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« April 2006 | Main | June 2006 »

Marketing pothole (#2 of 3): I'm too busy

I can count on one hand the number of marketers I know who get to do "Marketing" every day. (with a capital M).

Accountants do accounting all the time. Salespeople spent a lot of time selling. But marketers, it seems, have a long list of things they do (budgets, coupons, projections, photo shoots, bizdev meetings, meet and greets, etc.) that is technically marketing--cause I think everything an organization does is marketing--but is hardly in the sweet spot.

Think about the giant marketing successes of our time. From Disney to CAA to Boston Consulting Group... from Ronald Reagan to the Mormon Church to Habitat for Humanity... in every case, these organizations won big time because of a kernel of an idea, a marketing insight that they built upon.

There are more than 50,000 restaurants in New York City. Perhaps 200 of them are marketing success stories. Yet at the other 49,800 restaurants, the owners spend very little time working on their breakout idea, and tons of time doing stuff that feels a lot more important.

Once an organization is up and running, it's almost impossible to carve out the time to find the marketing vision that will make all the difference. Are you too busy working to make any money?

Raveling

In case you haven't been keeping up:

Emily graduates from art school. She builds a myspace page, builds a blog (Inside A Black Apple) and starts selling her art on etsy.com.

I was trying to figure out Etsy, sorting the paintings by "times viewed" and was completely stunned by the fact that some paintings have 500 times as many views as others. And not because of the price, or, apparently, any obvious difference in quality.

Instead, you'll notice that certain artists (like Emily) have hundreds of views. By  my calcuation, she's sold more than twenty thousand dollars worth of paintings so far. (she's sold over 400 works of art, at 10 or 50 or more dollars a pop).

This isn't a post about blogging or myspace or even etsy. Instead, it should be proof to you that the whole thing is raveling (which means the same as unraveling, in case you were curious). That all the systems that kept all the processes in place and leveraged mature industries and experienced players are slowly (or quickly) filtering to the masses. Faster than you thought it would happen.

What's new?

Markus recommends: MoMB. Tomorrow's web stuff, right now.

VC "I'll know it..."

Chris Mallon refers us to this incredibly honest and humble anti-portfolio (the companies they turned down). Bessemer Venture Partners - Our Portfolio.

Cordless Jump-Rope

Ann Michael points us to the Cordless Jump Rope .

What else could you leave out?

332 is so boring

Thanks to boingboing, I found: One thousand paintings ( 1000 numbers = 1000 paintings ). It's so classically, perfectly viral. It will make him hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few weeks. And it will make you smile.

I bought painting 552. I may donate it to MoMA.

Shorttail UPDATE: Brian Baute coins the term the short tail, and makes a graph of it. The brick thing is funny as well.

What I learned from eye tracking

The folks at etre were kind enough to do some eye tracking analysis of Squidoo. You can see the entire tape, unedited (but at slightly lower youtube resolution) here:

This is fascinating stuff. The blue dot shows you where the user is focusing her eyesite... it doesn't measure peripheral vision, which is crucial. It reminds me of watching some bugs approaching food--or perhaps it's a trap... The path is very jumpy, impatient, experimenting hither and yon.

You can see that some of the participants are slower, more linear readers, while others are jumping like mad, taking it all in.

I think websurfing is a hunting activity. The eye is looking for anamolies, for things that don't belong. (That might be why the word anomaly, spelled wrong in the previous sentence, got your focus). Once our peripheral vision confirms that something is familiar, we can ignore it and just worry about the new stuff. Squidoo is stuffed with new stuff (nearly all our visitors are first-time visitors) and so, for example, there's almost no focus on our Google AdWords. That's because they're familiar.

One of the takeaways is that bad web design might actually be a good thing! Slightly bad design isn't familiar. It's off. It demands attention. (Very bad design demands the 'back' button, of course). One of the reasons that experienced power tool users--like table saws--can still lose a finger is that they don't pay attention... it's too easy to turn the thing on and just use it.

The biggest lesson wasn't news to me, but it might be to your boss: your prospects are not rational and organized and linear. You can't count on them sitting still and hearing your story from beginning to end. They won't.

The answer is not to try to change human nature. It's to embrace the hunting skills that people are bringing online (and to their daily offline media consumption) and to make your media match their needs.

Calendar aggregation

Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't find it.

Why isn't there a master calendar... in the spirit of evdb, but perhaps more RSS focused... I mean, why can't I see a calendar of every baseball team (minor and major leagues) all at the same time, all in my area? Let's say it's Friday afternoon in Kansas City and you're looking for live music... why isn't there one place that shows it all, in various levels of granularity? Or I want to play in a pick up game of frisbee or maybe soccer somewhere within ten miles of my house...

If each venue published their schedule as an RSS feed, it seems trivial to put this together. I know, I know, you're already working on it, but I wonder why no one has made the winner yet. This has 'natural monopoly' all over it.

