The Yogi Berra School of
Persuasive Writing

Yogi Berra

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra is a fifteen-time All Star and three-time MVP. He played in 14 World Series games. But what is he famous for?

Mixed up quotes.

Someone once asked him what he would do if he found a million dollars. Yogi said, “I’d find the fellow who lost it, and, if he was poor, I’d return it.” When discussing a Steve McQueen movie, Yogi observed, “He must have made that before he died.” Commenting on a pair of gloves, he said, “The only reason I need these gloves is ’cause of my hands.”

On the surface, Yogi seems confused. But perhaps he is trying to convey a deeper meaning for those who care to consider his words carefully. In fact, I think Yogi can teach us quite a bit about the art of writing copy that’s intended to persuade and motivate.

Let’s listen to what he has to say, and I’ll translate his “yogisms” into clear English.

Yogi: “This is like deja vu all over again.”

Translation: Study proven selling techniques. Every generation of writers thinks they are discovering selling for the first time. Many online writers think writing and selling began with the Web. But selling is based on human psychology and has been going on for thousands of years. If you want to learn how to sell today, study the sales techniques of yesterday. To get started, read Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins.

Yogi: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

Translation: Start with a goal. After all, how can you get someplace if you don’t know where you want to go? Your goal must be specific and measurable: 5,000 subscribers, 135 sales, 750 site hits per day, whatever. This tells you where you’re going and gives you a way to know when you’ve arrived.

Yogi: “Ninety percent of the game is half mental.”

Translation: Think before you act. You can easily spend half your time on strategy because it determines ninety percent of your results. Before writing headlines or body copy, collect your facts and study them. Who is your audience? What do they want? What are they willing to pay? What are their fears and desires? What else have they purchased? I’ve created a marketing questionnaire to collect the facts I need for my direct marketing projects. You can use my questionnaire as a starting point or create your own.

Yogi: “You can’t think and hit at the same time.”

Translation: Don’t create and evaluate ideas simultaneously. Idea generation is a right brain activity. Evaluation is a left brain activity. One short circuits the other. Write lots of headlines and copy ideas first. Later, evaluate and choose the best. Separating these two activities produces better results and often saves time. For tips effective brainstorming, see my 6-part series on creativity in direct marketing.

Yogi: “I wish I had an answer to that because I’m tired of answering that question.”

Translation: Provide plenty of solid information. People can distinguish between BS and good information. So don’t shovel a pile of one to cover up for a lack of the other. Have something to say. Say it clearly. Answer all questions. Be specific. In general, long copy outsells short copy. That’s because unanswered questions raise doubts. And doubts kill sales.

Yogi: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”

Translation: Don’t swipe copy. When you’re not sure how to write something, the temptation will be to copy someone else. This can range from light borrowing to outright plagiarism. Learning and applying what successful copywriters do is fine. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, you won’t solve any problems with theft. Good copywriters are good because of hard work and experience, not theft.

Yogi: “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

Translation: Build value before talking price. People don’t think about money logically. It’s all about “perceived value.” If I tell you an e-book will cost you $79, it sounds expensive. But if I tell you an e-book is a collection of information that has sold separately for over $5,000 or that the information is the result of 10 years of research, that $79 price tag suddenly sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

Yogi: “Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.”

Translation: Don’t get distracted by design. Good design is important of course, but you don’t need “pretty” design. Highly artistic design discourages interaction with strong copy. High-end design is like expensive Christmas wrap that no one wants to tear open. In the direct marketing business we say, “ugly sells.”

Yogi: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Translation: Test, test, test. Results are the only facts that matter. You can guess and estimate and reason and predict, but you really don’t know anything until you run a measurable test. Everyone has an opinion about writing, but testing answers all questions and ends all debates.

Yogi: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Translation: Study your stats. Copywriting isn’t really about writing. It’s about achieving a result: driving more Web traffic, signing up more subscribers, selling a product, promoting your services. Success is measured in numbers. Look at your Web stats, your subscriber trends, your sales, your service inquires, and other sources of data.

Yogi: “We’re lost but we’re making good time.”

Translation: Activity is not the same as progress. All your writing and selling and testing should teach you something. By learning what works and what doesn’t, you empower yourself to make adjustments and improve results. If you don’t learn, you’re simply driving around in circles.

Of course, Yogi also said, “I really didn’t say everything I said.” Maybe. But who cares? Coming from anyone else, quotes like “Pair up in threes” or “I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four,” would seem stupid. Coming from Yogi, it’s sheer genius.

Dean Rieck is one of today’s top direct marketing copywriters. For tips on copywriting and direct marketing, sign up for Dean’s FREE Newsletter or subscribe to the Direct Creative Blog.

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Reader Comments (46)

  1. says

    Dang fine job, Dean.

    Old-Time Baseball Player posts have now replaced Rock Star posts as the best way to convey strategy and gain readers attention…while having a big time doing it.

    What’s next ?

    I may try a Winnie The Pooh post !

  2. says

    One of Yogi’s quotes I live by is “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

    Don’t live by the books; don’t get tied up in writing theory. Do, do and do again. Learn from the mistakes.

    Yogi was brilliant.

  3. says

    Hey, Mike, that’s a great idea. You could start a newsletter and call it “The Daily Pooh.” Hmmm. Maybe not.

    My favorite of all time is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi wrote a book with that title several years ago.

  4. says

    Wow…those are radically simple truths of driving a solid business.

    And a solid business is not something that just arrives on scene…it takes packaging all of the above into a business or service offering that just makes sense to your targeted audience.

    Thanks for giving it to us like it is…

  5. says

    As someone form the UK, I’m not familiar with baseball, or even, shame to say, Yogi Berra. Though he sounds a hoot. But can someone explain the connection between the baseball player and the Yogi Bear cartoon character? And what can Yogi Bear teach us about marketing? Perhaps we could have a whole series on bears and marketing. There’s Winnie, Yogi, Paddington…

  6. says

    To Simon:
    According to Wikipedia, “He picked up his more famous nickname from a friend who said he resembled a Hindu holy man (yogi) they had seen in a movie, whenever Berra sat around with arms and legs crossed waiting to bat, or while looking sad after a losing game. Years later, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Yogi Bear was named after Berra…”

  7. says

    Everybody should be handed a copy of Claude Hopkins’ “Scientific Advertising” when they’re born. It’s more than just a book about advertising; at its core, it’s about learning to motivate people with services rather than inducements.

  8. says

    In the good old days talking like that was considered funny – BUT NOW, every blog or news outlet or comedy talk show would be all over you to the point of driving you crazy

  9. says

    Wow, nice interpretations. I have learned some important lessons from it. I also don’t know who is Yogi, but the wisdom is remarkable.

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