“In fact, I’m going to apologize. This whole ‘dream myth’ has been propagated by news reporters like me. Because we love telling this story, we love the dream. Whenever you write a profile of some person who is a success or who is going to jail, you always start at the end and follow the line back so it looks like it all makes sense. You sit someone down and you ask, “When did you first dream of being an opera singer (or a Nobel–prize winning economist, or the worst inside trader of all time)?”

Then you ask, “What obstacles did you have to overcome? How did you triumph?” Reporters are no different from every storyteller through time. We want to tell and hear the hero’s journey. The epic myth.

You know what never makes it into the hero’s journey? All the dreams that didn’t work out. There’s just not time. You never hear the part of the legend where the hero just wanted to chill for the summer, hang out in Portland, and figure some stuff out. Get his head straight. That happens, but every storyteller edits that out.”

— NPR Reporter, Robert Smith, during his Reed College Commencement Address

It is perhaps fitting that Steven Pressfield has run a series of articles on “The Hero’s Journey” of late, because his latest book explores exactly those areas of the journey that Robert Smith accuses reporters of leaving or editing out of most subjects’ “success stories.”  The part where the hero — deliberately or unconsciously — choses the wrong career path, sometimes repeatedly. Or where she sandbags it for a summer to “get her head straight” or work through some stuff.

In other words, most people leave out exactly the part that the rest of us desperately need to know — what happened to get you from the point where you weren’t making it to the point where you were!  How’d you make the leap, man?  Tell us!

And there’s a simple reason most people don’t tell us, even beyond the reporters desire to present us with slices of life with the boring parts cut out. Quite frankly, that shit is embarrassing. Who wants to talk about self-sabotage, mis-steps, and unsuccessful careers. Not me.

That’s what makes Steven Pressfield such an incredible treasure and stand-up guy: he’ll do it. And in Turning Pro, he does just that; he gives you exactly the nitty gritty on HOW to turn pro, what happened before he turned pro, and what you can expect in the journey.

So if that’s the kind of stuff you’d like to learn — if you’re tired of reading all those dream come true stories with the important shit cut out — then link on over to Black Irish Books and grab yourself a copy!

P.S. Black Irish Books is the new publishing company started by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne.  It’s a great venture and worth supporting, so even if you’d rather get your copy from Amazon, please consider ordering direct from the author.


OK, the headline exaggerated it — most of these resources won’t help you improve your entire Lead Gen Website, just your Lead Generation Forms.

But, if your forms suck, then all that hard persuasive work you’ve done on the rest of the Website goes to waste, right? So why not get hot on improving your forms now, so you can enjoy a full pipeline of well-qualified prospects later?

So let’s start with…

Wisdom from the Eisenberg’s

Resource #1: 5 Steps to Increase “Qualified Leads” from Your Website

Great information for ensuring your Website is pulling in profitable and qualified leads rather than tire kickers.  This is one of the few resources that does actually talk about more than just lead forms. And just for good measure, here’s a ClickZ article from Bryan that also gives recommendations applicable to both your entire Lead Gen Website and your forms.

Resource #2: Online Form Optimization: 3 Simple Form Problems to Fix

This is a great strategic, top-down look at the three big flaws afflicting most lead-gen forms. I’m sure you’re doing to know what those three flaws are, but you’ll have to click-through to find out 🙂

Resource #3: 7 Form Factors to Increase Conversions

This one looks at the major elements that are part of every lead generation form, and then tells you how to maximize the effectiveness of each element.

Now Let’s Look at…

Split Test Results Worth Studying

Resource #4: Wider Funnel Tests a Newsletter Sign-up Form

This is a great test for a few reasons, but mostly because the test explicitly forms hypothesis to test, prior to creating the test, rather than just throwing variations against a wall to see which one “sticks.”  Plus the hypothesis and lessons learned are really insightful and broadly applicable.

Resource #5: Wider Funnel Tests for Form Length and Form Flow

Another solid testing write-up from Wider Funnel.  Worth the read.

Case Studies & Usability Guidelines

Resource #6: Lesson From Madlibs Signup Fad: Do Your Own Tests

If you’ve never heard about them before, the Madlib style sign-up form proved a hit with several businesses and bloggers on the Web a few years back. But when this guy tested it out for himself, he found a different story.  Bottom Line: best practices are in no way guaranteed to work in your specific situation, and surprising, head-slapping tests are fairly common for anyone that runs them. Think for yourself & do your own testing.

