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What every business owner and marketer ought to know about this powerfully persuasive 500-year-old letter by Leonardo Da Vinci

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By Matthew Oxborrow – Founder, Medici Marketing 

This letter (pictured below – translation at bottom of page) changed Leonardo Da Vinci’s life. The lessons within could change yours too, so read to the end.

Leonardo Da Vinci letter to Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza writing to persuade how to get clients

The letter that changed Da Vinci’s life.

Imagine for a moment you’re Leonardo Da Vinci…

It’s the 1480s and Italy is at war with itself. You’re young, you’re bright, and you have many skills. But you need work and few people know who you are.

North of the rolling Tuscan hills of your birth lies Milan.

The Duke of Milan – Ludovico Sforza – has a violent reputation and an appetite for war.

He needs engineers in his service to build tools for defence and attack.

The job will give you the wealth, experience and contacts to set you up for life.

But every ambitious engineer is applying for the role.

You’re not well-known and, although you’re a competent engineer, you’re a specialist painter.

What do you do to beat your competition?

Well, if you’re anything like Leonardo Da Vinci, you send a letter of application.

That’s right. Just as you do to apply for a job or to prospect for clients.

The effort paid off. A decade letter, the Duke hired Da Vinci to paint one of the most famous paintings in the history of the world. The Last Supper.

It’s not ridiculous to claim that, without this letter, many of Da Vinci’s greatest works would never have existed.

If he hadn’t found willing employers and patrons, he would never have had the resources to create what he created. The world would have been poorer for it.

You see, you could have all the skills in the world… But if you don’t know how to communicate to people that need them, you’ll never get anywhere in life.

Here, concisely, are 7 things you can learn from this letter that could change your life forever.

  1. The letter is all about what he can do for the Duke, not why he wants the job. Never does he say “I want this job because..” Instead, he says “Here’s what I can do for you.”

    This is point 1 on the list and lesson number 1 in persuasive writing.

  2. He explains why he’s different. Often in life, you don’t need to be better, just different. In the opening paragraphs, Da Vinci shares that he’s emboldened by the fact the designs of other engineers are common. They’re copies of what already exists. Da Vinci can offer something different.

  3. The letter is personalised. He’s going for a big gig here. He’s not mass mailing his CV titled “To whom it may concern.” He knows who he’s writing to and it shows.

  4. He uses emotion. Good copywriters know emotion determines action. You use logic to back up and justify emotion. “Moreover, work could be undertaken on the bronze horse which will be to the immortal glory and eternal honour of the auspicious memory of His Lordship your father, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.” This is clever because he’s subtly saying: If you hire me, I won’t just do the job, your father will eternally honoured. He also uses flattery. That’s one of the most powerful emotions you can use.

  5. He overcomes objections by offering to prove what he says. He realises that humans are cynical. Why would the Duke believe what he has to say? So he offers to prove it. Pack your letters, emails, website copy and all communications with as much proof as you can find.

  6. He tailors the message to the Duke’s major needs but includes some useful bonuses. The list explains what he can do better than other engineers. At then end he adds “Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other.”  He’s giving every reason and benefit he can to the duke so that he’ll hire him.

  7. He hired a pro. The Duke of Milan didn’t know how to build war machines so he hired a pro. So he knew how to a hammer and nail, that didn’t make him an engineer. Da Vinci didn’t know how to write persuasively so he hired a pro. He knew how to read and write, but he didn’t know what to say and how to say it with proven principles of psychology.

Although he might not have realised it, this letter is a very early form of direct response marketing. The same principles still apply today because human persuasion hasn’t changed.

Maybe you write the with a keyboard rather than a quill and paper, but the principles are the same.

Few people realise that direct response marketing is the fastest and most affordable way to reliably grow a business. If you want to grow your business, then I strongly suggest you read this free report on direct response marketing: How to scientifically get more customers – risk-free.


Translation of the letter to English

My Most Illustrious Lord,

Having now sufficiently seen and considered the achievements of all those who count themselves masters and artificers of instruments of war, and having noted that the invention and performance of the said instruments is in no way different from that in common usage, I shall endeavour, while intending no discredit to anyone else, to make myself understood to Your Excellency for the purpose of unfolding to you my secrets, and thereafter offering them at your complete disposal, and when the time is right bringing into effective operation all those things which are in part briefly listed below:

1. I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy, and others, sturdy and indestructible either by fire or in battle, easy and convenient to lift and place in position. Also means of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2. I know how, in the course of the siege of a terrain, to remove water from the moats and how to make an infinite number of bridges, mantlets and scaling ladders and other instruments necessary to such an enterprise.

3. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth.

4. I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion.

5. Also, I have means of arriving at a designated spot through mines and secret winding passages constructed completely without noise, even if it should be necessary to pass underneath moats or any river.

6. Also, I will make covered vehicles, safe and unassailable, which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery, and there is no host of armed men so great that they would not break through it. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow, quite uninjured and unimpeded.

7. Also, should the need arise, I will make cannon, mortar and light ordnance of very beautiful and functional design that are quite out of the ordinary.

8. Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I will assemble catapults, mangonels, trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful efficiency not in general use. In short, as the variety of circumstances dictate, I will make an infinite number of items for attack and defence.

