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Seth Godin has written 18 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages

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all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Linchpin

An instant bestseller, the book that brings all of Seth's ideas together.

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Meatball Sundae

Why the internet works (and doesn't) for your business. And vice versa.

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Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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Poke The Box

The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.

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Purple Cow

The worldwide bestseller. Essential reading about remarkable products and services.

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Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.

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Survival is Not Enough

Seth's worst seller and personal favorite. Change. How it works (and doesn't).

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The Big Moo

All for charity. Includes original work from Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters and Promise Phelon.

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The Big Red Fez

Top 5 Amazon ebestseller for a year. All about web sites that work.

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The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.

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The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.

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Tribes

"Book of the year," a perennial bestseller about leading, connecting and creating movements.

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

More than 3,000,000 copies downloaded, perhaps the most important book to read about creating ideas that spread.

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V Is For Vulnerable

A short, illustrated, kids-like book that takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into something worth sharing.

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We Are All Weird

The end of mass and how you can succeed by delighting a niche.

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

The sequel to Small is the New Big. More than 600 pages of the best of Seth's blog.

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« July 2006 | Main | September 2006 »

What should Starbucks do?

Photo_083006_001_1 Mark writes in to share this picture.

At first, I felt badly for them, because there's a long history of fake Starbucks coupons. Then I read the real scoop from the AP.

Here's the thing: if you deal with consumers, you're going to find that some of them are very eager to take advantage of you. And if taking advantage of you means aggressively distributing a coupon, they're going to do it.

Rule #1: don't expect that anything on the Internet won't get out of hand. If you don't want it to get out of hand, it probably will.

Rule #2: if something gets out of hand, and you made a promise, better figure out a way to keep it. This sign is an ineffective response.  If it were my call, I'd take advantage of the "one coupon per customer" presumption and put a little tick on the buyer's driver's license or similar... just enough to slow down the particularly egregious scammers (who in this case aren't really scammers. Starbucks asked for it).

Rule #3: have a policy (I know, I hate policies) about internet coupons before someone invents a fake one. You ought to respect the person who traveled to do business with you without doing something that's going to bankrupt you. "Davis Burritos never ever accepts coupons distributed online. If you've got one, it's a fake. But, since you came all this way, feel free to exchange your fake coupon for a free drink with any biggie meal." Put that on a little plaque near the register and you're set for life.

PS When I was in business school, we did the McDonald's case. Part of our preparation was to go to the nearby McDonald's with a stopwatch and clipboard. We walked in the door and stood just long enough to get noticed. Boy did those guys hop to attention. Then we went to another McDonald's and performed the following experiment (please, please do not try this at home, just take my word for it). We ordered a milkshake and a Big Mac. Ate half the Big Mac. Drank half the milkshake. We put the Big Mac remainder into the milkshake cup and went to the counter, "I'm sorry, I can't drink this shake, there's a Big Mac in it." They gave us a new one.

Why?

Because McDonald's didn't want counter people making decisions about who to say "no" to. It was worth the expense of humoring idiots like my study group for the brand power of knowing that counter people didn't alienate people on a sliding scale.

I think they should have called the cops on us, but you get the idea.

Non profits are marketers too

Neat blog tells the story from a different point of view: Don't Tell the Donor.

User manuals...

A great post from Kathy: Why marketing should make the user manuals!.

Update: Darren disagrees. Can I propose a team effort?

Marketing Morality

Is that an oxymoron? Is it possible to hold a marketer morally responsible?

Let's start at the beginning:

Marketing works.

Marketing (the use of time and money to create a story and spread it) works. Human beings don't make rational decisions, they make emotional ones, and we've seen time and again that those decisions are influenced by the time and money spent by marketers.

So, assuming you've got no argument with that (and if you're a marketer who doesn't believe marketing works, we need to have a longer discussion...) then we get to the next part of the argument:

Your marketing changes the way people act.

Not completely. Of course not. You can't get babies to start smoking cigars and you can't turn Oklahoma into a blue state. But on the margins, especially if your product or service has some sort of archetypal connection to your customers, you can change what people do.

Now it gets tricky. It gets tricky because you can no longer use the argument, "We're just giving intelligent adults the ability to make a free choice." No, actually you're not. You're marketing something so that your product will have an edge over the alternative.

Everyone knows about milk. The milk people don't need to spend $60 million a year advertising milk in order to be sure we all get a free choice about whether to buy milk or not. No, they do it because it makes milk sales go up.

What a huge responsibility.

If you're a good marketer (or even worse, a great marketer), it means that you're responsible for what you sell. When you choose to sell it, more of it gets sold.

I have no standing to sit here and tell you that it's wrong for you to market cigarettes or SUVs, vodka or other habit-forming drugs. What we do need to realize, though, is that it's our choice and our responsibility. As marketers, we have the power to change things, and the way we use that power is our responsibility--not the market's, not our boss's. Ours.

The morality of marketing is this: you need to be able to stand up and acknowledge that you're doing what you're doing. "By marketing this product in this beautiful packaging, I'm causing a landfill to get filled a lot faster, but that's okay with me." Marketers can't say, "Hey, the market spoke. It's not my decision."

