031: Jon Benson on the Importance of (Non)Human Interaction to Better Business
Jon Benson is well-recognized as one of the top sales copy strategists in the world. Jon left his secure future behind, gaining unconventional roots in copywriting, now prospering as CEO of DigitalPublisher.com and JBFHEALTH as well as the creator of a video sales letter for web selling that is revolutionizing customer care effectiveness for small companies and big businesses alike.
Jon Benson on the Importance of (Non)Human Interaction to Better Business
We have an amazingly interesting gentleman. His name is Jon Benson. Jon is well-recognized as one of the top sales copy strategists in the world. He’s also the CEO of DigitalPublisher.com and JBF Health. He’s the creator of the video sales letter which ushered in a new form of selling on the web, as well as Email Copy Pro, which is essentially AI for email as EmailCopyPro.com. Today, Jon’s Sellerator style of video sales letters have generated over $12 billion in sales for hundreds of entrepreneurs and businesses and $1.2 billion in sales specifically for his customers and clients, making him one of the most successful copywriters in history. Jon, welcome to the show.
Thanks, it’s great to be here.
Let’s start at the beginning. You have this reputation. You are the Father of the VSL. I know you from your webinars and I riveted to your webinars listening to the things you’ve done. Tell me about how you got started in your business.
A long time ago, I started my first business. It was a graphic design firm. I just didn’t want to work at a real job basically and thought I could just design graphics for a living. I didn’t even know how to draw and edit in a computer. It’s a crazy idea but I just decided to see if I can prove something to myself and that’s been the mantra for my career. Do something that’s like climbing Everest and see if you can do it as a challenge. It took years obviously because I had no skills inherent, but I ended up being one of the top logo designers in Dallas at the time. I had built a pretty good business. I wasn’t a millionaire or anything, but I thought it was healthy. In my late 20’s or 30’s, I became obese. I was just eating terrible and had really serious health problems because I was working in these really ridiculous hours. I fell back in love with body building and fitness in my late 30’s and got back into a really good shape. I was doing that early on in college. I decided to write a book about it. I was 39 at this time and I thought I’m going to write a book called Fit Over 40. I just got started writing but I wanted to write a book. It was on a bucket list.
It ended up being a really different kind of book because I wanted to not talk about me but talk about 52 people that we interviewed between 40 and 80 and how they stay in shape and how they started with what they have. It was more like a coffee table book with tons of cool pictures. We needed them all to add an interesting perspective. eBooks had not been done at that time to that level. I was writing the book and I had no idea how I was going to market it because I wasn’t a marketer at all. I wasn’t a copywriter at all, never. I was chatting with a guy named Tom Venuto who’s huge in the fitness world, but I had no idea what an eBook really was or what internet marketing was. We were just talking because we both like the same type of training programs. When I was in New York for a week, I went there and visited him. The next thing you know, he says, “I’ll market the book and take 50% of it.” I thought, “Great. Let’s do it.” I just didn’t think anything would come out of it and it ended up we hit 1,017 of upload and crashed his business server at the time. I was like, “This is what I’m going to do now for a living. This is fun.” I literally walked away from my company and started doing this.
When my second book rolled around, I didn’t have the luxury of having Tom’s incredible copy shops working for me. I was thinking, “I can write this stuff.” No, it doesn’t work that way. Again, it just bombed. I saw the video and I was thinking, “I’ve got to do something different. It’s not working.” I saw some guys doing some PowerPoint style presentation which when I saw it, “I can see why this might work.” I was thinking there might be a better way, and ended up with the first ugly video sales letter. That literally came out in the agency world because the headings used were red, white and black. That’s it. They are colors that you don’t want to use in print ads. I just had to use it but make all the red words in key commands. That’s how video sales letters got started. When that started, everything changed for me.
Were you still in Dallas at the time when this happened?
I was in Dallas at the time.
How big was the company you walked away from?
The biggest year we ever had, and this was a little frustrating for me, was $980,000 in revenue. It was basically me and three other people and the profit margins were 100% so it wasn’t bad. We’re close to 100% obviously after salaries. I never broke a million in that. Maybe that’s the level that I can’t break. I literally dove in and I started a career literally knowing nothing about it. I didn’t even know what a graphic designer did, and I’m not making this up. I tell this story all the time, people think I’m bullshitting but it’s true. Somebody said, “You should be a graphic designer.” I said, “That sounds sexy and cool. I don’t know what it is but I’ll do it. It might get me dates.” I was just experimenting and saying, “What can I do that’s going to be radically different and make an interesting story or an epic failure?”
