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

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« October 2006 | Main | December 2006 »

Classic

Logline Not my job! Thanks Aerin for the picture.

Getting stuck at What's My Line

Consider this quote from a brilliant book (only $999 on Amazon) by Gil Fates, original producer of What's My Line:

"The show became so important that the offbeat began to seem untoward... Any attempt to break out of the mold became heresy... The power of a program's creative management to make decisions rises and falls in inverse ratio to the importance of the talent to that program... While we were not willing to admit that he was indispensable, the more the show prospered the less we, the creative producers, were willing to make him unhappy."

Hey, it's not just TV shows.

Until it becomes routine

I got a lot of mail about my post about followup.

Isn't it just a survey?
This is hardly permission marketing!
I feel used.

Of course you do. Because the people calling you are doing it because they have to. Because it's their job. A calculated effort to get more business out of you.

That's the opposite of what I meant.

I meant a call from someone who actually cared, who had the power to change things, to offer more. A call about you, not them.

If you can't do that, then I agree, don't bother.

This must be hard

The reason it must be hard is that so few people do it.

"How was your dinner last night?"

Follow up. Not follow up to sell something, just to know. Just to ask. Just to set things right if they were wrong.

The fancy restaurant knows my phone number. Why not have the owner call me the next day just to ask?

The doctor knows my number. Why not call a week later to see how that broken arm is mending?

The accountant knows my number. Why not check in to see if the taxes went out the door okay?

If you really want to generate those referrals, don't ask for a referral, ask if everything was great. Offer to help. Do it in a gentle way, with no strings, no additional addons, no sales pitch. If you really and truly care, why not ask? Not a form, not a survey. Just one caring person, asking. Not that hard, actually.

When symbols become invisible

Diabetes Vincent sends us this image courtesy of the American Diabetes Association. Huh? A candy cane?

Logos, holidays, street warning signs... they're all a blur when you've seen them often enough.

Life in a startup

Neat riff from Andy about creating value: You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know.

Warts and all

Kelly_ripa_02_1 She doesn't really look like this. Especially in the morning or after a long plane flight. And yet we're bombarded by photos of one perfect celebrity after another... enough to buy into the fantasy that they're all perfect.

Businesses are the same way. If you read enough stories, it's easy to believe that Starbucks and Apple and the rest of the all-star list somehow manage to effortlessly create remarkable products and happy customers.

One thread that has become clear to me from reading my email is that there are no perfect companies, no ideal places to work, no marketers who always manage to please their customers.

The danger in celebrity worship is that it can persuade you not to bother trying. After all, the thinking goes, our organization is so thoroughly screwed up that we've never got a chance to be like them, so why bother? In fact, organizations like Apple struggled for years, and continue to struggle... it's just that the facade matches our need to believe, so we ignore that part.

Go ahead, be like Kelly. But cut yourself some slack along the way.

Don't know what you've got...

Pitching in on homework today, we're researching: Extatosoma tiaratum. Otherwise known as macleay's spectre. It's like a praying mantis, but bigger and scarier.

It's a real bug. You can buy them and breed them. You can find them in Australia. But, amazingly enough, you can't find them on wikipedia. Not found. Not by latin name, not by common name. Nothing.

This has never happened to me before. Maybe an obscure concept or semi-famous celebrity was missing, but a real bug?

The fact that I was aghast when I discovered this reinforces how amazing wikipedia is. How much it has changed not just homework, but everything.

When everything (except macleay's spectre) is a click away, it changes the way we think about information.

(Wanna bet how long it takes for this omission to be corrected? I say 22 hours.)

[PS Florian Gross points us to the German edition where the article lives quite happily!]

How to get referrals

There's been thousands of pages written about this topic, but still, no luck. It's too hard.

Yes, we know that referrals are the very best way to grow your business.

And we know that asking for a referral is both scary but apparently the most effective technique.

And we know that excellent service is a great place to start.

But still, not enough referrals. How come?

First, marketers often forget to look at this from the consumer's point of view. Why on earth should I give you a referral? Yes, I know it's important to you, but why is it important to me?

And second, I have a lot to lose if I refer a friend to you. You might screw up, in which case she'll hate me. Or you might somehow do something that, through no fault of your own, disappoints. If I recommend a greek restaurant and my friend goes and they don't have skordalia, and she loves skordalia... oops.

And third, the act of recommending you isn't easy. It's not easy to recommend a tailor to make your co-worker look a little less shabby. It's not easy to bring up the fact that you have a great psychiatrist or even a particularly wonderful (but very expensive) shoe store.

