"The Strange Story of the "Crackpot" Mail-Order Prophet
(or) Five Things You Can Learn about Advertising
from Dr. Frank B. Robinson"

by Joe Vitale

Are you having trouble selling your product or service? Are you feeling like the chaotic state of the world prevents you from succeeding? Are you wondering how you can increase your sales in the most cost effective ways? Are you feeling like your competition is breathing down your neck?

Many of my clients feel the same way. They want to succeed, to make a nice living in their business, but they feel overwhelmed, uncertain, and even despondent. They feel they have too much competition. They feel marketing doesn't work, or takes too much work. They feel people don't have enough money today to spend on what they are selling.

And that's why I think it's time to reveal the strange story of the long forgotten "crackpot" mail-order prophet.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s the average person didn't have enough money to feed themselves or their family, let alone enough extra cash to order books through the mail. Yet during those lean years one man made a fortune selling books and courses entirely by mail. His name was Frank B. Robinson. He founded "Psychiana," the world's eighth largest religion and the world's largest mail-order religion.

You may never have heard of him or his movement before today. But during the 1930s and 40s, Robinson's name traveled around the world. Millions of people read his books, studied his lessons, and practiced his methods. The press called his positive thinking, new thought religion a "media business" because Robinson advertised so heavily.

In 1928 Robinson wrote an ad for his new philosophy that began with the headline, "I TALKED WITH GOD." An advertising agency in Spokane, Washington said the ad would never work. But Frank believed in his message and trusted his hunches. He borrowed $2,500 from people he barely knew, spent most of it on printing his lessons, and invested $400 to place his ad in "Psychology Magazine."

That ad pulled 5,300 responses. Robinson ran it in numerous magazines and it always pulled a 3% to 21% response. Within a year he had a full-time job fulfilling requests for his books and lessons, soon shipping a million pieces of mail a year out of his office in Moscow, Idaho. The post office in that little town had to move into a bigger building to handle all the mail.

Robinson's ads appeared in 140 newspapers, 180 magazines, and on 60 radio stations, all at the same time. His postal bill in 1938 amounted to $16,000 and his printing bill hit $40,000. He received 60,000 pieces of mail a day, reached more than two million people, and sent his message to 67 countries---all within one year of running his first ad.

"Advertising is educating the public to who you are, where you are, and what service you have to offer," Robinson wrote. "The only man or organization who should not advertise is the one who has nothing to offer."

What can we learn from Frank B. Robinson?

  1. He believed in his product. When you don't believe in what you are trying to sell, it shows. It'll show in your lack of commitment to your marketing, in poor advertising, in poor service, or in other ways. As I mention in my book, The Seven Lost Secrets of Success, sincerity is one of the "lost secrets" to success. Robinson had sincerity. While his movement made tons of money, Robinson accepted only $9,000 a year as his salary. Whether you call him a crackpot or a savior, he believed in his product. He knew he had something people wanted. In fact, Robinson sold his religious lessons with a money-back guarantee.
  2. He advertised relentlessly. If you don't tell people that you exist, they won't know it. The reason you aren't aware of Robinson or his movement today is because he's dead. (He died in 1948). No one is advertising his message. Without consistent and persistent advertising to educate the public, the world won't know of your business.
  3. He tracked his results. Robinson believed in the spiritual world, but he also knew he lived on the earth plane where numbers matter. He tracked responses from his ads to know what worked and what didn't. For example, astrology magazines brought him an 18% response to his ads while national weekly papers brought 3%. Knowing that, Robinson could invest more money in larger ads in the better pulling magazines. Find out where your business comes from and focus more advertising in that area.
  4. He continued to create products. Robinson knew once people tasted his goods, they would want more. He wrote 28 books during his short lifetime. These, along with his correspondence courses, gave him a deep product line. Your current satisfied customers will always be your goldmine. Create more for them to buy.
  5. He remained optimistic. Despite the harsh reality of the Great Depression years, and despite competition from religious institutions that had been around for centuries, Robinson flourished. He didn't believe anyone or anything could stop him. When you have that strong of an inner conviction, nothing CAN stop you. If you think you have competition with a similar business in the same town, consider what it must have been like for Robinson to have such empires as the Catholic Church, the US government, and famous ministers and politicians trying to close him down!

Whatever you may think of Robinson or "Psychiana," you have to admit he knew how to advertise his business.

"After all, it's the results in human lives that count," he wrote in his 1941 book, The Strange Autobiography of Frank B. Robinson. "Talk is cheap."

What are you going to do now to increase your business? Remember, talk is cheap!

Joe Vitale is widely recognized by many as the greatest copywriter in America. Can you beat him? Try out the "World's Shortest Advertising IQ Test" and see how you stack up...

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