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« October 2005 | Main | December 2005 »

Welcome to the hobby economy

Economists don't know what to do about it.

It's hard to measure, hard to quantify and a little odd to explain.

More and more people are spending more and more time (and money) on pursuits that have no pay off other than satisfaction.

"Why should you have a blog?" they ask. "How are you going to make any money?"

"Why post your photos on flickr?" they wonder. "You don't get compensated by people who see them." Or your garage band's songs on an MP3 site. Or spending time and money on projects like: The Basket Book: Over 30 Magnificent Baskets To Make and Enjoy.

Of course, economists don't really worry about this. They understand perfectly well that economics is able to easily explain that human beings pursue things that satsify them.

What the web is doing, though, is exposing lots of avenues for people to use to find satisfaction (but not necessarily cash). Make magazine is page after page of geek projects that are fun, but not profitable. Other sites make it easy for you to build a tube amplifier or splice your own DNA.

Now that white-collar workers regularly spend 75 hours a week at work (did you know the CEO of GE has been spending more than 100 hours a week--for twenty years?!) there's plenty of time to surf the web and get paid for it.

Human battering rams

Yesterday I was cold-called by a telemarketer from the (formerly) prestigious Roundabout Theatre Company.

This morning, it was phone spam from my bank (when I told her it was okay to send me a brochure, she said, "please tell me what your business does." When I mentioned that my bank already knew what we did, she said, "oh, we just call people. They don't tell us that.")

And this Project Description from elance makes it clear that you can now easily buy inbound links to your website to manipulate the search engines. Cheap, too.

When people following a manual will do what you tell them to do (because they don't think they have any other choice) and you're willing to ignore social convention, the possibilities for spamming or manipulating systems based on trust are almost endless.

Not just trash, but attractive trash...

Handbag_1and sometimes in Spanish.

Check out these new handbags.

Great Marketers are Architects

A friend sent me this note yesterday:

Seth,
happy holidays  to you and family
After much thought  I want to go after a senior marketing
person ,Obviously  you might know of someone. any thoughts? if you
do send my way . salary plus percentage of increase in biz and new biz
development.

I wrote back:

...
you need to be clear with yourself about what "senior" means and what
"marketing" means.

Do you mean a commission based salesperson who pretends to be a
marketer? Do you mean a CMO who comes from ESPN or JetBlue? Or do you
mean an advertising person?

You won't get what you want unless you know what you want.

And his response:

Agreed . But I am sure. A strict marketer who can take the existing biz
a maximize both ends and find new revenue streams. 

Of course, this isn't going to work. It's not going to work because  "take the existing biz and maximize" is the job for a direct marketer, or an ad guy, not an architect.

What does an architect do? She reinvents the very nature of what's delivered and how it is delivered. She reimagines the inputs and outputs of the organization, as well as its story, to create an engine of revenue that grows while benefitting all sides.

The reason we hear about google and apple and jetblue and starbucks all the time is that these are poster children for re-architecting existing business models into something very different. The marketing is not slapped on. Starbucks is not Dunkin Donuts with a clever sign. If Dunkin Donuts goes out to hire a "senior marketer" and gives that person traditional senior marketer duties, not much is going to change.

I thought of this when I saw my friend Lisa's thriving non-profit, Dos Margaritas. The website isn't the snappy page you'd imagine if you wanted a "senior marketer" to build you something that would spread the word and increase donations. But the business itself, what they do and the way they do it--that's brilliant marketing architecture.

Who's that wearing the Spurs jersey?

Ernie Mosteller has a riff about Southwest's home page... an image that's all about Southwest, and not one bit about Ernie. tangelo ideas - erniesblog: November 2005.

Pickles?

PicklebarDo you serve pickles?

Harold's, a New York-style deli in Edison, New Jersey, has a pickle bar. All you can eat pickles with every meal, including breakfast.

What a silly gimmick.

Really?

Harold himself told me that he serves 14,000 meals a week. This at a restaurant at the back of a Holiday Inn. At a restaurant that serves a $30 turkey sandwich!

It's pretty obvious that Harold does just fine giving away pickles--no matter how many you care to eat. Not a gimmick at all, it turns out.

