funny-dog-pictures-expect-believeAny copy­writer worth a darn has heard of WIIFM — What’s In It For Me. Every prospec­tive cus­tomer is con­stantly ask­ing that ques­tion and copy that fails to pro­vide a com­pelling answer, well, fails.

But prospec­tive cus­tomers want to know more than just WIIFM, they want to know What’s In It For You (or WIIFY)?  In other words, why are you offer­ing me such a good deal?  What do you get out of it?

WIIFM grabs atten­tion, but WIIFM with­out cred­i­bil­ity comes off as a scam.  You could be lit­er­ally mail­ing peo­ple $100 bills free of charge and get no con­ver­sions, because peo­ple can’t pos­si­bly see the upside for you.  The more the deal sounds too good to be true, the more the copy has to answer WIIFY, typ­i­cally in the form of “How we can afford to sell at these prices.” And per­haps the great­est exam­ple of WIIFY is the leg­endary “Frus­trated Con­trac­tor” letter.

2010-10-25_1605Writ­ten by John Young for Jim Abrams’ HVAC com­pany, the direct mail sales let­ter made both of them rich and has since been used by every every sin­gle HVAC busi­ness in the US and cred­ited with pro­duc­ing $1 bil­lion in HVAC sales. What does it say? Well, you can down­load a cur­rent ver­sion of the let­ter — still in use — here. But the short answer is that it head­lines with WIFFM and then imme­di­ately switches to WIFFY.

In other words, the let­ter promises to sell the cus­tomer a brand new, high-end fur­nace and A/C unit for thou­sands less than nor­mal price — so long as the cus­tomer buys in the win­ter. Why?  Because HVAC guys are busy in the sum­mer but unable to keep their employ­ees busy in the win­ter, cre­at­ing frus­trated busi­ness­men watch­ing their installers get paid to sit around watch­ing day-time TV. Prospects get a great deal (WIIFM) and con­trac­tors move some inven­tory dur­ing the slow sea­son while keep­ing their guys busy (WIIFY).

Vari­a­tions on the let­ter will also men­tion the owner hav­ing ordered or been left with too many HVAC sys­tems in inven­tory and the need to clear them out, etc. But the point is that the letter’s sounds-too-good-to-be-true offer gained cred­i­bil­ity in the eyes of the prospect by address­ing WIIFY — what was in it for the contractor.

How This Applies to Branding

used-car-guyThe prob­lem with WIFFY as it is applied to sales let­ters and event adver­tis­ing is that the level of your cred­i­bil­ity is often tied to a pass­ing or sea­sonal dynamic. To use an exam­ple from the Robert Col­lier Let­ter Book, a cloth­ier was able to offer incred­i­ble prices on Madras Shirts because the mill was all-but out of busi­ness and sold it’s inven­tory of shirt­ing fab­ric at once-in-a-lifetime prices. Obvi­ously, that’s a mes­sage you can only get away with say­ing once, oth­er­wise you look like the cheesey car lot guys who hype inven­tory clear­ance sales on a year-round basis.

Brand­ing requires a WIIFY that retains rel­e­vance and cred­i­bil­ity today, tomor­row, next year, etc. That could be a new tech­nol­ogy, a direct to the con­sumer pric­ing model, or the like. But that doesn’t do you too much good as a copy­writer. Either a client has a legit­i­mate com­pet­i­tive edge — and is likely already adver­tis­ing it — or not.

So what to do?

Noth­ing Says Your WIFFY Has to Be Economic

As an exam­ple, here’s an ad fea­tured in Roy Williams’ recent Mon­day Morn­ing Memo:

When I was seven years old, I held my father’s head in my hands as he took his last breath and died. A thing like that stays with you. It helps you under­stand that rela­tion­ships – peo­ple – are what life’s all about.You gotta tell’em you love’em. This is J.R. Dunn. So now you know why I became a jew­eler. Fine jew­elry is one of the ways we tell peo­ple we love’em. When I got older and fell head-over-heals for Ann Marie, the love of my life, I didn’t have enough money to buy her an engage­ment ring. She mar­ried me any­way. Go fig­ure. But I can promise you this: If you’re think­ing of get­ting engaged to the love of your life, come to J.R. Dunn Jew­el­ers in Light­house Point. No one in Florida, no one in Amer­ica, is going to give you a bet­ter engage­ment ring for your money than me. One of the great joys of my life is to make it pos­si­ble for guys to give the woman they love the dia­mond she deserves. There was nobody there for me when I needed an engage­ment ring. But I promiseI’ll be there for you.”

Do you think this ad pro­vides the lis­tener with a WIFFY?

2010-10-25_1319Of course it does, but the WIFFY is emo­tional, not eco­nomic. The lis­tener — or this lis­tener, at least — believes that J.R. Dunn will give him a great deal on an engage­ment ring because there’s an emo­tional pay-off for Mr. Dunn. And as always, deep emo­tions are always linked to self-identity, hence the open­ing story / Men­tal Image.

So if you want to cre­ate cred­i­bil­ity, go beyond WIIFM to WIFFY.  And if you want that cred­i­bil­ity to last beyond a sin­gle sales event, try tying your WIFFY to emo­tion.

