5 Lessons Learned from a List to Santa (All of Them Can Make You Money)

5 Lessons Learned from a List to Santa (All of Them Can Make You Money)

Reader Comments (63)

  1. For what it’s worth, I just have to say that I really enjoy and look forward to your information. Without a doubt you are one of the best out here.

    Thanks and have a great holiday season.

  2. These tactics will work until they are old enough to read your blog. Then all trust will be destroyed as they realize how they’ve been manipulated.


  3. Great tips, there can be tons of more ideas that we can add here but you have rightly mentioned the “master key” – Know Your Customer. If you know him well, better than he knows about herself you have already won the game. You know what it takes to persuade her and what does not.

  4. As the parent of a two-year-old, I’m sure I’ll be using many of these strategies in the future. For now, the only method we need is to put cookies out for Santa (and his reindeer, who get awfully tired flying all across the world). Eventually, I’m sure we’ll be practicing all sorts of Rube Goldberg-like contortions to keep the Santa dream alive for just one more year….

  5. Shane: It was the best place to hide it. I would never have put it on Writer Dad, which my daughter reads very regularly. And guess which post I won’t be mentioning over there? : )

    Ron: Thanks, Ron! My pleasure, and happy holidays to you as well.

    Todd: Yes it is. They sure manipulate us a lot, it’s fun to have the occasional upper hand!

    Mike: I think they’ll be proud of their old man for his craftiness. Though it could also set them down a path of ill repute. I hope I made the right choice!

    Chanda: Exactly. Bottom line, I knew why they wanted the original things they were asking for, so it was a simple exercise to shift the desire using their other key interests and triggers.

    Cherry-Ann: Thanks, Cherry! By the time my children are old enough to find this, I think it will be a fun discussion.

    Joel: Ha, that’s SO how we’re feeling this year: “Just ONE more year…” I think this is it for my daughter. She’s quite analytical, but Santa passed her scrutiny this year. I could’ve written a follow-up post to this about when we went to see Santa this year. It was at a sit down event where Santa took questions from the audience. My daughter kept firing off an endless procession of questions. Santa was sweating, but did the best job ever and left her, I think, about 95% convinced.

  6. Sean,

    First off, I write all the sales training courses for a large retail sales corporation. This is a good list, with one necessary addition. Retail sales people should always add on or suggest additional essential items. If you’ve got something else in your store or on your site that the customer may be interested in, then show/suggest it to them. Amazon.com always does this throughout the checkout process…and it works.

    It’s not just trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of people. If a lot of thought is given to what they’re buying, your knowledge and experience might know of other related items they can really benefit from. It’s a service. I’ve actually purchased some of the additional items suggested and appreciate the recommendations.

    How does this relate to blogging? I’ll leave that up to other readers to explore.


  7. @Brian,

    One bullet list item on my Santa list would be:

    *Make Copyblogger do another music related post. I Gotta have more Copyblogger Cowbell!

    Have a good one Copyblogger Tribe!

  8. Maybe we need to convince kids that they don’t need to have a holiday wish list.

    If we know our kids well enough, we know what kinds of things they will like. That’s why I say, we should just surprise them.

    This way parents don’t have to search for one gift, try to talk kids out of their impractical wishes, or spend tons of money on something that will probably be worth a fraction of that cost next season.

    I bought fairly inexpensive toys for the kids on my list this year but I know they will love them. They will be surprised and they will know that I care for them.

    That is what Christmas should be about.

  9. Hey Sean,

    We all need to focus on selling benefits, not features.

    Features are abstract – some qualities and possibilities that something has. But benefits are concrete and direct – the personal benefits someone will get.

    How their life will become better because of this widget. What problem it will solve. Why they’ll be happier when in possession.

    In the case you demonstrated, the dog and the spaceship actually had bigger features. But the benefits of the smaller toys were actually better to your daughter and son (you were genuine in your recommendation, right Sean? 😉 ).

    Sometimes, we have to work hard to address the objections. The longer, bigger, badder list of features of something could sway someone to want that more.