Marketing pothole (#1 of 3): I'll know it when I see it

Here is the first of three common pitfalls that wreck your marketing efforts:

Lots of marketers (and most of their bosses) like to say, "I'll know it when I see it."

That's why they want to see three or five or twenty executions of an ad. Or ten or fifteen mockups of a car or a facade. That's why marketers put their staff and their freelancers and their agencies through an infinite loop of versioning.

"I'll know it when I see it."

Actually, you won't.

You didn't know it when you saw the first iPod or the first iteration of Google. You didn't know it when first exposed to email or JetBlue or the Macarena or Britney Spears. No, in fact, you hardly ever "know it." If you did, you'd be a lot smarter than the rest of us, and we'd all be eagerly watching for your next product.

What is true is that we often know success when it smashes us in the face. We didn't "know it" when Google went public at $85 a share (did you buy shares with your house as collateral?) but we sure knew it when it hit $300.

Perhaps Clive Davis knows a hit song when he hears one, and certainly Giorgio Armani has the magic eye. But, just speaking for myself, I don't have Clive's ears or Giorgio's eyes.

Marketing campaigns are frequently crippled by managers who are sure that they know "it" when they see it--and this isn't it. Some of my favorite stories are the ones about all the naysayers who tried to kill the stuff that ends up being great.  They just didn't know what it was.

Just ten minutes

Gene David writes a note about a simple idea: how being in sync with your market can change everything. He writes:

I am in Santa Elena, CR.  Off the map.  No paved roads by choice.  Few locals and lots of ecotourism (read tourist town which is really hard to get to).   If you like frogs, bugs, toucans, and zip lines through the rain forest, it is a great place.

There is one bus to the coast at 6am each day.  Mostly filled with tourists heading to surf or see the leather back turtles (I will be on it tomorrow).  Right across the street from the bus stop is a panaria (bread and roll shop), which opens at 6am.  Everyday 20 to 50 people who just scrabbled out of bed to make the bus on time.  Opening 10 minutes earlier would mean sales.  Just 10 minutes ealier.  I know I would buy.  I will buy tonight before heading to bed, but many more turistas will not have planned ahead.

Separated at birth

Separate Me and 50 cent

Check it out.

Richard Feynman on marketing

"Cargo Cult Science" - by Richard Feynman.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

So, just because you copy the elements that apparently made something work before doesn't mean that you're going to be guaranteed that it will work again. In fact, given that we have no idea why some ideas spread and others don't, the odds are that copying the headphones and the runways isn't going to help you much at all.

Oopstr

So, what should Firefox do? Here's an idea:

Fixing broken urls since 2006

Picture_71 THE FIRST THING: Lots of people type the wrong thing into Firefox. When they do (like typing .con when you meant .com), they see this:

Oopstr can fix that. They can fix it by showing users a page with relevant recommendations and make it easy (with just one click) to find the thing they really wanted in the first place.

THE SECOND THING:
Lots of websites would like to reach people but are unable to get the right message in front of the right person at the right time. Well, the best time to give someone directions is when they’re lost. Make it easy for an advertiser to buy ads (through Google) or even better, to buy the whole page.

So, instead of seeing that useless error message, the surfer might see something like this:

Oopstersample
THE THIRD THING: There’s a phantom net out there, an alternative reality that isn’t built around domain names. Instead, given the power of search and the browser, many organizations are profiting by grabbing traffic that isn’t heading for a specific branded URL. By leveraging the browser, Oopstr expands this opportunity dramatically.

For example, imagine a new virtual TLD like .safe. Type travel.safe and Oopstr takes over and suggests a number of relevant sites, all on a page paid for by a travel site.

The cool thing about this is that it can be organic and user driven. Once people start leaving breadcrumbs behind in Oopstr, other users can follow, seeing what the popular trails are.

THE TECHNOLOGY: Firefox knows what the person using the browser typed in that caused the error in the first place. They hand that information to oopstr, which compares it to a database of what previous lost searchers have typed in to correct themselves. They also use some common-sense algorithms—for example, replacing .con with .com.

Oopstr can quickly present the top seven matches, with the most common one set as the default. The user can click on any of them or type in a correction, which oopstr remembers and adds to the database.

This is the way computers are supposed to work. It's not a test, after all. It's a service, and if the computer knows what you want...

THE ADVERTISING: Every page carries Google adsense ads, which ought to have  higher-than-normal clickthrough and revenue numbers. Figure $2 per thousand as an average.

Each page is also for rent on a monthly basis. To rent a page, an advertiser gives oopstr a credit card and bids for the right to own all the ads in that column for a month. They set a minimum for each page based on what their Adsense revenue was in the previous month. Each month, the auction is redone, for each page. So, would you like to own traevl.com?

Picture_72 THE DEFAULT OPTION: Once oopstr demonstrates the technology works, Firefox can add this option to Firefox preferences:

This will enable users to skip the page that oopstr runs with ads by permitting them to give oopstr permission to automatically take them where they want to go in the first place.

