How the World's Most Violent Drug Won the Peace Movement

How the World's Most Violent Drug Won the Peace Movement

When he woke up, Big Lurch was alone in a prison cell, confused and covered in blood.

On November 7, 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison, joining a long line of offenders incarcerated for violent acts they committed while under the influence of PCP, or Phencyclidine. 

Discovered by accident in the 1950s, PCP was initially used in clinical settings as an anesthetic under the brand name Sernyl. Patients, however, experienced mania, delirium, hallucinations, and severe disorientation under the drug's influence, which led to its removal from the market in 1965. 

That's when hippies started using it recreationally.

You wouldn't think that PCP, a dissociative anesthetic known for inducing extreme aggression, would become a choice drug during the peace movement, but it did. The free-spirited, nonconformist, Bohemian masses of the late 60s and early 70s loved PCP. So much so that it became ubiquitous within hippie culture, which, ironically, promoted unity and serenity, not detachment and violence. 

How did this happen? How did this violent drug win over the peace-loving hippies?

You could blame copywriting.

"What is it?" asked Martin, as he examined the small, white pill that was just placed in his palm. 

"Try it," said the man. "It's a Peace Pill."

"A Peace Pill?"

"That's right, a Peace Pill," said the man. "Go ahead, try it. First one's on me."

Martin put the PCP tablet on his dry tongue, where it stuck. Then he took it down with a swig of beer and waited for the peace to wash over him. 

When a benefit is baked into the name of a product, it sells itself.

And that's exactly what the word "Peace" in Peace Pill did in the 60s. In Martin's case, for example, it created an expectation, an assumption, a belief in his mind that shaped his understanding of the drug. So profound was his perception that he ignored any evidence - pharmacological or physical or anecdotal - pointing to the fact that PCP wasn't actually peaceful at all. 

Just think: if copywriting can sell violence to pacifists, what else can it sell? 

The answer is anything

What are you selling?


Content Marketing: What's the Goal?

Content Marketing: What's the Goal?

In August 2016, Justin Bieber switched his Instagram account to "PRIVATE" mode. 

In doing so, he cut ties with his 78 million followers (the 7th largest audience on the 8th most popular social media platform).

I'm sure he had his reasons. I'm not judging him. That said, as a content marketer, building audiences is my profession. So, I was disturbed to see him walk away from something so awesome and profound: an audience only a handful of corporations - much less people - in the world had the ability to attract and retain. 

All that attention, all that opportunity: gone, like a wisp of smoke. 

Takeaway: as a content marketer, your most valuable asset is not your content (e.g., individual articles, infographics, videos, eBooks), it's your audience

An engaged audience, after all, is the culmination of all the hard work, all the energy and thought and grit it required to create that content. 

So, if you're skilled enough to have built an audience, don't waste it; don't throw away all that potential attention. Respect it. Honor it with relevant, consistent, quality content that adds value to your subscribers' lives. And when the time's right, make your audience an offer. 

Because an engaged audience is just sitting there, waiting to be sold. 


If You Want to Write Great Copy, Read Bukowski

If You Want to Write Great Copy, Read Bukowski

I'm not a voracious reader by any means. But I was last month. I read eight books. Eight. And they were all by Charles Bukowski.

I've never inhaled an author that fast. Like a man possessed I read Post Office, his first book, in one sitting. It was the easiest, most enjoyable read of my life. I liked it better than Hemingway. Better than Vonnegut, even.

I liked that Bukowski (on top of being very funny) wrote simply, with small words and short, crisp sentences. By using (notice: "using," not "employing," but "using") natural language, he ensured that millions of people could connect with his work.

Bukowski wrote for the drunk next to him at the bar. He wrote for the prostitutes he slept with. He wrote for the degenerate sitting next to him at the horse track. He wrote for his colleagues at the post office. Because if they could understand his work -- if they could internalize his message -- it meant the masses could, too.

Bukowski had all the qualities of a great copywriter. He could've been excellent at the job:

He knew his audience.

He wrote clear, concise and compelling sentences.

He left out the parts that people skip.

Bukowski gives readers all the information they need to be gripped and entertained and, at the same time, he makes sure they receive a message. That's what great copy is all about.

Before publishing his first novel (in the second half of his life), Buk wrote a lot of poetry: tens of thousands of stanzas. All that poetry practice trained him to make every word count, a skill he carried into his prose writing. Reading his work helped me become more aware of my own word choice and, in the end, I think it has helped me write better copy. Pick up something by Bukowski -- anything at all -- and it might just help you too, my friend.


Writers: Meet Your New Favorite Visual Content Too

Writers: Meet Your New Favorite Visual Content Too

But before I share the tool with you, I’d like to share a story. My story. 


When strangers ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a writer, which I am.

My first professional gig was at CareerBuilder.com, a big company, where I wrote high-performing job ads. I did that for about 18 months, then accepted a staff writer position at a smaller digital agency, where I continued to cut my copywriting teeth, honing the craft for a little over two and a half years.

Today, I create content for WorkForce Software, a SaaS company with a penchant for employee engagement. I love what I do. I love writing. And I fully acknowledge how lucky I am to create for a living.

That said, it’s been a long road. None of this happened over night.

I worked at it. 

I worked at it is as a kid, writing at my older sister’s computer while she looked over my shoulder, laughing at my grammar.

I worked at it in college, knowing that, eventually, I would have to do something with this English degree my parents scoffed at.

I worked at it on the 19th floor of CareerBuilder’s HQ, while dozens of other hungry writers eyed my job with spit streaming down their chin, sending cover letters to my boss.

