How to Create Marketing Messages that Stick Forever in People’s Minds

Edited Transcript of Lecture by Ben Hart

The average American today is hit with more than 23,000 advertising messages per week.So how do you make your advertising message stand out in the midst of all that noise?

How do you get your prospects and your customers to listen to what you have to say – to stop whatever it is they are doing and pay attention to you?

In fact, this might be the #1 question I get from Inner Circle members.

How do I stand out from my competitors?

What we are talking about tonight are how to make your marketing messages stick in people’s minds.

And I’m going to start with the story of Jared. You probably remember Jared from the subway sandwich ad.

Remember, Jared is the guy who held up those pants with the 60” waist. He’s the guy who lost all that weight eating subway sandwiches.

So let me fill in the details on who Jared is. Jared had a terrible weight problem. He weighed 425 pounds when he was junior in college.

His trousers had a 60-inch waist.

Jared’s father was very worried about him. His father kept warning Jared that he might not live past 35 if he did not bring his weight down. Jared eventually decided he was try to do something about his weight. He stopped his junk food diet . . . and started eating turkey sandwiches at Subway.

Jared noticed he started losing weight. In fact, he was losing weight quickly – often a pound a day. After three months of eating at Subway, Jared lost 100 pounds.

His weight was now at 325 pound – a point when he could start going on walks

He continued his subway diet and combined this with long walks.

The weight continued to come off. In fact, Jared got his weight down to 180 pounds.

A writer for the student newspaper and dorm mate of Jared wrote an article about Jared’s phenomenal weight loss. The article had before and after pictures of Jared and described Jared’s life as a 425 pounder.

Jared did not choose his classes based on the subject or the professor. Jared picked his classes based on whether the class had seats he could it in.

When Jared parked his car, he had to make sure the space next to his was empty so he could open the door completely and get out of the car.

Then the article described how Jared started eating at Subway everyday. The article ended with a quote from Jared that said: “Subway helped save my life and start over.”

Then the magazine Men’s Health picked up the story, but did not specifically mention the Subway fast-food chain – just that Jared starting eating turkey subs. The owner of a local Subway saw the story and passed it on to the Hal Riney ad agency that was handling the Subway advertising account.

Barry Krause, the President of the ad agency decided it was working checking the story out. He sent an intern to Bloomington Indiana to see if she could track down the guy who lost 250 pounds by eating turkey club subs.

Remember, the account in Men’s Health never mentioned the Subway chain in the article. All they knew was this guy had lost 250 pounds eating turkey subs.

It did not take the intern long to find the only sub shop in town – which, sure enough, was a Subway. The intern described the story and asked if they knew anyone like this.

“Oh, yes, that’s Jared,” the employee said. “He eats here everyday.”

The intern went back to the ad agency victorious with the news. “Jared is real! And he lost all that weight eating at Subway.”

So Barry Krause called Subway’s marketing director to tell him the Jared story.

But the Subway marketing director said “Nah, that will never work. People don’t go to fast-food places to lose weight and get healthy.”

But Krause was convinced the Jared story was a winner.

He offered to make the ad for free – and test it in a local market.

The first ad ran on January 1 of 2000.

I’m sure you remember this ad – a smiling 180 pound Jared standing there with a pair of his old trousers that had the 60-inch waist and talking about how he lost 250 pounds by eating subs at Subway.

The ad was a sensation.

Operah called and wanted to have Jared on her show to talk about the Subway diet.

Feature articles on Jared’s triumphant weight-loss with the Subway diet ran in USA Today, The New York Times and all the major papers

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all did stories about Jared.

Jared became a household name.

And what do you think this did for Subway’s sales?

Well, instead of growing at a rate of about 3-5 percent a year Subway started growing at 18 percent a year. There are more Subway shops than McDonalds restaurants.

The big reason: The Jared ad campaign.

What was it that made this ad campaign so successful?

This amazing story – the story of how Jared lost 250 pounds and changed his life by eating at Subway. The Jared story contains every element of what makes an advertising or marketing message stick in people minds:

1) It’s a great story — a “David versus Goliath” type story about an underdog overcoming great odds to triumph. The story is inspiring – not just for overweight people, but also for thin people who might have other challenges in their life to overcome.

2) The story is credible because it’s about a real person. Anyone can go meet with and talk to Jared.

3) It’s concrete and specific. The details are attention-getting. Think of Jared holding up those huge pants with the 60” waist.

4) It’s surprising.  Most people don’t think you can lose weight by eating fast food.

