Author: Robert Bruce

Why Sex Doesn’t Sell

"Are you a writer, or a flimflam artist?" – Robert Bruce

In his essay, “It’s Necessary for the Scene,” American playwright David Mamet explains why no play or movie he writes or directs include explicit sex scenes.

Mamet is no prude. He cut his teeth in the theatre, working in and around that last great institution of vagabonds and players, excess and fornication.

No, what he’s getting at here is something more important than a hopeless moral stance. It is a display of wisdom and restraint that can instruct both copywriters and content marketers.

“When we see the scene of simulated sex, we can think only one of two things:

  1. Lord, they’re really having sex … or
  2. No, I can tell, they aren’t really.

Either of the above responses takes us right out of the film.”

Sex doesn’t sell the story; it takes us completely out of the story.

Good copy and great content come from the humility of listening … listening to the conversation your audience is having and entering that conversation with an honest, clear, useful, and helpful story.

What “takes us right out” of that marketing story? Half-truth. Hype. Hard sell. These are the “sex scenes” of copywriting, content, and marketing, online or off.

Like so many impotent Hollywood producers who’ve derailed otherwise great films with unnecessary plot lines and scenes, dropping a little “sex” into your copy to punch it up will only cripple your efforts to tell the story.

And that’s important … telling the story. Yes, “sexy” copy will get you sales — maybe even a lot of them — but it will not get you the kind of audience who will stick with your story, and potentially buy from you for years to come.

Be patient and substantial enough to build (or market) something truly great, and then tell the story of that greatness honestly, directly, and clearly.

Sex doesn’t truly sell, because it’s ultimately just a cheap distraction, an attempt to veil the emptiness of your product or service.

Start marketing at the start, and you’ll find that the writhing, pushing, sweating bodies of hype are merely diversions that your business can’t afford, and that your audience won’t buy.

Image source: Pietro De Grandi via Unsplash.

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How to Become a Great Copywriter

"Shut up and listen." – Robert Bruce

Copywriting is not writing. It is assembling.

The best copywriters collect the varied parts of their research and assemble those parts into a true story that resonates with the particular worldview of an audience.

Then that story is tested, tweaked, and deployed again. A story that enters the conversation an audience is already having, can be a story that travels.

The assembly of these parts is key.

Though you’ll never know if a headline, or a collection of bullet points, or a call to action will resonate with your audience — not until you let it out into the real world and test it — there is one commonly overlooked practice that’s turned out to be the best copywriting advice I’ve ever put to use …

Shut up and listen.

  • Listen to the creator of the product you’re selling. Let her talk (for hours if necessary) about what makes it work, why she built it, what she hopes it will do for her customers. This practice alone can give you the bulk of your copy.
  • Listen to your audience. What are they telling you — directly or indirectly — about what they really want and need? If social media has given us anything, it’s an unprecedented ability to hear the demands and desires of real people, in real time.
  • Listen to your competitors. It’s wise to have a view of the entire field. What’s working in your market? What’s not working? What can you learn from others’ success and failure (and from the language that got them there)?

If you’ve built a useful and/or captivating product or service, you don’t need to sweat and agonize over dreaming up some dumb marketing campaign.

Real people will tell you precisely how to assemble the various parts of your copy … many times they’ll even give you the actual bullet points and headlines that you’ll end up using, word for word.

This is not laziness; it’s wisdom in practice. Talk less, listen more.

Humble yourself and serve your audience, listen to their needs and desires, listen to the language they use.

If you listen carefully, your audience can eventually give you everything you need, including much of your copy. Oh, and remember …

Shut up and listen.

Image source: Eugenio Mazzone via Unsplash.

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How to Get Your Writing on the Road to Being Read and Spread

"That's why they call it work." – Robert Bruce

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

It’s something the immortals — from Aristotle to Ogilvy to Mamet — have known, but few have stated it as directly as I’m about to.