    We need to laser-focus our message to show why the benefits of this other thing we have is what the person needs – and how some of those big features can not only NOT bring benefits to the person, but become a hindrance as well.

    Thanks for sharing your shopping story. Your daughter and son seem awesome and adorable. Especially your description of your son lighting up and waving the TIE Fighter box in the air (vneeeooooww! Bwzhhh bwzhhh!).

    Have an awesome Christmas and playtime with your family,

  10. As a parent who purchases Star Wars Legos for kids, I sympathize, but as a devil’s advocate: aren’t you teaching your kids to settle for second best?

    If they don’t understand or you won’t tell them the REAL reason why you don’t want to get it (extravagant price) then why make them OK with a reason that doesn’t exist?

    Saying “no” through Santa is OK too.

  11. This story was cute. I do not have kids, however, I now know why my father is such a good salesmen. He’s talked me out of so many gifts over the years!

    I’m an adult now and he still convinced me to not get an iPhone last year! Sneaky Sneaky

  12. Steve: Thanks, Steve! Happy Holidays to you as well.

    Andrea: Thanks, Andrea. I appreciate the compliment.

    Steve: I agree, upsetting is a core part of the process. However, my aim at the store was to minimize expense as much as possible. I wanted to upset them on nothing! : )

    Chase: As far as their normal presents go, I agree. But Santa’s gifts fall out of the normal jurisdiction. They ask him for one gift each year, and part of the magic is in the big guy being able to deliver on their desire. For us, it wasn’t about the gift itself, it was about preserving the belief in Santa. Even if for just one more year. Happy holidays, Chase.

    Oleg: I was 24 Karat sincerity all the way. I couldn’t see either the dog or the Imperial Cruiser getting near as much playtime as the smaller toys. I genuinely believe I talked them into the gifts which will both keep their belief in Santa going, and also give them more pleasure in the end. That had everything to do with their benefits.

    My pleasure on the story, truly. I could talk about them all day. I can’t wait to someday show them stuff I’ve written about marketing which tied into our daily adventures. I think they’ll think it’s super funny.

    Happiest of holidays to you and your family as well, Oleg! See you next year.

    Mike Magan: They are only settling for second best if they get their second choice. By redirecting their first choice to something more reasonable, we’re able to get the best of both worlds. Price means nothing to Santa. He makes all his toys in the workshop. I’ve no problem saying no to my children at all, and I’m very direct with them when I do. “Because I said so,” doesn’t exist in my house. But Santa is only here for a short while. And however silly it may be, I will likely mourn the loss of belief. Delivering on Santa’s promise was as much for my wife and I as it was for them.

  13. Wonderful post as usual. Wonderful imagery. Looking forward to more stories from you! And yeah… I really wonder what happens if your kids get to read this 😉

  14. Nice one Sean, very well written. I liked the very first sentence a lot, about your name changing to Dad, an artful warm hook that invited me in to your article like the smell of hot cocoa coming from the kitchen.

    I thought a key point of your presentation was, “trust is an integral part of these strategies”.

    This seems to point to a central challenge that all sellers face, whatever we’re selling. The concept of trust, and the concept of strategy, are inherently in conflict.

    As example, we can “allow the learner or buyer to stumble onto your solution as though it was their idea all along.”

    Imagine you and I are sitting at that kitchen table drinking the cocoa together, and as our conversation unfolds you can see that I have a soft, gentle, friendly strategy for getting you to accept _my_ solution to something.

    In addition, you observe that I think that you don’t see the strategy.

    How’s your trust in me coming along? Is my strategy working?

    An awkward weakness in your analogy is that buyers aren’t children. Well, ok, ok, so maybe we really all are children on some level where we make our decisions. 🙂 That could well be true.

    Even given that real possibility, we don’t want to be seen as children, treated as children, play the role of children. We don’t really want to be managed.

    I’m wondering if we can unravel the conflict between trust and strategy by surrendering our passion for our strategy. If we’re truthful we’ll acknowledge this passion really all about us and our emotional and financial needs, topics the buyer probably has minimal interest in.


    1) We make a truly useful product.

    2) We make sure the world knows where to find it.