That was challenging, but the satisfaction I feel today was worth the bare-knuckle initiation. Because now, I’m a writer.

But that’s all that I am…

A writer.

I’m not a developer. I can't code. I’m not a designer (although I did design this website).

Coming up, all I wanted to do was write sharper, leaner, better sentences. That was my focus. I wanted to be clear and concise and compelling. I wanted to make an impact -- and I wanted to do it with words. 

I’ll leave the visuals to someone else, I thought.

That's why designers exist. 

It's true. Plenty of digital content marketers are strictly writers. They produce the words for articles and e-books and whitepapers. They sculpt copy for landing pages and home pages and calls-to-action. And when they’re done, they pass their words over to a designer, a highly skilled professional who knows PhotoShop, InDesign, and probably a handful of coding languages (not to mention the fundamentals of design). 

It’s an effective collaboration. I recognized and respected that, and I felt honored to be one-half of the creative puzzle. But it also made me anxious because I was, effectively, a dependent. 

The content needed a designer. I needed a designer.

And then I found Visme. 

As a writer, Visme is my visual content tool of choice.

Not necessarily because it made me a better designer, but because it facilitated my potential as a designer.

In other words, it gave me my independence. 

Visme didn’t teach me how to layer images, it just made it easy. Visme didn’t teach me how to design engaging infographics or how to use negative space to create a focal point, it just made it easy.

Great design work, like great writing, is the product of practice and passion.

Unlike writers, however, who need only a word processor to do their job, designers, typically, must master much more involved tools if they're to be successful. Tools with steep learning curves that may keep writers -- who are focused on their own craft -- at bay. Learning curves that perpetuate the divide between art and copy.

Tools like Visme serve to narrow that gap, making it easier for writers to frame their words around stunning visual content. Content that’s as simple to create as it is enjoyable to consume.

Is Visme exclusively for writers? No. It’s for anyone that wants to do good design work without all the prerequisite knowledge that goes with it.

If you're ready for that, then you can start here.


FanDuel, Thomas Smith & the Power of Ad Repetition

FanDuel, Thomas Smith & the Power of Ad Repetition

Let’s pretend you want to promote your business on the radio.

First you have to hire somebody like me to write the ad for you.

Then a voice-over actor has to record the copy.

Then you have to buy some ad spots from a radio station.

But here’s the thing: You can’t just buy one spot and see how it does. No, no. You would probably be forced to buy at least five.

Why five?

Most people think it’s the radio station’s way of getting as much money out of clients as possible. But that’s not the case.

By locking you into several spots, the radio station is actually ensuring that your ad will work.

How?

Because they know their audience needs to hear a message at least five times before they take action. And they want you to get those results so you continue to do business with their station.

Thomas Smith said it best...

Back in 1885, a businessman named Thomas Smith wrote a book called Successful Advertising, in which he broke down the impact of repeated exposure to an ad.

Here’s his breakdown:

The first time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it.
2nd: they don’t notice it.
3rd: they are aware that it is there.
4th: they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it somewhere before.
5th: they actually read the ad.
6th: they thumb their nose at it.
7th: they start to get a little irritated with it.
8th: they start to think, “Here’s that confounded ad again!”
9th: they start to wonder if they’re missing out on something.
10th: they ask their friends and neighbors if they tried it.
11th: they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
12th: they start to think that it must be a good product.
13th: they start to feel the product has value.
14th: they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.
15th: they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
16th: they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
17th: they make a note to buy the product.
18th: they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.
19th: they count their money very carefully.
20th: they buy what it is offering.

I know what you’re thinking...

How did he come up with this series of ultra-specific reactions?

Honestly? He probably made it up based on what sounded right to him. After all, it was 1885...

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t on to something. 

Think about it: How many times have you seen an ad for FanDuel, the fantasy gaming website, since football season started?

They’re everywhere: Commercials, Internet banners, billboards. The onslaught is relentless.

But it works.

It works. 

Since the beginning of the year, FanDuel managed to quadruple its revenue. Then it was injected with $275 million.

People might be complaining about the never-ending ad barrage, but there’s no question it’s ending in action -- and helping the company grow at a tremendous rate.

I know I signed up (after a month). And so did my girlfriend. And all of my friends eventually signed up, too.

Maybe you didn’t. But hey, maybe you don’t like football (i.e., you're not FanDuel's target audience).

In Sum:

Repetition is a powerful marketing tactic that gets results.

As Thomas Smith demonstrated, even when you have a valuable, benefits-rich message, it takes pressure and time to turn prospects into customers.

Pressure and time.

Pressure and time.

Pressure and time...


Why Successful Copywriters Don't Sell Words

Why Successful Copywriters Don't Sell Words

Ring.

Ring-ring.

You hear that?

Ring-ring-ring.

That's the sound of a client calling -- a potential client, actually. You haven't signed her yet, but you're about to...

How?

Well, you're going to give her a bargain. You're going to give her the best deal ever. Because if you don't, some poor schmo on Upwork.com will.

Right?

Absolutely. But that's okay. Let someone else snag her. Let someone else sell her words... you have something more substantial to offer...

Let me explain.

Rich copywriters don't sell words. 

Because words are a commodity. Anyone can use them. Anyone can write them.

And that's why so many copywriters are afraid to charge their prospective customers a respectable fee. They believe that asking for $100 or $200 or $300 an hour sounds ridiculous because there are thousands of writers -- on dozens of crowd-sourcing sites -- who are offering their services for 10X less.

