I thought these spam emails went out of style in the early 2000’s.  Perhaps they’re making a comeback? Most spam filters weed out 99% of emails like this. This one made it through.

It’s a simple email. Inside are instructions to retrieve my 3.5 million dollars.  I had the good sense to pass up the opportunity.

Sorry, Mr. Bernald. I shan’t be contacting you.

I know what you’re thinking. Bad grammar and an absurd claim. Why would anyone fall for this?

Scammer History Lesson

You may already be familiar with the famous story of Count Lustig who tried sold the Eiffel Tower to scrap metal dealers (twice). If not, here are the cliff notes:

Lustig portrayed himself as a government agent. His job was to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal. The decision to sell the tower had already been made, but not yet made public. He invited the top five dealers to submit bids. A week later the winning bid was selected. Lustig walked off with a one million dollar down payment. The sucker realized he fell for a con a week later. He was so embarrassed to have fallen for such a scam, he did nothing. Lustig later repeated the scam on another victum.

There are differences between the simple email scams of today and the grand heist of Lustig. Lustig went to great lengths to make these sophisticated businessmen feel like it was a legitimate transaction. Modern scam emails appear amateur by comparison.

There are two similarities worth mentioning. In both cases, victims are embarrassed when they realize they’ve been conned. This prevents many from going to the police. The thief takes enough money to sting but not enough for the victim to seek revenge.

The other similarity is the boldness of the lie. In the email scam, a promise of $50 might seem more believable. But then these scammers would be inundated with requests. By claiming $3,500,000 they assure themselves of only getting a few responses. Lustig’s claim was so ludicrous, you would never expect someone to make it up.

Lessons From Scammers

What’s the takeaway from scammers? Are there any lessons we can use for legitimate purposes? There are two takeaways.

The Bold Beat The Timid

I’m not suggesting the outlandish claims that scammers perpetrate. Boldness takes many forms. The benefits can be bold. In some cases you simply cannot promise bold benefits due to the nature of your product. You can offer a bold guarantee. Lifetime money back guarantees are bold. If you sell a support heavy business you can make bold promises about that. Get creative about what you can do with your offer and make a bold promise.

Niche Down

Scammers don’t try and scam the entire world. Lustig wanted just one sucker – a rich scrap metal dealer. The email scammers want only a handful of respondents. As an entrepreneur on a budget, I know I can win by focusing on a small slice of a large pie. I can create a more laser-focused message that appeals to their individual wants.

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I had an idea for a story today. The second I heard about this I knew I’d write about it. I was going to expose the social media giants for illicit spying. But first I needed proof.

Here’s the backstory.

A few days ago my wife went to Whole Foods. She wanted to try out Macca tea. She heard the hype about it. Maybe it’s time to give it a shot. She picked up the package of Macca tea. She mulled buying but decided against it. That’s where the story should have ended.

Later that day, advertisements for Macca tea flooded her Facebook feed.

“Did you do a search on it? They’re just retargting you.” I said

“No. I never searched it. I only picked up the package and then these ads appeared.”

Wow. Has the hardware and software advanced to the point where it could read the packaging and then target ads? There’s only one way to find out. I would try and reproduce it myself.

Off I went to Whole Foods yesterday to conduct my own experiment. I picked up the package of Macca Green Tea. I waved it around my phone. Just to be sure, I rubbed it against my phone.

“Can I help you with something?” An employee asked

“No thanks. I’m okay,” I said

I decided that would be enough. One more odd move and they might have thrown me out of the store.

… And The Results

I checked my Facebook feed several times since my test. Not a single ad for Macca anywhere. In one sense, I’m happy. Had the test produced the expected results it would be disconcerting. On the other hand, it would have made for a really great story.

The Power Of Hype

This story had a sensationalized flair to it as it played out. We were so certain that our phones could read packing labels without our knowledge and then use that data against us. The emotion, passion and boldness sucked me into believing it was true. I was sure my own experiment would duplicate the results. Granted, that feature may not be far off. Today, however, it is not the case.

That’s the power of hype. Boldness plus emotion plus repetition yields believability. When my own experiment failed, it came crashing down like a house of cards.

How Far Can You Take It?

Hype is prevalent in much of today’s business world. You’re always shining the best light on your business. The tendency is to stretch the benefits to the edge of truth. Taken too far, any hyped up story falls apart when you fail to meet expectations.

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Creating The Marketing Afterglow

I never expected this. My mouth began to salivate with excessive frequency. A constant urge to spit overwhelmed me. I rushed over to the nearest bathroom. I stood there and spat out about once every thirty seconds. After five minutes, the urge subsided.