The phone rang yesterday. The recording said, "We're sorry to disturb you. This call was meant for an answering machine." Then it hung up. Actually, the marketer wasn't sorry. The marketer was using his market power to violate the do not call registry and to interrupt my day (on my machine or otherwise) so he could selfishly try to sell me something. While it may or may not be legal to do this, it's irrelevant. What's relevant is that the marketer decided that the ends justified the means, and he needs to acknowledge that on his way to work today.

The same way the marketer at Malboro needs to acknowledge that by being a good marketer, she's putting her kids through college at the same time she's killing thousands of people. It's a choice--her choice.

We're responsible for what we sell and how we sell it. We're responsible for the effects (and the side effects) of our actions.

It is our decision. Whatever the decision is, you need to own it. If you can't look that decision in the mirror, market something else.

Why care about Pluto?

Is it just because this is a slow news cycle?

Pluto is custom-made ideavirus material. Why?

  • Because all of us know enough about the topic to think our opinion is valid.
  • Because we grew up with it.
  • Because science is mysterious to the average person, but planets, it seems to us, are not.
  • Because it's simultaneously controversial and safe--no one will be offended regardless of your stance on the Plutonians and their planet.
  • Because there's just enough background information that it's more than a sentence or two.
  • Because no one is trying to make a buck off it.

It's interesting to note that you couldn't (and shouldn't) try to make any money from this. Once again, there's a difference between getting people's attention (the cover of Newsweek, for example) and getting their money.

People for Pluto

My humble contribution: instead of demoting Pluto, they ought to promote a whole bunch of smaller planettes. And they should sell the naming rights to various marketers (Goofy being the first easy sale) and use the millions they would earn to fund actual science education on a planet desperately in need of it. If it's okay to sponsor the US Open, why isn't it okay to sponsor UB313? I'm also selling the naming rights to my car.

Jayporterprius UPDATE: Jay Porter bought the naming rights to my Prius in exchange for a donation to his favorite charity. Thanks, Jay. The Jay Porter Prius is now averaging 48 mpg, fyi. No word yet on what's going on with UB313.

When bureaucracies become single minded

One of the most powerful things you can do is focus your entire organization on a single goal, a single idea, a single way of doing things.

We've seen this used successfully in organizations like Federal Express (which spent its first decade obsessed with being on time) and Southwest Airlines (which wants to be nice).

Be careful what you wish for. Two true stories from last week:

Standing in the airport security line. The guy behind me hadn't got the memo, apparently. He's busy dumping toothpaste and shaving cream in the garbage. Then he grabs an aftershave product and says, quite loudly, "I think I can bring this... it's a balm." I'm not making that up.

The woman didn't bat an eye. She said, "fine."

Then, traveling through Newark, I grabbed a bottle of water after getting off the plane. The counter person (not a trained security agent, mind you), says, "you need to leave the cap here." This got my attention. It turns out that the policy at Newark (not other places I visited recently, just Newark) is that you can't buy a bottled water post-security and keep the cap.

It's a bring your own cap sort of situation I guess. (Are you allowed to bring your own cap?)

I will leave the analysis of the logic to you.

By energizing and focusing a huge organization of people on the eradication of liquids of all kinds (but not balms), the government tells a story. It's a story to the passengers, and a story to their employees as well. Yes, it's all marketing, this too.

Palinode

Peter points us to today's A.Word.A.Day

"palinode (PAL-uh-noad) noun

A poem in which the author retracts something said in an earlier poem.

[The illustrator and humorist Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) once wrote a
poem called The Purple Cow:

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.

The poem became so popular and he became so closely linked with this single
quatrain he later wrote a palinode:

Confession: and a Portrait, Too,
Upon a Background that I Rue!

   Oh, yes, I wrote 'The Purple Cow,'
   I'm sorry now I wrote it!
   But I can tell you anyhow,
   I'll kill you if you quote it.

[It was the same Burgess who coined the word blurb.]

I think there's a lot to be said for retractions. Retractions let your marketing (and your entire organization) move forward even after you've made a mistake. We're too slow to admit that we were wrong sometimes.

PS, feel free to quote my Purple Cow if you like. No harm done.

Patagonia's choice

The best stereo speakers don't sell very well at retail. That's because making a speaker that sounds good in the store (and is easy to sell) isn't the same thing as making one that's great to live with for years.

Same thing is true with restaurant food, chinos, vegetables (orange oranges are easier to sell than greenish ones), cars and even workman's comp policies. There's a difference between shelf appeal and the long run.

Patagonia has changed the line up of clothes they make (fewer models, changed less often) and the materials they use (organic cotton, costs more) so that they are sacrificing shelf appeal for a story and for long-term performance. It doesn't always work, but it's always a choice you face. No, they're not mutually exclusive (at least not always), but there are always tradeoffs.

What does the long tail look like?

It might look like this: Most popular on Wikipedia

The most popular article on Wikipedia is the article about... wikipedia.

Not to mention dozens of articles about off-color topics.

