Yesterday’s post inspired some interesting comments…
It hasn’t been my most-read post — usually those are the ones with “copywriting” in the title, reflecting the make-up of my email list.
But in terms of engagement, it’s been pretty high so far.
And it’s polarizing.
For the most part, people have liked the message. That you can’t expect free money in life, and you can’t expect others to take care of you. That if you want to make a good income and build wealth, you have to focus on what you can do for others. There’s not a 1:1 correlation between the contributions you make and the money you get — different contribution is valued differently, not always for rational reasons — but in general higher contribution leads to higher income.
Others, not so much. In fact, one reader wrote, “This is the worst article I have read from you.” They went on to tell me that I was a fool for thinking people don’t understand money, and expect it for free. I’d obviously hit a hot button, and NOT in a good way.
First, I want to riff on yesterday’s topic a bit more, because I think this is an absolutely critical understanding.
But then, there’s a lesson in the polarization of this message, that I want to make sure you also get. Because when it comes to creating really effective, financially successful marketing, you MUST understand how starting fights with some readers and prospects can actually be a good thing.
More on the “free money” phenomenon, and how I know the vast majority of people today — especially Americans — don’t know squat about money…
By the time I graduated college, I realized that I’d barely began to understand money. Yes, I knew how to make it — I’d worked various jobs since I was 15.
But just about every dollar that came in went out nearly as quickly.
I was fortunate enough to understand that debt was bad and I didn’t want it. So except for the occasional small and very temporary loan from a bank line of credit, I rarely owed anyone anything. I just wasn’t gaining any ground financially.
I was fortunate around that time to meet one of my first money mentors. A self-made millionaire who’d done it the long, slow, boring route of making okay money but consistently saving and letting his money compound.
He told me that years ago, he’d gotten a small pamphlet from a bank, containing a story called The Richest Man in Babylon. It told the story of a man who started poor, but by following along under the mentorship from said “richest man,” had grown wealthy himself. It laid out simple principles such as saving more than you earn, making your money work for you, avoiding debt, and so on.
This guy let me borrow the pamphlet, and read it for myself. It’d been written during the roaring twenties, designed as a content marketing piece for banks to hand out to get new customers.
I did a little digging. Turns out it was one of many stories, that by 1926 were compiled into book form, under the same title. In fact, you can get the book on Amazon right here — it’s one of my most highly-recommended books for ANYBODY to read and contains more money principles than most folks will ever know.
What I realized in reading that book was that the public education system was royally screwing even its reasonably-successful graduates when it came to financial education.
I’d gotten a little better than a B average, and through years of math and civics and other classes, I’d definitely learned about Social Security but I knew nothing about how to grow my own wealth to take care of me in my old age. Through college, nothing changed about this — in fact, in specializing in psychology and English, I’d veered even further from understanding basic finances.
The vast majority of us enter adulthood with no formal or informal education on money…
This is why the average American, by age 67, only has $172,000 set aside. It’s why so many relationships are torn to shreds by finances, and money is thought to be a leading contributor in many divorces.
It’s why most folks can’t even talk about money comfortably.
It’s reflected on a societal scale, too. Debt is a HUGE problem in our country — and a problem that can only come about as a result of misunderstanding of money.
Our national debt is more than our GDP. What that means is that if you took all the money that changed hands in a year in the US, and used it to pay down the debt, you still wouldn’t be at zero by the end of the year. And that doesn’t count promises we’ve made to spend money tomorrow. Those promises are roughly 5X what we already owe.
Private debt is at almost the same level. Now, a lot of this is “acceptable” debt, like a mortgage (which I have — being open so as to not be a total hypocrite). But it’s debt nonetheless.
Debt does some pretty nasty things. For example, student loans. We’re dealing with an education cost crisis in our country. Prices of school are skyrocketing, which many people blame as the cause for students needing to go into ever-greater debt. And yet, if students didn’t have such easy access to credit, the colleges and universities would be forced to hold down prices, to match services delivered with a more immediate financial ability to pay for them. Easy credit begets increasing education costs, which forces easier credit, which begets increasing education costs… The only way to slow the growth of educational expenses is to make debt harder, not easier, to get.