5) The moral of the story is simple.  It’s a little like an Aesop’s fable. Great story, simple moral. The moral is you can lose weight painlessly by just paying a little attention to what you eat – for example by eating good tasking low-fat subs at Subway.

6) It appeals to our emotions. We feel good, we feel inspired y this story of a real person who has lost all this weight and changed his life because he made it his daily routine to eat at Subway.

7) The story is relevant to us.

For your story to be effective for marketing, it must be relevant to your reader. It must address your reader’s big concern or big priority. Your story must really be about your reader.

So those really are the seven keys to making your marketing messages stick in people’s minds.

The seven elements are: 1) Great story;  2) Credible because its real;  3) It’s concrete and specific; 4) It’s surprising. It goes against what you might think. It’s got a surprising plot twist or a surprising conclusion;  5) It’s simple to understand; 6) It appeals to our emotions.  And 7) it’s relevant.

That is, your reader must be able to visualize himself or herself in the position of the protagonist.

Your reader must be able to say, yes, I identify with that. That describes me. Your ad, your marketing message must appeal to the self-interest of your reader.

That’s how you make a story about a turkey sandwich interesting.

You might think subway sandwiches are a pretty boring topic.

Not many more inherently boring topics than that.

But we just made the topic of the turkey sub very interesting, didn’t we.

The fact is, there is no such thing as a boring subject.

Just boring writers. Just lazy writers. Just writers without the imagination to make their subject interesting.

Aside from Jared, one of the heroes of this story is Barry Krauss, the ad agency executive who recognized that the Jared story was potentially a goldmine for Subway.

He did not even know at first if Jared was losing all that weight by eating subway sandwiches.

But he thought it was worth checking out – sending that intern to Bloomington, Indiana.

Even if Jared was losing all that weight not by eating Subway sandwiches, but with some other turkey sub, maybe something could still be done with that.

Barry Krauss just saw that this was a great story. He wanted to get the details – even though he did not know if he could use the story.

Then after he got the story and found out Jared was eating Subway sandwiches, he then had to overcome that marketing director at the Subway headquarters who said “Nah, it will never work. People don’t eat fast-food to lose weight.”

So Krauss made the ad for free – just so he could test it.

So that’s a story within a story isn’t it – with a similar moral about persevering, overcoming obstacles and pursuing what you know is right.

Barry Krauss that ad agency President knew the value of a great story.

And he knew how to spot a great story.

That’s why Barry Krauss is the President of a big ad agency.

So what’s the moral for you?

You need to be on the lookout for great stories.

You should be talking all the time to your customers to find the stories about how they are using and benefiting from your product or service.

When you find a great one, take a video cam and do an interview with your happy customer. Get all the details on all the great things your product has done for your customer.

Then put the video on your website.

And notice one of the key elements that makes the Jared story great.

There’s a lack of hype. Jared just tells his story. Its factual.

What makes the story interesting are the details.

That’s what great testimonials can do for you.

A great testimonial does not say how great you are or how fantastic you are. A great testimonial just tells a story – a story about how your product has changed the life of your customer.

If a great story can be told about a turkey sandwich, I’m sure your customers have great stories to tell about your product or service.

But you’re going to have to find them. You’re going to have to do some digging.

Yes, you are going to have to get out there and – heaven forbid – actually talk to your customers.

So often business people and even professional marketers treat their testimonials as an afterthought. But a great testimonial in the form of a great story, a factual story – like the Jared story – can be entire focus of your marketing campaign.

All you really need is one great story.

You don’t lots of testimonials. Sure, it’s good if you have a lot.

But far more powerful for your marketing and memorable is one great story – like the Jared story.

Is the Jared story a long story?

No, it’s not long. It can be told in a 60-second TV ad.

It’s short and it’s powerful as acid. It sears a hole in our brains. It’s a story we can’t forget.

Think of the great stories of Western Civilization.

Take Aesop’s fables.

Each fable has a moral – one simple point we are supposed to understand after hearing or reading the fable.

The Tortoise and the Hare is a great story.

What’s a better way to get your lesson to sink in to the mind of a child?

Warning them not to hurry?

Or just reading them Aesop’s the Tortois and the Hare.

Aesop’s fable continues to be famous thousands of years after he wrote it, or told it.

Are Aesop’s fables long?

Nope. But they’re powerful. They create vivid pictures in our minds.

That’s why they’ve lasted thousands of years.

Or how about the story that Christ told about the “Good Samaratain.”

A fellow had just been robbed, beaten and left for dead on the road.

Two priests passed by and did nothing to help. Then the Good Samaratian came along, picked him up, carried him to an Inn and paid for his stay.