Given the no-win nature of most referrals, you need to reset your expectations and consider a few ideas:

  • Make it easy for someone to bring up what you do (by changing the nature of the service or product).
  • Give your best customers something of real value to offer to their friends (a secret menu, a significant gift certificate). Once you do that, not giving that gift to a friend feels selfish.
  • Paying me to refer you rarely works, because you're not just asking for a minute of my time, you're asking me to put my credibility on the line.
  • Understand that low-risk referrals happen more often than high-risk ones, and either figure out how to become a low-risk referral or embrace the fact that you have to be truly amazing in order to earn one.

and

  • Be worthy. Not just in the work you do, but in your status in the marketplace. I'm far more likely to refer someone with a back story, someone who's an underdog, or relatively unknown. That's why saying "thank you" in deeds (not so much in words) goes such a long way.

Try to speak clearly

Picture_39 I know it's hard sometimes, especially when you need to please your boss, but if someone is going to see your writing, make it shorter, simpler and easier. Here's a query from Amazon next to their new "comment on a review feature."

My question is, does "yes" mean "yes it doesn't add to the conversation" or does "yes" mean "yes it adds to the conversation"?

There are dozens of easy solutions, starting with longer buttons ("Yes, it adds" vs. "No, take it down").

We would never settle for mechanical devices that work as poorly as our language does.

Unforgivable

Hugh at gapingvoid is having a 500 word manifesto celebration. I just sent mine in. Enjoy.

No Cake!

Every organization tells a story, want to or not.

Two ways of thinking about flying yesterday.

Thousands of people descend on JetBlue. The JetBlue team decides to tell a story about confidence and empathy, about competence and kindness. They staff the security line with talented people, they plan a route through the terminal, they figure out what the TSA is going to want.

End result: fast lines, happy employees, loyal customers.

Just on the other side of the line are the bureaucrats at the TSA. They tell a story too, but it couldn't be intentional.

"No Cake!" the screener yells. "No pie either!" and they make the person traveling to her family throw out her home-baked cake.

We got up to the line. I had an ounce of gel left in a five ounce bottle. They made me throw it out because the label said 5 ounces (though it was clearly more than half empty).

The story?

  • We don't care. We don't have to.
  • We don't make judgment calls. We're not allowed to and we don't care that management treats us this way.
  • Don't you dare say anything.
  • Be afraid.
  • Bothering everyone is smarter than hiring talented people to find the .0001% of the population that's harmful.

No Cake!

Is this the sort of government we want? We deserve? We should pay for?

The easy thing for me to do is say nothing. It makes me seem like a whiner, after all. But to stand by while all of us spend billions of dollars a year chasing the wrong thing, doing it poorly and telling exactly the wrong story is far worse than that.

There are 583 ways to hurt yourself and your fellow passengers onboard an airplane. Gel (and cake) are exactly two of them. How many more are we going to protect ourselves against? If the best our bureaucracy can do is scare us with cries of "No Cake!" and "too much gel," then I think we need a new bureaucracy.

More important from a safety point of view, we need a new story. One that simulateously scares the bad guys without crippling the rest of us. Yes, the TSA's failure is a marketing failure. If you work there, drop me a line and I'll send you a book.

Quit Whining!

Kurt sends us to: complaints choir: birmingham.

Apparently,

The creation of a Finnish husband-wife artist team, Oliver Kochta Kalleinen and Tellervo Kalleinen, the choir stars in the most instantly accessible and funniest comedy/art video we’ve seen in ages.

The couple invited people in various international cities to submit their complaints, which were then set to churchly choir music under the direction of a local choral director. So far there have been complaints choirs in Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Birmingham, England — with videos for the latter two available online.

The Helsinki one isn't in English, but it's better.

PS The year-end tally is in, and the winner of complaints, by a factor of 5:1 in my reader mail, is Home Depot.

Oh yeah, happy Thanksgiving.

That was quick

Helene points us to this press release from CBS in which they are touting how well they're doing on YouTube, including a glowing quote from a YouTube VP.

Think about that for a second. It was less than a year ago when media giants thought that the Internet was nothing but a gnat, something to manipulate a stock price maybe. The idea that mighty CBS needs a quote from someone at YouTube is astonishing to me.

How to write a blog post

Do it like this: Joel on Software.

An appropriate illustration,
A useful topic, easily broadened to be useful to a large number of readers,
Simple language with no useless jargon,
Not too long,
Focusing on something that people have previously taken for granted,
That initially creates emotional resistance,
Then causes a light bulb go go off
and finally,
Causes the reader to look at the world differently all day long.

It's easy to like it after it works

Two minute flash riff about how clients abuse the flags of the world as presented by their agency:  myflags.swf.

Extra profit?

Richard points us to: Less dessert = incremental profits - (37signals).

It's about little desserts that restaurants can charge $2 or so for. You get your coffee and a little creampuffy thing to go with it.

I think it's the wrong tack.

I'd just bring the little thing for free.

Don't announce it, don't make it a big deal. In fact, only bring it for regulars, or irregularly or when people ask for it. Irregular reinforcement is a hugely powerful message sender.

When something is a bonus, it feels great. When it triples the price of your coffee, you want it to be better than it actually is.

Which is more fun?

Line Rider or the Sony Playstation 3?

