down the ideas you get from the presentations.

You don’t have to take copious notes of every presentation because you’ll get access to the audio and video recordings a few weeks after the conference. So you’ll be able to listen to the presentations over and over again. However, while you’re at the conference, your mind will likely be buzzing with ideas and many of them will be worth following up on when you get home. Keeping all those ideas in one spot will help once you get home and process everything that happened during the conference.

I had always wanted to hear John Carlton live. The only way this would ever happen is if I invested a large sum of money ($15,000) in his Platinum Mastermind Group. I’m a fan of John’s podcast with Kevin Rogers, “Psych Insights for Modern Marketers,” which I highly recommend adding to your subscription list.

I knew from listening to the podcast that John is an extreme introvert and he really didn’t like to be bothered by people asking him a bunch of stupid questions after he spoke (and an attendee did just that with the open Q&A after John spoke. I mean seriously… asking a speaker to have lunch in front of everyone deserves a resounding “Absolutely not.” Which John said to the man who asked. I’m not sure if the man was really that naive or was trying to show some chutzpah, which sometimes does open doors. But not with John.)

I did see John slip into the hotel bar on Wednesday with a baseball cap perched low on his forehead. He made a beeline for the best seat at the bar – in front of the big screen TV that was blaring out some sporting event. I smiled as I thought that was exactly the kind of entrance I thought he’d make.

The Okay Stuff

Every day, you’ll have lots of presentations to attend. Every morning, at 7:05 – 7:50 AM, there were early sessions called “A Taste of…” In 2012, they were called “Rise and Shine” sessions. They featured different copywriting niches such as health, finance, web copywriting and B2B opportunities.

As I said in my 2012 review, get there early. Like… 6:30 AM kind of early.

The reason I say this is not just because you’ll be able to grab some great breakfast grub, but you’ll get a seat. Part of me suspects that AWAI deliberately keeps these sessions in small rooms so that you do get there ahead of time.

I’ve attended other conferences and usually have found plenty of seating, especially for early morning sessions. Why AWAI continues to insist upon holding these sessions in rooms that are much too small is beyond me. It seems especially inefficient given the fact that the main large ballroom, where the bulk of the conference takes place, remained empty at that time.

It would have been much more comfortable for the attendees (and more could have attended the presentations) if they were given in the Ballroom. If two were going on at the same time, they could open up the smaller meeting rooms that were next to each other to accommodate a slightly smaller crowd.

When I arrived ten minutes early to these sessions and found that not only was every seat was already taken, but there was a crowd standing along the walls. I left. Too claustrophobic for my taste.

The Disappointments and Caveats

This area is going to focus mostly on the promises AWAI makes for this conference. Some of the promises didn’t really materialize for this conference, and that’s not even addressing the Job Fair. I’m referring to the following, taken from the Bootcamp sales letter (emphasis mine) If the link doesn’t work, here is a screenshot of the letter.:

  • “…a key part of Bootcamp’s value is that priceless association with and access to the serious clients and major achievers in the world of copy — something you just don’t get anywhere else. That’s why along with the hands-on training sessions, there are dinners, networking sessions, and intimate breakfast breakouts with representatives from the nation’s biggest and most innovative direct-mail companies.”

I know AWAI is always trying to improve the experience but this year’s 2014 Bootcamp could be summarized in one word: Busy.

And I do mean bizzzzzEEE! The early morning sessions started at 7:05 AM and it went non-stop throughout the day. This year they even had a session during lunchtime. You could buy a box lunch through the hotel, take it into the Ballroom to listen to yet another session.

Whew!

If AWAI is going to advertise that there is access to marketers and the conference speakers, when exactly would that happen? When I took a bathroom break?

The breaks in between the sessions are short (15 minutes). There’s enough time to visit the restrooms and grab a cup of coffee and maybe exchange a few words with someone before having to hustle back to the main meeting room.

I must have missed the networking sessions. However, I did find that by skipping the early morning session and the 8:10 AM session, I was able to connect with a few marketers who were grabbing breakfast after everyone headed into the Ballroom.

And that 8:10 session? It was about conquering your fear – which is definitely important if you’re just starting to investigate copywriting but if you already have clients and have even six months experience, you likely don’t need to be told to jump in, the water’s fine.

  • (Prefaced with the large, bold headline: “Eat Dinner With The Masters”)

“Every year, Bootcamp kicks off with a special happy-hour reception and “Wall of Fame” networking dinner.

If you’re not familiar with the Wall of Fame, it’s where copywriters are recognized for writing winning copy — copy that beats other letters in terms of sales, newsletter opt-ins, or donations. This dinner honors new Wall of Fame members, plus dozens of past Wall of Fame honorees come, too.

Now, the food at the dinner is good. But the conversations are so much better you might find you haven’t even touched your plate by the time the desserts are brought out!

The whole room buzzes as people swap names, information, and tips. Copywriting all-stars, speakers, and potential clients mix with first-time attendees and beginning writers to share ideas and make connections.

AWAI did something different for their “Wall of Fame” dinner on Wednesday night, and to be honest, I didn’t like it as much as the one in 2012.

In 2012, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet of delicious food, meeting new people in line and even some of the speakers. My husband made our way to an open table and Winton Churchill (one of the speakers), asked if he could join us. We were delighted and spent the meal chatting with him about his experiences as a copywriter living in Mexico and his insights on getting work through online job sites like Elance (Winton has an AWAI program, How to Land Clients in 21 Days, that covers this topic).

But 2014 was different. We were told to find a table that had our home state listed on it and grab a seat. Each table had more than one state, however, no “Masters” or marketers were at our table.

I know I was in a different place for this conference than in 2012. I was no longer a complete newcomer to the business of copywriting. But I was still hoping to have more conversations with the speakers and marketers. I was expecting the dinner to provide that opportunity but it didn’t. Of course everyone at the table was nice and it was enjoyable to find out how people discovered AWAI and why they were interested in becoming a copywriter. I just realized that once again, my expectations were different.

In fact, I would say to that the claim that there would be access to speakers was overstated. For this particular conference, it just wasn’t as true as it was in 2012.

In 2012, I had a nice conversation in the hallway with Nick Usborne. I met John Forde while heading back to my hotel and we also had a great conversation. These were key conversations that gave me further insight and encouragement in my pursuit of copywriting as a legitimate way to earn a living.

But at the 2014 conference, it was very different. It could have been because of the busy schedule, but I did not see as many of the speakers moving around the attendees during breaks as I did in 2012. And alas, I again missed hanging out at the bar at night, where I know many writers were able to connect with AWAI staff like Paul Hollingshead and Mark Ford.

In fact, I didn’t see Dan Kennedy anywhere else but on the stage. Same with John Carlton. Richard Armstrong, who was the keynote speaker, did graciously stop to talk to some of the attendees on the way out and was also manning a table at Job Fair, but that’s all I witnessed.

Finally, I was disappointed when I tried to connect with another speaker during Job Fair, which also featured a bar and appetizer area. I won’t mention his name, but he’s well-known at this event.

He was walking toward me with a beer in his hand (maybe that should have been a sign!) when I asked him a question about his course, which I had just purchased. He momentarily stopped to answer my question, but seem slightly irritated about it. After a few seconds, he started to walk away.

I walked with him simply because I wanted to bring the conversation to a decent close, chatted just a little more and then stopped and said thanks to him for speaking with me. He gave me a quick wave as he walked away.

Now there are many reasons why this individual may have acted the way he did. To be honest, it’s not my business. But it is my business when I’ve shelled out over $2K to attend a conference that promises access to experts and when I try to stop one to have a friendly chat (at an event where that’s supposed to happen), I felt about as unwelcome as a mosquito at a July 4th picnic.

