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« June 2006 | Main | August 2006 »

Dreams

Ramit asked: What's easier now than later?

Dreaming was easier.

First, it was easier to sleep, but that's an entirely different story.

I meant real dreams. Visions. Ideas of what was around the corner. I still do it, I push myself to do it, I work at it and it pays off. But in my 20s, it just happened. And I wrote em down. Writing your dreams down is a great idea.


Yes, but how do you search for that?

Over the last four years, search has changed the way we interact with the world. Just like you can't remember what life was like before email, you're probably having trouble remembering what you did before Google became a verb.

It's easy to believe that search is mature, and the next big thing is going to be somewhere else. Actually, we're about 5% done.

Example: What if I want to find a place to take 6 friends for a midweek retreat, near a lake, within an hour of my house. I know when I want to do it, I know about how much I want to spend, but I don't know where. I don't know if I want a private house for rent, or a condo or a hotel. I don't know if it's in Massachussets or New Jersey.

This is actually the way many people plan a trip like this one. If I do perhaps 75 online searches, I'll start getting close to what I want.

Or what if I want to have a business meeting in Los Angeles in September. I know how many people, and approximately where the venue needs to be, but that's it. It doesn't matter a lot if it's a private loft, a hotel or a restaurant. Gigs like this get planned all the time.

Or what if I need a new CRM system for my office...

If you're a seller of that sort of accomodation, you'd love to know about me, no doubt.

So, how do we find each other?

No website is going to be able to aggregate all of the providers if it requires either a payment or incremental effort--it's just unreasonable to expect that you'll get the entire universe in any category to affirmatively sign up for something. It needs to be more passive than that. But it also needs to be incredibly intelligent to sort the junk from the good stuff.

So far, the most ubiquitous solution is Craig's List, and while it's a miracle, it's not the answer.

How do you use search to introduce the right buyers to the right sellers when it's not a frequent transaction of a commodity? I have no clue.

I'm betting someone is going to figure it out.

Belief

People don't believe what you tell them.

They rarely believe what you show them.

They often believe what their friends tell them.

They always believe what they tell themselves.

Better than they deserve

At eight o'clock tonight, the best restaurant in Grand Cayman was deserted. Just two diners, chowing down on an astonishing whole red snapper, caught several hours before by a local fisherman.

Jindi, the owner of the Thai Restaurant in Georgetown, explained to me that they've been there for fifteen years and lunch pays the rent. "Every day, lunch is very busy... it's the cruise ships," she explained.

Imagining a stream of classic cruise ship turistas invading her restaurant every day made me shudder. The restaurant does well at lunch because it has the perfect location for cruise ships (three blocks from the dock--exactly far enough way to seem exotic). Then I looked over the restaurant and realized that for more than a decade, Jindi has refused to compromise her standards. There are dozens of dishes that would disappear if she was only catering to the lunch crowd. Do the bulk of her customers care about her home-grown thai basil and lime leaves? There are preparations and ingredients that cost her a fortune, and it's clear why she's doing it. Not for the bulk of her customers, but for herself, for her staff and for the chowhounds she encounters at random.

Jindi's refusal to compromise is yet another reason she's doing so well at lunch, actually. Because taste is starting to catch up with her. People are now ordering the items she would have deleted ten years ago.

And in a connected world, it's much easier for the chowhounds to leave a digital trail of breadcrumbs to her door.

Letting your customers set your standards is a dangerous game, because the race to the bottom is pretty easy to win. Setting your own standards--and living up to them--is a better way to profit. Not to mention a better way to make your day worth all the effort you put into it.

Marketers and money

Money is the enemy of most entrepreneurs and marketers. Actually, that's not true. The search for money, the need for money and the desire to spend the money you have are the enemy.

From movies (Superman vs. Syriana or WordPlay) to coffee (Maxwell House vs. Starbucks) to technology (Microsoft vs. a kid in a room in Germany) we see it over and over again.

First rule: great product development and marketing almost always comes from organizations that don't have enough money. Having less money keeps you from trying to buy your way out of trouble.

Second rule: learning to live with less money means you will develop skills and resources instead of buying them. And it means that when you have less money (again), you'll be prepared.

Third rule: When you need money for something specific, go get it. But just for that. With good terms. As soon as you spend money to protect your money or leverage your money or account for your money or send a message about your money, the money is not only wasted, it hurts you.

The intuition vs. analysis conundrum

Let's say you've got a really good idea. And you've had good ideas before.

You show it to your colleagues. They analyze it. They tell you why it's not a good idea.

Hmmm.

Do you go with your instinct? Is your gut reaction to be trusted? After all, you've been right before. After all, you've been wrong before.

The analysis, based on past events, certainly seems sound. But your instincts are the only way you're going to do something unsound.

And unsound things become hits. Sound ones never do.

Who Moved My Cheese was unsound. So was publishing a book two years after you started blogging every chapter. So was an expensive, unfitted, almost untailored suit from Milan. So was running against Joe Lieberman.

The challenge is not to somehow persuade those in search of soundness to change their minds. The challenge is to do enough of a gut check to decide whether you should defend your instinct. And then do it.