    3) We do a diligent thorough job of providing factual information about our product. Here’s a worthy job for those who love to write.

    If we have no strategy beyond serving, it actually will be the buyer’s idea, the buyer’s solution. Maybe that’s what we all really want as buyers, and that’s where real trust starts to happen?

    Is the smartest persuasion strategy, no strategy?

    My clever strategy is to build the audience for this post by launching an assault upon the concept of strategy, which I know is near and dear to the hearts of copywriters. I’ve not mentioned this little strategy until here at the end. Please observe what a lousy ending this makes.

  15. Sean, so yelling at clients to get them to buy what you’re selling is a flawed strategy?
    Do you think this list would work on my wife? She wants a diamond eternity ring but I honestly believe she’d prefer a vacuum cleaner? 🙂

  16. Jay: It’s our job. Your dad didn’t want you to have to pay that extra $30 for the data plan!

    Ralph: They will help you tremendously. Promise. : )

    Mainak: Thank you. I look forward to writing many more. I look forward to both my children reading this someday. It will make for great conversation.

    Phil: “The concept of trust, and the concept of strategy, are inherently in conflict.”

    Though I see where you are coming from, I don’t agree with the premise as I do not believe that strategy negates trust.

    Both building a prosperous business and raising exceptional children require sound strategy. Without them, floundering is all too easy. The key is in making trust a core component to the strategy.

    If we want my children to be the best people they can be, then my wife and I must strategize and then put those strategies into place. Yet we do nothing to jeopardize their trust.

    Same goes for your business. A well articulated strategy can help you find your best business. Finding your best business will help you provide the best products and services to your clients.

    The best strategy is to build your momentum and deliver your information with quality and integrity. Don’t betray your audience by persuading them to buy something that isn’t of quality or that they do not need, but you should absolutely do your best to persuade them if you believe in what you are doing.

    Many people who don’t get the sale, opt-in, or whatever is because they stopped short of asking for it.

    Selfish: You’re off base, Selfish. Women like blenders, toaster ovens and aprons best. If your lady is the gift card type, try gift certificates to the dry cleaners or your favorite restaurants. Also, women like it when you put your thoughts in writing. Maybe you should list some things that could be done better around the house? Good luck!

  17. Thanks for the reply Sean. Sorry, my bad, my post was less than fully clear. Instead of using the word strategy, which could mean a lot of things, I should have addressed persuasion more directly.

    To create a product, we would first do market research, find out what people want, and then try to deliver what they want. Our success would revolve largely around our ability to provide the features/services that buyers want.

    It seems worthwhile to consider designing a sales presentation the same way. Let’s take a poll, and see how many of us here wish to be persuaded and managed.

    If a lot of folks eagerly raise their hand, then let’s listen to them, and give them a persuasion experience.

    If there is little or no interest in persuasion and management, then perhaps persuasion and management should be set aside.

    In either case, there is still a selling strategy in place, building trust, by giving buyers the experience they want to have, and not confusing that with the experience we might wish to provide.

    Tis the season to be shopping. We all are shoppers shopping. What do we want in a shopping experience?

  18. Reminds me of my mother. She always tell us that Santa is actually in the form of Mom and Dad. Every time we go to a toy store, my mom would tell me to pick something that I want that won’t be to hard on Santa’s budget.

    I do hope your kids won’t read this, until they are old enough to understand that Santa is not really what they thought he is. Merry Christmas!

  19. Gabe: It’s actually really easy, so long as you know your kids. It’s amazing how suggestible they are, even the smartest of them, if you deliver your “offer” in the right way. My wife and I used to manage 14 preschoolers all at the same time by “selling them” from one transition to the next.

    Phil: “Let’s take a poll, and see how many of us here wish to be persuaded and managed.”

    Most of us what say no, yet human behavior and consumer culture dating back to Adam Smith suggest otherwise. If we as business people want people to buy our products and services, then isn’t it MOST honest to put that persuasion on the table?

    I’ll use myself as an example. No, I don’t like to be lead or managed. Yet when I get an email from Apple, I always open it up. I like it when they persuade me. I know full well what the content of the email is before I click. They are going to show me something shiny, and I am going to feel a pang of want. There tactics are not hidden and they clearly ask for the sale. I trust them because they have always treated me right. We have a good relationship.

