Mass Communication Is Second Best

There is no more effective communication than a one-on-one, eye-to-eye, conversation with another human.

Full stop.

Selling something? Your best shot is over lunch, person to person.

Persuade an adversary to your viewpoint? To even have a chance it’ll be face-to-face.

Woo your love? You get the idea.

If this is true, then why would you ever use mass communication channels if they don’t work as well? 

Simple. One-on-one conversations don’t scale. There’s only so much of your time in a day. You can’t increase your time, but you can increase your reach.

This means to make mass communication effective, your best bet is to emulate a personal conversation.

So, what do personal conversations, en masse, look like?

Writing a radio ad? Don’t talk to everyone in radio land. Talk to a single listener.

Print ad? It’s not “to all the readers.” It’s to one reader.

Sending out a newsletter? I’m not talking to the collective subscribers. I’m talking to you. It’s just you and me here and we’re having a delightful conversation. Don’t you think?

So, just to recap, when possible, nothing beats having a one-on-one in-person conversation. That’s when you’re most effective.

But that’s not always possible. Which means the second most effective option is to only “talk” to one person in your mass communications.

That’s all. But hey…by the way, off topic… I just wanted to say thanks for chatting with me. 

Same time next week?

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

Better Than Average Corporate Speak

Your brand is more valuable than the product or service you sell.

Want proof?

Think of your favorite famous person. (Usually, this is a movie star or athlete, but it doesn’t have to be.)

If they came out with their own t-shirt line, how much more likely are you to buy their clothes than run-of-the-mill Hanes?

What if the same person came out with their own air freshener? How much more likely are you to buy it over Febreze?

What if they came out with a body wash, candle, car edition, or book?

See? When people fall in love with your brand, it doesn’t matter what you sell.

So, what makes a strong brand?

In part, strong brands are defined by what they stand against; as much, if not more, than what they stand for.

So, what do you stand against?

On the surface, you’ll immediately think of good-verses-bad examples. For instance: 

For fairness –> Against injustice

For honesty –> Against dishonesty

For kindness –> Against rudeness

But these kinds of juxtapositions, while superior to average corporate speak, are flat and one dimensional. You can do better than this.

To add intrigue and pull people into your brand, try using some dualities. 

Dualities are two opposite or competing ideas that have equal merit. Here are some examples with movie references:

Freedom vs. Safety (Minority Report)

Progress vs. Preservation (Toy Story 3)

Individuality vs. Community (Snowpiercer)

Privacy vs. Transparency (The 100)

Each of those movie examples could have taken a stand for the opposite quality, and it would have been just as interesting. 

That’s because with dualities there are no wrong answers, only preferences. 

Preferences are the cornerstones of interesting personalities. 

And strong, interesting, brand personalities magnetically draw people to you. Making you their preferred option for whatever it is you sell.

So, what do you stand against?

Choose some dualities, draw some lines in the sand, and your brand will be far better than average corporate speak.

– Zac Smith, VC 

[ keep reading ]

Better Than Killing Your Darlings

Every writer knows that tight writing comes from ruthless editing.

Every writer knows that tight writing requires ruthless editing.

Every writer knows tight writing requires ruthless editing.

Writers know tight writing requires ruthless editing.

Writers know tight writing requires ruthless edits.

Tight writing requires ruthless edits.

Easier said than done.

Besides the play of word and mark, like above, the hardest edit is killing your darlings.

You know, a clever turn of phrase. An ingenious hook. A nifty piece of creative. 

We fall in love with these darlings. Which makes it painful when, for various reasons, we have to take them out.

It’s a special kind of cold heart that looks your innocent little ideas in the face and smokes ‘em with a keystroke.


Don’t have an icebox in your chest? 

That’s ok. You might not need to kill your darlings after all.

The next time you’ve written an idea that needs to go, don’t scrap it. Save it. Literally. 

Paste all your to-be-dead darlings in a cut file. Here they can happily live with a second lease on life. This does two things. 

One, should you ever find need or home for them, you’ll still have them. Which you wouldn’t have, had you been too quick on the delete key.