Great moments in journalism

Couldn't resist. From Reuters,

"With things as they are in Mexico, it bothers me that they put me in a group of millionaires with $100 million I don't have when there are so many people dying of hunger," Hayek said, pausing the interview in a brief panic to scoop a drowning rat out of her swimming pool.

Marketing matters

Yes, marketing works. The Saturday Journal writes about Michelle Nimmons, who runs the Denmark-Olar Teen Life Center in Denmark, SC. She and her staff (using nothing but marketing techniques like billboards, classroom sessions, free dinners and condom distribution) have cut the teen pregnancy rate by more than 60%. It's now, by far, the lowest in the state, a fraction of the rate in the next county.

Most marketing problems aren't intractable. They are solved with persistence, consistency and attention to detail. When marketing doesn't work, it's usually because the product is lousy. But the second reason is that the organization picks too big a marketplace in comparison to the resources they have available. I have no doubt that if Michelle tried to do her work in the entire state (with the same staff), she'd fail.

By overwhelming the market with her message, and by creating a platform for it to spread, she's proven it can work.

Face to face

Picture_27 This snapshot of popular YouTube videos makes it super clear exactly what the phenonemon is about: people talking. One person, one camera, one story.

I have no doubt at all that we're about to see a deluge of professionally created stuff... short form humor, serial non-fiction, commercials, etc. But right here, right now, it's about people, not organizations.

Search term analytics gets more interesting

I'll admit I'm not following this field as closely as I should, but I'm noticing lots of new tools like: 103bees.com. Free or nearly free analysis of how people are finding you online. Do a simple search like Marketing Chocolate in Google and you'll see plenty of sites that would never have imagined they'd show up in the first few pages of the results.

Factor L

Another re-run, this one from 2004:

Why do some products and services succeed while others fail? Why do some ideas go viral, rocketing across the marketplace, while others wither and die in obscurity?

It's not the quality of the ideas. Go take a look at X1 (www.x1.com). Here's a really cool utility that can instantly search all your email (I have more than 150,000 on file from the past six years) to find any word. This Google for your hard drive works pretty well, and it's cheap. The Web site is really well done, too. The reviews are good. The trial is free. But do you have it installed? Probably not. Most of the 162 million Internet users in this country don't. I wonder why.

On the other hand, consider "Baby Boy," the top-10 hit by Beyonce. She certainly has talent, but is this the very best song from the very best album by the very best singer in the world? It's been a hit for weeks. I wonder why.

What, precisely, is going on here? I have no idea. You don't, either.

We'd all love to know the series of steps to follow, the calculus we need to run, the hoops we need to go through in order to launch a product or service that is guaranteed to succeed. It would save us a lot of angst and disappointment if we could put our hearts and souls into something with a reasonable expectation of success.

It used to be that way, of course. If you had a very good product and a fairly sophisticated ad campaign (and enough money to keep both of them going), you could buy attention and turn it into market share. Creating new products was largely about having the will (and the means) to get your market to sit up and notice.

Today, it feels like more of a crapshoot.

What is it about Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, for example, that suddenly turned them into a profitable fad--and then a phenomenon? Sure, they're good, but are they that much better than Dunkin' Donuts? Friendster, the online social networking service, is the latest viral rage. It recently turned down a chance to be acquired by Google for $30 million. Just a few years ago, though, SixDegrees.com was offering almost precisely the same service, and it's no longer on the radar.

MoveOn.org has more than 1 million subscribers, while other political sites struggle. Some politicians catch fire; others (with arguably better records) never gain traction.

It's easy to call the game after it's over. It's easy to explain what the market liked about product X. The hard part, of course, is doing it in advance. I don't think we can. I don't think you should even try.

Sure, you should work hard to maximize your chances of capturing the imagination of your market. But all you can do is all you can do. After you've done that, you should stop tweaking.

The L factor is about luck. And as any gambler will tell you, you get to keep playing until your money runs out. After that, you don't get any more chances to win.

As our marketplaces have changed, our approaches haven't. We still overinvest to ensure success. We still make sure we have just a few eggs, in just one basket, and then we watch that basket really closely. Big mistake.

We live in a world of fashion, not rational computation. A world where everything from brake linings and ball bearings to clothes and airlines is chosen for unpredictable reasons.

The way to grow in the future is to acknowledge how important luck is and to diversify your risk. Do that with lots of products, not just one or two. Cut your overhead so you have plenty of chips, ready for another spin of the roulette wheel.

Take the case of Levi Strauss & Co. This company was lucky, plain and simple. It makes a garment that was the clothing of choice for a generation of free-spending consumers. But instead of recognizing the luck, Levi imagined it was smart branding, or its employment policies or even its ad agency that had somehow enabled it to grow. Once the luck ran out (and it always does) Levi shrank fast. In just six years, sales dropped more than 30%, and every U.S. factory was closed.

Every time you launch a product or service, every time you apply for a job or start a nonprofit, you're either going to hit or not. If you get lucky, you're entitled to deny that luck had anything to do with it. But if you fail--and you probably will--understanding the role of the L factor will keep you sane. And if you've planned for it, it will keep you solvent as well. Solvent enough to try again and again, until you make it (and take all the credit).