    If my friend tries to persuade me of something, then I will listen to his argument. I trust my friends and know they would not try to persuade me of something that was not in my best interests.

    UNDOdigital: Ha, that was awesome. Thanks!

    Geoff: Santa will get it just right. : )

    Tanner: Yes, which is why we need confident writing with active verbs! Copy which hems and haws is the equivalent of not making eye contact.

    Nathan: Ah, a kindred spirit. My boy also wanted the AT-AT. They are, by far, his favorite land vehicle. But you can’t beat outer space.

    TAM: My children will read it, but not before we could have a conversation about it. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t publish it on any of my home sites. The secret’s safe. : )

  20. Sean, your post was a great walk-through and easy for me to relate to after raising 5 kids. Once Santa has been outed you’ll still be doing things like this when they’re trying to decide on clothes, cars, and colleges.

    The approach you presented also makes sense for folks who are selling lower to mid-priced solutions to adults.

  21. Hey Sean!

    I love these points – in particular the one about connecting to stories. By connecting ideas to stories, they seem much more tangible and applicable in real life. Since we’re mostly in the ideas business here on the ‘net, it makes sense to supplement our ideas with stories as much as possible.

  22. funny blog, but just straight up manipulation, not selling.

    Ineffective in business, the customers aren’t these kinds of blank slates to give them their opinions.

  23. @Sonia, thanks for this link: http://www.fluentself.com/blog/biggification/three-words-to-drive-your-right-people-away/

    Using doctors as an example is *great*, because good doctors do exactly what I’m referring to. They are scientists, and they specialize in facts.

    “We have an operation with a 99% cure rate, that costs X, and has these risks. We could also manage your symptoms for a much lower cost of Y, with some other risks.”

    Having laid out the facts upon request, they then accept questions. If their advice is asked for, they give it.

    Isn’t this the kind of doctor we all would trust?

    She’s highly informed, and a good communicator. She’s a patient listener, and responsive to requests. Her working assumption is that it’s your body, and your decision. She’s clear that we know more about what will work for us than she does, and that her role is to provide information in a professional manner and serve your decision.

    Another doctor comes in to the room, and feels he knows what solution is best for us, and his focus is all about persuading us to buy his plan.

    Which doctor do we want?

    Sorry, I don’t mean to over sell this concept. I just find it interesting and get wound up in looking for folks to explore it with, that’s all.

    Everybody is looking for the edge, the clever ground breaking out of the box winning persuasion strategy. The territory within the arena of persuasion tactics has been pretty well explored over the last 100 years.

    Maybe we need to look beyond persuasion tactics to find something new, something that buyers would find refreshing? I hope I’ve cleverly persuaded you of this! 🙂

  24. Since this is a blog about how to use the techniques of copywriting (i.e. persuasion) in social media, I’m not sure how many takers you will find. 🙂

  25. I’ve had the Star Destroyer for over a year now. And you know what? You’re right. It has far too many pieces for even a thirty something to finish (or get close). And I always loved the Darth Vader Tie fighter. Possibly because when I was a kid you couldn’t get them in this country…..

  26. Loved this post. It touched off all those memories of “persuasion” and “identification”, not “manipulation”. My biggest regret in life is that I don’t have any grandchildren with whom to relive the magic of Christmas. I just hope my sons do read this post and come up with the goods before I get too old to go shopping with grandkids.

  27. Two things:

    1. Re: the ongoing discussion with Phil. I’ve often heard that people “buy on emotion and rationalize the purchase with logic” – meaning that we can’t really put a finger on why we want what we want but we know we want it. When we make the purchase we come up with all sorts of good, rational, logical explanations for why (or maybe just feel bad for purchasing). This is so clear in real estate (my field). I can tell people until I’m blue in the face that, “This house has a),b),c) through z) that match your criteria.” and they will but another house that “sings to them” or “seems ‘just right'” or whatever.

