This is the fourth in a series of posts about how to leverage The 7 Systems of Influence to become a better author. If you want to start from the beginning or find links to all the posts in this series, go here.
Whether it’s for your book or for other content you’ll create for your thought leadership system, like blog posts, social media posts, podcasts, or emails, there are five primary questions to answer:
5 CRITICAL CONTENT QUESTIONS
- Why am I doing this?
- What’s my message?
- What kind of content will I create?
- Where will I distribute my content?
- How will I improve and refine my content system?
Every other content creator faces the same questions. Every highly influential individual has answered them.
Tim Ferriss is the author of four #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal Best Sellers, including The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, Tools of Titans, and his latest, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World. He’s also the host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, often rated the #1 business podcast on Apple and other podcast platforms.
Ferriss is clearly a master content creator.
Red Bull spends tens of millions of dollars each year to create more than a dozen types of content to market their energy drinks. Their YouTube channel has over 9 million subscribers, and their videos have been seen 2.15 billion times. Thirty years after they created the energy drink category they own 43% of the market worldwide, adding up to billions in revenue each year.
Like Ferriss, Red Bull is also a master at content creation.
While Ferriss and Red Bull both excel at content creation, the content they create is strikingly different. Ferriss’ content is more likely to make you think, whereas Red Bull’s content is designed primarily to entertain and inspire.
Ferriss’ content is relatively inexpensive to produce—anyone can launch a podcast for a few hundred bucks, and you can write a book on any computer (I hear they even used to write them by hand!). Red Bull spent $65M to pull off a skydive from space, a stunt that was watched live by 8 million, and later racked up many times that number of views on YouTube.
Ferriss creates his own content, perhaps with assistance from a small team, while the CEO at Red Bull probably has little idea what content is being dreamed up, and zero involvement in its creation.
Ferriss distributes his content primarily through books and his podcast, although he also does public speaking and talks to the media. Red Bull has done every sort of marketing imaginable, including books and podcasts.
Both Ferriss and Red Bull have optimized the process of converting their content into influence and dollars through a process of continuous improvement.
Would you like to have a content machine like Ferriss’ or Red Bull’s? Whether you’re an individual author or a global enterprise, answering The Big 5 Content Questions is the first step. Your answers will be different, because you have a unique vision, genius zone, and audience, but they will get you where you need to go, just as their answers got Ferriss and Red Bull to where they are today.
Q1: WHY AM I DOING THIS?
In 2013, as I was trying to save my marketing agency and figure out the magic formula I could use to get the most out of my Forbes articles, the reaction I wanted from my ideal audience (people who were interested in hiring a marketing agency) was for them to contact my agency. If they didn’t reach out, I had no other way to contact them, and there was no chance they would hire us, which meant no chance to build long-term relationships. Without long-term clients, I couldn’t save my agency or grow it to match my vision.
What do you want your audience to do when they read your book? This is called a “call to action” or CTA. Maybe you want them to contact you, but perhaps it’s something else. What I’m sure about is that you wouldn’t tell me “I hope they forget about it and never mention it to anyone else.” Possibilities of what you want your audience to do upon reading your book might include:
- Contact you
- Visit your website
- Join your email list
- Purchase your product or service
- Recommend your book to a friend
- Buy your book for a friend
- Buy your next book
- Review your book on Amazon
- Add quotes from your book to Goodreads
- Memorize parts of it
- Read it again
- Apply it in their lives
It’s important to get clear and specific about what you want your audience to do because it will impact how you write your book. For example, if you want people to remember your book and recommend it to lots of other people, you might make it short, like Exactly What to Say by Phil M Jones (I read it four times in two days because it was good, and super short), or you might make it really, really practical like Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland (even though it wasn’t a short book I read it four times in a row over a three-day period, then bought copies for everyone in my company and forced them to read it).
If you want someone to visit your website or contact you, include your URL and contact information in your book. If you want them to memorize parts of it, share quotes from it, and tell friends about it, make it easily quotable and make it so your readers look smart when they quote it.
What do you want your ideal audience to do when they read your book? What are some CTAs? List as many ideal audience CTAs as you can think of.
Let’s narrow it down. What are the top five CTAs for your book? Circle or bold them.
Next, choose your top CTA.
Underneath your top CTA, list other CTAs that will support your top CTA. For example, if “contact us” is your top CTA, then “visit our website” might be a supporting CTA.
Finally, what can you do to encourage each CTA? Write these as “Actions” next to each supporting CTA. If “visit our website” is a supporting CTA, you might put “Include URL on back cover, in my bio, and in the introduction,” as actions.
You may want to create a spreadsheet and do this with all of your top five CTAs, and perhaps more. You’ll then have a simple checklist you can use to make sure your book contains your most important CTAs which will lead to the results motivating you to write your book.
Q2: WHAT’S MY MESSAGE?
In 2010, researcher Brené Brown gave a TEDx talk in Houston on the topic of “the power of vulnerability.” As of July, 2020, the video of that talk has been seen over 48 million times. Five of Brené’s seven books have become New York Times Best Sellers, and cumulatively have sold several million copies. Her fees to speak to corporations and at events can range into the six-figures—per talk. In 2019, she was honored as the first researcher to get her own Netflix special. However, throughout the past ten years and across every medium, Brené’s message has remained remarkably consistent: Be you. Be all in. Fall. Get up. Try again. The message itself is powerful, and the sustained, consistent delivery has made it memorable.
Your message is not the words your audience reads in your book, it’s what remains in their mind when they’re done reading. Your content will influence your audience more deeply, and your influence will last longer, if you choose a powerful message and stick to it.