By now, many of you know the basics of the craft of copywriting

Know your audience. Know your product cold. Research. Nail the headline. Write plainly, in the language of your audience. Research more. Write great bullets. Craft a great offer. Include a strong call to action. Et cetera.

These elements are the standard. They get the job done.

But this little truth I’m about to tell you is the foundation that makes all the rest of it work, and it’s the answer to getting you on the road to getting your writing read and shared.

So, try this on for size …

Every sentence you write should make them want to read the next sentence you write.

Simple, huh?

Yes, this entire business of creating content in order to build an audience (people who will potentially buy from you) can be boiled down to that stupidly simple statement.

The headline only exists to get the first sentence read.

The first sentence only exists to get the second sentence read. And so on, pulling your reader right on down through your page, story, bullets, and call to action.

It’s that simple. And it’s that difficult.

The secret is in the line.

A great headline is followed by a single, compelling sentence that engages the reader’s interest. And then another, followed by another, and another.

You won’t be able to pull this off all the time. Hell, you won’t even pull it off most of the time.

But if you keep the raw horsepower of The Single Line in your mind as you work, you might make something good enough to be read and shared … maybe even shared widely.

This is foundational because even if you employ every bullshit “content distribution” trick and tip in the book, and your writing is bad, it won’t get you anywhere.

Write well. Line by line.

If you’re able to work in this way, all of those lines will begin to add up, and then they’ll go to work for you, day and night, for a long, long time on this thing we call the internet.

So yes, write urgent, unique, ultra-specific, and useful headlines.

Yes, demonstrate the benefits, not the features.

Yes, make them an offer they can’t refuse.

But do it all by deliberately crafting each sentence to honestly, accurately, and entertainingly tell the story you want to tell.

Difficult? Sure.

But, to quote someone that I could not confirm the identity of … that’s why they call it work.

Image source: Mathias Herheim via Unsplash.

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Sherlock Holmes and Mastery of the Craft of Writing

"Choose. Focus. Become an idiot." – Robert Bruce

Sherlock Holmes was the greatest Consulting Detective in the world.

Though merely a fiction — written over a century ago by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — his methods of logical deduction are without equal.

Holmes’s mastery of his craft brought him to the fog-cloaked London doorsteps of the most powerful people of his time.

Correction: he was so good, those clients came to him.

They ran, desperate, to his Baker Street rooms, begging for his help, willing to pay any amount of money for his services.

What can Sherlock Holmes teach us about the craft of writing?

Everything.

I’ll let you find the wealth of anecdote, advice, and adventure in Conan Doyle’s stories for yourself, but here’s a short list on Holmesian mastery to get you started …

Make a decision

When you watch or listen to an interview with a brilliant and successful writer, something happens deep down in your gut.

Some part of you thinks something like, “Ah yes, listen to her. Her fate was sealed from birth. Some are chosen to create brilliant work, and the rest of us are screwed.”

What you conveniently dismiss from such interviews — if they’re included at all — are the stories of the hours, days, weeks, months, and years of silent practice that the writer has put in.

Somewhere, back there, a decision was made.

On a particular day, at a particular hour, that writer had said, “This is the thing I will dedicate my working life to.”

Sometimes — as in Holmes’s case — there are obvious hints regarding what that “thing” is. Most times, there are none.

The first step on the road to mastery is making a conscious decision about what you will decide to master.

Do not wait for it. Decide.

Focus, focus, focus

Our society tells us from youth that we should become “well-rounded” individuals.

If you want to master your craft, ignore that advice.

Sherlock Holmes focused intensely on a narrow set of criminological skills and subjects that ultimately made him an incomparable detective.

He studied specific disciplines within botany and chemistry — only to the point that they served his needs as a detective.

He learned the science of cryptography in order to swiftly crack the codes of master criminal communication.

He became competent enough in human anatomy to forge the early stages of what would become actual forensic analysis in murder investigations.

He would lie down napping, smoking, and thinking for hours about one minute aspect of a case, not moving until an idea — and sometimes a complete solution — came to him.