    2. Know Your Audience – Ostensibly, I write to a specific audience but, for some reason, the audience either doesn’t find me or doesn’t interact with me. Is this an aspect of not knowing my audience or going after the wrong audience or simply a factor of SEO? Unlike interacting with one’s children or real live adults, the Internet audience seems kind of elusive.

  28. @Sonia: You said, “Since this is a blog about how to use the techniques of copywriting (i.e. persuasion) in social media,”

    It seems interesting, to me, to explore a common group consensus assumption that copywriting automatically equals persuasion.

    Sean wrote an artful and engaging story about his family. Now I know him a little bit. He’s emerged out of the anonymous pack for me. I’ve learned he’s a talented writer. I’ve seen him reply faithfully and intelligently to all my comments in all the threads. He’s shown me respect, and taught me he is a friendly and helpful person. In just a few threads, we’ve already reached the point where I would be responsive to learning more about Sean’s business.

    Isn’t this copywriting too, by which I mean, creating the conditions necessary for trust and commerce?

    And all without any persuasion in regards to Sean’s business services.

    You said, “I’m not sure how many takers you will find.”

    Understood. I’m looking for a worthy writing challenge, and have probably found one. 🙂

  29. Sean, this was a great way to deliver a solid piece of content in a story telling format. As copywriter Ben Settle says, you gave us broccoli disguised as a hotdog. There’s nothing wrong with a little pursuasive selling around Christmas time, especially with kids. Maybe some day we can get them excited about just playing with rocks, sticks, and balls of string just by using some excellent copy and customer benefits.

  30. It seems interesting, to me, to explore a common group consensus assumption that copywriting automatically equals persuasion.

    Sorry Phil, it’s not an assumption. That’s literally what copywriting is – persuasion. Salesmanship in print.

    It’s benefit-oriented persuasion though… as in “this is the right solution for you to achieve your goals.”

    Just like the doctor uses facts and emotional benefits to convince you to have surgery, copywriters use a combination of facts and emotional benefits to convince you to buy a product or service.

    I’m not sure what magical mystery writing technique that great minds ranging from Aristotle to Ogilvy have not yet discovered, but I’ll keep an open mind to whatever you come up with. 😉

  31. @Brian, thanks for engaging my post, I appreciate it. Should I be, um, engaging too much, please give me a shout and let me know, ok?

    Ok, what is salesmanship? It literally means to make sales, right? In this case, to make sales using written words. Persuasion is a tactic, a means to an end, not the end itself, right?

    Personally, I don’t want the doctor who is using facts and emotion to convince me of anything. I want a doctor who uses facts to inform me, a friendly doctor with the patience to help me think it through carefully, and come to my own solution.

    Yes, it’s true the doctor knows a lot more than me about medical issues. I should certainly pay careful attention to what she says. But no doctor is qualified to decide what’s best for me. Here’s proof.

    Doctors have no data whatsoever, none, that can even tell me whether I’m better off dead or alive. This issue lies at the very heart of their entire service, and they simply don’t know.

    We know very little about the vast majority of visitors to our sites. A concept that we know what is best for these individual anonymous strangers, and thus are serving them by persuading them to a certain action, is a threat to trust, because it’s blatantly false.

    Even if it were true that we know what’s best for these strangers, people pretty consistently state they don’t enjoy being managed.

    Even if they are wrong about that, suffering from the self delusion which is the human condition, what is our proposal? We know you better than you do?

    Even if that’s true, is that a trust building premise upon which to build our writing?

  32. Chris: Yeah, and by then my skills will be sharper. Putty in my hands they’ll be! : )

    Brett: Storytelling is an amazing connector. It doesn’t just help us to relate, it helps us to remember. And fond memories help warm us to the buying impulse.

    James: Persuasion is foreplay to a sale. And children are far from blank slates to whom you can hand an opinion. Though used on my children, all the above tactics are highly effective in business settings; basic selling principles that have been laid out for decades.

    Joseph: I think it will probably happen about eleven months from now. My daughter will ask me a straight up question to which I will no longer feel comfortable with an evasive answer. I will then draw her into the conspiracy and help shield her brother from losing the magic for at least another year. And a part of me will mourn. But yes, it will probably make for some good writing!