The truth is, naming your price isn't what's going to make you sound ridiculous. It's not being able to answer the question that will inevitably follow:

"What makes your work different?"

Most copywriters -- hell, most people working in a creative capacity -- fear that question.

Why?

Because they don't have an answer for it. Words are words. And therein lies my point:

Clients don't hire copywriters for their words.

Sorry to break it to you, but nobody cares about your words and sentences. Nobody cares about your headlines or subheads or your calls-to-action either.

The only thing a clients cares about is their problem -- and whether your copy can solve it for them. 

So what can you do?

Forget about the words and sell the solution.

Solutions to problems, unlike words, are not commodities. When dealing with businesses, specifically, it takes know-how and a unique set of skills to solve a problem.

So when asking for all that money, remember to focus on:

  1. Your prospective client's problem, and
  2. the financial implications of solving that problem.

In other words, your pitch to the prospect should explain what success on your part would enable them to do.

Would the money your work brings in allow them to expand their team?

Would it help them open a new location?

Would it drive X% more quarterly business?

Rich copywriters don't sell words because they're too busy selling investments.

Your job, as far as I'm concerned, is to make people realize that your words aren't an expense, they're the future of a company, a project, a dream.

Sell that dream -- and then go back it up with words.

That's the road to success.


How to Paint a Picture with Words (Thanks, Babulya)

How to Paint a Picture with Words (Thanks, Babulya)

Imagine a sixty-something woman wearing light blue jeans and a pink sweater.

A single gold band – her only piece of jewelry – adorns her ring finger. Her hair is thick and short and silver. She’s walking hand-in-hand with a brown-haired little boy who won't stop jumping.

The woman was my grandmother, my babulya, in 1992. I'm the boy. And little did I know I was about to witness a miracle.

It was a hot summer day and our daily walk had taken us farther than usual from home. We were about a mile or two away from the glass of water I was desperately craving. I was four years old at the time, uncomfortable and impatient. So I flexed a little:

“I WANT WATER!” I yelled. “I NEED WATER!”

My grandmother, however, was patient. She was tactful and kind. She was nurturing and accommodating and, most importantly, she had powers.

“You want some water?” She asked calmly.

“Yes.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I brought a thermos full of tea. Do you want tea instead?" She knew I loved tea.

“Uh-huh.”

“Then make me a cup with your hand, I need somewhere to pour it.”

I immediately tucked my thumb down and curled my fingers around it. My grandmother did the same with her own hand.

“Hold still,” she said, as she poured the tea into my tiny, clenched fist. I frantically motioned for her to stop just before the invisible liquid spilled over the top of my hand. I put my fingers to my lips and drank. My elbow rose steadily with each gulp.

It was damn good.


The Critical Marketing Principle a Kind-Hearted Homeless Man Never Lets Me Forget

The Critical Marketing Principle a Kind-Hearted Homeless Man Never Lets Me Forget

"Good morning to you, too," I said. "What's your name, anyway?"

"Harry!" he boomed. "Good to meet you, man!"

"Good to meet you," I said. "Have a good one!"

And with that I walked away from my first discourse with Harry, a good-natured homeless man I've been passing on my way to work for months.

Harry, however, isn't your "typical" homeless person.

He doesn't have a sign or a cup. He never asks for anything. He just stands out there and says "GOOD MORNING!" to passersby.

And every time someone says it back, he says "THANK YOU, SIR" or "THANK YOU, MISS," and the biggest smile lights up his face.

For the record: I like Harry a lot.

In fact, I'm sure that anyone who doesn't have their Chicago-morning-rush blinders on likes him, too.

How could you not? The man is an engine of positivity. In the months before I asked his name, I called him "Mr. Good Vibes."

At the end of the day, I think Harry's likability comes down to one fact:

He never asks for anything. 

He spreads cheer -- a rare commodity most weekday mornings -- and he never, ever, asks for anything in return.

He provides free value, one thing good marketers know people notice, remember and, eventually, act on.

Which brings me to my point -- the fundamental marketing rule Harry never lets me forget:

"Marketing is About Help, Not Hype."

Help -- lots of it or just a little -- is valuable.

(So is information and entertainment.)

For a deeper dive into the marketing benefits of help over hype, I recommend you read Jay Baer's book by the same name...

Harry must have.


4 Steps to Crafting Professional-Grade Headlines That Won't Be Ignored

4 Steps to Crafting Professional-Grade Headlines That Won't Be Ignored

A professional-grade headline gets noticed, clicked, and (if the content behind it is valuable) shared.

A professional-grade headline sticks in your head if you don't click it.

It doesn't give you time to think. It's as though it's speaking to you and you alone, controlling your attention and paralyzing you with curiosity.

People are slaves to great headlines. That's why they're by far the most important part of any piece of online content.

Sound dramatic? C'mon...

Look at Buzzfeed, Gawker, and Upworthy. What do you think makes these mega-sites so popular? It's their investment in great headline writing, not SEO.

The trick is knowing and understanding your audience.

Your headlines should assuage the fears or support the goals of your readers. But that's not all. Headlines must also deliver on the promises they make.

Don't trick your readers. (The ole' bait n' switch headline is a real credibility killer.)

With that said, at the end of the day:

Headlines are not written, they're crafted...

Step-by-step.

And the best way to craft a captivating headline is by following the "4 Us," making it:

1. Useful,

2. unique,

3. ultra-specific, and

4. urgent.

In fact, that's how I came up with this article's title (which I've deconstructed below to demonstrate the process).

As a starting point, I wrote down the bare bones of what this article is about: Crafting headlines.