“I will never do that again!” I said to myself.

This was not some odd medical issue. Nor was it a drug side effect. I tried a new mouthwash. I don’t know what they put in this new and improved mouthwash. Whatever it was, it didn’t sit well with me.

Once upon a time, you took a swig of mouthwash. It burned like hell and you spit it out. That burning sensation made you feel like it did its job. I guess the new mouthwash formula does the same by stimulating the salivary glands. If that’s the purpose of it, they may want to dial it back a notch.

A lot of products create similar after effects. Businesses know these after effects make us feel like the product is working. Some common examples:

–        The tingle you get from toothpaste

–        Lemon scented cleaners

–        Progress bars on software

When we see these demonstrations, we feel the product is doing its job. The lemon scent doesn’t actually clean. The progress bar isn’t really proof that it’s working. How many times have you seen it stuck on 99% for an eternity?

On some level we know this. Still, it gives us a sense of comfort and satisfies our desire for proof.

Creating Your After Effect

Did you know your writing can accomplish the same effect? It’s true, you can create your own after effect just like mouthwash, progress bars and lemon scented dish detergent.

In writing, whether it’s business, personal or otherwise you have one key weapon at your disposal.


How your audience feels after reading your piece is the after effect.

You can create this effect in your own marketing efforts. I’ve come across several strategies that work. One technique remains my go-to strategy most of the time.

It’s a simple three step process.

Step 1 – Create Hope

Let’s assume your audience suffers from a problem that you solve. You offer him hope that his problem is no longer a mystery. It’s explainable. And you know how to solve it. Hope is a powerful tool that stirs emotion and holds the attention of your audience. Be bold when you say you will solve his problem. Timid assurances do not inspire hope.

Step 2 – Give Certainty

Human beings crave certainty. We feel certain in our beliefs. We’re drawn to leaders who exude certainty in their actions and statements. Insurance companies make a living on our craving for certainty. Compare these two statements. Which one gives you more confidence?

“Follow these steps, exactly as outlined, and you’ll land your dream job in three months.”

“Follow these steps exactly as outlined. With a bit of luck, you’ll land your dream job in the near future.” 

Step 3 – Desire

You’ve created hope. You’ve given certainty. The stage is set. Now, you fuel desire. The stronger the desire, the more likely your prospect overcomes inertia and takes action. The best way to fuel desire is by focusing on the benefits. The best method of presenting benefits is bullets.

If you haven’t downloaded my free bullet guide, you can find it here.


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For the first time ever, my wife and I took a fitness class together. We had never taken one before. I usually prefer to go it alone. Somehow, I managed to embarrass myself. A few minutes after the class started, a NJ symphony summer camp joined us. About fifteen teenagers plus three adults readied for the H.I.I.T class. Just as the music started I stepped back and knocked over my (uncovered) water bottle.

Water spilled all over the floor. It seemed like the water reproduced and created more water. I ran over to the paper towel dispenser. Of course, it was empty. The one outside the room was full. I grabbed a bunch and ran back to the spill. I felt everyone’s eyes on me as the music blasted. It almost felt like everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at me.

After the class, I mentioned that one of the kids distracted. That distraction caused the spilled water incident. The truth is it was my own clumsiness and lack of gym experience.

My knee-jerk reaction was to avoid responsibility. I blamed someone else.

The Persuasion Technique As Old As Civilization

Blaming others for our mistakes is as old as humans.

The use of scapegoats is as old as civilazation itself, and examples of it can be found in cultures around the world. – Robert Greene, The 48 Laws Of Power

Nobody likes to admit they exploit the power of scapegoating. Almost all of us have done it. If you’ve spent more than five minutes in the corporate world, you’ve probably done it yourself. You’re late on a project or deliverable and the boss asks why. You claim that another department failed to meet their timelines to you or someone else caused the delay.

We use scapegoating for trivial things like avoiding the embarrassment of clumsy behavior in a fitness class. It’s also been used  on much grander scales with devastating consequences throughout history.

Ethical Scapegoating?

Yes, it may seem hard to believe. You can exploit scapegoating without sacrificing your ethics. Here’s an example that illustrates how.

Let’s pretend you’re selling a weight loss product. You konw that telling your customer it’s because of his eating habits will fall flat. It will just make him angry. You need to blame his troubles on someone or something else.

Instead of blaming his troubles on his own behavior, blame them on his DNA. It’s his DNA that’s causing him to overeat. That’s his innocent scapegoat. You’re assigning blame to a thing, but not a person. It’s something he can identify with.