The inanity of the American consumer

ToastNever before in history have so many needed so little.

"What do you get for someone who has everything" takes on a whole new meaning in the face of the BTB TEM 500.

This device will toast your muffin, poach an egg and heat your ham, all at the same time.

What kind of person, exactly, needs this?

If you're the rush out the door guy who stops at McDonalds, then there's no way you're going to stop and clean the thing.

And if you're a gourmet, you probably want to make more than one at a time, and you still don't want to clean it.

Not only don't people need it, it's unclear that they even want it.

It seems as though we've marketed ourselves into a corner, where the only way to grow is to find increasingly narrow niches of decreasing utility. The consumer portion of our economy is now dependent on a four-week long debt-fueled race to buy the useless.

Surely consumers can do better. And maybe, marketers can lead us there.

A Norwegian analysis of web 2.0

Flickr wins because of timing/story/openness, not by being first: A classic web2.0 case.

Can more than 50% be wrong?

Seexperimentgraph012,000 people have taken a blind taste test. You do a search you're familiar with, it shows you the results from Google, MSN and Yahoo. Which is the most relevant, it asks?

Almost 60% of those tested said that Yahoo or MSN was the most relevant.

Which reinforces my point that Google isn't "better" for most people if "better" means more relevant or deeper. Google is better because it feels better and quicker and leaner and easier to use. The story we tell ourselves about Google is very different, and we use it differently as a result. Think about that the next time you insist you need a "better" formula or a faster server or a stronger first baseman.

Music sounds better through an iPod because we think it does. Design matters. Stories matter most of all. (note: I've adjusted some of the numbers on this post, because I, um, read them wrong. Sorry.)

No good home pages?

We're deep into a discussion of Squidoo's home page, and it occured to me that except for the exception that proves the rule (Google), there are no good home pages.

Certainly not Amazon or eBay or even Yahoo. Not MSN or AOL or Technorati, either. Go look at these pages through the eyes of a newbie, or of a power user or of someone who stumbled over without knowing exactly why. Do they succeed?

Home pages try to do too much. They try to explain to the unitiated, retrain the veterans, and get out of the way of the power users.

It's a little like book covers, actually. Book covers generally fail to sell a book. What they do if they succeed is they get you to pick the book up, and to pick it up in the right sort of mood.

My new strategy is:
1. above all else, interact.
2. avoid the home page at all costs. If I can get you to use the product without having to work your way through an artificial front door, that's a good thing.

Classifieds are next

When was the last time you looked up the price of a stock in the newspaper?

Ramit Sethi reports that the Wall Street Journal reports that the LA Times is cutting the size of their stock tables.

About time.

What an anachronism. I wrote about this more than five years ago... the stock tables generate no revenue and no readership. One paper in Newark decreased the size of their stock tables by 90% (!), lost a dozen or so subscribers and saved more than a million dollars a year.

Now, the question is, "when was the last time you looked something up in the classifieds of your newspaper?"

Every organization is filled with vestigal activities, sacred cows that feel as though they must be defended. We defend them at our peril... do it too long, and the whole thing is gone.

Woot + CEO Reads = Free books

Jack and Todd bring us: InBubbleWrap.

Believe it or not, I won my first try.

Symbols and faces

TwoeyesSarah Dopp points us to a Korean site she's obsessed with.

Humans respond to faces more than any other image. Do something to a face and it becomes magnetic.

Something this simple could spread very fast and very far. Almost like a pretty bad science fiction movie, but real. I know that I have an almost irresistible urge to cover one eye now... I just can't decide which one.

What's that?

Just had dinner with my dad and his high school buddies. One is college-educated (Dartmouth), a very successful professional. And he's about seventy.

On the way out the door, he asked, "What's an MP3?"

Before you decide that everyone knows something (or no one does), take a second to realize that you're wrong.

The New Face of Big Ideas (a contest)

9authors

Here are nine Big Moo authors.

The first person to identify all of them, in order, by email, will receive a signed copy of The Big Moo (well, signed by more than half of us, anyway). No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

Contest expires December 1, 2005. Send your entries to me

[We have a winner! It took just a few minutes. Amazing. Congrats to Sean Johnson. They are, left to right, Polly, Dean, Tim, Chris, Heath, Kevin, Promise, Red and April.