The upside to the user is one-click surfing.

The upside to Oopstr is that they can now create useful new TLDs and sell them. Things like .safe and .shop and others can bypass the existing systems.

Hey, it's an idea. Have a nice weekend.

Fiddleheads

Today at the Union Square Market, the maple syrup guy was selling fiddlehead ferns. No doubt they were wild, a special treat you find in the forest for a week or two. They were $6.50 a pound.

Two booths down, there was a farmer, also selling ferns. For a little less, as far as I could tell (his were by the pint). You could guess that each guy was disappointed that the other one existed... obviously, they think, if the other guy wasn't selling fiddleheads, I'd be doing better.

In fact, that theory applies to every person at the market. Every booth imagines that it would be a lot better if they didn't have to share the crowds with all the other booths.

Probably the same way at the mall, now that you think about it.

And online too, I guess.

Of course, this reasoning is fallacious. Without all the other booths/stores/websites, there are no crowds!

The power of the mall is that your competition is right next store. The magic of the web is not that you can somehow bait people to your site and entrap them. What's becoming more clear every day is that the more you send people out, the wider open your door to the mall hallways is, the better you're going to do.

The freeloader problem

Freeloader I wonder if there is one.

Here's a guy at Starbucks who nicely consented to being photographed. You'll notice that he's eating a burger and fries and yes, a beverage, all from Mickey D's. (that coffee cup on his table is a vestige from the last customer).

Except he's not eating at McDonald's. He's eating at a very very busy Starbucks, a place where if the line is too long or there are no tables, people leave.

I asked him why he was eating at Starbucks, and he didn't hesitate, "It's way nicer here."

Are marketers  training an entire generation that there's never a limit? That free music and free wifi and free ebooks and free lobby space isn't just an inducement to pay attention, but is, in fact, a right?

I'm still betting that the busy people you want to reach will be appropriately motivated by free. But it's a scary picture.

Do apostrophe's matter?

Apostrophe You bet they do.

You might not care a bit about an apostrophe that modify's the word incorrectly, but lot's of people care. They care because it is an instantaneous method for determining whether the person writing is facile with the language and/or cares about doing things correctly.

Now that first impressions are as quick as a few letters in a blog post title (sic!) or a sign in a window, every character matters.

Stories and my back

A slow week for good posts, largely because I put my back into a week of spasms doing yoga (or as Fred would say: Yo! GAH!!.)

Some of you are already writing me mail, pointing out how great yoga is when done properly. You can stop. I know this. Of course, you are right. Of course it is also right that not all yoga is done properly, and that there is plenty within the canon that should probably be deleted.

What's interesting is that the worldview of "yoga is good/cool/right/mysterious/worthy/interesting" is quite powerful. It's ripe for storytelling, because so many people want to believe the stories. It's a modern archetype, based on faith in a very old idea.

The easiest way to get a reaction is to tell a story that resonates with (for or against) a cherished idea. Change doesn't always happen slowly. It tends to happen quickly in areas where people don't care. In the areas where the worldview is widespread and the stories are durable, change is much more difficult.

Your new computer room

Picture_65 It's in Kheri Kalan, an industrial town in India. Fifty street kids use it to learn every afternoon. John Wood and the Room To Read team built it with your Big Moo purchase royalties. Thanks.

Habits, making and breaking

Habits are essential to marketing and to profits.

Starbucks in the morning is a habit. So is having your law firm do a trademark search every time you invent a new name. Buying bottled water is a habit, but it didn't used to be.

Making a habit is a lot easier than breaking one (ask a smoker) and habits often come in surprising ways (ask Jerry, who now has a manicure habit).

If you want to grow, you're either going to have to get more people to adopt your habit, (which might require breaking a different habit) or somehow increase habitual behavior among your happy customers.

Free books (and the box too)

Thanks to Todd and Jack, there are 250 free cereal boxes with your name on it. After that, this special edition of Free Prize Inside is only $5. But only till they're gone. (Actually, the free ones are here).

Have fun. It's not X-ray specs, but it does stay crunchy, even in soy milk.

Please come June 15

Not many more opportunities to sign up for my all day seminar on June 15.

Because my detail page didn't do a great job of describing the benefits of the event, here you go:

For less than $667 a person (if you bring two friends) we'll spend the day in New York City going over the new marketing, how it impacts your organization and what you can do about it. The first few hours of the day includes a very fast-paced overview of ideas from Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Purple Cow, Free Prize Inside and All Marketers are Liars. The focus will be on laying out a framework that is easy to explain to your peers and your boss.

After that, the agenda is driven by the audience. Each person gets a chance to talk about her business or her website or a particular marketing issue. I address each of them, one by one, and the audience quickly gets the hang of a particular approach to problem solving (that would, ahem, be my approach). The goal is to get the group to the point where it's really clear what to do before you even hear my riffs.

