Bullet 8

The Secret of How to
Turn a Setback into Triumph—
in Marketing or in Life


Dear Marketing Top Gun:Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, there are some strategies and core personal beliefs so powerful, they will help you succeed brilliantly in all of life, including marketing.Today I share such a treasure. It’s a rare Silver Bullet, with enormous power to change your life, make you happier and leverage your success as a marketer, writer or salesperson.

I learned this secret (at least it was a secret to me), from the great Napoleon Hill, author of the self-improvement classic, “Think and Grow Rich,” inspired by the principles of business genius Andrew Carnegie.

The Secret Is This…

Every adversity carries within it the seed of equal or greater benefit.

If, in the grip of defeat, discouragement or heartbreak, you look for that seed and nourish it, you will lay the groundwork for great triumph.

At first, you may think, as I did, that this may be just Pollyanna claptrap, rah-rah “positive thinking” that collapses, like a cheap folding chair, under a two-ton challenge. But you’d be wrong to think that, as I was.

Over time, I found this Silver Bullet proved to be one of life’s most remarkable and reliable secrets of success and happiness.

This is because the universe is governed by laws. It is knowledge of these laws, and how to manipulate them, that will bring you success, whether your aim is to split an atom, build an empire, write a blockbuster ad or live a happier life.

And applying this secret—looking for the good in whatever setback you encounter—is the master “skeleton key” that will unlock whatever knowledge you need to accomplish your goal.

The universe is indifferent to whether you’re a nice person or mean. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. The universe surrenders its power to anyone who possesses the right knowledge of how to harness its laws, and that’s what you’ll discover by applying this Silver Bullet.

I usually don’t get personal in these Bullets, but today I will, to help you understand the life-changing power of this secret. In fact, I’ll give you two examples, one from my personal life and one from marketing.

A Painful Lesson from My Own Life

Pauline and I were married young, in our teens, and two years later had our only child, Laura.

My life changed forever when I met the doctor in the hospital waiting room, when he came out to tell me the good news: “You’re the father of a beautiful baby girl.”

Strangely, there was no joy in his face, so I asked, “How are mom and baby doing?”

He replied hesitantly, “Well, Pauline is fine.”

Then he looked down with a pained expression, and I instantly knew my world was changing.

As we later learned, after lots of doctor visits and diagnoses, our Laura was born with mental retardation and other medical problems.

Yet the story of our little family is not a tragedy, not by a long shot, due to the always mixed nature of life and the principle mentioned above. As it would take Pauline and me painful years to appreciate, it’s not what happens to you that determines your happiness and success in life, but how you respond.

After all, you can’t always control what happens to you. But you can always control how you respond, especially if you remember: Every adversity carries within it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.

You might ask, “What possible benefit could arise from your daughter being born with mental retardation? Or from a war, for that matter? Or a plague? Or an earthquake?”

Let me speak only from my own experience.

Our daughter, despite her disabilities, quickly became and remains the light of our lives.

What she lacks in brains she makes up in heart.

She has taught us more about how to love and care for others than any religious sermon, Indian guru, new age course or book ever could.

She has brought into our lives a caring and dedicated network of teachers and friends we would have never met otherwise.

She has opened our hearts and turned us into benefactors for children’s causes.

She has taught us how to be brave. Can you imagine the bravery it takes to look different, attract attention just by walking down the street or through a mall, speak unintelligibly to most people’s ears, encounter so much frustration in attempting simple tasks like tying a shoe or buttoning a blouse, never fit in with the social activities of your peers while growing up, not belong in their classes at school, not understand the jokes everyone laughs at and, at times, be laughed at yourself by ignorant people or other children who see only what’s different about you and not what’s human and tender?

Can you imagine the bravery it takes to experience all that … yet still go through life with a smile on your face, acceptance in your heart and a bubbly spirit of joy for those who share your life?

That’s just the beginning of what Laura has taught us.

Of course, despite these benefits, I would still have given anything to have allowed my daughter a normal shot at life. And, after all these years, I cannot hear the Straw Man in the Wizard of Oz sing, “If I only had a brain,” without thinking of Laura, what might have been, and feeling my eyes well up with sorrow.

The point I’m making is that this principle will never banish all sorrow. Nothing can do that. But it can transform setbacks and sorrow into glorious achievements and opportunities for growth on every level of your life—if you’ll persistently look for that all-important seed of benefit.

Once I learned to look for the good in a bad situation, I realized there is plenty of good to be found. I have never found an exception to this rule.

Good—even triumph!—can come from anything, as long as you’re willing to look for it. This is a rule of the universe, at least in my experience and in the eyes of many of history’s greatest teachers.

How to Apply This to Marketing

My biggest successes and advances in direct marketing have universally come from defeat. Earlier in my career, whenever I lost a split-run test against someone else, I hated the experience. I despised it with a passion.

My only consolation for having to swallow such poison was to turn it into medicine—somehow find the good. I learned to ask, “Why was I beaten on this? Why did my copy fail?” Once I figured out the answer, I vowed, “this will never happen to me again!” And I was that much tougher to beat the next time.

Michael Jordan and Bill Russell, perhaps the two greatest basketball players ever to step on the court, both had difficulty making their high school varsity teams. But they transformed their frustration into fierce determination and prevailed.

You can emulate their attitude every time you experience a setback in your own marketing. Mark my words—your setbacks will yield the secrets of your greatest breakthroughs!

To give you a wonderful example in marketing, let me relate this true story from a book called, “Crackerjack Positioning,” by Don Reynolds, Jr.

The Story of Uncle Jim’s Mountain Grown Apples

Reynolds writes…

    “An advertising executive moved to New Mexico and purchased an apple orchard located on the side of a mountain. He began to sell the apples by mail order.
    ‘Uncle Jim’s Mountain Grown Apples’ they were called, and he shipped them with the following unconditional guarantee:

‘If, for any reason, you find these apples unacceptable, just let me know and I’ll return your money with no questions asked.

    One year disaster struck. A hail storm marked all his apples. The taste was not affected. If anything the apples were sweeter than ever. But they certainly weren’t as pretty.
    For some reason Uncle Jim had more orders that year than ever before. He was faced with the alternative of either returning all the orders unfilled or shipping the apples and hoping for the best.
    He decided to ship the apples. In each box he placed a card that read:

‘Notice the hail marks on these apples. These are proof of their growth at a high mountain altitude where sudden chills from hail storms help stimulate the natural fruit flavors which give Uncle Jim’s apples their incomparable taste.

    That year Uncle Jim had fewer money-back requests than ever. His action further strengthened his unique position of marketing mountain-grown apples. He still gets orders asking for “Hail-marked apples, if available. Otherwise, the regular kind.”

That story embodies so much of what I admire in great marketing: uniqueness, compelling proof, honesty and an eye for turning a setback into a fabulous opportunity.

All discovered inside the “gift” of a disastrous hail storm.

From now on, search for the good in any setback and see for yourself if what I promise is true: you will find the seed of your next great triumph.

* * *

Parting Shot (A Favorite Quote)

“Only the heart knows how to find what is precious.” —Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Sincere wishes for a good life
and (always!) higher response,


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