Eight Irrefutable Ingredients for Effective Copy: The Jimmy Buffet Way

“Nibblin’ on sponge cake, watchin’ the sun bake…wasting away again in Margaritaville”

Jimmy Buffet is a better copywriter than you. Are you kidding? No.

Margaritaville, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and Changes in Latitudes/Changes in Attitudes are all songs from Jimmy Buffet that conjure up visions of boat drinks, a palm thatched hut, escapism, and if just for a fleeting moment, an unconventional life.

However, did you know that Buffett has written three No. 1 best sellers?

  • Tales from Margaritaville
  • Where Is Joe Merchant?
  • A Pirate Looks At Fifty

Two of his books spent over seven months on the New York Times Best Seller fiction list and his autobiography, A Pirate Looks At Fifty, went straight to No. 1 on the non-fiction list.

In fact, he is only one of seven authors in that list’s history to have reached No. 1 on both the fiction and non-fiction lists. (source: Jimmy Buffet Wikipedia)

What is it that creates such loyalty to the Buffet brand?

The other day a guest of mine asked, “So do you listen to Jimmy Buffet and drink piña coladas every day now that you live in the Caribbean?”

Of course, in order to keep up appearances, I told her, “Absolutely and most days I walk around in a grass skirt and put a foam shark fin on my back too.”

And then I realized, you know, since I left snowy, cold, and blustery Worcester, Massachusetts over ten years ago I haven’t wanted listen to Buffet at all.

But her question got me to thinking… there must be something to this guy’s music that we, as business owners and online marketers, should pay close attention to.

What’s Buffet’s secret sauce for success?

How has he been able to create a tribe of cult like followers who attend his shows en masse and consistently make his live shows sell out within hours?

Moreover, how does Buffet get typically rational folks, from normally conservative young professionals all the way up to near retirees, to dress up in ridiculous outfits like coconut bikinis, grass skirts and parrot hats?

It’s not mango salsa, rum drinks, or even the promise of Captain Cook’s buried treasure!

Could it possibly be quirky, brandable phrases like – ‘parrotheads’, ‘ fins up’, and ‘land sharks’? Well, that might be part of it.

By his own admission in his book, “A Pirate Looks at Fifty,” Buffet is not an exceptionally gifted musician and he surely does not have model-esque good looks. As for his writing, certainly, Buffet is no Mark Twain.

So what is it that has allowed him to dominate his niche and succeed on such a grand scale, where others have failed? And perhaps, most importantly, how can Jimmy’s formula for success help you to enhance your writing and increase sales?

Here are eight irrefutable ingredients that Buffet uses, which can help you improve your copy:

Ingredient 1 – The power of story

Whether you like his music, or not, Jimmy Buffet is a master storyteller and this characteristic above all else has led to his success. The tales and stories that are weaved through his lyrics, such as, being adrift in the Caribbean ocean and finally reaching the sandy shore to discover the perfect cheeseburger and cold beer. Or how a change in latitude to a warmer climate will instantly bring a change in attitude are the stuff of legend.

I dare any of you to tell me that on a cold and miserable winter’s night you haven’t broken out the blender, made some margaritas and cranked his music, if just for a little while, to be transported someplace warmer. Whether drafting a blog post, an ‘About’ page or writing an eBook, a great story sells every time, guaranteed.

Ingredient 2 – Clear vision

Buffet knows exactly where he wants to take people with his songs, “But there’s this one particular harbor/So far but yet so near,” and he writes his lyrics accordingly.

For the small business owner and marketer who’s using the internet to drive traffic to their business, product, or service it is awfully hard to craft a compelling story if you don’t have a vision.

Ingredient 3 – Unabashed passion

Not only does Jimmy embody the flip-flop and sand in the toes mentality through his music, he has lived the life and loves it. You can hear it in his composition and he really makes people believe that we should all be living this way.

Most consumers can smell a fake and fraud. Are you injecting passion into your message?

Ingredient 4 – Tap into emotion

Buffet’s music and lyrics are supposed to make you feel good and meet you on a visceral level. His emotional pitch; the sun is out, the piña coladas are fresh, and it never rains in paradise. The people tailgating before his concerts might not be able to afford a vacation, but he makes exotic dreams come true because he makes people feel good about themselves.

Most purchases are driven by pure emotion and buyers don’t always buy what they need or want. Do you want your buyers to be excited, happy, or motivated? Then make sure your writing delivers.

Ingredient 5 – Clutter free message

The lyrics to the song Margaritaville, “nibbling on sponge cake and watching the sun bake” are not going to win old Jimmy any Pulitzer prizes, but his message is crystal clear.

In his article on American writing, William Zinsser states perfectly, “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.” Enough said.

Ingredient 6 – Serve your niche

Buffet writes his lyrics like he is an expert on escapism. He doesn’t say, ‘You might enjoy the sand and surf’ he tells you with conviction. Additionally, he does not write songs in an effort to win over the heavy metal crowd or the classical music snobs. And you certainly won’t hear him singing about the heartwarming qualities of Bill Lumbergh and attempting to sell you on the benefits of office life.

Many online marketers struggle because they try to serve everyone. If you can’t define your niche in sixty seconds or less, I am not sure you have narrowed your focus enough.

Ingredient 7 – Fill a Purpose

There are many unhappy professionals and office workers out there and unfortunately many won’t move beyond fear and pursue their true passion. For most they simply can’t quit their job and move to paradise. Jimmy’s music fills the need for people who dream of a slacker lifestyle and warm weather escape.

