Former copywriter and current business advisor, Jay Abraham is the guest for the 100th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Jay is the perfect guest for this milestone episode because Jay teaches the importance of pre-eminence—and what is more pre-eminent than appearing as the expert on the 100th episode of this podcast? And Jay delivered. Here’s a look at some of what we covered:
• how he went from copywriter to business advisor to thousands of companies
• the expert authors he learned from when he started out
• how he accidentally got into the seminar business
• the business ideas (USP, LTV, Risk Reversal, Allowable Cost) you should know
• how to deliver continuous breakthroughs for our clients
• copy versus concept and which one matters most
• why you shouldn’t offer stuff for free (and what you should do instead)
• the biggest challenge you have to overcome with your audiences
• why achieving pre-eminence is so important (and how you do it)
• the shortcuts to engineering a continuous stream of breakthroughs
• how to get mindshare for the clients you’re working for
• a few of the places copywriters should do research in order to be great
• what it takes to be an “original synthesizer” (versus a plagiarist).
• who the client you’re really working for is (it might not be your client)
• the thing that bugs Jay the most about list building
Jay also shared a ton of bonuses for listeners to the podcast. Check out the links to those resources below. Then, click the play button to listen to the interview, or scroll down for a full transcript. And of course, you can find this episode on iTunes, Stitcher or in your favorite podcast app. Go get it!
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
My Life in Advertising
Mary Lou Tyler
The Deming Institute
A Technique for Producing Ideas
The Three Bonuses (The 100 Greatest Headlines, 37 Million Dollar Headlines, and Copywriting Formulas)
50 Shades of Jay
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits and steal an idea to inspire your own work. That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 100 as we chat with Jay Abraham, the founder and CEO of the Abraham Group about how he solved business problems for clients in more than 7,000 industries, thinking strategically about copywriting and what we offer our clients, the importance of preeminence and what we can do to find new breakthroughs in our own businesses.
Kira: Welcome, Jay.
Jay: Thank you very much. It’s a distinction and an honor to be podcast number 100.
Rob: It is. In fact, we were talking to Sonny, who’s on your team and she’s in our group. She suggested, ‘Hey, you know, I don’t know if you’re doing anything interesting for your hundredth episode, but maybe we could connect with you.’ We thought, actually would make perfect sense to have you come on for number 100 because of how you talk about preeminence and to have a super special guest like you on episode 100. We’re thrilled to have you here, so thank you so much.
Jay: It’s my pleasure. As I told you, at a certain point in one’s career, you become very focused on being privileged to impact people’s thinking lives and the impact they can make on multitudes of others. It goes both ways.
I am taking the gloves off. You guys have access to whatever you want. I don’t know where you’re going to take it but I like surprises.
Rob: Cool. We like to start with people’s stories. I wonder, Jay, you started as a copywriter, I believe. Will you tell us how you went from copywriter to the kind of an advisor to thousands of companies in thousands of industries, literally. How’d that all happen?
Jay: It’s all tied to an accidental event which I wouldn’t recommend for everybody but it had a profound positive, ultimate outcome. I got married the first time — I’ve been married a total of three times and I’m not recommending it but I’m just giving you a background — at 18. I had two kids by that time I was 20. I had no formal education. I had the needs of somebody about 40 and nobody cared. The only jobs I could get weren’t really jobs. They were crazy, created on the spot situations that entrepreneurs would give me where my purpose was to create value where it didn’t exist, develop a new distribution channel or figure out how to sell a ton of their product without any marketing budget or persuade 1,000 radio stations and TV stations to run ads and only get paid on results. They were very interesting.
I went through a constant, I guess I’d call myself transient, transitory process of jumping from industry to industry when I was younger. After about, I don’t know, seven or eight totally different industries, I realized that people who operated in one industry pretty much all followed the conduct of the crowd. It was basically interesting to me that something that was common sense and foundational in industry A was totally and remarkably and stunningly newfound in industry B or C or D.
I started borrowing common approaches from other industries, combining them into hybrids and applying them to the new industries I was in. They could be anything from ways of communicating, ways of starting relationships, means of reducing risk, bonus-based offers, trial offers, all kinds of things. Between strategy, marketing, business model and observed modeling and emulation and hopefully innovation of different copy approaches that could be totally translated to different industries, I was the equivalent of the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I just killed it for people.
As I started doing that, I was able to do it really in spite of even knowing exactly what I was doing because I had this power of continuous breakthroughs that distinguished my clients. I didn’t really have to be as aware of what I was doing but as I got deeper into it and I started initially writing copy with an inherent appreciation for the empathic hopes, dreams, and uniqueness of the market. I was always very aware, sensitive, appreciative, intrigued with the consumer I was targeting.