How to give feedback

Golden oldies week on the blog. All from Small is the New Big.

Blog readers are far more likely to be asked for their input than the average employee. You're frequently required to approve, improve, and adjust things that are about to become real. And yet, if you're like most people, you're pretty bad at it.

In the interest of promoting your career, making your day at work more fun, improving the work life of your colleagues, and generally making my life a whole lot better, I'd like to give you some feedback on giving feedback. As usual, the ideas are simple--it's doing them that's tricky.

The first rule of great feedback is this: No one cares about your opinion.

I don't want to know how you feel, nor do I care if you would buy it, recommend it, or use it. You are not my market. You are not my focus group.

What I want instead of your opinion is your analysis. It does me no good to hear you say, "I'd never pick that box up." You can add a great deal of value, though, if you say, "The last three products that succeeded were priced under $30. Is there a reason you want to price this at $31?" Or, "We analyzed this market last year, and we don't believe there's enough room for us to compete. Take a look at this spreadsheet." Or even, "That font seems hard to read. Is there a way to do a quick test to see if a different font works better for our audience?"

Analysis is a lot harder than opinion because everyone is entitled to his or her own taste (regardless of how skewed it might be). A faulty analysis, however, is easy to dismantle. But even though it's scary to contribute your analysis to a colleague's proposal, it's still absolutely necessary.

The second rule? Say the right thing at the right time.

If you're asked to comment on a first-draft proposal that will eventually wind its way to the chairman's office, this is not the time to point out that "alot" is two words, not one. Copyediting the document is best done just once, at the end, by a professional. While it may feel as if you're contributing something by making comments about currently trivial details, you're not. Instead, try to figure out what sort of feedback will have the most positive effect on the final outcome, and contribute it now.

Far worse, of course, than the prematurely picky comment is the way-too-late deal-breaker remark. If I've built a detailed plan for a new factory in Hoboken, New Jersey (and negotiated all the variances and integrated the existing landscaping), the time to tell me you were thinking of relocating the plant to Secaucus was six months ago, not the night before the groundbreaking.

The third rule? If you have something nice to say, please say it.

I've been working with someone for about a year, and in that entire time, he's never once prefaced his feedback with, "This was a really terrific piece of work," or "Wow! This is one of the best ideas I've heard in a while." Pointing out the parts you liked best is much more than sugarcoating. Doing so serves several purposes. First, it puts you on the same side of the table as me, making it more likely that your constructive criticism will actually be implemented. If you can start by seeing the project through my eyes, you're more likely to analyze (there's that word again) the situation in a way that helps me reach my goals. "I think it's great that you want to get our quality ratings up. Let's see whether the added people you say this initiative requires are really necessary, and whether beginning your report with staffing needs is the best way to get this past senior management."

Second, it makes it so much more likely that I will come to you for feedback in the future. It's easy to interpret the absence of positive feedback as the absence of any sort of approval or enthusiasm. Finally, being nice to people is fun.

If I haven't intimidated you with my other rules, here's the last one: Give me feedback, no matter what.

It doesn't matter if I ignored your feedback last time (maybe that's because you gave me your opinion, not an analysis). It doesn't matter if you're afraid your analysis might ultimately be a little shaky. It doesn't matter if you're the least powerful person in the room. What matters is that you're smart; you understand something about the organization, the industry, and the market; and your analysis (at the very least) could be the kernel of an idea that starts me down a totally different path.

No stoplights

Even the libertarians among us aren't opposed to stop lights.

And, as my friend Zig Ziglar points out, they really should be called 'go' lights, because if you take them away, the traffic stops.

Self-organizing systems are terrific, but more often than not, systems don't self-organize. Try to get nine kids to agree on a batting order in Little League and it'll take a week. You could do it in ten seconds and they'll whine and then thank you for it.

Stop lights are essential in almost all marketplaces.

While individuals might moan about how they were treated, we all realize that without some sort of central allocation of scarce resources (like a piece of tarmac or a booth at a trade show), chaos ensues. And the chaos hurts everyone.

Too often, the central authority tries to exert too much of a tax, tries to profit from a market rather than make one. Smart traffic cops realize that facilitating an efficient transaction for enough people for long enough is almost certain to generate a terrific return.

What's your favorite biz book?

Most important? Overrated?

Squidoo is starting to do lenses about lenses. They're easy and quick and they aggregate content around a topic. Check this out: The Best Business Books Headquarters on Squidoo. If you click the Build My Own Lens button, your thoughts are automatically added to the group.

Search, very loud

Paige sends us to: Huckabuck search interface. The cool part is the "search tuner" just under the bar. Here, you get to pick which sites (from Google to Digg) get accessed for your search. The temptation, of course, is to turn them each all the way to the top!

Just like those graphic equalizers we had in college. Of course, if you turn all of them all the way up, you're not really accomplishing much.

I like the way Huckabuck lets you get past the first page problem. Most searchers look at a page or two of results and then give up. If you use the sliders, though, you can radically change the texture of the first page, exposing you to ideas you would have missed otherwise.

Blogging is the new poetry

This report: Pew Internet: Pew Internet - Bloggers makes it clear that there's a huge number of bloggers (no surprise) and that a large percentage are under thirty.

