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When to give away the farm in information products

Several entrepreneurs were recently commenting on starting businesses featuring information products.

The main concern was whether they’d be giving away all their business secrets.

In the information age there are lots of people into Do-It-Yourself kinds of projects whether that’s remodeling a bathroom, filing for divorce, or even copywriting. The fortunate thing for most professionals is that more often than not, people just want to know how it’s done… they don’t want to do it themselves. Sometimes it takes a few tries to figure that out. I met a concrete flooring expert who said half of his work came from people who tried it themselves first.

Giving away information is the way to gain trust. If you don’t give it away, someone else will eventually. Intellectual property law will protect you for only so long before someone comes up with a cheap knock off.

If you’re a service professional, one goal with a product is to demonstrate to the world your expertise. That’s what many authors say anyway. Being a published author doesn’t pay what it used to. Now it’s often about getting your name out there.

Once you’ve demonstrated you’re an expert, the thing that people need is you. Anyone can swipe a winning sales letter and change enough for their own purposes. It’s the expertise that allows you to see the approach to take, which letter to swipe and how to adjust it for a particular audience.

In the end, you’re probably better off giving away the info. Of course test it.

There is more opportunity today than yesterday

Sometimes folks get down about the state of the economy or interest rates or the sub-prime market or whatever.

The thing to remember is that there are more ideas and opportunity today than there was yesterday. I don’t just mean gadgets either. Most new businesses that start do so because they’ve figured out a way to do something better or differently than before.

To really make this clear, stretch the time out over decades. Today (2007), there’s much more opportunity than yesterday (1997). Yesterday, the commercial uses for the internet were just getting going. The day before (1987), there was no internet and computers were huge and much more expensive than today.

I often see people promoting niches by looking at trends. What I don’t often see is people doing something a little better than yesterday. Some of the biggest advances come when we take the best of two industries and merge them.

For example, Copywriting is hundreds of years old. NLP is only about 30 years old. NLP Copywriting is arguably less than 5.

Another example is Matt Furey’s business model. The fitness industry seems like it’s saturated, right? Not if you merge several fields. Matt’s build a veritable fitness empire by combining fitness, psycho-cybernetics, and Chinese culture.

Rather than chase trends, consider merging what works in different fields. Find the best of a couple of different things and see if you can mix them or make them a little better.

Personally, I’ve played soccer for 25 years. I’m planning to make my next product launch merge things from NLP, psycho-cybernetics, and self defense into soccer training.

The other thing with opportunity is that you don’t have to be the best or the edge of the spear per se. As long as you can teach something to someone, you have a potential market. You don’t have to be the resource that the experts go to. There are lots of beginners. There are more today than there were yesterday.

Ultra specificity compared to NLP generalizations in marketing

One of the fabled 4 U’s according to Michael Masterson’s copywriting course is ultra-specificity. The others are urgency, usefulness and unique in case you were wondering.

That’s the rule. Sometimes it’s appropriate to break the rules. The big question is how.

NLP breaks this rule by saying that if you leave certain things purposefully vague, people will fill in with their own meaning. That way the copy looks more like it’s speaking more directly to their desires. This is called generalization.

Done artfully, it will increase response. Done sloppy or haphazardly and it will look amateurish. The trick is to figure out which things to leave vague.

The best example I can think of was what our drill sergeants used to say in the army. If someone screwed up they might say they had something for the offender when he got back to the barracks. Sometimes they forgot by then and sometimes it was more unpleasant "correctional" training.

The point is that they left unnamed the something they had in store. The terror of wondering the fate that awaited was more than adequate to get you in line for the time being.

Doing it can get you what you really want.

International Living’s 17 year control NLP copywriting case study

Here’s one more example of winning copy that works NLP into the ad.

I read this letter has been a control for 17 years. I’ve received it 3 times via email that I can remember. Here’s how it goes…

You look out your window, past your gardener, who is busily pruning the lemon, cherry, and fig trees…amidst the splendor of gardenias, hibiscus, and hollyhocks. The sky is clear blue.

The sea is a deeper blue, sparkling with sunlight.

A gentle breeze comes drifting in from the ocean, clean and refreshing, as your maid brings you breakfast in bed.

For a moment, you think you have died and gone to heaven.

But this paradise is real. And affordable.
In fact, it costs only half as much to live this dream lifestyle…
as it would to stay in your own home!

You may be wondering how this is NLP. This is pacing and leading. But, you say, this isn’t pacing any experience you’ve had before.

That’s an NLP tactic. You can pace a hypothetical experience. If you’re telling a story, your reader automatically accepts your story – especially in a case like this where the implication is that you’re imagining or dreaming.

If you’re reading this lead, you can’t be looking out your window. Your brain realizes you’re imagining this scenario. And it doesn’t matter much what you pace once you’re dealing with the imagination. I mean, what’s a hollyhock?

Can you see where the pacing turns into a lead? Go back and see. It’s, "For a moment…" because it switched to telling you what you’re thinking instead of simply experiencing in this paradise.

The writer follows by addressing the two most immediate objections which are 1) those kinds of places only exist in the movies and 2) I couldn’t possibly afford it.

There are situations when it’s more appropriate to pace an imagination versus your prospect’s actual experience. If you can’t be specific about your prospect’s current experience, it could be better to pace the promise instead.

How could you’d pace this target market in their current experience? Would you talk about dead end jobs, political disillusionment or vacation opportunities? You’d be guessing at best.

