Add Personality to Your Sales Copy

The Marketing Rebel Rant, Volume 1, Issue #1

Are you having fun today?

If not, here’s something I’d like you to try: Put this newsletter down, and go do something fun for five minutes. I don’t care what it is. Pull a joke book off the shelf, call a buddy who always lifts your spirits, go play with the dog. At the very least, sit back, close your eyes, and remember a funny scene from a movie. (Say, the campfire scene in “Blazing Saddles”, or John Belushi doing his sorority voyeur thing in “Animal House”.)

Better yet… run that memory clip in your head of when you were young, full of piss and vinegar, and doing something absolutely stupid and hilarious and having the time of your life. Remember that? When life was fun?

Go do it. I mean it. Five minutes. You got nothing to lose. I’ll still be here.

You back? You in a better mood? Good.

Here’s my first lesson for you: If you had trouble coming up with a five-minute fun activity, or had to stretch to find that happy memory… then your life is on the fritz. One the very first things you gotta get straight in your head is: Why are you in business? Why do you want to make a ton of money?

The great marketer Joe Sugarman has a little formula for judging any project he gets involved in. He calls it “ELF”. That stands for Easy, Fun, and Lucrative. What good is a fortune if you have to sacrifice your life to attain it?

It’s often a shock when you understand a simple truth about American capitalism: Making big bucks not only does not require that you give up having fun… but… the real winners are guys who work a fraction of the time their peers do. And still rake it in. And have plenty of time for a life.

Great marketing means working smart, not working hard. Savvy marketers love shortcuts that work, love to delegate, love peeling away the horseshit that surrounds most projects (like endless meetings and focus groups and reports ad nauseam)… and they love life. Very few of the millionaires I know are having fun. It’s a cruel joke that money will not bring you happiness.

You first have to know what will make you happy. That takes some research. You do that research by actually living. Once you discover what makes you happy — and most folks never do — then you go for it like a bulldog after a cat. If creating massive wealth helps you get to that happiness, then you know why you’re in business.

So… the next time you pick up one of my newsletters… I want you to have a happy memory to indulge in for five minutes before you start reading. Cherish that memory. And get your ass in gear creating more of them.
Okay. Now let’s get going on creating the cash-flow part of your dreams…

Salesmanship 101

Your number one weapon in advertising will always be superior salesmanship. I was not a born salesman. I had to learn the hard way, making embarrassing mistakes, blowing deals right and left… and going to outrageous extremes to find world-class salesmen who would teach me their tricks.

I’ll be sharing those tricks in each issue. Here, however, is an honest biggie: A proven “multiplier” of sales to use in your ads is…

A good sales job will bring you orders. Add some real personality to your sales message… and sales will go through the roof.

I recently wrote a short cover letter for a client who was mailing an ad to his inactive list. I insisted that the client personalize each letter with the prospect’s name. Here is how the letter starts out to, say, Bob Jones:

Dear Bob,
	Just now, I was sitting at my desk 
going through some stuff, and had a sudden 
thought.  So I called out to my long-
suffering secretary...
“Hey Barb!  What the heck happened
to Bob Jones?”
	As far as we know, Bob, you’re still 
alive and kicking.  But we haven’t heard 
from you...

Now, let’s dwell on this opening for a second. Most advertisers — if they had the sense to mail a cover letter at all — would have adopted a holier-than-thou tone that read like the warning label on a bottle of medicine:

Dear Mr. Smith,

It has come to our attention that your account has become inactive blah blah blah…

Yeah, I wonder why.

Now go back to what I did. Created a scene, complete with some drama and script and — most important — excellent use of the guy’s name. It’s lighthearted, yet still brutally-effective salesmanship. It also doesn’t go on and on. Just a brief, personalized little dash of slang-driven personality. The kind of copy people love to read.
This client took the leash off me years ago, and I have created a personality in his letters that keeps readership at astonishingly high levels. He’s a funny guy anyway, but he’s not a writer, and has never attempted to translate his own personality to the printed page. So he pays me a fortune to do it for him.