What I found interesting is that more than half of all bloggers are doing it for themselves. (Always a good reason to do something). In other words, it's not for commercial gain or to find a large audience of strangers. Instead, it's a form of self-expression, a chance to be creative or share some ideas.

Just as we don't spend a lot of time worrying about how all those poets out there are going to monetize their poetry, the same is true for most bloggers.

Careful Consideration and Analysis

Most organizations view business development opportunities as a threat.

A threat because a mistake could upset the status quo, could cost money or time, or even get someone in trouble.

After an initial screening, the typical bizdev proposal is given Careful Consideration and Analysis. Which means that lawyers work hard to make sure (among a hundred other things) that the trademark licensing deal is accurate and appropriate (SM instead of TM, please) and that they've done their job and that nothing bad can happen.

The problem, as you've already guessed, is that fashion is unpredictable. So, if the very point of the bizdev deal is to engage in a search for a hit, to do something new and inexpensive that may or may not work, then Careful Consideration and Analysis is probably completely inappropriate. Careful Consideration and Analysis leads to high overhead, slow turnaround and plenty of "no".

The alternative might be, What's the Worst That Could Happen? Look at a deal. Decide if there's enough upside possibility. Do the What's the Worst That Could Happen test. Figure out how to avoid the most egregious outcomes. Then do it.

Repeat.

My guess is that Starbucks' digital music efforts didn't pass the Careful Consideration and Analysis test. But they did it anyway. And it failed. No big deal. Why? Because What's the Worst That Could Happen was pretty low.

3,000 times a day

Jennifer Bain quotes Jim Leff,

"Encourage people to stop compromising 3,000 times a second. Spotlight the good guy who nobody else is paying attention to. Run a site with really discerning and trustworthy information contributed by people who care as much as I do about the credo of refusing to settle for mediocrity — ever."

If you can't make it, fake it

Paull and Trevor point us to: NewPR Wiki - AntiAstroturfing.HomePage.

Astroturfing is the practice of creating fake grassroots (get it?). Hiring supermodels to walk into bars and order a particular type of vodka, or get hundreds or thousands of people to write letters on a given issue--without mentioning the coordinating body.

The issue for me is transparency. There's close to zero trust of marketers these days (which is why my book title was so misunderstood). Astroturfing makes it worse. It feels wrong at a very deep level.

I have no illusion that their site all by itself will be sufficient to slow down the practice, just as being anti-spam didn't help with that. But I'm pretty certain that if you do it, you'll get caught, and when you get caught, you won't have much hope of earning back the trust you lost.

Bring a wheelbarrow

MarketingVox today reports that more than 50% of all the display ad impressions online in June came from just two sites.

Wow.

Yahoo Mail and MySpace together account for more than half of all online display ads.

The Long Tail

The ideas in this book are going to be talked about for the next ten years. Might as well get a copy now. It's worth it.  Required reading: The Long Tail on Squidoo.

Creationist WOM

John Moore nails it: Brand Autopsy: Creationist WOM Eggs-ample. He left out the fifth impression, when you throw the shells down the disposal.

Clueless in your world...

...doesn't mean clueless everywhere.

Brian pointed me to  Wal-Mart - The HUB (School Your Way). The site is about what you'd expect... a sort of lame knock off of youtube and myspace. A Disney version of what makes the web exciting to a lot of people.

But not to all people.

Just because some folks will look at it and sneer doesn't mean it won't work. Some people want a clean, well-lit, orderly environment, even online. Wal-Mart has thrived by trying to sell mass to the masses. It's okay with them that we can't find an adapter for our new Treo there. Or a copy of the latest edgy magazine.

The early adopters out there will push, and often push hard, for you to market to them. Sometimes that's a great idea (after all, they're listening!). But as Wal-Mart has successfully demonstrated, the middle of the market is a very profitable place as well.

How to live happily with a great designer

Why do some organizations look great... and get great results from their design efforts and ads... while others languish in mediocrity? I think it has little to do with who they hire and a lot to do with how they work with their agencies and designers.

Here are the things your design team wishes you would know:

  1. If you want average (mediocre) work, ask for it. Be really clear up front that you want something beyond reproach, that's in the middle of the road, that will cause no controversy and will echo your competition. It'll save everyone a lot of time.
  2. On the other hand, if you want great work, you'll need to embrace some simple facts:
  3. It's going to offend someone. If it doesn't offend them, then it will make them nervous. The Vietnam Vets memorial offended a lot of people. The design of Google made plenty of people nervous. Great work from a design team means new work, refreshing and remarkable and bit scary.
  4. It's not going to be easy to sell to your boss. That's your job, by the way, not mine. If you want me to do something great, you've got to be prepared to protect it and defend it. Come back too many times for one little compromise, and you'll make it clear that #1 was what you wanted all along.
  5. You can't tell me you'll know it when you see it. First, you won't. Second, it wastes too much time. Instead, you'll need to have the patience to invest twenty minutes in accurately describing the strategy. That means you need to be abstract (what is this work trying to accomplish) resistant to pleasing everyone (it needs to do this, this and that) and willing, if the work meets your strategic goal, to embrace it even if it's not to your taste.
  6. Help me out by pointing out the work you'd like this to be on a peer with. If you want a website to be like three others (in tone, not in execution) then point it out. In advance.
  7. Be clear about dates and costs. Not what you hope for, but what you can live with!
  8. You don't know a lot about accounting so you don't backseat drive your accountant. You hired a great designer, please don't backseat drive here, either.
  9. If you want to be part of the process, please go to school. Read design magazines or take a course from Milton Glaser or get a subscription to Before & After. By the way, that one link is the single best part of this post.
  10. This one may surprise you: don't change your existing design so often. Not when your kids or your colleagues tell you it's time. Do it when your accountant says so.
  11. Don't get stressed about your logo.
  12. Get very stressed about user interface and product design. And your packaging.
  13. Say thank you.

