The Dirty Secret of Successful Copywriters

Can a well-written ad campaign make a business madly successful?


But the success is not in the words.

Now, don’t get me wrong. A good copywriter is worth their weight in platinum. And the right words in the right order make a tremendous difference.

But know this. The words only work if there’s a great business behind them.

For example, I’ve been saying for a while that I want to trim down, but I haven’t lost any weight yet. I hear great things about these “personal trainers.” Lots of people who have them get fit and look great. So, I hire one.

On the first visit I tell the trainer, “I’ve been saying ‘I want to trim down,’ but I haven’t lost any weight yet. I must not be good with words. Can you tell me how to say, ‘I want to trim down’ in a way that’ll make me start losing weight?”

The trainer says, “First you need to start exercising and eating better.”

I say, “Whoa buddy. I’m not about that stuff. Look, I’m paying you to get me results. Now, start teaching me to say ‘trim down’ in a way that makes me lose weight, or get lost.”

Clearly, the fact that I’m not losing weight is the fault of the personal trainer. Am I right, or am I right?

And then, just like all those business owners who say they’ve tried advertising and it doesn’t work; I strut around nobly wearing my crown of ignorance.

I think we all see where the real problem lies. Words can be magical, but the magic has limits. Great copy can’t make a bad business good.

The dirty secret of great copywriters who make businesses madly successful is that they’re working with businesses that are already amazing. Companies that understand customer service, cash flow, growth, management, and all the other things that go into a successful enterprise.

So, if you’re a business owner, make sure you’re ready for a great copywriter. If you’re a copywriter, make sure the business you’re working with is ready for you.

And when the two line up, look out. You’ll be madly successful.

And it’ll be our little secret.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

Pin Down Your Pivots

Great marketing is about connecting with your customers in a way that makes them think of you first and like you the most when they need what you sell.

One of the fastest ways to achieve this desired result is story telling.

Here are some of the tools you can use to build marketing stories:

  • Theater of the mind
  • Origin stories
  • Random Entry
  • Frosting
  • Frank
  • Frosted Frank
  • Brandable Chunks
  • Character Diamond
  • Crazy Ivan
  • Duality
  • Divergence
  • Convergence
  • Third Gravitating Body
  • Felt Need
  • Frameline Magnetism
  • Magical Thinking
  • Seussing
  • Reality Hooks

So, which tools or techniques should you use?

I don’t know.

What kind of story are you telling?

There are a million ways to tell and construct a good story. Like building a house, you’ll know which tools to use once you have a blueprint for what you’re building.

Well then, how do you draw the blueprint of your story?

Start with the pivot points.

Pivot points are where the story’s direction changes. They’re like the corners of a house. Every wall runs straight until it hits a corner. What are the corners of your story?

Here are some examples of pivot points in a fictional tale of woe.

“I was doing fantastic and raking in the money. Then one customer defaulted on their payment (Pivot 1). I didn’t realize that it set off a chain reaction…yadda yadda yadda…eventually I had to file for bankruptcy (Pivot 2), and I lost everything…listing of woes, sorrows, and hardships. After a while I sat down to see if I could figure out where everything went wrong and I discovered something important (Pivot 3). So, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and rebuilt. Now I’m doing better than ever.”

While the above story is painfully predictable, do you see how all the fiddly bits of the story revolve around the pivot points?

So, before you start worrying about how to use theater of the mind, third gravitating bodies, or frameline magnetism, take some time to pin down your pivot points.

They’re the most interesting parts of your story and they’ll create the framework on which everything else hangs.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

Shiny Reflections

You know the fastest way to be perceived as an interesting conversationalist?

Ask people questions that let them talk about themselves and share the stories that make them look good.

You can have a thirty-minute conversation with someone you just met, only ask them flattering questions about themselves, tell them almost nothing about yourself, and you know what will happen?

They’ll walk away thinking you’re the most interesting person in the room.

But you probably already knew about this phenomenon of humanity. We love to be shown shiny reflections of our best moments and qualities.

So, beyond improving your social standing, how can you apply this to your marketing?

Well, the people you meet at a party don’t magically become different people when they hear your radio ad, see your commercial on tv, or read your emails.

Want to be the most interesting ad of the day?

Make it about your prospective customer.

But remember, not just any reflection will do. Reflect back to them only that golden light of their best moments, qualities, or version of themselves that they carry in their mind.

And do you know what will happen?

They’ll walk away thinking yours is the company they should do business with.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

Focus on No

Saying no gives you focus, so your energies aren’t divided.

There are lots of ways this could apply, but let’s look at it through the lens of your marketing.

Most ads say too much, which leads to a weak message people can’t remember. Say no to making multiple points in an ad.

By focusing on one point people will better remember your message.