In the past, seminar attendees have included everyone from major inkjet printer companies to political candidates to non-profits. We've had giant companies from Chicago and one-person operations from South Korea. In just about every case, people leave energized--and send me notes a week or a month or even a year later about how their perspective was changed, and how it's paying off.

The thrill for me is in assembling a group of people who believe they have little in common... and watching everyone in the room gradually "get it", realizing how the new marketing techniques change so many things in their organization. If I can do that, if I can send you home ready and able to grow fast if you want to, then it's been a good day.

Seats are really limited, so if you want to come, please sign up soon. Not sure when the next one might be. Thanks.

In search of better

Every day, in almost every office of almost every organization, people are going to get together to make something better.

Making things better is a natural impulse, especially if you want to grow.

Unfortunately, better is not always the right strategy. Better is not always superior to different.

When you make something that works a little better, you're playing the same game, just keeping up with the status quo. When you make something different, on the other hand, you're trying to change the game.

The next time your engineers or customer service people want to initiate a project to make something better, challenge them to make something different instead.

Overnight success?

What's the opposite of that? An Overnight failure?

The idea of an overnight success is relatively new. Joan of Arc, Robin Hood and Sarah Bernhardt were not overnight successes. It took media (the old kind, like TV and movies, and especially the new kind, like Google video) to create the overnight success. My friends Pomme and Kelly are overnight successes. So are some of the characters on American Idol.

Along the way, some people have trained themselves to believe that the only kind of success worth having is overnight success. That if you don't hit #1 the first week, you've failed. That if your interface isn't perfect out of the box, or if you don't get 5,000 people standing in line at the opening of your new store, you've failed.

The Times today reports on Kathleen McGowan, easily considered an overnight failure. She spent years researching and writing a novel. She went to the annual book convention on her own nickel last year, trying to pitch it. Day after day was spent slogging her way to any person willing to look at it. This year, of course, she's back with a million dollar plus advance, feted by booksellers, the whole drill.

Picture_64 Squidoo is another interesting case. Here's a look at our daily traffic, courtesy of our Google Analytics package, since January (I removed four weeks in mid-March, mid-April, because of a glitch with search.)  Squidoo has more than 27,000 lenses built by 15,000 people in about five months. No, the chart doesn't look like MySpace or Flickr. What it does look like is the early days of Google and Wikipedia and other overnight failures.

The challenge for observers, investors and partners (like the publisher who took on Kathleen) is to avoid the temptation of buying the media infatuation with the overnight success story (which rarely happens overnight). The challenge for marketers is to figure out what daily progress looks  like and obsess about that.

The goal, I think, is to be an overnight failure, but one that persists. Keeping costs low, building a foundation that leads to the right kind of story, the right kind of organic growth. Kathleen wrote a book that she believes in, one that was worth investing years of her life into. And then she painstakingly made progress until she became the next big thing.

478 Pete

"More case studies," they say. Okay, here's one:

Pete was in a business that's a real commodity. Moving and storage. Mostly local. Anyone with a truck and some strong men can get in. It's about price, mostly, plus service and ethics, I guess.

The thing is, most people don't hire a mover very often. And when they do, they do it with fear and loathing, not excitement. The only thing that can happen is something bad.

So what did Pete do? He built a Purple Cow, one with a real story.

Pete works for Metro North. He sold tickets at the train station in my town. Which means (pre credit card machine) that every single commuter knew him.

Pete got a phone number with a local exchange (478). Only people in town can get that exchange. They're coveted.

And then he hired some nice guys. Not guys who had to be trained to be nice, but nice guys.

So, you see the trucks. The paint job is neat and clean. The firm's name (478 PETE) is the phone number is the story is the guarantee. Of course Pete's not going to rip you off. He'd have to quit his great job at Metro-North to hide from you. Of course he's local, he's even got the exchange!

Bingo. Pete's set for life.

Now, what usually happens at this point is that people say one of two things, "Sure, that was obvious," and "sure, it worked for him... but what about my particular unique one-and-only situation..."

Well, it's not that obvious. And yes, if Pete can make local moving and storage into a goldmine, odds are you can reinvent your gig as well. None of it would have worked if he had run a standard moving company... the product (the men and the man) is the marketing.

Yeah, but is it worse than...

New York City's DOT website?

We now have a new standard in bad web design from organizations that should know better and can afford to do it right. My expectations would be low, but Mike Bloomberg can do better.

Before you launch your commerce site, compare it to this one.

The list is long, and here are some partial highlights:

  • Even though the URL is on traffic signs throughout New York (this is the place to get the new parking card for meters in the city), how long did it take you to find the link on the site?
  • The checkout system requires registration first.
  • You must manually enter your address twice.
  • The state is a pull-down list (yikes), AND New York and New Jersey are not listed in alphabetical order. They're at top, which makes sense until you go by habit and wonder why they're missing from the "New"s. Costs nothing to list them twice. Costs even less to leave a blank.
  • The phone number requires you to mash up all the digits 5553434 even though the box is long enough (a cue!) to use a space or a dash.
  • There are dozens of other problems, all culminating with this message when you're done:

Picture_63 So, the new rallying cry of the mediore, "Hey, at least it's not as bad as the DOT site."