* Photo credit to ihasa­hot­dog

Eight years after it was first pub­lished, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art has sold sig­nif­i­cantly more copies this year than any year fol­low­ing its ini­tial release.
In indus­try where writ­ers expect to lose money on their non-fiction books and to have their titles all but lan­guish after the ini­tial pub­lish­ing push, this rep­re­sents am incred­i­ble suc­cess story – one accom­plished with­out a tra­di­tional mar­ket­ing push, or a plug by Oprah (though it darn well deserves it, if you hap­pen to be read­ing Ms. Win­frey), or even a re-release from the publisher.
How did Steve do it?
A few rea­sons come to mind, some more salient than others:
1) The book has proved itself a mod­ern clas­sic for its intended audi­ence of writ­ers and reg­u­larly makes appear­ances in Top 10 lists of books for writ­ers.  There’s noth­ing like solid con­tent and great user expe­ri­ence to drive cus­tomer evangelization.
2) Steve has actively wel­comed and encour­aged a new audi­ence for his book, one that even­tu­ally saw that the book was only super­fi­cially about writ­ing or fine art, and was, at heart, a text­book for any­one look­ing to do valu­able, cre­ative, and remark­able work.  Don’t under­es­ti­mate this, not many authors would have both­ered to notice the inter­est of an unan­tic­i­pated audi­ence, let alone actively wel­comed and courted it.
3) Steve has given away lots of new con­tent writ­ten in the same spirit of and along the same lines as the book.  He has embraced the coun­ter­in­tu­itive notion that giv­ing away con­tent expands your base of fans will­ing to pay for content.
4) Steve has actively engaged with his fans and the increased engage­ment has resulted in increased sales.  This goes beyond just open­ing his blog to com­ments and respond­ing to them.  In fact, Steve has actively given inter­views, appeared in guest posts, been avail­able on Twit­ter, and gen­er­ously cor­re­sponded with even the lowli­est of bloggers.
OK, so the list hardly sur­prises, right?  It basi­cally reads like an online marketer’s check­list of “What’s Work­ing Now.”  Who hasn’t been told to “be authen­tic,” or to “do great work,” or espe­cially to engage in the “gift econ­omy,” after all?
So rather than detail­ing the oft dis­cussed items within the list, let’s look at the hid­den forces and moti­va­tions behind the suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of those items.
The Emo­tional Dynamic Under­neath “Authenticity”
The most strik­ing thing about Steve’s suc­cess is also the most strik­ing thing about his writ­ing and his “style” in gen­eral: his pro­found abil­ity to relate insight into the human con­di­tion in a way that’s prac­ti­cal for those of us slog­ging through our own work-a-day worlds.  If you’re inter­ested in a “from the fox­hole” per­spec­tive, shared from a gen­er­ous intent to share what actu­ally works down in the mud and the blood and the sweat and the tears, you won’t do bet­ter than Steve’s stuff.
But a rec­om­men­da­tion to copy this par­tic­u­lar virtue of Steve’s sounds sus­pi­ciously like yet another exhor­ta­tion to “be authen­tic” dressed up in fancier language.
So how do you bridge the gap? How do you get at how to imbue your own online mar­ket­ing efforts with some of the same magic that took a nearly 10-year-old non-fiction book on the psy­chol­ogy of writ­ing and turned it into everyone’s favorite hand­book for doing work that matters?
Ter­ri­tory vs. Hierarchy
As it turns out, Steve pro­vides the answer both in his book and in his inau­gural Writ­ing Wednesday’s post.  Here’s a quote from that post, talk­ing about what sep­a­rates suc­cess­ful pros at blog­ging from the also-rans:
“There are many excel­lent and extremely pro­fes­sional blog­gers and their stuff is a plea­sure to read. They are mak­ing con­tri­bu­tions. They’re part of the solu­tion. But I also see no few writ­ers of blogs who are stuck in their own egos. You can tell it from the first sen­tence, even the first phrase. It’s in their tone of voice. The text reeks of jeal­ousy, pet­ti­ness, com­pet­i­tive­ness and bile. It’s like the tone aca­d­e­mics take when they’re stick­ing knives in each other’s backs. It has noth­ing to do with solu­tions and every­thing to do with fear, ego and nar­cis­sism. They are writ­ing as ama­teurs. Their aim, though they will deny it even after being water­boarded 283 times, is to advance (or sim­ply pre­serve) their own egos.  I know, because I’ve been in that place. When the happy break­through comes for those writ­ers, their work will rise an entire level overnight, then keep ris­ing for lev­els and lev­els beyond that.” [Empha­sis mine]
With this quote in mind, look at the list again.  Now ask your­self how easy any of those things would be if your pri­mary moti­va­tion was to climb to a higher place in the peck­ing order?  How easy?  How about next to impossible.
To act out of ego is to engage a hier­ar­chi­cal frame­work, and no one can look to main­tain their place in the hier­ar­chy while actu­ally, truly giv­ing of them­selves to their audi­ence and fans at the same time. You can’t be enam­ored of your posi­tion within the “group” while fear­lessly, openly invit­ing out­siders to join in.  Nor can you reject the urge to second-guess your audi­ence if every­thing you write, say, and do is aimed at impress­ing or manip­u­lat­ing them.
