How To Sell More With Less Hype With Ken McCarthy

Ken McCarthy is considered one of the founding fathers of internet marketing.

He’s one of the giants upon who’s shoulders yours truly was able to find his big break in the internet marketing scene.

Ken’s retired from interviews, but I was able to convince him (not without a help of a friend) to do one last interview for the listeners of the List Building Lifestyle.


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We just don't know. We make our best research, we come up with our best plans,
but we don't know until the game starts how the game's going to unfold. And
yeah, very, very often the market and/or the things you encounter when you're
trying to get something done, guides you way better than you could have ever
guided yourself.

Hi, my name is Igor Kheifets and this is the List Building Lifestyle, the only podcast
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Igor: Welcome back to another edition of the List Building Lifestyle with your
host Igor Kheifets. And today I have the pleasure to host Ken McCarthy from, who is one of the founding fathers of internet marketing. He
was a part of the original movement to commercialize the internet and Ken's System
seminar is recognized as one of the foremost marketing trainings in the world. The
United States Patent and Trademark Office granted him the exclusive right to use
the phrase "the system" to describe internet marketing education products. I
picked up on Ken's work last year when a copy of “The System Club Letters”
came across my desk. I immediately recognized Ken as one of the good guys who
walk the talk based on his deep insight into direct marketing, advertising, and selling
in print. Ever since it has been my personal goal to connect with Ken and I'm
excited about the upcoming call because I'm certain the founding father of
internet marketing has some eye-opening insights for list builders. Ken, thank
you so much for being here.

Ken: Oh, I'm glad to be here. And I thank Perry Marshall for introducing us.

Igor: Oh, yeah. He was very kind to hook us up and I couldn't be more grateful
because I've heard so many good things about you. Ben Settle, my personal friend
and mentor talks a lot about you and obviously “The System Club Letters.” I mean,
mind blowing.

Ken: Thank you.

Igor: So in “The System Club Letters” you referred to lessons you learned from
a gambler, because while business is not gambling sometimes it is a gamble. Now,
do you mind sharing your insight on this concept with our listeners?

Ken: Well, this is a very interesting thing to talk about. A lot of people think
that gambling is just taking a reckless risk and just hoping for the best, and in
fact, professional gamblers try to minimize the risks and in fact succeed in
minimizing their risks as much as possible, sometimes right down to zero,
professional ones. Amateurs, who just sort of throw the dice and hope for the best,
they might get lucky and might win the lottery too, but it's probably not a good
path. So the question then is, you don't want your business to be a gambling.
You kind of want to know what you're doing up front. However, even when you plan
every single thing out and do every little possible bit of research you can, you
never know exactly what the result is going to be. And I think this is very
important for people to know when they're going in the business. That being
said, one of the key skills in business is the ability to improvise, to react and
improvise to changing circumstances because business is nothing if not changing
circumstances. If you're going to go left and you discover that you really need
to go right and the people that survive and thrive and ultimately succeed massively
are not the smartest. They're the people who have the most resilience and the
people who are awake. And the people who are ready to change their concept based
on the feedback they're getting from the market. So you never know exactly
what's going to happen. There's a great saying in warfare that the best
battle plans become defunct after the first bullet is fired. Have plans, you need
them. Have research, you need them. Have a strategy, have tactics ready, you need
all that stuff. But when stuff starts happening, then you have to be awake and fast
on your feet. It's one of the most important skills in business is kind of hard
to teach, but if you're out there struggling, maybe this is an area you need to
look at. Maybe you need to be able to move faster and be willing to adjust. One
thing I discovered, sometimes the people that are new at businesses, we all have
ideas that we love, our pet ideas, the ideas we've fallen in love with, and
sometimes we stick with them too long when we should be adjusting based on the
feedback we're getting from the marketplace. I'm not saying, "Give up."
I'm not saying, "Quit." I'm saying, "Be alert, be aware of what the marketplace
is telling you, and deliver to the marketplace what the marketplace is asking
for.", which is actually the essence of a business. So I hope I answered that one.

Igor: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And I couldn't agree with you more regarding
improvising, adapting, overcoming. That's something me and my teammates were
forced to do a lot in the last couple of years, especially when you grow and your
company, your enterprise grows. You have to adapt all the time to the changes. And
there are the challenges, of course, that come with growth and, of course, every
single little change now becomes more difficult, the bigger you get. And so, as I
was working with my coach Tom Beale and one of the most common phrases on our
weekly calls was, "Improvise, adapt, and overcome." And the interesting part is
that oftentimes being forced to adapt and overcome a challenge actually lead to
more growth.