Think deeply about the core demands of your craft.

What is needed to advance in mastery of it?

What can be ignored as mere distraction?

Practice brutal focus.

Our fictional detective’s methods are studied even now by very real, working detectives everywhere, because he had the discipline to stay within the arena of his expertise.

Note: For those familiar with Holmes’s methods … No, I am not advocating the use of morphine and/or cocaine.

Become an idiot

Idiocy is the other side of the coin of mastery.

In order to focus your working life on mastering your craft, you’ve got to rule out a lot of the trivia that takes up most people’s time.

Sherlock Holmes could determine what part of the city you’d been recently walking through, from a quick glance at the type of mud on your boot.

He was a strikingly horrible violin player.

Within moments of meeting, he could tell you where you were born, what you’d eaten for lunch, if your brother was an alcoholic, and if you’d served in the war (and where).

He knew nothing about current events or the politics of his day.

He could seemingly predict the future, arriving at correct conclusions that left witnesses believing he was an other-worldly being.

He was utterly oblivious to the basic astronomical patterns of the stars and planets.

Holmes accomplished his amazing ability to see the obvious by … becoming an idiot.

Holmes’s greatness — and ours — is largely defined by what we do not know.

He had one driving professional goal — to engage and best the greatest (and lowest) criminals in the world. He shut out the rest, and he did not care if anyone regarded him as less than “well-rounded.”

All of his considerable mental power was directed at the “elementary” practice of deduction and the few peripheral disciplines that supported it.

Distraction pulls us in all directions

The boredom of repetition drives us to other interests. The pressures of culture make us worry we are missing out on something “important” if we dedicate ourselves to our pursuit of mastery.

Stop.

If you want to master writing, you are giving up running the 800 meters in the Olympic Games.

If you want to master the cello, you are giving up the ability to talk about what’s good on television these days.

If you want to master anything, you must become an idiot about nearly everything else.

Oddly, you must become an idiot in order to become a genius.

Continue to obsess

This path of mastery is not for everyone, but I believe it is one of the great callings and joys this life has to offer.

You’ll never get all the way there … nobody does.

There is only so much time in one day, only so many days in one life.

As our immortal Victorian detective (and the extraordinary man who wrote him into existence) has shown, mastery is one way to truly change the world.

Choose. Focus. Become an idiot.

Image source: Blake Richard Verdoorn via Unsplash.

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The Old Man and The Pen

"You can outlast the other guys if you try." – Seth Godin

This is a simple story about the life of a particular writer, and how he ignored the one thing about his craft that would have given him everything he truly wanted …

A young man in his late twenties decided to become a writer.

At the beginning of the pursuit of his craft, he sought out all the writing advice he could find. He attended writing workshops, went to many parties of a literary nature, drove far into the woods seeking the wisdom of writing retreats, and read countless books on writing by countless other writers.

After several years of this, he began to despair. He seemed to have found the correct knowledge, and a few seemingly valuable contacts along the way, but he hadn’t yet written anything of consequence.

He felt very validated by a number of his very nice friends in his Thursday night writing circle, but he couldn’t keep down the horror in his gut that something was going terribly wrong.

He was having a good time. There were the parties, the drink, the pills, and the long conversations about art and writing.

Then, somewhere in his mid-thirties, the not-so-young-anymore writer looked around and realized that he had wasted many years. This confused him, because his entire circle of friends were “writers” after all.

He had a decision to make.

On a particularly starry Thursday night, the phone rang — like it did almost every other night of the week — at 11:03 p.m. Pacific Time. Only this time, he didn’t answer it. It rang again, and again, and four more times before midnight. He did not pick it up.

Instead of going out with his “writer” friends, that night he just sat at his desk and stared at a blank sheet of paper. He did manage to get 133 words down before sunrise. It was a bad feeling to have accomplished so little — while also missing out on the booze — but it was a much better feeling than anything he could remember in years.

