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March 29, 2016

Degrees of separation

In 2009 I spent a week in the Pacaya-Samiria rainforest reserve in Peru. The reserve is the second-largest protected reserve in the Amazon. I spent most of the week sitting in a tiny canoe with my guide, Roberto.


“Mira…” he would say, pointing. “Mira… monos.”

Four seconds later there would be a crash and a howl, and a troop of monkeys would swing by through the trees.

Roberto spent his entire life living and working in the jungle, so perhaps it was no surprise that he would spot things my untrained eye would miss.

I was reminded of this over the weekend watching Tribes, Predators & Me on the BBC. Cameraman Gordon Buchanan spent a week living with the Waorani tribal people in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Buchanan went on hunting expeditions with the tribe, ultimately catching (and releasing) a Green Anaconda.


The show finished by discussing the threat the Waorani people face from encroaching oil-fuelled deforestation.

“Tell the people about us,” said one tribesman. “Tell the people we will fight to protect our land.”

Linzi, who has been to Ecuador more recently than me, commented that they actually do. Oil workers have been attacked by tribal people. The Ecuadorian government, in Linzi’s words ‘doesn’t give a shit as long as they keep getting their oil money’.

What always strikes me whenever you encounter indigenous people is the knowledge and respect they have for the environment they live in. There is in effect zero degrees of separation. They hunt there. They live there. They survive because they understand their surroundings. If they make bad decisions they have to live with the negative consequences.

A texas-based oil company just has too many degrees of separation. The people at these companies who pay the Ecuadorian government to allow them to deforest the Amazon face no negative consequences as a result of this.

If you were an architect in Roman times and you built a bridge, the Roman authorities would make you and your family live under the bridge for a period time. The consequences of you doing a rushed job were very apparent. This removed the degree of separation because your family lived or died with the consequences of your work.

The ‘degrees of separation’ problem also affects the way we organise our marketing providers. There seems to be a popular idea now that you can run a micro-multinational business from your spare bedroom, and employ contractors around the world to implement different aspects of your marketing. You end up being the puppet master in the middle pulling all the strings.

I can tell you that being the puppet master isn’t always very fun. You spend your entire life being a project manager, trying to manage people who have no real interest in your business goals or the long term success of your business. Everything ends up suboptimal and disjointed.

I tell you all this from first-hand experience. I’ve done my fair share of work where I didn’t ultimately care about the success of the business I was working for as long as my invoice was paid.

I think there is a better way, but it involves taking more responsibility for your marketing results.

We’ll talk more about this later in the week.

March 23, 2016

Self awareness and better carrots

In 2009 I spent a month in Peru. For a tourist in Peru the most interesting places to visit are Cuzco and the Inca sacred valley.

The sacred valley is littered with spectacular Inca ruins built in seemingly impossible places. I took the photo below in August 2009. It is a small ruined building high above the town of Ollantaytambo.


The inside of the building looks like this.

Ollantaytambo 2

Until this weekend I thought this was simply an interesting ruin built in a strange and seemingly impossible place. Then last weekend I watched a BBC documentary by Dr Jago Cooper.

Dr Cooper explained how these buildings, known as ‘qolqas’, were in fact part of a vast network of storehouses. Excess food would be dried and stored here, helping to ward off drought. You can see from the second picture how the room would have been well ventilated.

The Inca conquered huge regions of the Andes in a short 150 year period. They did this by moving in to a new region with a spectacular army. Messengers would be sent to the leaders of the existing incumbents offering a choice.

It was explained to the leaders of the new region that the Inca would help them eliminate famine. They would be allowed to keep their religion, their way of life, and simply pay certain taxes to the Inca.

Or alternatively they could be destroyed and flayed alive.

Many people in the Andes seemed to have selected the first option.

War to the Inca was inefficient and a last resort. Why kill everyone when you can sell them a dream and employ them in building your empire?

The Inca empire expanded quickly because they knew how to sell the benefits of the empire to the people around them. They understood the landscape, and understood what the people around them wanted. They knew how to dangle the carrot before they waved the stick. The storehouses I saw were very much a part of that carrot.

The language of marketing is very much that of the stick. We talk about squeeze pages, campaigns and trip wires. I think instead we should be figuring out what our customers actually want and dangling better carrots.

I increasingly think that the primary marketing problem of 2016 isn’t that you need to know AdWords better, or Facebook better. The primary problem is self-awareness. Knowing what value you really bring to your customers and knowing how to communicate it to them.


March 22, 2016

Hidden objections

I normally go to a local running track once a week. I went last night for the first time in a month.

Woodbourne Road

I am possibly the best person in the world at making excuses not to go to the track.