Holy smokes you guys are good. No surprise.]

Desktop coffins

Acland finds the next big thing down under (six feet).

Coffins that make a statement. Why not? Acland Brierty…Designer coffins.

On pricing

Twenty years ago, I participated in some pricing meetings on my new line of computer games. In the room were two Stanford MBAs, two Harvard MBAs and someone from Kellogg, I think. How did we decide between $24.95, $29.95 or $34.95?

We flipped a coin.

But we were scientific about it. A single elimination ladder, best of three.

Pricing has always been a combination of economics and marketing and luck. My hero Joel Spolsky (best engineer who knows how to write) has a piece on this at Joel on Software.

The thing is, I disagree with him.

Pricing is a very effective signaling device, no doubt about it. People (and businesses) assume that good stuff is worth more. People pay for stuff on eBay for stuff based on the velocity of the auction instead of the innate value of the item. Real estate brokers warn you that a house that doesn't sell right away is hard to sell because people look at a house that's been on the market for a few months differently. All irrational and all based on signaling.

The reason that lousy movies cost the same as blockbuster movies, though, doesn't have to do with signalling. (the fear is that people won't go to cheap movies because the cheap price will tell them it is a lousy movie). Of course, this isn't what happens with DVD sales. They sell plenty of really cheap DVDs that you never heard of... for a lot less than the new Star Wars Movie. No, the pricing of movies has to do with industry traditions and being stuck. It's just too hard to get everything in alignment and for all the players to say okay.

Which leads to the current debate over how much Apple should charge for iTunes. 99 cents a song is a great signal. It tells the purchaser that this is somehow "fair."

The record companies want to charge MORE for hot hits, though. The thing is, this will mean raising the average price, because for every song they sell for $2, don't expect a lot of songs to cost five cents.

Which leads us to the wisdom of Jeff Bezos. There are two kinds of companies, Jeff says. Companies that work to lower prices (like Amazon, most of the time) and companies that work to raise prices (like the music industry, all of the time).

Making fun of ticketmaster is of course...

too easy, because the site is so so broken.

But the two frogs are off to an auspicious start. Link: Frog Review: Ticketmaster.

PS Frog 1 says he wants to remain anonymous, but if you've ever met him, the voice is a pretty big giveaway. These MIT guys never lose the nerdy accent.

The thing about giving blood

At least for me, is that you always get more than you give.

Even if you don't count the apple juice or fig newtons.

First, it's about overcoming a basic primal fear
Second, you need to meditate while doing it. You really can't take a phone call.

Here's a neat idea: salesblood.org. Thanks, Sam.

Not what it used to be

A door to door salesman just walked into our offices in Irvington.

Tough job.

A job usually reserved for people selling advertising or janitorial services.

This was an assistant Vice President at Citibank. He's wandering the halls, door by door, trying to sell business checking accounts.

Clearly, all that marble, all those tellers and all that advertising is not enough to meet aggressive growth targets.

Once your business becomes a commodity, you can struggle or you can re-invent. I consider door-to-door selling to be struggling.

Make your own beanie

Morty Schiller points out a valuable resource for those not persuaded by the turncoats at MIT: Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie.

RSS Three months later

The last time I posted about subscribing by RSS was August. So, here we go again:

This blog has one of the fastest-growing RSS feed lists I know of, but it's still a scary-low percentage of my readership. With your help, we can fix that.

EXPLAINED: RSS is just a little peep, a signal, a ping that comes when a piece of software contacts a favorite blog or site, telling your computer that it has been updated. If you have an RSS reader (and they're free and easy, and two of the easiest live on the web so you don't even have to install anything), whenever a blog is updated, it shows up in your reader and you can catch up on the news. If there's nothing new, it doesn't show up and you don't have to waste time surfing around.