Lessons Learned from Trader Joe’s

I was talking with a colleague today about the magic of Trader’s. Here’s how they make billions:

1.    they target a consumer that cares a great deal about what they buy at the supermarket. As a result, their customers are more loyal, and more important, are willing to drive farther to get there. This means they can have smaller, lower-rent locations (and fewer of them) which drives up sales per square foot and profits.

2.    These customers are big mouths. They sneeze. When they serve something from Trader’s they brag about, they tell the story of the store. This drives down advertising costs.

3.    Most of what they sell is private label. Now that they have scale, they are able to negotiate great prices from their suppliers, and more important, encourage/force their suppliers to make unique items, or organic foods, or foods of higher quality for the money. All of this is a virtuous cycle. The key mantra is that Trader’s finds foods for its customers, NOT customers for its foods.

I think these three steps are viable for a wide range of businesses and sectors. One example to stretch your thinking: the TED conference. It’s in a remote location, one that’s probably a bit cheaper than some. People who care are happy to shlep. And they love to talk about it. And because the audience is so focused, the speakers come for free, further enhancing the cycle. If it works for supermarkets and high-end business conferences, where else does it work?

#1 at the Box Office

So, Tom Cruise devoted the last year of his life to promoting a movie that will be #1 in the US for exactly 14 days.

To be replaced by another movie, even more hyped than Cruise’s, that may just triumph for three weeks instead of two.

Lulu.com just released a study of bestselling books. It turns out that in the last forty years, the length of stay of a typical bestseller at #1 is down by more than 85%. In other words, bestsellers used to be bestsellers for seven times as long as they are now.

That’s an awe-inspiring figure.

Why?

Because the base of the pyramid is so much bigger (ten times as many books published every year, at least) you would expect that the winners would win bigger and longer to make it worth the journey. Not so.

And awe-inspiring because the effort necessary to get to #1 is far greater than it used to be. From co-op (bribes) to retailers for shelf-space and advertising to the extensive touring and cross promotion that’s necessary, it’s a lot more work and a lot more risk to get there.

Now, we’re seeing authors building permission assets and timing all their promotion so they can be #1 on Amazon for an hour—an hour! Allen Drury had a #1 bestseller for a year.

Of course, it’s not just movies and books. Just about any style-based business (and what business is no longer style based?) sees the same phenomenon. The lesson I draw is this:

If your marketing strategy requires you to hit #1 in order to succeed, you probably need a new marketing strategy.

Transportation Day

Years ago, my grandmother would take my sisters and me on a day-long tour of New York’s transport system. We’d ride the bus, the subway, even the Roosevelt Island Tramway.

Here’s what my day was like:
I missed the express train into the city by less than ten seconds. Missed the shuttle to Times Square by twenty seconds. After my photo shoot, got lucky and caught the 1 train a minute after i got to the station. Unfortunately, it was going south and I wanted to go north. Got off at the next station, no tunnel to switch directions, so I had to leave the subway, cross the street and pay again to enter. Missed the northbound train by less than twenty seconds.

Destination: 79th Street.

Train gets stuck at 72nd, door won’t shut. I get out, run seven blocks in the rain. Step in a puddle up to my knee. Miss getting hit by a Lexus by about an inch. Got to my uptown meeting just in time, Leave my uptown meeting, see an empty cab in the pouring rain. As I go to open the door, a guy opens the door on the other side and steals my cab. I walk the seven blocks in the rain, no cabs. Got to the 72nd street station just in time to see the express train pull out.

Lucky for me, the Roosevelt Island Tram is broken.

This is apropos of nothing, of course, but I thought I’d get all cat blog on you and share my day.

Spam of the day

[unedited]

dear sir or lady,

i have an ostrich farm in singapore.

i need to be more up to date with ostrich world.

therefore, i need all bookes related to the ostrich for the following purposes:
1. chicken breeding
2. farming
3. establishment the farm and construction
4.nutrition
5.health
6. video CD for all subjects
and so on...

i need complete package. price is not important.

please send your complete offer as soon as possible

best regards

morfi

But is it CB Radio?

If you're over 40, you need to ask yourself the question, "did you have a CB radio?"

Millions of Americans did. It was a classic craze disguised as a trend. CB radio made everyone into a broadcaster. CB radio allowed millions of people to communicate with each other--strangers and friends. CB radio changed the social network and the way we connect. CB radio even inspired a movie. And then it went away, right back to the truckers who brought it to us.