Previous excuses have included:

  • I’m tired
  • It’s cold
  • It’s wet (because I might melt)
  • I don’t want to pay the £4.65 to use the track
  • It’s dark. (Seriously, they have floodlights)
  • I’m too busy. I don’t have time. (Generally untrue)
  • I’m injured. (Generally untrue)
  • It’s windy. (I might get blown away, like Dorothy)
  • I’m unfit. (Possibly the worst reason of all not to go)

Unless the weather is truly miserable I always enjoy it when I go. The battle seems to be getting out of the front door.

I have friends who run marathons. I do sort of understand the marathon thing. I admire the mental challenge that must go with it, and Sheffield is a nice place to train if you are a marathon runner.

The fundamental problem for me is that a marathon is 26 times too far.

Occasionally a marathon-running friend will join me for a track session. Nothing dissipates my flakey track excuses quite like having a friend come along. Especially a marathon-running friend.

I relate all this because your prospects also have a whole boatload of flakey excuses swimming around in their mind.

Half of them are bogus and made up, but they are always there. And because they are always there they are always real, even if you don’t agree with them.

I suspect we don’t spend enough time thinking about customer objections. We might think about the obvious ones – price and so on. But what about the less obvious ones?

What if it rains? What if it’s cold?

Can you pair up your customers into ‘accountability partners’ like I sometimes do at the track?


March 21, 2016

The ebb and flow of the story

We were down south last week for a funeral. The funeral was for my wife’s cousin. Tragically she committed suicide.

She was only 26.


As a writer one of the things I do for a living is try to get inside people’s heads. I’ve played the scenario through a number of times. I’ve tried to figure out what she must have been feeling.

Every time I think it through I come up short. I think suicide is one of the hardest deaths to process because ultimately we can never quite put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We are always left asking ourselves why.

We’ve been talking a lot in my copywriting work group about the ebb and flow of stories. The highs and lows. The ups and the downs.

We were talking with Lizzie’s mum Caz the day after the funeral. As you can imagine it hasn’t been the best time for her, but she said she had mixed feelings about the funeral.

One the one hand it was undoubtedly the saddest day of her life, but at the same time she enjoyed the day. She felt a degree of pride that over 100 people attended the funeral. She felt good about the memories that were shared.

The up that I have taken away from this has been gratefulness. I’ve been forced to think about things I take for granted. This includes friends and family. It also includes time on Earth, and the options I have in front of me.

In darker moments I sometimes worry that I haven’t really “made much” of myself, by conventional standards. I’m not rich. I don’t have the swanky ‘house and the car’, or any of that bollocks.

But I do have a plan. I also have sufficient control over my life to implement the plan according to my own rules.

Surely that isn’t something to take for granted?


February 9, 2016

Master Infusionsoft Decision Diamonds

Decision diamonds are possibly the most confusing aspect of the Infusionsoft campaign builder. This short two-part video series looks at how to use decision diamonds without losing your sanity.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Get Help With Decision Diamonds

If you need further help with Infusionsoft Decision Diamonds please contact us.


Stories For Business Use, #5

Have you ever been robbed, close up in person?

One September night in 2007 I was walking home about 11PM. The fastest route home passed a derelict university building under renovation.

As I walked two boys appeared at the top of the road. Both had hoods up. One was whistling.

“Excuse me pal! Excuse me!” I stopped and turned around. “Do you know where Broomhill is?”

They continued to walk up to me. As they got closer I could see that one was smoking a spliff. Both were about my height, perhaps taller. They positioned themselves either side of me.

“Yeah back up the road, left and right at the top,” I replied.

The taller one straightened up for a moment. “Just hand your phone over,” he says.

For a second we stood there watching each other. In those brief moments rational thought evaporates with a jolt of fear.

I turned and sprinted back up the road. Thirty metres. Twenty metres. I could hear the ‘thump thump thump’ of pounding footsteps behind me. I reached the junction with no space to turn. I ran blindly in to the road…

Today’s email is about suspense. Suspense is the next ingredient in our recipe for better stories.

Suspense is where you plant questions in your reader’s mind and withhold the outcome.

As a writer I find my written stories are better than my spoken stories. If I tell you a story in person I have a tendency to become self-conscious and hurry to the end of the story. Many people will do a similar thing with a written story, worrying the story is too long.

Suspense works on different levels. You can build suspense into the overall plan of a story, like my robbery story above. You can also build suspense into individual sentences. Sentences like ‘they positioned themselves either side of me‘ forces you to read the next sentence to see what they did next.

Withhold the outcome and people will generally read on.

Your challenge with marketing emails isn’t to write 300 word emails. Or 800 word emails. Or 1000 word emails. The length is less important than whether people want to continue reading, sentence after sentence.