GETTING IT: All you have to do to subscribe to this blog is ONE of the following:

a. Look down the left side of this blog until you see the little MyYahoo logo. Click on that and you'll be taken to Yahoo where you can add this blog to your MyYahoo page (or add a MyYahoo page if you don't have one yet.)

b. click on this icon:

Subscribe with Bloglines

c. Copy the text in red below into your RSS reader.

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/index.rdf

d. Or click this link.

EVERYWHERE: RSS is just about everywhere you want it to be. So add other RSS feeds on stuff you care about. And if you want a downloadable reader, just go to google and search on "RSS reader" and the name of your computer OS. You'll find a bunch.

That's it. You're done.

Free, easy, permanent until you undo it and it'll save you time, tire wear and help you avoid male pattern baldness. Did I mention that it was free and it will save you time?

RSS is not just for nerds. Not anymore.

Aluminum hats?

Laurie Kalmanson found this gem. I won't preface it, but you should check it out.
MIT and the Government Plot.

Understanding the Zero Profit Condition

Austan Goolsbee writes in Slate about something called The Zero Profit Condition.

If you're in any business where the cost to enter as a competitor is very low, you've got this problem. The minute there are big profits being made, competitors will flood in and steal them. This is why there are five times as many real estate brokers in San Francisco as in Steubenville, Ohio. Because the houses cost five times as much, the commissions are five times as great, so brokers show up in enough volume that everyone goes back to making exactly the same amount of money.

The only way to win is to break the rules. To play by your own rules, creating a market in which the cost of entry is very high, or even impossible. If you're the only one, then you win, by default.

what's a backup?

Thomas Hawk points us to this new piece of software (actual performance unknown): DVD to iPod.

Question: should you be allowed to backup the DVDs you own? If you leave ten on an airplane or lose them in a fire, do you have to buy replacements? Is it against the law to act out a scene from Star Wars in the privacy of your own home? What about listening to an audio recording you made of the movie? Or watching movies you've purchased on your iPod?

You can't backup your car or your shoes. You can backup your email and even Excel.

I wonder what Proust would say.

remember AOL keywords?

If AOL had won, then keywords would have been even more valuable than domain names.

Andrew Cantino has a different sort of landgrab going on: AllYourWords.com. Fun to think about.

People, not things

Scotth It's hardwired in. We respond (and react) to people. The story is at: Scott Heiferman's Daily Fotolog.

Bad news for the lazy

The best excuse for not analyzing your website just went away.

Google's Urchin division is about to offer their services for free: Google Analytics.

As we've discussed a million times before, if it's possible to test and measure successfully in a medium, it's inevitable that people will test and measure. And when your competition tests and measures, they're going to evolve faster than you do.

Yikes.

(PS I couldn't help but notice that Urchin uses Squidoo orange on their site.)

How to Run a Useless Conference

I go to more conferences than you do.

I’m frequently amazed, but not particularly surprised, at what a bad job conferences do at their stated objective. What’s the problem? After all, these are expensive, professionally-run events that work hard to satisfy the typical attendee.

And that, of course, is the problem.

Facts don’t change people’s behavior.

Emotion changes people’s behavior.

Stories and irrational impulses are what change behavior. Not facts or bullet points.

If all we need is facts, then books alone would be sufficient.

When the Surgeon General announced that smoking was fatal, how many smokers quit right away?

Human beings are irrational. Change agents (like you) can fight that and obsess about presenting more and more facts, or we can embrace it and make change happen.

Conferences are designed to get average people to change their behavior. By “average”, I mean typical—the masses, the center of the bell curve. That’s a sensible objective. By definition, most people (in any given population) are in the middle of that bell curve. Change them and you’re golden.
Bellcurve
If this group would learn, take action and make things happen with just a memo, you wouldn’t need to have a conference. But we end up being flown on average planes to average hotels to sit in average conference rooms and hear average speakers doing presentations filled with bullet points. And it’s all beyond reproach.

But it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work when you’re on a sales call either. Your facts and your service and your prices can be the best, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the sale. And it breaks down at an annual review and it even happens in a one-on-one encounter with a policeman or a teacher or a clerk.

People are irrational and they usually make decisions that have nothing to do with facts. And yet we spend most of our time improving our facts and very little concerned with the rest.