People get a lot less from your content than you might think, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For example, I enjoyed reading Ryan Holiday’s books The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, and Stillness is the Key, but if you asked me what I liked about each one, I might struggle to recall anything specific. The best I might be able to say is that I’m now more likely to see obstacles as opportunities, beware of pride, and find time to be still and think deeply. If I ever need help in one of those areas, I know where to turn for a refresher. If I run into someone who says “My life is crazy chaotic, I feel like I can’t think straight or make the right decisions because I’m always rushing from one thing to the next,” I might ask, “Have you read Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday? Sounds like exactly what you need.”
For Holiday that may be enough. I’ve bought three of his books for myself, dozens for other people, and I’ve recommended them to thousands through my articles, blog posts, and email newsletters. Since every book he writes becomes a runaway best seller and allows him to charge ever-increasing fees for his consulting services, it would appear he’s got a good thing going on.
Do you want results like Brené and Ryan? Then choose a simple, powerful message, and drive it home over and over again.
Today, you’ll create your message but first, let’s look at eight powerful messages that have been tested in countless forms throughout history. Your own message will be more likely to resonate with your audience and move them to take action if it incorporates one or more of these.
8 POWER MESSAGES
There are messages so powerful we will spend fortunes, change relationships, move across the world, even sacrifice our lives to hear them. Skilled advertisers and marketers know these messages by heart. So do successful politicians. You’ll find at least one of these messages in every popular song. Now these messages are yours. Use them wisely.
1. YOU CAN DO IT!
Easy or difficult, simple or complex, you’ve got this.
2. YOU HAVE WORTH
No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you have great potential and something of value to offer. You are good. You are needed. We’re glad you’re here.
3. YOU’RE PART OF OUR TRIBE
You belong. We want you on our team. We accept you as one of us.
4. KEEP GOING, IT WILL WORK OUT
It may be difficult right now, but don’t give up, keep at it, and things will improve.
5. YOU’RE NOT ALONE
Whatever you’re struggling with, you’re not the only one. You are seen and understood.
6. THERE’S ALWAYS GOOD IN THE BAD
There’s a silver lining. There’s meaning in suffering. Hard times produce powerful people. The more you struggle, the stronger you get.
7. YOU ARE SEEN
Your efforts aren’t for nothing—you are seen and your work is recognized.
8. YOU ARE LOVED
No matter what, and forever.
Note: As with all messages, authenticity is key. Send the message only if you can do so honestly, otherwise it’s worse than no message at all.
Pro tip: Print out the power messages on a single page and put it on a wall next to where you work on your book to remind you to incorporate them into your writing.
Think of Brené Brown’s “Be you. Be all in. Fall. Get up. Try again,” and how these power messages are contained in her words.
Be you = You have worth
Be all in = You can do it
Fall. Get up. Try again. = Keep going, it will work out
Or consider Ryan Holiday’s books. Although the titles may not explicitly say it, The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, and Stillness is the Key all provide strong messages that you can do it, and if you stumble then keep going and it will work out.
Viktor Frankyl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning, born in part out of his experiences as a Jewish prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during WWII, provides a powerful message about how, even in the worst of circumstances, we can find meaning and purpose, or that good can come out of bad.
The power messages above are broadly applicable across languages, cultures, time, and place. However, especially trying circumstances call for different messages. Consider these messages that are especially powerful during times of crisis.
8 CRISIS POWER MESSAGES
In your book, you may seek to help people who are struggling with an emergency or crisis. In these situations use these messages to reassure your audience and promote positive action. These eight messages can work wonders for maintaining calm and leading your audience to the best outcome.
1. YOU ARE UNDERSTOOD
Your concerns are heard, understood, and valid.
2. YOU ARE SAFE
Everything is under control, nothing bad will happen to you.
3. YOU ARE REMEMBERED
You won’t be forgotten, left behind, or kept out of the loop. We’re in this together.
4. EVERYTHING WILL WORK OUT
Despite the uncertainty and challenges, we’ll get through this.
5. HERE ARE THE FACTS…
You can handle the truth so here it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
6. HERE’S THE PLAN…
There’s hope, now here is what we’re going to do….
7. GOOD WILL COME FROM THIS
We’ll turn the bad into good and next time we’ll be even better prepared.
8. YOU ARE LOVED
We care about you. This is in the other list of power messages above, but it’s especially important in a crisis and therefore bears repeating.
Note: Only use these messages to the extent you can do so truthfully. For example, don’t tell someone “Everything is under control, nothing bad will happen to you,” if you’re not sure that’s the case. Otherwise, when it’s proven things are not under control you will lose your credibility and these messages will no longer be as powerful when you use them.
It’s time to choose your powerful message. Is there any one message from the powerful messages above that feels like the primary message of your book and of your content in general? Can you combine two or three? Or can you think of a powerful message not listed above? Choose a message or brainstorm ideas.
Once refined, your message will become crisp, clear, and compelling—to you. However, it may not hold the same weight for your audience since they don’t have the same context. That’s why every powerful message needs a great wrapper to attract audience attention, communicate the core message, and encourage further exploration.
When I was nineteen years old, I served as a missionary for my faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you’ve ever seen two clean cut young men walking around in white shirts and ties with a black name tag on, that was me for two years.
Missionaries from my faith don’t choose where they serve, so I was excited when I found out I would serve in Brazil and learn Portuguese. Not only would I learn a new language and live in a culture foreign to my own, but the Brazilian people are famous in our faith for being extraordinarily receptive to the missionaries’ message.
I soon found out that everything is relative, and while Brazilians might be more open to a religious message than people in certain other countries, I still had to get used to rejection—a lot of it. It’s usually not effective to walk up to a stranger on the street and ask point-blank, “Do you want to hear a message about Jesus Christ?”