9. And should a sea battle be occasioned, I have examples of many instruments which are highly suitable either in attack or defence, and craft which will resist the fire of all the heaviest cannon and powder and smoke.

10. In time of peace I believe I can give as complete satisfaction as any other in the field of architecture, and the construction of both public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another.

Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be.

Moreover, work could be undertaken on the bronze horse which will be to the immortal glory and eternal honour of the auspicious memory of His Lordship your father, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the above-mentioned things seem impossible or impracticable to anyone, I am most readily disposed to demonstrate them in your park or in whatsoever place shall please Your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

If you’d like to learn more about persuasive writing and direct response marketing, then download this free report now. It could change your life, just as it did with Da Vinci.

What Gladiator and Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” can teach us about Marketing

What Gladiator and Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” can teach us about Marketing

Written by Matthew Oxborrow, Founder, Medici Marketing.


Thursday 16:50pm, my desk, Bogotá, Colombia.

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

I love hero movies.

That’s why when I watched GLADIATOR again last night, for the fifteenth time, I got excited. But this time it was different…

This time I began analysing the story through a new lens… It’s what Joseph Campbell famously called “The Heroes Journey.”

Storytellers use this framework to hook the audience in and keep their attention. As marketers, attention is the most valuable and rare resource we can receive. And we’re all fighting for it, all the time.

So I think there’s something very valuable to be learned here that you can apply to your own marketing efforts to serve more people and grow your business.


In the beginning of the movie we see Maximum as a great general, victorious in battle, loved by his army and his emperor. This is known as “The Ordinary World” where the hero is introduced sympathetically to the audience.


Shortly after, the world as we see it in the introduction is changed and the hero must face up to this change. In this case, Marcus Aurelius is old and dying and Commodus will become emperor.


If you’re anything like me, you watch this scene shouting at the screen “you idiot, Maximus!!”

Maximus refuses Marcus Aurelius’ request to become temporary emperor, instead of the evil Commodus, to restore Rome to a republic state.


Maximus is injured and rides to Spain, his home. With Marcus dead, Commodus as emperor, and his family raped, murdered, and burned, a slave dealer finds Maximus. Here he becomes a gladiator and meets his mentor Proximo, the gladiator who won his freedom.


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This is the end of act one. The hero, Maximus commits to the new world with its new rules and he learns to be a gladiator, understanding that his freedom lies with winning the favour of the crowd.


The beginning of the middle of the story, here Maximums learns who he can trust, who he can’t and faces many tests. The tests are clear: battles in the arena. What about his allies and enemies? Can he trust the emperor’s sister? Will Proximo help him? Can he trust senator Gracchus?


They prepare for a major challenge in the new world. Can Maximus and his allies survive the gladiatorial battles?


The battle of Carthage. The gladiators are expected to lose. But they win. Maximus faces both his greatest fear and possible death. His face is revealed to Commodus. What will Commodus do? Maximus has won the crowd. Commodus is helpless and this breathes new life and urgency into Maximus’ mission.


Having faced the ordeal, the hero takes possession of his reward. In this case, Maximus is rewarded with life, new allies and the possibility of fulfilling his hero’s mission. But all is not safe. He could lose his reward at any turn.

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Three-quarters of the story is told. The hero is driven to leave the new world as he knows it in search of fulfilling his mission. Can Maximus return to his loyal army to avenge Marcus Aurelius’ death and restore Rome to its status as a republic of the people?


At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

The plan is foiled, Maximus is caught in the middle of an army of archers and his loyal ally is killed. Maximus is in chains and at Commodus’ mercy. Commodus wounds Maximus but offers him a chance to fight in the arena.

Maximus wins. He kills Commodus and restores Rome to its Republic state.


The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

Maximus continues his journey “home” to his family. At peace, having fulfilled his mission.

 How Does This Help You Improve Your Marketing?

For as long as humans have communicated, storytelling has existed. We use it to teach our children and we use it to understand the world and our place in it.

We’re hard wired to do this.

Each and every one of us is the hero of our own story. We all have our own enemies, our allies and mentors; we all have a mission to fulfil and challenges to overcome.

One of the most common mistakes a business makes in its marketing is it tries to position itself as the hero. This turns customers away as it doesn’t align with your customer’s narrative.

By being the hero you’re showing your customers that you don’t understand them or their problems. You’re more concerned with yourself than you are with helping them.

That’s not a winning strategy.

If you want to get customers on your side, be like Proximo.

When your customer buys from you, they are buying the solution to a problem. Not just an external problem, but also, more importantly, an internal one.

They’re entering a new world and you’re the guide.

Your job is to help them overcome obstacles and to show them what life on the other side of your product or service looks like.

Your job is to help your customer continue on their very own hero’s journey.

Let’s take a look at a simple example…

Maybe you’re a landscape gardener. You’re not just making your customer’s garden look nicer, you’re helping them to be proud of their home when they host guests. You’re making sure they don’t feel ashamed when their neighbours come over for a summer barbecue.

You’re helping reinforce your customer’s identity as a respectable homeowner and admirable host.

You’re customer might not be fighting to the death in the arena and restoring Rome to its former glory. But you are, in your own way, helping your customer continue their very own hero’s journey.

The sooner you understand the problems you solve for your customer and clarify that in your messaging, the sooner your business will grow.

The customer is the hero, you’re the mentor.


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