Think about the most powerful learning moments you’ve ever had. My guess is that they didn’t take place in a darkened meeting room.

Conference organizers (and more important, their clients) spend virtually all of their time and money doing one of two things:
1.    Satisfying the center of the bell curve.
2.    Avoiding failure

That’s why the typical conference is... typical.

That’s why the food and the setting and the venue and the location and the chairs and the layout and the schedule and the refreshment breaks are... typical.

If you want to run a meeting (a brainstorming meeting, a board meeting, a zoning commission meeting) that is likely to perform as well as your past meetings, then the best thing to do is to run it the way you’ve always been running it, right?

Here’s the challenge, then: figure out how to do the atypical. How to change the interactions that people have with each other. How to change what they talk about in the elevator. How to create an environment where people walk in ready to learn and change and challenge, as opposed to getting that, “hey we’re in the Bahamas let’s get drunk and then sit through a session with the CEO” glazed look.

Sure, it won't work on everyone. But that's better than working on no one.

Practice makes perfect?

My third grade teacher, Mr. Guillaume, took issue with that. He insisted that "perfect practice makes perfect."

There are some that will tell you that you can measure a company's desire to innovate by their R&D spending. This fact from Tom Peters might lay that to rest:

The #1 company in R&D spending over the last 25 years: General Motors.

You don't get Purple by hiring a bureaucracy and giving them money (or money and time). You do it by having the will to go to the edges. When GM has no cash (and still no will) then they're really in trouble.

tompeters!

Anonymous generosity

My old friend and colleague Ira Williams has just published his first manifesto. I think it's pretty good. ChangeThis :: Speak Softly.

How the New Marketing changes Local Max

My earlier post on the Local Max really hit a chord, which I figured it would, because it woke me up in the middle of the night...

The obvious question, after you've had the conversation with your team about B, C and the pain of getting to Big Max is this, "How do we get to work to find the really big thing?"

The good news is that the new marketing makes it easier than ever before.

The cost of inventing, prototyping, manufacturing and especially advertising a new thing, concept, service or organization is a tiny fraction of what it used to be. In some industries, you can do it for 1% of what it used to cost.

Sooner or later, your team needs to embrace this fact.

What this means is simple... you can take the cash and the momentum you get from being at Local Max and invest a fraction of it to let a new team, a smaller team, a team without traditional constraints to go ahead and launch something new. Something that disrupts the market, that even competes with the mother ship.

And if it's your career we're talking about, the same thing is true. You don't have to get a formal MBA or quit your job to start a profitable business or sideline. You can leverage the amazing tools that exist without having to wager everything.

There are two mistakes that satisfied Local Max folks make:
1. believing that they can get to the next Max in a linear, pain-free way
and
2. believing that the best way to get there is with brute force. More products more salespeople more ads more buildings more staff...

In fact, the opposite is true.

The more you help your little team, the harder it will be for them to find the new Max.

The bet isn't the scary one that involves all your money or your full-time job. The bet is the scary one that involves intellectual risks and going way outside your safety zone to see what happens when you disrupt the status quo.

Lost Boots and the whole hog

"...maybe it was going to be my responsibility to keep upping the ante. I was in an automobile accident in 1960 with three other guys...All I know is that I was sitting in the car... and the next thing, I was in a field, far enough away from the car that I couldn't see it. The car was crumpled like a cigarette pack... and inside it were my shoes. I'd been thrown completely out of my shoes and through the windshield.

"...I had the feeling that my life had been spared to do something... not to take any bullshit, to either go whole hog or not at all. Before that, I had been living at less than capacity. That event was the slingshot for the rest of my life. It was my second chance, and I got serious."


Jerry Garcia

(as quoted in Playing in the Band. Found the quote in the new Dead lyrics book.)

Understanding Local Max

My guess is that you've been wrestling with your Local Max.

If your organization or even your career is stuck, it may just be because of this chart.

LocalmaxwEveryone starts at that dot at the bottom left corner. You're not succeeding because you haven't started yet.

Then you try something. If it works, you end up at point A.

A is where you see results as the direct output of a strategy and hard work. A is the job you got after investing in an MBA. A is the sales you got after running an ad.