But I didn’t really know exactly what I was trying to do until a couple of years later when I met a fellow that you may not know of. You wouldn’t know him because I don’t think he is alive but he’s not here anymore. Dan Rosenthal, and he spent an intense day with me. He gave me the lifetime shift of teaching me basically what a USP was, what benefit verse feature selling was, what real advertising was, which is salesmanship multiplied, risk reversal, testing, bonusing, allowable costs, all those things.
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He gave me bibliographies to read when you didn’t have the internet. I had to spend every dime I could to try to find these out-of-print books particularly Claude Hopkins and people like George Hotchkiss and Victor Schwab and Robert Collier, before all those books were available. I was just massively and unrelentingly absorbing all this understanding of predictable human nature and immutable tendencies of how a human being responds to stimulus and ethically, not as a manipulative, diabolical, Machiavellian person but just, I understood the human condition.
Then, as I started evolving, I went into niches. I did Entrepreneur magazine when it first started. We did Icy Hot first before anybody knew what it was and grew it. Then, it was sold to two companies before it got into the one that everybody knows about now with … Who’s the spokesperson?
Rob: I can’t remember.
Jay: Shaq! Shaquille O’Neal. Yeah. We did Entrepreneur magazine when nobody even knew what entrepreneur even meant and our marketing had to be started with an external excerpt from Webster’s Dictionary, where we had to not only produce the phonetic pronunciation but also the real definition because no one knew what an entrepreneur was.
From there, I got deeply into the investment newsletter business. Today, if I say, the advisory … I knew the founder of Agora when he had one newsletter, which was called International Living. His colleague, I knew him as a protégé to one of my partners in another business. Back then, I got into the newsletter business big time because there were these passionate economists and financial advisors and ideologists in Austrian economic, free market thinkers that were very brilliant at articulating an economic or an investment viewpoint but they were really miserable at selling the real value of intangible information, expertise, knowledge, foresight, high-viable predictability, et cetera. I was able to be the voice and the advocate of 21 of them.
From there, this is a protracted answer, I created the marketing. I created the renewals, the re-activations, the lifetime, the semi-lifetime, the partial lifetime, the special high-level services. This is all before anybody else understood it. Before anybody ever did it, we created inserts. I had to figure out how to articulate them all.
There was a point where I was writing an honest-to-god 1,000 different things a year for different clients, a lot of it we could repurpose, renewals, ancillaries, but I was just creating all kinds of different copy, front and back end, renewal, ancillary, upsell. I was very deeply immersed in the mindset of an investor. These were real investors. I mean this not to be derogatory but if you look at a lot of people who subscribe to investment publications today, they’re more opportunistic, aspiring investors who are not really looking. They don’t have huge amounts of capital to invest and they’re not looking for long-term yield or appreciation or growth. They were looking for fast money.
Back then, these were only wealthy people. I made, very frankly, about 20 newsletters, probably a billion dollars. They were very grateful. Now, this is the turning point where I got into all the different industries. I went through the biggest divorce I could imagine. It cost me about 35 or $40 million, because I was making a lot of money at the time, when I was young.
Jay: I didn’t work for a couple years. I met my current wife when she was … She’s very attractive now but she was so attractive, I spent two years dissipating my capital and chasing her and taking her around the world so I could chase her while I was going through my divorce.
When we finally got it all done and we got married and we started having children, I’ve gone from having millions of dollars in the bank to having millions of dollars of debt. I had to go back and get back on the horse. I forgot what made me, I don’t want to say, ‘Great,’ but gifted, like the person that does the plates on the sticks. As long as you keep not thinking about it, you keep intuitively rotating the sticks, they keep moving but the moment you try to think of what you’re doing, they all start fumbling, rumbling, and falling.
I decided that I better do one high-level, really unique, not a seminar but really a transfer of knowledge type event where I have the force to articulate and codify my thinking. I really did it just to force myself to figure out what the hell had made me great when I was doing all these things intuitively but I had all these newsletters that I had made all this money for in different ways. They were gracious enough to sign what, by today’s standard, would seem hyperbolic but by that market standard were unprecedented, laudatory, unhedging testimonials and endorsements and encouragements. We thought we would get 15 people because it was a $15,000 seminar. This is, I don’t know, 30 years ago and that was expensive but we got 350.
Jay: I accidentally got into the seminar business. We did it for many years to very large audiences because I was able to synthesize and formulate a body of thinking that was encompassing of the whole essence of what a business stands for, the value of creation, what value creation looks like to the market, how to articulate it, how to differentiate yourself, copywriting, positioning, just all kinds of different methodologies. In the process, we started getting all these same newsletters to partner with us. They had the broadest swath of different kinds of business owners, entrepreneurs, professionals, investors who were subscribers. They started attending my events. They were expensive but they were real entrepreneurs who were on the front lines of real commerce making money.
