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« February 2006 | Main | April 2006 »

When did the Beatles

Beatlesrunning_1 ...become THE Beatles?

I was looking through a day by day biography of the group last night, and it quickly became clear that the image that we have of the four youngsters running away from their screaming fans didn't happen overnight.

At the beginning, they were playing two or three clubs a day, dives, making a few pounds if they were lucky. Not for a month or two, but for years and years.

As they got more traction, the thing you notice is how often they showed up on the radio. They were constantly on one radio show or another, or one multi-billed concert or another. The marketing picture probably looked like this:

Picture_2 Outbound marketing in every possible direction. Auditions for record labels, rejections, pitches to media outlets, concerts on spec, concerts for anyone who would show up. This is classic marketing, stuff that's easy to forget when we listen to the Shea Stadium concert or see the flickr guys on the cover of Newsweek. It's easy to imagine that suddenly, everyone knows you, wants you and makes it easy for you.

The next stage was brief but essential. That's when people started noticing them, started showing up, started screaming. At this moment, the Beatles didn't stop marketing. They didn't stop doing radio shows at the BBC or flying all night to play a concert in Denver (empty seats) or Kansas. During the transition stage, in fact, the Beatles and their management really poured it on.

One of the most misunderstood and misused phrases in marketing (okay, in business) is Malcolm Gladwell's, "the tipping point." The Beatles didn't tip. Nothing magical happened. Instead, gradually, they shifted from being the chasers into being the chased.
Picture_3_1
These were the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and the Beatles on tour and the Beatles making wigs and the Beatles making movies and pioneering music videos. It was the Beatles in a frenzy, not sure what was going to come next, but pretty sure that it could all disappear in a heartbeat.

Many organizations reach this stage and stop. They harvest. They take profits and remind themselves that they are geniuses, all powerful and immune to the laws of boredom.

Only by pushing through this stage and by using their newfound power to create the last stage of their career did the Beatles actually become the Beatles.

When we rewrite history (and we do it every day) it's easy to imagine that Starbucks and JetBlue and all the other poster children for new successes just got blessed. It's almost never the case, though. It's just that it's easier to think of them as winners.

No fool

MSN, ranked #3 in the world for traffic, has donated ad space on their home page this weekend to help us promote The Big Moo. In a world where there's more talk than action, I can only smile and applaud. Thanks, guys. (The Big Moo donates 100% of all author royalties to charity).

The ads that you'll see were created by Simon Andrews, founding partner of big picture and by Scott Case at Networkforgood.org. They competed against a wide range of talent, and came up with the winning executions. Scott's goal as chairman of Network for Good  is for you to donate to your favorite charities online. Here's my list of favorite charities. Feel free to check it out and you can create your own.

Plussing

Here's a great Walt Disney phrase, new to me, which is similar to edgecraft.

Plussing.

Taking your work a little farther. Going closer to an edge, whichever edge.

Is there anything you can't plus? Anything you can't make simpler, more luxurious, cheaper, more extreme? Anything you can't make more remarkable?

The trade off, of course, is in the time and money it takes.

But not really. I was tricking you. The trade off is in the perceived risk it takes. Pushing your team a little harder in one direction means you're going away from the center, abandoning "everyone" to really appeal to "someone". And that's the secret of edgecrafting. Plussing yourself all the way to the edge, whatever that edge is.

See The Ward-O-Matic: Ava Thursday: Plussing Faces, via Mark at boingboing.

Home run!

Link: Scott Heiferman's Notes: 50 Reasons Why People Aren't Using Your Website.

1. Because they don't want to generate content, they want better life

2. Because it solves a problem they don't have

3. Because it won't help them with their problem

4. Because oprah didn't mention it

5. Because everyone they know isn't using it

6. Because it doesn't let them spy on people they care about

7. Because they just don't care about what they see

8. Because nobody at work said they should use it (and 42 more!)

Speaking in NYC

I'll be at Gel on Friday, May 5: Good Experience Live (Gel).

How do you spell agony?

As in defeat?

I was talking to my good friend Mike today, and spelling bees came up. I still remember losing my third-grade spelling bee (Elisa Silverberg beat me... I didn't know that there was a 'd' in 'handkerchief.')

Well, Mike made it to the nationals (no surprise). He still remembers the word he missed as well. He was nine.

And that's one reason it's so hard to do remarkable work. Because we're sure that we'll remember the screwups forever. It's just easier to play it safe and not have to worry about the highlights reel with the wipeout on it.

Of course, there are new rules now. Without wipeouts, you can't grow.

Black suits

Competition I was giving a speech at a hotel in Philly this week and found myself completely engulfed in a sea of black suits. Literally hundreds of eager beaver college kids, all milling about preparing themselves for a competition. Sife.org runs a nationwide tournament, where students compete with business and community projects.

The thing is: there's no rule that says you have to wear a black suit when you present.

Everyone is so focused on not messing up, on not blowing it, on not standing out that they all blend together instead. I talked to a few of the competitors. Amazing kids. Focused, smart, dedicated. I wish, though, that they could realize (before it's too late) that standing out is better than being invisible.

Tom Asacker on Stress

Best thing I've read today: acleareye.com: Lily Tomlin on stress.