Resource #7: An Extensive Guide to Web Form Usability

Smashing Magazine has no shortage of great articles on Web Design and Usability.  This one is no exception.

Resource #8: Testing Form Length Reduces Cost Per Lead

Marketing Experiments has a nice blog post on this, and one of the more interesting points about this isn’t the findings — since shorter forms almost always DO increase conversion, thereby driving down cost per lead — but the point made at the end: that the “extra” information you’re holding out for is probably not that accurate or valid to begin with.  This is a great one to show to naysayers who fight the “shorter is better” mantra.  That and the ol’ “Let’s just test it and see” strategy : )

So that’s all eight of them.  Now go out and do some optimization testing!


In a salute to all the new graduates this spring, I’m replaying one of my favorite posts, about the most gifted book a graduate is likely to receive…

Saying What Your Customers Can’t

If I told you one particular book sells almost 300,000 copies every single year, what would you guess actually drives those phenomenal yearly sales? Want a few hints?

  1. It’s not a how-to, Chicken Soup, or For-Dummies book
  2. The vast majority of those 300,000 copies are sold in the spring

Give up? The book is Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go – an incredibly popular gift for graduates.

That book manages to powerfully communicate what hundreds of thousands of parents and relatives all want to say but can’t quite seem to say nearly as well as the good Doctor.  And because he has so graciously supplied them with the means of saying it, Dr. Suess continues to sell huge amounts of books spring, after spring, after spring – for as long as there are proud parents of new graduates needing to hear the message.

The question for you, dear Business Owner, is what are you helping people say?

  • What are you helping them say about themselves?
  • What are you helping them say to others?

Because not quite knowing how to say what’s on your heart is something we all suffer from – and something most of us will gladly pay for relief from.

Are you willing to harness the same profit engine that Dr. Suess has used to sell millions upon millions of copies of Oh, The Places You’ll Go?  This brilliant radio ad by Adam Donmoyer represents a perfect example of how to harness this power to drive sales:

Daddy’s Little Girl

That ad sold more watches that Fathers’ Day than that jewelry store has ever sold on any day, ever.  All because they helped plenty of daughters say what they really wanted to say, but weren’t quite able to give voice to on their own.

What are you helping your customers say?


Not only is it possible to animate your advertising with the proven cartooning principles of squish and squash, but it works even better when you apply some of that same strategic animation to your business itself.

But to do that, we have to understand how Squish and Squash is related to exaggeration and visual impact. Here’s an excellent example I downloaded and swiped from Mark Kennedy’s brilliant blog:

Before Squash and Stretch

After Squash and Stretch

The difference is pretty astounding isn’t it?

Full alignment with the direction of movement + exaggeration of the line of movement.  And just to drive home the “exaggeration of the line of movement” part, take a look at this other swiped picture from a Willard Mullin download (also downloaded via Mark Kennedy):

What’s This Got to Do With Your Business?

First of all, understand that there’s the product or service you’re selling, and then there’s what you’re REALLY selling. Because unless you are hawking commodities at commodity prices, what you’re really selling goes way beyond product or service and get’s down to brand promise.

And the delivery of brand promise within your business is where you need all that alignment and strategic exaggeration.

Take Starbucks, for example. Did they really need to call their small, medium, and large coffees Tall, Grande, and Venti?  It’s almost kind of silly, isn’t it? The kind of thing that’s easily parodied.

But it’s also an exaggeration designed to make the names aligned with the brand promise (not to mention the brand prices). Same thing with the music, the decore, the ludicrous choices and special lingo for how you want your drink prepared, etc.

This kind of exaggeration and alignment takes guts precisely because it’s easy to make fun of. But the added profit makes it easy to endure the laughs : )

Bottom Line: the experience of whatever it is that you’re *really* selling could easily be improved with a little animation via alignment and exaggeration. You just need the desire and the guts to do it.

P.S. I apologize for the “brand promise” jargon. I generally try to steer clear of marketing-speak, but that was the only term I could come up with to get at the non-tangibles that allow a branded product to easily charge premium prices.  

When animators, and often times writers, wish to show an internal, emotional state, they’re forced to look for and use “objective correlatives.”  In other words, they have to use the outward cues and signs that correspond to the emotion.