This is where my knowledge exploded. As I started teaching different elements and I started distinguishing different, I guess I would call them portfolios or classes of categoric thinking, whether it would be the nine drivers or the three way to grow a business model or the strategy preeminence or the sticking points or the 21 power … We had all these things or the power Parthenon. I would take the element it represented and I would have participants in the audience come to the mic if their business was successfully employing any variation of that. I’d have them do a three- to five-minute distillation of what they did with it, how it worked, the impact that that application, technique meant to their business. Also, I would have them advise everyone in the audience how they could modify, apply, adapt, adopt it. I got the education of a lifetime.
Then, I’d have everybody at their tables discuss what they got out of that and how they were going to apply it. I’d have those people vote on the best universal insight that hadn’t been verbalized and share that. It was a wild and wooly fractal environment that you had to be insanely trusting of me to experience but it was monumental growth.
Then, I just started getting interested in all the differences of all the different industries and all the similarities. I’ve always been hopelessly curious and I’ve always been prone towards a sort of a natural form of Socratic interviewing. I’ve always loved to discover what drives a business, how the business operates from a revenue standpoint, from a support standpoint, what makes one business more successful, desirable. What drives the owner, what differences drive a culture. It just became a multiplying process.
In the course of that, I got very fixed on the fact that I was accidentally mastering a unique and a rare understanding of how to work on the geometry of a business including in the copywriting and the marketing, looking at maybe as many as 50 impact points in the revenue system from everything from the headline, the media, the proposition, the source, the lifetime value. We were teaching lifetime value and nobody knew. I’m not saying it arrogantly but nobody had a clue what LTV meant. Nobody had a clue what USP meant. Nobody had a clue what allowable cost was. Nobody had a clue what risk reversal was.
I was able to be on the discovering forefront of that. Then, I had all these people in rooms. I would have follow-up. We were one of the first people to ever use conference calls in the country. There were five conference bridges in 1990 or ’91. One was the Pentagon’s. One was AT&T because they sold them. One was Sony. One was General Motors. We had one, and there was somebody else. They were $60,000 a month to rent but you could only get 50 people on it. I was doing 1,000 people a month. I was just constantly doing these conference calls but we would give different people from different industry the same assignments. I had the ultimate research laboratory and collection of Petri dishes and the learning process and the discovery process and accelerated growth, the ability to create hybrids was non-stop.
I can go on but is that boring or is that interesting?
Rob: It’s fascinating.
Kira: I had no idea that it cost $60,000 for a conference line.
Jay: And you could only get 50 people on it. Today, now, you’re more into webinars but when we did it, we could only get … As I said, we sold one seminar where they got weekly, it was a really profound thing when no one had it so it was very valuable. Weekly access to me in groups. After 13 weeks, they got monthly but I had to do 1,000 people divided by 50. After I did the programs, I had to do 20 groups every week.
Nothing is quite a cool as it sounds on paper. Part of their deal was they had to submit a one-page distillation of what their progress was that week or that month. I had to read it all and know them and be able to do all this in 90 minutes in a session for 50 people. You refine and you perfect and you evolve your skills when you put yourself in a no-way-out position.
Kira: Jay, I want to hear a little bit more about what you mentioned, delivering continuous breakthroughs for your clients. How can we do that for our clients, because when I hear you say that, I’m like, ‘I want to do that. I’m not sure what that looks like but I want to be able to deliver that for my clients and for my own business.’
Jay: Okay. If you will allow me, Kira, to break it down into a more of granular, seminal, and component part, there’s a lot of statements that have an enormous spectrum of differing meaning and elements, quality, advantage breakthroughs. I mean, a breakthrough can be a new way of communication, video, webinar, Jon Benson’s ugly sales letter, conference call-based group delivery.
By the way, one of the things I learned when I was at Entrepreneur magazine because we ran ads for a lot of books was a great copy will not transcend a crappy concept. A great concept will transcend mediocre copy. If the concept’s wrong, the greatest copy in the world isn’t going to save it, if that makes sense.
Rob: Yeah. Definitely makes sense.
Jay: I always defaulted first to that. One of the most interesting and ironic observations I made in the early days was you’d see two kinds of people selling books and written material. One would be the expert who had spent a lifetime learning it and years and years creating it and refining it and perfecting it. When they finally got to that level, they would throw together a piece of copy and run it. It would usually bomb or it would be mediocre.
The other person would create the copy before the book ever existed. It envisioned what they wanted it to be. They would animate it with the elements that they felt would make the biggest either impact or resonate or rock the audience. Those kind of books not only sold more but they produced greater successes because they had more emotionality when they finally sent the book out and it was very interesting.
But back to your question about breakthroughs. You can categorize breakthroughs in many different ways. First can be the delivery mechanism. That’s a breakthrough. Second is the value proposition. That’s a breakthrough. The third is the analogy you make of what something is because the mind works very powerfully on similes, metaphors, anomalies. One of the greatest headlines that I ever saw was what you could ever have in common with the Louvre, the Met, whatever the other famous art institute was. It was able to project how an inexpensive print. You could be in the same league as somebody having the Mona Lisa original on their wall.