Geocities was CB radio. Geocities allowed anyone to build a free website. It grew fast and then boom. Same with online greeting cards.  Email, on the other hand, was not CB radio. Email, on the other hand, really did change (almost) everything.

And what about blogs? Are blogs CB radio or are they email?

Brad Feld has a great post about the first 25,000. This is the CB radio audience. Every once in a while, (more on the web than ever before anywhere else) the CB radio guys find something that gets bigger and more permanent. The art is in distinguishing one from the other, and investing early (your time, not just your money) in the platforms that are more likely to reach everyone else.

Tell me again what RSS is?

Flexibility

The one thing that's certain about your marketing plan, your products, hey, even your life is that it won't turn out the way you planned.

Given this proven truth, doesn't it make sense to spend most of your time building flexibility into whatever you're building?

It's a lot easier to change your mind in advance... doing it when you have to is painful--especially if you have to persuade a team. The most flexible plans have the need (and ability) to change built right in.

The Dalai Lama, marketer

Mara, a really extraordinary young lady, sent me a powerpoint that says it's from the Dalai Lama. (no surprise when Lance Long points out it's not really from the Dalai himself).

Of course, I read it like a marketer. (Replace 'loved one' with customer and you get the idea... the rest of the substitions are up to you--or just let it make your day). Good advice:

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three R’s: Respect for self, Respect for others and Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great relationship.
7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

$2000 a year

That's how much the typical family in the US spends on telecommunications. It's certainly one of the highest discretionary items in a typical budget, and it's particularly surprising given that long distance is a fraction of what it used to be.

So, David Troup points us to Helio, a phone/toy for teenagers and those that think like them (the phone, with built in music and video capability, is primarily sold at record stores, at least in NY). I give them credit for tapping into a desire that consumers are already voting for with their dollars. Is it a killer app for geezers like me? Nope. And that may be exactly why it works.

On trade shows

Michael Cader wonders:

-- Why do you want your booth so crowded that I can't walk through it?
Why do you want people to walk through, grab something, and get the heck
out?

-- If I am standing in line waiting for an author/event, is anyone
talking to me or occupying my time with a useful message?

-- Does your booth say anything about where to find the person I'm
looking for? Your publicity people, store events people, sales people,
rights people, and executives all the look the same. They dress the
same, and they're mixed throughout the booth. How hard do I have to work
to meet someone I don't know?

-- Just as important, how hard do I have to work in your booth (and with
your takeaways) to discover something other than the obvious about your
list? Does your booth say anything besides, "We are a book publisher and
these are some of our big fall titles" or "proud publisher of these 37
imprints"?

-- Once again, just as important, does your booth say anything about why
you're at the show, and who you want to meet, and what you want to do
with them?

-- Do you have a Wal-mart "greeter" to welcome me to your booth and
transmit a message to me before I leave? Do have welcome or exit signs
in your aisles that tell me anything?

-- What's the message behind all the stuff you're giving away? And why
have giveaways become the dominant theme of everyone's booth? Are those
giveaways really helping your business, and do they mean anything next
to all the other giveaways that everyone else has? Are they attracting
the people you want to meet at the show? And are there any twists or
alternatives that might work better?

--      Can you introduce scarcity to the giveaway process to
make your items more valuable, or surprising, or memorable? What if did
business in the morning and gave things away in the afternoon. What if
you had espresso and donuts at the beginning of the day instead of wine
and cheese at the end. What if your booth looked different every day?

Three big barriers

It's not always the stories that we tell to prospects and consumers that matter. It's often the stories we tell ourselves.

In talking with companies that are unhappy with the way they are growing, I find two common themes (and one a little less often):

  1. A belief that they deserve more attention. That their product or their service is so good and so beneficial and so fairly priced that the story they tell and the way they tell it shouldn't matter. I don't think this is arrogance... I think it is a natural byproduct of hard work and high pressure.
  2. A lack of authenticity. This is almost the flip side of the first, but, surprisingly, it often shows up at the same time. This is the feeling that you don't have to tell the truth, that it's "just marketing." Talk to someone at a company on a mission--Southwest or JetBlue or Acumen Fund and you'll hear the same story, told with desire and belief and honesty. These are people on a mission to really do something. Contrast that with someone who wants to know the ROI on a monthly basis from a blog--they're busy doing the math, not living the story.
  3. The third trait, which shows up a bit less often, is the marketer who doesn't believe that she deserves success. This is the self-critical marketer who is being brutally honest--and is frustrated at the state of her market and of her product. The obvious but often difficult solution is to either change the product, change the story or get a new gig. The wrong but most common response is to just be frustrated.

You've certainly met people who have all three things taken care of. They approach a marketplace or a consumer with an appropriate amount of humility. They tell a story that is true, that they believe, that they live. And they do it with confidence, knowing that the story they are telling is bound to benefit most of the people who hear it.

The fascinating thing is that all three of these items happen before the consumer is even involved. They are internal and they're under your control, direction or influence.

