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10 Marketing Lessons for Growth From A World-Famous Con Man

Marketing lessons for growth can come from just about anywhere, anyone or anything. Study everything with a creative, open mind and you might surprise yourself.

Have you seen the 2002 movie, Catch Me If You Can? It starred Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the cons of real life Frank Abagnale. Yes, 2002 is old for some, however I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

Catch Me If You Can taught us valuable lessons to boost Marketing Growth
“Catch Me If You Can” provides valuable lessons for Marketing Growth

Frank impersonated an airline copilot, was a phony college professor, passed as a pediatrician in a Georgia hospital, faked it as a lawyer on an attorney general’s staff and cashed 17,000 bad checks for a total of $2.5 million in the 1960’s and 70’s.

And he did all this starting at the ripe old age of 16.

Frank was eventually caught, served time in three different countries and then started his own consulting firm in which he helped businesses safeguard against con men just like him.

I recently watched an interview Frank did with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show back in 1978 after he got out of prison and started his business.

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the movie, but the replay of the old interview with Johnny Carson really made me think about what Frank pulled off.

And while I would never advocate that you do anything illegal, I do have to admire someone who was so good at his ‘job’ as to fool hundreds of professional people into believing him.

Experience leads confidence, exploiting opportunities for marketing growth
Experience leads confidence, exploiting opportunities

What lessons can we extrapolate from Frank, and how might we be able to use these lessons for our marketing?

1: Experience builds confidence

Frank ran away from home at the age of 16 and got a job, but he wasn’t making enough money to support himself. That’s when he began writing bad checks. Soon enough he realized that the more he did it, the more confidence he built.

When someone first starts out in a new field or task, they may lack confidence because they are unfamiliar with the processes and may be unsure of how to proceed. However, as they gain more experience, they become more familiar with the task or field, which can help them to feel more confident and competent.

Experience also provides individuals with the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and failures. Through trial and error, they can identify what works and what doesn’t, which helps them to refine their skills and improve their performance. As they gain more experience, they develop a deeper understanding of the task or field, which allows them to anticipate challenges and develop strategies to overcome them.

Furthermore, experience allows individuals to develop a sense of mastery over their work. As they become more proficient in their skills, they feel more in control of their work and are less likely to be intimidated by new challenges. This sense of mastery can help individuals to stay motivated and focused on their goals.

If you’ve been putting something off because you’ve never done it before, the best advice might be to simply do it now, before your head hits the pillow tonight.

2: Confidence leads to more experience

Confidence from cashing bad checks led to forging checks and ID’s, which lead to having the confidence to impersonate a pilot in order to fly for free.

Once you’ve done that small thing and survived, it’s easier to take on the big thing and be successful at that, too.

Confidence can be a powerful tool for gaining experience. It can help individuals to take risks, persist in the face of setbacks, perform well in new situations, and stay motivated to pursue their goals. By building confidence in their abilities, individuals can create a positive feedback loop of growth and development, leading to even greater levels of confidence and success.

Just as Frank Abagnale did, start small. Routine success with small items, tasks or in the case of cashing bad checks, can lead to growth of bigger and better things.

3: Opportunities are everywhere, (especially marketing lessons)

Frank wanted to leave New York because the police were looking for him. While walking up 42nd street, he saw an airline crew coming out of a hotel and thought that would be the perfect front to travel around the country for free and stay at hotels for free, posing as a dead-heading airline pilot.

If you have a problem, keeping your eyes open for a possible solution – no matter how unusual it might be – and then jumping on that solution is the surest way to success.

Frank was very creative, and not afraid to try anything to help him reach his desired goal. In most cases, Frank did the unthinkable, as no one else could image pulling off what he would dream up.

In our business, we need to always be looking at things as solutions. For every problem there is a solution. And that’s not just for your business, it is for all of your customers too.

Find every opportunity to provide your cusotmers valuable resources and solutions.


4: Ask for help

Frank needed a pilot’s uniform, so he called Pan-am, said he was a west coast pilot in New York and his uniform had been stolen, and they helped him to get a new one. He was creative and brazen. His self assurance carried him through the thinnest of times in getting caught.

In online marketing it’s not only okay to get help, it’s actually a much better method than trying to go it alone. And of course creativity is not only necessary, I would argue that it is required to succeed online marketing. You can’t expect to do the same thing that everyone else is, and be super successful.