Something really important is happening with long tail content, but the short head (the big hits at the top) is pretty scary sometimes.

What's expected

It's expected that you'll tip the masseuse (masseur) at the spa. But not the acupuncturist down the street.

It's expected that the CEO of a public company will hire a hotshot consultant to help her do her job. The CFO gets to do that too. But not the receptionist.

It's expected that coffee in a fancy restaurant will cost  more than it does at a cafe.

It's expected that wifi in a business hotel ought to be free. But it didn't used to be that way.

It's expected that the TV in the gym will be on, always. It's expected, though, that you'll wear headphones to listen to Marley.

It's expected that you take a family vacation to Florida. It's not expected, though, to take the kids to Topeka.

It's expected that a child-care facility will run ads with lots of rainbows. A Freudian psychiatrist, on the other hand, is expected not to advertise at all.

Faced with expectations, you've got three really big options:

1. Embrace expectations and build a product or service that fits what people are looking for. No change of behavior necessary. Be in the right place at the right time with the right thing priced appropriately and hope the competition doesn't show up.

2. Change the expectations. No one expected to be able to buy digital music for 99 cents a song and have it show up on their iPod. Now, that's the default expectation in some communities. Changing an expectation builds a huge barrier to those that might follow. Change is time consuming, expensive and rarely happens on schedule.

3. Defy the expectations. Do the unexpected. This is tempting but often leads to nothing but noise.

Before you start marketing something, it helps to be able to describe which combination of the three you're setting out to accomplish.

A blog for bloggers

If you're interested in the new tools, techniques and approaches available for kitting up a blog, I can't strongly enough recommend Fred Wilson's blog: A VC. Over the last year, in addition to writing really compelling pieces about the web and business, Fred has turned his blog into a public lab. He tests things so you don't have to.

Even if you have no desire to start a company or go public one day, you'll learn something.

Just like other bloggers

So, why does Hugh have so much traffic? Consider this thought from an interview we just did: It's so easy for a blogger to try to be like other bloggers, merely because there's so much input available. Resist!

Secret product differentiation in a public world

Michael points us to: BBC NEWS | Business | 'Product sabotage' helps consumers. I don't buy the sabatoge part, not at all, but it's interesting to see how the BBC outed Starbucks on one of their "secret" menu items. (thanks, John, for the Slate link.)

More cow news

Link: Cows 'moo' with an accent, farmers believe

"I think it works the same as with dogs - the closer a farmer's bond is with his animals, the easier it is for them to pick up his accent."

Well of course they do. Accents are more than localized vowel sounds... they represent the way any group localizes its behavior. That means that bankers have a regional "accent" in the way they do business, and so do stamp collectors. The closer an organization gets to its regional customers, the more likely it is to understand the local dialect.

Spanish soccer bloggers wanted...

Darren Rowse is at the cusp of a trend: The Problogger Job Board - Helping Bloggers find jobs. And you can even subscribe by RSS...

The thing about the wind

Windsurfing I just had some great windsurfing lessons (no, that's not me--the only thing I had in common with this guy is that we were both upside down). I can tell you that windsurfing is very easy... except for the wind.

The wind makes it tricky, of course. It's not particularly difficult to find and rent great equipment, and the techniques are fairly straightforward. What messes the whole plan up is the fact that the wind is unpredictable. It'll change exactly when you don't want it to.

Just the other day I read a riff that reminded me that the same thing is true about customer service (it would be a lot easier if it weren't for the customers). Then I realized that every single function of an organization has a wind problem.

Accounting would be easy if every incoming report was accurate and on time. Sales would be easy if it weren't for the prospects not buying from you all the time. Marketing would be easy if every prospect and customer thought the way you do...

Here's the good news: the fact that it's difficult and unpredictable is the best thing that's happened to you all day. Because if it were any other way, there'd be no profit in it. The reason people bother to go windsurfing is that the challenge makes it interesting. The driving force that gets people to pay a specialist is because their disease is unpredictable or hard to diagnose. The reason we're here is to solve the hard problems.

The next time you're tempted to vilify a particularly obnoxious customer or agency or search engine, realize that this failed interaction is the best thing that's happened to you all day long. Without them, you'd be easily replaceable.

Good enough

So, just about everything that can be improved, is being improved. If you define "improved" to mean more features, more buttons, more choices, more power, more cost.

The washing machine I used this morning had more than 125 different combinations of ways to do the wash... don't get me started about the dryer. Clearly, an arms race is a good way to encourage people to upgrade.

I wonder, though, if "good enough" might be the next big idea. Audio players, cars, dryers, accounting... not the best ever made, not the most complicated and certainly not the most energy-consuming. Just good enough.

For some people, a clean towel is a clean towel.

What happens to radio?

I did an interview with Mark Ramsey about the future of radio. Here's a little squib about the four ways I think the medium might go:

Scenario A: Everyone has Wi-Fi or WiMAX in their car. Once that happens, we're not talking about 200 XM radio stations, we're talking about 2 million, and all bets are off.