I hate to say it, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. I believe that at this point, the AWAI Bootcamp and Job Fair needs to switch it up a bit with their speakers. I suspect many who attended this year’s event have been attending for years and are simply burnt out. The crowd at the AWAI’s 2014 FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair was their largest one.

It’s understandable that a crowd that size would weary even the most experienced conference speaker. I imagined that I was most likely the 40th person who approached that expert and he was probably tired of talking. Again, I’m speculating but it still doesn’t excuse what I perceived as rude behavior.

  • “You’ll see the biggest copy buyers in the world taking notes in sessions, swapping insights with their neighbors, and hunting for writers who “get” what’s going on in their markets — even if those writers are just starting out in the field.

In just a few hours, writers are getting projects that offer income for months … sometimes even a whole year. They’re connecting with new clients who need an unending stream of copy written … or lining up full-time jobs!

…Of course, a golden ticket to the top isn’t guaranteed. But every single year, there are new stories of copywriters who took the opportunity to be in the middle of the action. Now they have new contracts, bigger contracts, and better contacts to get what they really want.

Okay. Let’s take the first sentence: “You’ll see the biggest copy buyers in the world taking notes in sessions, swapping insights with their neighbors, and hunting for writers who “get” what’s going on in their markets — even if those writers are just starting out in the field.”

This doesn’t really make sense. For a writer to “get” what’s going on in the markets, you do need to have some field experience, even if that means working for a company where you had some type of interaction with the sales and marketing departments and thoroughly know your target audience.

The quickly added qualifying statement “even if those writers are just starting…” is an inaccurate one.

For instance, in 2012 I met a general contractor who was investigating the idea of becoming a copywriter. At the 2014 “Wall of Fame” dinner, I sat next to a doctor who had retired from treating sleep disorders. Neither one would have been the types a copy buyer sought out to “get” what was going on in their markets although the retired doctor had a better chance than most if he approached a health marketing company.

Next two paragraphs: In just a few hours, writers are getting projects that offer income for months … sometimes even a whole year. They’re connecting with new clients who need an unending stream of copy written … or lining up full-time jobs!

…Of course, a golden ticket to the top isn’t guaranteed. But every single year, there are new stories of copywriters who took the opportunity to be in the middle of the action. Now they have new contracts, bigger contracts, and better contacts to get what they really want.

The Job Fair is a madhouse. There’s no other way to describe it. Imagine 400 eager copywriters descending like vultures upon 38 different companies and the poor marketers manning their tables. Those are 10:1 odds that you as an attendee would have the opportunity to connect long enough with a marketer (and impress them) to even get considered for a project.

Again, the qualifier: “…Of course, a golden ticket to the top isn’t guaranteed.” Yes. Very true. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to connect with a marketer. I’m only saying that the claim that “in just a few hours, writers are getting projects…” is not as accurate as you might hope to believe. AWAI is legendary for knowing your hopes and dreams.

Attending a conference filled with expert copywriters who are successful in the business is definitely attractive. But being promised paying work is even better. Just know that it does happen for a few but again… the key word is a few.

More details about the Job Fair are below.

The Job Fair

There were 38 companies represented at the Job Fair. Here is the breakdown:

B2B companies (media groups, software-as-a-service, online marketing): 8

Lifestyle companies (travel, AWAI); 5

Financial (financial newsletter subscriptions, books, online services): 12

Health (exercise, nutrition, natural healing): 6

Business Opportunity (digital marketing, web writing): 4

Miscellaneous: 2

Spec only table (representing 3 companies): 1

As I mentioned before, there were around 400 attendees. About 75% of those attendees were Circle of Success members (AWAI’s top tier program, and also priciest).

The Circle of Success members receive early access before everyone else – from 3:30 – 4:00 PM. So by the time I walked into the room, it was packed full of other attendees, all pitching themselves.

The Job Fair is exciting, I will admit. There are many marketers who are definitely looking for sharp copywriters to help them with their projects. They will take the time to talk to you and you also have the chance to ask them questions about their needs.

However, because this Bootcamp was so large, it added an extra burden to already-overwhelmed marketers. One poor man at a table was feverishly scribbling each person’s name on a notepad who spoke to him and what I assumed were reminder notes about the short conversation.

And short conversation is about all you’ll get. Because there are so many other attendees who are waiting to speak to the marketer, you don’t have time to get into detail about what you can offer and definitely no time for small talk.

This is why the claim of “In just a few hours, writers are getting projects that offer income for months …” doesn’t seem believable. When you have to wait in a line to speak to a marketer and know you only have perhaps 2 – 3 minutes to talk to her, it’s difficult to think that a project can come from it. Especially when you know that she probably has already spoken to at least a few dozen people before and after you.

The best you can do in this circumstance is follow the guidance of AWAI. They have a session for first-timers just before the Job Fair opens and give plenty of good pointers.

They also explain what spec assignments are and why it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.

Spec assignments are sort of like a writer’s version of an audition.

You don’t get paid for a spec assignment. It’s usually writing something short like a headline and lead for a sales letter. If the marketer likes it, you’ll be asked to write the full letter. Only if they use it will you get paid.

However, realize that because the Bootcamp has increased its attendance, and because more people are now submitting specs, the competition is fierce. I know someone who submitted a spec to a Job Fair company. After a few months, he learned that this company had over 500 specs submitted.

Just let that number sink in.

Five hundred.

The copywriter in question was good about follow-up, which is key to getting any kind of project when the odds are against you. Most freelancers (in any field) are great when they contact someone for the first time. But after a few attempts of trying to contact someone, they usually give up.

As my salesman father says – the average time it takes to make a sale is seven touches. That’s either sending an email, a letter, or calling a prospect. You just have to keep trying until the prospect tells you to stop.

Another thing to consider: those testimonials you see on the AWAI sales letter for the event? Some of them are old. The landscape is vastly different than it was in 2009 for Roy Furr or 2005 for Joshua Boswell. You’re talking six to ten years ago – when attendance at an AWAI Bootcamp wasn’t as high as it is now.

Back then, there were a handful of people turning in spec assignments. Now more are doing it because more have discovered copywriting and they’re eager to get their foot in the door.

So does this mean you shouldn’t try? Of course not. I consider completing a spec assignment as great practice for your craft. One of the better things AWAI did for the 2014 Bootcamp attendees was to provide training calls that helped explain what made for a successful sales letter or sidebar. Clayton Makepeace (one of the most successful direct response copywriters around), did a phenomenal video on what it would take to beat a control. He was very specific as he outlined the sections of a financial package. That was a copywriting class in and of itself.

I’ll repeat what I said in my previous review regarding spec assignments: you really aren’t given any idea of what the marketer’s expectations are. You will not learn why your spec assignment was rejected, which means you won’t have any idea of how to improve your approach. You’re pretty much left in the dark.

My advice is to find some copywriters who’ve been doing this for a few years and ask if they’d take a look at your copy and give you feedback. Make sure this is for a short spec assignment. Few copywriters will give you a thorough critique for an 11-page promotion. But at least you’ll get some experienced eyes on your work and receive valuable tips.

I focused on a few companies to pursue at the Job Fair and although I didn’t receive any opportunities (yet) from the event, I am following up with them.

A few more truths about the Job Fair that I discovered:

  • One person sent samples to a Job Fair marketer (some companies request a portfolio or samples instead of a spec assignment). This person did hear back from them and was given a small project. However, after completing the project, they had to wait three months for payment (which was $250). No further projects were given, though. And this person is a very solid writer.
  • Another person (who AWAI has used to write their Bootcamp sales letter and other promotional copy) won the Boardroom spec challenge. This person completed the rest of the sales letter for Boardroom and received payment. However, no further projects materialized.
  • Another well-known copywriter today submitted a spec for Nightengale-Conant. This person, who also is a very talented B2B copywriter and savvy professional, never heard from them – in spite of consistent follow-up. This individual is wildly successful today, though.