When people on his list get a letter from him, the response is not “Oh, yuck, another sales pitch”, but…

“Hey! Let’s see what outrageous story
he’s got to tell me today.”
Personality works. It will multiply your sales.

Here’s the problem, however: Many people I try to coach insist they have no personality. It’s mostly a symptom of low self-esteem (the most common ailment in society) — of course you have a personality. Everyone does, even if you’re boring as dirt.

And here’s the kicker: When you’re writing copy, you can be whoever you choose to be. You’re in control of the words. It’s your game.

Now, I do not recommend you try to write over your head. The most common blunder new writers commit when they discover the power of personality is to get too aggressive. They end up offending the reader, instead of engaging her.

It took me years to figure this phenomenon out.

Here’s the answer: You need a “Starter Personality” at first. The more you write, the more comfortable you’ll get with using personality. You’ll begin to see that people really can like a guy like you, even if your hobby is collecting bottle caps and you haven’t changed your wardrobe or hairstyle since the late ‘70s.

Think about the advertising you see around you, year after year, that features some nutcase or big doughy-faced guy. The best example was the late Dave Thomas of Wendy’s hamburger joints. The ad agency constantly tried to edge him out of the campaigns, and each time they did the ads tanked. Sales spiked when Dave was put back in. Homely guy, monotone delivery, but very much like your favorite uncle. People identified with him, trusted him, and happily ate hamburgers he endorsed.

You don’t have to be Sean Connery. You can be Elmer Fudd. But you gotta know how to use what you have.

To create your own “Starter Personality”, simply pay attention to the things that make you human. Are you a plain-talkin’ guy from humble beginnings who made it rich? Has your lack of good looks forced you to find other ways to win at life? Have you made every mistake there is to be made, and accidentally stumbled on success?
Use that. Get a laugh out of your failures, and shyly admit your success. Share your reader’s skepticism at all things in advertising. Never brag. Never argue.

And for God’s sake… never bore your reader.

My accountant is a funny, caring man who knows a lot about accounting. Yet he sends out a dry, pre-packaged newsletter to his clients that puts people to sleep. It’s like he’s apologizing for bothering you with stuff about your money.

Yet, every time I talk to him, he regales me with stories that have a definite financial point. He once worked for an IRS “goon squad”. He has clients who forget to tell him about massive write-offs that would slash their taxes. He’s on top of the constantly-changing tax laws, and how to use the loop-holes.

A real letter from him (or even a cassette tape) on a hot subject each month would get devoured by his clients. Who would then pass it on to friends and colleagues. Who would then line up to hire this savvy, interesting, tax-slashing accountant. But no. He hides his personality behind stilted brochure-type newsletters full of cutesy graphics and tame mumbling.

It is sheer lunacy to write bland copy in order to avoid offending some imagined part of your audience. It is brilliant marketing to risk pissing off a few people to get your message across to those who want what you sell. Stop worrying about pleasing people who are not in your target audience. And start obsessing about pleasing the people you’re asking to send you money.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from an old grizzled salesman who’d seen it all. “Just sell the damn thing,” he’d say. “Stop trying to be fancy.”

That advice works in copy. Do not apologize that you’re selling something. Do not try to appear to be a big honking company if you’re a small start-up. Don’t try to blow smoke at all.

Pretend you’re writing to a colleague — pick someone you’re acquainted with, and write her a letter. Don’t be overly familiar, don’t be off-color, don’t mumble, don’t use any “corporate speak”. Just tell her why you’re writing, what you have, and make your pitch. One human being to another. Let your personality shine through.
That’s how great salesmen do it.

John is a nationally known copywriter who has worked with Jay Araham, Gary halbert, and other marketing greats. Reprinted with permission from Marketing Rebel Rant, Volume 1, Issue #1. The first several issues of this paid-subscription newsletter are available for free at John’s main site is