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May 26

Jay Livingston on Words That Sell

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Master publisher, copywriter and marketer JAY LIVINGSTON'S work has been featured in Monthly Copywriting Genius ... The Agora Companies' exclusive Big Black Book of billion-dollar marketing secrets (twice!) ... Great Leads by Mark Ford and Mike Palmer (two of Jay's primary mentors) ... and more. Jay has been nominated -- along with multiple of his former copy cubs -- for the coveted Ouzilly Award for Sterling Copy, the direct-response industry's most coveted copywriting prize, awarded approximately once per decade.

Since 2003, Jay Livingston has worked with the biggest direct-response publishers in America ... including a 17-year stint building copywriting, marketing and publishing teams for $1.7 billion industry giant Agora. His promotions have generated more than $77 million (and counting) and helped clients to acquired hundreds of thousands of new, PAYING customers. He's spoken at marketing and financial conferences around the world, and currently lives in the great state of Maryland.

Contact Jay:

[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:00
Hey everyone, I've been putting off editing this episode of The No Limits Selling Podcast for about a year and a half because when the recording was made, something went skew on the internet and the recording kind of fubarred, and I knew it's going to take a lot of time to edit this episode. In fact, it took about two and a half hours to do, but I'm so glad I did it. Because on this episode, I had a chance to have a conversation with Jay Livingston, he's a master writer, and he writes Copy That Sells. Just imagine that, no face to face interaction with a customer, no Zoom call, no telephone call, just the written word that gets someone say, "You know what I desperately want that," and that's what Jay has the ability to do. And I thought it was such a brilliant lens to look at sales from the vantage point of the written word. I hope you enjoyed this episode, I enjoyed interviewing Jay and I learned a lot and hopefully you will too.

Umar Hameed 0:55
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello, everyone! This is Umar Hameed, your host and welcome to The No Limits Selling Podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster, get ready for another episode.

Umar Hameed 1:25
Today, I have the privilege of having Jay Livingston. He's the copy chief and publisher at Weiss ratings. I've known Jay for a while and the reason I wanted him to be on the show, he is a master at writing [garbled] people to say, "Yes." Jay, welcome to the program.

Jay Livingston 1:42
Well, thank you, Umar, I'm glad to be here.

Umar Hameed 1:43
Brilliant. Tell me how you got started in this writing gig because you know, there's a, the landscape is littered with writers that are unemployed, and you get to do something significant and help companies make millions of dollars.

Jay Livingston 1:56
Yeah, I was actually came out of college as a journalist. And I worked in newspapers and magazines for about 10 years. So I was very used to reporting going out in the field, actually talking to people face to face, digging up stories, researching and all that. The problem at the time was that the traditional newspapers were not making any money. So if you work for one of them, especially a smaller independent, you were also not making any money. And I was having a kid, so I at some point, I realized I need to find something else to do with my, my skills. So that brought me into this whole wacky world of direct response information, marketing. And with Agora. And I started at the Oxford club over there on the editorial side developing content, which is like financial research for individual investors. And I still wasn't making very much money and then I heard about this copywriting thing. And these were the guys that were writing these sales, letters and sales packages and advertising to sell the products that I had been developing. So I decided to jump over to that side of the business.

Umar Hameed 3:08
So in traditional sales, you need to get the appointment, you need to do the presentation, you need to handle objections, you need to close the deal. And if you're really good, you get that client to go deeper down the sales path with you to buy more products and or become a referral source. So you get more opportunities that are warmed up for you. Can you take me down the path of copyright, quote unquote, getting the appointment? You're basically getting a target audience, so when you walk me down that path, and we can take the parallels to traditional sales?

Jay Livingston 3:44
Sure, sure. Well, I always start with, you know, I always look at the customer first, because none of this is about me. None of this is about my product, it has nothing to do with it, right? Because I you know, I don't need to sell my, my product to myself, I'm trying to sell it to other people. So in order to connect with those people, I need to understand what's on their minds, what do they need. And a lot goes into that, right? Like it's, there are long standing deep human needs that are timeless, like, the need for meaning the need to, to have meaning in one's life is probably the most important thing that drives people. The need to feel secure financially, the need to feel appreciated in your peer group in society, to be respected to be you know, to basically, I mean, we have a lot of a lot of sort of core needs. But then but then you also have temporal or timely desires that those needs kind of sync up with what's going on in the current world. So sort of current events are flavoring your needs at any given time.

Umar Hameed 4:52
I think the phrase you used was, "You're not selling to yourself," you need to figure out what's going on in the world to the person you're trying to sell to which sounds obvious.