It takes time for some of these companies to sift through all the specs and sometimes, they may not contact you until months after Bootcamp.

The point is this: approach the Job Fair with realistic expectations. You may get some projects from it or you may not. It is not an indictment of your competency as a copywriter. Many copywriters who attend the AWAI Bootcamp but get absolutely no projects whatsoever from it (raising hand), find plenty of work elsewhere through a diligent marketing strategy.

More about direct response copywriting

From my conversations with copywriters who have written for direct response marketing companies, I noticed one thing.

They had little to no client relationship with the company.

Direct response marketers look for results and they’re typically not patient about it. Many have a “churn and burn” approach toward copywriters. You might get one shot but if your copy doesn’t perform well, that might be all you get. My husband used to write direct response copy and developed strong relationships with his clientele… but that was over 20 years ago. To find that today is very rare.

There also seems to be a general disorganization with many direct response copywriting projects. Decisions seem to be made last-minute and the copywriters are expected to drop everything in order to turn the copy around quickly.

If this isn’t your style and you prefer a more professional client/vendor relationship, then B2B copywriting will be your best choice.

B2B and B2C Copywriting

B2B copywriting is when a business sells a product or service to another business. B2C copywriting is when a business sells to the customer, such as retail businesses, dentists, lawyers, chiropractors and other professional services.

Over the years, I’ve developed relationships with several clients who continue to give me B2B copywriting projects on an ongoing basis. This includes web copy, email copy, sell sheets, brochures, press releases and company bios.

For one company, I was hired to write the web copy for a complete redesign of their website. It was for a five-figure fee. It was a lucrative opportunity that was on par with many direct response opportunities.

The other bonus of B2B/B2C copywriting is that the more you do it, the more efficient you’ll become with your writing. It isn’t unheard of that a B2B copywriter will earn more money in less time than their fellow direct response copywriters. Writing a direct response package is often a very large undertaking. It can take over a month by the time you factor in the research for the package, the writing itself, and the revision process.

Meanwhile, you could be cranking out 3 – 4 sell sheets in a couple of weeks that could net you between $1500 – $4000, depending on your experience and the industry.

When you get hired to write business copy, you get the chance to shine with your deliverables. I’ve told new copywriters that an easy-going personality, willingness to compromise on their copy (IOW, don’t take criticism so personally), and the ability to nail the deadlines consistently will make you highly desirable as a service provider.

A few years ago, I corresponded with a successful copywriter who was mentored by Clayton Makepeace. He shared with me that the direct response copywriting world is actually pretty small and the copywriters are fairly well-known. According to him, there were about 200 direct response copywriters that companies would use over and over again.

So think about that. 200 is a very small number compared with the hundreds and hundreds of people who contact AWAI, hoping to break into the field. I’m not saying it’s not possible. I just am giving you a realistic picture of what’s on the playing field.

Now consider business copywriting and you have a much larger playing field.

How do you get started?

For me, it’s happened in various ways. I used job boards to get started, which helped teach me about client relations. I also used LinkedIn to let my contacts know I was available for copywriting projects and I got referrals.

Look at the opportunities in your own town or city. Often there are Chambers of Commerce or other professional business groups where you can visit a meeting and start letting people know you’re a copywriter for hire.

Finally, build strategic partnerships with website developers, digital marketing or interactive agencies, and graphic designers where their clients might need copy. I am currently discussing a possible project with a company who was referred to me by a website designer.

So, to wrap it up: AWAI FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair will give you information, inspiration, and motivation to become the best copywriter you can be. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet industry giants in the copywriting world, although you may not be able to personally chat with all of them. Just manage your expectations when you attend and you’ll be fine. You likely won’t walk out with a $20K contract, but you will have met some amazing people and yes, maybe even have collected a few key business cards.

And make sure you re-watch the videos and listen to the audios of the presentations (available online through your AWAI account). There is so much great information that will continue to help you in your journey. The challenge is to apply it all! But in time, you’ll start to get the hang of it.

Although I chose to spend time at night with my husband rather than schmooze at the bar, I recommend taking the time to socialize later at night if you can. It’s simply another way to create opportunity and grow your business.

How Black Friday Got A New Brand

When your customers hate your product, it's time for a change...

Yes, it’s that time of year, again.

Black Friday.

It’s the day after Thanksgiving where retailers throughout the U.S. offer amazing deals, opening their doors early in the morning so bargain-hunters can get a jump on their holiday shopping.

Aside from the fact that retailers have started to give these amazing deals the week before Thanksgiving and are starting their “Black Friday” sales on Thanksgiving night, Black Friday was originally not a good thing for the economy.

“Black Friday” Bad News Blues

In fact, it all started in 1869. Friday, September 24, 1869, to be precise.

Two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, tried to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange. When the federal government saw that the price of gold was starting to soar, they sold $4 million in gold. On September 20, 1869, Gould and Fisk started hoarding gold, driving the price higher.

When the government gold hit the market, the price took a nosedive in minutes. Investors scrambled to sell their holdings but it was too late. Many fortunes were ruined. And so, that particular Friday was nicknamed, “Black Friday.”

A Successful Re-branding Effort

Fast forward to 1966. A dealer in rare stamps, Earl Apfelbaum, decided that he wanted to re-brand “Black Friday.”

In a column, he said:

“‘Black Friday’ is the name that the Philadelphia Police Department gave to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. ‘Black Friday’ officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.”

Because retailers didn’t want the history of “Black Fridays” and “Black Mondays” to be associated with what they saw as a profitable day, they decided to “newsjack” the term and turn it around for their benefit.

They used the name to reflect opportunity for the bargain-hunter and the idea that a store was “in the black” financially to be able to afford such generous discounts.

A very successful ploy turned something negative into a positive.

It’s all about positioning.

What About Your Brand?

While most are focused on grabbing a great deal today, you might give your own brand some thought.

Are there any negative connotations with the brand name? Is there a way you can “newsjack” a negative impression and turn it around?

In 2009, Domino’s successfully faced the hate for their own brand and turned it around. When they focused on how much people really disliked their pizza, they admitted that at first, it hurt. Many people in the home office had dedicated many hours toward delivering pizza fast as well as a tasty pizza.

But focus groups told a different story.

So Domino’s decided to embrace the hate instead of running from it and using it to motivate them to make a better pizza.

I recently had a Domino’s pizza and was pleasantly surprised. Gone was the bland, cardboard-like taste I remembered from my college days. And now they offer a gluten-free crust.

I applaud Domino’s for listening to their customers and then doing something about it. That’s not easy for a large brand like them. But they did it and it surprised the heck out of most people.

Let it motivate you. And since you already ate enough turkey yesterday, maybe pizza is exactly what you need to order in tonight, as you munch their new concoctions and ponder the power of re-branding.

How I Reintroduced Creative Alchemy Into My Life Again

Seek out your own creative lab...In October, I had the opportunity to attend two events that gave me a fresh perspective on my business. One was a writing retreat that only had twelve other writers attending. The other was a larger copywriting conference that had around 400 registrants.

I have to admit I preferred the writing retreat.

Plus, how can a writer (or anyone else for that matter) not love attending a writing retreat. In Vermont. In October?

I’m still unpacking everything I absorbed during the writing retreat, but here are a few things I learned and how it’s changing my life:

Creative Alchemy grows in fresh, new environments

I write in the same place almost every day. At home. At my desk. In complete silence.

I have a window on the side that allows me to gaze at the weather as I ponder ideas and thoughts for the project at hand.

I can’t write in a crowded cafe. It’s too tempting to eavesdrop and get caught up in my observations about my surroundings.

But I do know that doing the same thing, in the same place, can end up stifling one’s creativity. It’s good to break up the routine every once in awhile.