Samaratain’s were poor and of low social class. The priests were religious, rich, powerful.

What was Christ saying with this story?

He was saying just because you say your religious (you can even be a priest) that means nothing. What matters is how you respond when someone needs your help. What matters is your heart.

Christ’s parable of the Good Samaratain is very short – just a few lines in the Bible.

But the details are vivid and powerful. It’s a story everyone knows. The point of the story is clear. It’s another story that’s survived thousands of years.

It’s a story that has all the seven key elements that cause it to stick in our minds.

1) The message is simple.

2) The details are specific.

3) It contains surprise. The religious people (the priests) did nothing to help.

4) It appeals to our emotions.

5) It’s credible – not just because Christ is telling it . . . but also because we probably all know people who purport to be religious, but are just as uncaring as these priests. The story rings true.

6) It’s relevant.

7) We pay attention because it’s a story.

People’s minds are hard-wired to start listening when a story is being told.

That’s why children say “Daddy, can you read me a story?”

By the way, the phrase “For example . . .” is one of the most powerful phrases in copywriting or speech giving.

When I say the words “For example . . .” I can see people ears immediately perk up.

They start looking straight at me. They start to pay attention . . . because they know that when I say “For example . . .” I’m not leaving the world of abstractions.

I am now going to show them exactly what I am talking about with a specific example – perhaps even a real life story.

The phrase “For example” is one of the surest ways to get people’s attention.

Now, let’s get a little more deeply into what causes stories and messages to really stick in people’s minds.

For example . . . What causes an “Urban Legend” to spread like wildfire around the world.

One Urban Legend is that someone found a fried rat in a bucket of Kentucky Friend Chicken.

That never happened. But almost everyone has heard that story.

It’s a story that did tremendous harm to Kentucky Fried chicken. What was it that made that story take off.

I would say it contained two key elements:

1) It’s was shocking and disgusting. People pay attention because the details are revolting.

2) The myth (though untrue) did tap into a truth that people were feeling about Kentucky Friend Chicken. The place did not look very clean or well run.

Finding a fried rat in your bucket of fried chicken seems like something that could happen there.

It’s shocking and disgusting . . . but also has the air of plausibility. And it’s a great story.

People love to repeat great stories because this make the storyteller sound interesting.

In fact, very often people will repeat the Urban Legend and put themselves at the center of it.

They might say something like “a friend of a friend of mine actually found a fried rat in a bucket of Kentucky Friend chicken.”

Whenever you hear a story start with “a friend of a friend of mine” you know are about to hear an Urban Legend.

Urban Legend’s spread fast because the details are shocking . . . but they sound somewhat plausible because they describe a truth. They are like a fable. They have a moral.

Here’s some other Urban Legends you might have heard.

“Coca Cola rots your bones.”

“The Great Wall of China is the only human structure you can see from the moon.”

(If that were the case, you could see every highway on earth from the moon because that’s about how wide the Great Wall of China is.

“You only use 10% of your brain.”

Not true. You use 100% of your brain or your brain would only be 10% its current size. The Urban Legend works because people want to believe they have all this potential –probably superhuman potential – if they can just tap into it.

Then there’s the Urban Legend about the guy who was putting razor blades into apples and giving them to kids trick or treating on Halloween.

This never happened. But the Urban Legend spoiled Halloween for millions of moms worried about the safety of their kids.

The Urban Legend spread because the details are gruesome and shocking – and also tapped into a fear parents have about wisdom of letting their kids knock on the doors of strangers and ask for treats.

Here’s another Urban Legend you might have heard.

“A friend of a friend of mine was sitting at a bar and was approached by a gorgeous woman.

The woman asked him if she could buy him a drink. He said sure.

They talked for a while and she bought him another drink. And that was the last thing he remembered – until he woke up the next morning in a bathtub full of ice.

He could not move. He noticed tubes coming out of his side and back.

He then noticed a cell phone next to the tub. Next to the cell phone was a note. The note said, don’t move. Call 911.

So he called 911. The operator answered. He described his situation.

The operator said “Don’t move. An Ambulance is coming right now. One of your kidneys has been removed. You are the victim of organ thieves who we have been after for some time.”

The moral of the story is don’t accept drinks from strangers. We remember it. The story sticks in our minds – because the details are shocking.

The moral of course is a good one – but it’s made a whole lot more interesting when coupled with the Kidney Heist ring story . . . which would make a great horror movie.

The point here for us is the power of a good story.

A good story must be inherently interesting – and must have a point, a moral.

Great stories don’t require an advertising budget.

They spread on their own – like wildfire.