Ways of analogizing, depicting, dimensionalizing. I did something years ago for Tony Robbins and this was when we had long copy. He had a program that was all about an integration of financial, achievemental, healthy, physical, relational. I took all of those. I denominated what your life was experiencing but right now in your quiet desperation stage that you didn’t even know and why and what it felt like and verbalize it in ways nobody ever had. Then, I took you on a path to what the transformative process would be if you went and attended this program and how every day and every minute, your heart would beat and your blood would pump and your mind would expand and explode with excitement and anticipation and awareness of how quickly you’re becoming not the same person. Then, what it would be like when you went home.
I think you can’t do things like that just by modeling somebody’s hyperbole and bullets. You have to be able to try to grasp what it’s like to be in the role of the target audience. I always tried to examine, evaluate, appreciate, understand, respect, acknowledge in my communication forms the market and recognize very clearly the value to them is something different than value to me. Words mean different things to different people.
But back to breakthroughs, so you can breakthrough on multiple different paths. You can breakthrough by having … I used to be in the newsletter business. You sold newsletters any combination of three or four ways. One, you could sell the pure merits of the enrichening and wealth-creating potential of the investment form itself and then make the editor or the personage subordinate that he or she was an expert. Second, you could sell the expert and why having him backing you up or her was a multiplied enhancement on your success probability and you’re hitting home runs and cite not just what they’ve done but what they were looking at now and their studying of five to one, 12-month play that has a downside of their estimation, 4%, or you could focus merely on the bonus and append the newsletter at the end. They all work.
Breakthroughs can be many things concurrently that you can do. One breakthrough is not doing one thing. One breakthrough is having multiple, different whatever you want to call it, elements, promotions, campaigns going to sow a target’s different segments of the audience. I learned years ago accidentally at first but proactively after that, that most people have a … I mean, I don’t know what your audience does but if you’re a typical direct-response person you test different offers, different propositions, different ads, different forms of marketing. If one produces X and the other one produces 80% X, the normal default is to go to the one that produces 100% X. Does that make sense?
Rob: Totally. Yeah.
Jay: But what you’ll find, if the 80X is still profitable and it’s predicated on a different theme, if you do both to the list, almost back to back, it’s not going to dilute. It’s going to multiply because you’re pushing people who were on the cusp. You’re advancing people for whom one theory or premise isn’t enough but almost nobody does that. I’m talking about different breakthroughs.
Breakthroughs in copy can be … If you look at copywriting in the beginning, no one realized how to take the risk away. No one realized that a headline should be basically a denomination of a benefit, a payoff, a provocative something you’re going to get for taking some action, reading the rest, clicking here, talking to us, registering. People didn’t realize that a bonus that wasn’t always congruent with the generic offer could double or triple response. People didn’t realize that changing a few words, people didn’t realize that $19 might out-pull 15 by four times. People didn’t realize that different forms. I try and never say, ‘Free.’
Now, that doesn’t mean I am right but I don’t think free has a lot of value anymore. I basically would rather buy you an expensive piece of my intellectual property or I rather buy you an experience with me or buy you time with me than say, ‘Hey. It’s free,’ because I think it’s worth … If you look today at the apathetic and ambivalent and disrespectful attitude of the consumer, it’s very interesting. By the way, you have to understand as a copywriter representing a client, your real client is not the company paying you. It’s the recipient of your message who will be paying the company. I’ve always understood that I was a champion advocate, emissary, torque converter for the audience, not for the client, which may sound a little bit abrupt to you but I was always more focused on me being this person who brought understanding to the market.
Breakthroughs are being able to articulate in words and feelings what people have never, ever been able to clearly express on their own before about what they want or what they don’t want or what it’s going to mean to them or seeing a dimension of implication or impact that it’s never been evident to them before. Breakthroughs are being able to establish your company, product, position, people, as being the only viable choice, the only trusted advisor in the category for life.
Breakthroughs are realizing that you’re competing in any environment with, let’s see, one, two, three, or four different enemies. The first is your direct generic competitor. For example, if you’re selling a consumable. Let’s call it a weight loss supplement, your obvious first line of competition are other weight loss supplement sellers but you are also competing with portion control food sellers. You’re competing with personal trainers. You’re competing with equipment sellers. You’re competing with books, online video training. You’re competing against alternatives for exercising, which are mental. You’re also competing against probably the biggest enemy, which is apathy, inaction, equivocation, procrastination on the part of the marketplace. You have to be able to understand all that. I don’t know if I’m being too abstract and esoteric or whether this is either solid gold or fool’s gold. You have to tell me.
Rob: I think it’s really good.
Kira: No, this is really helpful. It’s making me think of a sales page I’m working on now, so it’s all really helpful.