Jay Livingston 5:00
I would say it for the successful companies that, that is absolutely always the focus is, what do, what, what does your customer, what keeps him up at night? You know, that's what a lot of people say in our business, what keeps your customer up right now? What are his main concerns right now? And then how can you take what you offer, help him to fulfill that need or address that concern, right? So that's the creative part of...

Umar Hameed 5:25
Then you started talking about trigger events, you know, "Hey, this, these are the basic human needs that haven't changed since the dawn of time," and but now we have trigger events.

Jay Livingston 5:33
Right. Well, they can be positive or negative. So like a negative event would be like, let's say, the crash of 2008-2009. At that point, everybody was trying to figure out how to save their hides from from the markets crashing. So that's where the mindset is, you know, at that, that sort of mindset was at that time, so you would try to develop products or position products to address the deep fear that was set into the market at the time, right? If the markets are going south, you can't come out with a product that's supposed to generate huge gains with high risk, that would make no sense.

Umar Hameed 6:08
Unbelievable, right? Yeah.

Jay Livingston 6:09
Right. So right now, for example, in in the investing world, Cannabis stocks are like a very hot space. So we just launched a Cannabis Stock Research Service, and put a whole bunch of money and time into developing it. And it was our biggest launch and I think over 20 years, according to our founder. So as far as on a per name, basis, how much revenue we made. So that's an example of figuring out where the reader is, and just filling their needs for them try to be actually legitimately helpful is what we're trying to do. You know, sales, it's all about relationships, and it's about people. And I've learned that human element is, you know, never ever to be overlooked. And that's a whole other subject but...

Umar Hameed 6:57
This morning, I was at a meeting in Annapolis with this guy who's a sales guy and a, an old marine. And he was basically talking about, you know,"People ask me, you know, what do you do, I don't say, I'm a salesperson, you know, I'm a relationship expert," he said, "Pretty much I just connect with human beings." Oh, by the way, we did some business. So I think that relationship you build in person is certainly a lot easier to do. How do you create that relationship in the written word? Because I think that has to be an important element to get people to say, "Yes," right?

Jay Livingston 7:27
Well, yeah, I mean, if you're like the hardest, the hardest thing to do in the direct response business is to bring on a brand new customer, somebody that does not know.

Umar Hameed 7:38
Yes.

Jay Livingston 7:38
The way that we typically do that is we go out, and we capture them with an idea first. The idea is based out of what their current core needs and desires and fears are, so that we try to address those with our marketing packages, or copy packages. And so it's really starts with an idea for us, everything is idea driven in our business. And I think that could be the case for everyone. I think that's an area of sales, that people don't focus on enough general sales, they want to go talk about the product right away, you know, they don't want to worry about connecting with the person on some kind of an emotional level. And that's what a great idea does for us on the written page, or in a video or whatever.

Umar Hameed 8:23
So how do you know you have a great idea? Do you do some testing before you actually roll out something?

Jay Livingston 8:28
Sometimes? It depends on what kind of money is involved with rolling out? If it's internal, and it doesn't cost a whole lot, well, we'll send it out. We'll just blast it out. If it doesn't work, we won't keep blasting it out. Externally, yeah, there's a whole number of ways to test different ideas and different positionings of ideas. And so yeah, we do actually a ton of testing. We do a ton of micro testing order buttons, where the order button is what color the order button is just all kinds of stuff like that so it's kind of a fun playground in that way. Most of our stuff is through email, but actually the vast bulk of it now is through large and our large ad networks like Google AdWords, Facebook, YouTube, [garbled].

Umar Hameed 9:12
So somebody looks at a title and goes, "Hey, I want this," and then you start the relationship.

Jay Livingston 9:16
Yeah. So you would see like a, you know, just one of those paid Google Ads, you know, that float around...

Umar Hameed 9:22
Right.

Jay Livingston 9:22
...all over the internet. So that ad would reflect whatever the, the idea was that we came up with to connect to that readers needs at the moment. And, you know, so let's say it's a cannabis investing letter, you know, that ad might say, "Hey, here's seven safe Cannabis Stocks to check out today." And then it might lead them to a free report at which point they could give us their email, they could get the free report. So we've given them some benefit for nothing so that builds trust. If the reports good, it builds more trust, and then we have their email so then we can send them a follow up and say, "Hey, check out this big opportunity, you know, in the cannabis space, and it leads to a sale the newsletter."

Umar Hameed 10:05
And once you do that sale, so what's a typical? So you're selling a report basically, right?

Jay Livingston 10:10
Yeah, well, we're, yeah, sometimes you're selling a report. But really in that case, you're giving away a report in exchange for the email address.

Umar Hameed 10:18
Once you start that relationship, and you send them more copy, at some point, they're going to go, "I want this," what are they getting in this example?