Aesop did not have an advertising budget. Christ did not have an advertising budget.

They told unforgettable stories to make their points.

Their ideas and points stuck in people’s minds because of the power of their stories – and because their stories illustrated a universal truth

What is it about the human mind that latches on to stories – and that instantly starts to pay attention when a story is being told?

Well, psychologists say that when we are reading a great novel or watching a movie, we start to substitute ourselves for the protagonist.

So if we read the sentence “And then Jim returned home” we start to imagine our own home.

We become Jim. We become the main actor in the movie we are playing for ourselves in our minds.

When guys watch a James Bond movie, they put themselves in the movie and imagine themselves as James Bond. The viewer of the movie, enters James Bond’s world in his mind.

That’s why people, when the tell stories, often try to put themselves at the center of the story.

It’s not just some guy was the victim of the Kidney Heist, it has to be “a friend of a friend of mine.”

This both makes the story more credible and the storyteller more interesting. That’s how people tell stories when they are standing around the water cooler at work.

It’s not just a story they heard somewhere. It’s a story they themselves were involved in or personally connected to in some way . . . because the storyteller knows that’s how you make a story more inherently interesting.

A story is more interesting if it actually happened. A story is more credible if it actually happened to the storyteller . . . or if the storyteller is personally connected to the story in some way.

And that’s a big part of how Urban Legends spread.

This phenomenon of how stories spread should also give you some clues as to how to create marketing messages that spread like wildfire . . . on their own, without having to send any money on advertising.

Hey, I’m not saying this is easy.

It’s tough. Look how hard Barry Krauss that ad agency executive in Chicago had to work to dig up the details about Jared – and the 250 pounds he lost by eating Subway sandwiches.

But a great story is certain worth its weight in gold – isn’t it?

How much is the Subway franchise worth today as a direct result of the Jared story?

So the Jared story is literally worth billions of dollars.

Notice also that I am using stories to make my points to you in this seminar.

And I’ll bet you are listening to them.

I could just rattle off my seven points for how to create marketing messages that stick in people’s minds and call it a night.

That would take me about 30 seconds. But you would not remember them.

If I just rattled off my seven points, this would make no impression on you.

In fact, I already did that . . . but you have probably forgotten them (unless you are a great note taker) . . . because people do not remember abstractions.

People remember details – details that are in the context of stories.

That’s how the human mind works. The more startling and surprising the details, the more people remember them.

Don’t worry, I’ll give you my seven points again on how to create messages that stick in people’s minds at the end of this seminar.

You definitely do need to know these seven points – just like you need to know the moral of Aesop’s fable about the Tortois and the Hare.

So let’s get back to how to use the story to sell what we might think is a mundane product.

Remember, there are no boring subjects, just lazy boring writers – writers who just are not willing to put in the hard work needed to pull out they great story.

The great copywriters are just like the great investigative journalists.

The great advertising copywriters work hard – just like Woodward and Bernstein did to get the story of the Watergate break-in.

When you think about it, the Watergate break-in might seem pretty mundane

Some third-rate political operatives break into a hotel room to try to find and possibly steal some files that might reveal the campaign strategy of the Democrats.

This does not seem all that interesting on its face.

But the fact that it involved President Nixon’s campaign workers, that the break-in was organized by Nixon’s top people, and that Nixon himself tried to cover it up.

That made it interesting. It’s the details that mattered.

It took many months – years – for Woodward and Berstein to uncover pull out the details.

This is also how the great advertising copywriters work. They do a lot of research. They look for the fascinating story that can highlight and drive home the answer to the big “What’s in it for you?” question.

That after all is the #1 question you have to answer as a marketer “What’s in it for you?” – the reader or the listener.

The “what’s in it for you?” question is called the WIIFY question by marketers.

That’s the #1 question you must answer in your marketing and advertising.

What’s the big benefit, what’s the end result, what’s the big payoff to the buyer of what you are selling? And what makes your product different from the products of your competitors?

How do you craft what marketers call a Unique Selling Proposition that allows your product to stand out from your competitors in people’s minds?

Figuing out your Unique Selling Proposition is one of the most important elements of your marketing campaign – and then illustrating it with a powerful real-life story, like Subway did with the Jared story.

What’s Subway’s Unique Selling Proposition?

Well, it’s that you don’t have to eat unhealthy fast food. You can eat healthy fast food that still tastes good. If you want, you can even lose weight eating Subway’s sandwiches.

That’s what makes Subway different from McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and the other fast food chains. That’s Subway’s Unique Selling Proposition – or USP.