I ended up figuring out when I did it, and had to create my own style because I wasn’t naturally good at it. The same thing happened with copywriting. I knew what copywriting was but when I started doing it, I didn’t read one single copywriting book, nothing. I just wanted to see if I can do this on my own again, like a warrior’s journey or whatever it was called, and ended up creating a video sales letter. For years, I would go around and talk to people and I would speak to these legendary copywriters. I had Gary Bencivenga, John Carlton, David Deutsch, down the line all of them in one room at the same time. I was there going, “I’m not a copywriter.” They’re getting pissed off at me because they said, “You’ve got to stop saying that. You’ve written ten of the best letters out there right now.” I think the video sales letter format made more sense to me. I ended up being able to write sales-based video, obviously that took years. Still you have guys like David that can write that long, and that’s a totally different world. That’s basically how it started. It’s a little bit of rebelliousness and a lot of burning the candle at both ends.
A lot of points amount to my listeners here because this is really important. You had basically put your whole life into one direction, and then almost instantly you just completely switched directions. That’s rare in a sense. Usually people start out in a certain way and they work and they work and they work and they work, and they don’t do that well and then they do better, and then there’s a breakthrough. Your breakthrough came almost from the left field.
I was a philosophy major. Maybe deep thoughts of unemployment and also at realizing that at the end of the day, literally what is there to lose? You start breaking it down and you get pretty existential but that’s it. There was nothing for me to lose. At the time, I wasn’t married, I didn’t have any kids, there was no one and nothing to risk. I was determined to say, “I’m going to do what I love to do even if it’s a struggle.” That’s one thing I had the luxury of doing. My dad didn’t. My dad worked outside. He worked in a railroad yard for 38 years outside in inclement weather. I didn’t want me to do that. It took good care of my mom and dad and myself. I was raised around that incredible work ethic. I was born to a much older parents. My dad actually grew up in the Great Depression. I’m only 53. The point is that growing up in that and around the greatest generation, that’s what they call that generation, you get a sense of work ethic that is priceless. I had that and then I had the weird creative brain that was like, “I wanted to do something unique and creative.” I fused those things together and ended up with a thing that worked and a lot of things that didn’t.
I guess the big career change is when I said, “I’m going to start a graphic design,” but everybody thought it was nuts, and then it worked. “I’m going to dive into internet marketing.” Again, you’re walking away from an almost seven-figure business. I literally walked away from that and I didn’t bother selling it because I was the business. It worked in the beginning much more appeared than that. Those things did work, but there were tons of little things along the way that didn’t work. It’s not all pie in the sky at all. I’ve tried many, many things. I would probably have at least another zero behind my net worth if I would have stuck to just one. Literally Fit Over 40, if I would have stuck with just that and did nothing but that book and brand, there would seriously probably be two zeros.
That’s a lot of could have, would have, should have.
My take on that is I don’t want to do that. It’s not worth it to me. It wasn’t that much. Fitness and being fit over 40 is great, but that’s not where my passion is. My passion is I want to create something totally new and revolutionary. The VSL never would have come about. Now, Email Copy Pro which is totally revolutionary would have never come about if I wouldn’t have said, “I’m just going to do something radically different.”
If we go back to the beginning of the VSL, back to the beginning of when you just launched that idea and there it was, new on stage, what did you do to sell it? Where did you find clients?
The magic of copywriting is even if you have a crap product, I had a good product, I had a book called Every Other Day Diet which is a great book; I’m certainly proud of it. It was a lazy man’s guide to intermittent fasting before intermittent fasting became popular. Who knew that book would make intermittent fasting popular? But it did. The really stranger version of intermittent fasting by Brad Pilon came out later. This is like, “Don’t fast. Don’t do anything crazy. Just eat a lot less in one day then more on the other.” I had a good book and then we had the video sales letter and had the luxury of being the first one out there, so everyone was mailing for it. I didn’t have to find it. Within 30 or 45 days, I had people spending over $1 million a month on traffic because one guy promoted it. That’s the key. This is why I keep telling people with traffic and getting people for the web thing, “If you can have an offer that converts well, you get one guy to promote it then it’s pretty much going to take off once it starts getting around.” You have to do due diligence and get it around. That really goes back down to copywriting and email. You have to be able to engage people.