Scenario B: The aftermarket people get very focused on putting hard drives and iPod docks in cars. If that happens, again, radio is in trouble, because people are gonna bring their own pre- recorded content with them.

Scenario C: We end up in the satellite world, they figure out how to get a little bit more content through those pipes and we end up with 300 or 400 channels in the car. I had XM radio for a year to check it out. What's interesting is it doesn't matter how many stations there are, sooner or later you end up with four. And so the thing is, what do you have to do to be one of the four, and how do you live in a world where you've got hundreds of competitors a click away, but if you spend all your time not offending anybody, you'll never get anybody.

Scenario D: A hybrid of what we've got now: Traditional analog radio combined with HD combined with satellite. This scenario will, I think, not make anybody particularly happy, because the advertisers are going to be faced with an increasingly splintered audience that's hard to address, and as a result, it will be hard for that local car dealership or that politician to do a sensible radio buy.


The idea of radio... audio determined by an external editor... isn't going away any time soon. People like it.

Thinking about snakes on a plane

The Mainstream Media was enthralled by the Snakes on a Plane story. Here, at last, was proof positive that the internet changes everything... hey, it even changes movies!

Hollywood was scared, of course, but they usually are. They understand, finally, how to use TV, and now, all of a sudden, something new to worry about.

So the glee from all sides when SOAP took a hit (only $15 mm for a b movie in late August at the box office) was palpable. People were puzzled. One pundit said it teaches Hollywood just that the Net is a good place to run ads.

I fear that people are missing a fundamental truth: just because people know who you are doesn't mean they're going to buy what you sell.

There's a difference between infamy (or celebrity) and the consumer's desire to buy.

I knew all about SOAP and had no desire whatsoever to go. I'm just not ready to sit in a theatre with a bunch of people afraid of airplanes.

I'm afraid we come back to something that marketers have been struggling with for a really long time--the best way to succeed is to have a really great product.

First Time Here?

Analytics says that my blog is getting more first-time traffic than usual. Hence this link: ...about Seth Godin. Thanks for visiting.

Twenty free copies

One per customer. SITNB: Expires Tuesday morning, says Ryan: InBubbleWrap.

What people want

The same thing everyone else is having, but different.

A menu where the prices aren't all the same.

More attention than the person sitting next to them.

A slightly lower price than anyone else.

A new model, just moments before anyone else, but only if everyone else is really going to like it.

A seat at a sold out movie.

Access to the best customer service person in the shop, preferably the owner.

Being treated better, but not too much better.

Being noticed, but not too noticed.

Being right.

Human beings have short memories

German appliance maker Bosch introduces the Axxis™ washer.

Great moments in copywriting

From the back of the King of Shaves tube:

"MagnaGel MME (Micro Magnetically Enhanced) shaving gel sets the new standard for shaving software..."

The thing is, it really does make you want to go shave.

The top five mistakes entrepreneurs make when they market

A riff I did at WorkHappy.net.

Welcome to Shuffleworld

College dorm 1979, every kid had three dozen albums. You picked the one you wanted to listen to while you did your calculus homework (you knew them all by heart), took it out of the sleeve and played it. (small aside: every single woman I knew had: James Taylor, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Carly Simon and perhaps one other. Not sure why this is relevant, but there you go.)

Driving the car yesterday, I realized that I haven't listened to any of my Elvis Costello records in a while. The reason, it turns out, is that they hadn't been picked out for me by the magic of shuffle. I've got enough music on my hard disk that some of it has become invisible.

The same thing is true, times a million, with websites. Every blog, every site is invisible... until it comes up on shuffle. The shuffle of reddit or digg or a cross-reference in someone else's rss feed.

The page that Ron and I did was #1 on Digg and Delicious yesterday, at least for a little bit. And the traffic was huge. It really is like winning the attention lottery.

And that's what has happened to all of us. The local newspaper never had to worry about an attention lottery--everyone in town read the paper. Today, because it's become molecuralized, our attention flits around, shuffled by one automated (or handbuilt) editor or another.

Which brings us back to subscription. The only win I see in the long run is for the winner of today's attention lottery to earn a subscription (an RSS feed or an email sign up or a podcast subscription) that gives them a chance to be noticed tomorrow as well. Depending on the magic of shuffle for your success is too painful and too unpredictable.



The Web 2.0 Traffic List

There are thousands of web 2.0 companies out there, many started by just a handful of people. But which ones are getting traction? etsy vs. lulu? imvu vs. clusty?

[The list was out of date and is now gone. Sorry.]

...in the middle, Starting

When a director makes a movie, she can be pretty confident that the audience will see it from the beginning straight through to the end.

When I write a book, I have the same luxury. That’s usually the case when I give a speech as well. It’s awfully frustrating to be giving a talk to a dozen people and then have the head guy walk in ten minutes late... now what do I do? Do I start over and bore the people kind enough to be on time (though possibly succeed in my argument to the head guy) or do I press on? If the beginning wasn’t important, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time on it!

Major advertisers have the expectation that they don't need to keep reintroducing themselves. People know who Coke and Nike are. The new ads can pick up in the middle without explaining exactly what “Mountain Dew” is.