Conversely, if you have a well defined prospect, pacing their current experience in a problem/solution format would work well.

Either way, we’re back to storytelling. Pacing and leading is simply telling the story the prospect is either familiar with or can imagine.

Letting a time sucking someone go

I recently began negotiations with a potential client.

He was an agency and his website looked pretty good. He knew of Hopkins, Caples, AWAI, etc. I wasn’t going to have to educate him on direct marketing. Big plus.

From looking at his current landing page, I could tell he needed some real copywriting help. It was the one I mentioned in the last post. It was not only full of bunny trails to get lost in but it was actually confusing. I couldn’t tell what the offer was supposed to be.

I recalled Joe Vitale’s post on his Red Flag Theory . I was familiar with the concept about following your gut instincts and waiting for the inner peace before settling on major decisions. Joe’s post explains it well so I recommend you check it out.

I had a few red flags going into this deal. First off, he stated that one thing he liked about my bio was that I had military experience and so I probably knew how to obey directions. Follow directions? Yeah, sure. Obey? Hmm. I’m not sure how that applies to contracting work since I’m a civilian.

Red flag.

The way he described the project was confusing. It was to market to newspapers and offer syndicated video content. I couldn’t figure out how the project would make any money for anyone. I was assured that once I looked at the landing page, it would make more sense. It didn’t.

Red flag.

After spending close to an hour on the phone reviewing the project, I broached the subject of compensation since he hadn’t mentioned it. He balked at even talking about it and said I needed to prove my value first. If I did a good job, he’d pay me well and keep the projects coming.

The words sounded reasonable. I recalled that as a real estate agent, I always discussed money with people before we did anything – even with close friends. And then I was listening to some seminars on marketing consulting and realized that I could really get burned if we glossed over discussing money.

Red flag.

I’ve found that if I’m really being dense and it’s really important – God, the Universe, Ultimate Creative Intelligence or whoever – helps me out. I wasn’t exactly ignoring those red flags but I hadn’t taken positive action accordingly.

I was scheduled to speak to this guy after I’d done some research and sent him some more question. Mostly those questions were about what exactly the client could expect to get, how money was going to be made, and some other revenue sources I was beginning they intended to capitalize on but not tell the newspapers about unless asked. I needed to get some answers.

He called me late in the afternoon and said he needed to go get something to eat. I said fine and waited for his callback. We’d agreed to 30 minutes. When 90 minutes passed, I thought maybe I was supposed to have been the one to call him back. I left a message in his voicemail. I didn’t hear from him.

It turned out he came down with food poisoning. During the time he was out, I couldn’t ignore the red flags any longer so I really dug in and googled all the angles I could think of. I ended up finding a few other websites that he was responsible for and they didn’t look good. A couple looked like they were meant to misdirect folks into thinking they were getting something of value when he was instead list building.

The crown jewel was when I found a copywriter who’d worked with him previously. I submitted the form on her website and got a call from her. She verified that she’d worked with him for 7 months and never gotten paid. He’d strung her along with promises of more projects. And it wasn’t only a little work. She’d basically built her portfolio with all the work and some weeks spent up to 30 hours for him.

I was grateful for the call and for my fellow copywriter in general. Let’s all look out for each other. Don’t let someone take advantage of you.

Needless to say, I sent a short email to this guy saying that I’d done some research on him and that if he wanted me to continue to work with him, he needed to pay half of whatever we agreed on up front.

He did exactly as I predicted. He said I’d negotiated myself out of a deal and called me an amateur. That’s fine. At least I saved myself a lot of heartache for nothing.

Green Flag.

Next time, I’ll pay attention to those flags sooner.

A Covert Example of NLP in Copywriting

I was looking at Kimberly Seville’s lead for a recent Covenant House mailing. It’s a fundraising letter for a children’s shelter or orphanage or something.

It starts with a compelling therapeutic metaphor. Lots of uses of first person narrative. When you do that, people naturally project themselves into the role of that character. I’ll quote a few examples and the possible effects:

"How about if I find you some dry clothes to change into." – Readers can think they’re finding clothes for the kid.

"We are going to do everything we can to help you, I promise." – Readers will do whatever they can to help.

"I heard her small, timid little voice whisper, “Thanks.”" – Readers feel personally thanked by this kid.

"Finally, she looked up at me and apparently she felt like she could trust me…" – Readers feel like they can trust the narrator and/or Covenant House.

Then we have an expert example of pacing and leading. Pacing is basically where you tell the subject their experience and internally they affirm that it’s true and their resistance drops. Doing this in writing is trickier than in person because you can see what the person is experiencing in person. Once you’ve paced, you can lead as long as it’s small steps.

The copywriter paces in the story and through the narrator so it doesn’t matter what the reader is currently experiencing. The reader can’t help but be projected into this pacing experience. Here it is:

"As I sat there, listening to Kelly, in my own mind I felt that I was giving her something that goes far beyond food and clothing and shelter…"

I’m wondering if you caught it. Three consecutive paces followed by a lead: 1) as I sat there, 2) listening to Kelly, 3) in my own mind I felt. The lead is that the narrator and then reader is giving the kid much more than their money. It’s all so subtle that it’s nearly impossible to resist.

The copywriter could have started the paragraph with, "I was giving her something…" The meaning is the same. Instead, she paced and led. Nice and effective.