In this process, how old were you when that happened?
The video sales letters came out in 2009. I would have been 44.
At 44, when you created this, what you did was create a category. I want to talk about how you really actually leapfrogged the entire field by building what I would call an AI software that writes VSLs. Tell me a little bit about that.
That’s a distinction that is interesting but not necessarily true. I was just on an interview with somebody that knew the software inside out. All my customers say the same thing, “I sell it this way. This is going to look like software that you push a button and you play and you select text and you go to the next and out pops a video sales letter.” What it really is, is I created a software around Sellerator to sell copywriting books because I was tired of people buying the copywriting course in video, “Here’s your template file, here’s everything you do slide by slide,” and then maybe 1% of the people going through it is doing it. I wanted to see if I could get everyone to go through it. I thought, “What if I put it all in software and then I give people knowledge just to swipe files? What if we could do ten different iterations of every slide, and then that would change based on the next slide you go to, and input all the videos inside the software?” That really worked and it took off. That’s great but it’s not software that writes VSLs. It’s actually a really powerful training program that does technically, if you want to do it, you could click a button, select the text. You still have to watch the videos and go, “How should I position this? How should I write this?”
If someone tells you, and there’s a lot of people that do right now that will tell you, “You can have a video sales letter in fifteen minutes by filling in these fifteen fields.” What comes next, I get a free bowl of soup afterwards? It doesn’t work that way. Nothing good will ever come of that. That’s why copywriters are pros. The guys that we hang out with would cringe at that kind of stuff because it’s just nonsense. If you have training on top of that and you get people multiple variations to choose from and you inspire them to go all the way, they’ll choose stuff. I’ve seen this happen literally with the release of the beta version of Email Copy Pro. People would accidentally download an entire niche that wasn’t even their niche. They’ve downloaded it because it was just a bug in the system that allowed them to do that. The guy would go in there and goes, “I love this thing. I’m filling up this thing for stock trading.” I go, “You’re not a stock trader. You’re selling fitness stuff.” “Yeah, but the stock trading idea gave me ideas.” I’m like, “That’s revolutionary.” That’s how it works. Rather than just saying, “Here, fill in these blanks,” we’re saying, “Look at all these different ideas. Let’s get some creative juices flowing. Let’s get some more closed deals and coaching going.” Then use the software and then powerful things happen. It’s not pie in the sky stuff. We are a hardcore copywriting company. We are marketers that know copy that just so happen to have a very clever software.
I used to be in the legal profession. It sounds like document assembly software where it’s basically drawing from a large library that is assembled very carefully based on templates and input from the user. Clearly, education, training, guiding the process, gets you to your end result faster but it’s not doing any magic. I think that’s what I heard.
The Sellerator is definitely not doing any magic. Email Copy Pro is spooky. It is borderline AI in the sense because what we did is we had two and a half years rather than two and a half months to code something. We spent a lot of time working with how should the user have to integrate? We’re asking a lot out of the user. We’re asking the user to spend a full day with this and say, “How do I think about my business from this point on?” In exchange for that full day, we’re going to give you every email that you would probably ever need to write, even content emails. There’s no way to do that. It’s absolutely impossible to do that in fifteen minutes or even an hour. It just can’t be done. The people that want to do that in an hour, just go out and buy a ScriptDoll and tell me when that doesn’t work. Not that I’m trying to bash other guys, and not that the ScriptDoll didn’t have its purpose, but for the same money when you can buy something that’s going to actually give you this kind of power. Also it’s copywriting which comes from having actual real pro copywriters, not just me and my partner. We analyze copy from the top marketers of all time, literally going back a hundred years, dissecting these things and putting them into email phase. It’s like having some of the ultimate swipe files combining your voice with it. The way that we do it, when you see it it’s like, “This sounds exactly like a pro wrote this with passion and my voice in here.” When you use the button, if you click called Regenerate, and then it rewrites itself. The thing will keep rewriting itself. It’s tricky. That part of it is definitely software power cool. What makes that happen is the same thing that makes Watson happen for IBM. Watson has been programmed with a heuristic algorithm that would allow it to grow and expand it. It’s not nearly that evolved, but it’s like that. In other words, the more you put in, the more it grows in a sense.