Thankfully, my first companion trained me to package our message in a more effective wrapper and then customize it for different people in various situations. If I were speaking to a father who was with his family and everyone looked happy, I might make a note of that and say, “It looks like you’ve got a happy family, would you be interested in hearing a message about how you can with your family forever, even after you die?” whereas if I was talking to a mother who just found out that her husband had another wife and family in a neighboring town (a situation I encountered a few months into my mission) then a more effective offer was to talk about ways we can find peace even when confronting challenges.
By the end of my mission I had a collection of “approaches” or wrappers I had used thousands of times and which I could mix and match in seconds to meet the needs of almost any situation. Anyone who has done extensive work in sales will be able to relate, as will anyone who has pitched to investors, hired employees, or had to deliver the same message repeatedly. Time + effort + repetition = polish or practice makes perfect.
Speaking of wrapping things, I’m big on burritos. A few years back when news spread that tortillas had officially surpassed sliced bread as the #1 bread product in the United States, I wasn’t at all surprised—I’m pretty sure I was personally responsible for at least half of those tortillas.
Crafting the perfect way to deliver your message is kind of like making a burrito. There are a lot of ingredients you can choose from, and the master burrito maker knows how to combine the right ingredients for each customer. Sometimes you just need one or two ingredients (the best bean and cheese burrito is from Taco Lita in Arcadia, California), and other times you go for the works.
10 INGREDIENTS FOR YOUR MOTIVATIONAL MESSAGE BURRITO
As you craft the primary message of your book, think about how you can utilize one or more of these ingredients to capture your reader’s attention, build trust and desire, and move them to action—right now.
“Do you struggle to…?” Call your audience’s attention to a problem/opportunity.
“Once upon a time….” Tell a story and help your audience see themselves in it.
“Don’t worry, I’m an expert.” Establish authority with degrees, awards, certifications, achievements, media coverage, testimonials, and social proof.
4. ABOUT THEM
“You’re a hero, I’m here to help.” Your customer is the main character in this story.
5. ALIGNED INTERESTS
“I’ve got just what you want.” Reinforce a previously held opinion, need, or desire.
“You can’t live without this.” The result you deliver is critical to their success.
7. FOMO (FEAR OF MISSING OUT)
“Everyone else is already on board.” Create positive peer pressure.
“This is super simple, I’ll step you through it.” Give them a plan.
“It pays for itself.” Your offering is an investment, not an expense.
“Hurry or you’ll miss out!” Limit time and quantity to create urgency.
Note: None of this will work long-term unless you have a fundamentally powerful message to wrap these ingredients around. However, if your core message is something your audience will value, then using these tactics is an act of service. You are helping them to do what they already want to do, or will want to do once they have the information you give them.
INGREDIENT 1: TRIGGERS
Imagine a member of your ideal audience is driving down the road in her car listening to the radio, and you have a chance to speak to her for only thirty seconds and in that short time, convince her to buy your book. What would you say to grab her attention? How would you get her to think “I’ve got to read this!”
Your audience will be triggered by two things, their own identity and either a problem they need to solve, or an opportunity they want to take advantage of. To compel your audience to seek more information, call them out by their role and speak directly to a problem or opportunity they face with questions like “Are you a…?” and “Do you struggle with…?” or “Do you want to…?”
You’ll plug in your ideal audience to complete the question “Are you a…?” and for the other two questions, refer back to your superpower or your personal brand tagline, and insert the problem you (and your book) solve or the opportunity you help others to take advantage of.
Example: “Are you the CEO of a manufacturing business in Southern California with less than twenty-five employees? Do you struggle with your taxes every year, wondering if this is the year you’ll get audited?”
What is your role + problem/opportunity question or “trigger?”
INGREDIENT 2: STORIES
We evolved to pay attention to stories. When you tell a story, your audience will imagine themselves as part of it, especially if the story you tell describes the journey they want to take.
For example, here’s my own story:
After an article I wrote was published in Fast Company it helped me get into Forbes where I wrote over 164 articles. Writing for Forbes opened the doors to more than two dozen other publications including Time, Mashable, TechCrunch, Inc., and Fortune. As I wrote for these publications I became known as a thought leader in my space, and soon others were writing about me in their articles. That coverage led to a TEDx talk, multiple book deals, and over $10M in revenue for my business.
Writing for many publications, as well as being written about, also helped me develop lots of relationships in the media world and understand how getting media coverage works. That inspired me to create a personal branding agency and now that company uses what I learned to help executives and entrepreneurs get their own coverage in top business publications.
See what I did there? If you’re an entrepreneur or executive who dreams of being featured in a top business publication (role + opportunity trigger) then my story drew you in, and as I told my story you were thinking, “Boy, I’d like to have someone write about me for these publications.”
HOW TO TELL A STORY
When Marvel released Avengers: Endgame in 2019, it became the 23rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the time required to watch every movie reached a total of one day, 23 hours, and 48 minutes. Note: If that’s not enough for you, don’t worry, as of this printing there are 14 more MCU movies in development.
For those of you who watched every MCU film, or any other superhero movie, or any other movie, for that matter, did you ever notice that almost every movie is the same in many ways? There’s always a main character who is good (or less bad than the bad guys), and that protagonist has an adventure, meets new people, faces challenges, fights the bad guys, and comes home a changed and better person. There’s a name for that: the Hero’s Journey.
Joseph Campbell came up with the term when he published The Hero With a Thousand Faces in 1949. TIME Magazine listed it as one of the “100 best and most influential [books] written in English since 1923,” when TIME was founded. George Lucas said he consciously used Campbell’s work to develop the story of Star Wars. When Campbell saw the Star Wars trilogy (he watched them all in one day, as Lucas’ guest at his California ranch) he said “You know, I thought real art had stopped with Picasso, Joyce, and Mann. Now I know it hasn’t.”
The Hero’s Journey, as Campbell explained it, has three parts, or “acts”:
- The departure. The hero leaves the world they’ve known. Think Katniss Everdeen volunteering as tribute in the Hunger Games, Harry Potter leaving the Dursleys to go with Hagrid, or Bilbo Baggins traveling beyond the Shire.
