Marketing Trumps All

These are the most powerful marketing lessons I’ve learned.

Be warned: This is lightning in a bottle. These lessons can earn you millions of dollars, and even win you the presidency.

(1) AGGRAVATE THE PROBLEM.

In order to sell you something, I have to convince you first that you are facing a very serious problem. I will tell you all about the pain you’ve been experiencing, in incredible detail. It will feel like I’m a mind-reader. You’re riveted, you’re nodding your head, and thinking “Finally! Someone knows all about this thing that I haven’t been able to solve on my own.”

This is why every drug commercial starts with a line like “Do you ever wake up feeling tired in the mornings?” You snap your head up and pay attention to this faceless voice, because How did they know that?? And what will they say next??

The more accurately I describe your problem in “your language,” laying all of your secret thoughts out on the table, the more credibility I have in your eyes. I’ve earned 90% of your trust in the first 60 seconds, and you don’t even know me.

Then I really hook you…

I tell you that your problem is about to get much worse. I tell you that it’s extremely urgent, and if you don’t address this right now, your life will become a living hell. You might even die.

Are you going to just let that happen? Of course not. I mean, you had a feeling there was a problem, but now there’s urgency. Now I’ve got you scared.

(2) PROMISE A TRANSFORMATION.

I tell you that I’m going to take away the pain. I can solve your problem, so don’t worry… I mean, really — Don’t worry about how I’m going to do it. Just imagine what it’s going to feel like.

Depending on where you are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I will promise you more of the thing that you want most.

You don’t feel safe? I will promise you safety. I will promise you job security so you can pay the bills. I will promise you more of the resources you lack. And I promise that your family will have all of those things, too.

You don’t have love? I will promise you friendship. I will promise you more dates. I will promise you sex.

You don’t have self-esteem? I will promise you confidence. I will promise you respect.

You’re not living up to your highest potential? I will promise that you will become your best self. I will promise enlightenment.

Do what I say, and you’ll get what you want.

Pay me.

Here’s the crazy thing…

It’s not about the product; it’s about the future of the person I’m selling it to.

Because I’m not talking about the solution. I’m talking about YOU. I’m talking about how you’re going to get all the things you’ve secretly wanted, the things you haven’t been able to get on your own.

This is why millions of people have believed in the power of SlimFast, Hydroxycut, Subway, and countless products promising rapid fat loss. It’s because of the “Before / After” shot.

You’re the Before. I’m promising you After.

I want to make you love the future so much that you are disgusted with the present. I will promise you tomorrow so I can steal your today. And if you’re desperate enough, it doesn’t matter that my solution has holes. Your imagination will fill in the gaps.

(3) BE VULNERABLE. BE SHAME-PROOF.

Before you make a decision to buy, you need to fully trust me. You need to know that I’m real, that I’m not pulling a fast one. You need to believe that I’m just like you, that I’m your friend. So, let me tell you something personal. Let me show you the chinks in my armor.

We don’t like it when people have perfect lives. That’s why every superhero has flaws. Spiderman is a nerd. Batman is an orphan. We want authentic. There needs to be something that feels rough around the edges. Some non-fatal flaw that makes you think of me as a reluctant hero, or a beloved screwup.

But… and this is key… no shame. I have to own my flaws. Because if I feel bad about who I am, you’ll stop believing in me.

(4) MAKE THEM YOUR MARKETERS.

There’s a great book called Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear. And what people hear is simple words, and short sentences. Everything else goes in one ear and out the other. So, I will make my words easy to understand. So easy you can distill them into a soundbite.

I know that you need consistency. You need a clear message that you can latch onto, that you can continually return to. So that’s what I’ll give you. In fact, I will give you the exact script that you will confidently parrot to friends and families to explain your stance on this problem, and why you believe in the solution you purchased. You will use my words, and you’ll believe that they’re yours. I’ve successfully turned you into my advertisement.

Now I’ll add fuel to the fire…

The most powerful message I can equip you with is “Us versus Them.” If I can make you believe there is an enemy who caused your problem… and that this same enemy wants to take away the solution I’ve just sold you… then you’ve become my soldier. You are now in fight mode. You’re ready to go to battle.

And if I’m really ruthless, I will try to get you as angry as possible. Because I know that the messages that are most likely to go “viral” are those rooted in rage. The angrier you get, the more intensely you’ll fight, and the farther you’ll spread my message. I hope that you’ll get so angry that you can’t shut up.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not about what you want. It’s about getting what I want.

. . .

I was hesitant to go into marketing after I graduated from college. You know why? Because of a Bill Hicks’ standup routine.

Hicks said, “There’s no rationalization for what marketers do. You are Satan’s little helpers.”

There is quite a bit of truth to that. But there is also truth in Uncle Ben’s final words to Spiderman:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Sign up and get Charlie’s latest books — free.

Fill in your email below to instantly get my best work. You’ll learn how I landed my dream job with Tim Ferriss, and how I overcame burnout and anxiety in one month.

Charlie Hoehn is the author of Play It Away, Play for a Living and Recession Proof Graduate. His work has been featured on NPR's TED Radio Hour, Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review. Previously, he was the Director of Special Projects for Tim Ferriss. Currently, he is the Head of Author Marketing at Book In A Box. He lives in Austin, Texas.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Chris Schelzi

    I love this, super powerful.

    “I want to make you love the future so much that you are disgusted with the present… it doesn’t matter that my solution has holes. Your imagination will fill in the gaps.” = Awesome.

  2. Paul Latta

    Charlie,
    Brilliant! A concise course in copy writing and a commentary on the political process. Well done, sir.

Leave a comment