Hint: the other might get you shot, cost you money and ultimately be disappointing.

(Warning: addictive time waster).

Sometimes, simple ideas, vividly executed, will defeat Marketing with a capital M.

The Zen of Venn

Zen1001There's no line at my local hospital. No line for a flu shot.

Just down the highway, there's a line in front of Pearl's restaurant every night before it opens.

Why a line for lobster but no line for a life-saving flu shot?

Isn't making what everyone needs the best way to succeed?

It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to satisfy a large need for a large group of people. The problem is that this leaves out the other half of the equation. Who's looking?

The reason for almost all marketing successes is the overlap between the media (whether it's a tv show, a commercial, YouTube or one high school kid talking to another) and the product. Selling beer during TV football, for example, is a successful matchup.

It's not an accident that YouTube is filled with scatalogical humor. The people most likely to make YouTube videos like that sort of thing. Flu shots, on the other hand, are hard to market to the audience that needs them because that market (over 50, recently ill, small children) isn't choosing to pay attention to the media that is talking about the shots.

Before you embrace your wonderful solution to the marketplace's problem, first decide how many of consumers are choosing to listen to messages like yours. Are they listening in a medium you can afford?

The success of Wii

A long time ago, I posted about Nintendo's choice of a name for the Wii.

Others have noted that there's far less of a frenzy about the Wii than the new PlayStation. Sony is losing hundreds of dollars on every one they sell, supply is limited and, straight out of Jennifer Government, people are getting shot in the frenzy to buy the game.

And yet Nintendo hums along, with great reviews, plenty of supply and a long-term hit on their hands.

What's up?

All marketers make choices. And those choices need to be consistent. Nintendo is not trying to reach hard core gamers, and so they're consistently building a process that will lead to long-term success. Just as the Gameboy was disrespected for its technical shortcomings (but sold and sold and sold for a decade) the Wii is following a similar path. Just because it's not a product for the loudest, most devout fans of gaming doesn't mean it's not a brilliant product.

It still has a dumb name, though.

The two sides

Scott points us to the latest from the happy go lucky lawyers at the MPAA: Podcasting News...Should Ripping Videos To iPod Be Illegal?.

It's copyright vs. copywrong

Some big copywrong holders hate the digital technology that has made them so much money. They would like to charge you every time you listen to a song or watch a movie (like a theatre or a concert). They abhor the fact that one DVD might get seen at a Boy Scout meeting or end up on your iPod. Scratch a disk? Buy another. Upgrade to a new machine? Buy another. The more they can cripple the distribution of their product, the better they do, they think.

Others realize that ideas that spread are worth more. That the souvenir value of a popular idea is very high.

We're going to see this fight 1,000 times until those in the spreading camp start to put up the serious numbers it will take to convert those that would build walls instead.

Your Name On Toast

The latest in the traffic pyramid pages, this time for charity: Your Name On Toast :: Your name, except on toast. I like the fact that Pete is donating all his profit to charity, and no, I'm not endorsing this one (or any of them), just pointing them out.

I think the success of the various pages (they need a name, don't they--how about link promo pages) is that there's a real need, almost a desperate need, for the 999,000 vibrant webpages that aren't in the top 1,000 in traffic to find a way to get there. To get the word out.

As entrepreneurs figure out how to help websites to do that reliably, they can't help but succeed.

[PS June 2007: Pete tells me that they've raised more than $8,000 and they're about to give it all away to a charity selected by voters.]

A friend in need

Rick writes:

Yesterday on her way to work, my wife had a flat tire at the post office. She coaxed her car to the nearest tire shop to see if they could fix the tire, we'd already ruined the spare, Wal-Mart couldn't repair it when IT went flat a couple of weeks ago. (Funny how there's never time to fix a spare tire!)

Our little tire shop repaired her tire and had her on her way in a few minutes. Now, we've just moved to this small Texas town, and though we've lived in Texas for years, what happened next still took me a bit by surprise. My wife inquired about payment, and they wouldn't hear of it- she needed help and they gave it to her. Well, she decided it was time for some new tires and told them she'd be back in the morning for two.

I went with her this morning for the new tires, and what do you know- on a banner in the front window they proudly proclaimed- "Voted best tire store in Central Texas 2004". Wouldn't you know it. And the total bill for the two tires was about $20 less than Sam's, took less time, and we had a fun chatting with the employees. Yeppers, small IS the new big.

The funny thing is that I had a blowout this week as well. And I had precisely the same experience. Maybe it's something about helping folks with a flat, but what a great example of how easy it is to build a brand when you help someone in need.

The lambchop theory of success

I asked my friend Charlotte to recommend a professional the other day.

She sent me a note today, recommending someone, and pointing out that his wife was a real "lambchop."

I had never heard the expression before, but immediately knew what it meant. No, not a sock puppet.

A kind, thoughtful person. Someone who keeps her promises. Someone who does great work but doesn't always brag about it. Someone you'd like to work with again.