That’s the USP that caused Subway to really takeoff – especially when you combine it with the powerful and moving story of Jared.

Let’s look at some other mundane products.

Let’s take beer.

How do you build a good story around beer that will cause beer to sell.

Well, one of the greatest advertising copywriters of all time was a man by the name of Claude Hopkins.

Claude Hopkins is the inventor of direct response advertising and is really the father of modern advertising. His hey day as a copywriter was in the 1920, 30s and 40s.

If you have not read his book Scientific Advertising, you need to read it.

He wrote that book nearly a century ago, but everything he says in that book about how to write winning ads applies equally today.

The great advertising giant David Ogilvy was a disciple of Claude Hopkins.

David Ogilvy built the world’s most famous advertising agency, Ogilvy and Mather.

Ogilvy said of Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins that:

Nobody, at any level, should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times.”

Almost everything we know about what makes ads and sales letters work, we know from Claude Hopkins.

Hopkins invented modern direct mail, direct response ads, test marketing, order tracking, split testing and modern market research.

In 1923, Hopkins was earning the 2007 equivalent of $2,000,000 million dollars a year as an advertising copywriter for Lord and Thomas ad agency.

That’s how valuable Hopkins was to the companies for which he wrote his advertisements.

Hopkins earned this money because his ads generated enormous sales — were in fact responsible for building a number of America’s largest corporations that are still household names today.

If Hopkins were still alive, he would absolutely dominate Internet marketing.

Hopkins was hired by Schlitz beer to craft an ad campaign that would rescue the company.

Schlitz at the time was running about fifteenth in beer sales and was in deep trouble.

Hopkins made a trip to Wisconsin to visit the brewery.

He knew he needed to learn more about how beer was made to write effective ads.

Hopkins knew that it was impossible to sell without a thorough knowledge of the product being sold.

The executives at Schlitz showed Hopkins the entire brewing process, step by step.

They showed him how deep they had drilled their wells to find the purest water.

They showed him the glass-enclosed rooms that kept the water pure, the kind of yeast they used . . . and where they got it.

They showed Hopkins the place where the bottles were cleaned, re-cleaned, and sanitized a dozen times.

“My God,” Hopkins said, “Why don’t you tell people in your advertising about all these steps you are taking to brew your beer?”

But “All companies brew their beer about the same way” said the executives at Schlitz,

“Yes,” said Hopkins, “but the first one to tell the public about this process will gain a big advantage.”

Hopkins then launched his campaign for Schliz .

He wrote long ads that appeared in magazines and newspapers that described in detail the company’s step-by-step brewing process for making the beer.

Within six months, Schlitz jumped to the #1 selling beer.
“Who wants to hear a story about the step-by-step brewing process of making beer?” one might wonder.

Well, it turns out, those who love beer are fascinated by the subject.

They want to know exactly and precisely why they should pick this beer above all others.

This great copywriter Claude Hopkins, the father of modern advertising and the greatest copywriter of all time, understood this law of marketing.

He went on to turn the brewing process into an exciting story, full of detail—and of riveting interest to beer lovers.

And by the way, the beer companies today still follow this exact formula that Hopkins pioneered for selling beer. We hear about the Rocky Mountain spring water, the best hops and barely, and so on.

Today’s ads just continue to copy the Hopkins formula. Why? Because it works.

The point is, Hopkins used a story to sell beer – a story about how Schlitz brews its beer.

Yup, there is no such thing as a boring subject.

Any subject can be made interesting if you wrap a good story around it.

That’s why you need to be constantly talking to your customers to find the great stories about how your product or your service has maybe even changed a life.

Maybe you sell bolts. Maybe you think bolts are boring. But good bolts save lives, don’t they?

Find the story that shows why your customers should not be looking to buy the cheapest bolts – maybe the bolt that broke on a chairlift that sent skiers to their deaths.

That’s a story that will impress (and probably horrify) your customers if you are selling bolts.

You then go into all the painstaking steps you take to make sure you are making or selling only the very best bolts.

That’s a message that will stick in people’s minds.

Now let’s continue to drill deeper into this whole business of how to create marketing messages that your prospects and customers will never be able to get out of their minds.

Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were the masters of painting a big vision in people’s minds . . . and also putting specifics to that vision.

John F. Kennedy told America that we will put a man on the moon within 10 years.

Now, that’s a mission the average person can understand.

It’s specific. It’s concrete. The vision is also big, impressive and inspiring.

Now, what does NASA say its mission is today?

Well, I went over to NASA’s website and was greeted by this description of what NASA does. Quote:

“Here’s you opportunity to learn more about NASA as an agency, for our administration and leadership, to our mission and vision for the future, to business, research and career opportunities.”