Ken: Absolutely, absolutely. We just don't know. We make our best research, we
come up with our best plans, but we don't know until the game starts how the
game's going to unfold. And yeah, very, very often the market and/or the things
you encounter when you're trying to get something done, guides you way better
than you could have ever guided yourself. So it's so important to keep your eyes
open. And also it's important to be flexible and be a little egoless. I mean, as
entrepreneurs, we need to have a strong sense of identity and faith in ourselves,
that's very important. But we also need to be able to detect which way the wind
is blowing and be willing to face reality. And very often reality leads us to
something way better than we ever imagined. So it's not negative that we have to
adapt all the time, but it is a requirement that we have to adapt all the time.

Igor: So going back to the concept of "business isn't gambling". You
also share in the book, “The System Club Letters”, ten concepts which are
parallel between business and gambling. Now, without going into all ten,
of course, there's one I'd like to kind of focus on here and get your insight
on. And this concept says, and I quote from the book, "It's a simple fact that the
less you brag about something the more it sells." Now, what does that mean?

Ken: It's very, very interesting. Let's see, in our world of entrepreneurial
marketing or entrepreneurial based direct marketing, you see a lot of people
advising or giving us examples, really sort of bragging over the top letters you
know the old sales letters. And there are cases where that's useful and it
works, but you always have to take the temperature of the market that you're in.
Some markets, they're so noisy and they're so full of claims and super
claims that the only way to be in that particular market may be to make wild claims.
EG Schwartz explains all this brilliantly in his book. And I'm trying to think
of the name of it but it's about breakthrough advertising. He talks about how
markets evolve. You have to evolve your style of presentation to them. However,
as a general, overall principle, if somebody's pushing too hard, if they're
building themselves up too much, if they're bragging too much if they
are going on and on about how great their product is. It's better to just,
hopefully you have a great product, and its better just to reveal the product and
just show people how it works. Gary Bencivenga who I think objectively was the
most successful direct mail writer of his age, which would have been the '60s,
'70s, '80s, '90s, into the 2000s. I think he was the most successful
based on results, on amount of money he generated. He said, "The best possible
sales presentation is a demonstration." In other words, here is this great
wordsmith; he was famous for helping pioneer the Magalog. He had 64-page sales
letters. He was just the king of kings when it came to writing ad copy. But he
said, "Look, at the end of the day, if your product is good and there's a
way to demonstrate it and just show how good it is, no words, no high claims, just
let people see." People are way more impressed by what they see with their own
eyes, and what they discover themselves, and what they figure out themselves, than
what you ram down their throat. So I guess the point is, obviously you want to
present yourself and your business and your product in the best possible light. But
if you're over-bragging and triple- exclamation points, if you read, for
example, the classic amazing letters of Gary Halbert, Gary's thought of as a guy
who's just kind of an amazing persuader, but we actually read his letters,
they're very calm. They are very calm. They might have a colorful, dramatic
headline, but the actual copy is just, "Here's the facts. Here's the
story. Here's what it's all about." If you read the great sales letter
written to sell the book “The Lazy Man's Way to Riches”, that was a book
that everybody should read, you should definitely read the ad copy for it. It sold
by a one-page ad. The guy sold millions of copies. This is something that you
can't do these days, but in the era that he was, you could pull that off. But
even when you read the ad copy, it's very calm. He just tells the story and you,
as the reader, kind of connect the dots and go, "Wow! I really want in on
this." If you think of a party, if the party has a red velvet rope, and
there's doormen in tuxedoes, and everything's very sedate and quiet, and
some people are being turned away, and some people are being allowed in,
they don't have a flashing neon sign that says, "Hey, this is the greatest party
ever!!! You should be here." Nobody would believe it. But when they see,
"Oh, look at how attractive that is. Look how appealing that is." And when
they discover with their own eyes, that's the strongest sale that you can ever
make. So when you can present your product that way that is a great way to
present it. And the reason I bring this up is very often new copywriters or people
that are new to the whole art of direct marketing think that the more bombast,
the more wild eyed claims, the better. Not necessarily, not necessarily. Tell your
story clearly, cleanly, with plenty of vivid details, people can visualize what you
have to offer, believe that what you have to offer is true, and they'll fill in the
bracket for you.