This is where a retreat can help. Traveling away from my home and spending twelve hours in a car allowed me to de-compress from my daily life and start to think of new ideas.

I was excited to be able to attend the retreat and the excitement continued throughout the time I spent in Vermont.

Although Steve Roller (the leader of the writing retreat), is a smart, creative guy… the true creativity came as a result of what I call “creative alchemy.” It happens when you’re in a room with a bunch of other creative people.

As I listened to Steve’s ideas, the creative pump started to get primed. But once the ideas were out and people started to discuss them, that’s when the waters of creativity really flowed.

I can’t overestimate how important it is to get together face-to-face with creative people.

Email doesn’t cut it. Facebook messages don’t cut it. And texting definitely doesn’t cut it.

These modern tools of communication end up truncating any creativity that has a chance to flow before the first trickle even starts.

Think about it.

You find yourself checking email then realize the laundry probably just finished its washing cycle, so you leave to attend that task…

Or you check Facebook briefly, see that someone left you a message that opened an interesting conversation and you answer it. But then you leave Facebook because you have to get back to work…

You’re working and a colleague texts you something that you really want to comment on at greater length, but you don’t have the time. So you quickly reply with a “Absolutely. Totally agree.”

How on earth can creative alchemy happen with such short exchanges?

Short answer: it can’t.

So I have taken some steps to fix my solitary life so that I interact more with people face-to-face. I joined a weekly networking group. I also am looking to increase my participation with an entrepreneurial center in town that attracts a lot of creative people.

I ask people to meet for coffee more often.

And you know what? Something new is happening in my business. I’m stirring things up and I’m getting introduced to new people, attracting new clients and working on new projects. Which is pretty exciting stuff.

So I challenge you to do something similar.

You might not have a writing or work-related retreat to attend, but look for opportunities to get together with other people who have a desire to grow and improve their business. It could be a Meetup group or a networking group in town.

There are many opportunities that already exist. If you can’t find one, start one! You might be surprised that others have been waiting for someone to do just that.

Creative Alchemy thrives when you feed your brain good stuff

How do you get ideas?

Well, we all know the Good Idea Fairy doesn’t come around too often. At least, not without a little coaxing.

Here’s my recipe for superb creative alchemy:

Take a few blogs from creative thinkers, add in some daily thoughts on the world from news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, sprinkle in some books that make you think and stir vigorously.

Then take a nap.

Some will laugh but once you fill your mind with thought-provoking information, it’s important to give your brain a rest. You need that information to percolate a bit inside your noggin. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas either just before I fell asleep or just as I awoke.

This may mean you’ll need to curtail your activity on social media or skip watching your favorite TV show, but it’s well worth it. You’re not going to get fresh ideas by mimicking others.

You get fresh ideas by absorbing information and then developing your own take on it.

Creative alchemy thrives when you do something

I took lots of notes during the writing retreat. I read some books, talked to some interesting people, and then mulled over some ideas.

But really, nothing happens until you do something.

Make a decision. Commit to it. And take action.

You can come up with the greatest ideas in the world, but if you don’t act upon them, they’re just dreams.

Part of being a creative is having too many ideas. The challenge is to find the ones worth pursuing. Sometimes it’s a matter of just choosing one and running with it.

Here’s an interesting fact: whenever I’ve gone forward with taking a risk and developing an idea, it’s always been followed by other ideas, some which have turned out really, really well.

It’s always made me wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t followed up on Great Idea A. Would Great Idea B, C, and D have been born? I lean toward saying “no.”

I believe acting upon an idea births other ideas. Imperfect action beats over-analysis. Think of the term, “movers and shakers.” The “movers and shakers” of the world are in motion. They’re not still, like a pond. There is life to them… vibrancy. Energy.

This energy has to be cultivated. It’s why I returned from the retreat with a renewed commitment to increase my activity level – to pursue meeting more people face-to-face and fill my mind with new sources of information and inspiration.

Recently, an artist friend of mine (who also is an talented copywriter), introduced me to her artist journals. They were breathtaking. And they reminded me that my artistic talents had been relegated to digital design for far too long.

Bottom line: I needed to hold a pencil in my hands again.

So the following weekend, I visited a local art store and bought a Moleskine sketchbook, colored pencils, and a pencil accessory kit.

Art supplies that shape my world

I’m starting out slow with some sketches and yes, they suck. At least for now they suck. But in time, my artistic eye is going to come back and I’ll be rocking and rolling again. Meanwhile, I believe that my experimentation is going to bring in even more creative alchemy in my life.

So go for it. The important thing is to move forward with your creativity. Find ways to cultivate it. Discover what inspires you and then make it a part of your daily and weekly life. Your life will be better for it.

This One Trait Will Help You Win New Business

Be this guy.

I AM [SHER]LOCKED

Some of you may recognize the headline. If you’re a fan of the U.K. TV series, “Sherlock,” then you’ll remember it was the code used to unlock a woman’s mobile phone, which held secrets that could topple the British government.

The Woman

The one woman who almost managed to outwit Sherlock Holmes and intrigue his heart. (As far as a woman could intrigue a man with the mind of a computer.) She was gorgeous, scandalous (a dominatrix, of all things), and very, very smart. She finally thought she had out-maneuvered Sherlock and his brother Mycroft. But in the end, Sherlock finally figured out that her “game” of pretending to care for him really wasn’t a game, after all. The lock code on her phone just happened to be his name. Well done, Holmes!

So before I start really going off the deep-end on Sherlock Holmes (The Cowboy and I have already finished the season and now are watching the 1954 TV series, “Sherlock Holmes” with Ronald Howard), I’ll zip us into what I’ve learned about the TV version of Sherlock Holmes.

He noticed everything.

This may not seem like such an eye-opener. Most people realize the character of Sherlock Holmes has this uncanny knack for being able to identify a person’s line of work, whether they have one or two dogs, or even if they’re secretly a smoker— all by his powerful gift for deductive reasoning.

So what does this mean for you and your business?

Become Sherlock Holmes.

The trait: Be curious about your customers. Notice everything you can about them.

When was the last time you sat down and really paid attention to what your last client had to say? What did they like about what you did for them? What were they looking for? Did they find it with you? Were they happy after receiving it and if so, did you get the details?

One of the smartest decisions I made years ago when I was a relationship coach for single women over 40 was giving free workshops. I shared the information and expertise I had for free and in exchange, I became their student.

I absorbed everything I could about their likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, fears, victories, and failures. I watched their faces when they talked about their last date. I asked what was the toughest thing about dating as an older woman (knowing where to look for dates or having the time to look for potential dates), and how open they were to trying new things. I constantly came up with more questions, transforming a dry delivery of information into a lively discussion of dating as middle-aged women.

From those times of observation, I then developed information products and a fee-based seminar series. And all of it was based on what I learned during those free workshops. Here are some tips:

No matter where you live, you most likely have a public library in town.
Public libraries have meetings rooms you can use for free, as long as you don’t sell anything during your presentation. Many libraries have programs, paying a small stipend to teachers and trainers.

Check to see if your library has such programs and if not, ask to reserve a room, anyway.
You can say you’re testing your presentation skills and need an audience. (Which is true. We all need to continue practicing our presentation skills.)

Tell the library that you’d like to pull in some of their books on the subject.
They may even do that for you! But you can easily work it out. Librarians love sharing information and can often find books you didn’t even know existed.

Promote your free workshop everywhere you can: newspapers will print events in their event section, and use social media to reach out to those in your city.
Just make sure to pass the press release to the library for approval. (I got in some hot water when one newspaper rejected my title and came up with their own: “Find a Husband at the Library.”) Not my fault but I had to do some serious tap-dancing for the branch manager!