Jay: I just came back, Kira, from Vietnam and I’m very privileged. I travel the world and I’m able to impact people with universal principles. We got onto a tangent that I found really fascinating because we were talking about gaining advantage. I was explaining that advantage is many different things. Advantage is having preemptive access to a market through a relationship. Advantage is having a positioning that is superior. Advantage is having a value proposition that’s different. Advantage is having the understanding of how to communicate in a more realistic way.
I’m going to give you this wonderful gift for all your copywriters that are going to make them instantaneously at least 50 to 500% more effective by the time they’re done listening to this. I’m not trying to titillate you but …
Rob: My mouth is watering already.
Jay: When people ask me, they want a one-size-fits-all answer to a unique series of variables. If you think about it, Kira, and I’m talking to you because you are a woman, if you think about someone wearing a one-size-fits-all dress, there’s going to be one body shape, size, height, whatever you would call curvaciousness that will look outrageous. Everyone else, it’ll look too loose, too tight, too short, too long. Won’t it?
Kira: Right. Yeah.
Jay: I don’t believe one size fits all. I think you have to really understand the dynamics but what I look for is I think the game of business and it comes down to copy is first of all, it has to be predicated on a more authentic communication of your caring about the betterment of that target market and your ability to deliver it better and you being able to both demonstrate it but also help them establish what their buying criteria should be and why and your ability to redefine, animate intimacy, translates static to analogies and metaphors that are stunningly easy for them to relate to.
There’s all kinds of formulations that people have found but I think the formulas fail to provide you with the truth. The greatest copywriting influence of my life was … There were two people but they were all tied together. One was Claude Hopkins, who I think if a copywriter doesn’t real Scientific Advertising and My Life in Advertising at least, oh, I don’t know, 10 or 20 times, then they’ve disserved themselves and any clients they ever have because it gives you insight that’s outrageous. I think you should also read Histories of Albert Lasker who was the employer of Claude Hopkins. You’ll see this era where they discovered all these … Nobody knew what advertising was. Sometimes it works, sometimes, it didn’t.
Then, somebody named John Kennedy told Albert Lasker, who employed Claude Hopkins, that it’s really salesmanship multiplied. It is. You have to understand what makes a sales approach work. It’s really selling translated to the masses. Everything I tell you is working on the geometry of a business but I don’t like to write copy because there’s only one way that I know to write copy and that’s the arduous way. It’s not sitting down and knock it off with a bunch of predictable bullets and hyperbole and not really try to understand the market.
But let me give you my secret and also why I think it’s got more than just performance advantage. It’s got enrichment advantage to the quality of the copywriter as a deeply empathic and expansive connoisseur of the human condition. How’s that?
Rob: That sounds highfalutin. Yeah.
Jay: Okay. Let me tell you what it is. You were asking me about preeminence so we have this concept that has transformed tens of thousands of businesses. It’s called the strategy preeminence. It takes truthfully about three hours to explain but the simple terms, it starts with wanting to be seen as the only viable choice in the category product service company business, the most trusted advisor in the category. That can’t be achieved if you don’t have the distinction of having a perspective for the audience that’s different than anybody else’s and a basis for it. That can’t be achieved if you’re not outwardly focused. You can’t allow people to buy less than they should, in less quantity, quality, consistency. You can’t let them not buy from you and either not buy at all or buy from your competitor if you believe that your company and your product with your company behind it is going to produce a far greater impact, outcome, protection for them.
It has to do with communicating in visual ways where they really see the action coefficient of the product, as I was saying, use metaphors, similes, analogies. It has to do with shifting your focus from falling in love with your industry or your company or your product or anything else and instead, falling in love with the clients that your company serves and in your case, not just the clients that pay you but the clients that they get paid by and also the clients that they are paying because you have to get everybody on a unified … I mean, if you really want to super achieve and not just be mediocre.
The difference between mediocrity and magnificence is if you want to connote it to dollars, I can charge $100,000 a day. Why can I do that? There’s a reason. Part of it is certainly gift, talent, understanding and part of it is the value perception that I’ve been able to create above and beyond the maddening crowd, wouldn’t you say?
Rob: Yeah, definitely.
Jay: I’m not suggesting everyone can charge that but it comes from my genuine ability to not just understand the market from a 360 dimension but to understand what’s going on in their mind that they’ve never clearly verbalized and to be able to verbalize in a much more dimensional and a much more concrete but a much more animated way what they’re trying to struggle with and not say.
I’m teasing you again but before I give you this answer, when I was doing seminars, we started and people thought we were crazy but everybody in the room, 500 people for four hours stand up and tell people who they were, what they did, where they did it, how they did it, why they were there, what their big issue was. Most of them couldn’t articulate it clearly. It was abstract. It was very platitudinal.
I had a colleague with me for many years who’s deceased now. He and I together were really good at re-articulating. We’d say, ‘Oh, what you’re saying is you’re tired of the market commoditizing you.’ You feel that you’ve got something so important and makes such a difference that you really want to figure out how to communicate it so that you can make such a profound impact on … We articulate what they were struggling, trying to say. You can immediately see their body language change, their eyes start glistening, smile come on their face. That’s human nature, Rob and Kira. It’s no different from the target audience that you, as a copywriter, are trying to reach.