Igor: And this is a really amazing tip here because this is exactly what I've
done when it comes to breaking through the noise, if you will. I stepped into a very
noisy marketplace, which is the internet marketing game, people wanting to learn
how to make money online. And now, my company sells advertising, lead generation
services, sales funnels, education on traffic generation, list building. And so the
one thing I've always been proud of is that, yeah, you do need a loud headline,
either a loud positive headline or a loud negative headline, to get attention.
However, the claims in all the sales letters, as it was taught by one of my
copywriting mentors, Ross Bowring, they were always toned down. And the more I
hyped it up, the more Ross kind of just trashed my copy and told me to rewrite it
with a toned down claim, because no one really believes that. And I believe the
letter you mentioned, one of the greatest letters in history, I believe, Joe
Karbo's “The Lazy Man's Way to Riches”, I think it starts with a
damaging admission. Is that right?

Ken: I think you may be right. I don't have it at my fingertips, but yeah,
he's not grabbing you by the throat and saying, "This is the greatest thing
ever. You have to buy it." He's giving you the pros, the cons, and kind of
lets you make up your own mind. Obviously, he's guiding you very skillfully to
make up your mind the way he wants you to make it up. But he's definitely not
doing it through the bombast, which is a great word, bombast. [laughter] And so,
this is a temptation of especially the new salesman, the new copywriter. We think we
have to push so hard. What we really have to do is be very clear on, first of all,
who are reader is. That's probably 95% of the game. Who is going to be reading
this letter? Where are they at? How do they think? What do they believe? What do
they don't believe? And then forming your presentation so that it's easily
accepted, understood. Clarity, this is not a very sexy thing, but clarity in writing
is very important and very rare. And if you read Joe Karbo, if you read Gary
Bencivenga if you read Gary Halbert, the great, great, great copywriters of all
time, you'll be amazed at how simple their language is. No pyrotechnics, no
fireworks, just person to person telling the story as simply and as clearly as
possible. Another great writer in that venue and along those lines, and he's not
a current writer, he's an older writer, and I’m drawing a blank on his
name but he was actually the ghostwriter on “How to Make Friends and Influence
People”. He was also the ghostwriter on “How I Raised Myself from a Failure to
Success in Selling”. These books have other people's names as the writer and
they were essentially the person with the ideas, but it was this copywriter that
actually wrote the copy in the book, and then wrote the ads as well. And I'm
stalling for time because I'm trying to see if I can remember his name, but he
wrote a book called “How to Write a Good Advertisement”. Anyway, the point of
all this is, when you read those books, and if you can find the ads for those books,
again simple clear, direct language. No crazy claims, no triple exclamation points,
no all bolds, no all caps, just the facts told in a clear way. So don't ever
underestimate the power of just simple clarity. But the clearly has to be, one, you
know your customer, you know how they feel, how they think, what they're looking
for, and number two, you know your product, you know how your product satisfies your
particular customer base. And then once you have those two things under your belt,
strive for simple language and clarity of expression. People don't realize how
many readers they lose by getting fancy with their language. This is a really
important concept for copywriting; everybody is reading a sales letter with two
filters. One of those filters, and I'm just going to use the expression,
"bullshit". It's like they have a filter and every time they see
something that's a little bit hard to believe or a little bit stretched, their
little "bullshit" alarm goes off. You lose massive credibility when that
alarm goes off. If it goes off three or four times in a paragraph, you might have
lost the reader. The other filter that people have in their mind when they're
reading is the "So what?" filter. You know that you can't really
afford to be boring at any point in a sales letter. Every sentence has to have a
function; every sentence has to have a purpose, and has to move things forward.
And again, if "So what?" alarm is going off while somebody's reading it,
and they're like, "Well, this doesn't apply to me." or "How
does this benefit me?" They shouldn't be asking those questions, they
should be absorbed in how it applies to them and how it benefits them. So I
find it always to be a helpful way to edit my own copy. I've got my "bullshit"
filter on and I've got my "So what?" filter on, and anything in my
letter that makes the "bullshit" filter go off or the "So what?"
filter go off, I edit it out.

Igor: Well, you mentioned a couple of great concepts and I just want to circle back
to make sure our listeners kind of write those down at least and go investigate once
they're done listening. But before I do, I think the author you're referring
to is Victor Schwab.