It used to be that a real jerk who got results was exactly what you needed. Today, in a world that's a lot more connected and a lot more permeable, lambchops win out.

Why not do it on purpose?

Mike sends us to:  Steak and Shake’s Blue Mix-Up � Resisting Inertia. Apparently, the Steak and Shake in Indianapolis sent a coupon to 600,000 Colts fans that read, "Proud Sponsor of the Dallas Cowboys."

The big game is Sunday. (Dallas vs. Indy).

To make up for sending the wrong marketing to the right market (or the right marketing to the wrong market) they're offering a free shake to anyone who shows up in a Colts jersey.

Sometimes, making people angry is the best way to get people to notice... Except when it's not. Except when you are disrespectful or contemptuous., not just hamhanded.

Honesty vs. self-esteem

Here's a self-description from esnips: FubarSam's Profile. (Thanks, Adam)

Im a mediocre looking guy who has very little going on. I work at Tiger Express Wash in Columbia Missouri.  I make six bucks an hour and a little bit of tips each day to pay for gas and smokes. I live in a Single Wide Mobile home that I own. I am married now for almost 11 years.  I am going bald and I am overwieght somewhat.  I  dont drink anymore because I am an idiot when I do.  So I have not drank since 97.  I lived most of my 20s and 30s in the Missouri Department of Corrections.  I was a failure at being a criminal so I decided to change and try a different path.  I stay home.  I dont go out.  I pay my bills.  I appreciate what I got.  I sing and record music.  Other than that, I am about as interesting as an empty sheet of paper.

Don't make a bad deal

Here's what entrepreneurs and bizdev folks ought to remember before they do a deal:

First, doing a deal is a good thing. Despite my warnings below, you don't get anywhere if your idea is a secret. A leveraged idea is worth sharing.

That said, please remember that the idea isn't what is worth anything. It's the effort and the cash and persistence that pays off.

  1. Don't do a deal where each side gets a fixed percentage. A 50/50 split of a company invented in a bar is always a bad idea. Even paying someone 5% for some sort of contribution can come back to haunt you. Instead, build the deal around a shifting percentage based on contributions over time.
  2. Don't assume that the money you start with is going to be enough. Let's say you and a buddy each put in $5k and each take half the business. Then what? What happens when the money runs out and only one of you is willing to put in the next block of capital?
  3. Think about taxes. If you build a Sub S company, and the company loses money, you both get a write off...
  4. Don't forget the arbitration clause. Sure, your venture won't go bad, but others do. A clause that guarantees informal binding arbitration not only saves you time and money when stuff goes wrong, but it helps keep stuff from going wrong because no one will blackmail the other with court.
  5. Do a deal with someone you trust, but don't do a deal with a friend. You'll likely end up with neither a partner nor a friend in the end.
  6. Don't forget the shotgun clause. At some point, one of you is going to want to run with the project. So build in a clause that says, "At any time, one person can offer to buy the other out. The second person then has the chance to either buy the first person out at the same valuation, or sell." Money can solve a few problems, and this is one of them.
  7. In case you forgot, reread #1.
  8. Worry about control. A lot. Sooner or later, control matters. Do you have it? Really? If you don't, are you okay with that?
  9. The myth of most legal documents is that the world is going to stay the way it is. Or that the world is going to change, but just the way you expect it will. It won't, and it doesn't.

Little billboards

Suggar Scott on sugar packets.

Love and Money

Joel Spolsky shares this great story from a flight attendant:

Alright, I am gonna dote on my company for a few minutes. As most everyone on here is probably familiar with, last night was a nightmare for people travelling to and from the Northeast. We currently have 5 flights a day from CMH, 4 to/from JFK and 1 to/from BOS. Last night, out of CMH alone, Delta cancelled 3 flights, American cancelled 2, and Continental cancelled 1 and those are just flights that I know of. After we found out that our flight was delayed until 2223, the captain and the rest of us station employees decided to pool our money and we purchased pizza for all passengers on board our aircraft. Since the pizza place wouldn't deliver to the airport, one of our crewmembers volunteered to go pick it up. Once the pizza was brought back, the passengers were boarded, our live tv and xm were turned on and the pizza was served by ALL the crew, not just the flight attendants. The Captain, FO and other airport crewmembers went above and beyond. Granted I may be a little biased, but I was glad to be here last night. The feeling of seeing that plane take off and those people get to where they are going, even if they were late was pretty darn good. Not too many other airlines that I know of will do that for their customers.

It's not just "not too many other airlines...", it's, "not too many employees." Wanna bet she had more fun than most flight attendants that day?