Are you adding to purpose to your copy and examining what need(s) your product or service fills?

Ingredient 8 – Trust

Buffet’s “every man” style lyrics and music create a connection and bond with his fans. People feel like they know him, and most importantly, they feel like they can trust him.

If you are writing targeted information for Internet sales, would I trust you enough to give you my credit card number if I read your content?

As a small business owner I am primarily concerned with effective copy that draws in more customers, but Jimmy’s formula can work equally well on your about page, your blog, or a landing page that is designed to sell your information product.

In Jimmy’s own words…“It’s a magic kind of medicine that no doctor can prescribe…”

About the author: Mark Hayward hates the snow and cold! But he loves living in the Caribbean, owning his own business and is a co-founder of the nonprofit, Train for Humanity. You can follow him on Twitter @mark_hayward.

12 Responses to Eight Irrefutable Ingredients for Effective Copy: The Jimmy Buffet Way

  1. Though I know his name, I am not familiar with Jimmy Buffet’s music, Mark. He must be more popular in the USA than Australia. But I like the way you’ve dissected his brand and the details of his success. He sounds like he’d be a fascinating guy to have a beer and a yarn with.

    I think if you utilize just three of these elements in your writing you can have success. For me, it’s all about the story, the passion and tapping into an emotion (which can be the same thing as filling a purpose). You can carry people away with you if you have those.

    I’ll have to go find him on You-Tube now to hear his tunes. Anyone who has a book called ‘Tales from Margaritaville’ is alright by me.

    Kelly :)

    PS. And thanks for the link

  2. Paul Miser says:

    Hey Mark. Great post. I’m a HUGE parrothead and personally think that Jimmy Buffett is the greatest marketer of all time. He is not only creating a brand, but the “escapism” lifestyle. He gives his followers a dream, a goal, and a reason for living. The Jimmy Buffett brand is an enormous defining aspect to the personality of his fan base. Being a “parrothead” defines who you are as a person. Great Post. One that I might have to discuss on my blog as well.

  3. Maya says:

    Hi Mark,
    Have not heard Jimmy Buffet much but as a small business owner myself I think your advice is just right on! Such powerful things – you can write a book on it!
    Thank you for the link Mark – am off to tweet this piece with such great advice in it.

  4. Rob Chant says:

    I must admit I’ve never heard of Jimmy Buffet, but I really enjoyed this article. Simple advice that one can’t hear often enough!

  5. Mark says:

    Hi Kelly – happy to link out to someone who makes me think back to my quick visit to Nicaragua…and remind me that it is time to take another surf trip!

    Hi Paul – would be really happy to see you discuss this post and hopefully pick up on the many details that I overlooked.

    Hi Maya – thank you for the Tweet! I put a bit of effort into this one, but it all comes down to trying to help business owners to market themselves in a more effective manner…

    Hi Rob – I figured many would not have heard of Buffet, which is why I included the intro bit about his writing feat. Do you guys have a similar type of ‘escapist’ entertainer in the U.K.?

  6. I’ve heard of Jimmy Buffet – don’t like his music, not a fan – but the advice is spot on.
    His fans probably wouldn’t like Coldplay or Pete Gabriel or REM either ;-)
    It’s a fan thing… which speaks to your point about the niche.

    I’d like to comment on trust if I may… to engender it (in sales copy at least) you must also have proof because people don’t know you. The distrust element and the B.S. meter are almost permanently on HIGH for most online prospects and it’s up to the marketer or sales person to remove these barriers. That only happens over time and with sustained contact.

    In fact people rarely buy on first touch (which is why it is advisable to provide some free quality content and build a relationship through something other than your product) and marketers have to establish credibility…by being consistent over time.

    There are some people I buy from (online) now without even reading their copy… I don’t need to because they’ve established their credibility over time I know their stuff is good and if it meets my needs I have no hesitation about buying their products and referring them. I know what to expect. The initial touch has to be great but it may not get me to act… but it’s the high quality experience and consistency that sells me as a long term purchaser. Many businesses focus only on the initial sale…but that’s not where the money is the savvy marketers (and the Jimmmy Buffets I believe) know the gold is in the long term customer value.

  7. … And I meant to say. Excellent post. Well done.

  8. Mark says:

    Hi Nicky – regarding the subject of trust, you make an extremely valid point! I am awfully hesitant when it comes to making purchases online and if I get any whiff of doubt I go searching elsewhere.

  9. Glen Crosier says:

    Hi Mark, first time commenting here – love your work including your B&B blog too – fantastic photos – a great example for anyone who wants to set up a blog for a small niche business. Anyway yes I agree with the Nicky which is I what blogging is really about I guess ? creating trust and letting people get to know you…

    Cheers
    Glen
    Brighton
    UK

  10. Mark says:

    Hi Glen – thank you for taking the time to comment! I have said it before, but if I can help some business people out there with what knowledge I have been able to gain then I am a very happy person.

    Too, I think part of the social media aspect that biz folks find difficult to grasp is the groundwork that is required to attain trust across all of the various outlets (forums, twitter, etc…). I guess it is a somewhat intangible concept?

  11. Glen Crosier says:

    Hi Mark – know what you mean – its sometimes tricky to explain ROI on the time it takes build a transparent presence – irony is people who have a hard time “getting it” don’t realise there isn’t really another way now in terms of where we’re headed – been playing on Google Friend Connect this week – are you going to install on your site ? I’ll be first to join your community ! Glen

  12. thank you mark .
    great informations and i totally agree with you .
    keep them coming .