If you re-read the ‘timeline’ article you’ll see I have factored suspense in to the timeline. You can do this up front when you are planning your story, or you can do it retrospectively to make an existing story more engaging.

Suspense doesn’t have to take up a lot of space. You just have to withhold the outcome, even for a sentence or two.

Your task for today is to take a story you have written and add in an element or two of suspense. Send it to me if you like and I’ll send you my thoughts.

I ran out into the road in front of a car. The car braked, blocking the path of my pursuers. The footsteps subsided and I escaped up a side road.

Don’t walk home late at night past building sites. And build suspense in to your stories.

January 7, 2016

Storing AdWords Keyword Information in Infusionsoft

Storing keyword information from Google AdWords in Infusionsoft allows you to determine which of your ad spend is profitable.

You cannot currently do this out of the box with native Infusionsoft functionality. This video shares the steps we take.

The ‘purl’ I mention towards the end of the video is:


If you need further help with this please contact us.

The Empathy Zone

Stories For Business Use, #4

Have you ever been to a party and struggled to make conversation with the other guests?

When I was a student I wasn’t too discriminate about who I made friends with. I would end up at house parties where everyone would be talking about Final Fantasy 12, or some other computer game. I would sneak off into a corner, or perhaps out the back door.

I am friends with Steve. I met Steve at university, when we did archery. We now play squash together, drink beer, watch rugby and both run our own business.

So, there is a reasonable amount of common ground.

Empathy zone

Now, sometimes I will hang out with Steve and Mike will be there. I like Mike, but we don’t have a whole lot in common, and therefore not a whole lot to talk about.

Empathy zone + Mike

The areas of overlap are called the empathy zone. Squash, beer, rugby and business all belong in the empathy zone I share with Steve.

If I wanted to grab Steve’s attention I wouldn’t tell a story about football. Steve is from Wales, so football is vastly subservient to rugby in his world. I would select one about rugby, beer, or some other common item.

The problem of course is that when you tell stories to promote your business you are talking to an entire audience, not a single person.

Still, the people in your audience will have a degree of shared experience, and maybe a shared perspective or outlook.

If you sell to marketers their shared perspective is that they probably hate selling face to face. I can tell you for a fact that every marketer has nightmares about selling over the phone.

If you sell to business owners their shared experience is the struggle of getting a viable business off the ground.

If you sell to home owners then perhaps they are worried about flooding, taxation, or some other topical item.

Your stories will be more effective when you write stories that overlap to some degree with your reader’s story.

The only way I have found to do this is to journal every day and add the stories to Evernote. Every journal entry I write gets tagged with a specific word.

Next time I need a story about ‘entrepreneurial struggle’ there is a good chance a relevant story will exist in my story bank. If there isn’t an exact match there will be a story there that I can bend to the message.

I was on John Fancher’s email list for a while. John is Perry Marshall’s copywriter, and ghost writes a number of his emails.

John is into rock music, and every message he sent would involve some sort of music reference.

Eventually it just wore a bit thin. I’m sure some people really engaged with his stories, but I didn’t relate to them very much.

The most important thing is to set aside time to actually speak to people in your target audience. You can only write stories that overlap with your reader’s stories if you speak to people regularly. Most marketers prefer to hide behind their keyboard and use fancy words or made-up stories.

When I am writing for a client the stories generally come from the client, not from me.

One final example – my primary audience is people who use Infusionsoft. That is the main group I market my services to.

I spend a lot of time on Infusionsoft forums. I’m not always very chatty, but I’ll chime in where I have something to say. When I see something interesting I’ll add the conversation into Evernote. Stories don’t always have to come from you.

Selecting awesome stories isn’t as important as most people think.

You can nearly always find drama in any story, even the mundane day to day ones. I actually tell a lot of mundane stories simply because people relate to them more than the unusual ones.

Still, you should be aware of empathy zone items when you select stories to tell.

I think there is a degree of confusion between ‘empathy’ and ‘sympathy’. Empathy is an ability to understand the feelings of others. Sympathy is an ability to express pity for the misfortune of others.

I am not a very sympathetic person, on the whole. I think sympathy is more hard-coded in to us through our background and upbringing.

Empathy is just a degree of curiosity about the people you are writing to. I think you can acquire empathy, if you want.

Introducing the timeline

Stories For Business Use, #3

I was telling you last time about my habit of writing outlines to exam answers at university.

I have not always employed the same diligence when writing marketing emails.

For many years I just used to wing it, and rely on natural ‘writing flair’.

I got reasonably good at winging it over the years. Given enough information I’ll normally produce a decent story at the first swing of the bat.

Yes, my stories were good. I knew instinctively what I was doing. But I hadn’t really identified the essential parts. And I certainly couldn’t teach what I was doing to someone else. I thought storytelling was too much of a ‘dark art’ to distill down to a process.