Unlike books and movies and speeches and sales pitches, it’s pretty obvious that blogs and websites don’t work that way. The traffic for almost all blogs is growing, in some cases quite quickly. Some websites double in traffic every month or two. My blogometer tells me that about half of the people who read my blog each week have never been here before.

Hence the dilemma.

Blog writing is different than almost any other sort of exposition. Some people have been with you for years. They understand your conventions, your shorthands and your biases. They know you’ve written a few books, appeared as a child actor in Star Trek or have a deep and abiding hatred for cats. You can drop a few hints and they get it.

The rest of your readers are left clueless.

Which leads to the squeaky wheel problem. Among your newbies are several people who won’t hesitate to send you an email, post a comment or leave in a huff. They don’t get it and they want you to know they don’t get it.

Your inclination, if you’re at all like me, is to have that person’s voice in the back of your head every time you post an entry or design a page. “But what about Fred, who just got here?” If you’re working in an organization, the voice will be even louder. Your peers will remind you of the Freds of the world every time they hear from them.

Resist!

Starbucks doesn’t start over every time someone walks in, and neither does your church. Great websites don’t explain every little icon in big type--they give newbies a chance to figure it out and they let the regulars use a tool they enjoy.

Some of the most popular blogs and websites on the web are hard to understand the first time you get there. Not hard for hard’s sake, but hard because there’s a lot of power in a little space and explaining it all would actually make it work worse.

If I was always trying to catch people up, I’d end every post by pointing to my lens. But I won’t, because then you’d stop reading, wouldn’t you?

One opportunity that's underused is the idea of using cookies to treat returning visitors differently than newbies. It's more work at first, but it can offer two experiences to two different sorts of people.

Nothing grows forever, and no doubt, one day in the next decade the bulk of your readers will be caught up. But until then, the calculus of starting in the middle is always going to penalize--at least a little--the folks who just showed up, the folks who have been there for a while, or the writer. Just something to keep in mind when you are building your UI or writing your next missive.

Free stuff, self-promotion and repetition

Just in case you aren’t tired of me and my endless prattling on about my book, today is pub day, so I’ve got a laundry list of neat stuff for you. It actually makes me extremely uncomfortable to mention something twice on my blog, but I've found that if there's content or a gift involved, readers actually appreciate it. Forgive me if you don't, please. If, against all odds, you are tired of the endless flogging, feel free to click ahead to the next post.

Tom Peters is featuring a quick interview that you might enjoy. Thanks to Erik and Shelley for the hard work.

Typepad has chosen the book as their book of the month. Even better,they’re offering 10 free Typepad accounts (worth $150 each) and a hundred 15% off-for-life discounts (worth even more if you blog for 100 years as I expect to!) to randomly selected new users who write to them in the next week. The free accounts go to random entries from the first 100 correct entries received. (In order to win, they want you to put a seven letter brand name as the subject line of the email. The answer can be found here.)

800 CEO READ is offering very aggressive pricing on bulk orders (not just on my book, on just about any business book). Give them a call and ask.

John Jantsch has an audio interview and so does Across the Sound.

And finally, if you want an autographed book plate, just send me a self addressed stamped envelope (Seth Godin, 3 West Main St, Irvington NY 10533) and let me know if you want me to sign my name or someone else’s (probably worth a lot more... I do a very good JD Salinger) and I’ll send it over.

PS I changed the rules for the Tiny Q&A session. It was getting to be a hassle for some people.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of our promotional announcement. Look at the bright side...it’s better than pledge week on pubic TV. Well, not a lot better, but shorter.

Linkbait

Ronaldmchummer Matthew Fried sends us to this site, designed to get McDonald's to pay attention.

At the same time, Matt McAllister points us to xcavator, a cool way to find certain types of images inside of Flickr. This site is going to get a ton of traffic, at least for a  little while.

The challenge is to either deliver a message that causes change or to have a business model that scales after the initial flurry of interest moves on.

Awkward

My new favorite word is "awkward."

It's awkward to talk to your boss (who has way more experience than you do) about teaching her agile programming.

It's awkward to call a religious or political leader on their intolerant comments.

It's awkward to bring up pre-need burial services with an older person. (What a great oxymoron, by the way).

It's awkward to challenge a co-worker who has a negative attitude, or is constantly surfing myspace.

It's awkward to ask a new lifeguard recruit at the beach to prove she can actually swim.

It's awkward to ask the owner of the restaurant to turn off the TV behind the bar.

It's awkward to create a product that changes the status quo.

It's awkward to demonstrate your amazing insights when it might threaten those that are looking for stability instead.

The reason we need to be in search of awkward is that awkward is the barrier between us and excellence, between where we are and the remarkable. If it were easy, everyone would have done it already, and it wouldn't be worth the effort.

Two things you can say

...and one of them is wrong. (More from JFK).

"You must be feeling really frustrated."

What a great thing for a gate agent to say to a frustrated traveler. I saw it used three times in ten minutes, and it worked every time. It enabled the agent to get on the same side of the conversation, it allowed the customer to let off some steam and got both sides moving.