When to start

  • The best time to start is when you've got enough money in the bank to support all contingencies.
  • The best time to start is when the competition is far behind in technology, sophistication and market acceptance.
  • The best time to start is when the competition isn't too far behind, because then you'll spend too long educating the market.
  • The best time to start is when everything at home is stable and you can really focus.
  • The best time to start is when you're out of debt.
  • The best time to start is when no one is already working on your idea.
  • The best time to start is when your patent comes through.
  • The best time to start is after you've got all your VC funding.
  • The best time to start is when the political environment is more friendly than it is now.
  • The best time to start is after you've got your degree.
  • The best time to start is after you've worked all the kinks out of your plan.
  • The best time to start is when you're sure it's going to work.
  • The best time to start is after you've hired the key marketing person for the new division.
  • The best time to start was last year. The best opportunities are already gone.
  • The best time to start is before some pundit declares your segment passe. Too late.
  • The best time to start is when the new generation of processors is shipping.
  • The best time to start is when the geopolitical environment settles down.

Actually, as you've probably guessed, the best time to start was last year. The second best time to start is right now.

By surprise

Picture_26 Here, from the always slightly nutty Air Canada site, is the pricing choice between Tango and Tango Plus.

Hmmm.

Made you think, didn't it?

Because we can

Guy at Simple Usability reports that starting tomorrow, his firm is working for a different non-profit/sustainable organization every month for a year. For free.

Not for the publicity or the contacts. Just because they can and because it feels right.

The last post about flutes

Freewa1 I promise this is the last post about fluting while driving. But when Robert sent this picture and link, I was so disturbed, I had to post it.

Great Caesar's Ghost! What's going on here? There's art?

It's like discovering a new cuisine or art form for the first time. Something you never knew existed, and then suddenly, you uncover an entire subculture.

What's next? People who enjoy dressing up as stuffed animals?

How do we get one of those?

Brandmgr So, the predictable flurry of puff pieces is out to accompany the launch of Microsoft's Zune. The Times article includes the obligatory rockstar shot of the pointing brand manager, as well as the money quote, "The first days of working on Zune were like working in a start-up company..."

Of course, the question every entrepreneur asks is not how do I get a Zune, but, "How do we get an article like that one?"

The problem with most PR strategies is that they are actually publicity strategies, and the number of really good publicity spots available is tiny. And companies like Microsoft get a big share of them, because they're not reserved for the good, they are reserved for the big. The Zune was panned by the Times and many other reviewers just last week, and yet here's a piece that's practically written by their PR firm. What's up with that?

The answer is surprisingly transparent. The Times considers this news, news worthy of two photos and a front of the biz section placement because, "...after committing hundreds of millions of dollars, Microsoft is scheduled to release that device, Zune."

In other words, if you spend 9 figures on a tech device or a movie, you can count on publicity like this.

If you can't, time for plan B. Plan B is to hope for this but not count on it. Plan B is to have a plan that works just fine without counting on a busy editor at the local paper to make it work.

The flutes!

So I'm driving into New York City this morning and we notice that the car next to us is being driven by a guy who is playing the flute. It's more of a recorder, actually, but flute-sized, without the big mouthpiece. Anyway, he's driving while playing, using his knees to steer. In thirty years of driving, I don't think I've ever seen something quite as ridiculous (or dangerous).

Then, an hour later, driving back north, we pass another car, driven by a different person, also playing the flute. A real flute, the silver kind. Also driving with his knees. At seventy miles an hour.

Hey, I know a trend when I see one. Consider yourself warned.

Fluting
[PS this photo just came from Tony in Madison, Wisconsin. It's beyond a movement now. It's multi-state. (Click to see the details... safe for work)]

[PPS on Monday, Marti sent us this flute news... from 2003. It's global]

Juxtaposition

One more thing to add to your list of new media worries.

Picture_22

They didn't recall Tylenol. The Google magic computer looked for an image that matched acetaminophen. It turned up a Tylenol bottle. Tylenol, of course, isn't being recalled. The Google magic computer didn't do it on purpose, but it sure doesn't make it any better.

Why Bother?

Standing in a Radio Shack yesterday, I watched a customer walk in with her new phone. With box. With receipt. She says, "This phone came without a power cord."

The clerk argued for a while.

The manager came over. He proclaimed it impossible that it was missing. He then offered, "as a one-time accomodation" to sell her a new power cord for half price.

Why bother?

First, why bother with the one-time nonsense? Do they keep a list? Does every Radio Shack in America now have this woman's picture in the back... "Don't sell her another power cord!"

But worse, why not just say, "Get out! We hate you! We don't trust you! We don't want your business!" Because that's what charging her $10 for a new cord was.

Either you're going to make someone happy or you're not. Doing the 'right' thing is irrelevant.

Here's the short version: If you try to teach a customer a lesson, you've just done two things:
a. failed at teaching a lesson
and
b. lost a customer

50,000 (twice)

This is a two-part thank you.

First off, The Big Moo hit a milestone this week. Because we've sold so many copies, the publisher has sent us an additional $50,000. This money, on behalf of the thirty three authors, is going directly to three charities that are changing the world: Room to Read, JDRF and the Acumen Fund. This will fund another scientist's research, build most of a new school and library in Cambodia and help fund a new factory for malaria bednets in Tanzania. I want to thank each of the authors and especially you, for supporting the book.