Multi-channel messaging (TV, radio, billboards, digital, etc.) introduces the problem of too much reach without enough repetition. Most small businesses simply can’t afford to do all the media channels well enough to see results. (This isn’t a failing it’s just a fact.)

Say no to all but one media channel. By focusing on one outlet, you’ll have enough repetition to soon become a household name.

And now I’m going to say no to saying any more on this today so I can focus on keeping this short.

– Zac Smith, VC 

[ keep reading ]

Can You Say No?

The real superpower of success is the ability to say, “No.”

There. Cat’s out of the bag. (No need to read further unless you’re looking for some examples.)

Expended effort often gets the limelight.

What’s expended effort?

You know, when people say, “They’re so successful because they put in the hours. They were out there practicing, learning, training. They really put in the time and that’s why they’re ahead.”

While it’s true you do usually have to expend some effort to be the best, that’s not where the seed of success is planted. No no. It starts much earlier.

Do not look to the noisy rainstorms of expended effort to sprout your seed of greatness. But rather it’s the slow silent snowmelt of saying no that encourages it to take root.

To say “yes” to your piece of success means to say “no” to all the others.

To the all-star college athlete, it’s first saying no to hanging out with friends or weekend parties that gives them the time for training. But it’s also saying no to all the other sports they could be playing.

To the science fair winner, it’s first saying no to movies and games that lets them study hard. But it’s also saying no to the other avenues of academics.

And yet often, once we’re out of school and entering “normal” life, we start saying yes to this, and yes to that. We treat ourselves with a yes here and there.

And before we know it, we’re busier than ever adults expending enormous effort with a poor pittance to show for it all.

Has the yes monster gobbled up the tender green shoots of your success?

Do you have the hardy character needed to say no?

I assure you if saying no were easy everyone would do it.

But something tells me you’re not known for doing things the “easy” way.

I see the roots of your success and my friend, they’re ready to sprout.

– Zac Smith, VC 

P.S. Next week we’ll talk about specific examples of how saying “no” in business can get you ahead.

[ keep reading ]

Golden Retrievers Make Terrible Employees

Last week we talked about how to start training your employees to handle problems effectively.

Ask, “What would you do?”

And then if their idea wouldn’t cause any harm or create unnecessary risk, even if it’s not what you would do or how you would fix the problem, you should let them implement their idea.

The two most common objections to this method are:

  • I can’t do that because I’d be giving them too much power and things will get out of hand.
  • It’s faster and or easier to either give them the answer or just fix it myself.

Let’s address each one of these in turn.

One misconception about asking your underling, “What would you do?” is that by asking them you are implicitly giving them free rein to handle the problem as they see fit. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

You’re still the boss. Which means you retain the right to say no to their idea. Remember, you’re only agreeing to hear their idea. Then, if it has merit, you can either amend it or green light it.

Now, if the issue is you don’t want to ask because you’re afraid of the confrontation of saying no to their idea…(AKA it was a bad idea)…then maybe you shouldn’t be managing people.

Second objection. It’s faster and or easier to either give them the answer or just fix it yourself.

Well, you’re right. Giving them the answer is faster. In the short term. But long term you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

By not making the investment of time to train your staff to be problem solvers, you end up with a team of Golden Retrievers. They drop their problems at your feet, then happily bound off in search of new problems to bring you.

It might be fun for a while. But it’s not a business model that allows growth.

So, what happens when you take the time to hear your employees’ ideas and then empower them to implement their solutions?

You end up with competent employees who can make good decisions, handle things on their own, and only ask for your help on the really big problems.

And with that, there’s no cap to how big you can build your business.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

One Simple Question

What’s every team leader, boss, or manager’s dream?

To have competent employees or team members who can make good decisions, handle things on their own, and only ask for your help on the really big problems.

I’m here to tell you that it’s not a pipe dream. You really can have employees like that.

The pipe dream part would be to think that you can magically have that without effort. You can’t.

So where do you start?

With one simple question.

“What would you do?”

When someone under your oversight come to you with a problem or needs help figuring out what to do, you can help them learn what to do by first asking them, “What would you do?”

And then listen.

If their idea wouldn’t cause any harm or create unnecessary risk, even if it’s not what you would do or how you would fix the problem, I submit that you should let them implement their idea.

Now, there are some objections to handling things this way, but there are also a lot of benefits.

We’ll talk about those next week.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

Your Knife Cuts Both Ways

Five questions to consider for a happy weekend.

1. Do you love what you do for work?
2. Does it excite you?
3. Are you energized by solving problems?
4. Does overcoming the next big hurdle get you going?

If you answered yes to the above four questions, then you’re blessed as an entrepreneur. You’ll never want for opportunities.

But here’s the fifth question.

5. Can you turn off your “work brain” when you’re with family?

If your answer is yes, then I stand in awe of you. You are a rare and fine specimen of humanity.