I love typefaces

Fonts, for you tech folks.

Fonts are design in a little tiny box. Fonts tell a story at the same time they deliver the letters you need to tell your story. Fonts are usually underused (this ppt is in Arial, that Word doc is in Times, I'm done) or overused (oh, a ransom note!).

Disney And sometimes, fonts are extremely expensive. Not overpriced, necessarily, but it adds up. So, thanks to Digg, it's nice to find: Urban Fonts. Download Free Fonts and Free Dingbats for PC and MAC. Just like it says.

Here are my rules of thumb:

  • Headline fonts ought to be decorative but not ornate. Ornate looks cool on a font menu, but rarely pays off in heavy use.
  • In print, your body copy ought to have serifs, which are those little thingies on the edges of the letters in a font like Times (and missing in Helvetica). They make books look like books.
  • 2 distinctive fonts per page/document/site, please.
  • Powerpoints benefit from distinctive fonts more than any other document.
  • Subtlety matters. A font is a tool, not an amusement park ride.
  • On Planet 19 in the Arbur galaxy, particular fonts mean something different than they do here. But here, a font means what we've been trained to have it mean. So, when you pick a font, realize it comes with its own story. A wild west font, for example, is going to remind people of Will Bill Hickock whether you want it to or not. Pick a font to amplify or complement the story you're trying to tell--without being so predictable that it's a cliche. The Pixar logo would never have worked if they'd used a Disney typeface.
  • Don't change fonts over time (at least not often). The right font becomes your handwriting.

PS at least six people wrote in to recommend dafont.

Receptionists

I got a gift certificate for a massage... went to the spa/place to collect it, and the harried receptionist looked up at me and said, "Are you here for a haircut?"

Oh.

Just about every organization has a receptionist. Sometimes, he or she is merely a guardian, a patrol designed to keep the riffraff in the lobby.

Other times, though, a receptionist can change the entire tone of an interaction. If you've got someone answering your phone, greeting your clients--who have traveled a thousand miles to visit your office--or otherwise dealing with the outside world, I think it's time to do some simple cost/benefit analysis.

If the receptionist greets just 100 people a day, that's 20,000 people a year. Is it worth a dollar per interaction to transform all of those interactions into something spectacular? In other words, instead of hiring the cheapest person, or sticking with the existing person because it's easier, what if you invested in a truly remarkable experience?

Back seat drivers and the wikipedia problem

Jesse Thorn points us to: The "Snakes on a Plane" Problem. Here's the short version: the people want what the people want, but if you ask them first, you don't always end up with something they actually like.


Thirty Galleys

Free and first.

No essays, no promises, no contest.  [UPDATE... twenty minutes later, sold out, sorry]

First 30 people to drop a note to Allison Sweet get a free copy of my new book, Small is the New Big. It's out in August, but you get it in July.

Have a nice weekend!

Newspaper fraud, tv ratings

Two interesting ideas at the same time this week.

First, after a bazillion years, Nielsen announces that they will start to rate the viewership of commercials. The obvious question, "why wait so long?" The answer is that the networks are a critical client of Nielsen, and the last thing in the universe they want is to rate commercials. The surprising thing is that many advertisers don't want the ratings either. Why? Because as soon as you measure, you need to admit you failed. So you need to tell your boss you wasted a few million dollars...

Second, Doug Karr writes in to take newspapers and the Audit Bureau of Circulation to task for the changing standards in newspaper ratings. The numbers are a lot less strict... and a lot softer... than they were a decade or two ago, he reports.

Measurement is always tricky, because people believe what they want to believe and find the numbers to back it up. In both cases, we're seeing how advertisers and media companies are complicit at weaving a story that doesn't really hold up. How many "hits" did your web page get last week? And what, exactly, does that mean?

Blake's novel

Blake Schwendiman is a really talented guy, and he's been moonlighting on a novel. This is happening often enough (blog leads to audience leads to book leads to audience leads to financial success and popular ideas) that it's now officially a trend.

Marketing convention

Marketerspin Jeff Cerny sent in this photo of a bunch of marketers at a convention.

Fear of a small enemy

Most big organizations operate out of fear as much as they do out of a desire for growth. And a new fear is spreading through the marketing department: fear of the little guy.

Forever and ever, the masses were king. People were disconnected, so annoying three or six or even 10% of your audience wasn't such a big deal.