Going to meetings

A lot of people get paid to go to meetings.

Not to haul lumber or polish steel or clean sewers. Nope, we get paid to go to meetings. Sales calls, presentations, and strategy sessions.

There's been an awful lot written about how to be a better salesperson, or how to give a presentation worthy of your audience's attention.

I want to take a few paragraphs to talk about your obligations at being in the audience.

When a sales rep shows up for a scheduled meeting, it seems to me that you're not doing her a favor. You agreed to the meeting. You're getting paid to be there. You might as well get as much out of it as you can, right?

I mean, if you were a volunteer, or if you're at home, it's a little different. But here you are at work, not pounding bricks with a sledgehammer... you've got the Evian and the air conditioning and hey, it's your job to go to this meeting.

So go!

Make it work.

Same thing with that 30 minute Powerpoint that the head of the division is showing to twenty of you. Or that seminar you're scheduled to go to tomorrow.

Here are a few tips, tips that are based on one assumption: if you do a better job in the audience, the person speaking will do a better job. You'll learn more, get more, accomplish more, today and the next time she comes back as well.

So, here goes:

When you meet the sales rep in the lobby, have a few interesting questions ready. Offer her a glass of water. Be on time. Act like you're glad she's there. Even if you're not, acting that way will get her to do a better job, and that's your job, right?

When you go to the presentation in the auditorium, don't sit in the back row. It doesn't matter if you don't feel like sitting in the front row, you should. The presenter will do a better job. And if you're tired, work hard at smiling and making contact. The presenter will do better, especially if he's particularly boring and nervous.

Don't bring a bag of Fritos. Don't sit back. Don't close your eyes.

Do bring snacks for your guest. Do lean forward. Do smile at attempts at humor. Laugh, even.

When the sales rep is giving you the specs on the steel pipes or the consulting services, challenge him. Ask hard questions. Figure out what he knows. If it's worth you having him come over, it's worth discovering what he knows.

When the sales call is over, tell the truth. Don't say, "we'll get back to you," unless you intend to. If you're going to meet with your boss on Friday, tell him. If it's not your decision, tell him.

Why?

Well, first of all, it's your job. Second, it's more likely he'll try hard for you the next time you need him to.

If someone flies across the country to see you, offer to call her a cab to get back to the airport. If you can, put it on your account. It makes a huge difference.

When you treat your vendors the way you'd like your vendors treated, it comes back to you. It pays off. It gets you better information, better attention, better prices. You're a professional at your desk. You should be a professional at a meeting, too.

Waiting in line

The airport in Las Vegas is at maximum capacity. It's jammed. There is a line for everything, even the men's room.

What amazed me, though, was the line ten or twelve deep at the food concessions. People were waiting ten minutes or longer to buy a bottle of water for $2.59 or a yogurt for a few dollars.

All day, every day. A line.

On the way home from the airport I called an organization that sells $500 training programs to businesses. Even though I was trying to reach someone that worked there, I was calling in on the orders line (the only number I had). I waited 15 minutes to talk to a real person.

Think about that.

In both cases, this is the last step of a very expensive chain. It's expensive to rent that space in the airport. Expensive to outfit it. Expensive to bring in all the supplies. It's expensive to build a training business, expensive to have the outbound marketing, the brochures, the events worth talking about.

The last step, though, that's cheap. The last step, the step where someone actually takes your money--it's not just cheap, it's nothing but incremental profit.

It amazed me that no one had bothered to look a the concessions at the airport. To do simple things, like change the pricing so that with tax, everything came out evenly--no need to make change. Or to change the product line up, eliminating the items that take five times as long to prepare. Never mind the more creative things, like having an employee working the line, taking orders in advance and bringing back change so that the person at the counter could work three or four times faster...

And what about the training company? This is classic business-to-business order taking, and I'm unable to think of one reason that you don't get a human being on the first ring. No auto attendant, no queue. Just a person, ready to answer the phone. Even one non-lost order a day pays for an entire person's salary.

It's difficult to cost-reduce yourself to growth.

Hotel robbery

Exporte_09 A new favorite, a new all-time low. This is in Mexico, so drop a zero to translate to dollars. Who knew your skin needed an Oxygen spray?

Tea

Do a google search on Tea and you'll find 196 million matches. The first match is the Texas Education Agency.

Check out del.icio.us and you'll find this list.

Go to squidoo and look for tea and you'll find this lens.

Do one on flickr and you'll find these pictures.

Am I missing something? Handbuilt search just seems to work better, unless you're really good at boolean searches or looking for something really specific. Is more always better?

It does!

08_trunklever_d Thanks to Chris Clark who found it.

Run!

Run Daniel Rudd sends us this photo. My question... does the handle glow in the dark?

That vending machine down the hall

Mark Polino wants to know why the ubiquitous Coke machine down the hall from every hotel room doesn't take room keys.

With all the technology and information packed into a hotel room key, it's not particularly difficult to imagine how this would work. Hotels have done almost nothing with this ability. Once they see how they can personalize and customize the visitor experience, there are countless ways both sides can profit.

Real creativity

Where does it come from? What is it?

Well, if you're disheartened by my previous post about licensing your idea, here's the punchline: Real business creativity comes from boundaries.