With the fundamental topic of my article ("Craft Headlines") in mind, I could I start running through the steps.

So, here goes:

Step 1: Make it Useful

"How to Craft Headlines"

Starting a headline with "Learn," "Discover," or, in this case, "How to," instantly relays value, or usefulness.

It's really just that simple.

Step 2: Make it Unique

"How to Craft Professional-Grade Headlines"

A "unique" headline is, for all intents and purposes, original. It hooks readers in, sparks their interest, and stands out.

There are LOTS of articles about headline writing on the Internet. But "How to Craft Professional-Grade Headlines" -- now that promises a level of uniqueness.

Remember, at the end of the day, you want the reader to be intrigued. (Again, just make sure you can back up your claim.)

Step 3: Make it Ultra-specific

"4 Steps to Crafting Professional-Grade Headlines"

You can add specificity to a headline by describing its structure.

For example, I replaced "How" with "4 Steps," which is far more descriptive (i.e., specific).

By the way, I know you're sick of seeing list posts. (I am, too.) But every successful web writer uses them for the simple fact that they work.

Step 4: Make it Urgent

"4 Steps to Crafting Professional-Grade Headlines That Won't Be Ignored"

There are two ways to make your headlines "urgent:"

1. Make them deadline-driven: "Only 14 tickets left..."

2. Make them consequence-driven: "If you don't fix that, then this will happen..."

By adding "That Won't Be Ignored" to the end of this headline, I highlighted the consequences of the readers' inaction, which gave it the urgency I was looking for.

In Sum:

A "4 Us" headline is longer, but it's also more effective. It's like the bazooka of headlines: big, heavy, dense, and relatively slow (to read) -- but it packs a solid punch.

Ultimately, though, the 4 Us approach is just a good way to set your content apart from everyone elses.

With that, I send you on your way, dear Reader, to craft your own Buzzfeed-worthy headlines. Headlines so useful, so unique, so urgent and ultra-specific that they turn people into content zombies with but one aim: To consume your every last word.

Til next time, friends. (And please don't forget to share!)


How a Stranded Mountaineer's Life-Saving Strategy WILL Help You Write More Efficiently

How a Stranded Mountaineer's Life-Saving Strategy WILL Help You Write More Efficiently

Joe Simpson, an English mountaineer, messed up:

In 1985, while descending the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, he slipped, landed awkwardly, and shattered his tibia into his knee.

Joe’s climbing partner, Simon Yates, was forced to lower him down the side of the mountain using a belay and rope. But the conditions were less than perfect -- it was dark, and a storm was coming through -- and Simon accidentally lowered Joe off a cliff.

Whoops. 

The pair were tied together, so, after some time in a weight stalemate, Simon was forced to cut the rope.

Joe fell.

He fell 150 feet down the cliff and ended up in a crevasse. But he didn't die.

When he came to, Joe realized he couldn’t climb out. Not with his leg. It would've been impossible. He would have to lower himself further down the crevasse, hoping there would be a way out.

Somehow, lightning struck twice, and he found one: at the top of a steep snow slope, Joe saw a beam of light. It was an entrance back onto the glacier.

But the discovery was bitter sweet...

Because Joe was still 5 miles away from his base camp.

He had no food, a broken leg, hypothermia, and virtually no water.

It took him 3 days to make it back.

So, how did he do it?

Twenty minutes at a time:

“I’d look at a rock and I’d go ‘Right, I’ll get there in twenty minutes.’ Once I decided I was going to get that distance in twenty minutes, I bloody well was gonna do it.

And it would help me because I’d get halfway through the distance and I’d be in such pain, I just couldn’t bear the thought of getting up and falling again, but I’d look at the time and I’d think ‘I’ve gotta get there!’

And then I’d think, ‘Oh, I’ll just lie a little bit longer,’ but then I’d think ‘No! You gotta get there, you only got ten minutes left!’

Those were Joe's words in Touching the Void, a documentary chronicling his experience, which is based on a bookhe wrote.

Joe got through his 3-day ordeal twenty measly minutes at a time.

It was a great strategy. It saved his life. And if it worked for a starving, beat-up mountain climber, it sure as hell is going to work for a beat-up, starving writer. (Or a rich one.)

Every time you need to pound out words...

Think of Joe. Think of his strategy, and apply it to your writing goal:

Step 1: Pick a word count goal. Say, 100 words.

Step 2: Allocate a specific amount of time to that goal. Say, 20 minutes.

Step 3: Get there. Write until you run out of time or words. Just write.

This method motivated Joe. It gave him many specific, measurable, time-bound goals to work towards -- and those, ultimately, helped him achieve his overall objective.

Like I said, if it worked for Joe, it'll work for you. Give it a shot. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish when you've made it your mission to beat the clock.


People Aren't Reading Your Articles

People Aren't Reading Your Articles

Last week, a doctoral student came to me for some blogging advice.

“So you want me to be more concise?" she said. "In academia, I just write until I die."

“Remember,” I said, “your professors are getting paid to read your writing. Everyone else is reading it because they want to."

That's why people who publish content on the Internet -- from established bloggers and journalists to ordinary Twitter and Facebook users -- need to: 

1) quickly relay the value of their content, and

2) reduce the reader's cognitive load as much as possible

Because, at the end of the day...

Most people don't actually read. They scan.

According to research conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group in 1998, 79% of readers scan new web pages that they come across.

Ten years later, in 2008, the same researchers conducted another online attention test and concluded that, on average, page visitors have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% being more likely. In any case, ten years later, readers are still scanning.