The problem with mobile

Why hasn't the whole cell phone industry exploded?

I don't mean the "use a portable phone to call people" market. That market is doing great, because everyone knows how to use a phone and a cell phone is just a better solution to that problem for a lot of uses.

I mean the entire "data in my pocket" or "fundamentally different kind of interaction" business. For years, everyone has been talking about the coming goldmine in mobile.

I think the problem is that we've been trying to solve the wrong problem.

Ten or fifteen years ago, when I was working with the folks at Prodigy, just about all the functionality of the web was known. And yet almost no one was working on the right stuff--the stuff that ended up working. Take a look at virtually every giant online success (except for Amazon) and none of them were obvious in 1992.

I think we're going to discover a whole new universe of cell phone services that people want to pay for, things that we won't be able to live without. Like... ringtones.

Mobile doesn't have a problem. We (the marketers and the entrepreneurs) do.

The rush to quality

I just passed a house for sale. The sign out front was from a mass market realtor, but from their higher end "estates" division. A fancier sign, a fancier name.

It wasn't, however, a fancier house.

In one industry after another, premium brands (Tiffany) are becoming the standard. Why list a house with a regular realtor? Why buy jewelry from a regular store? Why wear regular clothes? As brands learn how profitable it is to go from Class to Mass (Wolfgang Puck and Armani come to mind), consumers are being trained to abhor not the cheap but the middling.

Zales for your anniversary anyone?

Megan needs a summer intern

For the first time ever, Craig's List didn't come up with what we needed. So here, at the last minute, is a neat educational opportunity for the right student.

Megan Casey, editor in chief at Squidoo, asked me to post this notice about a summer internship. Small stipend, plus bonus possible at end of summer.

1. need someone in our office a few days a week. work from home some days is okay. hours pretty flexible.
2. office on the hudson river, 45 minutes from Grand Central in NYC. we pay transportation.
3. report to editor-in-chief. sample projects: new feature testing, pick shortlists for lens of the day selection, make prototypes for partners, research passionate communities, jump up and down in forums, day-to-day maintenance of the site, learn new hula hoop tricks, research lensmaking trends...
4. you can basically set your own role depending on how hard you work and what you're good at
5. number five is up to you.
6. we have an espresso machine, but no ponies.

You'll probably learn more than you imagine, I think. Drop a note to Megan if you're interested or if you know someone who is. Contact: Megan.

What's that you're wearing?

Chris Case points us to Play Doh perfume... Play-Doh(R) Brand Modeling Compound Makes a ''Scent-Sational'' Debut as It Celebrates 50 Years.

Different kinds of traffic

So, here's your choice:
You can have a billboard in Times Square (seen by 2 million people a day), or you can be the keynote speaker at the Allen & Co. annual millionaire media mogul retreat, listened to by about 150 people for an hour.

A no brainer? I hope so.

Of course, it's not just the demographics. I think it's the quality of the interaction.

Picture_57 Here's a comparison between two hot properties (MySpace and Facebook) and Amazon.

Should Jeff Bezos be in mourning? After all, MySpace is killing Amazon in traffic.

Of course, this is all irrelevant. Not surprising, but irrelevant. It's not surprising because it's just human nature to measure a simple metric, and to want to improve it. It's human nature to believe that the more people get exposed to your idea, the better you're going to do. It's human nature to want to 'win', however you define winning.

The problem here is that Amazon users visit to buy stuff, and MySpace users visit to flirt.

Last time I checked, flirting was a fairly unprofitable activity.

There's a long list of high-traffic sites (beginning with theglobe.com and extending to hotmail and many others) that couldn't monetize. They were stuck because the bait that got them the traffic had no room for a reasonable hook. You could use a TV like model and interrupt with irrelevant ads, but it doesn't work so well.

All a long, long way to say something simple:
Whatever your website, I think you want better traffic, not more traffic.

You want to figure out why the right people will come, not build a sideshow that attracts exactly the wrong people.

At trade shows, there's always a few booths with magicians, fire-eaters or bikini-clad models. And post-show, there's no evidence at all to indicate that the noisy attractions did very much to improve the actual metrics of the booth.

So, maybe it doesn't matter how your site does compared to a site in a different category. What matters, I think, is how your site does compared to last week or last month, and what's happening to your conversion.

Top 1%

Alex Krupp points us to this neat post from Jackie & Ben: Church of the Customer Blog: The 1% Rule: Charting citizen participation.

The upshot is that for many organizations, the top 1% do 80% more of the contributing. The fascinating Wikipedia example (fascinating for me, anyway) points out that after about three and a half years, Wikipedia had just 15,000 contributors. But 4,000 or so of them did almost all the work.

Often, it's easy to imagine that big companies like Hallmark and British Airlines and Coke are selling lots and lots to everyone. In fact, a tiny slice may very well be the difference between success and failure.