Inventing something cool that can't be implemented isn't creative. It's mostly a waste.

I think that inventing the unimplementable is a fine hobby, but it's also a bit of a crutch. Yes, of course we need big visions and big ideas, but not at the expense of the stuff you can actually pull off.

So, let's get specific:

If you've decided you want to create a breakthrough in your area of expertise (say Ajax coding), then either be prepared to launch and run it when you're done, or have a clear licensing strategy in mind, one where you're not the first person in history to pull it off.

If you've decided to invent a great idea for a book, better be ready to write it too, and either find a publisher or publish it yourself. There's no market for book ideas.

If you want to do creative ads, it helps to have clients willing to run them.

These constraints are the best part of being creative, as far as I'm concerned. I couldn't imagine writing Superman comics. The rules are too vague. There are too many choices. In non-profits and organizations and even in politics, the rules are pretty obvious (sometimes they're too obvious). So the real creativity comes in navigating those rules in a way that creates a breakthrough.

One of my favorite triumphs of all time happened on my first day of work at my first real job, 1984, Cambridge, MA. No voice mail in those days. I was employee #30. I walked in and there was a plastic carousel, about 18 inches in diameter, with 40 slots in it. Like thin slices of pizza, but 4 inches deep. Each slot had a sticker with a name typed on it. Not in any order, particularly.

Every day, when you went into work, you had to spin the carousel around and around until you saw your name, and then grab whatever pink slips had your phone messages on them.

Now, there are 100 better ways to do this system. Faster and easier. But 99 of them required getting a new carousel or device.

Instead, I grabbed a paper clip and put it on my slot. I could find my slot in a heartbeat now.

Within a day, the carousel was covered with flags and widgets and more. Problem solved.

See the rules. Keep most of them. Break one or two. But break them, don't bend them. (thanks to Curt for various inspirations).

Q. How do I license this great idea?

A. Well, it depends.

It's a classic story: basement inventor dreams up an idea, a product, a concept for a movie or even a new slogan for a company. He's sure, certain, positive, that the idea, in the right hands, has huge legs. And it's the idea that matters, right?

"This fishing lure is dramatically better than what's out there."
"This swoosh logo is really dramatic."
"This promotion for a bar in town will make them a huge amount of money."
"If I could just get Mark Burnett to listen to this idea for a Survivor sequel..."

And most of the time, you're right. Your better UI/software/concept would make more money in the right hands.

This disconnect drives people, especially engineers, crazy. The processes of improvement and ideation demand that you take things that aren't so good and make them better. If someone has go to market power or even better, sales and influence power, then why wouldn't they want to improve?

The problem is this: 99% of the time, they don't.

It's not that they're stupid. It's just that they're not organized to turn your big idea into something that actually works.

They don't have someone on staff who will get promoted for finding you.
They don't have a team on staff who can develop your idea and get it out the door.

There are exceptions (book publishers, for example, are good at publishing new books). But most of the time, that's not the business they are in. They are in the business of doing their job, and their job rarely includes taking the time (and the risk) of hunting for new big ideas outside the organization.

First, there's the huge problem of NDAs and being accused of stealing stuff. If you want me to keep something a secret, and you won't tell me the secret before I sign a piece of paper, my risk is huge. On the other hand, if you tell me an idea (almost always non-protected) before I sign the paper, why sign it? Big paradox.

Second, there's the problem of what it's worth. What is the basic idea behind Star Trek or Mission: Impossible worth? Would a different two-paragraph treatment really have made the difference between success or failure? The producers of those shows would tell you it was the 10,000 little things that happened after the original idea that made the difference between success and failure.

In other words, it's how you tell it.

If you think your idea is worth a lot, and the producer of the product (whether it's a widget or a business process) points out how many choices she has and how little the original idea is worth--you guys are stuck.

True story: I helped invent the first fax board for the Mac. Pitched it to a dozen companies. No one nibbled. Apple launched it soon after seeing ours, and the product quickly became a low-profit commodity. I'm confident that if we had created a substantial organization and built a marketing aura and system around the product, it would have worked. The idea itself... nah.

Just because you're a good cook doesn't mean you should run a restaurant. And a restaurant that succeeds rarely does because they have special recipes. All the recipes in the world are free online. That's not what makes a restaurant (or a business, for that matter) work.

I wonder what the mileage is?

Peter Zapf sends us this remarkable product: Brammo Motorsports - Ariel Motor Company for USA. The edge? Once you decide to remove every single unnecessary element of a car, you can create something that's not for everyone... but exactly what some people dream about.

"Hey, let's go to Budapest!"

Exporte_02This phone booth sign so clearly captures the new divide between old and new marketers that I couldn't resist.

Delta, an airline teetering a knife's edge from insolvency, just added service to Hungary. So, naturally, they need to alert people and get them to fly there.

"I know!" says the old-school marketer. "Lets copy the format of Continental's wordplay ads and buy thousands of dollars worth of ads. Maybe we'll run into someone about to fly to Hungary who doesn't have a travel agent or use an online travel service--we'll get them at just the right moment and make a fortune."

Why not spend the money on the plane?

Why not change the service itself, change it in some way that the community of travelers to Budapest will talk among themselves about how Delta is the very best way to fly there. Maybe even the bloggers and the travel editors will talk about it too.