Jay Livingston 10:26
Well, first, they get a free report and then they don't have to do anything else. They can unsubscribe after that, like, "Oh, these people are annoying, go away," and then you're done, that's it, game over. But you're hoping to get enough people that dig your stuff, they're like, "Wow, this is like really well researched. That's why working for a company like Weiss ratings is fantastic. Because we do we do the back the grunt work behind the scenes to make the research really good, which makes my job as a marketer much, much easier," so then they get there. So that, you know, basically all you have is their email address so you send them a whole bunch of more value. And then eventually, you send them a an email that links to a promotion for one of our newsletters. And hopefully, we'll get enough people to take that to make the advertising spend on the front end of this process, eventually pay off.

Umar Hameed 11:13
And then once you've got that relationship started, then do you upsell them to other products and services?

Jay Livingston 11:19
Absolutely, yeah, that's part of the that is part of the game. Again, you want to try to keep stuff in their interest area as much as possible, so that you're addressing their needs, and not sending them a bunch of garbage that they're totally not interested in. So it's a real balancing act between once you get them in the door, you still need to keep delivering value, whether that's through a really high quality e-letter or whatever, it's still going to be free stuff. But you still need just to keep that relationship, you got to deliver value, which is very costly to do. But again, you just have to get enough of those guys to buy the paid products to offset your, your marketing spend, if that makes sense. So, yeah, so it's all about the relationship, you got to, it's absolutely about the like, to your point, our entire thing is a relationship business that's why all of our products have people at the front of them on the front page speaking for them, standing up for them and advocating for those products. We're kind of a guru, or expert based business, and it's all about people. So that relationship is everything

Umar Hameed 12:21
Two things come up, one is we're really talking about this journey of ever evolving trust, from the first email to you sold them something big, then you still have to keep them connected. So A, that's intriguing and we should just do a show on that sometime.

Jay Livingston 12:35
I, that's an interesting question, I would say so. I don't know how big of a part that plays versus people kind of in their little bubble reacting to your stuff on a one to one basis, because all of our marketing is geared toward one person, I would never have something that says, 'To all the people out there who want XYZ," I would say, "Hey, if you are interested in XYZ, you the one guy I'm talking to." Now you have social media, you have websites that review our products, so you definitely get that kind of referral dynamic, but it's on a larger scale on the internet basically,

Umar Hameed 13:09
The other part in the sales process is once you've got that relationship started, certainly go deeper into the account, which you guys are doing, in the real world there is this element of getting referrals to get people to say, "You should really talk to Bob, he would like this too," is there anything akin to that in your world?

Jay Livingston 13:25
I have heard of them. And I know that some people in our business use them but I have not.

Umar Hameed 13:30
Have you come across a company in your travels called social toaster. So they do a neat trick and the trick is basically, "Hey, if you like us, if you like Weiss ratings, would you like faster?" And if they say yes, anytime you do a tweet or a LinkedIn post, that they automatically tweeted themselves, without them having to do anything. So it creates this ever expanding community of people getting your content, but it gives you a wider area of influence because you're on their network to connect with it, which is a neat trick.

Jay Livingston 14:00
That's really interesting. Yeah, we're actually expanding out into the social media space. More and more, right now we have some plans to really start producing a lot of great content to put on Facebook and stuff. That's cool, that's really cool. Yeah, because again, it's that relationship and it's the trust. And there's no other way to do it, other than actually providing real stuff, you actually got to do the work to provide really valuable content to your people. Or if you're a sales guy, make sure what you're selling is is great, make sure it makes sense for that person because you don't want to just cram something down somebody's throat and then they refund or it's a bad product. There's a number of reasons why you wouldn't want to do that but it's not good business either.

Umar Hameed 14:42
Video is an important medium. Give me the balance between the written word to convince and video in your particular area of endeavor.

Jay Livingston 14:51
Yeah, that's a great question, Umar. As you know, our business used to be all writing right? Everything was literally in the mail.

Umar Hameed 14:58
Yes.

Jay Livingston 14:59
So all that junk mail get came from direct response marketers of everything from, you know, one penny for 10 records, you know, the record and tape...

Umar Hameed 15:09
Yup.

Jay Livingston 15:10
...and all that stuff. Now, it's almost nobody's mailing because it's expensive, which actually creates an interesting opportunity for some people to mail because it's not as crowded of a space now. I would say everything is still written, right? Like most of the, not everything, but I'd say 80% of what we do, what we used to sell, is still scripted, either hard-scripted, or at least bullet-pointed. And then we do some freeform webinars, trainings and stuff like that, that that have a some sort of offer component at the end.

Umar Hameed 15:40
Good call to action.

Jay Livingston 15:41
Yeah, so we do a mix, it's probably about 50-50, between what we put on video and what we just leave in HTML, text.