- The initiation. The hero enters an unfamiliar or special world where they face challenges that force them to grow.
- The return. The hero returns to their familiar world, better for the adventure.
Or as Campbell put it in his book:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Campbell further broke his three acts into 17 steps. In 1992, film producer and writer Christopher Vogler published The Writer’s Journey, a screenwriting textbook based on a memo he had written years earlier in an attempt to help screenwriters in Hollywood understand Campbell’s all-encompassing “monomyth” structure. Vogler simplified Campbell’s 17 steps to “just 12.” The 12 steps of Vogler’s version of the Hero’s Journey are:
- The Ordinary World
- The Call of Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting the Mentor
- Crossing the First Threshold
- Tests, Allies, Enemies
- Approach to the Inmost Cave
- The Ordeal
- Reward (Seizing the Sword)
- The Road Back
- Return with the Elixir
At this point you may be asking, “If I’m writing a nonfiction book, why do I need to know the 12 phases of the Hero’s Journey? I’m not writing The Hobbit.”
You’re right, so let’s simplify this to just three parts:
- The hero leaves home and safety.
- They go on adventures, face challenges, and grow.
- They return home, but changed.
Your book will contain stories in order to illustrate the points you want to make and help them become more understandable and memorable. You’ll also use stories, built around the Hero’s Journey, to make your reader an active participant in your book, that is, the hero. After all, isn’t your reader departing from the world they’ve known as they open your book? Aren’t they entering an unfamiliar world where they will face challenges and grow? And don’t you want them to return back to their familiar world, changed for the better? Not to mention, how great will your reader feel if everything they read in your book makes them feel like a hero?
For starters, what’s the short story you can tell to introduce who you are, what you do, and who you do it for? Quite possibly, that story will include how you traveled the path you’re now inviting your audience to travel on, with you as their guide.
INGREDIENT 3: TRUST
In 1995, the academic journal Academy of Management Review published research on trust from Roger C. Mayer and James H. David from Notre Dame and F. David Shoorman from Purdue. Their study, called An Integrative Model of Trust, named three elements that must be in place before trust can exist. Those elements of trust are ability, integrity, and benevolence.
However, it takes time to get to know if someone has those three elements. How can you gain the trust of your audience when you are delivering your message for the first time? The key is authority triggers that act as proxies for the three elements of trust. These include:
- Citing data
- Media coverage
- Association with trusted sources
- Social proof
- Organization and professionalism
- Academic degrees
Testimonials, especially delivered through word-of-mouth from a trusted source, are the most powerful proxy to establish your ability, integrity, and benevolence.
83% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services—making these recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness. – Nielsen
Chances are, you’re reading this workbook right now because someone you trust recommended it to you. However, that could only take you so far. As I put this guide together I’ve attempted to provide value and earn your trust through various proxies of ability, integrity, and benevolence. In this section alone, note how I:
- Cited a study from an official sounding academic journal, with authors from well-known and reputable universities (association with trusted sources).
- Quoted from one of the foremost research companies in the world (data).
- Included a footnote to increase the credibility of the quote (organization and professionalism).
I prefer to summarize all the proxies for building relationships of trust as “names and numbers.” That is, names of people, clients, and companies who can vouch for you as references or who will give testimonials; names of trusted sources you are associated with; names of awards, certifications, and degrees; and so forth. And numbers, meaning data or achievements, such as when you say, “I’ve worked in this field since 1999, collaborated with thousands of clients, and as an example of what I did for one client, I helped them increase call volume by 247%, and sales by 5X.”
What names and numbers can you include to add instant authority and credibility to yourself as an author, and to your book?
INGREDIENT 4: ABOUT THEM
In the book Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller, he walks us through a process to weave what we do professionally into a classic story arc, or hero’s journey. What many of us have gotten wrong in the way we talk about ourselves and our businesses is that when we create stories, we make ourselves the hero. But think about it from your audience’s perspective—are they likely to be more interested in a story where you’re the hero, or where they are?
Miller says your audience should be the hero of the stories you tell while you are the guide. If your audience is Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, then you are Obi Wan Kenobi (or Yoda). If your audience is Harry Potter, then you’re Dumbledore, if the reader is Frodo then you’re Gandalf, and so forth.
Drawing on Building a Storybrand and other resources from Miller, here are five questions to ask yourself that will help you make your audience the hero and keep yourself as the guide:
- What does your audience want?
- What can your audience do when they read your book?
- What case studies or examples will help your audience envision themselves enjoying the benefits your book promises?
- What homework or action can you assign that will provide real value and help the reader integrate what they’ve learned into their own life?
- How can you help the reader celebrate every win?
Answer the five questions below to help you flesh out ideas about how to make your reader the hero of your book.
What does your audience want?
What can your audience do when they read your book?
What case studies or examples will help your audience envision themselves enjoying the benefits your book promises?
Note: Making your audience the hero doesn’t mean you never talk about yourself. If you share a case study from your own experience, but in doing so you enable the reader to put themselves in your shoes and then follow the steps you took and achieve the same success, that still makes them the hero and leaves you as the guide.
What homework or action can you assign that will provide real value and help the reader integrate what they’ve learned into their own life?
How can you help the reader celebrate every win?
INGREDIENT 5: ALIGNED INTERESTS
Your message is more likely to lead to action if it reinforces a previously held opinion, need, or desire.
I experienced firsthand the power of a message that aligned with my interests so well it could have cost me tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps more. This is slightly embarrassing, so don’t tell anyone about this, but I once almost fell prey to an email scam. No, a Nigerian prince struggling to get $46M out of his country did not offer to split the money with me if I’d allow him to transfer it into my bank account…but, it was close.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Josh, nobody falls for those, are you some sort of idiot?”