Now, though, that lone disgruntled customer can make an awful lot of noise on her blog.

While some organizations are trying to flip the funnel and give a megaphone to their happiest customers (leveraging their positive word of mouth) more are obsessed with silencing the dissenters.

Just as asymmetrical warfare has turned our geopolitical system upside down, the same thing is happening in the marketing world. While it's tempting to spend all your time stamping out the little enemies, the architecture of the system favors a strategy of embracing and leveraging your happy constituents instead.

PS Jeff Jarvis has a different take here. Of course, I think it's pretty obvious you must do both. Your enemies, though small in number, can really hurt you now.

PPS So, I wrote this, then read Jarvis, then a minute later, heard from Tom. Go figure.

[reposted due to Typepad's crash yesterday]

Plop plop fizz fizz... doubling sales

Alka Seltzer (made with baking soda) doubled their sales in just one day. How? By putting two "plops" into the commercial... before that, people only took one. It put Mary Wells on the map as a marketer.

Heinz did the same thing when a squeeze bottle replaced a glass bottle for ketchup.

The car radio and DVD player increased car mileage for families.

Laptop computers dramatically increased the time people spend doing work.

(The internet dramatically decreased it, so we're even).

Comments (and commentful) double or triple the number of times some individuals visit individual blog posts.

20% of the people in Georgia drink Coca Cola for breakfast.

Sarbox tripled the amount of time accountants and lawyers spend with public companies.

And I'll finish my list with another baking-soda-related remedy that doesn't work either: Buying a box for your fridge.

Archetypes: Cinderella and Superman

Kurt Andersen did almost an hour on Superman last week... and I found myself driving slower to hear it all. A&E did a special on the history of him as well... though he's hardly underexposed (except for the underwear part).

And today on Fifth Ave., women were falling all over themselves to spend $300 instead of $500 for $14 worth of fabric and a few cleverly applied cuts and stitches.

The Superman archetype drives sales of everything from SUVs to compensation consultants and personal trainers. And the entire multi-billion dollar fashion and cosmetic industries are driven by Cinderella.

The genius of Siegel and Shuster (who invented Superman and sold him for a few hundred bucks to DC) was in taking the stuff that was already in the water supply and turning it into the seeds of a "new media" empire.

Lowering standards

Nice riff from Andy: You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know.

What should Digg do?

I've been thinking a lot about Digg and the other social news services.

Start here:
they have far more readers than writers.

I don't have access to the data, but I'm betting ten or twenty times as many people read the Digg list as post to it.

Which is just fine.

Second: there's no way they will ever make a profit from their readers. That's because
a. more and more will find the hotlists in places other than their site
and
b. people reading the hotlist are unlikely to be swayed by an ad.

Think about reading the Billboard charts or the Amazon bestseller list. That's a very goal-directed activity, and the goal isn't necessarily to find something that's NOT a bestseller. People skip the ads on the bestseller page, but read the ads in the classified section.

But that's just fine too.

The reason?

Third: the Diggers, the posters, the surfers... these are very highly-leveraged people. Call them the Legion of Super Surfers. Okay, bad acronym, maybe not. Call them the league of the leading edge.

The leading edge has always been important. Now, though, since they have a megaphone, since Digg and the others are amplifying their movements, they are far, far more important than ever before.

And that's Digg's asset. They have aggregated the league.

So what now?

Get permission.

Get permission to fead the League tidbits about the future. The reason they are Diggers is that they like being first, they like discovering cool stuff and then sharing it. So organize that process and monetize it.

Here's what I would do (two alternatives)

1. Say to every Digger: here's our FirstLook RSS feed (or sign up by email). Every two days, we send you a link to an article, a new product, a political idea--whatever topic you tell us you love.

Then, go to the teeming masses of marketers out there and invite them to nominate their new ideas, their new posts, their new sites to your editor. The editor picks the ones that are good enough, that make the cut. Figure three or ten or a hundred a day, depending on the demand. Once demand goes up, charge $20 just to submit one, so the editor can hire a squadron of assistants.

Alert the marketers that have something worth of distribution. Let the others down easy. Now, let the ones that qualify bid against each other. High bidder gets first billing, top five bidders make the list.

Alert the 500 or the 5,000 or the 50,000 Diggers that signed up. They see a list of things that might be tomorrow's big news. They digg the ones they love. Marketers save millions and months. Digg makes a fair profit and becomes a key powerbroker in the launch of the new. Diggers who choose to get to see a commercial glimpse of tomorrow (the same way reporters choose to look at press releases from the right media outlets).

2. The other alternative could happen tomorrow. Build a Squidoo lens or a blog for Legion members. Figure out how to assemble a thousand or even 200 like-minded diggers. Have them sign up and give you their email address. Use the RSS feed of the lens to keep your members up to date. Now, instead of finding readers for your "ads", you find ads for your readers. Every day or two, your post goes out to your members. Every day or two, you make a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand dollars from someone who had a story worthy of being distributed.

Obviously, neither approach works if you sell out. Neither approach works the minute you stop representing the interests of the League. Take a lot from Zenith or Quasar to push some lame device and you fail.