Then, just two days later, Squidoo posted lens #50,000. To celebrate, we're making an additional contribution to Oxfam, and we're challenging you. Here's the one day challenge: go build a holiday lens (about stuff, about life, about your site, about your blog) and have all the royalties earmarked for Room to Read. If every reader of this blog and every lensmaster on Squidoo builds just one lens today, we'll create tens of thousands of lenses, each donating money every day to build new schools. It only takes a few minutes...

So, from deep down: thanks.

The chicken and the egg

I was riffing with someone about an idea last week and I told him he had the, "chicken and an egg problem." It seemed like he knew what I meant, and I thought I knew what I meant, but I've since decided it's worth a few paragraphs.

The quick background is that chicken and egg is a cliche for a (false) conundrum: which came first? [it's false because the egg came first... the only thing a chicken can come out of is a chicken egg, while something that's not quite a chicken yet could lay a real chicken egg... sorry to digress].

When a business is described as a chicken and egg problem business, we're going back to the cliff. The only reason people want to use it is that other people are already using it! In other words, no one wants to go first.

  • No student would take the SAT unless they knew that colleges were requiring it. And no college would require it unless they knew students would take it.
  • No cool person wants to go to a nightclub unless they know that a lot of cool people will be there. But of course, cool people don't want to go unless they know that the other cool people are coming.
  • A fax machine with no one to fax to isn't worth buying.

There are countless innovations that would make our world a better place (and would make you a wealthy marketer). The problem with almost all of them is that getting from here to there is almost impossible. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, but it does mean you should count on failing. Sure, every once in a while an eBay happens. But for every business that solves the chicken/egg problem, there are thousands that fail (insert dead chicken/broken egg joke here).

In almost every case I can think of, the problem isn't solved by fixing a big industry. It's just too hard to get all the big players to change at once. Instead, the problem is solved in a tiny industry (college admissions a hundred years ago) and then the industry grows around it. So, if you've got a breakthrough for the big guys, watch out.

Did Google buy the network of networks?

NBC Universal just launched their own version of YouTube today.

They forgot to turn on the user-submissions part (lawyers, probably) and there are certainly some glitches, but there's a lot of content here as well.

The billion (point six) dollar question is this: are there going to be 1,000 YouTubes or just one?

It's not a price war, because they're all free. It's not a carriage war, because anyone can use any of them.

If you're not an investor, the real question is this: how do you create ideas that spread on all of them?

How marketers really think

Thanks, Corey (from that movie about Mary):

Hitchhiker: You heard of this thing, the 8-Minute Abs?

Ted Stroehmann: Yeah, sure, 8-Minute Abs. Yeah, the excercise video.

Hitchhiker: Yeah, this is going to blow that right out of the water. Listen to this: 7... Minute... Abs.

Ted Stroehmann: Right. Yes. OK, alright. I see where you're going.

Hitchhiker: Think about it. You walk into a video store, you see 8-Minute Abs sittin' there, there's 7-Minute Abs right beside it. Which one are you gonna pick, man?

Ted Stroehmann:
I would go for the 7.

Hitchhiker: Bingo, man, bingo. 7-Minute Abs. And we guarantee just as good a workout as the 8-minute folk.

Ted Stroehmann: You guarantee it? That's -- how do you do that?

Hitchhiker:
If you're not happy with the first 7 minutes, we're gonna send you the extra minute free. You see? That's it. That's our motto. That's where we're comin' from. That's from "A" to "B".

Ted Stroehmann
: That's right. That's -- that's good. That's good. Unless, of course, somebody comes up with 6-Minute Abs. Then you're in trouble, huh?

[Hitchhiker convulses]

Hitchhiker:
No! No, no, not 6! I said 7. Nobody's comin' up with 6. Who works out in 6 minutes? You won't even get your heart goin, not even a mouse on a wheel.

Ted Stroehmann
: That -- good point.

Hitchhiker:
7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 doors. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby...

Polite fiction

Alan points us to: Polite fiction.

You already know the idea: the social lie, the fiction that is acknowledged by all as a fiction, but it enables the group to exist, persist or even thrive.

Marketers need to understand the difference between a polite fiction and an inauthentic fraud and not use the former to justify the latter. Challenging a polite fiction, "CEO salaries are unearned and out of control" is a very effective story, especially if it's told by a CEO, for example. Or Ben & Jerry's could lead the way in the fight against heart disease, combatting the polite fiction that if a food has been around a long time and has a lot of goodwill associated with it, it must not be really really bad for you...

Careful what you have for breakfast

David points us to Holiday Inn, home of the Cinnamon Supreme French Toast™.

If you went to Denny's and put cinnamon on your french toast, you might get busted by the trademark police.

What was that meeting like? Who decided to spend the money to register the mark "Best-4-Breakfast®"? Did they decide that perhaps Motel 6 would steal business from them by offering Best-5-Breakfast?