That’s debatable, but hear me out, because this scam was different from anything I’ve seen before. Here is the exact email I received:
ATTN : Josh Steimle
Greetings and Peace be onto you. Trust you you are well .
My name is Juan Zhang; Legal Counsel for Sir Michael Kadoorie and the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation. The Kadoorie Charitable Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation was formed 1997. The Foundation was established by Sir Michael David Kadoorie, GBS, a Hong Kong billionaire businessman, and the chairman and 18% owner of CLP Group, Hong Kong’s largest electricity producer.He is also owner of 47% of Hong kong and Shanghai Hotels.
Since the inception of the foundation in 1997, we have played a leading role in promoting different aspects of humanitarian work on both domestic and international levels as an achievement of offer greater opportunities in life to the disadvantaged Worldwide, in mobilizing the power of humanity to help the weak and the needy wherever they are and regardless of any of ethnic, cultural, geographic or religious considerations.
Kadoorie Charitable Foundation is hosting a 2 days seminar on “Improving Livelihood Through Empowerment and Education”. This will take place in Hong Kong on [Saturday, 18 April 2020] and [Sunday, 19 April 2020] and In attendance is Li Keqiang; Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, Jack Ma; Co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, International Celebrities and world renowned entrepreneurs/business men and women will be in attendance. We are interested in inviting/booking you for this event. Could you kindly confirm your availability and costing information?
Do you notice the spelling errors? The word “you” twice in the first line? Spacing where it shouldn’t exist? Lack of spaces where they should be? Missing words? Poor grammar?
Somehow I overlooked what now is obvious to me. But why? I have twenty years experience sniffing out scams and I’ve never fallen prey to one. How did this one manage to get me to think it was legitimate, at least for a little while, whereas others I can identify as scams within a split second?
Here’s how the scammer did it:
- My name. Most scams don’t use your name. If you’re trying to spam 10 million people it’s virtually impossible to include names.
- Hong Kong. I used to live there, and I’ve never seen Hong Kong used as part of a scam email, so that also caught my attention.
- Sir Michael Kadoorie. The first thing I did when I got this email was to look this gentleman up and sure enough, he’s a real person, and the information about him in this email all checks out. Most scams use fake names.
- The charitable foundation. This organization is real.
- The event. This event is also real and the information about it is accurate.
What the scammer most likely did not know, but which played heavily in his favor, is that this isn’t the first time I’ve received an invitation from a knighted billionaire.
In January 2017, I received an invitation from a woman I had never met, at a company I had never heard of, to come spend an all-expenses paid week on Necker Island with Sir Richard Branson. I immediately thought “Spam!” but then I realized this person said things in the email she could only have said if she knew who I was and some information about me. One of the things she said that made me think perhaps it was real was that she had read my book, Chief Marketing Officers at Work, which she mentioned by name.
I replied to her, cautiously, to get more details. When she responded it all sounded great, but then I thought, “Ah-ha! I know what this is, this is one of those ‘exclusive invitations’ where they make you feel like you’re someone special, but then the catch is that to attend the event costs $50,000.”
Except there wasn’t anything like that. It really was an all-expenses paid week on Necker Island. It was 100% legit, with no catch. I know, because I went. I was one of perhaps eighty people who were invited, and I was the least-accomplished person there. I hung out with the head of the largest ad agency in the world, responsible for spending $14B annually on advertising. I met the head of one of the most well-known magazines in the world, the producer of an Oscar-winning movie, and I got to hang out with Branson, himself.
So when I received the scam email above, it didn’t seem all that impossible. However, there was one more thing more powerful than any of the above reasons for why I believed the email was real—it told me something I wanted to hear.
As a paid speaker, I frequently receive invitations to get paid to speak at events, so when I read this email and saw that a billionaire wanted me to speak at his event, I saw dollar signs.
Not only that, it would be a nice trip for my wife and I to visit Hong Kong and see our friends there.
The chance to meet Sir Kadoorie, who apparently shares a passion for education and entrepreneurship, also loomed large.
However, I began to get suspicious and reached out directly to someone at the organization to verify the identity of the person emailing me. They told me the person who had sent me the email didn’t exist, and that it was a scam.
I immediately went back and read the first email I received, and I couldn’t believe it. How had I not seen all the warning signs?! My brain processed the parts I wanted to see, and ignored everything else, including all the red flags…at least for a day or two.
Don’t misunderstand me—I don’t want you to trick anyone. This technique of aligning your message with the interests of your ideal audience can be used to serve, or to scam. Whether it’s the one or the other is up to you.
What interests does your ideal audience have? Put another way, what are your ideal audience’s dreams? List as many as you can.
If you have more than three interests or dreams listed for your ideal audience, circle the top three.
INGREDIENT 6: MUST-HAVE
Is what your book promises a must-have?
“Well, I guess not, I mean, it’s not like water or food.”
That’s ok, because we’re not living in the zombie apocalypse just yet. The real question is what does your ideal audience want, and is the information in your book a must-have to help them get it?
For example, you might think of executive coaching as a nice-to-have. So did Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google:
When I started at Google in late 2001, John Doerr, one of our early investors, called me to say, “Bill works with our companies. He’s good at being a coach and mentor.”
I remember saying, “I don’t really need a coach. I’ve been an experienced CEO for many years. I’m not a kid.” John pushed for it: “Tennis players have coaches, and maybe you need a coach, too.” Bill came over to talk to me, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Once you met Bill, you knew you wanted him to help.
The Bill he’s talking about is Bill Campbell, former CEO of Intuit. Schmidt later said:
He would normally say very little during my staff meetings and just observe. And then I and other executives would individually make a trek to his Intuit office in Palo Alto for his feedback. He wasn’t a technical wizard, but he understood how to solve human problems and motivate people. He would have been a good coach in any industry.