In short, the more hier­ar­chi­cal your value sys­tem, the more dif­fi­cult you’ll find “new marketing.”
And yet, we’re prac­ti­cally pro­grammed to think hier­ar­chi­cally in school, at our jobs, and socially.  There are the alpha dogs and the under dogs.  The queen bees and the wanna bees.  Think­ing hier­ar­chi­cally is the default posi­tion for most of us, and it’s what our lizard brain/_______ /Resistance steers us towards.
So there’s no jet­ti­son­ing hier­ar­chi­cal think­ing with­out replac­ing it with some other mind­set; self-identity has to come from some­where.  The other option, as Steven describes it in The War of Art is ter­ri­tory – claim­ing a ter­ri­tory of practice/service and draw­ing your iden­tity through that prac­tice rather than your place in the peck­ing order.  As Steven writes:
We humans have ter­ri­to­ries too. Ours are psy­cho­log­i­cal. Ste­vie Wonder’s ter­ri­tory is the paino. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is the gym. When Bill Gates pulls into the park­ing lot at Microsoft, he’s on his ter­ri­tory. When I sit down to write, I’m on mine.
What are the qual­i­ties of a territory?
1. A ter­ri­tory pro­vides sus­te­nance.  Run­ners know what a ter­ri­tory is. So do rock climbers and kayak­ers and yogis. Artists and entre­pre­neurs know what a ter­ri­tory is. The swim­mer who tow­els off after swim­ming her laps feels a hell of a lot bet­ter than the tired, cranky per­son who dove into the pool 30 min­utes earlier.
2. A ter­ri­tory sus­tains us with­out exter­nal input. A ter­ri­tory is a closed feed­back loop. Our role is to put in effort and love; the ter­ri­tory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of wellbeing.
When experts tell us that exer­cise (or any other effort-requiring activ­ity) ban­ishes depres­sion, this is what they mean.
3. A ter­ri­tory can only be claimed alone. You can team with a part­ner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need your­self to soak up your territory’s juice.
4. A ter­ri­tory can only be claimed by work. When Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger hits the gym, he’s on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A ter­ri­tory doesn’t give, it gives back.
5. A ter­ri­tory returns exactly what you put in. Ter­ri­to­ries are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infal­li­bly into your account. A ter­ri­tory never deval­ues. A ter­ri­tory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dol­lar for dollar.”
Beyond that, a ter­ri­tory is where we can go in humil­ity, to serve our higher call­ing, not as a bid for atten­tion but as a gift to our tribe, specif­i­cally, and to the world in general.
As my men­tor and part­ner, Roy Williams says,
“Any goal that begins with the words, ‘My goal is to have…’ is cer­tain to bring unhap­pi­ness. Goals that scratch your life-itch are the ones that begin, ‘I will serve peo­ple by.…’
…So who are your peo­ple and how do you plan to serve them?
Yet even though it would seem your tribe would come first, and your method of ser­vice would come after­words, in rela­tion to the tribe, this doesn’t often work in a mod­ern and (in an anthro­po­log­i­cal sense) post-tribal world.  You find your ter­ri­tory first, and your peo­ple come later, drawn by what your work has produced.
You iden­tify your ter­ri­tory by know­ing what you’d do if you were the last per­son on earth.  What would still be worth doing if there were no one to impress and no way to move up in the peck­ing order?
And you claim your ter­ri­tory through putting in the work, self­lessly, as a pro­fes­sional.  When that hap­pens, you’re no longer afraid to share your best stuff, because you’re always get­ting bet­ter, always com­ing up with new stuff.  Wel­com­ing new mem­bers becomes sec­ond nature, as does engag­ing in open con­ver­sa­tion with peo­ple regard­less of their sta­tus in the peck­ing order.
Territory-based iden­tity, as Steven defines it, makes Web 2.0-style mar­ket­ing work­able.  With­out it, you’ll be fight­ing your own instincts and, ulti­mately, sab­o­tag­ing your efforts.
And yet, even though fol­low­ing this path makes life eas­ier, Resis­tance – Resis­tance in the form of pro­cras­ti­na­tion, ratio­nal­iza­tion, and ego — gets in the way, mak­ing it feel like the harder option.  Yet the more you focus on claim­ing your ter­ri­tory and the more you derive your iden­tity in rela­tion to your claimed ter­ri­tory, the bet­ter you’ll fair in your bat­tles against resistance.
Sound like some­thing worth pur­su­ing?  Well, real­ize that this, poten­tially life alter­ing stuff on Ter­ri­tory vs. Hier­ar­chy is com­pressed into only a few pages of a 165-page book – and the rest of the books is every bit as good, if not better!
Most of the The War of Art is about over­com­ing resis­tance, the nec­es­sary first step to doing the hon­est work needed to claim a ter­ri­tory, mak­ing it pretty much THE book for cre­ative entre­pre­neurs who strug­gle with procrastination.
If that sounds like a must-read book to you, YOURE RIGHT!  Go buy a copy.
Bet­ter yet, buy the new, dig­i­tal copy for your favorite e-reader.  The sooner you start read­ing this stuff, the faster you can begin mov­ing past resis­tance, to claim your ter­ri­tory, and achieve the real work you were meant for.

the-war-of-artEight years after it was first pub­lished, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art has sold sig­nif­i­cantly more copies this year than any year fol­low­ing its ini­tial release.