Then, in 2013, Farhad Manjoo wrote a piece for Slate called You Won’t Finish This Article. According to Manjoo, nearly 40% of the people who land on a page won’t make it past the first paragraph. And if they do, they’re likely going to scan the page for captivating sub-headlines, bullet points, and bolding.

In sum:

Scanning is the new reading.

That's why web copywriters shouldn't be offended by people merely perusing their work. It's nothing personal. It just is.

The solution: adjust to the reader scanner. Make it easy for her to fall down the page. Let your carefully constructed sentences captivate her. Let your well-formatted paragraphs put her attention in a guillotine hold. It's the only way.

Here's how you do that:

1. Be concise.

Concise writing is fast- and easy-to-read, yet still contains all the useful information a reader needs. If you want to write more concisely, channel your inner Hemingway: avoid adverbs, adjectives, jargon, and the passive voice.

2. Make your layout scannable.

Use the following on-page elements:

  • Bullets
  • Numbered lists
  • Bold, italicized, and colored text
  • Sub-headlines
  • Short paragraphs

See, wasn't that easy to get through?

3. Use objective language.

To be completely objective would be to write without adjectives and buzzwords. Objective writing is also supported by hard evidence (e.g., research and direct quotes).

Don’t be completely objective. That would leave your copy void of charm, which is necessary if you want to sell your readers (that is what you're trying to do, right?). 

With that said, reasonably objective writing does have its benefits: it’s easy-to-read and easy-to-understand. It's up to you to make your writing objectively balanced

Not buying it?

If you’re feeling skeptical that concise, scannable, objective writing really performs better online, below is a link to yet another Nielsen Norman Group study that will make you a believer.

The study illustrates how online users engaged with content that was rewritten using conciseness, scannability, and objectivity as individual control factors. Then it tested how readers responded to content that was rewritten to include all three elements.

The results speak for themselves: click here to see them. 


Oh Yes

Oh Yes


One of my favorite poems by Charles Bukowski is called Oh Yes. It goes like this:

there are worse things than

being alone

but it often takes decades

to realize this

and most often

when you do

it's too late

and there's nothing worse

than

too late.

For years, I thought this poem was about love. And for Bukowski, presumably, it was. But I think there's a lesson in it for writers, too. Because ideas, like love, can escape you.

Don't let them. Ideas are intangible gold. Who knows what that kernel might grow into?

Keep a pen and paper on your nightstand in case something comes to you in the middle of a lucid dream. And, most importantly, find it in yourself to wake up and scribble it down. 

An idea strikes you while jogging? While driving? During a pillow fight? That's no excuse not to document it: take that fancy phone out and record a voice memo. It'll take you 15 seconds. Big deal.

At least you won't forget your idea. And whether you decide to put it down on paper that night or decades later, at least it won't be too late. 


This Movie Forever Changed My Outlook On Work (And It Can Change Yours, Too)

This Movie Forever Changed My Outlook On Work (And It Can Change Yours, Too)

Shinzō Abe is the Prime Minister of Japan. Being Japanese, his sushi standards are high... Prime-Minister-high, you might say.So where does Shinzō Abe take Barack Obama for dinner during the President's trip to Japan last April? He takes him to Sukiyabashi Jiro, a small sushi restaurant that's hidden away, underground, in a Tokyo subway station.

Sukiyabashi only seats ten people. There are no tables, just the one bar. It's reservation-only -- and unless you're the country's Prime Minister, you'll need to reserve your seat three, even four months in advance.

Jiro, the head chef, doesn't serve appetizers. He only prepares sushi. And for his work, the Michelin Guide has awarded the restaurant "3 stars" (NOTE: only nine "3-star" restaurants exist in the US).

That's why Shinzō Abe chose to take Obama to Sukiyabashi Jiro. And that's whyObama said it was the best sushi he'd ever eaten.

The Movie That Changed My Life

Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a 2011 documentary, profiled Sukiyabashi Jiro and its namesake owner, Jiro Ono. You can find it on Netflix.

I watch it a couple times a year, but not because it's beautifully shot (it is) or because every scene makes my mouth water (it does). I watch it because of its title. That's right, its title.

It's called "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" because he doesn't merely make it or prepare it or serve it.

No.

Jiro literally dreams sushi.

There's a scene in the movie where the master chef -- who's in his eighties -- explains that as a younger man, sushi recipes would come to him in his sleep. And he would jump out of bed to write them down, lest he forget them by morning.

It was that level of passion that led to his unprecedented success, to being the best in the world, to being honored by Presidents. 

Sure, the movie is entertaining... it will keep you peeled (and it will teach you a lot about raw fish and Japanese culture in the process). But as far as I'm concerned, Jiro Dreams of Sushi isn't about sushi...

The title says it all: It's about love.

Love so profound that you dedicate your life to it. 

Love so pure that it wakes you up in the middle of the night.

Work Is About Love

Jiro is in love with his profession, which, by the way, is not making sushi.

I would say that "making sushi" is his job. It's what his hands do all day. His profession, then, is making sushi better.

Year after year, Jiro strives for perfection (an unattainable yet commendable goal). And how he finds the drive to do so... well, that's what the movie is really about.

According to the chef, he made his decision a long time ago:

"Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably."

- Jiro Ono

Every time I watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I'm reminded that my profession is not merely writing copy... it's figuring out how to write copy better.

Waking up with that mindset every day excites me, because I'm not getting up to do a job but, rather, to master a craft.

Whatever it is you do (or might aspire to do, for that matter) I hope that after reading this article and watching the movie that inspired it, you'll immerse yourself in your work, as Jiro suggests.