This all changed in December 2015, when I attended Sean D’Souza’s story telling workshop. Within ten minutes it became glaringly obvious that Sean did indeed have a process. Not only that, he was also able to teach it to the group.

The most important thing I took from Sean’s workshop was the importance of mapping your story on a timeline.

Do you remember the story I sent about my presentation at the marketing meeting? You can read the story again here. The outline for that story looked like this:

Timeline example

Every story has an ebb and a flow. Positive and negative things happen throughout the story, and the timeline is a visual way to see the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’.

Without the timeline, the danger is you won’t include enough ups and downs, making the story boring. Or you might end up with all ups or all downs, making it monotonous.

In this case I’ve started with a ‘C’, which means context. As we move through the timeline the first negative change in the story happens when I gave my website presentation.

After that there is a positive change where I talk about the website changes I had been making.

Every good story constricts and expands on different levels, and the timeline is a tool to visualise the flow of the story.

As a contrast, consider any typical television advert. Most television commercials are dull because they only contain super-smiley positive things. The timeline would contain only ‘ups’, making the story desperately boring.

The S stands for suspense. ‘I could hear the knives being sharpened’ adds suspense because we can feel that something is about to happen.

I finish the story with two ‘downs’, Owen telling me the website wasn’t ‘zassy’ enough, and Colin’s interjection.

The one idea I wanted to communicate was ‘meaningful information’, and this forms the bridge between the story and the content. The last line of the story talks about ‘meaningful information’, as does the first line of the content.

The timeline should be drawn before you attempt to draft your story. The timeline acts as a blueprint or framework for your writing. The timeline will save you from waffling and keep you on track.

Avoiding waffle

Write Stories That Sell, #2

Do you remember taking exams? I do. The memory is perhaps a little too raw.

All the insecure students would mill about beforehand, testing each other. We were then herded into a cold gymnasium, where row after row of desks were spaced three feet apart.

A bald, serious-looking examiner would explain the rules. Awkwardly, everyone would watch the minute hand of the clock rise agonisingly to the top of the hour.

“The time is now 9.02, and you may begin…” announced the examiner.

As soon as those words were uttered a frenzy of paper turning and scribbling would begin. Everyone would turn over the paper, glance at the question, and write like mad.

Everyone that is, except for me.

I would spend the first seven minutes of an examination reading the questions and drafting an outline.

The outline was essential to keep me on track, and stop me waffling. Students tend to fill their brains with so much information before an exam that it tends to all fall out onto the page in waffle.

When you write emails to promote your business – especially story based emails, there is a great temptation to waffle. You have all this information in your head about your products and services. You have various stories you might use.

The problem is, how do you stay on track and avoid waffling?

The answer is to work to a structure.

The structure I work to is one called the ‘open sandwich structure’.

Open sandwich

When you read an email that follows the open sandwich structure it is like biting down into an open sandwich. We first encounter the filling, which is the story. An open sandwich can contain all kinds of fillings, just like your email can contain all kinds of stories.

At some point we stop telling our story, and start delivering our content. Your content is the information you want to deliver about your products and services. Most marketing emails skip the story part of the sandwich, and focus exclusively on information.

If you never include any stories in your emails, you are in effect asking your readers to eat dry bread. They may eat dry bread once or twice, but not over a significant time frame.

If you need to nurture a relationship with a potential customers over months and years, rather than hours and days, you need to be using stories.

At the point in the sandwich where the story meets the content, we have something called the ‘one idea’. The ‘one idea’ is a single word or phrase that encapsulates your story, and is like the margarine that holds everything together.

Without a cohesive ‘one idea’ there is a strong possibility that your story will not relate in any way to your content, and feel desperately random.

The one idea behind today’s email was ‘waffle’. If you look carefully at the end of the story (ends ‘onto the page in waffle’) and the start of the information (starts ‘when you write’) both sentences deliberately contain the word waffle. Waffle is the link between the story and the information.

If I had wanted the one idea to be planning I would have simply rewritten the last line of the story, making the last word ‘planning’ instead of ‘waffle’. Your reader will view your story as being about whatever you finish on.

The power of the one idea is it allows you to apply a single story to a wider range of purposes. The story and content don’t have to be directly related.

I select most of my stories because I like the story, not because the story matches my content. In this email I made the story about waffle by setting ‘waffle’ as my one idea.

Most story telling – especially within business use – is poor because the writer has not chosen a single idea for the story to be about. This one idea needs to link in to the information you want to communicate, which will normally come after the story.

The formula is:

1. Open with your story
2. End your story on your ‘one idea’
3. Begin your content on your ‘one idea’
4. Finish on your content, including a call to action if appropriate

If you tell stories without identifying a one idea you will waffle.