It being one of the books I wrote, I made a point and it’s very simplistic but if you go to Home Depot to buy a drill, do you really want a drill or do you want a hole? Do you really even want a hole or do you want to fasten something? The more you get to the real end goal of what something is all about and you help people get articulate and verbal clarity and tangible thinking on it, it’s liberating and it’s emancipating. If you think about countries where somebody emancipated people who were under dictatorial power, the emancipator was lofted and on the shoulders and foisted high. Unless he or she took advantage and they got their head cut off, of course, but if they didn’t, they would usually be installed as the leader. They had riches and pomp and circumstance and all that stuff. Isn’t this a fun conversation? It probably went on a direction you never thought, didn’t it?
Rob: We didn’t expect everything that you’ve shared but it’s all good stuff. Yeah, it’s solid.
Jay: It’s different than you want. Does it have usefulness?
Rob: Yeah, of course. It definitely does.
In fact, I wanted to follow up on this discussion around breakthrough ideas and you’re even touching on preeminence. Jay, this seems like this stuff comes really easy to you because you’ve been doing it for so long. You can take a look at, say, a client’s business and find those breakthroughs but for people who are maybe just starting out or are trying to figure out how do I do this, are there shortcuts or formulas or things that we can do to put us into those mindsets and, if so, what are they?
Jay: First of all, let me give you this secret. Then, I’ll backtrack from the secret and give you the methodologies to accelerate your ability to engineer continuum of breakthroughs but I give you a little teaser one more time. If you look at all the major breakthroughs that have occurred in the world, almost none of them came from the industry that capitalized on them or the application.
Fiber optics came from aerospace. It didn’t come from telecommunications. Federal Express borrowed the hub-and-spokes delivery system that allowed banks to process checks overnight. Rogaine, Cialis, Viagra, that was for heart condition. One was for pimples. Either the ball point pen or roll-on deodorant was borrowed from one another but breakthroughs usually come from outside the industry. I’m making this point because when I explained the easiest, fastest, most enduring, and most predictable and non-failing perpetual way to engineer breakthroughs, it’s going to require someone to do what I call adapt funnel vision verse tunnel vision and employ actions and activities that are contrary to their constitution.
But let me give you your secret that you’re chafing at the bit for, okay?
Let’s assume you have a client and doesn’t really matter the topic or category. You take that topic and every variant of that topic you can come up with and you go to Amazon.com or whatever you want to go to like at first. You look up every one of the top 25 books in every category, directly or related. The first thing you look at is the headline and the sub-headline. The next thing you look at are the chapter titles, because they are normally the denominators of people’s interest or not. They will rearticulate what people want either to get away from or get closer to.
Number two, you start looking at the reviews. The ones and fives. The reasons you’re looking at those first is because when someone is passionately happy or passionately dissatisfied, their subconscious overrides their conscious. It articulates wonderfully, beautifully, elegantly, sinew-y and amazingly, graphically without using vulgarity what they got out of it that made a difference or what they didn’t get that frustrated them.
You can use those two categories of copy magnificently for both headlines and for bullets by saying, ‘Look. We know you’re tired of,’ blank, blank, all the things they were negative about. ‘Here’s what you want is,’ blank, blank, blank. All of a sudden, you’re speaking the language that they’ve never verbalized and you own mindshare. You can do it in review sites. You can do it for every other category of product, service that’s related. When you have that knowledge base, two things happen. You have a communication vocabulary that is proprietary. None of your competitors have that. They have platitudes, they have hyperbole, and they have similarity. You have the ability to speak to the subconscious about good and bad and show that you understand it’s part of being preeminent. ‘I know what you want and I want the same for you and here is proof because I can articulate and explain it in ways nobody else can.’ That’s the first thing.
As far as breakthroughs, here’s what I did and what I had people do when I did seminars and what I have your people do. First of all, I made it a point every day to learn about one new industry that I didn’t know. When I was young, I would just knock on doors and introduce myself and ask if I could pick the mind of the owner about the industry, what they did, how they did it, how they sold, who they sold to. I was so young and not a threat, I hit it about 80% of the time.
I forced myself to not just ask those questions or write down their answers but then to discipline myself to think deeply about what I had just learned and to continue expanding my knowledge of as many different foreign industries. I don’t mean overseas. I mean industries I had no knowledge about. I wanted to know how they sold, what their model was. I wanted to know if they found certain methodology or approaches that were superior. I wanted to see their distribution, their selling system. I was able to really uncover a lot by asking better questions than most people.
But over the years, because I have been approached by so many industries, I mean, some of my background is I’ve helped 300 different experts. These are all A-caliber experts. None of them came to me for help with their methodology. They came for help to command greater value, greater distinction, greater incomparability, greater non-contrast or contrast so you can see the differential but I had to get a short course education.