There is nobody who had a bigger impact across the industry. Remember this is the guy who kept Steve Jobs going. He was his mentor, his friend. He was the protector, the inspiration. Steve trusted him more than he trusted anybody else.
Now, imagine you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and you want it to succeed in a big way over the next ten years. After reading this, you’re given the opportunity to buy Trillion Dollar Coach, a book about Bill Campbell, written by Eric Schmidt. Would that book feel like a nice-to-have, or a must-have?
What are the top three desires you listed for your ideal audience above, and how does your book help them get each one?
INGREDIENT 7: FEAR OF MISSING OUT (FOMO)
FOMO is real, it’s powerful, and while it’s often portrayed as negative, you can put this natural psychological phenomenon to productive use. FOMO can help people exercise, eat right, find a better job, start a new business, or read a good book.
Ways you can use FOMO as an ingredient in your motivational message burrito, and in your book and other thought leadership content:
- Mention who’s using your services or buying your product (“The other day, when I was coaching Bill Gates, he said…”)
- Throw out numbers (“I’ve trained over 3,000 marketers on this method…” or “Join 20,000 other leaders who subscribe to my email list…”)
- Consider the status quo (“A year from now you’ll be where you are today unless…”)
- Offer a content upgrade (“Join my email list to get my cheat sheet…”)
- Talk openly about FOMO (“FOMO is real, and you don’t want to feel that, do you?”)
- Offer a bonus for increased commitment (“If you buy five copies of this book and send me the receipt, I’ll give you my audit tool for free…”)
- Show social proof (“I was just featured in Forbes…”)
- Describe failure (“If you don’t do this, then…”)
- Create scarcity (more on this below in Ingredient #10)
All these phrases make people feel that if they don’t act now, they’re going to miss out on something and get left behind, and nobody likes that feeling. However, positive FOMO is backed up by reality—if they don’t act, they really are missing out. Without reality, your message will feel fake and it’s mere manipulation.
What opportunities is your ideal audience afraid to miss out on? What ideas do you have for how to create FOMO within your message to help them?
INGREDIENT 8: EASY
Unless they’re lifting weights to get ripped, people prefer easy tasks to hard ones. One way to make the promise of your message feel easy, even if it’s complex, is to give your audience a system. You might call it a method, model, process, rule, theory, tool, test, framework, set of steps, or plan. The simplest plan looks like this:
The key is that you have a “thing,” it has a name, and it works. Any process that is halfway organized and has a name instills more confidence then telling your audience, “You do some things, and then good stuff happens.” Examples of real-life “things” include The 7 Systems, of course, but also:
- The Fascinate Test from Sally Hogshead that helps you find your Fascination Archetype.
- The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) from Gino Wickman’s books Traction, Get a Grip, and Rocket Fuel, used by entrepreneurs to build solid, profitable businesses.
- The Balanced Scorecard by Robert S. Kaplan, a strategic management tool used to measure performance and provide feedback to organizations.
I recently received an email from someone marketing a book-writing program who said, “My 12-step plan can help you finish a book in 28 or fewer days.” Knowing what it takes to create a quality book, I was a bit skeptical, but it sure sounds great! When you tell your audience you have a plan for them—a success path—they will want to know more about it.
What’s your “thing?” What’s its name? What are the steps, elements, or key points?
INGREDIENT 9: FREE
Your message may be free, but its consequences might cost a great deal. How can you make something feel free even as someone is shelling out a lot of cash to get it?
Recently, I read Andrea Fryrear’s Mastering Marketing Agility, a chief marketing officer’s guide to transform a traditional marketing team into an Agile team. The book was only $30, but implementing it could require a large company to spend millions. However, what’s a few million dollars if you’re going to get tens of millions back?
Your ideal audience will gladly accept your message, even if they know it will require them to spend a lot of money, if you position it as an investment rather than an expense.
I know people who didn’t have $1,000 in their bank account and yet scraped, borrowed, and begged tens of thousands of dollars to buy online courses, attend workshops, and hire business coaches. They’ve convinced themselves they’re not spending, they’re investing. If you knew—you really knew—that an online course would generate $48,000 per month for you, would you buy it for $12,000?
“But Josh, those courses are rip-offs!”
A lot of them are, because they don’t deliver results. They’re just scams. However, some of them do deliver, and of course whatever you’re selling with your book is worth the investment, right? The only question is how you explain that to your audience.
How does what your message, and the action it invites, pay for itself?
INGREDIENT 10: SCARCITY
Although Stephen R. Covey taught us in The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People to focus on what is important, we still tend to pay more attention to what is urgent. So when it comes to wrapping your message for delivery, which should you focus on, importance or urgency?
Why not both?
If importance means must-have, which we already discussed above, then urgency = “I must have it right now!”
To create urgency, limit time and quantity. Limited time means the opportunity may “spoil,” like a bonus your audience members only get if they sign up within the next 24 hours, or how you better spend time with your children when they’re children, because they won’t stay that way forever.
An example of limited quantity is when you say “The first 100 people who send me a receipt showing they bought my book will get a free coaching session,” or “I’m only taking on one more client and then I’ll be full until there’s an opening.
Whether the limitation is time, quantity, or both, what your audience thinks is “If I want this, I better move fast!”
Where possible, it’s ideal to take advantage of natural scarcity rather than creating it because it’s more convincing. Telling someone who books corporate speakers, “I only want to do ten speaking engagements per year, and I’ve already got nine booked,” is good, but saying “I am booked every week this year except the third week of November,” is better. In the first scenario, perhaps you could be talked into adding another event. In the second, it’s clear you can’t make accommodations even if you wanted to.
For many consumers of your message, the cost of moving slowly is simply that they wait longer to get the benefits. When this is the case, frame the urgency in terms of stagnation, of being in the same place next year that they are today unless they make changes.