The best way to observe anything is in person, with your own eyes. Trying to gather this type of information from the Internet is like wrapping a bandana over your eyes and covering your ears with earmuffs. You’ll only get a fraction of your target audience’s motivators.

Meanwhile, once you have a few workshops under your belt, you’ll be amazed by how much more insight you now have into your target customer’s emotional triggers.

And that’s what you want to use in your copy.

Have your attendees fill out a rating sheet right after your workshop. Such input is like gold for your marketing strategy. Use their own words to describe your services and products. It will now resonate with your target customer because it will have (obviously) the “ring of truth” for them.

You don’t need to carry a magnifying glass with you at these events or wear a deerstalker cap. Just bring your beautiful self and deliver quality, primo info your prospect can use. And then watch and listen.

You’ll soon be able to deduce exactly what makes your customer tick.

Serious About Brand Sales? Don’t Send a Journalist to Do a Copywriter’s Job

Want the green stuff? Hire a copywriter.

Do you want to increase sales for your business?

I’m about to take a very strong stand on business writing and specifically, clear up misunderstandings regarding copywriting. I have finally reached my limit on “content marketers” taking swipes at copywriters.

And for the record, the two are not the same.

If you own a business…

If you’ve been overwhelmed with messages about how you need to include content marketing in your marketing strategy…

This article is for you.

I was motivated to write this after reading “Serious About Brand Publishing? Don’t Send a Copywriter to Do a Journalist’s Job” on Contently.com.

It was filled with so many inaccuracies (and no small amount of hubris), that I knew I had to set the record straight.

Straddling the Fence

A little background:

For the past year and a half, I’ve straddled the fence. Years ago, I used to identify myself as a copywriter.

But I was slightly frustrated when I had to explain at networking events that no, I could not help someone copyright their unique design for window blinds or for a golf course community idea.

I realize not every business owner is familiar with the copywriting profession. So I decided to make it easier for them by explaining I write content for businesses, such as web copy, case studies, white papers, email copy and more.

I started to call myself a content marketing writer.

But something strange happened over the course of eighteen months.

I noticed brands were being encouraged to hire journalists to write their content.

Because they knew “how to tell a story.”

A new concept was born: brand publishing. Brands started to hire more journalists to work as their own in-house media department. The marketing department now resembles a news room for many companies, complete with an editor-in-chief and editorial calendars.

According to The Content Marketing institute, the definition of content marketing is this:

Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior.

Attract and retain customers. Just keep that phrase in your mind as we move ahead.

Many believe that content marketing is simply the way marketing is now being done. However, I believe companies have always used content in their marketing.

It just now has a spiffy name to describe it.

The State of Journalism

It’s no secret the profession of journalism has been devastated by the birth of the Internet.

When the “world wide web” came onto the scene, it changed everything. Music, books, entertainment, media, commerce—all were significantly impacted by the technology.

Newspapers and magazines suddenly had competition—the public.

Media companies have experienced and continue to experience massive layoffs. Many journalists suddenly found themselves out of a job. It’s tough to get paid for your opinion when everyone is able to share theirs for free online.

As a result, there’s a glut of unemployed journalists.

I can’t blame a journalist for wanting to continue to write for a living. But I do believe there is a difference between investigative reporting and marketing. With the former, you’re trying to find the truth. With the latter, you’re adorning it.

Many journalists who love their craft resent having to approach a major brand for a job. Some call it “going to the dark side.” It’s because for years, these journalists have looked at large corporations with a jaded eye, often accusing them of greed and unethical behavior.

Many of their concerns have been justified but not all corporations are evil. However, it’s difficult to shake that perspective when one is accustomed to only seeing the negative aspects of commerce.

Fast forward to today. The same journalists, who before vilified corporations, are now being asked to write about them in glowing terms.

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

It’s not a comfortable fit. But journalists, like everyone else, have to make a living. And filling the role within these organizations as “brand journalists” seems to be a small compromise for having a regular paycheck again.

Journalists and Marketing

But here’s the thing: businesses have been humming along for centuries without journalists cranking out their marketing content.

In fact, these businesses have a history of using a specific type of writer to help them sell their products and services both offline and online.

That writer is called a copywriter.

There are some similarities between a content writer and a copywriter, but there is also some confusion between the two.

As copywriting legend Clayton Makepeace says, “Copywriting turns black ink into green money.”

Copywriting is not journalism. Copywriting helps a business sell their products and services. Copywriting is “salesmanship-in-print.”

It is copywriters who have helped businesses grow. Not journalists. But suddenly, journalists are arriving on the scene (perhaps reluctantly), to declare they’re the new darlings of the marketing world and as such, superior to “traditional” writers such as copywriters.

But here’s the deal—copywriters aren’t trying to tell newspapers and magazines how to write news.

However, journalists suddenly think they can walk into a business and tell them how to write marketing collateral.

It Still Is About Copywriting

Content marketers like to point to publications like Deere & Company’s, The Furrow, as a great example of content marketing.

John Deere started The Furrow in 1895 for one reason and one reason only.

To sell their tractors.

They weren’t trying to “tell their story” to the customer. They simply wanted a farmer to understand the benefits of owning a John Deere tractor. And it worked.

In 1904, the owner of Jell-O, Frank Woodward, was at the end of his rope.

The flavored gelatin just wasn’t selling. He finally had the idea to create a small cookbook with recipes using Jell-O and had sales representatives peddle it door-to-door. The ploy worked. It increased sales by $1 million within two years and Jell-O finally became a household name.

It wasn’t journalists who came up with these ideas. It was business owners. Sales people. And the point of these marketing tactics was to increase sales. Period.

Attract and retain customers? You bet.

3 Different Types of Copywriters

Not all copywriters are the same, though. There are different types of copywriters although all have the same goal: to sell their client’s products or services with their words.

Here they are:

Ad Agency Copywriter

This copywriter usually works on media ads: print, radio, television, and web ads. They are often focused on the concept of an ad and lean heavily on being creative with design. They’re usually employed by an ad agency but some are independent workers.

B2B and B2C Copywriter

This copywriter writes marketing collateral such as case studies, sell sheets, white papers, special reports, email copy, web copy and more. They can be either in-house or receive outsourced projects as an independent worker.

Direct Response Copywriter

This copywriter is probably the purest form of copywriter. I know some may disagree with me, but if you view copywriting as “salesmanship in print,” no other type of writer can hold a candle to the direct response copywriter.

This type of copywriter relentlessly focuses on getting a prospect to respond to an offer. B2B and B2C copywriters may use elements of direct response, but not the full menu of tactics (unless they’re writing a long sales page for their website). Even then, they’re probably not going to come on as strong with their persuasive tactics as a DR copywriter.

If you really want a copywriter who understands response rates and gets you sales, find and hire a direct response copywriter.

Inaccuracies and Wild Assumptions

The Contently article makes several inaccuracies about copywriters, slyly positioning a journalist as the person who can do a better job when it comes to brand messaging. I’ll tackle them individually.

Myth #1: Journalists Do a Better Job With Research

Says who? And I don’t think it’s a fair assessment. Some journalists do better, some do worse. It’s the same for copywriters.

Copywriters have to conduct a great deal of research in order to write their copy. It certainly doesn’t come floating through the window on the wings of a garden muse.

Evernote is my favorite way to categorize my research. I also do this “old school” kind of research called… talking to people. Yes. Copywriters do talk to people who fit the targeted demographic of their company or client.

And if a copywriter is writing for a financial organization, you better believe they do a boatload of research. Businesses can’t make false claims or they’ll end up in a lawsuit. It’s up to the copywriter (and the client’s lawyers) to make sure the claims are truthful and legal.

In particular, Contently’s article quotes Duy Linh Tu, director of digital media at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism:

“The crux of emotion in journalism comes out of facts, whereas the emotion in copywriting comes out of a hook or a tagline or an association with a larger thought.”