It's pretty clear to me that this is the moment to build an asset like this one, one that could last for a long, long time (maybe even five years!).

When the web comes apart

The web used to be a collection of sites, loosely linked. Domain was king.

Google blew up the web. The web became a collection of pages, more tightly linked, and you could find any page you needed.

Reddit and Digg and Delicious atomize the web. No need to read blogs any more. Instead, let others do it for you, and these (and the many other) social news services surface the most interesting, the hottest, the most controversial posts for you.

This satisfies a basic human need... to do what others are doing, to read what others are reading. It reorganizes the scattered threads of discourse, creating a few (instead of a million or a billion) reading lists.

Of course, there will be a million imitators and improvers. And then another generation to synthesize them (a la popurls). It's not the end, just another beginning.

Not the first sale, the second

Kathy Sierra frequently has thoughtful things to say, and in this post about the nod, she talks about the look one user gives another when marketing is done right.

Which got me thinking about the real point of marketing. It's not to sell something to person A. Instead, at least right now, it's to get person A to encourage person B to buy/do something. That's often viewed as a nice after effect, a bonus or an extra. I think, though, that it might be the entire point of the exercise.

Was your vote in the last election based on one hundred interactions with friends, colleagues and respected media voices, or was it based on what you learned from tv commercials and junk mail?

The trend to "best available"

Most customers choose between "good enough" and "best available"

My guess is that before the consumer culture took hold, good enough was the order of the day. Without a lot of lists, rankings, options and varieties, good enough would have to do.

Good enough was the core of a lot of markets... from accounting firms to flour and sugar.

Between human nature and spoiled baby boomers, best available appears to be taking over.

Zales jewelry stores misunderstood this. They saw the growth of Tiffany's as an indication that consumers wanted to spend a lot for jewelry, so they relentlessly upgraded pricing and selection. They failed in their attempt to grow market share and profits, fired the CEO and retrenched. Why? Because expensive Zales jewelry is neither good enough nor the best available. It was in a horrible middle ground.

Customers who seek out good enough can be satisfied, which is good, but rarely upgrade, which, for the marketer, is not so good. Marketers who try to be best available have an ongoing competition problem, though, because best available is a hard position to sustain.

Which now, in our era of the $12,000 cell phone, leads us to a new position: "best available (within reason)." What never ceases to amaze me is how extravagant consumers are willing to be when they define "within reason." Maybe a $300 nylon messenger bag is within reason. Maybe a $400 million CEO paycheck is within reason. We keep redefining reasonable all the way to the bank.

Hard sell at the farmer's market

New guy was there, taking Michael's place. He had these little amazing eggplants with him, and he wasn't prepared to let anyone walk away from the stand without one.

Each person who walked up to buy lettuce or raspberries heard, in detail, about the eggplants. And a huge number of people bought.

I did. They were delicious.

Most people are afraid of eggplant. They won't buy it. They need to be sold it.

And after they're sold, they're often glad they were sold.

In our permission marketing world, sometimes it's easy to forget how important selling is. Not because people are so stupid that they need to be sold something. Not because selling is obsolete because you can just search for what you want and then buy it. No, because selling overcomes fear. Fear of closing, fear of commitment, fear of blanching or sauteeing or just plain fear of buying something.

Salespeople who sell properly sell stuff people wish they would have bought in the first place. It's a huge service... I'm pretty sure we need more good salespeople, not less.

104 years later, the most important invention

Well, maybe the car is the most important (in terms of impact), but air conditioning comes close, and for much more subtle reasons.

You may have noticed that July is a little slow where you are. Same here. Web traffic goes down, productivity goes down, people work less, move slower, the whole bit. In Europe, I've heard, entire countries shut down in August.

How come?

The heat.

There's a reason that New York City isn't in Belize.

For centuries, modern man in the Northern Hemisphere has adapted to a "don't work so hard it's hot" mindset. In places where it's hot all the time, this is a huge hit on the economy, as you can imagine.

So what's the big deal with air conditioning?

Well, in addition to leveling off the year (you can work just as comfortably in July in New York as you can in November now), air conditioning levels off the world. Air conditioning permits knowledge workers to thrive in India or Cancun. Air conditioning creates year-round demand for all sorts of items that would have been seasonal otherwise (from nice restaurants to shoes...)

And air conditioning has plenty of unintended (side) effects. As the less-industrialized world realizes that air conditioning pays for itself with huge increases in productivity, they buy more (air conditioning has only been popular worldwide for forty years... it's still catching on). As people buy more, they use more energy, create more greenhouse gases, make the world hotter. Price of energy goes up... etc.

And as a marketer, air conditioning changes your world. You grew up not needing to worry about Ecuador, because it wasn't a competitor and it wasn't a market. Now it's both.

Something to think about when it's 90 degrees outside.

Ted Levitt dies

I discovered the power of business writing when I brought his article Marketing Myopia to the president of Activision in 1983. I was applying to be a summer intern. He was president of the fastest growing company in the history of the world (really). I told him how the company was about to completely miss the PC revolution and probably fail.

Jim looked at the article, looked at me, preparing to throw me out forever.