The problem stems from separating the purchaser from the financial impact of the purchasing decision, and it most definitely has led to soaring costs in other industries, too.
Take insurance. Yes, it’s ideal that we all have affordable or even “free” access to health care (and education). I believe that this a good ideal to hold. But I’m also recognizing that it’s not so simple. Somebody is paying for it. It’s not free. Health insurance started as a way to cover catastrophic costs (that’s roughly what my plan is today). You were expected to pay for most doctor’s visits, and most other regular care. But if you had a big expense, insurance was designed to kick in to lessen the financial impact. Then, buyers started wanting more. They went from wanting insurance to cover the most expensive things, to wanting it to cover even regular care visits. This separates the end buyer from the financial impact of the purchasing decision, which gives prices a lot of room to grow. Yes, you still pay your premiums — which have skyrocketed as a result — but this separation from even everyday health purchasing decisions has only led to higher and higher prices being paid on your behalf by insurers.
I see this quest for having “free” what you’d otherwise have earn and pay for showing up elsewhere, too…
I’ve been a financial copywriter since 2010. I write to people about money. I study what works in writing to people about money.
Seeing how people respond to certain marketing messages gives me an unfiltered view of what people really think about money. In conversation, they may say all the right things. But when it comes down to them choosing to spend money, in private, their true motivations and understanding of money is revealed.
I don’t like this. I think it sucks. But here’s the unvarnished truth about what generates the most response when talking about money…
You will get more response to a well-executed message about getting free money, than almost any other financial topic.
In periods of total fear and turmoil, a fear-driven message will perform multiples higher. But outside of those brief windows, people are more driven to respond to a “free money” pitch than anything else.
A friend of mine just had a blockbuster control for one major publisher offering a Social Security “trick” that you could do in just 17 minutes, to get $15,978 in additional benefits each year. That SCREAMS “free money.”
Stansberry had huge success a while back with a promo that started, “Say These 5 ‘Magic’ Words To Your Local Bank Teller— And You Could Walk Away With A Handful Of Silver.” It went on to explain a loophole that basically allowed you to get a ton of nearly free silver coins from your bank.
I once worked with a copywriter who is barely known to the outside world, but is a legend in financial publishing. He actually wrote a promotion that brought in even more revenue than Stansberry’s “End of America,” but is largely ignored because it’s not promoted from inside the industry. He repeatedly emphasized to me that people want to believe that you have a magic system that essentially gives them free money — and the better you are at making them believe, the more response you’re going to get.
Over and over again — like it or not — this is what works.
Hell, most people KNOW on a logical level that they will never win the lottery. But the lure of free money is so great, that every time that jackpot gets to an exciting number, they pour their money into tickets that are more likely than not going to be worthless scraps of paper within a week.
Most people don’t know jack about money — or at least, never put what little they know into practice.
And so I’m going to keep writing essays like yesterday’s — knowing full-well that it will offend some, and even cause a few readers to unsubscribe. Which brings me to the last point I wanted to make…
Telling your prospects and readers that “you’re either with me or against me” can lead to a dramatic increase in profits…
This is the big takeaway from this issue.
Some writers whose name I won’t name (but who also write daily emails) like to stir the shit. A week doesn’t go by where they’re not courting controversy — and pointing you to the door if you don’t like it.
That’s not how I play.
For the most part, I’m happy to be a benevolent teacher, sharing my experience, knowledge, and stories with you. I don’t court controversy for controversy’s sake.
But like any good teacher, I will stand my ground when it matters.
You don’t have to like it — and if you don’t agree with me, you probably won’t. But for every person that moves away when I take a stand, another will come closer.
Donald Trump is an extreme example of this. So is Bernie Sanders. Both won in yesterday’s presidential primaries in New Hampshire.
People respond to taking a stand. They respond to polarizing messages.
I don’t think this approach is healthy as an everyday practice. But when it comes to matters that I believe can have a transformative effect on your life (and that have had that effect on mine), I will tell you flat-out what I believe.
Take it or leave it, but it’s what I think could be a breakthrough for you, so it’s what you’re going to get.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,