How can you highlight the benefits for those who move quickly as well as what your audience will miss out on if they delay acting on your message?
In what ways can you add scarcity to your message burrito?
LET’S MAKE A BURRITO
Imagine you’ve been invited to a dinner at a friend’s house, along with several people you don’t know. In casual conversation with one of them, you realize this individual is a member of your ideal audience, and they ask you the magic question, “So, what do you do?”
Instead of what you would have said before you began this workbook, you have a new response, and it goes like this:
“Well, right now I’m working on a book.”
Nobody can resist following up that response with, “Oh really? What’s it about?”
The door has been opened wide, and you now have permission to tell your new friend all about your book and the message in it. However, don’t go rushing in by giving them a ten-minute spiel. Instead, make a message burrito. First, let’s use your trigger.
“Have you ever…”
After you deliver your trigger, which not only gives you a chance to validate they’re a member of your ideal audience but also shows them you’re a polite and inquisitive human being who wants to understand them better, they’ll hopefully say something like, “Oh wow, yeah, that’s me! So what exactly does your book do for people like me?”
This is where you tell your story, the story that led to the creation of your “thing”—your system, formula, or idea. Important: Mention the system, but don’t give them the details, not yet. We want to keep them asking questions. Say something like, “Well, the way I got interested in writing this book was…and then that led me to create the XYZ framework.”
What is your response to “What does your book do for people like me?”
Just as it’s impossible for someone to resist asking what your book is about when you mention you’re writing one, they’ll be unable to not ask what your system is.
When they do, give them the quick version, then hint at the benefits people or organizations that use it have received, like this: “The XYZ framework is first…, second…, third…, and the companies that are using it are getting great results.”
Pro tip: Build some more trust and FOMO here by throwing out numbers of how many people use your offering, or how many people or companies you’ve worked with.
The quick explanation about what your system is…?
If this person you’re talking to is truly a member of your ideal audience there’s a strong likelihood they’re going to want more information and you won’t have to push it on them, they’ll drag it out of you, because everyone likes burritos.
You’ll note we didn’t use all the ingredients in this example, and you’ll probably never have that opportunity. Instead, you’ll learn to mix and match the ingredients to meet the circumstances. For now, you’re off to a good start.
Q3: WHAT KIND OF CONTENT WILL I CREATE?
Answering this question is somewhat simplified because we already know you’re writing a book, but there are many kinds of books, and many types of content that can go in those different kinds of books. Then there is your thought leadership system to consider that might include video, audio, visuals, and other written content.
Also, decisions about what kind of content you will create are not limited to the medium, but whether it will be time-sensitive or evergreen, short or long, academic and sophisticated or easily accessible.
When it comes to your book, its format could be question and answer, interviews, narrative nonfiction, or case studies.
Regardless of whether it’s your book or any other content, and what form that content might take, here are five questions that will help you brainstorm what it might look like:
- What type of content is easy for me to create?
- What sources will I use to create content?
- What has already worked for me?
- What has worked for others in my space?
- What has worked for others outside my space?
1. WHAT TYPE OF CONTENT IS EASY FOR ME TO CREATE?
I hope you enjoy writing! However, if you don’t, you can still be a great author. Many authors dictate their work. Some hire ghostwriters. If writing isn’t as comfortable for you as you would like, try creating your book in a format you are comfortable with first.
For example, Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, loves working with slide decks, so she starts the creative process in slide deck software like Powerpoint or Keynote. As she says in the HBR article Why I Write in Powerpoint:
[Powerpoint] allows me to block out major themes (potential sections or chapters) and quickly see if I can generate ample ideas to support them.” She continues, “In early stages, each slide resembles a Pinterest board, with a simple but descriptive title, some rough text, and a few sketched or found images that clarify the concepts. If I can’t produce enough insights for a particular theme, I abandon it before spending too much time crafting language. It’s easy to drag individual slides to the end of the deck, in case I’d like to revisit them later, or just delete them.
On the other hand, if you want to create a video but your strength is writing, rather than simply filming, write out a mini-screenplay. List out all the different types of content that you could create, and then mark those that are easiest for you.
What type of content is easy for me to create?
2. WHAT SOURCES WILL I USE FOR MY CONTENT?
Raw material for your content generally comes from three places:
- Your experiences
- Others’ experiences
Chances are your book will include a little of each, but lean primarily towards one.
Gary Vaynerchuk’s 2009 best seller Crush It! was based primarily on his first-hand experiences growing his father’s liquor business from $3M to $60M in revenue through online sales. His 2018 sequel, Crushing It!, shares the experiences of other people who successfully applied the first book.
Which do you plan to primarily draw from—your experiences, others’ experiences, or research?
In creating your content, maybe you don’t need to go and find raw material. Maybe you’ve already done it. Do you have a blog, a podcast, or extensive social media posts? How about sales presentations or other marketing materials? Often, the framework or sometimes the finished version of our content is sitting there in plain sight.
What content do you already have? What other sources will you use to write your book and create other thought leadership content?
What sources will you use for your content?
3. WHAT HAS ALREADY WORKED FOR ME?
Another quick way to get ideas for your content is to look at what has worked in the past. What content have you already tried? What’s worked, what hasn’t worked? Why or why not? What ideas can you create for future content based on what you’ve done in the past?
What’s worked/not worked and why or why not?
4. WHAT’S WORKING FOR OTHERS IN MY SPACE?
Can you learn from the content competitors, partners, or others in your field or industry are creating? How could you adapt their approach and put your unique spin on it? Who are other thought leaders in your space? What are they doing that appears to be working?
What’s working for others in your space?
5. WHAT’S WORKING FOR OTHERS OUTSIDE YOUR SPACE?
Are there thought leaders outside your field or industry you could learn from and whose approaches might work well in your field? For example, if someone has written The Book On Goal-setting For Lawyers, could you write The Book On Goal-setting For Accountants, or whatever your field happens to be?