On the other hand,

"Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part..."

This is true, of course, unless your goal is to make the person happy, or, at the very least, get rid of them. There were all sorts of clueless people at the airport today, cutting lines, yelling, getting angry just because they didn't leave enough time. Not the airline's fault, that's for sure.

Yet the best way to handle the situation is not to persuade, convince or bully the person into admitting that they were wrong. No reason to teach these people a lesson, because they're not going to learn a lesson anyway.

Living under a rock

First lesson from a short visit to JFK today:

Regardless of what you think of the timing or the efficacy of the ban on liquids on airplanes, certainly you'd know about it, right? I mean, if you were scheduled to take a plane in the next few days, how could you not know about it? And then, once you got to the airport, passing the big signs on the doors of the terminal, passing the big garbage cans, passing the person at security reminding you, then, certainly, you'd know, right?

Of course not.

I saw, at the last stage of security, the TSA guys grabbing dozens of bottles of Gatorade, gel, etc., out of people's bags. Not here and there, but gallons.

Never underestimate the ability of the public to ignore you. They can and they will.

The Riddler

John Sawatsky of ESPN knows how to ask questions, and he thinks you don't.

You need to ask questions every time you interact with a consumer, a job applicant, a co-worker with a great idea or even someone sitting next to you during an interminable wait for the airplane.

I found John's seven rules in a search cache. Here's a summary of what doesn't work:

1. Asking a question with no query

Examples: "Your neighbors don't like you." "Some people think you killed your wife."

2. Double-barrelled questions

Like: "Is this your first business? How did you get started?" You're unlikely to get answers to both. One question at a time.

3. Overloading

Ask: short, simple questions. "What is it like to be accused of murder?"

4. Adding your own remarks

Again, this is not the time or place to say that you hate Chryslers... You're not being interviewed.

5. Trigger words

One famous example of this was when TV reporter John Stossell asked a pro wrestler about the "sport'' by volunteering this about the fighting: "I think it's fake." The pro wrestler hit him--twice. "Was that fake?" he demanded...

6. Hyperbole by the questioner

Overstatement typically causes the interview subject to counterbalance by understating...

7. Closed query (Yes or No question)

If the question begins with a verb, its most likely a closed question -- and will generate a one word answer.

Good starting point on John: American Journalism Review.

Tiny Q&A Session

On Friday, September 8, I'm going to do a call-in Q&A session, beginning at 10 am New York time.

You can call in from anywhere in the world using a standard phone line. I'll probably visit some websites as we talk, but no technology is required.

Attendance at the session is limited to 31 people, and I'll stay on the phone all day if I need to. Everyone is guaranteed a shot to contribute.

The goal is to give people a chance to ask specific questions (about your organization, your site or your kewpie doll collection, whatever). The session will be off the record, and no archive will be available. I've never done this kind of thing before, but it promises to be pretty interesting, useful and perhaps provocative (in a good way).

You don't have to send me a fee to attend. Instead, sometime between today and August 23, you need to buy 11 copies of my new book at Barnes & Noble. Not the online site, but a retail store. B&N is doing a big promotion, and I want to repay the favor by sending a few dozen heavy hitters to the store to buy copies for their teams. If you don't live near a store, call one and they'll ship em.

I wrote this book as a way for my blog readers to share some of my ideas with their non-blog-reading colleagues. This promotion is sort of a way to jumpstart that.

Just email me if you're interested in buying the books and coming and I'll send you my fax number. First 31 people to fax over a receipt get a seat. If I get more response, I'll do a second session a week later.

[UPDATE: some readers have explained that the whole BN retail process is too logistically difficult. My goal in this promotion was to do something fun, not painful. So, if you find yourself stuck, feel free to us this link instead. Thanks to everyone for all that driving around...]

The triumph of the banal

Specs_grocery It's true: the vast majority of successful products are hardly remarkable.

As I walked to the Union Square market today, carrying two thermAsnap™ cooler bags, I thought about the bags. This company appears to be doing exceptionally well. They have a huge profit margin, very strong distribution in fish and ice cream stores and supermarkets, and they keep growing (hey, their website even has videos).

But the product is poorly designed. The thermAsnaps come UNsnapped all the time. The graphics are abysmal. The copy includes the helpful reminder that you shouldn't put hot and cold items together in the same bag.

It doesn't matter. Not one bit. They're still doing great.

The lesson? I think that there are two. The first is that setting out to win in an overlooked market by sewing up distribution and eliminating reasons for your distributors to switch is a fine plan when it works. And the second is that there are plenty of markets where competition is thin and becoming a slave to fashion not only isn't necessary, it's not even a good idea. You don't always have to show up on the "what's hot" list to be successful.

Remember, too, not to put your hot and cold items in the same bag at the same time, please.

Lotions and Potions

What's worth more, a daily skin tightening cream that makes a patient feel firm and supple and thin, or a tummy tuck that actually makes a patient thin?

What's more more, a KPMG study, performed by 30 analysts, that demonstrates a plant must be closed, or an organizational pscyhologist spending time with the management team so that they gain enough confidence and communication skills that they actually grow the business?