Two, you’ll edit even more ruthlessly because you’re not deleting ideas. You’re just rehoming them. 

And with more aggressive edits your writing will be tighter and hit harder.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

Doth Your Ears Hearken?

Just before you say or send anything into the world, it never hurts to ask yourself, “Will this pass the 12-year-old test?”

What, oh gentle reader, is the 12-year-old test?

Simply this.

Would the thing I’m about to say, post, text, or email make a 12-year-old boy giggle at an unintended innuendo?

For example, while we all love Winnie the Pooh, giving him his own celebrity style cookbook called, Cooking with Pooh, probably wouldn’t pass the test.

This is especially true when making hashtags or URLs. 

In an effort to promote the release of her album, Susan Boyle landed on the unfortunate hashtag #susanalbumparty

Or, if you run a children’s consignment shop called Kid’s Exchange, scoring the URL with both parts or your name run together could result in some client confusion. 

Sometimes, these humorous mix-ups are intentional to garner attention. If that’s the case, go forth, and may you receive the advertence you desire. 

However, the unintentional ones?

Those I would spare you from.

– Zac Smith, VC 

[ keep reading ]

Make Your Point

A good ad makes one point and one point only.
For example, if you have great rates, huge selection, and convenient hours; that’s at least three different ads. One ad for each thing. (Not that I would recommend wasting your ad dollars saying those things. These are just illustrative.)
To try and make more than one point in an ad is foolhardy.
Because it’s asking too much from your listener.
As the delightful and talented Chris Maddock likes to say – and I paraphrase – picture a mother of three sitting in her Volvo in the drive through at McDonalds. Her kids are yelling. The baby’s spitting up. Fries are being thrown at the back of her head. And then your ad comes on the radio.
This is not an unrealistic landscape.
Of everything going on in this mom’s world, how many things do you want to add to her mental plate?
One. At most.
So, to keep your ads on track, ask yourself; once I’ve gotten someone’s attention, what one thing do I want them to take away?
And then drive that one thing home.
– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

You’ll Know to Expect It

“The final signing will be on a Friday at noon and the check will be smaller than was agreed upon.” 

That’s what I learned in class this week in, How to Successfully Sell Your Business, taught by Gary Bernier.

If you’re selling your business to a Private Equity firm (PE), there is a predictable sequence of events. 

It starts when they schedule the closing paperwork to be finalized on a Friday afternoon. 

You’ll show up feeling good because you’re about to get the big fat check that everyone agreed to. You’ve got plans for the weekend. The deal is basically done.

Oh, but it’s not.

It’s just getting started. 

At the closing table, they’ll bring a check, filled out and signed, for a lower amount than you were expecting.

They’ll offer an excuse as to why the check is smaller. But you and I know that this is just a play to pay you less.

Will you take the lesser check? Or will you, knowing this was coming, counter? Or walk away?

There isn’t a wrong option. You should pick what’s best for your situation.

And whatever you choose, own it.

Because at least now, you’ll walk into that room knowing what to expect.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

Be the Most Interesting Person in the Room

Step one, read a lot. (Or watch a lot of random YouTube videos.)

The goal is to learn a little bit about a lot of different topics. Not so that you can show off your knowledge, but so that you can ask good questions. 

Which means you just have to know enough to be entry level on a given subject.

Step two, when you’re talking with someone, after the obligatory small talk, find out what they’re interested in. 

One question you can ask to find this out is: If you could have a whole weekend unencumbered to research something, what would it be?

Step three, be curious.

This is where you start asking questions about the topic they’re interested in. If you don’t know what kind of question to ask, a good place to start is to ask: If I was just starting out learning about this subject, where would be a good place to begin?

Step four, genuinely listen.

Eye contact is usually ideal. You can also throw in a head nod here and there for good measure. And an assenting “hmmm…” never hurts either.

Once you’re done talking, thank them for the nice conversation and comment on how much you learned. 

Repeat steps one through four for the next person you talk to.