In an indus­try where writ­ers expect to lose money on their non-fiction books, and fur­ther expect their titles to lan­guish, unsold and ignored after the ini­tial pub­lish­ing push, this books recent surge in sales and pop­u­lar­ity rep­re­sents an incred­i­ble suc­cess story – one accom­plished with­out a tra­di­tional mar­ket­ing push, or a plug by Oprah (though it darn well deserves it, if you hap­pen to be read­ing, Ms. Win­frey), or even a re-release from the publisher.

How did Steve do it?

A few rea­sons come to mind, some more salient than others:

  1. The book has proved itself a mod­ern clas­sic for its intended audi­ence of writ­ers and reg­u­larly makes appear­ances in Top 10 lists of books for writ­ers.  There’s noth­ing like solid con­tent and great user expe­ri­ence to drive cus­tomer evangelization.
  2. Steve has actively wel­comed and encour­aged a new audi­ence for his book, one that even­tu­ally saw that the book was only super­fi­cially about writ­ing or fine art, and was, at heart, a text­book for any­one look­ing to do valu­able, cre­ative, and remark­able work.  Don’t under­es­ti­mate this, not many authors would have both­ered to notice the inter­est of an unan­tic­i­pated audi­ence, let alone actively wel­comed and courted it.
  3. Steve has given away lots of new con­tent writ­ten in the same spirit as the book.  He has embraced the coun­ter­in­tu­itive notion that giv­ing away con­tent expands your base of fans will­ing to pay for content.
  4. Steve has actively engaged with his fans and that increased engage­ment has resulted in increased sales.  This goes beyond just open­ing his blog to com­ments and respond­ing to them.  In fact, Steve has actively given inter­views, appeared in guest posts, been avail­able on Twit­ter, and gen­er­ously cor­re­sponded with even the lowli­est of bloggers.

OK, so the list hardly sur­prises, right?  It basi­cally reads like an online marketer’s check­list of “What’s Work­ing Now.”  Who hasn’t been told to “be authen­tic,” or to “do great work,” or espe­cially to engage in the “gift econ­omy,” after all?

So rather than detail­ing the oft dis­cussed items within the list, let’s look at the hid­den forces and moti­va­tions behind the suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of those items.

The Emo­tional Dynamic Under­neath “Authenticity”

pressfield_stevenThe most strik­ing thing about Steve’s suc­cess is also the most strik­ing thing about his writ­ing and his “style” in gen­eral: his pro­found abil­ity to relate insight into the human con­di­tion in a way that’s prac­ti­cal for those of us slog­ging through our own work-a-day worlds.  If you’re inter­ested in a “from the fox­hole” per­spec­tive, shared from a gen­er­ous intent to pass on what actu­ally works down in the mud and the blood and the sweat and the tears, you won’t do bet­ter than Steve’s stuff.

But a rec­om­men­da­tion to copy this par­tic­u­lar virtue of Steve’s sounds sus­pi­ciously like yet another exhor­ta­tion to “be authen­tic” dressed up in fancier language.

So how do you bridge the gap? How do you imbue your own online mar­ket­ing efforts with some of the same magic that took a nearly 10-year-old non-fiction book on the psy­chol­ogy of writ­ing and turned it into everyone’s favorite hand­book for doing work that matters?

Ter­ri­tory vs. Hierarchy

As it turns out, Steve pro­vides the answer both in his book and in his inau­gural Writ­ing Wednesday’s post.  Here’s a quote from that post, talk­ing about what sep­a­rates suc­cess­ful pros at blog­ging from the also-rans:

There are many excel­lent and extremely pro­fes­sional blog­gers and their stuff is a plea­sure to read. They are mak­ing con­tri­bu­tions. They’re part of the solu­tion. But I also see no few writ­ers of blogs who are stuck in their own egos. You can tell it from the first sen­tence, even the first phrase. It’s in their tone of voice. The text reeks of jeal­ousy, pet­ti­ness, com­pet­i­tive­ness and bile. It’s like the tone aca­d­e­mics take when they’re stick­ing knives in each other’s backs. It has noth­ing to do with solu­tions and every­thing to do with fear, ego and nar­cis­sism. They are writ­ing as ama­teurs. Their aim, though they will deny it even after being water­boarded 283 times, is to advance (or sim­ply pre­serve) their own egos.  I know, because I’ve been in that place. When the happy break­through comes for those writ­ers, their work will rise an entire level overnight, then keep ris­ing for lev­els and lev­els beyond that.”

With this quote in mind, look at the list again.  Now ask your­self how easy any of those things would be if your pri­mary moti­va­tion was to climb to a higher place in the peck­ing order?  How easy?  How about next to impossible.