Full

I've been thinking about frequency.
I've been thinking about frequency.
I've been thinking about frequency.

Clearly, you didn't need the repetition in order to get the point of that first sentence. In fact, the repetition probably made it less likely you read it.

So why does frequency work so well in marketing? Why did candidates spend more than two billion dollars on the last election... that's about $10 a voter. Clearly, the information could have been transmitted a lot more cheaply than that.

Marblejarm_1 It starts with the fact that ten percent (!) of voters polled acknowledged that they decided who to vote for on the day they voted. Wow. Why wait that long? Surely the voter had some sort of inkling long before that.

I think people are full. They have too much to do, too much on their plates, no room for new ideas, new tasks and new challenges (or at least they think they're full). So when all those ads are hurled at them, they ignore them. They ignore them because they can, and because they don't perceive that they have a problem that the ad will help them solve.

And then suddenly, election day arrives (or you run out of flour or need to hire a consultant or fly on a plane to Singapore or whatever). And now you have a problem. You don't know how to choose. So you let some ideas in. You're momentarily unfull, and then, when you're full again, you go back to ignoring the world.

But who do you let in? Which ideas get a shot?

You've probably guessed already. It's the ideas that were in line, patiently waiting. The ideas that earned their place in line because of those ads you say you ignored. You don't consciously remember them, of course, but they were there all along, laying the groundwork, just waiting until you were unfull.

So, all marketing analyses that ignore time are wrong. There's a big difference between a message that arrives when I'm full and when I'm unfull. And there is a big difference between a first impression and tenth one. Even if I can't remember the first nine.

Be sure to check out page 120

Check out SkyMaul. Funny stuff, thanks to Jesse for the link.

Warez

A few more riffs on trademarks:

a. a word in a foreign language makes a poor trademark in terms of defense (see Halushka noodle). So do superlatives. Ridiculous attempts to trademark ordinary language, as Uri points us to, are silly as well. The best trademarks have nothing at all to do with what you're attempting to describe.

b. a neologism (a brand-new word that describes something that always needed a word to describe it) is a great trademark, in the short run anyway, and it comes with a lot of google juice. Words like 'warez' and 'ideavirus' are worth a great deal once they spread. Though you may have trouble defending it later ('Xerox').

c. remember, there are no official trademark police. A trademark is a license to sue, not a license to win. It all depends on how you want to spend your time and money.

Change the brand, change the band

Tomorrow is election day in the USA, and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee is quite likely to lose in his run for the Senate. Not because his constituency doesn't like him--they do. No, he's likely to lose because they don't like his brand. They don't like the accessories he comes with. They've changed their mind, and they don't understand why he hasn't. He's busy running away from something instead of toward it.

Fleetwood Mac (what a segue) was one of the hottest selling blues bands in Europe in the late 1960s. Then they lost their lead guitarist (Peter Green) and wandered aimlessly for more than five years until they added two lead singers and became a very different sounding group. The result was Rumours, one of the best selling albums in the history of music.

The distinction is really interesting (at least to me). If Chafee had swallowed his pride and switched parties (brands), he would have won in a landslide. Same candidate, different trappings. Fleetwood Mac kept the name, changed the sound and reinvented themselves for a different decade.

It's easy to fall in love with every aspect of your brand and your story, even when your future customers wish you were something else. While it's often better to 'stay the course', it's never a good idea to do so just because you can't consider the alternatives.

There's almost no writing out there about changing your brand. About giving up on some things that you think are important that your constituents hate. Probably because it's a rare occurence indeed.  A dramatic shift in the way you  tell your story is almost certainly more effective than little changes around the edges.

PS Don't forget to vote... even if you want to vote for someone I don't like. We can do better, and we will if more people get involved. (For my non-USA readers: please email your friends in the States and ask them to get on the stick tomorrow.)

Small is...

Publishers Weekly has recently published its list of the 100 best books of 2006. They only picked one book that might be considered a 'business' book. I'm sort of thrilled by this.

Thanks, guys. I guess there's no accounting for taste.

If you're thinking of buying in bulk for the upcoming business-book gift-giving frenzy, here are some links:
Amazon     B&N     8CR    Samples   Manifesto   Site

Thanks for reading... if you didn't, I'd probably stop writing. I'm delighted that the book is off to such a good start.

That magic moment

Halloween costumes are 70% off today.

Last week, some of them were worth a crazed drive through traffic and a possible parking ticket.

The costumes didn't change, of course--the moment did.

In the right moment, something goes from ordinary to precious. From everyday to essential.

Godin on Trademark*

*What every entrepreneur, geek, brand manager and marketer needs to know about trademarks...

If you Google "generic trademarks", you'll find a list on Wikipedia that includes, "aspirin, bikini, brassiere, cola, crock pot, dry ice, escalator, granola, heroin, hula hoop, jungle gym, kiwi fruit, pilates exercise system, trampoline, videotape, Webster's dictionary, yo-yo, and zipper". Each of these trademarks was worth many millions of dollars, and then, poof, it belonged to everyone.