Soon you will be the talk of the party. People will comment on what an interesting person you are and how you were the best conversation they had all night.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

You’ve Lived More than You Know

You have done and had more interesting experiences than you know.

No, I’m not saying your experiences were more interesting than you’ve given them credit for. 

What I’m saying is you don’t remember having them.

Memory, as it turns out, is terrifyingly fragile.

“The vast majority of the things that are happening to me in my life — the conscious experience I’m having right now — I’m most likely not going to remember when I’m 80.” – Michael Anderson, memory researcher at the University of Cambridge.

Not only do we not remember everything, our memories can also be altered. 

“Memories aren’t static. If you remember something in the context of a new environment and time, or if you are even in a different mood, your memories might integrate the new information.”  – Donna Bridge, postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“When you think back to an event that happened to you long ago – say your first day at school – you actually may be recalling information you retrieved about that event at some later time, not the original event.” – Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

So, what are we to do? What bulwark exists against our memory altering and erasing minds?


The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory.

But you already knew that. 

In fact, you probably already have a journal somewhere. A book of sporadic entries; oft begun but seldom continued. 

Well, this is your evocation to pick it up again.  

Commit the tidbits of your life to paper. And remember, you’re not writing for anyone else but you. So, don’t worry about style, quality, or formatting. Just write. 

Write about chocolate dipped ice cream in the park; the joy of Autumn colors; the copper penny in the parking lot you didn’t pick up, and how eight-year-old you wouldn’t believe it; the first wear hole in your favorite grey hoodie; the dining room chair that rocks because one leg lost its felt pad; the little yellow flowers growing from the cracked concrete; the rainbow you saw driving to work; and how you were two states away when grandma passed before you could make it home to say goodbye.

Write about big and small matters. Write odd thoughts and disjointed beliefs. And write like your life depends on it. 

Because it does. 

Your brain is erasing your life. 

And once gone, your journal is the only place you’ve lived.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

500 Years and Still Going Strong

In this month’s Ask the Wizards program, one of our subscribers, who’s around the radio industry, wrote in a timely question.

They asked:

“Our retail advertisers are starting to be distracted with headlines of high inflation, rising interest rates, markets tumbling and the ‘R’ word being predicted. What would you say to your own clients during these times?”

In its simplest form, the question asked is really, “What do you do when it feels like everything is stacked against you?”

And that question reminds me of the last five hundred years of Scottish whisky history.

By all accounts, Scotch whisky shouldn’t exist. 

Between wars, famine, prohibition, constant regulation changes by the government, greed, extortion, and global economy collapses; it’s a miracle we still have this fine drink.

For almost all of Scotch’s history, the deck has been stacked against it. And to be fair, hundreds and hundreds of distilleries didn’t make it. 

But, what about the ones that did? How did they hold on?

Grit and adaptability.

To be successful in business is to accept the fact that there will always be obstacles and that nothing ever stays the same for long.

The ability to pivot and overcome, coupled with the knowledge of how to exist in both plenty and scarcity, are of the greatest advantage.

Now, back to the original question. 

It’s true. We are currently facing high inflation, rising interest rates, and slowing markets. So, what would you say to that?

To that, I would clap my hands together and say, “Wow! What an opportunity!”

When things shake up and other companies hunker down, it creates openings for gritty, adaptable, little businesses to leapfrog over their competition in a way that wouldn’t normally be possible.

Now’s the time to stay awake and stay ready.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

How Writing Actually Works

I realize that title sounds rather definitive.

It’s not.

Really, this is about how writing works for me. How I go from blank page to finished product.

Writing something is like building a dry stacked stone wall.

They’re called “dry stacked” because there’s no mortar in between the stones. Everything is held together by friction and gravity. 

When well done, each stone looks as though it was purpose made for the space it fills.

This, of course, doesn’t happen by accident. The stone mason’s job is to turn a pile of stones into a wall. This is accomplished by careful selection. 

Once the cornerstone is laid, the next stone to follow must make sense. And so on and so on. One after another, the mason sifts through the available stones to find the next one that fits.

There is a stone for every gap that needs filled. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of trying several stones until you find the right one.