Just because this ad is purple doesn't mean it's a Purple Cow. It's precisely the opposite, in fact. PS, what does "fly to pest" mean? [answer: Espen points out that 'Pest' is the city across the river from Buda, sort of like St. Paul is to Minneapolis. Thanks. But why put the cities in lowercase?]

Different kinds of broken

Exporte_18 but the same cause.

The first picture is of the conference room schedule at the Venetian Hotel. Microsoft booked a whole bunch of breakout rooms, so of course, someone followed policy and entered them all into the computer. This creates many many screens showing the same thing again and again. The person who typed in the list was following instructions. Missing was any judgment, anyone saying, "Why don't we either put a different description for each breakout, or not bother listing them at all?"

The second picture is of a sign at JFK. It's right next to the one and only electrical outlet. Apparently, people plug in their laptops and lean against the phone booth to use them.
Exporte_12
Instead of going to all the trouble to make a permanent metal sign ("do not sit on ledge"), why didn't someone put a chair there? Or requisition some more electrical outlets? Or build a stronger ledge? By "solving" the problem by telling people not to do the convenient thing, they haven't helped the airport or the traveler. Of course, that's not the signmaker's problem. Someone is asssigning tasks instead of solving problems.

Q: How can we get our company funded

A: Don't.

I'm frequently asked (by friends, and sometimes, aggressive strangers) to help them find someone to fund their company. Often, but not always, these people are happy to hear the following answer.

1. If you fund your company, even a little, you've just sold it. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but one day. That's because rational investors are funding your company in the expectation that you are going to sell it and make them a profit. (sure there are exceptions, but not many). So, if you don't expect that your company will be easy to sell for a big profit, or you don't ever want to sell your company, it's not a smart idea to raise money for it.

2. Most companies are not appropriate sites for VC money. That's because they're freelance ventures, not entrepreneurial ones. A freelance venture is one where you work to get paid. An entrepreneurial one is where you can make money while you sleep. Meaning that you work really really hard and you scale and suddenly you own real estate or media properties or technology or a system or a brand that people pay for without you actually doing any incremental work yourself.

3. One friend ran a very successful specialty school. He decided he wanted to start a division that would sell books about his system. The numbers on the publishing side were terrific (on the spreadsheet). The investors wanted 40% of the existing business in order to put up sufficient money to recapitalize everything and bring big company thinking etc. etc. I pointed out that this would not only ruin my friend's life, but probably cripple the economics of both businesses.

The alternative (which might work for you as well) is not to fund the business. It's to fund the project. That's how they fund movies. You don't get a piece of the studio. You get a piece of Rocky XIV.

If you've got something that works and you're ready to go to the next level, consider funding the expansion with the payoff being a scaling piece of the project. Maybe 100% of the proceeds until the investment is repaid, then 25% after that, forever. Once that project pays off, you'll be able to fund the next project, probably on even better terms. And on and on, with each project having, if you choose, different investors and different payout streams.

4. The real lesson is this: if you absolutely need a lot of money to do a particular business and the terms you'll need to accept to get that money are unacceptable, find a new business. Nothing wrong with that. The market might be trying to tell you something.

A few updates

1. I'm actually delighted that Tom Chappell sold his toothpaste company. Good for him.
2. An alternative is to stay small.
3. Turns out that thanks to you, my hero Kelly now has a 35,000+ vote lead in googleidol.
4. Many people are sure they know the reason that lens caps are black. And they think I'm stupid for not knowing it. And they all disagree about what the reason is. Enough!

Brown is the new black

The bakery industry has been reeling since Atkins took a whack out of white bread.

The savior, it seems, is the new focus on whole grains. It's pretty clear that white flour is akin to candy, while true whole wheat (or other grain) bread is actually pretty good for you.

In the rush to make a product that kids and others will find palatable, the bakery industry is falling over itself to lie and weasel their way in. Today at the supermarket I saw "whole grain" bread that had white flour as its main ingredient. Whole wheat english muffins that were less than half whole wheat. My favorite was a loaf of white bread that was actually colored brown with molasses and caramel color. "Hey, it's not against the law," they say, or, "hey, it's what people want..."

Actually, that's not true. What people want is not being tricked. Seduced, but not tricked.

Sorry, we're out of that

Exporte_13 When this menu of fancy teas was new, I'm sure it was impressive. And when they ran out of the first or second flavor, it was probably okay that they crossed out the missing flavor with a mixture of whiteout and blue magic marker.

Now, of course, it's just a billboard screaming about a lack of attention to detail. Note that broken plastic stand on the bottom.

The profit margin on a cup of tea is 98%. Shame on them.

It's how you tell it

Several people have sent me links to a video of a juggler named Chris Bliss. It's going around.

He is working very very hard and earns a standing ovation at the end.

Today, I got a video, featuring Jason, who just might be the best juggler I have ever seen. Same music, similar routine. Except... five balls. Not three, five. Infinitely more difficult. And Jason makes it look easy: YouTube - Chris Bliss Diss Video.

The thing is, even though I know how much more difficult Jason's routine is and how skilled he is, the very ease of his delivery makes it less likely an audience would give him that same ovation. Interesting how important effort seems to be.

The return address

Envelopes Two envelopes arrived the other day.