“You’re right. It’s because of my DNA that I’m having all these troubles, ” he says to himself

You can also use abstract concepts. Blame his troubles on a government entity enslaved to big business that feeds him faulty nutrition advice.

In short, remember rule one in persuasion. Never tell someone their troubles are their own doing.



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Stop Worrying About Making Your Fair Share… The First Sale Is Always The Hardest


We couldn’t wait to jump in the pool. The sun beat down us. It felt like the inside of an oven.  As soon as we dropped our bags, my son jumped in.

I sort of tiptoed in the pool. I inched my way in. The water was cold, despite the heat outside. I inched a little deeper a half step at a time.  My son foiled my plan of gradual acclimation to the cold water. He swam to the other end of the pool. He’s only six so I need to keep my eye on him.

“Crap. I can’t delay this anymore.”

In one swift move, I dove underneath the rope that divides the shallow end from the deeper end. The cold water stung for a few seconds. After that, everything was ok. I swam across the pool with ease. I no longer cared about the coldness.

The First step Is Always The Hardest – Unknown

Similar quotes abound.

The First Million Is Always The Hardest – Unknown

There’s a reason there are so many quotes that give the same advice. There are two things holding us back.

There is the unknown. We don’t know what to expect.

In other cases, there are knowns we want to avoid. I knew the first few seconds of the cold water would sting. That’s why I found it so hard to dive in.

The First Sale Is Always The Hardest – Unknown

I face the same struggles in my professional life.  Getting a new customer to give me a chance is much harder than getting repeat business from a long time customer.

The Biggest Hurdle In Business

The most critical point of any sales, marketing or persuasive effort is the second the enter your world. Convince them to take that first step. It’s the hardest part. It’s why so many businesses work so hard on customer acquisition.

In my own experience, getting a new customer to spend $10 on that first product takes more effort than getting them to spend $99 on the second product.

There’s the unknown of dealing with a new person or entity. They don’t know if you’re trustworthy. They lack the experience to know what to expect from you.

In addition, they also fear the “knowns.”  You’re asking them to part with their hard earned cash. They surmise from past experiences that you’ll try and sell them other stuff in the future.

How do you help them get past that initial fear?

The Low Impact Welcome

Make that first entry into your world low impact. Ask for a little and give a lot. Don’t worry if you’re not getting your fair share in the first transaction. I read a lot of complaints by peers on Social Media.  They cry about customers who fail to recognize their hard work.

“I’ll be damned if I give away my hard work for a pittance.”

Here’s the truth.

Nobody cares how hard you worked on it. They only care about what it does for them.

Deliver kick-ass value you’ll make your fair share as time goes on.

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There’s a house behind us shrouded in mystery. I don’t mean a haunted house, just some low-level mystery. A few months ago a “for sale” sign appeared. There’s nothing unusual about that. This family kept to themselves. They were friendly if you passed by but they wouldn’t go out of their way to say hello. One day, new faces appeared. There were no moving trucks. There were no goodbye and good luck wishes.

Nobody knows if the old family moved out. Nobody knows yet if they sold the house or decided to rent it. The new people seem to be older. Maybe it’s grandparents staying there? It’s a total secret.

As I go for my daily walks I try to sneak a peak and see if I can garner a hint as to who’s living there.

The Power Of The Unknown

There is no intentional secrecy or irregular behavior. It’s a simple mystery. Once the loose ends are tied up I can put this mystery behind me.

Those loose ends keep my interest piqued.

Always Leave Them Wanting More – P.T. Barnum

The same principle holds true in sales and marketing.

Once you tie up the loose ends, you lose your grip on your audience. There’s no reason to stick around.

The greatest marketers, entertainers and product creators in history followed this rule.

They sell you on fixing a problem. They give you just enough to wet your appetite but they leave you hungry.

You buy the solution. The solution ties up those loose ends.

If they’re super smart, the solution reveals a new problem.

Now, you stick around to solve your new problem.

What About Respecting Your Customer?

Sure, you need to treat your customers with respect. You need to solve REAL problems.

Here’s the hard truth.

No matter how well you treat your customer, they’ll leave once they think you’ve solved all the problems you’re capable of solving. And why should they stick around?

One of my first mentors in business was a thirty-year sales veteran.

He gave me advice which contradicted everything I ever read in sales books. He said:

Never tell your prospect you can solve his problem. Once he knows his problem is solved, he’ll price shop you

It took me ten years of struggling before I followed that advice. I was too afraid. I thought I would lose the sale. Of course, I lost most of those sales anyway. The ones I did make panned out exactly as he predicted.

He offered this follow-up advice.

Leave out something small but something important. It forces them to come back to you.