Umar Hameed 15:48
Gene, the grand scheme of things. I'm a thoroughly mediocre writer. Once in a while, I'll be reading something in a novel or non-fiction and somebody has written the paragraph, and I go, "Son of a bitch," because it is so beautiful and so well done. I know that no matter how hard I will not achieve that level of mastery, like certainly I can improve, but there's just some copy that's written. It's just like, "Wow," who does that for you? Or who in the past wrote where you went, "Oh, my God, this is magical."

Jay Livingston 16:16
Um, well, let's see. Herman Hesa would be an example, he's a fiction writer, of course. Gunter Grace is one of my favorite essayists. I mean, I have a number of, I like, I love to read so I can rattle off those those guys. But as far as great sales writers, people that write amazing copy.

Umar Hameed 16:37
Right.

Jay Livingston 16:38
Um, I would say, in our business, there's a guy named Mike Palmer, who has been Stansbury Researcher's Copy chief for many years. And I learned so much from reading his stuff. And the funny thing about it is, and he's one of a handful of guys, Mark Ford, is probably my primary mentor in the business. And he's an amazing writer, but also an amazing business, business, mind and mentor. But one of the things I've noticed about the best guys, Umar is that you don't notice how good their writing is. Like, if you read something, you're like, "Wow, that's blown me away," it's probably not...

Umar Hameed 17:17
Right.

Jay Livingston 17:17
...great sales writing. Because to me, what I'm trying to do is make the writing disappear. I don't want you to notice the writing, I don't want you to go, "Wow, that was a great paragraph."

Umar Hameed 17:27
So let me give you an example of that, if I may, you know, we all have these defining moments. One of the defining moments for me was I was bored watching TV, flipping through TV stations really quick. And I went past something that was kind of interesting, it was just an empty stage so I kind of backtrack a little bit. It was like those Irish dancers were really big, I guess, a decade or so ago, these two tap dancers come on the right side of the stage and two tap dancers come on the left side of this. And they have one of these jeweling banjo things where one of them does one pair does this tap routine for like three seconds, the other troupe basically copies it, and then does one better, and they do back and forth. And here was the interesting thing, when you looked at the people that are on the left side of the stage, you said, "Oh my god, these guys are amazing and I'd never be able to do that." And the guys on the right side of the stage, they were so freaking awesome that a made it look easy that gave you the illusion that "Umar can dance like that." And that was almost like that level of flow made it look like it was effortless, whereas the one where they had skills, they made it look hard. You could recognize the talent but it was like, "I didn't be able to do that," so you're kind of talking about that. If it's written really well, you don't even realize the mastery of it is just going into your subconscious

Jay Livingston 18:41
Absolutely. That's so, see now that gets back to just you're just thinking about the other, you're thinking about your prospect. You're not trying to impress, you're not trying to show off. You got to get ego out of it. I think ego is the biggest barrier to...

Umar Hameed 18:54
To light.

Jay Livingston 18:55
To everything, it's in it.

Umar Hameed 18:56
Yes.

Jay Livingston 18:56
And really it profoundly hampers your ability to connect to people. And you know we all have big egos whether we keep them tamp down or not most of us have them somewhere inside, I know I do.

Umar Hameed 19:09
You know, that's the reason they invented spouses to tell you, "Jay come back [garbled]"

Jay Livingston 19:15
Well thank goodness, I, my spouse was definitely put on earth they helped me curb my ego, that's for sure. And she's done a great job because I'm very beaten down Umar, very, it's very sad.

Umar Hameed 19:25
So just before we part company, we have a mutual friend, Robert Williams.

Jay Livingston 19:29
Oh yes, of course.

Umar Hameed 19:30
When I was telling him I was going to be interviewing you, he said you know, "If Jays writing it, it is freaking awesome and it's gonna make a huge impact." So you have great reputation out there and thanks so much for sitting down with me today, I learned a lot.

Jay Livingston 19:45
I'm so happy to, to anytime, Umar. I'm always happy to speak with you and thanks so much. It's been a really it's quite an honor to be on here and I appreciate it. By the way, if I may, Weiss Ratings is looking for great copywriters and great marketers, so if anybody who's out there that's interested, they can email me. I can tell you my emails that

Umar Hameed 20:04
Oh yeah, of course.

Jay Livingston 20:06
You can cut this off later if you want but we really are and I love training people and helping people do this, we're really passionate but it's j, the letter J, livingston@weiss inc.com. And bring it on, man, we're looking for really good smart people who want to work hard with us and make some money.

Umar Hameed 20:23
Brilliant. Jay, thanks so much.

Jay Livingston 20:24
Okay, thank you. Bye bye.

Umar Hameed 20:30
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five-star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at nolimitsselling.com. I've got a free mind training course there, that's going to teach you some insights from the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and that is the fastest way to get better results.


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