Of course, being a success-oriented capitalist, that's not enough. So you do more. You push and hone and optimize until you end up at the Local Max. The Local Max is where your efforts really pay off.

So you try harder. And you end up at point B. Point B is a bummer. Point B is backwards. Point B is where the outcome of more effort against your strategy doesn't return better results. So you retreat. You go back to your Local Max.

And that is where most people stay. Most people get stuck at the Local Max because changing strategy in any direction (this is really a 3D chart, but I've smushed it to make it easier) leads to poorer results.

You've got a very good job as an art director. To do better, you'd either have to move to another firm, move to another town, switch careers or go back to school. And all of them have costs and very uncertain returns, so you stay.

You have 100 competitors in an industry that is self-described as a commodity. You use the same tactics your competition does, because if you change your pricing or fundamentally alter your marketing outreach, you get punished in terms of sales or profits.

You've got summer camp with 80 kids in it. If you want to grow, you've learned the hard way that hiring one or two more senior staff people won't work, because you can't afford them. So you stick with what you've got.

The lie of Local Max is this: the chart is incomplete. It really looks like this:

Localmax2_3

Local Max isn't actually that great when you realize that Big Max is not particularly far away.

The problem is that to get to Big Max, you need to go through step C, which is a horrible and scary place to be.

There were 10,000 single-location hamburger restaurants in the world when Ray Kroc decided to build a giant chain of franchised McDonald's. Anyone could have done it. No one did. Because everyone who tried had to go through point C to get there. It took Colonel Sanders more than a decade of pain to get through point C.

Of course, it's not just about growing sales or revenues. The Big Max/Local Max paradox affects everything from education to non-profits to politicians. If you have a "Max", whatever you're measuring, the odds are you're actually dealing with a Local Max, not the Big one.

If your market is changing, this idea is even more important to understand. That's because changing markets are always surfacing new Big Max points, and the only way to get to them is to go through the pain (yes, it's painful) of point C.

You can't reinvent yourself and your organization until you deal with the fear of point C, and that's hard to do without talking about it. I think the benefit of the Local Max curve is that it makes it easy for you and your team to have the conversation.

T shirts are the new bumperstickers

They're everywhere online. Here's a store for entrepreneurs:

Link: Solo Tees � Shirts for Today's Entrepreneur.

Worth 1,000 bullet points?

Complexity_bill_1
Not sure if you got a chance to read Really Bad Powerpoint, the ebook that's now inside of Free Prize Inside.

Either way, this post (go read it!) takes the idea farther than I did, and the images are a vital and essential warning sign to anyone who has ever considered giving a presentation.

Of course TV ads work

...all you need for proof is the huge margin of victory that Mike Bloomberg is going to rack up in his race for Mayor of NYC tomorrow.

Worth noting that he spend $60,000,000 of his own money. If you buy enough TV, of course it works.

Worth noting that you don't have $60,000,000.

Also worth noting that his opponent, Freddy Ferrer, will spend seven million dollars. To lose. By a lot.

Yes, it helps that Bloomberg is turning out to be a great mayor, far better than his predecessor. But it's also clear that having 6x time the money and the advantage of a bigger and better brand makes it impossible for a challenger to use the same media tools to catch up.

Most brands, most products, most candidates--are Freddy, not Mike. If you intend to grow and gain share, your seven million dollars isn't going to help a bit if you spend it on a medium that rewards the market leader.

As an aside, it's worth noting that virtually all political marketers agree that TV ads work when they get the opponent's supporters to stay home... that it's way easier to market acceptance and laziness than it is to market action and change.

So, if you're Freddy (not Mike) and you want to grow, time to make a remarkable product and market it in a new way.

Mine, ours, everyone's

Last night, we had a spectacular party for The Big Moo. It was coordinated and orchestrated and magically run by Julie Anixter and Dean Debiase at remarkabalize.com.

The lesson of the response we're getting (people waited in line for almost an hour to get books signed) is that the project went from being mine (for about a week, while I thought about it) to ours (as I signed up each of 32 co-authors) to a tool for all of us (as I watch the book getting used in ways I never intended, by people I don't even know.)