The top one is a scam, tricking people into opening it. How, exactly, does this lead to a sale? Not sure, but since direct marketers keep doing it, I have to guess that it works.

The second one is sort of a scam, but in reverse. That humble return address in Buffalo, NY? The one that looks like junk mail? Yes, it's our check for thousands of dollars in Google ad revenue from the ads on Squidoo. Very easy for a busy person to throw that one in the garbage, no?

Tom Chappell sells out

Jerry Frear points us to: Colgate buying control of Tom's of Maine for $100 million - Boston.com.

First, congratulations to Tom and his family. Work hard for 36 years, tell an authentic story about a great product and you too could hit a winner.

Here's what I wrote about this in the July 2001 Fast Company:

Want soup? The very best soup in the entire world is served by Al Yeganeh, owner of Soup Kitchen International on West 55th Street in New York. Slandered in a notorious Seinfeld parody, Al's restaurant is busier than ever. Some of the folks in the 30-minute-long line (waiting to buy a $6 bowl of soup!) are insensitive clods who saw the TV show and want to experience a real celebrity moment. Others are longtime customers who are willing to brave the cold to get the real thing.

At the same time that hundreds of hungry people are waiting to get a unique bowl of soup from Al, millions are eating lunch at the most ubiquitous restaurant in the world: McDonald's. In fact, every single day, McDonald's serves a meal to one out of 14 Americans.

Take a drive through Illinois -- home to McDonald's headquarters -- and you might discover that many of the towns you pass don't have one "real" restaurant. No diner, no place for a fancy night out. Just a Hardee's, a Pizza Hut, and, of course, a McDonald's. This is not a phenomenon limited to tiny towns near Springfield. There are thousands of McDonald's franchises across the country, along with chains like Arby's, Subway, T.G.I. Friday's, and countless others churning out anonymous, forgettable meals to people in a hurry. Hey, it's what we asked for.

So what's wrong with selling out? Paradoxically, it seems that once you become popular, you also become very unpopular. Suddenly, those in the know aren't as awed by Wolfgang Puck -- not when his name is displayed in major airports across the country. They look down their noses at Yo-Yo Ma. They disdain Andy Warhol.

What is it about ubiquity that breeds contempt?

Every day, successful entrepreneurs have to make important choices about whether to expand, to open another branch, to franchise, to license. Once you've figured out a winning strategy, it seems only rational to cash out by letting the market have what it wants: more of you!

As long as you're giving the market what it wants, what's the problem? If some is good, isn't more better?

Here's the problem: The moment you take your special, authentic, limited-edition product and leverage it, make it widely available and normal, the very people who loved it inevitably rebel. "Starbucks isn't what it used to be," they tell you. The tastemakers who made you successful in the first place turn on their heels when they smell that you're not authentic anymore.

When a product is everywhere, when it's hyped in the media and advertised on the sides of buses, sometimes it seems as if the product exists and succeeds because it is everywhere. Before ubiquity, when it seemed as if the product (or its creator) wasn't in it just for the money, somehow that felt more real, more wonderful, more authentic.

Marketing has always been one of the most despised aspects of business. Brands, logos, salesmanship, positioning, and focus groups have gained a reputation for insincerity and corporate greed. Most of this comes from people's desire to have something real -- and to get it from someone who isn't trying quite so hard to sell it.

Are we ever authentic? Is fresh goat cheese made in tiny batches (bought on a farm in France) any different from huge vats of goat cheese produced by Kraft somewhere in Wisconsin and delivered weekly to your local supermarket? What if you couldn't tell them apart in a taste test?

Sure, the vistas, the smell of the sheep, and the excitement of a true discovery make the first kind of cheese seem to taste far better than the second. But isn't that just another form of marketing? Why does the intention of the creator have so much influence on our perception of the product?

The paradox: Markets talk. Word spreads. When something is great, we all want it. We want it to be local and reasonably priced. And we want reliability. We want it to be just as good every time we experience it. What's a marketer to do? On one hand, for something to be authentic, it needs to be rare and special and live. On the other hand, the market demands that it be delivered with reliability and in quantity. Which ice cream do you prefer: Ben & Jerry's or Häagen-Dazs? Which sports franchise do you root for: the Chicago Cubs or a newly minted XFL team? Which jazz performer do you groove to: Miles Davis or Kenny G? What's the difference between authentic and manufactured?

If you're lucky enough to create something authentic, you have real choices. You need to decide how important it is to be real, how much of yourself you have tied up in the authentic experience that you've created. Most of all, you need to decide what you'd like to do all day. Some of us can be happy taking today's flavor and selling it like crazy. Others need to have a deeper relationship with their craft, something that establishes a connection between themselves and their product. If you ever get a cup of soup from Al, look into his eyes. You'll see what I mean.

People who create something authentic but then sell out almost always end up unhappy. Why? Because once you sell out, any new success you have isn't because you are authentic. You're in a new business now. Ken Burns is just as authentic as he ever was. But he's not rewarded for that. He's rewarded for ubiquity. Could you be happy with that?

Before you pull the trigger and sell out and scale up, consider a few questions: Is it better to be big than to be (perceived as) real? Is spreading the word more important than being admired by a tiny coterie of truly devoted fans? Should financial rewards come to those who make good stuff for the masses?