At that moment, a secretary walked in with the CashBox top 10 list of bestselling video games. Activision had 8 of 10. He smiled. He forgot about me. He looked over, smiled, and said, "You're hired!"

For complicated reasons, I never did work at Activision. But Ted Levitt changed my life. Thanks, Ted, wherever you are!

The Global Small Business Blog: Harvard Professor Who Coined "Globalization" Dies.

What's Diggbait?

John asked this after my previous post.

Digg is an amazing community ranking service for news. It's also addictive.

If you show up on the top of the Digg listings, your traffic soars.

So now, of course, it makes sense to write Diggable stuff. Like this masterpiece: Micro Persuasion: 25 Things I Learned on Google Trends. Diggbait.

Interesting little google bug

Corey points us to these search results: (will probably be fixed by the time you get there, so here's a screen shot). Google appears to be trying to show me what many people who searched for something also searched for (scroll down the picture)... but it's not quite right yet.

Picture_20

Small talk

Okay, if this stuff is so obvious, how come no one does it: The Guide to Avoiding Small Talk at Okdork.com. (Also worth noting that being Digg-bait is changing the way people write.)

Thanks, Noah.

Spelling your name right on the edges

Kyle points us to dallasobserver.com | News | Eye of the Beholder. Turns out a clever new website/live networking biz got infiltrated by a snarky journalist. Journalist writes engaging story ripping into clever organization. She doesn't want to belong to an organization that would have her as a member (for the record, I'd never even get in, and I probably wouldn't join if I could, but that's the whole point).

Organization responds with a bunch of photos on their site.

The controversy aside, the interesting lesson is about life on the edges. If the Beautiful Room was called "a bunch of interesting people who get together for drinks now and then" it wouldn't be particularly easy to notice.

Beggars and Choosers

Just got a note from a friend of mine with a successful indie music career. He does very well with his live gigs and self-published CDs. Recently, he was approached by a small but significant music label that wants to publish his next album.

His question, "When will they pitch me on how they can help me get to the next level?"

My answer, which would be equally true for book publishing and one hundred and ten other industries is, "they won't."

There are plenty of businesses that take for granted two thoughts:
1. our medium/approach is the best way to accomplish something
and
2. yes, we have competitors, but we're all pretty similar and if we're willing to work with you, you should say yes right away.

So, if you wanted to publish a book, or appear in a play or get a job writing or waittressing or doing telemarketing, it was a seller's market. Hey, if we're offering you something, we can argue about the price, but of course you'll say yes.

But hey, Mr. MCI, now I can use Skype! Hey Mr. Warner, I can publish on iTunes and CDBaby!

Are you a beggar or a chooser? The people you want the most will be the very first people to choose the new alternatives.

Raising the bar

Tim Manners does a great summary of Gamal Aziz's work at MGM: reveries magazine: Working Backward.

My takeaway is a bit different. I don't think he's succeeding because of his tactics (the fact that big money is flowing into Vegas and he's building venues that attract people with big money is a very happy coincidence--$400 haircuts won't be the answer forever), but I do believe that the idea of working backwards is essential if you want to maximize growth.

In a nutshell, regardless of how well a product or service is performing, Aziz starts with the potential that product has (when it hits 11 on the dial, or is completely sold out), then he subtracts what it's doing and records the rest as a loss.

A loss!

That means that every book that doesn't sell at least as well as the DaVinci Code is at some level, a failure.

For the masochists in the audience, this is a great way to set standards, no?

The reason this is interesting: not because it gives you yet another way to feel badly about your performance. Nope. Because it forces you to look at the capacity of your systems instead of focusing on their current performance. Airlines do this every day, of course, but I'm not sure most marketers do.

Training wheels

I think the reason you don't see a lot of kids on unicycles is that they don't come with training wheels.

[in the old days, I would have stopped there, making my point enigmatically]

Alas, most products that are hoping for growth in new markets forget to offer training wheels as well. Things like goji berries, Linux, tattoo parlors and yes, book publishers.

Unicycle training wheels wouldn't even be that hard to do. Neither would a free sample pack of goji berries at the checkout.

Who sets your agenda?

In the States, today is one of those weird pre-holiday days.

Many people aren't working. Some are half working. For most people, their work agenda for today was set by the calendar or their boss.

Weekends are stressful for a lot of people who love their work, because the agenda gets reset, reset by family, not by an internal to-do list or a boss.

And at work, where does your list come from? Do you answer emails by date received, by urgency, by sender? Who decides that? Which blogs do you read, which tasks do you do?

It's fascinating to watch someone who has made a shift from a big company to solo work, or the other way around. The biggest challenge, by far, is one of agenda. What do I do now? What do I do next?

What tends to get done is what's urgent, not important--you've heard that before.

I think, though, that with the new tools and new leverage available to us, the decisions get even more important. Should NBC invest money in free online YouTube content or another show for the 9 pm Thursday slot? That's an agenda question first and foremost. Should you go on another sales call or improve the materials you've got so the next call will go better? Back to agenda.

Because we do it every day, we tend to take it for granted. We assume our agenda is exactly the right one, and we tweak it, we don't overhaul it.

What if, on Wednesday, you overhauled it?

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