Ken: You've got it. Thank you. [laughter] I have all of his book, suddenly. I
just forgot. But yeah, Victor Schwab, he's an old school guy. I mean, he's
definitely not on the seminar circuit, never was, probably passed away in the
'60s. But I think he's one of us the best copywriting educators ever. I
think his book is magnificent. And his examples of writing, they just tell the story
of how to use language to engage people and then persuade them. Remember,
attention, interest, desire, action. If you don't keep their interest throughout the
entire letter, and that means sentence by sentence, you're not going to get desire
going, and you're certainly not going to get any action. So this clarity issue,
this relevance issue, this "no ridiculous bragging" issue, these things
are really important. They're not glamorous, they're not sexy, they're
not like, "Oh, here's the secret technique like you can use this ninja
technique to overcome anybody's resistance. No, it's not that at all.
It's just this sort of workman-like attitude that you take towards your letter,
really checking out every sentence. "Is this plausible? Is this going to make
me lose believability? Is this not relevant to their interests?" You have to be
kind of ruthless. And writing, I always say, is 20% writing and 80% editing. And I
think with writing ad copy it's even stronger. Definitely throw everything on
the page, hold nothing back, go wild. But then edit. Edit like a surgeon, like a
general, like of general. I mean, because you are, you really are a general going
into battle when you're writing a copy, when you're writing an ad. And so as
you're reading your own copy think like a general. Like, "Can we go there?
Should we go there? Should we take the troops there? Should we go around?
How are we going to get around that obstacle? Gee, we're kind of exposed here.
Let's cut that out. Oh, that's a little bit weak, let's strengthen that",
sentence by sentence, line by line. If my copy is good, it's because that's
how I edit my copy. I read it, and read it, and read it, and read it, and polish it,
polish it, get rid of every sharp edge or a hole I find. A sales letter's never
done, at some point they have to finish it, send it. But you really need to put... I
think the average copywriter would benefit tremendously from spending a lot
more time polishing, getting the rough edges off the letter, than most do.

Igor: What would be your advice to generals with no real-world, in-the- trenches
battle experience?

Ken: Well, I think I could look back to the first sales letters I ever wrote before
I even knew there was such a thing as ad copy. I had a little business, I wanted
more customers, I thought a lot about the benefits that I offered to a certain group
of people, and I made sure that I had those benefits explained clearly in my ads. I
had a two-step process, which everybody probably knows, but it's worth
repeating. It's, you run an ad to generate a lead and then the real advertising,
stronger advertising, longer advertising, comes in the second step. And so I had
flyers, just way back, pre-internet, way back. And I had flyers and the flyers would
generate a phone call, and when somebody called I'd get their name and address.
I talk with them, of course, which was very beneficial. And by the way, a copywriter
should really talk to prospects. One of the greatest copywriters of all time, Claude
Hopkins, people seem to neglect part of his book where he said before he even tried
to sell anything by print, he would try to sell it live to a hundred people. He said
that. And everybody just glosses over that. Gary Halbert was door-to- door
encyclopedia salesman. He learned a lot about how you have to tread carefully
when you're presenting anything to strangers, because they're skeptical and they
get bored easily. See, he learned a lot from that. So if you're a beginner,
we're all, if we're smart, we're all beginners. Anybody that wakes up in
the morning and thinks they know how to handle everything perfectly is really sadly
mistaken. So I wouldn't focus too much on the fact that you're a beginner. I
would focus a lot on your prospects and I would focus a lot on your products and
then in my copy, I would focus a lot on building... You're basically building
the bridge between your product and your prospects, and I would just take a
workman-like attitude towards it. "Am I being clear? Do I know these people? Do
I know what they want? Do I know what they need? Do I know what they respond to?
Do I know what they react negatively to? And do I know my product? Do I know all
the ways it helps people? And am I expressing it clearly in my advertisement. That's
what I'd focus on, not the fact that you're a beginner. Because really,
honestly, truthfully, if I start a new project and I'm always starting new
projects all the time, I am a beginner again, if I'm smart. I'm not assuming
that I know anything. I'm assuming that there's a market out there for me to
learn and get to know better and better and communicate with more clearly
and more persuasively. It's ongoing evolutionary process, it's not like, "Oh, I
know everything, so this is going to be easy." That's a sure way to blow
yourself up.