Could you be happy practicing your authentic task for the rest of your life?

If you do get big, you won't be practicing authenticity for the rest of your life. When you sell out, you're making a trade. The big market wants reliability and conformity. The big market won't reward you for being authentic.

Authenticity. If you can fake that, the rest will take care of itself.

Q: What do you think of my brochure

A: The thing you must remember about just about every corporate or organizational brochure is this:
People won't read it.

I didn't say it wasn't important. I just said it wasn't going to get read.

People will consider its heft. They might glance at the photos. They will certainly notice the layout. And, if you're lucky, they'll read a few captions or testimonials.

At its best, a brochure is begging for someone to judge you. It says, "assume that because we could hire really good printers and photographers and designers and writers, we are talented [surgeons, real estate developers, whatever]" And more often than not, people do just that.

At its worst, a brochure solves a prospect's problem (the problem of: what should I do about this opportunity?) by giving them an easy way to say "no." "No," she thinks, "I don't need to talk with you... I've reviewed the brochure."

So, the strategies of your brochure might be:

  • overinvest in paper and design. Spend twice or even ten times more than you planned. If you can't afford to do that, don't have a brochure. Especially if your competition does.
  • use less copy. Half as much.
  • use testimonials. With photos. Short captions. It's hard to have too many of the good ones.
  • make it funny enough or interesting enough or, hey, remarkable enough that people will want to show it to their friends.
  • show, don't tell. Don't say you have a tranquil setting... I won't believe you.
  • and most important, make sure you leave several obvious things out... so that people need to talk to you.

first in a possible series of Q&A. Send along a question... no promises, though!

Useful tool

Imal points us to: Google Finance: Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR).

One life per fax

I'm interrupting my regular stream of rants and interesting thoughts to ask you to do something before you leave work today.

Send a fax to your Senators and one to your congressperson. (get the contact info here: Contacting the Congress.)

It's okay if it just has one word on it, along with your name and address:

Darfur.

If we generate 10,000 notes today, we'll save far more than 10,000 lives. More info here.

Thanks.

For those who don't get it yet

You must run over and check out Kelly and her partner Pomme. [Quick, put Kelly in a movie with George Clooney.]

They're competing in Googleidol. And they have 8,000 more votes than the competition.

8,000. Votes.

Not 8,000 viewers. Tell me again why Kelly and her bazillion friends are going to be watching your ads any time soon?


Gil's invention

a transparent lens cap for video cameras and SLRs that says "take off the lens cap."

Obviously, an OEM item, not an aftermarket thing. Other than tradition, is there any reason they're black?

While we're at it, have you ever noticed how often people leave the stickers on their digital cameras? The ones that brag about resolution and stuff... The stickers first got on them because even though only one out of a 100 cameras are opened in the store and put on display, it was worth prettying up every camera with a display sticker just in case.

But now, the sticker lives on, marketing the camera to every person who sees it. I had my picture taken by a Sony camera the other day and the logo was so big I can still picture it.

Is it the picture or the message?

Andy Monfried wants to know: The Tradeoff

Oh, the irony

Ken Yarmosh has a great post about making the web safe for non-techies. He sends his friend Steve to Squidoo to learn about RSS and discovers that Steve has built some great lenses in no time.

The irony? Well, next to Ken's great post was some gibberish code about an error loading the sidebar.

A lot of us are running as fast as we can to build something swifter, cooler and web2.0er than what's out there. The web keeps getting better, and the web is always always broken.

Sometimes, it's worth a reminder to those of us trying to build stuff that we need to clean up and smooth out the edges for the rest of us.

The thing about Sweetriot

Sweetriot...is how handmade it all is. Handmade box, handmade label, even the little cocoa morsels appear handmade.

The story is clear.

It's authentic. The story is true.

But it's also imperfect. The temptation is to be perfect. It's often worth avoiding.

spiders!

Ernie blogs about a new kind of advertising:  erniesblog: Thermos Advertising.

Firefox extensions

Squidoo launched a Firefox extension last week. After just a few days, the numbers are already extraordinary.

Giving surfers the chance to interact with your business or organization directly from the toolbar of their browser is a huge opportunity. Anything from searching your real estate inventory to bookmarking sites back to your blog. Yes, it's technical, but yes, it's worth it.

Stupid Survey Award, 2006

...goes to the Port Authority of NY & NJ.

Now, stupid is a juvenile word, one that implies a certain lack of vocabulary on the part of the person using it. In this post, I'm using stupid to mean, "senseless waste of time and money, clearly demonstrating little thought and making it likely that people will make bad decisions."

I have little respect for much of what happens at the unaccountable Port Authority, so this is par for the course. Here's the deal:

Leaving JFK, the helpful parking attendant at the cash register handed me an envelope that says, "Airport Parking Concept Survey". Inside are 23 questions (including income, where were you before you left for this trip and how many people did you fly with). Only five of the questions had to do with the topic at hand, which was, [summarizing]: if we built a valet parking facility, would you use it?