What’s working for others outside your space?
One last question:
WHAT IDEAS DO YOU ALREADY HAVE FOR CONTENT?
If any ideas about your content have come up but don’t seem to fit anywhere above, put them here. What ideas do you already have for content?
Q4: WHERE WILL I DISTRIBUTE MY CONTENT?
How will you deliver your message and other content? Because we have an entire section of this workbook dedicated to setting up your thought leadership system, we’ll leave until later a more detailed look at the channels you should absolutely invest in, as well as others you might consider. For now, the only question we need to answer is “Where does my audience hang out?”
Around 2013, when I was writing for Forbes, I created a single article that brought in millions of dollars of revenue for my marketing agency. At the same time, I was writing for several other publications, so naturally I thought, “Hey, if it worked on Forbes, I should be able to write a similar article for these other publications and get similar results, right?”
One of the other publications was Entrepreneur Magazine, and in fact, I was even more excited about creating an article for Entrepreneur because whenever I published there, I got much higher engagement.
I rewrote that top-performing article from Forbes, along with a few other articles that had done well on Forbes, and published them on Entrepreneur, and then…crickets. Nothing happened! Sure, I got comments and engagement on social media, but none of it turned into business for my agency.
Turns out, my ideal audience wasn’t reading Entrepreneur. I had the right message, but I delivered it to the wrong place.
We already know your book is a great way to get your message out there, but what about the rest of your thought leadership system? When considering the many channels where you could put out content, including podcasts, social media, blogs, publications, TV, and radio, where does your audience hang out?
Where are the best places to reach your audience? List specific magazines, podcasts, events, websites, social networks, and anything else you can think of.
Where does your audience hang out?
Q: “But wait, what if where my audience hangs out doesn’t match the type of content that’s easiest for me to create? What if my audience hangs out a lot on YouTube, but I hate creating videos?”
A: Great question! I wish I had an easy answer for you, but the only two are to either learn to like it, or outsource it.
Pro tip: It’s a lot easier to learn to enjoy creating a new type of content if you have someone who can mentor you through the initial learning curve. Is there someone who is an expert at the type of content you need to create who you can partner with?
Q5: HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY CONTENT SYSTEM?
Kaizen is a strategy of continuous improvement that Japanese auto manufacturers have used to great advantage. The focus is not on moonshot initiatives or “changing the game,” but rather regular, incremental improvements to the manufacturing process.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, my first introduction to Kaizen took place when I was just a kid. An advertisement for the now-defunct Saturn car company showed an assembly line with car bodies moving along it. Suddenly an auto worker pulled a handle attached to a rope hanging from above, and the entire line ground to a halt. Other workers then came over to see what was wrong and solve the problem.
What was notable in the ad was how it showed that while the worker who pulled the rope and stopped the entire plant was nervous about doing it, all the other workers were supportive. There was nobody saying “Hey! What’d you do that for?! Now we all have to work late!” It was 100% “Good call! Now what’s the problem and how do we fix it?”
The Kaizen process has six phases:
- Identify a problem or opportunity
- Analyze the process
- Develop a solution
- Implement the solution
- Analyze the results and adjust
- Standardize or automate the solution
The sixth phase is key, because it’s one thing to fix a problem, and it’s another to understand why the problem happened in the first place and fix the system so the problem never happens again. As you work on your book and thought leadership system, you will be tempted to focus on one-time problems, but the key to sustained success is to build a better system that doesn’t have problems.
For example, if you had just ten minutes to improve your personal brand or make your thought leadership more effective, you could:
- Upload that new photo to your LinkedIn profile
- Update your bio on your personal brand website
- Ask your assistant to find a quote on a particular topic for your book
These are all good things but they’re one-time fixes, they don’t change the system. Alternatively, with those same ten minutes you could:
- Create a lead magnet to grow your email list
- Sign up as a source to receive PR emails from HARO
- Train your assistant to find new material for your book without additional direction
As an entrepreneur you’re familiar with the idea of creating passive income, the kind you make while you sleep. Given the choice, most of us would love to have passive income and not be forced to trade our time for money. In the realm of improvement, we might call fixing one-time issues active improvement, while Kaizen, with its focus on standardizing and automating the solution, we could call passive improvement.
If you spent ten minutes per month on active improvement, perhaps you could improve your content system by 1% each month. That’s good, it means a 12.68% improvement each year.
However, if you spent those same ten minutes focused on changes that lead to passive improvement, you might see your system improve by 1% improvement each day. That would mean a 3,778% improvement each year.
Same amount of time, different focus, extremely different results.
To invest in passive improvement, follow these steps:
- Create a monthly appointment with yourself. Duration = 10 minutes.
- During those few minutes, ask yourself “What do I wish I were getting from my content that I’m not getting, and why am I not getting it?”
- Identify one opportunity or problem which, if you addressed it, would make a difference, even if a small one.
- Find where you can change the system so that the matter is addressed—permanently.
At first this will be tough, and it may take you more than ten minutes, but the more you do it, the more ideas will come to you. As you implement them, the gains will compound.
PONDER, ACT, & ASK
Think about what you have learned from System 4: Content, and consider what you can do with it. Answer the questions below:
What are the most meaningful things I learned in this section?
What will I do as a result of what I learned in this section?
SYSTEM 4: CONTENT — ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
- Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi
- Content Inc by Joe Pulizzi
- Platform by Cynthia Johnson
- They Ask You Answer by Marcus Sheridan
- 1000 True Fans by Jongo Longhurst
- Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
- A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer
- Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley
- The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott
- Content Chemistry by Andy Crestodina
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
- Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout
- Talk Triggers by Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin
- Story Genius by Lisa Cron
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