I did. And it's helped me improve every day.


Someone Else's Acid Trip

Someone Else's Acid Trip

What do real-estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan have in common?

Why are drug dealers so fond of living with their mothers?

What makes the perfect parent?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner do.

Levitt teaches economics at the University of Chicago. Dubner is a journalist who writes for the New Yorker and The New York Times. 

In 2003, The Times sent Dubner to Chicago to profile Levitt. A partnership was born and a couple years later the two published a book: Freakonomics.

Claiming to examine "The hidden side of everything," Freakonomics juxtaposes completely different topics and entities, like real-estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan. In doing so, Levitt and Dubner are able to pit human morality against world economics in a fascinating and completely original way.

Their book is creative and compelling and deep -- and yet, somehow, simple.

It sold seven million copies.

Steven and Stephen went on to publish two more books. And in 2010, they started podcasting...

As of this article's publication, the Freakonomics Radio podcast is sitting pretty at #10 on iTunes, which makes perfect sense considering the content:

"What's More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol?"

"Should the U.S. Merge With Mexico?"

"How to Save $1 Billion Without Even Trying"

The tone of Freakonomics Radio is fun and light, a lot like the books. It makes for easy listening -- and serious thinking -- and it's hard not to get addicted.

The Acid Trip

The acid trip in question belongs to Kevin Kelly, Co-founder and Editor of Wired magazine. It was skimmed over in a Freakononomics Radio episode questionably called, "Someone Else's Acid Trip."

Dubner, who hosts the podcast, interviews Kelly for the episode. The title, I'm assuming, just makes for great clickbait (that's why I stole it).

Dubner focuses on Kelly's life: His travels, family, and entrepreneurship. The trip made a brief appearance in the conversation when Dubner asked if Kelly had ever dropped acid.

That's when the heralded editor said something that I had a hard time letting go of:

"There's nothing more boring than hearing about someone else's acid trip!" 

They both laughed about it -- albeit nervously -- and then Kelly said he dropped acid for the first and only time on his 50th birthday. He said he had a professional guide. He said he saw God. And then they moved on to other, "more interesting" topics.

Are you kidding me?

I was stranded: How can such a smart and worldly guy consider someone else's acid story boring?

After all, I've never done acid. According to Stephen Dubner, neither has he. So why is Kelly assuming that the audience wouldn't be at least curious about his unique experience? Is he being squeamish? Was the trip that bad?

And then it hit me: There's no "You" in an acid story. There's no "We," either. There's just "I" and "My" and "Me." As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter who you are or what you know, if those are the only pronouns coming out of your mouth, people are eventually going to stop listening.

It made sense... and Kelly's right: Acid stories are a bore. 

My copywriting wheels started turning and -- in true Freakonomics fashion -- I decided to juxtapose a couple of concepts for this post...

The Copy Lesson

It's simple, really: Don't be an acid-trip-copywriter.

Don't ever expect that a prospect is reading:

  • Your sales letter,
  • your "About Us" page,
  • your email newsletter,
  • your anything

...because they want to learn more about you. They don't.

Prospects don't care about your company's story.

Prospects don't even care about your products and services.

The only thing prospects care about is the value they're going to get out of you. And delivering value starts with words like "You" and "Your" and "We" and "Us" -- words you'll rarely ever hear in a story about someone else's acid trip. 

These are the words that make people perk up in their seats, rub their eyes, and acknowledge that there's something in it for them -- even if it is on a subconscious level.

NOTE: I'm not saying you can't write about your company, your products, or even yourself. You should! You must! Just make sure that the copy you produce begins and ends with your prospects. Always keep them top-of-mind:

Answer their most pressing questions -- the ones that keep them up at night.

Give them some much needed direction.

Entertain them.

Provide Value.

But whatever you do, never write acid copy. You'll get burned.


How to Make It Easy for Anyone In the World to Consume & Understand Your Writing

How to Make It Easy for Anyone In the World to Consume & Understand Your Writing

Hey... Hey, you! Guess what?

You're one of three billion people with Internet access.

NOTE: Only about a third of those people speak English.

So think about it: If you're publishing English content online, the majority of Internet users can't understand it. It means nothing to them. It's gibberish.

Believe me, I know what you're thinking: One billion people is plenty for me. And hey, maybe it is. Maybe your target audience only speaks English (that's my audience's primary language, after all)...

But then again, what if you're trying to appeal to a global audience -- an audience that speaks different variations of English (e.g., Australia, Scotland, Ireland, England) or completely different languages altogether? What then?

Well, if you are in fact creating blog articles, white papers, landing pages, email newsletters, etc. for an international community, you have to write with future translation in mind...

Let me say that again: You have to write with future translation in mind.

Okay. So here's what I mean by future translation... It breaks down into two categories:

1. Professional Localization
2. Web Translation

Let's explore these options.

Professional Localization

First of all, don't let the lingo intimidate you. "Localization" is just a fancy word for translation. Here's the technical definition:

"The adaption of a product, application, or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market, or locale."

In other words, professionally localizing your writing means hiring a certified translator to meticulously analyze your content and revise it so that a specific audience can easily understand it and draw value from it. 

Is it expensive? Sure it is. But if you need to take this route -- and some businesses legitimately do -- then you can find a localization experthere.

And that's all I'll say about this translation option because, aside from a few high level copy changes, there's little you can do from a writing standpoint to alter the outcome of localized content. That's what you're paying a professional for.

Option two, however, is different: It has everything to do with you and how you write...

