Laugh, Cry, or Get Angry

Chancellor Whittington and I were sitting around a heavy wood walnut colored table today talking about the answer to this question:

What is the creative process to coming up with ideas for an ad campaign?

It was mutually agreed that the creative space must be a no-judgment zone.

All parties involved should feel free to throw out any idea. No matter how ridiculous.

Once you have a free flow of ideas, how do you know which ones are worth exploring?

As Mark Fox, one of Wizard Academy’s illustrious instructors, has often pointed out, watch to see if anyone laughs, cries, or gets angry.

When one of those three things happens, bingo. Chase that idea and see where it takes you.

Any idea that can trigger laughter, crying, or anger is an idea that can make your advertising stand out. It has enough juice to move people’s emotions. (Just make sure you’re moving them in the right direction.)

And if you can elicit an emotional response, then your message will cut through the clutter.

So, when was the last time you laughed, cried, or got angry?

– Zac Smith, VC 

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Consistent Style?

Do you wake up in the same mood every day?

Do you always have the same reactions and feelings no matter what’s happening?

Probably no.

You allow yourself room to be different depending on the mood.

And why shouldn’t you? You and I are human. And being human means having a wide and dynamic range of feelings. (Subject to change.) Feelings that, in turn, affect the way you think, speak, act, and write.

Now, here’s where we humans get funny.

We enjoy being able to predict outcomes. There’s a feeling of security in that. Which is why we usually prefer the people we interact with to be consistent.

You and I tend to give less leeway to others to vary their moods than we give ourselves.

Why am I telling you this?

It’s been an overdrawn leadup to this point:

If you write a blog, newsletter, ad, email, or anything else representing your business or company, please realize your readers subconsciously expect you to be consistent.

Which is why having a writing style guide is a good idea.

Now, it doesn’t have to be complex. Even a simple one will do. But you have to write it down.

Here are just a few points from the style guide I created and use to write The Vice Chancellor’s Corner:

  • Don’t hide behind “we.” Say “I.”
  • Don’t use “!” except for when the statement would have been a question.
  • Never use sarcasm.
  • You’re only writing to one person, not a group. Use “you.”
  • Negative outcomes are a possibility.
  • Positive outcomes are assumed.
  • When appropriate, play Devil’s advocate against your own argument by asking questions.
  • Don’t put people down or say negative things about others.
  • Don’t break these rules unless you can do so well.

Having even a basic style guide in place will keep your personal feelings, which are subject to change, out of the thing you’re writing.

Which will lend consistency to your writing and brand.

Which will make your readers and customers feel secure.

And when they feel secure, the money comes out when they need the thing you sell.

Because, after all, if they have to buy the thing anyway, wouldn’t they rather give you – the safe and consistent company – their business?

I believe they would.

– Zac Smith, VC 

P.S. Since you read this article, here’s a little Easter egg for you.

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Have a High IQ?

Rarely is business success the result of one big breakthrough innovation.

Most often it’s the product of consistent small improvements.

Coming from a lifetime of getting paid by the job, not the hour, my livelihood has usually relied on these improvements.

“I swept the floor in 20 minutes today. If I change this one piece of workflow, I bet I could get it down to 15 minutes without losing any quality.”

And while that’s all well and good, big-time success has one additional aspect to this formula.

It has to do with the word “consistent.”

Consistent means something happens regularly. But it doesn’t tell you how frequently the thing happens.

For example, the Earth consistently makes complete revolutions around the Sun. The Earth also consistently spins 360° on its axis.

They’re both consistent, but one of these only takes a day, while the other takes a whole year.  

Now, let me ask you. If your success relies on the number of times you can make improvements, how quickly do you want those improvements to happen?

Assuming you’d like results sooner than later, the question to ask yourself is; how many times can I cycle through an iteration of my product or service within one buying cycle?

The answer to that question is your Iteration Quotient or your Business IQ.

And since every industry has different buying cycles, your Business IQ is relevant to what you sell.

Equation talk aside, what’s the point?

The faster you can test, cycle, and improve iterations of your product or service, the faster you can innovate.

The faster you innovate, the faster you’ll lead your category.

The faster you lead your category, the faster you’ll meet success as defined by you.

I guess there is something to be said for a high IQ.

– Zac Smith, VC 

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Are You Good Enough?

If you’ve been working on something that’s “almost there,” but you’ve held off on moving forward, allow me to encourage you to go ahead with it.

Nine times out of ten, “almost there” is good enough.

And I would point out that by definition, “good enough” is indeed good enough.

So do it already.

Silence the nagging doubts that keep you from starting, launching, going for it.

Here’s what I know:

  • It won’t be perfect. (It never will be.)
  • There will be things you didn’t plan for. (Life is too complex to plan for every detail.)
  • Once you’re into it you’ll say, “If I had to do it over, I’d change this.” (That’s good. It means you’re paying attention.)

Here’s also what I know:

  • You’re smart enough. (If it doesn’t work that doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent.)
  • You’re talented enough. (You’ll fix it on the fly.)
  • You care enough. (You’ll put in the needed effort.)
  • Once you commit, “all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (It really does happen that way.)

Some say “good enough” is the enemy of excellence.

It can be.

But it’s also the enemy of procrastination through perfectionism.

And when you’re sitting on the cusp of releasing something, perfectionism is the bigger enemy of your success than lack of excellence.

For right now, pick up the tool called “good enough” and wield it. Overcome procrastination. Go. For. It.

Remember, “good enough” is a tool, not a lifestyle. You can set it down when it’s time to perfect the thing you’re working on.

And don’t worry. You will be excellent. But excellence comes after you’ve started.

So, are you ready?

Someone in the world needs the new thing you’ve been working on.

Will you deny them of it?

– Zac Smith, VC 

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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

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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

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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

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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 

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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