2010-10-13_1057Act­ing out of ego engages a hier­ar­chi­cal mind­set, and no one can look to main­tain or improve their place in the hier­ar­chy while giv­ing away their best stuff to their audi­ence and fans. You can’t be enam­ored of your posi­tion within the group while fear­lessly invit­ing out­siders to join in. Nei­ther can you com­fort­ably ven­ture out­side your group, away from where you hold sta­tus, exper­tise, power, etc.  Nor can you reject the urge to second-guess your audi­ence if every­thing you write, say, and do is aimed at impress­ing or manip­u­lat­ing them.

In short, the more hier­ar­chi­cal your value sys­tem, the more dif­fi­cult you’ll find “new mar­ket­ing.”

And yet, we’re prac­ti­cally pro­grammed to think hier­ar­chi­cally in school, at our jobs, and socially.  There are the alpha dogs and the under dogs.  The queen bees and the wanna-bees.  Think­ing hier­ar­chi­cally is the default posi­tion for most of us, and it’s what our lizard brain/yet­zer hara/Resistance steers us towards.

So there’s no jet­ti­son­ing hier­ar­chi­cal think­ing with­out replac­ing it with some other mind­set; self-identity has to come from some­where.  The other option, as Steven describes it in The War of Art, is to replace hier­ar­chy with ter­ri­tory: claim­ing a ter­ri­tory of practice/service and draw­ing your iden­tity through that prac­tice rather than your place in the peck­ing order.  As Steven writes:

We humans have ter­ri­to­ries too. Ours are psy­cho­log­i­cal. Ste­vie Wonder’s ter­ri­tory is the paino. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is the gym. When Bill Gates pulls into the park­ing lot at Microsoft, he’s on his ter­ri­tory. When I sit down to write, I’m on mine.

What are the qual­i­ties of a territory?

1. A ter­ri­tory pro­vides sus­te­nance.  Run­ners know what a ter­ri­tory is. So do rock climbers and kayak­ers and yogis. Artists and entre­pre­neurs know what a ter­ri­tory is. The swim­mer who tow­els off after swim­ming her laps feels a hell of a lot bet­ter than the tired, cranky per­son who dove into the pool 30 min­utes earlier.

2. A ter­ri­tory sus­tains us with­out exter­nal input. A ter­ri­tory is a closed feed­back loop. Our role is to put in effort and love; the ter­ri­tory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of wellbeing.

When experts tell us that exer­cise (or any other effort-requiring activ­ity) ban­ishes depres­sion, this is what they mean.

3. A ter­ri­tory can only be claimed alone. You can team with a part­ner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need your­self to soak up your territory’s juice.

4. A ter­ri­tory can only be claimed by work. When Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger hits the gym, he’s on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A ter­ri­tory doesn’t give, it gives back.

5. A ter­ri­tory returns exactly what you put in. Ter­ri­to­ries are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infal­li­bly into your account. A ter­ri­tory never deval­ues. A ter­ri­tory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dol­lar for dollar”

Beyond that, a ter­ri­tory is where we can go in humil­ity, to serve our higher call­ing, not as a bid for atten­tion but as a gift to our tribe, specif­i­cally, and to the world in general.

As my men­tor and part­ner, Roy Williams says,

Any goal that begins with the words, ‘My goal is to have…’ is cer­tain to bring unhap­pi­ness. Goals that scratch your life-itch are the ones that begin, ‘I will serve peo­ple by.…’

…So who are your peo­ple and how do you plan to serve them?”

Yet even though it would seem your tribe would come first, and your method of ser­vice would come after­words, in rela­tion to the tribe, this doesn’t often work in a mod­ern and (in an anthro­po­log­i­cal sense) post-tribal world.  You find your ter­ri­tory first, and your tribe will be drawn by what your work has produced.

You iden­tify your ter­ri­tory by know­ing what you’d do if you were the last per­son on earth.  What would still be worth doing if there was no one to impress and no way to move up in the peck­ing order?

And you claim that ter­ri­tory through putting in the work, self­lessly, as a pro­fes­sional.  When that hap­pens you’re no longer afraid to share your best stuff, because you’re always get­ting bet­ter, always com­ing up with new stuff. Wel­com­ing new mem­bers becomes sec­ond nature, as does engag­ing in open con­ver­sa­tion with peo­ple regard­less of their sta­tus in the peck­ing order.

Territory-based iden­tity, as Steven defines it, makes Web 2.0-style mar­ket­ing work­able.  With­out it, you’ll be fight­ing your own instincts and, ulti­mately, sab­o­tag­ing your efforts.

And yet, even though fol­low­ing this path makes life eas­ier, Resis­tance – Resis­tance in the form of pro­cras­ti­na­tion, ratio­nal­iza­tion, and ego — gets in the way, mak­ing it feel like the harder option.  Focus­ing on claim­ing your ter­ri­tory through the work helps steel you for those bat­tles against resistance.

Sound like some­thing worth pur­su­ing?  Well, real­ize that this poten­tially life alter­ing stuff on Ter­ri­tory vs. Hier­ar­chy is com­pressed into only a few pages of a 165-page book – and the rest of the books is every bit as good, if not better!