Just like the advice of P.T. Barnum, he advised leave to leave a loose end. Give enough to curb the hunger but not enough to satisfy desire.

Fiction writers use cliffhangers to keep us turning pages. Good marketers give us just enough info to be useful, but not enough to give closure.

That’s the balancing act. Can you give me enough to curb the hunger but not enough to satisfy my desire?

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Can “The Sticky Memory” Technique Make Your Message Impossible To Forget?

It was just like any other trip to Whole Foods. I bought a pound of coffee and two bars of premium dark chocolate. My wife and I are total chocolate snobs. It’s one of the things we splurge on. It wasn’t an unusual trip today but it’s one I’ll remember for quite some time.

When I bought the stuff, the cashier packed the bag and I went on my way. The kids distracted me the second I walked in the door. I didn’t empty the bag until later that night. At 9:00 PM I unpacked the shopping bag. I also wanted to grab a square of the dark chocolate.

The bars were nowhere to be found.


“Did you already take the chocolate out of the shopping bag?” I said to my wife

“No. I checked the bag earlier. I  expected some chocolate.”

“I got two bars. I can’t find it. “

I checked the car. I checked every cabinet. Nothing.

She never packed it. It’s the only explanation.

I put the receipt aside. I’ll get a refund the next time I go back.

What Makes This Memorable

This is the kind of memory that sticks. There’s a reason why some memories stick and others don’t.

No matter how powerful or well written your audience walks away remembering, at most,  one thing. Are there a few outliers that might remember more? Sure. But that’s the exception.

If your audience remembers only one thing, how do we control what they remember?

What The Heck Is Sticky Memory?

The sticky memory technique is simple to use. You follow just one rule.

People remember what deviates from a pattern.

You can’t use this to help your audience remember more, but you can pick and choose what they remember.

Surround your target piece of info with a similar pattern.  If you want something forgotten, make it blend in.

Here’s an example to illustrate how it works.


If I ask you to repeat that string of characters I can guarantee the only the only thing you’ll remember later is the number 67. They’re the only two numbers in the sequence and they’re in bold.

Of course, in real life we can’t be so obvious.

In marketing, it’s helpful to use this technique to ensure audiences remember your strengths at the expense of your weaknesses.

Here’s an example.

We are a website design company. We have two years experience,  We do not offer hosting. Guess what? We just won our third design award this year.  See our terms and conditions for more.

Which of these details sticks out. The first two are negatives and written to sound bland. The last item is exceptionally bland. I also use the word “We” to lull the reader before I bring them back to life with “Guess what?”

I want you to remember the design awards at the expense of the other three items.  When your audience recalls the message later on, they’ll likely remember the awards at the expense of the other three details.

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Imagine the shock. You look at your cable bill and find a charge of $70 for a pay-per-view event you never bought.

I called Verizon to complain. After a twenty-minute phone call, they completed their investigation.

“Sir, it appears you ordered the show from your remote,” he said.

I guess one of my kids bought it by accident. It serves us right. We should have set up parental controls, right?

I explained to the nice man on the phone that my son bought it by accident. We never watched it.

“You can verify from your records we never actually watched it, right?”

“Let me check with my supervisor and see what we can do.”

He got back on the phone a few minutes later and broke the bad news. They would NOT remove the charge. It didn’t matter if we watched it or not.

We argued back and forth for a few minutes and he said he would try to talk to his supervisor again. He promised to call back by the end of the day. Of course, he never did.

I can’t really blame them. This was my own fault. I was frustrated but not angry.

Here’s Where They Lost Me

After telling me they couldn’t remove the charge, he then tried to sell me on a faster internet connection.

He recognized my agitated state. My voice and words gave it away. Did he really expect me to spend more money after telling me they would not refund me? I doubt it. Then why go ahead with a cheesy sales pitch?

Simple. It’s their policy. He had no choice. Given discretion, he probably would have thought better of working in a sale.

Policy Trumps Judgment

His ill-timed sales push irked me. Now I’m thinking:

“How do I get back at these guys? How can I recover my $70… and then some?”

It turns out I have a few add-on subscriptions. I’ve been meaning to cancel these for months. Now motivation kicks in.

Canceling these add-ons saves me $17 per month. With fifteen months left on my contract, that’s a savings of $255. Subtract the $70 and I walk away with $185. Rather, Verizon loses $185. That gives me emotional gratification.

My response may lack logical justification. Let’s face it. We’re emotional creatures. We don’t act on logic. I’ll figure out a logical way to defend it later.

Your Advantage

This experience reminds me why bigger companies face disadvantages against smaller rivals.  They’re too rigid in their rules. They don’t trust their people to use their own brains.