So, he did not answer the phone on the next night, or the next. Instead, he stayed in, staring at blank pages and slowly filling them up with words. And then he just … kept going like that … for another 42 years.

A few weeks before his death, a reporter asked the old writer for the secret to a great literary career.

The old man held up a worn Bic pen and said, “If there is a secret, it’s in here somewhere, swirling around in all that black ink. It spills down on the page, and something happens, or it doesn’t, and you spill more and more of it to try to find your way.”

“What if I use a keyboard instead of a pen?” the reporter asked.

“Don’t get cute with me kid, same damn thing,” the writer said. “Slow and steady.”

The old writer had not become famous or particularly wealthy; he hadn’t won any international awards or even made a single bestseller list. Those things, he said, were not up to him, not in his control, or yours. But, over the course of many years, he had built an unimpeachable reputation, a vast audience, and a very good living.

He could not say what had become of his old “writer” friends, but he was grateful that they had eventually driven him straight into the arms of his chosen craft.

“You can outlast the other guys if you try. If you stick at stuff that bores them, it accrues. Drip, drip, drip you win.”
Seth Godin

Image source: Eli Francis via Unsplash.

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The Subterranean Foundations of Any Good Content Marketing Strategy

"Words are loaded pistols."  – Jean-Paul Sartre

Let’s go deep for a moment.

Below the surface, not in the 20th-century French existentialist sense, but to a much more simple understanding of depth that can actually start to make things happen for your content marketing strategy … whatever it is you’re trying to do online.

As Mr. Sartre once said, “Words are loaded pistols.” I happen to believe that is a true statement. But today, without a largely invisible foundation that amplifies your words, they may as well be as impotent as an unloaded .38 Special.

Here are three simple “subterranean” lessons I’ve learned (and imperfectly used) over the years, that you’ll find might make all the difference in the visible strategy you employ out there in the world.

1. Be consistent

Take a minute to think about your favorite TV show.

It airs once a week (I’m not talking about binge-watching Netflix shows here) and in some small sense, you really look forward to it.

At the appointed time, you’ve got your setup ready on the couch or in bed, happy to just check out for an hour after a long day. You click the box on … only to find that it’s not airing tonight. It’s a rerun. Or worse, it was preempted by some “special” political event.

No question this is a first-world problem, but it’s also annoying. Maybe a better example for you would be a canceled lecture or concert, or some other live event you got tickets for that’s since been rescheduled.

You get the picture. You’re a fan, you’re looking forward to this thing, and it’s not happening at the time you expected it to.

Now multiply this scenario by two or three times … if your favorite show didn’t air as scheduled for weeks on end, you might even give up on it, or forget about it.

You need to remember that when it comes to your own media strategy … however small in comparison to cable television.

Your audience, or the people who will become part of your audience, eventually come to rely on you in small and/or large ways, depending on what you provide.

If you can’t be reliable for them, they’ll find that information, entertainment, or education elsewhere. In the blink of an eye.

Be consistent, dear reader.

2. Repetition, repetition, repetition

Somewhere back a few years ago, Guy Kawasaki made a pretty good point.

It was about republishing content, and he said something about the fact that if you turn on the TV at any given time you’ll see cable and network channels repeating the episodes of television shows you’ve already seen over, and over, and over again.

Reruns.

The networks aren’t the least bit ashamed or nervous to re-air these episodes … hell, they spent hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars producing the stuff!

They want to make sure that these shows — and the attached advertising — are seen. So, Mr. Kawasaki argues, we should do the same with our content.

On Twitter, retweet your stuff multiple times.

On your blog, update and repost articles from your archive.

Same for podcasts.

And if you don’t “rerun” old stuff, at the very least you should constantly be looking for syndication opportunities.

Does it piss you off when you see a rerun on television? Sometimes … see the “Be Consistent” section above.

But sometimes you want to watch the same thing again. Sometimes, you’re even grateful for that 3:00 p.m. Saturday airing of a “Sopranos” episode that you’ve already seen 11 times.