5: Don’t pay if you can get paid instead

Frank would stay in hotels for free with the charge going to the airline. Then in the morning before he left, he would get a personal check cashed at the front desk because the hotels had agreements with the airlines to honor employees’ personal checks.

This got me thinking… how can I get the services I use for free, and even get paid to use those services? One great answer is to become an influencer and promote the service to others. Another method is to offer the service to others myself, outsourcing it and keeping the difference as profit.

Be creative and resourceful. Look at things differently and ask yourself how you can make something work better, more efficient or redesign a process or program to make more money.

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6: Crime pays but there’s a big price

While Frank made $2.5 million in the 60’s and early 70’s, he paid a heavy price by continuously having to be on the run all the time for 5 years. He says he was lonely and despairing, and I have to think it was almost a relief when he was finally caught.

I like to sleep at night, I don’t want to be on the run and I like to have friends, so I keep everything 100% above board and legal in my businesses.

7: Delegate your work

When Frank passed himself off as a doctor, he was supervising 7 interns on the midnight to 8am shift. Frank knew absolutely nothing about medicine, but he knew how to delegate. When a patient came in he’d ask the first intern, “What do you think?” The first intern would give a diagnosis and what he thought was the right treatment. Frank would then ask the other interns if they concurred. If they did, he would tell them to go ahead and do it. Ironically, Frank became one of the most respected residents because he was the only one that ever allowed the interns to do anything.

Not sure how to do something? Want to have someone more knowledgeable than you do it for you? Then start delegating. Hire outsourcers, a virtual assistant or whatever you need to get the job done properly.

And keep in mind for your customers that you need to provide them great opportunities to do the same. Maybe you don’t offer services or outsourcing, but you certainly have the solutions to some kind of problem or can provide value in one way or another.

Marketing Lessons include to delegate

8: You don’t need certificates or permission to achieve success

Frank created phony credentials that allowed him to take the bar exam in Louisiana. He studied for 3 or 4 months, legally passing the bar on his third attempt. He got a job as corporate lawyer on the attorney general’s staff and worked there for a year, winning a number of cases. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement for someone who didn’t even finish high school.

I’m not sure if the lesson here is that anyone can become a lawyer, or that (as Johnny said) he could have ended up prosecuting himself.

Maybe it’s that you don’t need fancy credentials and years of overpriced schooling to realize your dreams. You don’t need someone else’s permission to be successful, either.

What you do need is focus, tenacity and the belief that you can do it.

And you need some of lesson #1 and #2 confidence and experience, or experience and confidence. Potatoe, potato. You need them both. And the best way to get them is to be ever relentlessly in pursuit of finding ways to provide true value.

9: Build marketing lessons on what you already have

Frank now has his own firm, doing consulting work for large corporate banks and departments stores, teaching them how to not get ripped off.

Whatever your specialized skill, there’s a good chance you can monetize it. What are you good at? What do you know more about than 99% of people? And who is willing to pay you for that information? If you can answer those questions, you have a viable business idea.

And we are all different, and have different specific strengths and skills. If you haven’t already, perform a full self-assessment. An honest self assessment will highlight your strengths and best skills and abilities, while noting your areas that you do not excel in. Those areas are equally important so you know how to find support, tools or sources to fill in any gaps as needed.

Find the tools and resources that help make doing things faster, easier, more efficient or lower costs.

10: Spell it out for your customers

One day in Frank’s consulting business he wanted to test a client’s store personnel. Buying a small item, he wrote a check with his name on it for $10 and gave the clerk the store manager’s driver’s license as I.D. The clerk accepted the I.D. with no problem whatsoever, even though the store manager looked nothing like Frank and the names didn’t match.

You might think your customers understand things or see important details, but unless you spell it out for them, there’s a good chance they will completely miss it.

Don’t assume your customers know why your product will give them the results they seek. Lay it all out for them, step by step, to ensure they miss nothing.

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In closing, I will share one last thing: Frank was gifted at acting like the person he wanted to become. What if you act like you are already super successful and have a thriving business? Sometimes a great attitude and a little optimism can go a long way.

As they say, be like the person you want to become and you will become that person.

So until next time, be tenacious toward your goals. And keep an eye out for more great value and watch for our new store opening soon.

To your success!


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Updated 3/23/2023