    Paul: That’s what I’m saying! The TIE Fighter isn’t only better on the budget, it really is the best choice. It WILL get more playtime.

    EMZ: Thanks! Happy holidays.

    Sophie: My pleasure!

    Flyss: Ha, send the link post haste! Merry Christmas, here’s to hoping the stork delivers in 2010.

    Ken: It could be a combination of all three. One thing I’ve definitely found over the last year is that you can’t expect an audience to find you. It’s best to define your target audience, then bring them to you as much as you possibly can. Go where they go and give them a yellow brick road back to your place.

    R. Martin Lee: The magic of Santa will inevitably fade, but I would never to anything to accelerate the process.

    Joshua: I’m planning a sideways sales letter that convinces my daughter that doing her homework is the best gift of all. Wish me luck!

    Phil: There’s a lot of the above to wade through. I believe Brian answered it well, but I’ll address this:

    “Even if they are wrong about that, suffering from the self delusion which is the human condition, what is our proposal? We know you better than you do?”

    The answer is yes. So long as trust is built, then it is important to look to those who know more than you for guidance so that you too can grow.

    My doctor, my lawyer, my accountant, my realtor – I want them to tell me what they think is best. That doesn’t mean that I won’t operate under my own instincts, but they are all professionals who know their business far better than I do; people with whom I’ve developed intimate relationships built on trust. Why wouldn’t I look to them for knowledge and council?

    I started out doing the online thing, blazing ahead with my own assumptions. Yet it turned out that many of my assumptions were wrong. By paying close attention to those who know better than me, I’ve sharpened my game. A lot. Yet I am far from finished.

    I am fiercely independent. Those who have built no capital with me will be unable to persuade me, nor would I really give them the chance to try. For those I trust, persuasion is part of the relationship. I allow my teachers, partners, friends, family and associates to persuade me and I do the same for them. This relationship is reciprocal.

    That is exactly what Copywriting is – writing with purpose. You can write without persuasion, of course, but then it is no longer considered copy.

  33. Definitely people already have all the skills to be successful; they just don’t know that they apply to other situations.

    Most likely, if you’re an effective and great parents and your kids both love and like you, you’re likely to be able to implement those skills into finding more reader’s.

    However, people get scared and confused because they don’t know enough about blogging and technology. They have no idea about how reader’s find you and what they’re looking for.

    Thanks, I’ll be sure to use these tips.

  34. Brilliant! I loved this post.

    Children aren’t dumb, and neither are customers. The open, authentic, needs/wants-based sales approach wins over glitzy commercials and packaging every time.

    Thank you for the post. Really good stuff.

  35. I’ve been selling an intangible product called “air time” for 35 years. I developed and trained hundreds of very fine salespeople. I wish this site had been around then. Radio is all about creating and selling concepts and ideas. Your post brought back some wonderful memories of incorporating these 5 principles into our sales program. I am very good and what I do, but I’m humbled by the staff at CopyBlogger. You’re all terrific! Thanks Sean and the rest of the team. You make me look forward to 2010.

  36. Daniel: My pleasure, Daniel. Truly though, the technology is new for most of us. It’s just about stepping over our fear on the way to something better. Happy New Year!

    Dawn: Thanks, Dawn. I couldn’t agree more. Happy New Year!

    Steve: Aw shucks, Steve. That’s awfully kind. And yes, I agree, we are quite fortunate to have Copyblogger. 2010 will rawk!

    Kian Ann: Only where relevant and as often as possible. : )

  37. Your blog was a pleasure to read and made me smile. As a mother of 4 I’ve had to get creative many times over the years when the kids wanted something that was beyond our budget. It gets easier as they get older (oldest is 15), but this year was a challenge because I was laid off from work and my husband has been a full time dad for many years, (which means full time job with no income). In this case, we told the younger kids who still believe in Santa that with so many people out of work this year, Santa had to limit the gifts so that there would be enough for everyone. My two younger kids only asked Santa for one present each, both of which were under $30. My older kids told us to spend any money we had on the little ones. I feel particularly blessed by my kids this year!

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