And, don’t forget that old advertising line:

“Until somebody sees it seven times, they haven’t seen it at all.”

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

3. Be patient

This is likely the most important point to understand and internalize as you begin to publish.

No matter how good you are — no matter how hard you work — this thing of yours is going to take time to spread. A lot of it.

There’s no shortcut here; there’s no quick way around. You’ve got to publish your stuff over a very long period of time.

You have to be good and you have to be patient.

Nothing is going to happen in the first year. It’s likely that nothing will happen in the second or even third year.

The sooner you understand this, the better off you’ll be. As powerful as the internet is, there is no such thing as overnight success.

You need to start with the clear understanding that you’ll be publishing into the void — with no results at all — for at least two years.

Counterintuitive as it sounds, if you can do that, it’ll make things a lot easier for you. Sean McCabe has a good, short essay on this topic that you should read (or watch) right now.

Simple, but not easy

There’s a good chance that many of you will read this and think it’s way too simple for where you’re at. That’s fine, good luck to you, and Happy Halloween.

Looking back on my nearly 13 years posting stuff to the internet, I wish someone would have put a blog post like this in my face and made me read it.

Which is precisely why I wrote it.

Image source: Joshua Stannard via Unsplash.

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Why You Hate Writing

simple ways to love writing again

The blank page is a nightmare.

The great writers of the ages have feared it more than evil spirits, wasting disease, and visiting in-laws.

Yet, if you want something to happen, you’ve got to spill the ink on that thing.

You’ve got to do it every day.

Like a detective, the writer is always digging.

And when that digging unearths an idea, the writer is desperate for a way to get it down.

The pain of facing a blank page might be cured by facing what you’re not doing.

And what you’re not doing is three simple moves that can help correct this ancient problem.

1. You’re not researching

Did you think you could pull good writing out of a starry sky?

It doesn’t work that way.

You’ve got to know what you’re talking about in order to get it down well. The only way to do that is to read, listen, dig, watch, and think.

Old-school copywriters subscribed to and read every newspaper and magazine around. They had bulging physical libraries.

You have the internet.

Writing is research.

2. You’re not outlining

If you’re thinking about those roman numerals and endless lower-case alphabetical hierarchies, you’re thinking outlining is a chore.

Don’t do it.

A simple list of core ideas is more than enough for most of your writing process.

The goal here is to give yourself a simple map, so that your mind is free to roam within it.

Constraint is a secret of creativity.

3. You’re not living

Every mill needs grist.

Unrelenting failure, the perfect burger, arguments with family, a moment in a bookstore, and walking down a dirt road with your faithful dog. It all goes into the vault, and some of it is ultimately spent on the page.

Good experiences and bad, they can all work for you. If you’re wondering how (and if) this actually works in the real world, read and study Ben Settle.

If you’re not living, you’re not writing.

How to lust after the blank page again

I got it wrong up there, at the top of this formerly blank page.

The blank page is not a nightmare. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be.

It is a humble companion that daily demands sacrifice, commitment, and integrity. It’s doing you a favor.

You’ll fail more than you succeed, but like anything worth doing, you get up, continue, and seek your reward. This is how you can fall for writing again — a simple commitment to the daily practice of your craft.

A blank page is calling to you right now.

What’s your answer?

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on November 1, 2011.

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The Art of Finding Ideas

for better or worse, a writer is working all the time

Every writer who has ever lived has lusted after ideas.

Where are they, how do I get them, and how do I keep them coming?

If you’ve been writing long enough, you know that — like Solomon — there is nothing new under the sun.

Try as you might to sweat them out of your head or pull them gently from the stars above, there are no new ideas.

So, relax.

But the page is not going to write itself, is it? Where then do we turn for ideas that work, ideas that move, ideas that persuade?

In short, we “steal” them.

The moment you free yourself from The Cult of Originality, you realize that original ideas do not come from within.