How (some) people think about money

Listening to Car Talk over the last few weeks, I've heard a similar refrain. Something like, "my car is paid off so I'm ready to buy a new one." Today, it was, "We need to decide which car to sell--my husband's or mine, because we need a minivan. But mine is paid off and his isn't."

Of course,
a. when making the decision to buy a new car, it's irrelevant that your old car is paid off. Just because you've finally paid it off doesn't mean you should automatically go into debt again.
b. and debt is fungible, so you can sell either car and pay off whichever debt you need to.

American consumers have persuaded themselves that buying something is one thing, going into debt something totally different.

Barry Bonds

Just got a phone call from someone in the UK. He was in Buffalo, NY, excited to share the news about a meeting he just left. This was the beginning of his breakthrough, he said. 400 stores around the country would be carrying his new product (up from zero). It was (about to be) a home run.

Except it hadn't happened yet. He hadn't gotten final approval from some executive that he hadn't actually met yet.

The home runs you almost hit don't count.
The home runs you almost hit don't add up, they don't accrue. As marketers, most of what we see are the home runs, the appearances on Oprah or the Facebooks of the world. The giant home runs that change everything.

Except that marketing success stories almost never happen that way. They happen on the back of singles, one after another. That's how Wal-mart became Wal-mart and Boingboing became Boingboing.

Singles are less thrilling and require way too much work, but they build on each other. Over time, if you grow by 10 or 15% every week or month, you grow, reliably. And that steady growth transforms into every faster growth.

Any marketing plan that is nothing but a series of attempted home runs has a problem. The problem is that the odds don't get better as you go along.

High leverage five minute task for today

Picture_51 "Can you show me all our error pages?"

That's what you might ask your web team.

If you have one that looks like this, perhaps you could fix it. Usually, it takes just a few more words of text, or some clear navigation instructions, or a little kindness even.

Five minutes, you'll be done. Worth a shot.

Silos

Racquetball is a fast game because a ball shot in any direction rebounds and bounces off one wall after another.

Marketers often talk about silos with some disdain, because they represent disconnected thinking and broken communications networks. But silos are also like racquetball courts.

Because your idea is far more likely to bounce around, it'll spread faster. Everyone inside the silo is going to learn about an important idea faster, precisely because they are inside the silo.

It's so tempting to create products and services that link silos, that jump outside prescribed definitions.

But it's not that easy.

An idea that might resonate inside of a silo might just wither away.

Data, and perhaps information

Corey Brown points us to the latest: Google Trends: malcolm gladwell.

The stuff presented is fascinating. The links to press releases and news don't mean much, but over time, they doubtless will.

The presentation is so clear, it's a delight to play with. Not sure what you'll learn, but it'll be fun.

the new networks

What happens when youtube gets selective and focused?

TurnHere.com ~ The video insiders guide to neighborhoods across the world.

The billion channel universe is here, and collecting the best stuff is a great opportunity.

The Chinatown and Pizza videos are especially good. Thanks to Craig and Erik.

Fill in the blank

Ifyoutalkedtopeoplethumb_1 Hugh gets us thinking again, as usual.

I want to extend this from "advertising" to:

  • Customer service
  • Copywriters
  • Telemarketers
  • Angry customers
  • Government agencies
  • Senior management
  • Critics
  • Bloggers

In fact, just about any situation where the speaker is either uncomfortable and/or hiding behind a bureaucracy or anonymity.

The next time you get all formal or obfuscatory or snarky, ask a simple question, "If I knew this person and we were eating together in a restaurant, would I speak to them the same way?"

If the answer is no, why not?

The June 15 Seminar

Okay, both of my seminars, certainly the last ones before the summer, are now posted. The less expensive NY seminar is here: Seminars: The June 15 Seminar.

I hope you can make one or the other if you're interested. I've already gotten some great applications the June 1 gig.

The Long Trail

(not a typo).

Want to guess what these musical acts have in common?

The Rolling Stones
The Eagles
Elton John
U2
Paul McCartney

They each made more than $50 million last year, according to Forbes. They accounted for 40% of the top 10 acts.  The long trail is what happened.

Same with products like Quicken, websites like eBay and chefs like Wolfgang Puck.

We're so busy celebrating the hit of the moment that we forget that the real profit often comes from the long trail.

It's easy to persuade yourself to shortchange the design of a product, or your investment in its engineering, or to manipulate the launch to maximize the short-term box office appeal of opening weekend. But the long trail proves you wrong.

The web compounds long trail thinking. A website might spike with short term traffic hits, but a great website builds on its traffic, rises in its search rankings and continues to bring in traffic, year after year.

The long trail explains why so many unprofitable movies turn a profit when the DVD comes out. The Shawshank Redemption got seven Academy Award nominations when it was released, but disappointed at the box office. Now, after more than 1.3 million reviews at NetFlix, it is one of the most enduring DVD hits ever.

The long trail is a reminder to invest like your product might just be around in ten years.

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