Why so stupid? Why worth posting about? Because it commited several survey sins, all at once:

  • self-selection. The only people who would bother to fill this out are the ones in favor. Why would anyone opposed bother?
  • fake census. They don't run surveys all that often at JFK, so there's no way to know if a 1% (or a 10%) response rate is any good.
  • too much data (part 1): by asking all sorts of irrelevant questions, they depress response rate.
  • too much data (part 2): by collecting all sorts of data (probably represented to three decimal points in the summary) they make the survey look a lot more accurate than it is.
  • will know it when I see it: the biggest mistake, of course, is that no one knows if they'll use something like this in two years... it's too abstract to commit to.

"Why," a friend asks, "is it a bad idea for them to ask for feedback?" My answer is that they're not going to use the feedback because they actually want it, but because they intend to use it to sell the idea to others. They'll pick the data they like, make it seem quite significant and accurate, and it include it in a report. It'll tell a story. Which is why they are wasting their money (and our time) with a survey that doesn't do what a survey ought to do.

Your best stuff

Just got my monthly issue of Relix magazine. It comes with a free CD, about a dozen songs from bands ranging from Frank Zappa to Keller Williams.

Each band gets exactly one song as a showcase.

So, the question: should you put your best song on the free CD?

If it's your best song, and it's free, then no one will pay to get it from iTunes. And if it's the best song on the album, maybe no one will buy the album since they already have the song.

It's easy to argue that you should hold back the best song, make people pay for that.

Until you realize that the >>> button on my CD player works great.

So, eight beats into your "not really my best song because, hey, it's free", I skip you and you are gone forever.

hint: this riff applies to a lot more than just the music business.

Malcolm Gladwell on how people judge[

Stories we tell ourselves in a blink. Video: THE PR MACHINE™ BETA PROJECT (MEDIA 2.0). [site has been down, sorry].

The new SEO--lawyers

Joe points us to this article--a company is suing Google because their pagerank ranking in Google's results is too low.

Perhaps the same strategy could be used on consumers who don't want to watch your commercials...

Getting people to abandon carts

Picture_4 Here's a great way.

When someone is filling their online cart, they have a certain posture. It's exciting and fun and all upside.

However, when you want them to shift gears and actually pay you, their posture has to change.

One way to force that change is to scold them and refuse to let them proceed. I bet you can do better.

Must be the altitude

I want to clarify the two posts below, because my email confirms that they were too sketchy and easily misunderstood.

First, Pythagorus. He was one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, and even had a little cult going for a while. A portion of his time was spent doing things that stood the test of time and were both interesting and useful. He also spent time working on reincarnation and deciding that no one in his cult should eat beans (it's not totally clear why).

The reason I picked perfect numbers as an example is that while his point is correct (28 is in fact perfect) and while it ultimately led to figuring out prime numbers, a perfect number wasn't nearly as important as he thought it was. It has no spiritual implications, no personality, for example. SO, to make a short story too long, I was making the point that you can never be quite sure which thing on your development agenda is the right one (your hard work might turn out to be beans) and that falling in love with your current work might not be so smart.

As far as the fungus woman, I wasn't dissing her. I was merely pointing out that many people are quite happy living their lives on a different part of Rogers' adoption curve than you are. She likes being the last person in her group to try something weird. It's worth remembering the fungus when you can't figure out why everyone on earth doesn't love your new idea the minute you release it.

I'm getting on a plane and flying to sea level now. I promise to be more coherent soon.

The perfect number

According to Mario Livio, 6 is the lowest perfect number.

Pythagoras and his followers spent their lives riffing about numbers and geometry. They decided that a perfect number was a number that was the sum of its factors. 1 x 2 x 3 is the same as 1 + 2 + 3. In case you were interested, the next one is 28.

So what?

Exactly. They didn't realize that they should have been working on calculus instead of messing around creating and polishing stuff that no one needed or cared about.

Fungus

So, the middle-aged American tourist standing next to me at the breakfast buffet asked me what I had just been handed by the lovely cook on the line. "This is a handmade corn tortilla with huitlacoche on it," I said, eagerly anticipating digging into it. "You should try some."

Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn. It's a delicacy, and quite good. The buffet was free, part of her trip. The portion was small. She could try one by investing about six seconds of her time.

Wanna guess what she decided to do?

There's no way in the world she could know whether or not she would like it. Zero previous experience. No danger. No cost.

But she was seeing Mexico from a bus.

She doesn't read your blog, either.

What's interesting, though, is that in the last few years, she is finding herself on the internets. In fact, that's probably how she booked her trip. Stuff happens. It just takes a while, sometimes. Pass the fungus.

Three things I learned in Mexico City today

1. There are tons of ads featuring blonde women. Yet I didn't see any (blonde women). What happens when you create role models that are so out of touch/out of reach?

2. The air hurts. It hurts my eyes and my nose. Just a little, but all the time. What happens when your town has air like this?

3. The best restaurant I have visited in forever: Aguila y Sol. If you come here, please go. You can thank me later.

and a bonus: nice people. Everywhere I went.

that ipod video

Aaron Sagray shares the real scoop about the Microsoft ipod video I blogged earlier: The iPod Observer - Now Playing - Microsoft Confirms it Originated iPod Box Parody Video.

"I don't feel like playing tonight"

How much do you care about authenticity?