Most of the The War of Art is about over­com­ing resis­tance, the nec­es­sary first step to doing the hon­est work needed to claim a ter­ri­tory, mak­ing it pretty much THE book for cre­ative entre­pre­neurs who strug­gle with procrastination.

If that sounds like a must-read book to you, YOURE RIGHT!  Go buy a copy.

Bet­ter yet, buy the new, dig­i­tal copy for your favorite e-reader for 1/5th the price of the paper­back.  The sooner you start read­ing this stuff, the faster you can begin mov­ing past resis­tance, to claim your ter­ri­tory, and achieve the real work you were meant for.

Enjoy!

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This guy is awe­some.  He also has a much longer per­for­mance that he put on for TED

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con_conf_hearMeSpeak_east2010_200x115For every reader who clicks through to see your blog post, another 9 will pass you by, solely on the basis of your head­line, sub­ject line, tweet, etc.

Yes, Dorothy, head­lines really are that impor­tant.  Want to  get the hell out of your own per­sonal Kansas and over the rain­bow of attention-grabbing suc­cess?  Great head­lines are the ticket to your next whirl­wind success.

I’ll be speak­ing at the Con­ver­sion Con­fer­ence East on Octo­ber 4th on Head­lines that Work.  And while I won’t say that I’m an espe­cially bril­liant speaker, I can say that I’ve got con­tent worth com­ing to the event for.

Unlike the vast major­ity of head­line advice that is template-based, of the “Who else wants…” vari­ety, my pre­sen­ta­tion actu­ally shows atten­dees how to cre­ate com­pelling head­lines from first prin­ci­ples.  You’ll finally be able to under­stand what makes great head­lines great and how to make yours a whole lot better.

I know this is sort of a last minute announce­ment, but if you’re within dri­ving dis­tance of the DC, North­ern Vir­ginia area, I’d be thrilled to see you there and happy to share my promo code with you:

The promo code CCE627 pro­vides a $250-discount off of the cur­rent rate for all eli­gi­ble passes.

If you plan on com­ing, feel free to drop me a line so we can meet up for cof­fee or some­thing.

Inception-PosterWhat’s the ulti­mate act of influence?

Plant­ing an idea in another’s mind so that not just the idea but the emo­tion behind the idea take route natively, as if the idea was the prod­uct of the recipient’s own thought, as if they had con­ceived it themselves.

At least, that’s what Christo­pher Nolan might say if you asked him, as his lat­est film, Incep­tion, is built around exactly that premise.  The idea that a tech­nol­ogy which allows one to enter into another’s dreams (or to pull another into one’s own dreams) might also allow a per­son to either steal infor­ma­tion from the sub­con­scious of another, or plant an idea into the sub­con­scious of another.

If you haven’t yet seen the film, you’re prob­a­bly best off book­mark­ing this post for later, as sev­eral plot spoil­ers await. But if you have seen the film, and if you’re a copy­writer or busi­ness own­ers, the very idea of incep­tion prob­a­bly sent your mind spin­ning over the con­nec­tions between incep­tion and copywriting/persuasion.

At least that’s what hap­pened to me, and here’s what I saw:

1) All influ­ence is self-influence

Within the film, most every­one except our hero and his team believe that “incep­tion” can’t be done. Peo­ple can tell when a thought isn’t theirs, and the mind reacts to an out­side thought with psy­chic defenses and resis­tance.  As Arthur from the film says:

… it’s not your idea because you know I gave it to you… [Even when the idea is implanted sub­con­sciously]… The subject’s mind can always trace the gen­e­sis of the idea.  True inspi­ra­tion is impos­si­ble to fake.”

Unless…

Unless you let the per­son draw the con­clu­sion them­selves, so that they  “gen­er­ate” and own the idea.

In the movie, the idea that Cobb and his team are hired to implant is: “Break up your fathers empire,” but rather than try­ing to plant that idea whole, they plant emo­tional impulses that (they hope) will lead the mark, Fis­cher, to draw that con­clu­sion for him­self. These impulses, planted at suc­ces­sively deeper lev­els of the uncon­scious (dream within a dream within a dream), are as follows:

  • Level 1 — “I will not fol­low in my Father’s footsteps”
  • Level 2 (aka, the dream within a dream) — “I will cre­ate some­thing for myself”
  • Level 3 (aka, the dream within a dream within a dream) - “My father doesn’t want me to be him”

They are lead­ing Fis­cher to the con­clu­sion that he should break up his Father’s empire, and they are mov­ing towards more sub­tle, pos­i­tive, and emo­tional seeds for that idea at each level.

More impor­tantly, Cobb’s team takes this one step far­ther by hav­ing most of these impulses come from Fischer’s (aka, the mark’s) own sub-conscious.  On level 1 they have one of their team mem­bers, Eames, play the role of Fischer’s men­tor and sur­ro­gate father, Uncle Peter.  Eames imper­son­ates Uncle Peter  in order to sug­gest the seed of the idea to Fis­cher in an emo­tion­ally res­o­nant form.  Cobb’s team then drops Fis­cher down another level by tak­ing him to a dream within a dream, and at that deeper level, Fischer’s own sub­con­scious cre­ates the Uncle Peter char­ac­ter (Eames no longer has to imper­son­ate him).  At this deeper dream within a dream, Fischer’s own sub­con­scious plays the role of Uncle Peter. This way Fis­cher feeds the idea to him­self so that the idea seems self-generated.