Web Translation

A web translation is the output you would get from Google Translate or Bing Translator. It's a word-for-word text replacement used the world-over by non-native speakers and desperate foreign language students. But students who use a web translator usually fail the test...

Why do they fail?

I'll explain with a quick story: When I was a kid, my babushka always tried to translate Russian sayings into English for me. One of my favorites was:

"Done deed. Play brave!"

That was her way of saying: If you finish your homework, then you can enjoy yourself guilt-free

Unfortunately, translating a rhyming Russian idiom -- word-for-word -- into English only mixed up the message. As you can tell, in this case, it yielded something fairly incoherent. (But boy do I love her for trying.)

The point is that unless you shell out big money to have your content professionally localized, a web translator is how the majority of people will take in your message (Facebook even has automated web translators built into posts). And if your copy is written without web translation in mind, it'll most likely spit out an inaccurate rewording and confuse your end-reader. 

Hence all the F's in AP German...

So how do you ensure that your content is optimized for now-ubiquitous web translators? Follow these 5 rules and you'll be well on your way to writing highly translatable, easily consumable copy:

1. Use Global English

Global English is plain English. That doesn't mean you should dumb down your writing -- not at all. It means you should strive to make your writing clear and friendly, as if you're writing to someone you've known for years. 

Clear and friendly -- that's what you're aiming for. You achieve it by:

  • Writing short, complete sentences -- and if the concept you're trying to explain is hefty, you might want to use bullets to break down your point in a clear and organized way.
  • Limiting your adverbs and adjectives.
  • Using active voice (e.g., replace 'we will be arriving' with 'we will arrive')

To that last point, you should always strive to find the simplest way to communicate a message. So if you can use one word instead of three, use one word! For example, replace:

  • 'look at' with 'examine'
  • 'carry on' with 'continue'
  • 'put up with' with 'withstand'
  • 'at this point in time' with 'now'

2. Remember the Basics

Does each sentence have a subject and a verb?

Is your punctuation on point? What about your tenses?

Ensure that your writing makes sense by reading it aloud. If it sounds off to you in English, imagine what Google or Bing will make of it in another language. 

3. Avoid Regional References

Jargon, slang, pop culture references, even Latin abbreviations will confuse people who aren't from that region.

For example, "911" means nothing to an Italian citizen, so using it to express an emergency situation would be pointless or, worse yet, confusing to Italian readers.

4. Respect Numbers

There's no getting around the fact that dates, phone numbers and currencies are interpreted differently from country to country.

If you need a global audience to understand your message, listing out all the relevant variations would save your audience effort and time.

For example, if you know your content is going to be consumed in the US and Europe, include prices in USD ($) and EUR (€).

5. Be Consistent

At the end of the day, consistency is king.

Pick a constant voice and tone, but more importantly, commit to a specific set of writing rules. If you live in America, use American-English spelling and grammar. Doing so ensures that web translators will be consistent, as well.

DISCLAIMER: Here's the thing... Even if you religiously adhere to these principles, your web-translated content still won't read perfectly in another language. That's just the nature of the beast. Unless you pay for it, a translation is never going to be flawless.

With that said, following these guidelines can still make a tremendous difference for global audiences. International readers may not digest your content exactly as you intended, but they are more likely to walk away with the same information and value as your English-speaking readers...

And that, ultimately, is what's most important. 


6 Critical Questions to Ask Yourself Before Publishing Content Online

6 Critical Questions to Ask Yourself Before Publishing Content Online

Content is information. Its sole purpose: To relay a message -- good, or bad. Examples include:

  • Blog articles,
  • infographics and SlideShares,
  • videos and images,
  • memes and GIFs,
  • transcribed interviews...
  • etc. etc. etc.

It's not hard to create content, per se (millions of people have done so on Facebook since you started reading this article). And as a result, the web has a superabundance of fluff.

Creating good content -- valuable, interesting, compelling content -- however, now that's hard. But if you can pull it off, the Internet can be a tremendous place to market.

Enter: Content Marketing, one of the best ways to promote your business. Period. But don't take my word for it...

"Content marketing is the only marketing that's left!"

Seth Godin, editor of the world's most popular marketing blog, said that back in 2008. 

Seven years later, the question isn't whether content is important (it is), but rather how to ensure that what you create is worth the time it takes to consume it.

Well, here's a start... Ask yourself the following 6 questions each time you think you're ready to hit "Publish." Doing so will:

1. Help you objectively analyze your content and

2. help you view it from your audience's perspective.

Let's go.

1. Is this Appropriate?

Just as you have an objective when creating content, your readers have a goal in mind when consuming it.

Appropriate content will help your target audience achieve their goals. Ideally, it will generate the "Aha!" moment, providing readers with the exact information they need to solve a problem.

Creating appropriate content starts with understanding your readers:

  • Who are they
  • What are their problems?
  • What are they hoping to accomplish?

After you nail down the aim of your target audience, it's time to think about your own business goals...

How can your content help boost sales? How can it improve customer service? Also -- and this is critical -- can you consistently create valuable content without going broke? 

Content is a two-way street, as it's only appropriate when it's of benefit to both the audience and the producer. 

2. Is this Useful?

Useful content has a purpose.

The more specific the purpose, the more useful the content. For example:

  • "Selling a service" is less useful than "Selling this service"
  • "Selling this service" is less useful than "Showing the benefits of this service"
  • "Showing the benefits of this service" is less useful than "Describing how this service can help doctors schedule patients more efficiently"

You get the idea. Specificity is key. 