I’ve helped everybody, Tony Robbins, Steven Covey, Brian Tracy. We talked about MaryLou Tyler. I’ve helped so many and I also helped the Deming organization, which was the father of multivariable testing, process improvement, optimization, figuring out, knowing how to get the highest and the best use of everything you do and everyone you have access to. Then, I did multivariable testing for the largest organization in the world. I got to look at billions of dollars of tests. Then, I did the largest strategic litigation consulting firm. I got to look at about a billion dollars of research from 150 PhDs, sociologists, and psychologists on everything from venue to jury selection to how to depict pain and suffering or how to minimize it.
Then, all the different industries but I suggest, I created years ago a concept called funnel vision, which is the polar opposite of tunnel vision. It means that you expand yourself and if you take the analogy of traveling as a leisure experience, traveling broadens the mind. Every place you travel, you’ve never been, you see different climates, topography, ideology, religion, morality, commerce, belief system, food. If you can take the same analogy and apply it to traveling outside of your industry and studying other industries that no one else would even think about and really learning about how they operate and monitoring them, that’s the first thing.
The second is that I don’t really think most copywriters study all the websites of all the direct competitors, all the websites of all the indirect competitors, all the review sites, all the different alternative product service solutions for the problem. I think that there is no shortcut to being great. You don’t just bump off the turnip truck and pick up a pen or a word processor or, sorry, I guess I would just say a Microsoft Word or whatever you’re going to do it on, your iPad and become a profoundly gifted copywriter.
The difference between somebody who can change millions of dollars in a combination of a fee and variable for writing copy and somebody who struggles to get paid 10 is not just value perception. It’s the quiver of arrows that you have in your knowledge base. When we did seminars, we had a very powerful experiential process we did and this was to broaden everybody’s perspective, not just copywriting. That is A, we would take everybody in the room, might be 500, might be 1,000. We would go when there still were bookstores and buy out-of-print books that were being sold off and magazines on non-fiction subjects. We would find out what each person either was skilled at or their hobby. We would give them a book or a magazine on whatever the total opposite.
If you, for example, Rob said that you loved racing classic Porsches. I might give you either a book or a magazine on cake decorating and ask you to go to your room and read two articles or two chapters and come back to your group and find two elements that were not only interesting but ironically could be indirectly applied to your business and share them.
When you start teaching people that process, it opens them up. What I always did when I started was everybody I knew in any other field. This was when direct mail and space advertising was huge and radio and TV direct response, I’ve always focused on direct response obviously, even for non-direct response companies because it gives a retailer or brick-and-mortar company great advantage, but I would get all my friends and even people I didn’t know to collect all their junk mail, all their magazines, their trade magazines. Anytime that they heard an ad over and over again on the radio they thought was cool or saw signs sitting in front of a store that got their attention or trying to buy anything that was high ticket from anyone who we knew were on commission, I’d ask them to try to remember what the phrases were.
I would get them to give me all that. I did constantly and I was a machine. I would spend hours studying it when full-page ads were in vogue and when 18, 20-page direct mail pieces were prominent, that was the genre that was the most powerful and the most popular. I would collect everything I could. I would literally Photostat it. I had one of the first Photostat machines and it cost a fortune. I would mount it on big boards and then I would systematically go through every piece of copy. I would isolate, ‘This is the major benefit. This is the call to action. This is the sub-benefits. These are the features. This is the first trial close.’ I wanted to see how many different people did it. Then, I would cut it out and assemble it like those categories.
I’m just telling you what I did. It was hard work but boy, it expands your knowledge base and you no longer look at anything from a mono-dimensional perspective. Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a 3D set of glasses. The world’s a 3D movie. You’ve got the only pair of glasses and you bring great advantage to your client because you got the ability to look at it differently, approach it differently. Many of the things I did were modifications of successful approaches in other industries which would never have made it to my industry.
There’s very few original thinkers but what there are even fewer of are original synthesizers. A synthesizer is different than an emulator and a synthesizer’s different than a plagiarist. A synthesizer is somebody who can take multiple elements from many different external environments and put them together into a brand new fabric, a brand new hybrid. Does that all make sense or am I giving you a headache?
Kira: Yes. This has been helpful for me personally. I’m realizing that I need to focus more on synthesizing ideas and coming up with new ideas for my clients.
Jay: Think about it. Don’t you want to know and, online, I would study everything else … If you look at how clear, there’s a book that you guys might recommend everybody. I think it’s back in print. It’s called something like A Technique for Producing Ideas. It was created in the 50s by the head of J. Walter Thompson and it talks about the process for creating an idea.
Here’s what basically he says. By the way, here’s a concept. You have to realize it. ‘If your brain is going to be your lifetime most valuable resource, you have to realize that the brain was designed to solve problems and create strategic solutions to opportunities. However, it can’t do it if it doesn’t know what it’s supposed to do.’ It’s got to be commanded to a certain outcome, number one.