They are given to us, from without.

A writer should not look inside, but outside, at external sources, stories, events, and emotions.

If you’re offended that I’d suggest you “steal” ideas, please get over it. You’re already a thief — you just don’t know it.

Here are two of the most significant idea repositories on Earth …

1. The modern media is a torrent of ideas

In this information age, you have absolutely no reason to “draw a blank.”

Ever.

What used to take days and weeks to research and learn, can take us mere moments.

In fact, the only problem we have now is one of finding trusted curators. We need to develop self-discipline and discernment in seeking out correct information from reliable sources.

There is no drought of ideas.

Brian Clark once wrote:

“You have more computing power in your pocket than it took to send men to the moon. What are you doing with it?”

Indeed.

Are you wasting it or harnessing it? You don’t need to go to the moon; the crossroads will do just fine.

Research. Read. Compile.

Product manuals, literature, interviews, talk radio, podcasts, magazines, newspapers, television, Twitter, Google Trends, movies, Wikipedia, and on and on and on …

It’s all there, right in your pocket, waiting to be compiled and analysed. And it’s actually more than you’ll ever need.

So use it. Don’t let it use you.

2. People will give you exactly what you’re looking for

Ideas are walking around everywhere out there.

Eugene Schwartz once told a story about a copywriting job he was working on.

He met with the client and asked him to start talking about the product. They ended up sitting together for four hours — the client talking, and Schwartz simply listening and taking notes.

Later that night, while he was waiting for his wife to get ready for a night out in Manhattan, Schwartz sat down and wrote the ad.

The entire ad.

He said about 70 percent of the finished copy was composed of his client’s own words.

The headline itself was a phrase the client had hit on, word for word.

He waited two weeks, mailed the ad to the client, and they both made a lot of money.

You might think this was some kind of dirty trick on Schwartz’s part, but you’d be wrong.

Schwartz knew how to write a powerful direct response ad. The client didn’t.

Schwartz was smart enough to know that the client knew (in this case) his own product better than he ever could, and simply translated that knowledge and passion onto paper.

The ideas were sitting in the client’s head and Schwartz knew exactly what to do with them.

It goes further …

For better or worse, a writer is working all the time.

Phone calls with friends, the plumber, your spouse, your child, your boss, your client, your neighbor — they are all constantly giving you ideas.

They are all constantly telling you what they — and the entire world — truly want.

It’s all grist for the mill.

All you need to do is … listen.

Steal this post

Eugene Schwartz summed this up for me perfectly:

“You don’t have to have great ideas if you can hear great ideas.”

I stole this post from him, and he stole it from many others.

Listen more. Talk less.

Read less. Read better.

The Art of Finding Ideas is then … the act of going out and finding ideas.

Originality? That’ll come from using your own voice, and your voice develops from writing more. And more. And more.

Where have you been getting your ideas?

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 18, 2011.

Image source: Jamie Street via Unsplash.

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We Launched Rainmaker FM One Year Ago: Check Out What Happened (and the New Site Design)

Rainmaker FM

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we rolled out our digital business podcast network, Rainmaker FM.

A lot has happened in the time since Brian Clark and I started throwing this idea around in late 2014. Here are just a few of the facts on how things have gone …

In one year, Rainmaker FM has:

  • Created or partnered with 24 distinct shows
  • Published an average of 80 podcast episodes per month
  • Built an email list of more than 27,000 listeners
  • Built and sold a successful podcast training course
  • Demonstrated the power, reliability, and grace of the Rainmaker Platform

And, thanks to you, we’ve seen 5,510,849 downloads of our podcast episodes since launching. Rainmaker FM is a going concern because of you, our loyal audience of listeners.

One more thing … Rafal Tomal has crafted a beautiful and useable new design for the site. Check out the new Rainmaker FM right here.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to a few shows and please continue to support us (and help others find our shows) by leaving a rating or review in iTunes.

Here’s to another good year of audio …

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