Purposeless content will only annoy your readers. Avoid this by clearly identifying what your piece is meant to explain.

3. Is this Audience-centric?

More likely than not, your company's blog is not "assigned reading." 

Unless people truly enjoy your content, they're not going to consume it or share it -- the Internet is too vast to devote time to stuff you don't like. 

And what's one of the fastest ways to turn people off from your content? Here's a hint: It's not what you say, it's how you say it...

If you alienate your readers with content that:

  • Uses excessive jargon,
  • refers to common ideas with proprietary terminology, or
  • references (and doesn't explain) uber-specific concepts...

People won't connect with what you've created, regardless of how brilliant the message is.

Sculpt messages that your target audience can easily understand and relate to. Anything less than that is self-serving -- and, to quote Seth Godin again:

"Nobody wants to connect with a selfish person."

4. Is this Clear?

Clarity is one of the greatest virtues a content creator can possess. Unclear writing is just too frustrating and too much of a time commitment, especially for online readers. 

If you want to start creating clearer content in minutes, read this.

5. Is this Consistent?

Ever wonder what style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style and TheAP Stylebook are for?

They exist to enforce language consistency, which provides 3 distinct benefits to readers:

  1. Less distractions
  2. Less cognitive effort
  3. Greater comprehension

As a content creator, you always want to drive your message home. The best way to do so is by minimizing distractions and maximizing comprehension. Keeping your grammar, punctuation, voice and tone consistent throughout all your content pieces is one of the most effective ways to ensure your message is coming through loud and clear.

6. Is this Necessary?

When it comes to online publishing, just because you can...

  • Add another page,
  • post another blog, or
  • upload another picture

...doesn't mean you should.

"Publishing everything conceivable" rather than "publishing everything needed" can diminish your content's quality and make it difficult to find specific information. Worse yet, it'll likely irritate your target audience. You don't want to do that. You worked too damn hard to attract your readers and earn their trust. 

Here are several examples of unnecessary content (because people tend not to consume it):

  1. Legal copy
  2. Press releases
  3. Off-topic posts
  4. Mission/vision statements
  5. Product/service feature lists

Once you've rid your site of superfluous content, start making each piece that did make the cut bolder, clearer and more persuasive.


How to Make Your Writing Better Overnight

How to Make Your Writing Better Overnight

You've likely heard it before: If you're ever feeling unsure of something in life, put some:

  1. Time and
  2. distance

between yourself and whatever has you in doubt. 

Humans have a way of acclimating to their physical and emotional environments. In other words, we get used to stuff -- quick!

Putting some time and distance between yourself and a relationship, a career, a friendship, a lifestyle -- whatever -- will likely give you invaluable perspective, illuminating faults as well as strong points...

So why not put some time and distance between yourself and your writing?

THE RULE OF 12

Every time I finish writing something that I think is good enough for publication, I don't publish it. I don't even show anybody.

I wait.

I wait 12 hours (give or take) -- usually overnight -- until the draft is out of my head. Then and only then do I sit down to make my final round of edits.

I always find something:

Sounds stupid simple, I know. But you'd be surprised how many writers fail to give their final drafts the time and distance they need (and deserve).

Believe me, I know you're a good writer. But nobody's perfect. So go ahead, sleep on your "final" draft, and I guarantee you'll thank me in the morning.


Your Copywriting Education Won't Be Complete Until You Read This Book (And It Isn't Even About Copywriting)

Your Copywriting Education Won't Be Complete Until You Read This Book (And It Isn't Even About Copywriting)

Ever heard this quote:

"Talk to someone about themselves and they'll listen for hours."

Dale Carnegie wrote that in his 1937 classic, How to Win Friends & Influence People.

Almost eight decades later, his words still ring true -- a frank reminder that human psychology does not change: People have always enjoyed venting their frustrations, talking about their achievements and hearing their names spoken in conversation. They always will. 

As copywriters, we MUST use this to our advantage.

How to Win Friends & Influence People is not a copywriting book. It won't teach you how to write a headline or sculpt a sales letter. 

The book will, however, give you a thorough education on the human condition, which is at the center of every successful piece of copy. 

Before you sell someone, whether it be in person or on paper, you have to understand what moves them:

  • What grabs their attention?
  • What keeps their interest?
  • What earns their trust?

Only when you are able to answer these key questions about your target audience are you ready to actually start writing copy. Otherwise, your words won't "jump off the page," so to speak. They'll just sit there, listless and ineffectual, like ants floating in a cup of water. 

You don't want that, do you?

How to Win Friends & Influence People is one of the most powerful books I've ever read.

I try to pick it up every year around Thanksgiving, because if there's ever a time to remind yourself to put the concerns of others before your own, it's during the holidays. 

This is my recommendation in three simple steps:

  1. Read How to Win Friends & Influence People,
  2. bookmark it in your favorite browser and
  3. refer to it... often

Regardless of your experience -- whether you compose one headline a year, or 300 -- How to Win Friends & Influence People will help you write copy that grabs people and holds them in place. 

For example, here are several powerful quotes from the book that you can use to start improving your copy right now:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
“The only way I can get you to do anything is by giving you what you want.”
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”
“Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
“To be interesting, be interested.”
“A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people. A boil on one’s neck interests one more than forty earthquakes in Africa.”
“A barber lathers a man before he shaves him.”
“Arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.”

The book explores these (and dozens of other) truths -- all of which you can apply to your copy, making it smarter, more empathetic and, of course, remarkably effective. 

Here, again, is the link to read the book for free.

Enjoy, friends.