However, what if your answer to question 5 is sometimes or no?

Is your beautiful problem-solving mind getting in the way of being present, body and brain, when it’s time to be with your loved ones?

Then consider this a nudge from a fellow work obsessor.

Don’t let your gift as an entrepreneur also become your silent curse. Because your knife cuts both ways.

So, here’s to the happy weekend I know you’ll have.

– Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

How to Make Your Products Sell Themselves

Look, nobody believes you.

I know, I know. I’m not saying it’s fair. But as a friend, I’m telling you the truth.

It’s not good enough to tell people your product or service works.

You have to show them. Because everyone is always silently asking themselves, “But does it actually work?”

So, how do you do that? How do you show them that it actually works?

Create a demonstrative test that displays the effectiveness of what you’re selling.

Now, that’s easier said than done. I realize that, and I’d like to help you where I can.

Here are the three things your demonstrative test should include.

1. It should be clear. It doesn’t matter if your test demo is simple or elaborate. Just as long as it’s clear. What one quality or benefit will you demonstrate with this test? (Bonus points if you create a test clear enough that others can do it for themselves.)

2. It should be verifiable. You don’t get to make up your own facts. If you’re making a claim, what proof will you offer to support that claim? What confirmable result will you offer?

3. It should be repeatable. Even an amateur golfer can get lucky and hit a hole-in-one. But a single hole-in-one does not a pro golfer make you. Professionals can repeat their successes. And you’re a professional, right? So whatever test you come up with, it has to work every time the test is done.

Creating an effective demonstrative test takes time and trial and error. But once you make a clear, verifiable, and repeatable test, your customers will instantly know that what you’re offering them actually works.

Now you’ve got a product that’ll sell itself.

– Zac Smith, VC 

[ keep reading ]

Break the Rules in Style

If you’re going to break the rules, do it with style.

Rule: BAD advertising is about you, your company, or your product. GOOD advertising is about the customer; the kind of person who would buy what you sell or need your service.

How do you break this rule of advertising and get away with it?

By telling your own story, your origin story, while making me (your customer) the center of the story arc.

If that seems contradictory, allow me to explain.

It’s not enough to tell me what happened to you. Make me feel why it’s important. Connect the dots for me. Show me why your past experiences are significant to my current experience with you.

Why do your past sacrifices make you better at helping me? How will you use your lessons learned on my behalf? How does what happened to you change the way you do things, and why is that in my best interests?

Those are the kind of questions you have to answer if you’re going to break the rules and tell your own story.

Because bad advertising is about you.

Good advertising is about you, but with style.

 – Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

Shiny Doesn’t Last

Last week we talked about stable things on which to build your business. (Click here to read it.)
The kind of things you can count on working even though 2020 and 2021 have brought a lot of changes.

But that’s not where you stop.

It’s where you start, and if needed, hold while you get your feet under you.

However, once you have a solid foundation and you’re ready to run, how do you use technology and innovation to grow?

Well, here’s what not to do. Profitable innovation is not about using technology to figure out how to make the next great thing nobody’s ever seen before but won’t be able to live without. It’s not about trying to get ahead of the next big craze.

“A company shouldn’t get addicted to being shiny, because shiny doesn’t last.” ― Jeff Bezos

Profitable innovation is about using technology to deliver the same things people have always wanted in new and better ways.

“It is difficult for us to imagine that ten years from now, customers will want higher prices, less selection, or slower delivery. Our belief in the durability of these pillars gives us the confidence required to invest in strengthening them.” ― Jeff Bezos

If you’re building a house, the walls can only go on top of the foundation. Likewise, you can only profitably innovate on the things your business is built around.

That’s why you have to start with the question, “For the business that I’m in, what will people always want?”

You then take the answer to that question and ask, “How can I deliver those things in new and better ways?”

And the answer to that question will change your world.

 – Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]

When you’re naked what do you want?

A hungry person wants food.

A naked person wants clothes.

A homeless person wants shelter.

2020 brought a lot of changes. And despite our best hopes, it looks like 2021 will keep rolling with the topsy-turvy trend.

So as a small business owner, which basket do you put your eggs in? How do you plan for the future in this environment? When the sands are all shifting where do you walk?

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.” ― Jeff Bezos

A naked person wants clothes.

You can take that to the bank.

You can build a whole business around that fact.

So, if you’re looking down the 2021 road with uncertainty, take a moment and look back. For the business that you’re in, what have people always wanted?

There. That’s where you start. That’s the basket that’ll carry your eggs.

Now cast your gaze ahead. Once you see what you need from the past don’t linger.

Your future lies ahead of you.

Next week we’ll talk about how to take the constants of your category and profitably innovate.

 – Zac Smith, VC

[ keep reading ]