This is what happened in the United Airlines debacle a few months ago. They forbade employees from exercising judgment. They couldn’t offer additional money to get someone to give up their seat.  You can’t write a policy to cover every scenario.

As a smaller fish competing against bigger agencies, I know there is one advantage I can always exploit. I never let Policy get in the way of good judgment.

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Sometimes, we don’t have what it takes to do a job. At first, it seems doable. As time goes on, you realize you’re in over your head. You come to a painful realization – you will fail.

It happens to me just about every week.

Yesterday, I stopped at the hardware store to pick up a few parts. I needed to fix my grill and a handle on a toilet.

How hard could it be? I figured an hour of work would save me money. Plus, I wouldn’t need to schedule a repairman.

Of course, these things never turn out as planned. I made the classic mistake of using best case reasoning. 

Best Case Reasoning is when you estimate the effort involved to accomplish a goal based on best case (often unrealistic) scenarios.

Sound familiar?

Most of us are overconfident in our ability. We’re also overconfident in our ability to predict the future.

Once we get down to doing the work, we realize the truth.

“Wow. This is a lot harder than I expected. “ 

Best Case Reasoning In Business

Awareness of this tendency helps you in your day to day life. It also gives you a leg up in business.

You see, your customers and prospects use Best Case Reasoning too. Instead of buying your services they think they can do the job themselves. You know they lack the skills to do it right. You know they’d be better off just hiring you.

Here’s the problem.

Telling someone they’re in over their head invites resistance, if not defiance.

“Don’t tell me I can’t do it. I’ll show you!”

So, how do you make that clear without insulting or challenging him?


The single greatest persuasive tool at your disposal is a demonstration. Show that what you offer requires unique skills. Show your prospect he’s in over his head should he choose to go it alone.

The simplest way to do that is to tell a story. A YouTube video demonstrating all the steps (and tools) involved in doing my repairs would have prompted me to hire a professional.

Reading a story about someone like me who struggled with the same problem might have also led me to call a professional.

The Story Telling Secret Nobody Talks About

Here’s what they never told you about stories. They work best as pre-emptive tools. Don’t wait until someone says “I can do this on my own. I don’t need you.”

At that point, your demonstration becomes more of an argument. It feels more confrontational than informational.

Tell your story before Best Case Reasoning comes into play. It leads them to your desired conclusion before they even think of the objection. It clears a path so they say “hey, I need your help,” before you get into your pitch and before he overestimates his ability.

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How Far Will You Go To Sell Your Product?

It was a hot and uncomfortable day. The kids begged us to take them to the zoo. We knew it would be uncomfortable. Still, we caved in. We decided to go.

Going to the zoo always gives me mixed emotions. It’s a thrill to see animals I would otherwise never see.

Yet, when I see two lions stare at me from behind a fence, I feel sorry for them. They’re imprisoned against their will. They’re unable to live a life they evolved to live.

Some of these animals are rescued, rehabbed and then released back into the wild. This is the case of the sea turtles. Most of the baby sea turtles do not make it into adulthood. Natural predators and human intervention disrupt their normal development.

The zoo rescues the sea turtles as babies. They nurture and care for them until they reach an age where they can survive on their own. Once fit for survival, they release them back into the wild.

Playing Mental Gymnastics

For all the conflict I feel about caged animals, the zoo does good work saving many of these animals. This allows me to reconcile my enjoyment of going to the zoo.

Most of us don’t really think about it but we do this sort of mental gymnastics all the time.

When you feel conflicting thoughts about something,  you need to somehow reconcile those thoughts. I have conflicting thoughts about going to the zoo. Keeping animals caged bothers me. But I reconcile that by recognizing the good work they do in rehabilitating animals.

The Same Discord Rattles Us In Business

We may not agree with the values or practices of a big business. We decide to shop there anyway. How do we justify it? Our absence could cost jobs of innocent workers.

Some in marketing and sales resort to the lowest of practices to lure customers. They justify it by stating their product saves lives or transforms lives. In some cases that may be true. Most of the time they’re fooling themselves. In both cases, it’s just mental gymnastics.

How far can you go to sell your product without crossing an ethical boundary? Here’s advice I give whenever someone questions the ethics of persuasion, sales or marketing.

If you try and sell someone the Brooklyn Bridge, no sales or marketing tactic is justified. If a loved one suffers from a drug addiction and needs rehab to save his life, no sales or marketing tactic is off limits. Everything else is a gray area.

Just about all of us operate in that gray area. We don’t sell snake oil. Nor do we deal with life and death decisions. You only have your own moral compass to steer you in the right direction.

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