This cor­re­sponds with the old writ­ing adage: “show, don’t tell.” In other words, give your read­ers the infor­ma­tion or con­text they need to draw the con­clu­sion you want, and allow them to fill in the gaps. Tell me you have great cus­tomer ser­vice and I say, “yeah, sure”; tell me you guar­an­tee to answer my calls within 7 rings and to resolve all my tech­ni­cal issues within an hour of call­ing, and I think “Wow, that’s great cus­tomer service!”

The whole thing works even bet­ter if the con­text you sup­ply appeals to the reader’s already estab­lished truths, biases and prej­u­dices.  Remem­ber how Cobb’s team deliv­ered the seed idea to Fis­cher from his trusted and loved Uncle Peter? Do the same thing for your read­ers by cloth­ing your sug­gested con­clu­sions in the con­text of old famil­iar truths.

This is a tech­nique as old as Aris­to­tle, who called Enthymemes the soul of per­sua­sion. Why? Because they take the form of log­i­cal rea­son­ing while assum­ing a cen­tral ele­ment of the argu­ment.  This assump­tion forces the audi­ence to fill in the miss­ing gap, mak­ing them active par­tic­i­pants in the chain of rea­son­ing.  An enthymeme makes the con­clu­sion feel self-generated for those who share the assumed piece of the argument.

Here’s an exam­ple or two:

Does this place look like I’m … mar­ried? The toi­let seat’s up, man!“
(The Dude in The Big Lebowski, 1998)

Notice how YOU had to sup­ply the miss­ing premise of “Mar­ried men are trained to put the toi­let seat back down.” By par­tic­i­pat­ing in he chain of rea­son­ing, the con­clu­sion seems almost self-drawn, doesn’t it?

Here’s another one from Dannon:

One of the Soviet Georgia’s senior cit­i­zens thought Dan­non was an excel­lent yogurt. She ought to know. She’s been eat­ing yogurt for 137 years.“
(1970s tele­vi­sion adver­tise­ment for Dan­non Yogurt)*

And this Geico ad does an excel­lent job of pok­ing fun at its own assumed premise:

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2) Nested sto­ry­telling = the dream within a dream

The dream state pro­vides access to the sub­con­scious. But a dream within a dream takes you that much deeper into the sub­con­scious, which is why Cobb is noto­ri­ous for using the tech­nique, and why his team elects to take it to a max­i­mum for their attempt at incep­tion.  By going to a dream within a dream, Cobb’s team can sug­gest things to Fis­cher that his con­scious mind would likely reject.

For copy­writ­ers, the dream within a dream is a nested story (aka, a story within a story). In writ­ing copy you inevitably cre­ate – at a min­i­mum – one frame of ref­er­ence: the one between your autho­r­ial voice and the reader. So intro­duc­ing a story into your con­ver­sa­tion with the audi­ence instantly “nests” that story within the larger “nar­ra­tive” of your copy, one frame of ref­er­ence within the larger frame in which you’re “speak­ing” to the prospect.

The beauty of this tech­nique is that the reader will uncon­sciously iden­tify with pro­tag­o­nist of the story, so that emo­tions cre­ated within the nested story don’t stay inside the story — they fol­low the read­ers across to the frame story.  This is impor­tant because a copy­writer can get away with sug­gest­ing things within the con­text of “just a story” that he could not cred­i­bly write as explicit claims or statements.

Take the begin­ning of this, per­haps the most famous direct mail piece of all time, in which Mar­tin Con­roy starts telling his story, open­ing with the phrase “on a beau­ti­ful late spring after­noon.” And with that one phrase Con­roy estab­lishes both his autho­r­ial voice, speak­ing to you, while also cre­at­ing the inner frame of his nested story – that of the busi­ness parable.

On a beau­ti­ful late spring after­noon, twenty-five years ago, two young men grad­u­ated from the same col­lege. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been bet­ter than aver­age stu­dents, both were per­son­able and both – as young col­lege grad­u­ates are – were filled with ambi­tious dreams for the future.

Recently, these men returned to their col­lege for their 25th reunion.
They were very much alike. Both were hap­pily mar­ried. Both had three chil­dren. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Mid­west­ern man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany, and were still there.

But there was a dif­fer­ence. One of the men was man­ager of a small depart­ment of that com­pany. The other was its president.

What Made The Difference

Have you ever won­dered, as I have, what makes this kind of dif­fer­ence in people’s lives? It isn’t always a native intel­li­gence or tal­ent or ded­i­ca­tion. It isn’t that one per­son wants suc­cess and the other doesn’t.

The dif­fer­ence lies in what each per­son knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

And that is why I am writ­ing to you and to peo­ple like you about The Wall Street Jour­nal. For that is the whole pur­pose of the Jour­nal: To give its read­ers knowl­edge – knowl­edge that they can use in business…”

Notice how the nested story emo­tion­ally primes the reader within the safe con­fines of “just a story”, while simul­ta­ne­ously posi­tion­ing that emo­tional charge to jump across to the rest of the copy. This causes many read­ers to inter­pret Conroy’s offer that The Wall Street Jour­nal will pro­vide  “knowl­edge that they can use in busi­ness” as ‘the WSJ will help me get the pro­mo­tions I deserve’ — a state­ment the writer could never have got­ten away with had he attempted to baldly and explic­itly assert it into the copy directly.