Perhaps Tu is thinking of ad agency copy, but even with that style of copywriting, there still needs to be a factual claim.

The point is, copywriters work hard at research because it is only when you thoroughly understand your market and its pain/pleasure points that you’ll be able to write effective copy.

Myth #2: Only Journalists Can Write Well

When you have a quote like this:

So what happens when a brand publication hires a copywriter to do the top-notch editorial work usually assigned to a trained journalist?

The quality of reporting can suffer.

The ignorance speaks for itself.

“Top-notch editorial work,” eh? How charmingly condescending.

Copywriters have been writing powerful, compelling copy for centuries. Many of my fellow copywriters hunt down “swipe files” from the past (high-performing long copy ads) and study them carefully.

I have a book by Clyde Bedell, How to Write Advertising That Sells, which was the 1940 textbook for a business course given at Northwestern University. He talks about telling a story in “Chapter 6: A Method of Approach to Copy – Part III: Selling Stratagems – Arouse Interest and Create Desire.”

In fact, here’s an insight: The copywriting Bedell taught (and just about every great copywriter before and after), was more about joining the conversation instead of telling a story.

“Telling a story” only takes into consideration one point of view—the writer’s.

But joining a conversation already going on in the head of your buyer is instead considering their point of view. Because it’s the only way you’ll reach them. (h/t Robert Collier)

Copywriters are constantly improving their craft. They write constantly. To assume they’re unable to produce “top-notch editorial work” insinuates a sub-standard level of writing – which is an insult.

I’ll put a Clayton Makepeace or a John Carlton up against any journalist producing “top-notch editorial work” and I’ll guarantee you they’ll knock it out of the park when it comes to getting a response from the target market. Meanwhile, the journalist’s piece may get accolades from their peers but no sales.

Myth #3: Skepticism is Necessary for Business Writing and Only Journalists Know How to Do It Right

First, I don’t agree with the premise. Who says skepticism is a necessary quality for business writing? Why is it needed?

From the article:

[Copywriters aren’t] skeptical enough… and that’s a problem.

In addition to their experience asking hard-hitting questions—a skill that many reporters spend years honing—journalists are motivated by a heavy dose of skepticism. This approach helps them pursue the (sometimes ugly) truth and weed out any factual inaccuracies or PR spin.

Journalists aren’t afraid to ask probing follow-up questions or seek answers for contradictory claims or data. This skill would likely be considered aggressive in other professional settings. Knight Chair in Journalism Steve Doig teaches at Arizona State University, and he’s found that students of his who are nervous about the idea of approaching important people and demanding answers typically end up in copywriting.

This trait is perfectly fine when it comes to unearthing the truth in a news story.

But does it have a place in writing marketing material?

I say no.

Who’s receiving these “hard-hitting questions?” What “ugly truth” is being pursued? This confused me.

Because let’s face it, if you have a product or service that you want to sell, you want to speak directly to your perfect customer. You want to follow up with solutions that will help them.

If you get questions from them, you answer them.

It’s called customer service.

As for demanding answers, that’s the province of journalists. I don’t see it offering any value for the marketing department, unless it’s the executive offices wondering why the copy isn’t bringing in sales.

The purpose of marketing copy is to sell the product. It’s to open the conversation between a potential buyer and the company. Customers don’t have patience for marketing that doesn’t immediately speak to their need or tap into a desire.

Leave the skepticism and probing questions where they belong: with the local and national news coverage.

If You Want Sales for Your Business… Hire a Copywriter

The Contently article ended on this note:

Send someone without reporting skills and experience into the reporting field, and you may wind up with a beautifully written report riddled with inaccurate information—or one that doesn’t really tell much of a story at all.

A traditional media company would never send a copywriter to do a journalist’s job. As a brand publisher, why would you?

Let’s throw this one in reverse:

A business would never expect a journalist to do a copywriter’s job. As a brand who is interested in increasing your revenue, why would you?

Businesses don’t have time to play around. The economy is finally recovering but it’s been slow. They’re interested in staying in business. This means they need copywriters who know how to sell their products and services.

Copywriters have been telling the story of businesses for ages. It’s not a new concept.

But more importantly, a copywriter knows how to SELL your story so your customer buys into it. Done right and you’ll have a happy customer who swears by your product (hello, Apple, IKEA and In-N-Out Burger).

Journalists may know how to weave a good tale. But business owners need more than a good story in order to persuade their prospects to buy.

Ultimately, you need a writer who can put your company’s solution in the best light possible AND persuade a prospective buyer to take a second look. If you find a writer who can do that, no matter what their background, you’ve found a winner.

Are You Ready to Disrupt Your Brand With “The Ninja Surprise?”

The Ninja

What is your brand?

Is your brand about equality (IBM), overcoming obstacles (Adidas), forward thinking and speed (FedEx), dominance in quality and style (Mercedes Benz), or nourishment (McDonald’s)?

There exists a plethora of information both online and off about building your brand. Most businesses, after completing the main development of their product or service, turn toward identifying their offering in a unique way.

But what happens when your brand ends up sounding like every other brand in your category?

And what happens when consumers no longer identify themselves by your brand? What do you do when you’re just another bottle of water sitting on a shelf and they chose your competitor simply because it was on sale?

My job is to help clients identify their differentiators so I can write the most effective copy in order to create engagement and increase sales. This is becoming more difficult when either a) the client doesn’t understand their differentiators aren’t really differentiators and b) they haven’t given any thought as to how to disrupt their own brand.

Brands are focused on getting more people engaged with them. They are forever trying to manage the expectations of their target audience.

If they exceed expectations by delighting the consumer, it’s good. But if they fail to meet their consumer’s expectations, it can be bad. In fact, stories abound of brands failing to live up to those expectations in the form of social media updates. The customer can now tell the whole world exactly what they think of a particular business.

Another Way to Disrupt Your Brand

There is another way to stand out from your competition.

It doesn’t have anything to do with creating more choices or coming out with a new feature that your competition will be quick to adopt.

I call it “The Ninja Surprise.”

It’s fairly self-descriptive. It means surprising your buyer by offering something that resonates with him in an unexpected way.

I’ll give you an example.

MailChimp has been my preferred email service provider for years. Even when I’ve looked at other ESPs (some being rather large and complex in their options), I’ve returned to MailChimp, even more firm in choosing them as my favorite “go to” source for email marketing.

Why?

I discovered MailChimp in 2010 and had a unique experience that caused me to suddenly adore them. I can’t guarantee this adoration will last forever (who knows if they’ll be bought by another company or go out of business). But MailChimp did something that made me sit up and take notice.

When I first started to use them, I was dealing with a stale email list. If you work with email marketing, you know what I’m talking about. Email addresses that were old, many of them no longer in use.

I had a list of hundreds of emails. I had no idea which addresses were current and which weren’t. When I switched to MailChimp, I imported our large list and sent out the first newsletter.

The bounce rate was high. Really high. And MailChimp, being the smart company they are and not wanting to get blocked by servers, immediately suspended my account because the list looked suspicious. Anytime you have a high bounce rate, there is a good possibility the list was bought from a list broker who didn’t check the validity of the addresses. MailChimp and other ESPs strongly discourage buying such lists.

So I looked like a spammer to MailChimp. Fantastic.

As soon as I received the email that told me MailChimp suspended my account, I immediately went to their site and started an online chat with a representative.

I explained I had an old list and it was my first email campaign with them. I knew many addresses were old but had no idea the ones that were – but now that I knew, I’d be removing them from my list.

I apologized profusely and offered to sacrifice my Mac laptop on the altar of a Best Buy counter if they’d only give me another chance.

Thankfully I didn’t have to sacrifice anything. The representative was extremely kind and understanding and they reinstated my account immediately.