Let’s go back because we really want to dive into those folks who are struggling right now. They have a company, they’ve created maybe a nice little business like your graphic design company, but they need to get to the next level. They need to get past the plateau. What could you tell these folks to do or start to do right away that could potentially help them?
It’s the same advice I give every single place I go. If you take out a sheet of paper and you draw a circle and you draw a line dividing that circle in half. On one side of the line you write copywriting. On the other side of the line you write everything else. You use that as your day planner. I’m telling you flat-out, this never fails. This will always work. If the only thing I can say that will always work with 100% certainty is that if you stop trying to focus on what social media thing is so hot right now, my Instagram account, whatever, and you focus on learning or hiring out or getting the software or whatever you have to do, studying copywriting. Let me define copywriting. I am not suggesting you become a copywriter. 99% of people listening to this will never be copywriters. You shouldn’t be. What you should be is someone that understands the sales language of your prospects. That is what copywriting is. It’s understanding sales language.
Just like the book Love Languages, there are four sales languages. If you understand all four of those sales languages and you can write even just a little bit inside each one of those four, your sales will exponentially increase. You get your first thousand and how you get your next is you build rapport, you instill very rational fear, and you address and validate those rational fears. Everyone has a fear of something in their business. It should be validated and it should actually be expanded a lot. It’s not fear-mongering. Am I talking to you completely honestly? Yes. Not having more clients is a serious problem. Yes, you’re completely validated for feeling that. What’s the solution to that issue? Speaking in these sales languages is what empowers you to grow. It’s trying to think that your product or your service or yourself if the answer is the problem. That’s not what people want to hear. What they want to hear is that you understand them.
How would you guide someone who would be interested in learning these four types of sales language?
I would recommend people going through my courses. They are very good. I did an interview with Kevin Rogers. He was one of the top copywriter guys out there. There’s a lot of copy cheating. What’s huge and really awesome is that both of us are in the incredible business of copy cheating. He said he’s surrounded by thousands of copywriters. Whenever we mention anything about, “Here’s how the average person can replace a copywriter,” there’s a little bit of, “Yeah,” because this is what copywriters do. I believe firmly that the average person, when I say average person, I’m not saying average intellect or average in anything, I’m saying the average person that is not a copywriter. I’m not saying that we’re above average. The average business owner that have no clue on how to write a compelling offer or how to write an intriguing rapport story. This is where I land 100% of them, if given the right formula, the right coaching, the right inspiration, I firmly believe that you can get at least 75% of the way there. Once you do that, you could afford to hire any copywriter that you want to sneak it out because it’s never going to be a concern, but you’ll never get there without knowing how certain things are dissected.
I think what I do better than writing copy is dissect copy and say, “Here’s exactly what I’m doing in a sense and here’s how you can do it.” People go, “I didn’t notice that. I didn’t see that persuasion trigger. I didn’t see that version in sales overview.” I firmly believe that’s possible, and I do not believe that everyone can become a professional copywriter any more that I can become an NBA player. I do believe that I can be much better at basketball. I could be so good at basketball if I just so choose that I could play at whatever amateur league. That’s not my interest. My interest is becoming better at business. To become better at business, you have to become better at understanding your customers and speak infinite.
There’s some amazing gold here that you just shared. I just want to unpack it for a moment. I think what I’m hearing you say is that getting focused on truly what it is that you do. The way that your marketplace communicates is probably the first and most important thing you can do to change your business and grow your sales, to better understand what it is you are hearing and the way you communicate with your clients. At that point, seek professional help and get it ironed out a little bit whether that’s through training or that’s through a continuous work or the help of a third-party professional. That’s what I’ve heard and I think that’s fantastic in terms of a real way that somebody could learn and grow and get them some help in where they are. Let me ask you a couple of quick questions here because I really wanted to know the answers to these questions. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or even an intense conversation?
Thomas Jefferson. My thesis was about Jefferson so that was easy.
Why did you choose him?