If this con­nec­tion between dreams and sto­ries seems stretched, real­ize that more than one movie critic has, while review­ing Incep­tion, noted the con­nec­tion between enter­ing into a shared dream and the act of watch­ing a movie; for what is a movie if not a shared dream?  And what is a story if not a movie in the mind of the reader?

Speak­ing of dreams within dreams and sto­ries within sto­ries, here’s a great ad the sort of com­bines the two to great emo­tional effect.  Watch how the emo­tion of the nested story leaps across to the frame, and by exten­sion, to you, the viewer:

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3) It’s the emo­tion behind the idea that counts

Let me just quote from the movie script on this one:

Cobb

Now the sub­con­scious moti­vates through emo­tion, not rea­son, so we have to trans­late the idea into an emo­tional concept.

Arthur

HOw do you trans­late a busi­ness strat­egy into an emotion?

Cobb

That’s what we have to fig­ure out. Robert and his father have a tense rela­tion­ship.  Worse, even, than the gos­sip columns have suggested…

Eames

Do you play on that? Sug­gest break­ing up his father’s com­pany as a ‘screw you’ to the old man?

Cobb

No. Pos­i­tive emo­tion trumps neg­a­tive emo­tion every time. We yearn for peo­ple to be rec­on­ciled, for cathar­sis. We need pos­i­tive emo­tional logic

And there you have it. Emo­tion trumps (or dri­ves) logic, and pos­i­tive emo­tion trumps neg­a­tive emo­tion. This goes way beyond fea­tures and ben­e­fits to the deep emo­tional dri­vers behind intent. How often does your copy address these deeper emo­tional motivations?

If I were to ask you right now what the deep, pos­i­tive, emo­tional moti­va­tors are for your key cus­tomers, could you even tell me? Does your copy come any­where near address­ing them?

More impor­tantly, amidst all the “Problem-Agitation-Solution” copy for­mu­las out there, are you mak­ing sure that your pos­i­tive men­tal images of future ben­e­fit out­weigh the neg­a­tive images you cre­ate of the prob­lems you claim to solve?

Do you give your pos­i­tive emo­tion at least as much force as the neg­a­tive?

4) Self iden­tity and rela­tion­ships are the key to emo­tion that counts

When it came to reach­ing Fis­cher emo­tion­ally — when it came to fram­ing the mes­sage in a way that would reach his inner­most heart — the only way to do that was through rela­tion­ship and self iden­tity. How does my Dad see me, and how do I see myself?

I’ve blogged about this before, so I won’t go into huge detail about his now, but let me just say that absent per­sonas and sce­nar­ios, there’s really no sys­tem­atic way to address self-identity in copy­writ­ing. The best copy­writ­ers do it intu­itively, but every pro knows it helps to have a sys­tem to fall back on.

What’s your system?

2010-09-22_2335So what about all you other Incep­tion fans? What were you take-aways from the movie?  Any aha moments that fol­lowed you out of the the­atre? Let me know in the comments.

Best com­ment gets a free copy of the movie’s shoot­ing script from Ama­zon.

* Hat tip to Richard Nordquist for the enthymeme examples


Piggy Bank“Faith means trust­ing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” - Phillip Yancey

How often has your ini­tial sat­is­fac­tion with a pur­chase faded over time, leav­ing you with the bit­ter after­taste of buyer’s remorse?

It’s an all-too com­mon expe­ri­ence that makes us all wary with our hard won pay­checks. Not that we nec­es­sar­ily expect first-rate cham­pagne for second-rate beer prices, but we do hope, at least, that we’ll look back on a con­sid­ered pur­chase and think, “That was money well spent.”

We may spend money to “take a chance” on some­thing — say a book, a course, or even some won­der vit­a­min — but only with the hope that our future selves will look back and thank us for the deci­sion to buy, deem­ing it “money well spent…”

Copy­writ­ing magic begins when you under­stand this back­wards look and bake it into your copy by bring­ing the prospect, in their mind’s eye, into that promised, happy future, where they can look back on the present pur­chase with grat­i­tude at the pur­chase that brought them so much sat­is­fac­tion and hap­pi­ness.  Use this men­tal time travel to invest the present pur­chase with the full weight of fate and for­tune, and to replace your reader’s ten­ta­tive hopes with the cer­tainty of expe­ri­ence — imag­ined expe­ri­ence, yes, but expe­ri­ence none the less.

So what does this have to do with Mer­lin?  Well, you don’t think it was an acci­dent that Mer­lin trav­elled through time back­wards do you? How else do you think he worked his magic?

Want to see this in action? Click the link, watch the video, and see a mas­ter­ful use of this per­sua­sive time travel. Oh yeah, and it’s a great movie clip as well — you’ll be smil­ing all day think­ing about it ;)

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