What's worth more, a divorce lawyer (who creates something permanent) or a mediator, who sometimes saves a relationship?

Are placebos worth more than surgery? Is an inspirational management book worth more than a Wall Street banker?

I was talking with a plastic surgeon over dinner, and the chasm couldn't have been more clear. Western medicine is arranged around the permanent, the measurable, the knife. Yet people, many of them anyway, would rather spend money on the potion or the lotion that somehow promises a more magical solution.

Until robots on the factory floor get a checkbook, we're still going to be busy selling to people, not machines. And people care a lot more about first impressions and psychological satisfaction than they care to admit.

Why are we discussing this now?

So, I started my morning with a dozen ears of local corn from the farmer's market, waiting to be cooked.

I did a google search and was delighted (okay, stunned) to find this lens as the fourth site listed. A quick look led me to this post, all about sustainable vegan cooking in Las Vegas. The post was perhaps the fifth piece of media I'd seen in the last week that referenced just how far food travels to get to us. The average food item goes about 1,500 miles from where it's grown to where it's consumed.

This has probably been true for decades or more, but now it's on the radar. Now people are writing about it, blogging about it, challenging grocery stores about it. It's on our list, at least for now.

Why not a year ago or five years ago?

One mistake marketers make is a little like the goldfish that never notices the water in his tank. Our environment is changing. Always. Incrementally. Too slowly to notice, sometimes. But it changes. What we care about and talk about and react to changes every day. Starbucks couldn't have launched in 1970. We weren't ready.

Two challenges to keep in mind:
get faster at getting to market so you can time the waves right. And be more open to watching the waves so you can have the right story for the right market at the right time. When we're ready.

Airport parking and Ross Perot

There is no friction at a free PR press release site (PR Leap). It doesn't matter who you know or how many phone calls you can afford to make... all press releases here are listed for free... though the paid ones move up.

The friction issue reminded me of an article about getting a parking spot at certain Metro North train stations. In order to be "fair", the railroad requires people to wait in line once a year (first come first served) to get a permit. The thing is, getting to a decent spot in line requires camping out all night. While this is fair in the sense that money is not an issue, the idea that everyone values their time the same seems sort of backwards.

Another brick in the wall

Most of the changes you make in your product are designed to grow your market share... to get you new customers (by having them switch from the competition) or to grow the market (by having people enter your market) or to keep people from leaving in a churning market.

So, how do you get them to make the switch?

I think it might be useful to think of two kinds of innovations.

Call the first kind, "another brick in the wall." I was listening to two guys online (sorry, can't remember where) discussing PDF printing. The first was talking about various shareware and freeware ways to get Windows to create PDF files. The second pointed out that it was built in already to the Mac.

First guy said, "Yeah, I'm going to give up all of my hardware and software and switch just so I don't have to install a piece of freeware..."

That ability on the Mac is another brick. Build enough bricks and soon enough, it is enough to switch.

The second kind we can call, "game changers." These are the remarkable innovations that make not switching painful. The sort of free prize inside that reminds the unswitched that not having switched yet is painful. It doesn't have to be a totally recasting of all that a product stands for. Interesting for me to note that Time Machine might be Apple's latest game changer. It promises to relieve so much pain and anxiety in a certain class of user that for an informed chooser (and that's not as big a category as any marketer wishes it was) it might just mean a whole new decision.

The other lesson here is this: game changers are rare. If you are swinging for the fences all the time, looking for one, you might end up striking out a lot. Bricks, on the other hand, are the way most industries are won.

Just because it's hard...

Doesn't mean it's going to work. MJ Rose has a great post about the realities facing authors in a noisy world: This Just In: Flogging vs Blogging.

Changing the air travel story

Over the last five years, security measures have gradually eroded the way people feel about commercial air travel. Today's events (“imminent” mid-air bomb plot disrupted) and the government's reaction to them will, in my opinion, mark the tipping point for an enormous amount of business travel by commercial air.

I'm delighted that the talented and brave investigators foiled this plot, and I'm saddened that we live in a world where something like this could even happen... the fact remains, though, that a key element of our lives has been changed, perhaps forever.

When you need an additional 90 minutes, can't bring your laptop (or even a book on some routes) and can't have a bottle of water, the calculus for most trips is fundamentally changed. Years ago, Tom Peters argued hard and long for the value of showing up, of being there in person, of establishing a face to face relationship with the person on the other side.

The prevalance of online video, constant skype connections and the multiple threads of data we get online, combined with the enormous overhead that flying now brings might just change the story for a long time to come.

This is broken, the video

Years and years ago, I brainstormed an idea for a website with Mark Hurst. He's done nothing but great things with it ever since.

So, when Mark asked me to do a speech for Gel, I decided to update my original riffs. Some people think it was awfully amusing. I just hope it's useful too. Seth on Google on Broken. Maybe one day, it'll be a book. But for now, it's a video and it's free.

Google AdSense alternatives

Here's some interesting data and a fascinating comparison: ProductWiki Blog. I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions, but the measurements are worth looking at. [ps, consider this alternative alternative.]