Number two, when you’re trying to feed it, to nourish it, to nurture it and give it additives and supplements and enrichment, you have to first of all study everything you can about the subject that you’re dealing with and the variations of that subject. Most people don’t even do that. When I ask a client if they can tell me about their competitor’s website, their approach, they don’t even know because they’re too arrogant or ignorant to even study that, let alone their alternative competitors but you have to be first of all compelled to do that.
Second of all, you should want after you’ve gone through all this, gone through the books, the comments, the headlines. We did an experiment and I’ll be happy to give you these that you can post on your website if you like. We have two or three documents that we used in the seminars. It’s old but it’s 100 headlines, the greatest headlines of all time that work for, I don’t know, 50 years straight. The other is 37 Million Dollar Headlines and they’re broken down by the psychology that drove them. Then, we have very simple. I think it’s eight or nine formulas that are pretty well known by famous copywriters but I’m not formulaic-oriented.
Then we have, just as a giggle, one time nine months ago, I had one of our staff spend six months collecting 10,000 headlines online from provocative places like major platforms and AOL and Google and some of the liberal and some of the conservative ones. I think we have 10,000. I’ll be happy to give you that to put up as a gift to people because I think that that might help.
I would encourage everybody to study preeminence, because preeminence is not just a way of thinking. It’s a guideline for creating outrageous copy and scripts and landing pages and emails and provocative teaser ads that just blow people away because it’s based on a much more elevated understanding of human condition, and also it’s based on putting yourself squarely into the vortex or, at least into the center of being the greatest, what I would call it, I guess, advocate and champion of the market you’re serving.
Remember, if you get a client to pay you to write copy and you think that you are working for that client, you are focused incorrectly. You’re really working to be the most compelling bridge of communication and motivation and, what’s the word I would use? Comforting certainty to the market that is struggling and doesn’t even know what they really want. Your job and your opportunity is to articulate it for them in clear, better, more powerful and dimensional ways and analogies and show them what’s going on right now, what’ll happen when they get this, how much different it’ll be.
You should live for the fact of asking yourself, ‘How many more lives am I going to be able to transform every day with the copy connection?’ I would think in terms of not copy but the copy connection. ‘I’m making between the company and the audience who want and need this but who really don’t know that or don’t know that they need it for you or don’t know what their judgmental criteria should even be,’ and give this great privilege to command preemptive control of all of that, Rob and Kira.
One of the things I stand for is thinking differently than everybody else about everything because you have no advantage if you’re a little bit better at doing the same thing the same way as everybody.
Rob: Exactly. What you’ve shared, I think gets us at least thinking about doing things a little bit differently so that we can build towards some of those things that you were talking about, preeminence and these breakthrough ideas. Thank you so much for that.
Jay: I hope you liked most of them. This is not a big self-serving comment but you may or may not know that because I charge so much, the vast majority of people that I would certainly love to help can’t or won’t afford it.
We made a decision about five years ago that if you can’t afford to invest in me, there’s no downside in me investing in you. We created this outrageous landing page called Abraham.com/fiftyshades like Fifty Shades of Jay, 50 Shades. It’s hilarious. It’s got 800 hours of content. It’s got eight hours of different demonstration, explanation of things like preeminence. It’s got six hours on value creation. It’s got dozens of hours of Tony Robbins and I answering questions and Damon John and I asking questions. It’s got 400 or 500 slide PowerPoints so you can see the things that I used to cover when I was teaching people how to think differently. It’s got about 140 different essays on how to change your business world view. It doesn’t sell anything and it doesn’t even require an opt-in. If that helps tell them about it and if it doesn’t, take it off.
Rob: No. It’s great. We’ve both been on that page and there’s a lot of really cool resources there. Yeah, thank you for sharing that.
Jay: People think I’m crazy. They say, ‘What’s his end strategy?’ My end strategy is what I say. Nobody else has the willingness or the resources to do that. No one else would care not about monetizing it. They’re all driving …
I’ll tell you something that I find very frustrating, just as an aside. I personally am appalled when someone promises you some abstract white paper report. Then, you go to the website and you have to give them your opt-in before you even know what it entails and you have to be blind trusting. We always, when we did things like that, we would let them see everything before they had opt-in and encourage them. If it wasn’t exceeding what even it looked like, they could opt out immediately but I think there’s a lot of, I’d call it disrespect for the intelligence of the human being. I think today, the more you respect them and you acknowledge that and you show them that you are not going to treat them in a ludicrous, patronizing, and impersonal way that everybody else does, than I think that gives you another advantage.
Rob: It’s awesome. It’s great. Thank you so much.
Kira: This has been so helpful. Thank you very much for your time.
Rob: You’ve been listening to the Copywriter Club Podcast by Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for this show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available at iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the world by subscribing at iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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