Some people are worried about this. Jeroen send me a note and asked me to riff about it... it even has a name: genericide.

In 1999, I invented a trademark and wrote a book about it. Yahoo still owns the trademark in Permission Marketing®, but a quick search will show you more than a million matches for the expression. What's going on?

I had to make a decision. I could have pushed the world to call the ideas I wrote about, "Permission-based Marketing". Or, I could have been really flexible and encouraged people to call the approach the same thing I did. I figured it was better to be the coiner of a phrase used by millions than to have a little corner of the world all to myself.

And that's part of the paradox of a trademark.

The purpose of a trademark is to help consumers by allowing them to be certain of the source of a good or service. When you go to the store and buy some Mentos, you know you're getting real Mentos, the kind that fizz really well with Coke, not some sort of inferior of mento with a small 'm'. The trademark doesn't just help the Perfetti Van Melle company in Kentucky, it helps you too.

If everyone knows your trademark, it means that your idea has spread. It means that people are interested in what you sell and may very well decide to buy it from you.

In order to make it a trademark, most lawyers agree you need to follow a few superstitions (superstitions because there's no official manual with definitive answers). The first is that you ought to make it clear to the world that you know it's a trademark, that it indicates your product comes from a specific source. So, putting (tm) after your mark helps... and once per page/interaction is generally considered to be enough. So you don't have to repeat the (tm) over and over and over again in your copy or brochure. It's tacky.

Adding (c) after your name is just dumb. It doesn't mean a thing.

You can trademark just about any word or phrase, but that doesn't mean it will hold up. The best trademarks are 'fanciful', words like Yahoo! or Verizon. Next down the list are words that a bit descriptive, like Woopie Cushion, Wikipedia or JetBlue. The worst kind of words are descriptive. Yes, you can trademark the brand American Motors, but don't expect it to be particularly valuable or long lasting.

Some lawyers will get all excited and encourage (demand!) that you register your trademark. This involves paying a bunch of money, filing a bunch of forms and earning an ® after your name instead of the ™. While the ® does give you some benefits by the time you get to court, it doesn't actually increase the value of your trademark. And you can wait. So, when you come up with a great name, just ™ it.

One thing that has changed dramatically about trademarks is the world of domains. If you own heroin.com, the brand becoming generic doesn't hurt you so much, because you're the only one who gets the traffic from the domain.

But now we get to the juicy part. Let's say you've invented a trademark and you fear it will become generic. What now?

My first advice is not to worry. By the time aspirin became generic, the guys who developed it were super rich. If actively protecting your trademark is going to get in the way of making your idea spread, the choice is obvious--spread the idea.

Every trademark that turns generic does so for the same reason: because it's the easiest way to describe something. People didn't say, "That's a sexy Bikini® brand bathing suit." Because the idea itself was bigger (or smaller) than a bathing suit, the new thing needed a name. And the name we picked was bikini.

An iPod is an iPod, not an iPod brand mp3 player. This is a long-term problem for Apple, and suing people who use the word 'pod' to describe other devices isn't realy going to help them. The challenge they have is that they invented a brand name for an item that needed a word. Of course, it's not just a problem, it's a huge advantage.

If you had the chance to work at Apple five years ago, knowing what you know now, what would you do? Pick a name like "The Deluxe Apple Brand MP3 player?" Would you hassle the folks who coined the term "podcast"? Not me. Yes, it's a great idea to think big, to ensure that you don't make mistakes early on that haunt you later. But no, I don't think you should spend a lot of time imagining the bad things that will happen if you succeed and your idea and your name become intertwined.

You can Digg this article if you click here. Notice that Digg is a verb, because there's really no easy way to say, "You can recommend this article in a branded social news service like Digg™ by clicking here." So Digg gets the power of spreading their idea. Nobody says, "Reddit this article by clicking here."

Back to the paradox. Would you rather be Digg or Reddit? Is it better to have Google's problem (notice I used "Google" as a verb in the second paragraph?) or to be ask.com and never get talked about?

The best thing you can invent, as far as I can tell, is an idea that needs a name. When they invented the Jeep®, there was no such thing as the SUV. The Jeep became the name for that idea. The lawyers at Chrysler worked superhard to keep the brand from becoming generic. When the engineers cooked up the Xerox®, they had the same problem. Now, people are happy to call it a copier.

You can recover from impending genericide. What you can't recover from is a clumsy name, or hindering your idea so it doesn't spread or coming up with a slightly better idea for something that already has a quite good enough name and idea.

Disclaimers: I'm not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. If you rely on my legal advice, you're getting exactly what you paid for. I called this post "Godin on Trademark" as a riff on Nimmer on Copyright. The irony, of course, is that "Nimmer" became the almost generic phrase for expertise on the topic... you can look it up in Nimmer.

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