And so, stones are your words. They come in all sizes, shapes, and weights. 

Writing is simply a matter of turning words over in your hands, feeling the shape and weight. You try it in a space. If it fits; great. If not, you try another, and another, until each word belongs as if it was always meant to go exactly where you placed it.

It takes time and is the real work of writing.

But here’s the encouraging part.

The only real difference between a master mason and a novice is the speed with which they evaluate the suitability of a given stone. 

It’s not that master masons have better stones. They’re just more efficient at sorting them.

And so too you can write. It might not happen as fast as you would like it to. But if you try enough words on for size you’ll eventually arrive at the right ones.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

The 3 Steps to Strong Branding

Do people have a kneejerk reaction, good or bad, when they hear your company name? 

If they do then you have a strong brand.

Are people indifferent to the pronouncement of your name? 

If yes then you might have a weak brand.

If that’s the case and you’re interested in strengthening your brand, here’s the big picture, 3 step roadmap to getting there.

Step 1: Figure out what makes you special. 

I’m not talking about a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). 

99% of the time, how you sell your products isn’t all that unique. But why you sell your products? Now that’s something people will pay attention to. 

You don’t need a USP, you need a Unique Perspective. Or in other words, the thing that makes you stand out is the perspective (or angle) you approach your business from.

This is never a mission statement generality, like “hardest working,” “quality,” “fairness,” “honesty.” And the reason it can’t be those types of things is that EVERYONE says them.

Remember, we’re talking about something unique. It’s not unique if every other business also claims to be the thing.

Instead, think of unique and sometimes quirky personality traits. Because if your brand is personality driven, then it can’t be copied by your competitors.

Step 2: Distill your brand personality.

The thing that makes you special must be distilled into an easy to digest nugget. 

People have more than enough going on in their lives to keep their awareness full and occupied.

To have a shot at claiming some mental real estate, your brand has to be piercingly clear and easy to remember.

How do you make your brand easy to remember?

Focus on one thing and focus hard.

Yes, you probably have seven or more good traits that could define your brand. But if you say them all then there’s too much to keep track of in the mind of your customer. 

It’s easier to remember one thing than it is to remember seven things. 

Step 3: Align your messaging.

Building a strong brand means aligning your messaging throughout all communication channels so your customers have a seamless interaction from start to finish.

You can’t be bubbly and playful on social, professional and detail oriented on the radio, flippant on the phone, direct in your emails, and nice and normal in person.

You know the one personality trait you committed to in Step 2 above? Well, you need to be that, and only that, at every customer touch point.

This strengthens and reinforces your brand. Which makes it easier and easier for people to remember you.

And when you’re easy to remember it’s easier to get the business and the sale.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

What’s Your Brand? (And what are you supposed to do with it?)

What is a brand?

According to Investopedia, “the term brand refers to a business and marketing concept that helps people identify a particular company, product, or individual. Brands are intangible, which means you can’t actually touch or see them.”

That’s a semi-helpful definition, but it still leaves it a little washy. Let’s be more concrete.

A brand is the sum total of what your customer thinks and feels when they hear your name.

As such, you have some – but not total – control over your brand. Yes, you guide and direct it by what you say and do, but you don’t get the final say. (A terrifying thought and topic for another day.)

Now that we’ve defined what we’re talking about, what are you supposed to do with your brand? How do you wield it?

Simon Sinek helped us out when he said, “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

In essence, you can use your brand as a banner to tell people what you believe. You wave that banner anytime you put your brand in front of eyeballs and ears. Advertising is generally, but not always, the most effective way to get your brand in front of people.

The stronger your brand the quicker you attract people who believe what you believe when they need what you sell. 

That’s because brand strength or weakness is really just about the clarity of thought and feeling you evoke in your customer. 

Do people have a kneejerk reaction, good or bad, when they hear your company name? Then you have a strong brand.

Are people indifferent to the pronouncement of your name? Then you might have a weak brand.

If that’s the case and you’re interested in strengthening your brand, then let’s talk about the big-picture roadmap to doing so next week.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]