With mission statements like that, no wonder the space program is in trouble.

Doesn’t sound quite as good as John F. Kennedy’s mission statement for NASA does it?

Or how about Reagan?

Reagan, of course, wanted to end communism.

But that’s an abstract goal. What does communism mean.

So he went to the Berlin Wall and said: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Now that’s specific; that’s concrete. That says exactly what ending communism would mean to hundreds of millions of people.

“Tear down this wall” so people can leave if they want.

Ending communism is abstract. Tearing down this wall is specific. No one can visualize ending communism. But everyone can visualize what tearing down a wall is.

And, of course, within a couple of years it happened.

That’s the power of the specific and the concrete.

That’s also the power of ­ simplicity.

For your message to stick in people’s minds, it must be super simple. Aesop’s fables only have one moral per fable – not many nuanced points.

John F. Kennedy’s “put a man on the moon in 10 years” is a specific and simple concept to understand.

Same with Reagan’s “tear down this wall” line.

It’s specific and simple. It’s a mission, it’s a goal, its a concept and picture that millions of people can rally around.

People don’t rally around abstractions. People are confused by abstractions. People attach different meanings, their own meaning to abstractions.

Freedom is an abstraction.

But what does freedom actually mean in our everyday life?

Well, one thing it means is tearing down this wall so people can leave or stay or do what they want to do – without being harassed by police and KGB.

One of the great political strategists of recent years is James Carville – who masterminded Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992.

Carville says: “If you say three things, you don’t say anything.”

Carville in 1992 wanted to boil down the Clinton campaign to one and only one message – one message that voters would remember.

This was tough . . . because Clinton loved to talk – he loved to talk about all kinds of things.

When Clinton got in front of reporters he would gladly talk about every issue. Plus there were the scandals and “bimbo eruptions” Carville had to deal with.

So one day Carville wrote this phrase on a white board for Bill Clinton and the senior staff.

The phrase was “It’s the economy stupid.”

Carville wrote this phrase in a moment of exasperation in an effort to get his undisciplined candidate to focus on the one core issue that was going to get him elected.

“It’s the economy stupid” Carville told Clinton.

Yeah, it was intended as a insult to Clinton – intended to get the attention of Clinton and the staff.

And it worked.

Carville was telling Clinton and the staff, “You are stupid if you focus on anything but the economy.”

The word “stupid” is what makes this phrase work.

It’s jarring. It’s attention getting by being insulting.

But Clinton took it well. He didn’t fire Carville for being insulting. He followed his advice. The phrase became the mantre of the campaign and Clinton won the Presidency.

Carville’s insult stuck in the mind of his candidate – in a way that certainly worked out for Clinton.

Carville’s great skill is creating simple messages, simple themes that stick in people’s minds.

Look what he did to Ken Starr – the prosecutor of Clinton over the Whitewater scandal.

Carville was able to turn Ken Starr into the “sex policeman.”

Instead of an investigation into fraud, perjury and obstruction of justice by an American President, Carville was able to portray it as a “sex investigation.”

Poor Ken Starr (who is a serious judge). He never stood a chance against Carville.

Carville understood the power of the simple message.

Now here’s something else that’s essential for getting your message to stick in people’s minds.

What is it that people most want to read about?

Well, I submit that people most want to read about themselves.

If someone where to hand me an 800-page book they had written titled “The Life Of Ben Hart” . . . you can be sure I would read every word of that book.

Your probably know who William F. Buckley is.

He’s the conservative write and political commentator – founder of National Review magazine.

Well, when a book Buckley had written would come off the presses and he’d send copies out to his friends  – as a joke, he would circle the name of the person he was sending the book to in the index and write “Hi!” And he’s include a smiley face.

He did that as a joke because he knows the first thing people do when they receive his book is to look their name up in the index to see what Buckley might be writing about them.

What most businesses do with their advertising is write ads that are about the company. The great copywriters understand how to write ads that are all about the reader.

Here’s another case study for you to consider that I think really makes this point.

When newspapers are judging their effectiveness, they look at a number they call “penetration.”

Penetration is the percentage of people in their trading area that is actually reading the newspaper.

The newspaper with the highest “penetration” number in America is in Dunn, North Carolina. The paper is called the Dunn Daily Record.

It has a penetration of 112%

Yup, more than the population –112% — because people from out of town buy the paper also.

What’s the reason for this paper’s success.

Well, the founder of the paper is a man named Hoover Adams.

Hoover’s phislophy is that the paper would be only about the town of Dunn, North Carolina – and about Dunn only.