Our data keeps getting more accurate, but our understanding of how and why people actualy behave is still awfully murky.

The design knack

Thomas Marban sent me a note asking if he could run a promotion on his site. I said, "sure." A few days later, he sent me this url: popurls.com | seth godin. Check out how effortlessly he communicates with design. The typefaces, the color, the way he tweaked the image... Even without knowing English, you could look at this page and figure out something about the person running it.

This is an uncommon skill, which is why it's so important. If it had been my work, it would have been far clunkier. What would your team have done?

PS, after seeing this post, Thomas sent me a note. I tweaked his English a bit, but he said, "that's cool! btw, i didn't even know that i had design skills." Exactly my point. It's the way you see things, sometimes.

Our man in Havana

The other day on the radio, I heard an interview with the Chicago Tribune's Havana bureau chief.

Wow. Think of all the newspapers. Think of all the cities that are as important as Havana. That's a lot of people.

Is it even remotely conceivable that ten years from now, the Chicago Tribune is going to have a bureau chief in London or Beijing, never mind Havana?

I just read the reports on Joe and his primary from a paper in Australia...

Now that media has been completely atomized, blown to bits and rearranged, how do they pay for their man in Havana? They don't, I bet.

Just as we've seen video take a huge downturn in quality (think American Idol vs. M*A*S*H) as the quantity has soared, it's inevitable that news is going to go down the same path. The good news is that, just as video is rebounding as the voices find their footing, news will too. It won't be "our" man in Havana. It'll be a number of individuals representing themselves and building a following--with a filter to be named later.

The most useful thing you can do with this piece of data is exactly what William Randolph Hearst and others did several generations ago--realize that there are a passel of slots available. Go fill one (or more) and grow it. No, it's not worth a lot now, but we're already seeing that once a blog fills a niche well, it becomes a cash cow (and a center of influence)... far faster than a newspaper ever did.

Read this while you're eating dinner

John Dodds points us to: Underwhelmed by It All - Los Angeles Times.

Nathaniel Johnson, a 17-year-old senior at Claremont High School who took part in the survey, spoke for the 62% of boys in his age group who like to multi-task. He's a big fan of what the computer allows him to do: "You can open five or six programs simultaneously: work on a project, type a report, watch YouTube, check e-mail and watch a movie."

If you're busy marketing like you've got my attention, you've already made a huge mistake.

Lesson learned at the movie theatre

Years ago, when my wife and I used to go to the movies in Yonkers, we noticed that most of the teenage girls dressed alike. Big blond hair, high heels, you get the idea.

What I couldn't understand was--who was their hero? Who did they look to to decide what was right and what wasn't right? It's easy to see kids that are trying to emulate a particular rapper, say, or career women trying to be Audrey Hepburn. But who was their role model?

After a few years, I figured it out... Barbie. As in the doll.

All a long way of pointing out that while great websites are fairly different (compare Google with Yahoo), most bad websites are sort of the same. And I have no idea what the role model is, but there are plenty of places you can go to get all the building blocks you need.

It matters a lot what your website looks like. If you can use cookie cutter tools and end up with one that looks like something on MySpace, you should probably start over.

21 years later

In 1985, I was already a Mac addict. I had beta tested the original Mac and had one of the very first desktop published newsletters (an internal rag at Spinnaker Software, where I worked). I once got into real trouble when the owner of a nearby restaurant called and yelled at me after I trashed his place in a review (I had a circulation of 45...)

One day, a buzz went through the office. We had a lot of cool visitors at Spinnaker (I think the Governor of Mass. came once) but this time it was a louder buzz. I heard from a fellow brand manager that Guy Kawasaki was in the office. Even then, probaby in his twenties, Guy had an aura around him. Not only that, but he had a check with him (we needed the cash).

When Guy's blog came out a few months ago, it was an overnight success. Overnight? Hey, it took Guy, like it took me, twenty years of figuring it out. We still haven't gotten it right, not even close, but now people get to watch. Here's our interview... Guy Kawasaki: Ten Questions with Seth Godin. I especially like the part at the beginning about the t shirts.

Do you need a boss?

You don't realize how much you need a boss until you don't have one. Bosses don't always do the following, especially when they're not very good bosses, but here's what we know about good bosses:

Bosses organize your time for you.
Bosses decide what's urgent.
Bosses give you cover when you work on something stupid ("she told me to!")
Bosses pay you even when the client doesn't honor the invoice.
Bosses can be sued.
Bosses create deadlines, and stick with them.
Bosses make sure you show up in the morning.
Bosses pay for the Postits.
Bosses give you someone to complain about.
Bosses carve up the work and give you just that piece you signed up to do.
Bosses give you a role model. (Sometimes one to work against, but that's a different story).

The main thing a boss does, though, is give you the momentum you need to get through the stuff that takes perseverance. The main thing that ends the career of a Free Agent is the lack of a hand pushing on the back, someone handing out assignments and waiting for the deliverables. Who keeps you going when you don't feel like doing it?

If you don't have a boss, you may need to invent one.

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