Years ago, Bill Evans walked off stage at a jazz club... and the audience applauded. Why? Even though they weren't going to hear the jazz great and his group that night (even though they'd paid, hired the sitter, etc.) they were applauding how real he was. If the artist didn't want to play, that was fine with them.

Reading an auction catalog tonight, I just discovered that Gene Roddenberry designed the phaser to be a profitable children's toy first, a Star Trek prop second. And the only reason the
Klingons had a ship is that the Enterprise model kit sold so well... They even let the model company, AMT, build the prop so that they could be sure the model sold in stores would be the same. Does that make you think anything less of Roddenberry's universe?

Jackson Pollock painted what he wanted and died young. Andy Warhol painted what would sell... and died rich.

If I write a book or a blog post or design a web page that's designed to spread first and inform second, do you care about my intent? It's pretty obvious that most of the online video stuff that's running wild online was designed to do just that--run wild. And MySpace is a traffic triumph. Not because the pages are what you or I might design, but because they were intentionally built for that sneezing teen and post-teen cohort.

When David Chase built the Sopranos, he wanted to tell a great story first, and get rich second. It was authentic in its first goal, and he accomplished his second. But when you eat at the fifth or sixth restaurant opened by a celebrity mega-chef, it's pretty clear that the goals are reversed. Does that make the meal worse?

Is it okay to set out to serve a predictable, reliable, impersonal meal in a restaurant that costs $100 a seat?

I thought of these countless rhetorical questions when the waiter came over and said, "Sangrias for the table? They're really good tonight!"

Are they? Are they better than on other nights? Or is this part of the script, designed to easily improve profit per seat by 30%... By selling us on the smell of authenticity, the fact that the sangrias might in fact be special, it makes it more fun to eat there (for some). I noticed on the way out that the specials were painted on the mirror over the bar... I had a fantastic time in the restaurant, because the company and the conversation were terrific. But I couldn't help feeling like I was a little cheated because nothing felt real.

Authentic It's that bell curve thing again. Those of us on the left, call us the authentic fringe, value intent, sometimes even more than we care about the results. The middle, the masses, they want both, that blissful combination of authenticity (even if it's well faked, or especially if it's well faked) and popularity. Call them the "smells authentic" masses. And there on the right is the factory fringe, the people who don't want even a whiff of authenticity... it reminds them of risk and inconsistency. [click on the picture to make it readable].

Like Rogers' product adoption lifecycle, products can move along this curve. Starbucks used to be just one place, way out on the fringe... Howard, the founder, got yelled at by his father-in-law for being a nutcase about coffee. And then, it moved to the right. Same thing for Emeril and Bobby Flay.

Of course, I'm letting my Authentic Fringe biases show here. The reason that the popular restaurants are so popular is because people like them!

The noisy tragedy of the blog commons

Blogs are different than most other forms of media in one key respect: they stretch.

TV and radio confront the reality that there are only 24 hours in a day. They can't put on more content, because there's no down time.

Magazines and newspapers have to pay for paper, and that means ads, but there are only a finite number of people willing to pay. So the length finds a  natural limit.

Billboards confront zoning realities.

Junk mail is gated by response rates.

But blogs... you can easily post 100 times a day. With a team, it might be a thousand.

This wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that in many cases, volume leads to traffic. Take a look at the top 10 blogs and you'll notice that many of them post dozens of times a day.

Just like the marketers of Oreo (now in 19 flavors of cookies) we're dealing with clutter by making more clutter.

RSS fatigue is already setting in. While multiple posts get you more traffic, they also make it easy to lose loyal readers.

Without friction, without a gate on the clutter, we clearly face a commons problem. Here, though, instead of people taking too much of a shared physical good because they have nothing to lose, the problem is surplus. By writing too much, too often, we're trouncing on the attention of the commons.

Thanks to Jouvenot for inspiring this the thought, but what should we do about it?

I think the answer is subtle and simple: over time, as blogs reach the mass market, the number of new readers coming in is going to go down, and the percentage of loyal readers will increase. The loyal readers are going to matter more.

Blogs with restraint, selectivity, cogency and brevity (okay, that's a long way of saying "making every word count") will use attention more efficiently and ought to win.

In the meantime, though, I don't see the world getting any quieter.


Small addendum:
some have rightly pointed out that filters and tagging mean that the commons benefits from as much noise as possible... that each blogger blogs all she wants, and the good stuff gets dugg or tagged and the rest disappears.

I have no real argument with that, except that it begs the question of who's looking through the chaff for the wheat. If someone has a blog where every single riff is a good one, you can bet that the eager beaver taggers are going to be there, waiting for the good stuff. If, on the other hand, you have a one in a thousand hit rate, the odds of your good stuff being found are small indeed. I think what I'm suggesting (not proposing... I'm not asking you to post less!) is that if you want to have a larger voice, it may pay be to be your own filter.

It's hard

Thanks to Jarvis who pointed me to Dave Weinberger who pointed me to:
Ian's Shoelace Site. I am now tying my shoes differently.

Not because the laces used to come undone (they did, but not anymore... I use method 2 now) but because the act of starting every single day doing something that feels so different is a great subconscious reminder to reject the status quo.

And an even better reminder that the chances that 4 year olds will be taught this better way any time soon is pretty tiny. Good ideas spread, but old ideas stick around.

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