And just as importantly, they then have to “animate” those cues and signs through a form of artistic exaggeration. For instance, when a man sees an excruciatingly attractive woman, his pupils will dilate, his eyes will widen, and his heart will race a bit, or “skip a beat.”  This is all relatively subtle (even if the attendant leering and head snapping is not), but subtle is not how animators need to do things.  So this is how they represent it:

YouTube Preview Image

Understand that this is not just crude exaggeration, but instead represents a process of:

  1. Finding the right cues and signs (aka small specific details) for a given emotion, reaction, or situation
  2. Exaggerating those cues and signs through the animation principle of Squash and Stretch.

Applying This to Your Marketing

When asked what makes them different, unique, and better, a whole lot of Main Street Businesses end up with the response that “we care about the customer,” or “we simply provide better quality and better service.”  

Yet while it’s wonderful that they do care — I wouldn’t want to write ads for a business owner who didn’t, frankly — you simply can’t put that in your advertising and expect results.

So what do you do?

You look for the objective correlates and you apply some squash and stretch.

In other words, what are the signs and cues of your caring and your superior quality?  Caring is an internal state on your part. How does the customer end up sensing or experiencing that care?  What actions do you take and what sacrifices do you make because you care?

If you insist on higher quality, how does that play out in the construction process?  How does that impact the customers experience of your product?  In what ways would they be sorry if they didn’t get that higher level of quality?

Now exaggerate and animate these things in your advertising. So let’s suppose you own a bakery that specializes in donuts and, well, you really care about the quality of your donuts.  And one of the objective correlatives of that is that you’re willing to get up at an ungodly hour in order to ensure that your morning customers will get freshly made donuts each day. Here’s what a little squish and squash might do for you:

YouTube Preview Image

If the squish and squash part seems a bit tricky, you’re right to think so — it IS tricky.  And if you’re guessing this doesn’t just apply to the ads, but to the business itself, you’re guessing right on that as well.  Creating some objective correlatives and then exaggerating them a bit is a big part of imputing quality and “learning to think like the customer.”  More on this later : )

Aristotle tells us that persuasive appeals rely on logos, pathos, and ethos, aka logic, emotion, and character.

Unfortunately, most textbooks and teachers act as if they are three separate and exclusive appeals, as if you must choose one over the others, or as if they are essentially unrelated to each other.

This is totally and fatally wrong.  Here’s the right way to think of these things, as quoted from Dr. Jonathan Shay‘s essay, Aristotle’s Rhetoric as a Handbook of Leadership [emphasis mine]:

Aristotle shows us that leader has three interrelated means of achieving his fellow citizens’ trust:

  • Appeal to their character (éthos)
  • Appeal to their reason (lógos)
  • Appeal to their emotions (páthos)

These three are interrelated, not separate, because the goals of action arise from the troops’ ideals, ambitions, and affiliations—their character. Reason concerns the means to reach those goals. And the emotions arise primarily from their cognitive assessments of the real-world improvement or deterioration of their ideals, ambitions, affiliations, and how fast they are changing in the world.

Aristotle has useful comments on the leader’s need to build trust through appeal to the troops’ character and emotion. He even explains how it is possible to be “too rational,” losing the trust of those you are trying to lead. (See Garver’s, “Making Discourse Ethical: Can I Be Too Rational?”)

Now, to be fair, Dr. Shay’s essay also examines the importance of the leaders Ethos as perceived by his followers/audience, but this is the aspect of ethos most everyone else already focuses on, with lots of solid content on incorporating speaker/brand ethos into your copy.  What most people gloss over when discussing ethos is the importance of the audience’s ethos.

Why is this so important?

Because you want to appeal to prospective customers’ best image of (and aspirations for) themselves.  Then show how your advocated course of action corresponds with that image.

And when you do this, you’re not ignoring pathos or logos, either.  The emotional appeal in your copy will stem from the gap between the reader’s ideal image of themselves and the current (often frustrating and disappointing) reality.  While the logos will both demonstrate the credibility of your proposed solution while also demonstrating your inherent respect for the audience.  To quote a bit more from Dr. Shay’s essay:

The centrality of rational explanation (“argument”), rather than coercion or deception, shows the leader’s respect for the troops, who are his or her fellow citizens. You can’t separate respect from good will… The persuasive power that comes when a leader appeals to reason comes more from the degree to which it provides evidence for the leader’s respect toward the troops than from the power of reason to compel assent, or having compelled assent, to guide or restrain behavior.

Or as I like to say, Facts need Drama and Drama needs Facts.

So, while I fully recognize that the character or ethos of the leader/speaker/brand IS indeed incredibly important, I’d suggest that this is so only in relationship to the ethos of the audience.

Start with the audience’s self-identity first, and the rest will fall into place.

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