This three-step progression is getting more and more common. Pierre (a fellow Tufts alum) is giving $100 million in eBay stock to Tufts today. eBay started as his. Then it belonged to investors and employees. But now, clearly, it's a tool for millions of people to make a living with.

Each step is difficult, because it goes counter to the rules we learned at kindergarten recess. How can mine to ours benefit me? How can ours to all of us be a good thing?

It turns out that the process is worth it, even when it doesn't lead to cash. The shared bounty benefits all the players.

Continue reading "Mine, ours, everyone's" »

Revenge of the nerds

Lorenzo Geraci points us to: Mark's Sysinternals Blog: Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far.

You can skip the stuff up top (I know I did) but scroll down to the comments below.

Bottom line is that Sony's DRM did nasty stuff to Mark's PC, and he called them on it.

And so the word spreads.

The net makes information leaky. It's really hard to isolate unhappy customers now.

Ramit was ahead of me

As usual. Here's his riff on greed and speed.

Authenticity and Pedro

Dyn482

Napoleon Dynamite is a sleeper hit, a cult classic among teens. One of the most memorable images in the film is the shot of the "vote for pedro" t-shirt.

Pedro22So, it was no surprise at all when it became almost omnipresent. It's all over the web. The shirt is supposed to look homemade, so it's easy to make.

Now, explain to me why the officially licensed "costume" comes with the shirt to the right? A shirt that DOESN'T look homemade, that's silkscreened and extra fancy, with a bonus quote on it, thus making it a souvenir, not a costume...Voteforpedro_1

I think the reason is that the mass market doesn't always crave authenticity. Yes, the Star Wars geek wants a light sabre that's the same. But the buyer at Toys R Us wants one that's a little different, a little cheesier...

Years ago at Epcot Center, I overheard one tourist say to another, "This is great. Now we don't need to go to Spain!"

I'm not sure why the mass market insists we dumb down stuff that's already dumb, but it seems to be true.

Monetizing noodles

Not one minute after I hit "publish", the always remarkable Laurie Kalmanson sent me this link about a new book deal: mediabistro: GalleyCat.

I've been a reader (and card-carrying believer) of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a pastafarian, I guess, though without the hair) for months. And now he's got a bigshot book deal.

Do you really think, in your most wild and cynical dreams, that Bobby Henderson, outraged by the knuckleheads on the Kansas School Board, chronicled the spaghetti revelations as a way of getting a book deal? Of course not.

I want an eye patch, Bobby.

Monetize this

I wonder how I can make some money off my friends?

I wonder how I can turn my blog into a profit center?

I wonder if I can get some of the kids at the playground to make me some money?

Americans love to monetize stuff. Why bother doing something if you're not going to make a profit at it?

Erblog_2Tom Asacker has a noteworthy riff (which I want to disagree with--at least a little) about the "how much is my blog worth" button that's traveling around (I stole this one from him, and he got it from Evelyn). I have no idea how much my blog is worth. I also don't try to monetize my blog--that would ruin it. It would ruin it because most of my readers would leave, and it would ruin it because then I'd try to outdo myself and monetize it more and more and more.

Evelyn Rodriguez and other popular bloggers certainly agree with me. The George Washington icon is a joke--a reminder that the goal is not to turn around and sell our blogs to the highest bidder, but instead to enjoy the process of having people we respect hear what we have to say.

Do the people you work with assume that something has to turn a profit to be good?

It's absurd to imagine someone trying very hard to monetize their desire to scuba dive once a week or write poetry or hang out with friends. People like to talk about their favorite sports teams or tech gadgets, but why do we have to be in such a hurry to turn that into a profit? And why is "just a hobby" a pejorative remark?

Isn't the point of all the difficult work we do to earn the right to do things we enjoy?

One blog I used to read is now filled with nothing but aggressive links to buy more books and read more glowing reviews of the work of the blogger. How sad that the quest for cashing out turned something great into something to be avoided.

Is the web (or the blogosphere) off limits to making a profit? No way! It's one of the greatest money-makin/marketing mechanisms ever. But the irony is that those that have set out to quickly turn a profit have almost always failed.