I was so relieved and grateful that I immediately went out on social media and bragged on them. I mean, I told everyone how nice MailChimp was for not kicking me to the curb and how they gave me a second chance.

And did I mention that I was a “free account” user?

But MailChimp wasn’t done with impressing me. A week later, I received this fun postcard:

MailChimp postcard of stickers front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MailChimp postcard of stickers back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back read:

Bam! Ninja surprise!

Hello Mary Rose,

Just a note, and some stickers to say THANKS for your kind words!! If you ever need anything, please let us know! ~ MailChimp

Now if you notice, it was a very simple sentiment on the back of the postcard. It wasn’t signed by anyone. And in very tiny letters right below the address section was this: From your human support team.

Do you think this disrupted their brand for me?

Oh, yeah. Big time.

I highly doubt they realized I’m really into ninjas and martial arts in general. Or that I love colorful stickers because it speaks to the kid in me. Or that as a marketer I thought this was one of the coolest customer touches ever.

I’ll break it down even more.

Some businesses might “snail mail” a kind thank-you note for something so seemingly small as bragging on them online. Or even easier – a nice email that contained a discount.

But MailChimp did something even better. They obviously put some thought into producing something different for their communication purposes. They created a fun piece of engagement. And they even continued their theme of “chimp” by featuring chimp ninja stickers.

It resonated with me in a way that I was not expecting.

That is why I love MailChimp.

Go Beyond the Expected

There are so many ways to be creative.

To disrupt your brand.

To do something that makes your buyer go, “Huh…” in a good way.

To start, think about all the things that ordinarily happen. Think of the usual or the expected. Then brainstorm for ways you can sidestep it and go for “The Ninja Surprise.”

It could be unexpectedly visiting a customer, bearing a gift basket. Or packing something unique in their order box.

Whatever it is, put some thought into it. Take whatever your branding message is and wrap it around something daring and remarkable. Look for a creative way to delight the person and give them something they weren’t expecting.

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about differentiation. To me, the secret is knowing your own personality and putting the human touch on what you deliver.

Because there’s no one like you.

And if you put in the effort, no one will ever be able to duplicate you.

Inspirational Monday: Nobody Tells Creative People There’s A Gap

The destination is worth it.

I recently came across this wonderful video posted on Vimeo. It’s the storyteller, Ira Glass, who is talking about people who are beginning to move forward with creating something.

I love this.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

I love this because it is telling the truth about creativity.

No one has seen the sculptures that Michelangelo created and then blasted into smithereens with a hammer because they were crap.

No one has seen the paintings of Monet, Rembrandt, and Matisse that started with a good idea but ended badly.

No one has read the stories that Stephen King threw away.

This video is a reminder that behind closed doors, a bloody battle is underway for the creative person.

The battle is to birth a vision inside one’s mind, to bring to life accurately whatever that vision may be.

A musician may hear a perfect symphony within their mind, but when they try to compose it, something is missing. They’re not sure what it is, but whatever they produced doesn’t sound nearly as magnificent as it did in their mind.

This “gap”—the space between thinking about something and making something—has been a constant source of frustration and anguish for many artists.

But this doesn’t apply only to artists. We’re all creators, whether we’re creating a painting or a marketing strategy. Every time we go to create anything, we have a certain idea of the perfect outcome. We go into the process believing that we’re going to make it happen. We’ll make that vision a reality.

The Long Road

But to make that vision a reality takes practice.

Lots and lots of practice. And a willingness to cherish our ideas like children.

I mean, think about it. You wouldn’t boot a toddler out on the street because he left crumbs on the floor, would you? You wouldn’t tell a five-year old to take a hike because while trying to help you dry the dishes, she broke one, right?

Yet that’s so often what we do with our ideas when they don’t arrive neatly into our world. We either think the idea sucks or we suck. Sometimes both.

Then we bang our heads against the wall while asking ourselves if there’s really any point to creating.

Yes. Yes there is.

The road toward mastery takes time. And not months, either. More like years.

When I posted the above video to a copywriting group, one person responded with a simple word.

“Promise?”

In other words, promise that it gets better?

It’s tough to see that “better” in your future when you may be experiencing rejection left and right. Perhaps your boss was less than pleased with the dismal performance of your great idea.

Or maybe a client took a look at what you produced and hammered you for it. A good friend of mine just had a hellacious experience with such a person.

Whatever rejection you might be experiencing, either from someone else or yourself, please don’t let that be the end of the road for your idea.

Continue playing with it. Tweak it. Adjust. Spin it around. Turn it inside out, upside down, and right-side up.

So many brilliant ideas came as a result of testing and experimentation.

Take a break from thinking about it and go for a walk or maybe a bicycle ride. Call a friend. See the latest blockbuster movie. Relax. Take a nap. Just like your body, your mind needs to rest after exertion.

Be prepared for something incredible to come to you at the most inopportune times, too. Mine often come to me in church. I end up scribbling a reminder note to myself on the church bulletin that I follow up on when I get home.

For some, it happens while taking a shower or just before you fall asleep. Always have a notebook and pen nearby so you can jot down these ideas.

Don’t Give Up

What is important is that you’d don’t give up on your idea. Whatever it is, you need to give it time to develop. Sometimes there will be false starts and plenty of dead-ends. But if you’re intent upon reaching your destination, you’ll just shrug, dust yourself off and re-adjust.

I remember backpacking in Europe during the summer after graduating from college. A friend invited me to visit her family in Greece. I went around in circles, trying to find her address.

Finally, I stopped at a local bar and ordered a beer. As I sat outside in the August heat, sipping the ice-cold beverage, suddenly I found myself staring across the street at the exact address I was searching for. I smiled, finished my beer, and minutes later, connected with my friend.

You also may be just steps away from finding just what you need to perfectly execute that idea of yours.

Keep going. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have to try again tomorrow.

Inspirational Monday: The Secret for Becoming a Wildly Successful Guru

Want people to look at you as the expert? It will be easier with this secret.

I’ve been noticing a lot of “gurus” popping up lately. Mainly, I see them in my Facebook News Feed as paid advertising.

They are people I’ve never heard of, which doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have something of value to give. But when it comes to experts, I’m very careful about the people I follow for advice.

I’ve evaluated what makes me gravitate toward one expert over another. Here are a few qualifications I look for:

A Proven Track Record

If a person is coaching others to succeed, what success has she or he already experienced? For instance, if a person wants me to buy their coaching products on marketing my business, has she successfully marketed someone else’s business? Too many “gurus” claim they’re successful but they just may be successful with gaming the system or duping people into buying their poor quality products.

For any expert, I look at their background history. Do they have a degree in the field? Additional training that helped them learn the ropes? Are there testimonials from clients who share the results of the expert’s advice?

Years ago, a well-known marketer was heavily criticized for his lack of marketing experience. He came from a technology background. I believe one can learn about marketing through self-study, but I did review his site. Although he partnered with someone else to produce a product, the expertise just didn’t ring true enough for me. Plus, I attended a free webinar and this marketer didn’t offer anything I didn’t already know how to do.

Which brings me to a sub-point of this qualification: no matter how popular someone may be, if what they’re teaching is something you already know, don’t waste your money on their books, tapes, and seminars. Find someone who will stretch you.

Outstanding Customer Service

Any expert who touts their products and services with grand claims had better have grand customer service. If they can’t be bothered to help a customer out after a product or service is purchased, then I’m not going to trust them. This happened with the web developers of my former WordPress theme. They had a support forum but after a WordPress update brought in complaints their theme was now broken, they suddenly went silent. After repeated attempts to get my issue resolved, I dumped the theme and bought a new one.

Also, if there’s a clear offer for a money-back guarantee and when you ask for it, you get the runaround, then you know this isn’t the type of person you want to be following.