It would not carry any national stories from the Associated Press like most local papers do. It would not write editorials or run any commentaries on national subjects.

All sports coverage would be about local teams. But most important of all, every article in the paper would be packed with the names of residents of Dunn, North Carolina.


Because people love to see their names in the paper, and the names of their neighbors.

When a new reporter would submit an article, Hoover’s most common criticism of the article is there are not enough names in here. You need to go out there and get more names of the people of Dunn in your article.

Hoover summed up his philosophy of how to run a successful local paper this way: “Names, names, names. It’s all about packing as many names of your readers in the articles as you possibly can.”

That’s how you get 112% of the population subscribing to and reading your newspaper – not by running AP’s national new stories.

In fact, I will read to you an excerpt from a memo Hoover wrote to his staff. He was frustrated by the failure of his writers to get enough names of Dunn residents into the paper. Here’s what Hoover wrote to his staff:

“All of us know that the main reason anybody reads a local newspaper is for local names and pictures. That’s the one thing we can do better than anyone else. And that’s the thing our readers can’t get anywhere else.”

Hoover Adams went on:

“The fact is a local newspaper can never get enough local names . . . I’ll be if The Daily Record reprinted the entire Dunn Phone directory tonight, half the people would sit down to check it to make sure their name was included.”

Hoover Adams understood that what people most want to read about is themselves.

He also understood the power of a simple mission and a simple philosophy.

Our paper will be about one and only one thing – the people who live in Dunn, North Carolina . . . which is why his paper has the highest penetration of any paper in America.

When you are writing your letters, your ads and your marketing messages, you need to be writing about your reader.

Even if your letter or your ad is being read by millions of people (so it’s not actually personalized with a name) you need to write you letter or your ad (not for millions of people) by with one particular customer in mind.

You must have a clear view of who your customer is and why he would want to buy what you are selling.

And you must appeal to the self-interest of your reader.

What do most people care about most?

Well, they are about themselves.

One of the great direct marketing copywriters of all-time was a man named John Caples.

If you have not read his books on how to write great marketing copy, you need to read them. Caples is another disciple of the great Claude Hopkins.

One of Caples’ most famous headlines was one that read:

They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play . . .

This headline was so successful at selling a mail order course for teaching people how to play piano, that this headline was ripped off for all kinds of other products sold by mail order. Headlines like:

My husband laughed when I ordered our carpets thought the mail, but when I saved 50% . . .

Caples said that first and foremost you must get self-interest into every headline you write – because what people most care about is themselves.

Yes, it’s a bit of synical view of human nature. But the proof of the truth of it is in the success of his ads.

Sure people care about many other things also. They care about their kids, their care about their country. They care about all kinds of things.

The main point here is that you need to be writing about what your reader is primarily interest in. And that gets into the entire subject of how to achieve that all important “message-to-market-match” that you hear me talk about so often . . .

. . . because it’s not just about the content of what you write . . . it’s also about context. Context meaning – who you are writing to. But that’s beyond the scope of this seminar.

This is about how to create the most powerful possible marketing messages that stick in people’s minds.

And a big part of that is making sure that you are not writing about you and your company. You need to be writing about what’s in it for your reader. All your sales letters and ads must answer the WIIFY question – “What’s in it for you?”

Don’t talk about all the great features of your product.

That’s always a big temptation of ad writers – to talk about how great they are, or how great their company is, or all the great features their product has.


People don’t by drills.

They by the holes that drills make so they can hang pictures of their children and loved ones on the wall – and rest assured that the pictures of their loves ones won’t fall off the wall and break.

Now here’s something else to keep in mind – and that’s how people understand what you are saying.

What the human mind wants to do is put information in categories.

Remember, what I said about how people read novels.

If you read the sentence “Jim returned home” your mind has a tendency to use your own home as your mental picture . . . because that’s the most familiar picture your mind has of a home — your own home.

You have no idea what the home in the novel you are reading looks like. So your mind just uses your own home as the movie of the story that’s playing in your head.

So when you are writing and creating your messages, you must use images that are familiar.

You never want your reader or listener to wonder what it is you are talking about.

Let’s say for example you are trying to describe an unusual fruit – a fruit that is not usually found at the Safeway — let’s say a “pomelo.”

How might you describe this usual fruit?

Well, you could say: “A pomelo is a large citrus fruit with a thick yellow rind. The fruit inside is pink and it has a tangy taste.”

That’s a perfectly accurate description . . . but do you really yet have any idea what this fruit is like?

Here’s a better description:

A pomelo is a lot like a super-sized grapefruit.”