Saul Hansell's piece on Google on Sunday buried the lead. The real revolution at Google is the way they sell their ads--something that both Sergey and Larry were against when it was first conceived. Not only wasn't it their idea, but Eric tried to kill the innovation that completely overhauled the web. Google works for two reasons. First, because it's great to use. And then, second (the "then" being important here) because they invented a brand new way to turn attention into revenue... a method that rewards the intelligence of the user without penalizing her.

Maybe Google should put up a statue in honor of Salar Kamangar, the guy who figured it out.

So...
--yes, you have a brand, even if you don't intend to monetize it.

--no, you don't have to have a plan or an ulterior motive if you want to share your ideas. Just share them. It's good practice and good for all of us.

--maybe you will, one day, figure out how to achieve the much-heralded monetization. But if that's your primary goal, the compromises you make along the way will likely cause your efforts to backfire.

More on WOM

You could gloss over Ron's checklist  (Create Advocates) or you could think hard about what you haven't done. The key is to look at this list from the other person's point of view, not yours.

the problem with word of mouth

James Shewmaker points us to the always-worth-reading: Brand Autopsy.

The major reason why word-of-mouth hasn’t taken off is not because marketers lack the metrics to measure it. It’s because most products, services, and businesses simply aren’t worth talking about. Marketers should worry less about the metrics of “WOMUnits” and more about the message of the word-of-mouth activity. The more compelling and interesting the “WOMUnit,” the more people will talk about it.

Selling Is Dead

Long live selling.

There are very few books that actually think about what it means to sell something. Marc Miller delivers one: Selling Is Dead.

Do you work for the highest bidder?

...should you?

Wal-Mart is hiring top political consultants with track records from the Reagan and Clinton  campaigns to coordinate a multimillion effort to discredit a new film about the company. Wal-Mart is entitled to be as anti-union as they like, of course, and entitled to work hard to get the word out about their point of view, but it's surprising (at least to me) to see who is willing to help them combat those that would critize them.

Strange bedfellows, it seems.

Politicians (and especially political consultants) are a special breed. One day they crow about how something is essential ("give em an up or down vote!") and the very next day they take the other side.

But are they really a special breed?

Have you ever worked on a product or service you didn't believe in? Marketed something with side effects (okay, there are no side effects, just effects) that you weren't proud of? (To be fair, there are Kerry and Dean alum working just as hard on the other side...)

SankaFor a really long time, the discourse in the public space was assumed to be genuine. We assumed that if someone took a position, they actually believed it. (Of course, that was never true, but we liked to believe that it was). Today, as money further corrupts just about all of the systems we used to assume were pristine, it's getting harder to make that assumption with any validity.

Where do you draw the line? How much money does it take to change your mind? What happens when we expose the data and label opinions or efforts as purchased?

The ideas that are being spread most often today aren't ideas at all. They're opinions. And we learned a long time ago that everyone is entitled to his opinion. But what if it's not his opinion? What if the opinion belongs to someone else?

Welcome to the age of appropriate cynicism.

"I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV".

A million dollars here...

a million dollars there, pretty soon, it all adds up.

In 1997, Lisa Gansky (at GNN) and I (at Yoyodyne) put together the first million dollar giveaway on the Net. If I remember right, the hard work our teams put into it led to a annuity (probably still paying off) for a forklift operator who really needed the money.

That was eight years ago. It was a breakthrough gimmick because until then, the biggest prize ever given online was perhaps $50,000.

Over the last few weeks, the mail I have been getting the most often is about million dollar websites, RSS feeds and other advertising gimmicks that revolve around selling little bits of data to advertisers as a way of gaming the games of attention and search engines and traffic.

It seems like a million dollars is still a lot of money.

The problem with the Pet Rock is that you could only do it once. Sure, it sold a bazillion rocks, but what good did that do everyone else? It's really easy to waste a lot of time chasing gimmicks, always arriving just a little too late to be the guy who breaks through.

The first million-dollar website, apparently, did awfully well. But who would be interested in the second one?

I think you can predict approximately where the next Purple Cow is going to be, but it's more about trends (or anti-trends) than it is about topping that last guy's gimmick.

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