There are plenty of copywriters who are hawking their own programs. But there are a few who fail to understand an important concept that they (usually) use for their own clients: The guarantee.

Some, like Ben Settle, are very forthcoming about not offering a guarantee and why. But for those who do offer a guarantee but don’t honor it, the consequences can be severe. I know of a few that I refuse to give my business to because I’ve read the negative reviews. There always will be a few folks who aren’t happy no matter how hard you try to please them. But if you search for testimonials for a particular expert and keep finding horror stories, avoid them.

A Quality Product or Service

It’s nice when I discover someone who knows their stuff and has outstanding customer service. But I’m also looking for quality.

Are their products well made? Is there a professional touch to what they produce? Is their information well organized? I love it when someone went to the trouble of designing their products or services creatively.

If I receive a CD that is professionally produced with clear audio and/or visual components, I’m pretty much a happy camper. If I receive products that are of poor quality, I have to wonder who’s steering the ship. Does the business owner not care?

A quality business pays attention to every detail of their business, especially to what the customer will ultimately receive. If my experience is seamless from ordering the product to final delivery, the expert has earned the right to be taken seriously.

But if my experience is a bad one, filled with frustrations and misunderstandings—then I’m probably not going to follow this so-called “expert.”

The Secret Ingredient That Makes Me Listen to a Guru

Those are three areas I pay attention to before I give someone a chance by purchasing their product. But there’s a fourth ingredient that is difficult to measure or quantify.

It’s called “likeability.”

Every once in awhile, I may gravitate toward an expert whom I don’t particularly like, yet their expertise trumps my feelings about them as a person. But it’s rare.

I look for something that allows me to feel connected to them. And in order for me to feel connected, I have to find something likeable about a person. It could be their genuine laughter. Or their down-to-earth way of communicating.

I just need to feel as though the person cared about what they were teaching to others and that they care that their audience consider it valuable.

But here’s the secret to the secret.

In order to be likeable, you first must like yourself.

That might sound counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

Many who wish to call themselves a coach or an expert, think that they can “fake it ‘til they make it.” They think that if they chant enough positive mantras, they’ll eventually come off as a positive person.

However, almost the opposite stands true. Those who focus on trying to game the system come off as hollow and insincere. There is a quiet desperation beneath their claims.

“Please… like me! Look at how hard I’m working to make your life better!”

Over the weekend, I viewed a video by Frank Kern. He’s a well-known expert on Internet marketing. It was the first time I saw a video of him.

The video was well-produced, but what really struck me was Frank’s personality. He was laid-back, confident, and friendly. I could definitely see myself having a beer with him and enjoying it.

And… I could tell Frank Kern loved himself.

Not in an egotistical way, although of course he has an ego… everyone does.

But in a good, healthy way. Frank knows he’s worked hard to get where he is and that he can genuinely help people with his strategies.

This is what I look for in the people I follow.

I want to follow people who understand their gifts and the value they can bring into my life. I also want them to love themselves.

When a person truly likes who they are, everything good flows from it.

They make better choices because they respect themselves. They treat others well because they’re not looking for validation from them since they already have it. They don’t try too hard because they know they’re either someone’s cup of tea or they aren’t. And they’re not going to twist themselves into a human pretzel in order to win someone’s approval.

So the short answer to becoming a guru or expert is this: love yourself first. Discover what is great about you. Love your strengths but also your weaknesses. Learn how to maximize the first while minimizing the second.

Love is irresistible. You’ll attract those who are meant to follow you. And the good news is that you won’t have to fake anything. Just be your own incredible you.

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Photo credit: TEDxSydney / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Inspirational Monday: Two Deadly Playmates That Kill Your Creativity

Don't allow yourself to be derailed.

I just started a new meditation program last week. And as often is the case with meditation, I’m often surprised by what happens when I finally pay attention to what’s going on inside of me.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel as though I’m trying to catch up with life. There is so much going on and information overload is a very real danger.

I call it a danger because it has the potential to derail us, distract us, and keep us from our goals. As we hotly pursue the latest news for our industry, we suddenly realize that we’re spent.

Our energy to consume—has consumed us.

And if you’re a creative, this constant need to consume information can be deadly.

So when the opportunity came to take part of a meditation program for writers, I was all over it.

Learning how to breathe

Of course you know how to breathe.

But do you know how to breathe?

This is when you put yourself into a comfortable position, in a room where you won’t be disturbed, and breathe deeply and intentionally.

You inhale deeply … 1… 2… 3.

And then you exhale twice as deeply …1 …2 …3 …4 …5 …6.

You begin to center yourself. At times, this can make you feel like Luke Skywalker as he was being trained to become a Jedi Knight.

There was one scene in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back that always resonated with me. It was the scene when Luke is fighting Darth Vader on Cloud City, and it is evident Luke’s training has served him well.

However, Darth Vader suddenly throws obstacles in Luke’s way. As Luke valiantly tries to bat them away with his light saber, he loses his focus. Soon, Darth Vader threw an item at Luke that ended up breaking a window and sucked Luke outside into the atmosphere.

This is how it often feels when I try to calm my mind.

There are a million thoughts and ideas suddenly pitching themselves at me as I try to bat them away. It was only through taking those deep breaths and focus on my teacher’s voice, that I was able to relax.

After a week of practice, I started to see some progress. The program helped me see that there are many “obstacles” that obstruct my progress as a writer. And I’m sure you’re familiar with these two troublemakers, yourself.

The Dastardly Duo

All creatives are familiar with the inner self-critic. This is when you create something and no matter how good it might seem at first, is instantly challenged by the inner critic.

What is that? It’s crap, that’s what it is!

Where on earth did you ever get the idea that you’re good at this?

Okay. Now you’re proving that five-year old can paint better than you.

And on, and on, and on…

The inner critic is relentless. If it’s not good enough, then it’s mediocre. No matter how hard you may try, the inner critic is never satisfied.

Last week, I got a chance to know my inner critic. And do you know what I discovered?

What motivated it was… fear.

Fear of failing. Fear of succeeding. Fear that no one would like what I wrote. Fear that no one would notice what I wrote.

Just a fantastic double-decker sandwich of fear.

So, the trick for me was to soothe that inner critic with my wiser inner core who was the adult in the room.

I had some success. However, I believe what’s important is to first recognize your foes. Name them. Understand them.

In so doing, you can then strategize a battle plan.

But wait… there’s more!

The next day we talked about procrastination.

And I started to understand how the self-critic and procrastinator play very well together.

In fact, in my world they’re besties.

Self-critic: Ugh. Are you serious? That paragraph you just wrote makes your Italian great-grandmother’s broken English sound like Hemingway. Give. It. Up.

Procrastinator: Yay! Time to quit! Why spend time with that nasty self-critic when you can spend time with MEEEEEEEE…. Wheee! Let’s play! Bouncy-bounce-bounce! Check out the review for the Godzilla film. Or the horrendous slide show of Hollywood actors and plastic surgery gone bad. It’s all good!

Just a sneak peek into my crazytown mind.

The self-critic will ride me hard if I allow it. And because after awhile I get tired, the procrastinator then rushes in and says, hey… you deserve a break.

Meanwhile, little work gets done.

I may have gotten a little carried away telling you this (so says the self-critic), but I’ll throw caution to the wind. I have a feeling I’m not alone in this battle. In fact, I know I’m not because I talk to other writers about it.

If anything, this week be aware of these deadly playmates. Be vigilant. As soon as the self-critic comes around the corner, there may be a good chance the procrastinator is right behind him.

Take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and repeat this slow, intentional breathing for one minute. Calm yourself and think positive thoughts about what you want to accomplish. Put yourself in a quiet place and internally lock the door. No self-critic or procrastinator is allowed inside to bother you.

Breathe. Relax. Focus.

You’ve got work to do.