Being a genius is hard…
Ha! That sounds so arrogant.
But spare me the judgment for a minute, while I make my point.
I got a message earlier today, from a reader. He called me “dope.” He said he’d bought my Copywriters Guide to Getting Paid book, and it’d been a help on his copywriting journey.
I regularly get fan mail, praising my perspective on the industry and skill of marketing.
And it’s great for an ego-boost, but…
What I see from the inside seldom matches the shiny exterior.
I see my failure.
I see my challenges.
I see my struggles.
I see my shortcomings.
And that’s often what I see MOST. While I try to keep these daily issues positive, productive, and helpful (and have been chided when I haven’t), there’s a lot more failure under the surface than you might know.
Most genius is built on failure…
Let’s play the quotes game…
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
— Winston Churchill
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
— Henry Ford
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.”
— Oprah Winfrey
“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
— Bill Gates
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
— Johnny Cash
“You have to be able to accept failure to get better.”
— LeBron James
“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”
— Brene Brown
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
— J. K. Rowling
“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again you are going to be a champion someday.”
— Wilma Rudolph
“Your attitude towards failure determines your altitude after failure.”
— John C. Maxwell
I could continue…
Nearly every so-called genius has lived a life of failure…
And a good marketer is no different.
In my career, I’ve aimed to make as many mistakes and face as many failures as possible.
Every misstep is a learning opportunity.
Every attempt at doing something great that falls short teaches me something.
And while I get credit for being a genius because I’ve shared a lot of hard-won lessons, the reality is that my knowledge and experience is based as much in failure as in any success.
But let’s keep it real…
If I peppered these daily essays only with examples of my failure, you’d have stopped reading long ago!
The deep, dark secret of every wannabe is that they want success but are unwilling to endure the many failures they must get through on the path.
The deep, dark secret of every marketing genius (and every genius from any other field) is that their past is littered with failures-upon-failures, and they feel like an impostor when they revel in their success.
The dark secrets actually enlighten the path…
Let’s say for a minute that you wish to become a marketing genius.
You could do a lot of things. In fact, yesterday I wrote about many of the actions you can take to learn direct response copywriting as quickly as possible.
But beyond all those tactical elements, there is one really important attitude you must embrace.
You must embrace failure.
Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to try bold things that could be a home-run or a strike-out (which means you’ve gotta be willing to strike out).
And importantly, learn how to do that in a way that involves calculated, limited risks.
This is the principle laid out in Scientific Advertising, almost a century ago.
Conduct controlled tests to determine the effectiveness of an advertising campaign. Test advertisements against each other to figure out what works best.
It’s a very simple skill on a tactical, technical basis, made simpler by today’s technology.
But the real power in testing comes when you understand the principles and strategies behind effective testing.
Learn how to fail spectacularly in your marketing, and you’ll also learn how to succeed spectacularly.
I know this sounds counterintuitive. So I’ll give you an example before I wrap up.
One of my more moderate failures…
A few years ago I was hired by InvestorPlace to write a direct mail promotion for Richard C. Young’s financial newsletter.
Young is now retired, but he had quite a storied history in the industry. Gary Bencivenga wrote for his newsletter at one point. As have many other top copywriters. The late Richard Stanton-Jones still held the control, about three years after his passing.
They’d managed to keep the control alive for this time — in spite of a moving market — by simply updating small details here and there.
But they wanted me to beat it by starting at zero.
So I did. But I’d forgotten a lesson I’d learned about testing a few years prior.
This was one of my few promotions written exclusively and primarily for direct mail. So I wanted to get it right. I asked them to send samples of the control — a magalog.
And I basically copied it. Not the copy itself. And not my lead. But in terms of general structure and the content covered, I ended up trying to duplicate the control to the best of my ability.
Can you guess what happened?
I duplicated the control’s results to the best of my ability as well, only a few percentage points lower on most lists.
This was a moderate failure. I could’ve done worse.
But in the world of testing, there’s one principle that reigns: if you want dramatically different results, you need to test dramatically different things.
By essentially copying what I was going up against, I ensured myself nearly identical results. And because I was being derivative, my results actually fell slightly short.
The client was satisfied enough though that they brought me back. So instead of playing it safe, I tried something quite a bit different — even changing format. And surprise, surprise — it worked! I got a significantly different — and better — result, and the new control.
This is how genius works.
This is the root of “genius” in marketing or in any field.
Try a lot of things. Learn what doesn’t work, and what does. Try not to repeat what doesn’t work. Try to repeat what does.
Over time, do more and more things that work, and fewer and fewer that don’t.
And in marketing, you do this through getting good at testing. Not the technical skill. But the principles and strategies that go into effective marketing testing.
This has the immediate effect of giving you better results in your current marketing campaigns. Plus, in the long term, it may turn you into a marketing genius.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,