Igor: The more I interview great copywriters and great direct response marketers,
so we got you, I interviewed Perry, interviewed Ross Bowring, my mentor, I've had
Daniel Levis on the show, John Carlton, going to be speaking with Brian McLeod, so
the more I'm talking with you guys, the more the common thread comes up, which
is "know thy customer". "Know exactly who is that person you're working with, who
is that person you want to influence, what are they looking for, what are their
insecurities , what are their fears, desires, emotions, etc.” Without it there's really no
copywriting in the first place because the spotlight is always on the customer and it's
less about your product and not even close to being anything to your skill set. It's
really about your prospect and so many different bells and whistles that people try
to put on copywriting these days by producing software and different things. But if
you strip it all down to nuts and bolts it really comes down to "Do you know the
person on the other side of your screen, or on the other side of the phone, or behind
that door you're going to knock on? Do you know them?" And if you do, if you have
empathy, if you're able to understand exactly what it feels like to live their
life, to walk a mile in their shoes, I don't think you'll ever have any
issues with selling or marketing anything to these people.

Ken: Yeah, yeah. I think that's a fair assessment of the situation. And
that's why talking, if you have an occasion or you create occasions to talk with
your prospects, you can make, you can create them, and listen to them. Gary Hammer
had an amazing piece of advice. He said, "So you're a car dealer or you
have a store or something, just get a little small tape recorder, and keep it in
your pocket all day while you're selling, and listen to it at the end of the
day. You're probably saying some very effective things, you're probably
saying some very ineffective things, and those will jump out at you as you kind of
listen critically to your conversations with prospects. But as important, you'll
hear what the prospects are saying." This, the same, it's just overlooked
by, I would say, 95% of the copywriting world. It's all about ninja tricks and
jiu-jitsu, mental jiu-jitsu and all this. But it's really the wrong end of the
stick. That's the wrong way to be approaching copywriting. It really is. Okay,
"Who are these particular people? What is this particular audience? How do I
connect with these particular prospects?" It's all in the specifics. There
are general principles, of course. But I would say this, if you find anybody
who's making money, the reason they're making money is they know a specific
market very, very, very well. They may have no education. They may have stopped
school at age of ten. They may even be illiterate. They may know nothing about world
affairs. They may never have heard of Claude Hopkins or Victor Schwab. They may not
know what direct marketing is. But if they know their market, whatever that market
is, they know it really, really, really well, that's the gateway to making money
in the world of business. But general intelligence is not having a million and one
tricks. It's just knowing what the heck's going on in the particular market
that you want to be in. So there are general principles, and I read these books over
and over again because they're just great refreshers and great to put you right
back on the right track. But when it comes to specifically making money and a
specific situation, I need to know, just as you said, "Who's on the other
side of that phone? Who's on the other side of that computer screen?"
And that's where the money comes from.

Igor: There you go, ladies and gentleman, List Builders, the forefather of internet
marketing has spoken. "Go and get to know your customer." Ken, thank you
so much for taking the time. Guys, before you go, make sure you get “The System
Club Letters” on Amazon. Just go in and type in "The System Club Letters”,
Ken McCarthy. Also, make sure you visit I believe you will
find this to be not only refreshing, but truly life changing both if you haven't
yet made any money online and if you're already making money. I'm sure Ken
can show you a way or two to start multiplying your profits. So Ken, I just want to
say again, thank you so much. It's been a true pleasure, a personal pleasure,
to be quite honest with you, and I appreciate you taking the time to sit down with
me, with List Builders and until next time we talk, have a good one.

Ken: Great. Thank you Igor.

Thanks for listening to The List Building Lifestyle Show, make sure to subscribe on iTunes
or Google. Play to never miss an episode because who knows just one conversion tactic
we share on the show might double your list and double your business. Download the
transcript of today’s episode and all future episodes at and
don’t forget to claim your complimentary copy of “The Wealthy List Builder’s Survival
Guide” at . This is Igor Kheifets until next time we talk, have a good one.

This is the

Who Is Igor Kheifets

Igor Kheifets is the founder and CEO of Igor Solo Ads, world’s largest Solo Ads agency. He’s the guy the gurus call when they need high quality business opportunity leads that convert.

Igor’s passionate about sharing up-to-date traffic & conversion strategies that work with beginners who want to make six figures while traveling the world full time.


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