Sparking ideas by keeping your ears open

Has this ever happened to you?

You pick up some random strand of conversation...something you overhear or even mis-hear...

...And it leads you to a new idea for a headline or other copy...or even a new perspective you can apply to your marketing.

This happens to me all the time! It's one reason why stepping away from your computer (and your phone) and simply "disconnecting" while paying attention to what's around you can lead to so many breakthrough ideas and insights.

The legendary Gene Schwartz talked about this when he was alive--how he'd work for no more than 33 minutes and 33 seconds and then take "mandatory leisure" time...whether it was to shower or shave, take a walk, or unload the dishwasher.

(Actually, it's hard to envision Gene Schwartz unloading a dishwasher...didn't he have people to do that?)

In any case, you have to allow your brain to make connections...passively, on its own. You can't force it. You just have to make room for it.

The other day, I took some "mandatory leisure" time in the middle of my work day to hit the gym. I was going through all the machines, doing my strength-training workout.

Thanks to the high ceilings and large, mostly empty space, the acoustics are such that you can, without even trying, hear conversations from across the room.

As I was doing my boring, repetitive reps, I noticed a few middle-aged guys working out guy was mostly just talking, while the other--who used a wheelchair--was actually exercising.

And that's when I overheard my first marketing and copy insight of the day.

I heard the "talker" telling the guy on one of the machines how he's been using it to build up his chest and arms...even though it was actually for the back. When the other guy seemed to challenge him, the "talker" said, "I don't know how the f*ck it works. It's working for me, that's all I care about."

That gave me a new perspective for when I may be explaining the "mechanism of action" behind a supplement ingredient...or how a complex device like an air purifier or exercise equipment works. It's important to know how much explaining to do...and when to stop.

You want to keep your copy simple and easy to understand, while still making your key points. You don't want to lose your prospect or get into anything overly complicated--or have your copy read like a scientific paper. Most people just don't want to work that hard.

Listening in on these two dudes (I couldn't help myself) as I moved throughout the circuit, I found myself catching random phrases of their conversation that had me straining to hear more. And that led me to another insight.

At one point I heard the "talker" guy say, "I heard she did something to him. I think she gave him herpes."

I couldn't help but jerk my head forward their way. I mean, how could I NOT want to hear more. Intense whispering followed, making me even more curious.

Saying something unexpected or revealing something that would normally be hidden is a great way to generate curiosity. As humans, we are WIRED for gossip...the things we're not supposed to know or hear. And we're insatiably curious to hear them.

At this point I'm finally wrapping up my workout, when I hear the two guys--now well across the room from me--talking about something else. The "talker" guy goes, "That's insane about Pedro. Unbelievable. He was always pretty smooth."

Now I want to know, who the heck is Pedro? And what was it that was so insane and unbelievable? Wait...was he the one that got herpes? Inquiring minds want to know.

Another copy lesson here: never miss an opportunity to use power words and adjectives (like "insane" or "unbelievable") whenever possible to dramatize your copy. Make it provoke an emotional response in your prospect.

Avoid flat, boring copy like the plague! (If you missed last week's Copy Insiders issue, I talked about this can read it here).

Anyway, I never found out what happened to Pedro. I finished my workout and headed back to my home office to work.

But it was funny to reflect back on it and think about how many ideas and connections are out there for you to make...IF you keep your ears open for them.

My husband likes to call it being a "flaneur"...someone who likes to wander. Think of it as wandering with your brain...and let it do the work of sparking new ideas for you.

That's it for's been a crazy-busy one for me, and the coming weekend is packed with "to do's" as well.

I hoped I inspired you to keep your ears open while taking "mandatory leisure" never know what kind of copy inspiration it may lead you to!

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. Many folks aren't aware I've been posting all of my Copy Insiders issues on my blog since the beginning of 2019. If you haven't been on my list that long, you can catch up on reading them here...while you're taking your "mandatory leisure" time.

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