Oh, you are probably thinking right now. Now you know exactly what it is . . . because you already know what a grapefruit is.

To create vivid pictures in people’s minds you have to tap into the database of pictures they already have in their minds.

That’s why analogies can be such a powerful way to communicate. That’s what great teachers do.

That’s what great communicators do. They tap into what their reader or audience already knows – and then build from that.

They use pictures that are already in the minds of their audience – which is why John F. Kennedy’s mission statement “We will put a man on the moon within 10 years” is so infinitely better than NASA’s mission statement

Or let’s take a corporate mission statement.

Let’s take Apple. What would be a good mission statement for Apple?

Now, I suppose one mission statement for Apple might be “to create shareholder value.”

Yes, that’s true. But that’s pretty uninspiring.

Fortunately Steve Jobs is one of the all-time great marketers. He knows how to focus on what an Apple product will do for his customer.

The headline on the ad for the launch of the iPod was “1,000 Songs in Your Pocket.”

Look at all the great elements of effective communication in that simple five-word headline.

There’s no technical jargon in there – nothing about gigabytes or anything like that – just the #1 benefit to the user. And that’s “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

It’s simple and specific. An 8-year old can understand this. And it’s all about the user, nothing about the company this headline.

It boils down the main benefit of iPod to the user. And it does it in just five words. “1,000 Songs in Your Pocket.”

Another headline I love is one on an ad that’s been running in the National Enquirer ever since I was a kid.

The headline reads: “Corns Gone in Five Days or Money Back.”

The main benefit and offer is contained in eight words.

And it’s super specific.

Your corns won’t be just gone, they’ll be “gone in five days . . . or money back.”

Really, what else do you need to know?

The text of the ad is actually quite long – with lots of back-up material, testimonials and so forth. But it’s the headline that makes it. The entire message (benefit and guarantee) contained in 8 words.

A headline like this is worth tens of millions of dollars.

Another hugely important principle of communication is to focus on the particular.

Mother Theresa used to say “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at just one, I will.”

To know the truth of this, ask yourself which of these two sentences pack a stronger wallop with you:

350,000 people die of cancer every year.

Or . . .

My eight-year old friend Billy died of cancer today.

My guess is you would be far more moved by the second sentence – which is just about eight-year-old Billy.

The 350,000 people dying every year is too abstract. We can’t get our minds around the figure 350,000 . . . and what that really means.

The number 350,000 does not create an emotional reaction.

But we cry over eight-year-old Billy.

We feel traumatized when we see the race horse Barbero break his leg at the Preakness.

Tears come to our eyes when Old Yeller dies.

But when someone says “Hitler killed 6,000,000 Jews” it does not produce the same physical reaction. However, if you go to the Holocaust Museum and see the stories of real people – of individuals – the horror becomes far more real.

If you watch Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful or Sophie’s Choice or the Pianist the horror of the Nazi genocidal enterprise hits in a much more powerful way than if you say Hitler killed 6,000,000 jews.

Statistics are abstract. What creates emotion and feeling are the stories of real people – like the Jared Subway story.

So let’s recap. Here again are the seven key points to take away from tonight.

1) Stories stick in people’s minds. The mind is genetically wired to pay attention to and remember a great story. The mind forgets abstractions. Abstractions make little impact on the brain.

2) Your point must be simple. If you can’t fit your main point on a bumper sticker, you are doomed. Your main point should be the main benefit to your reader. It should answer the “What’s in it for you?” question. Examples: “1,000 songs in your pocket” “corns gone in Five days or money back.” In Jared’s case “Lose weight by eating fast food.”

3) Emotion. You create emotion with the details of the story. Example: “My eight-year-old friend Billy died today” instead of “350,000 people die of cancer every year.” Or the story of Jared instead of a statistic about how much less fat a Subway meal has than a McDonalds meal.

4) Credible. The Jared story is credible because it’s about a real person. It can be checked out. He went on Oprah.

5) Details.  People remember the details – especially the unusual details. They remember the “pink” elephant.

6) Surprising.  For your message or story to stick in people’s minds it must have an unexpected twist – for example, Jared losing 250,000 pounds by eating fast food, or the religious leaders not helping the fellow who was dying on the side of the road in the Good Samaratan story.

7) About the reader.  Your story or message must have direct relevance to your reader, or audience. You must know who your buyer is. Your message must be about solving the problem or fulfilling the wish of your reader.

I hope all this helps you create more powerful, more profitable messages that really stick in the minds of your prospects and customers . . . because that really is such a big key to standing out from your crowd of competitors.

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