You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your f****** khakis.
Every so often, a movie comes along that strikes the nerve of a generation. In the endless series of formulaic garbage and Michael Bay-directed explosions, it drills a hole in your memory and sticks.
These movies capture the zeitgeist of a culture so perfectly they make you wonder if their creators can read your mind.
For me, Fight Club is one of those movies.
It’s dark. Twisted. Nihilistic. And completely unforgettable.
It takes multiple viewings to peel off the layers and find the deeper meaning, making it one of my favorite movies of all time. The novel’s even better.
Fight Club doesn’t just teach us about the dangers of materialism and the aimlessness of modern society. There are important business lessons in there too.
Keep reading to find out what the author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, can show you about making sales, mopping the floor with your competition, and punching your prospects in the face…
Most People Lives Become Predictable Routines
Consider the daily routine of your average office worker.
Drive or ride public transportation to work.
Sit in an air-conditioned office pecking on a keyboard all day.
Read emails and fire off responses until the clock says “5:00” (if you’re lucky) before you get to go home.
And what’s waiting for you there?
Well, there’s usually a rush hour commute first.
For many, “home” means a fast dinner and falling into a vegetative state in front of the TV. It means crawling into bed before repeating the cycle all over again.
How can you reach these people in a meaningful way?
How can you use your marketing messages to snap people out of their routines?
Routines Drive People to Live on Autopilot
We’re creatures of habit. The people you want to become your customers included.
As we go through our routines, it’s easy to fall into a trance-like state. We go through the motions, plowing forward without bothering to savor the moment.
In the words of the unnamed narrator:
Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends.
The unnamed narrator of the story (Edward Norton, in the movie) spends most of his life traveling across the U.S. for his insurance job. Each day blends into the next, and he spends his nights in front of the TV fighting his insomnia.
He tries to fill the hole in his life with fancy furniture and clothes, but it doesn’t work.
You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.
Everything changes when the narrator’s apartment burns down.
He loses everything he owns. Desperate for a place to stay, he reaches out to a man he met on an airplane, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), for a place to stay. If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll know the narrator gets a lot more than he bargained for…
“I Want You To Hit Me as Hard as You Can.”
One of the first things Tyler Durden does is ask the narrator to punch him in the face.
This shocks the narrator (obviously). But he eventually caves in and throws a punch, leading to a fistfight that plants the seeds for the fight club they’ll go on to create.
That first punch is symbolic. It shakes the narrator out of his bland, comfortable routine. It hurts like hell but it shows him he’s alive in a way TV shows, books, or the latest Ikea catalog never could.
When the fight was over, nothing was solved, but nothing mattered. We all felt saved.
Back to the average office worker…
Do you think most of them are going out there picking fights with strangers just to feel alive?
Nope. Their routines might be boring, but they’re comfortable. Unless they’re doing some type of manual labor, these workers spend most of their time wrapped up in their heads thinking in abstractions.
Snapping Prospects out of Their Trance
When you engage people on the same wavelength they’re forced to spend most of their time already – a linear, logical level – you’ll have a hard time getting their attention. Logical appeals are boring. They aren’t enough to break people from their routines.
Great copy acts like a powerful pattern interrupt. It’s a metaphorical punch in the face that shocks people out of their comfort zones and gets their attention. It’s like the first fight between Tyler and the narrator that changes their lives for good.
Trying to engage with people on a rational, logical level (at least at first) is a marketing death sentence.
What you need to do is get people to throw “logic” out the window and actually feel something.
How do you grab people’s attention and get them out of their heads?
How do you make your copy hit harder?
The author of the Fight Club novel, Chuck Palahniuk, can help…
Listen to Chuck Palahniuk. Kill “Thought Verbs.”
Another reason why I love the Fight Club movie is it led me to the Fight Club novel. The Fight Club novel led me to Chuck Palahniuk. He’s a dark, twisted, and incredibly entertaining author – it didn’t take long for him to become one of my favorites.
Anyways, I read one of Palahniuk’s essays about improving your writing recently. He was discussing fiction writing, but I made the connection how his advice could help write more engaging business content.
Warning. This isn’t easy if you’ve spent a lot of time developing certain writing habits. My first few attempts at this were not pretty. But it’s a great exercise to make your writing more compelling, and I’m confident you can use it to connect with readers on a visceral level.
Here’s the gist of Palahniuk’s’ essay:
From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use…
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail. Present each piece of evidence. For example:
“During role call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout: ‘Butt Wipe,” just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
“Thought verbs” – words that deal with the abstract – are the enemy. Thinking, knowing, believing, and wanting are abstract. The more layers of abstraction you can strip out of your copy, the more powerful it becomes.
Basically, don’t tell your readers how bad they’d feel if they didn’t use your product. Just set the scene for them in excruciating detail. Let them feel the pain all on their own.
Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details… and allow your readers to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Hitting Prospects Where it Counts
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a blog post, sales page, or a tweet. If you follow the tips in Palahniuk’s essay, you’ll strengthen your copy and make more sales.
Killing your “thought verbs” helps you connect with readers where it counts; the emotional, visceral level.
People will become more receptive to buying if your copy lets them feel the pain of leaving their problem unsolved… and the tantalizing possibility of how different their lives would be if they took you up on the solution you’re offering.
Worry about punching them in the face.
Not telling them how they should feel about it afterwards.
How do you snap your readers out of their routines and engage them on an emotional level? How do you get people fired up about reading your marketing messages? Leave a comment below and let me know!