A myriad of reasons. I was fascinated by his genius and how much he was torn with not only trying to frame a constitution, which I think he was the principal architect behind the reason why our First Amendment exists, the reason why we have separation of church and state, the reason we have a secular government. If it wasn’t for Jefferson we would never have had that. You guys have vision got printing and was pushing against it, and Jefferson was the sound voice. At the same time, he had this deep passion for understanding truth to the point where he would be willing to dissect that truth and even discard it if he believed that it wasn’t actually true. He was one of the very first well-known, and I say the very first but there’s a guy you can go back in Greek history and you get a lot of guys that were epistemologically speaking driven by reason, but he is certainly in American history. Thomas Paine certainly was one of them, driven by a very rational, level-headed view of the world and also knew his flaws. He struggled with the inherent racism and obviously of slavery. He struggled with these issues and knew that they were just not at the place culturally where they can make any change. A lot of his letters reflect his struggle with that. He had a lot of personal struggles as we all. It’s very well-documented. As Mick Jagger would say, “He had a little thing for brown sugar.” Honestly, to sum all that up, he’s one of the most eloquent writers. As a writer, how would you like to have written the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence? In the Declaration of Independence, how would you architect a document like that? That is a brief little summation of why I would love to chat with Thomas Jefferson.
What an incredible conversation that would be, wouldn’t it?
It certainly would. Especially more than anything, I would love to pull Thomas Jefferson into 2017 and go, “Here’s what’s going on here. See all the good and see the wincing and the smile at the same time.” I think he would freak out over the First Amendment stuff going on right now, but I think he’d be very proud of other things. That would be interesting too.
Here’s my last question and it’s almost my favorite question of all. It’s really the change-the-world question. What is it that you’re doing that has the potential to change the world?
From a marketing point of view, to change the world I think that we want to have 10,000 clients in Email Copy Pro at the end of the year. Out of the 10,000 the first year, we hope that there’s going to be at least 1,000 of those people that are doing something better that’s really revolutionary. There may be a cure for cancer. There may be a way to get kids through college and get better grades to get better jobs. It’s a trickle-down theory if I can provide someone a tool that they can use their genius and they use this tool, and they’re going, “This tool has helped me reach more people,” then that changes the world ipso facto. On a bigger scale, my personal thing is to bring more awareness to actual social issues that really concern me. By being successful in business or in having the monetary means to do that would put an end to starvation and hunger. It’s one of my passions actually making that a problem, which in California, is very interesting. You can have conversations that’s, “Why is starving children such a problem for you?” This is the way Californians are sometimes. They’re a little bit milk toast for my taste. It’s a problem for me. You can call me silly. I don’t like it. I know that’s really weird but children dying of polio, not a good thing. I’m going to going out on a limb here and say I did good stuff, but I’d like to see if we can solve that problem.
Those are the two things in my whole “If I can change the world” thing, but realistically, just one person at a time doing things through a tool that I created. There are many people that make billions of dollars a year off of Sellerator for example. Most of those products might be average, but some of those products are probably spectacular and they change lives of the people. Those people have no idea that they use a tool that I created, that that guy uses his genius as a marketer to put those two tools together and help people change their lives. I think that’s really good.
We have Mr. Jon Benson here and he shared some unbelievable information with us. I’m so grateful, Jon, that you are with us. I know that people are inspired to your words and to your story. How can they get in touch with you or learn more about your products, your services, your training? Tell us more.
The two things that are the hottest things right now are EmailCopyPro.com. That is the AI for email, and that tool I think is going to become ubiquitous for any internet marketer out there and for anyone sending email. Simply, if not for any other reason, than to give you access at your fingertips to some of the greatest swipes in history. I don’t mean swipes like taking this thing word for word. What I mean is we dissected the patterns so they all become unique, and then you put your own voice on top of that, which then comes out really beautiful. Sellerator.com is the video sales letter product and software that we’ve had out for almost six years now. It does roughly $1.2 billion, $1.4 billion a year for customers.
Would you be open to someone wanting to reach out to you and just responding at all to any of the comments you’ve made on the show?
Sure. The best way to reach me, because I throttle email getting a lot of them in a day, so send it to [email protected]. We have human beings reading that and anything that’s pertinent can be forwarded to me.
Thank you again, Jon. This was a fantastic interview. I’m so grateful to have spent the time with you.
Thank you, Mitch. I appreciate it.
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