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« November 2006 | Main | January 2007 »

The Chin

I have no doubt you've seen this.

When someone who isn't a real computer user sits down to use one, they stick out their chin.

You've seen this when your grandpa does it, or when some celebrity or politician does it at a photo op. Maybe you do it.

The Chin is a posture and an attitude.

In my experience, people with the Chin don't use a computer the way others do. They surf defensively. Not only does getting anything out of the computer take a little longer, but people with the Chin look for less and don't push as hard in their search for right answers or in their use of the tools available.

While there is a clearly a generational shift going on (watch out, here come a bunch of Chinless kids) it's also being driven by economics and social status and profession. Fortunately, it doesn't appear to be permanent.

[Update! I'm not referring to my esteemed readers with bifocals... the last three instances of the Chin that I witnessed were people who weren't even wearing glasses. All bifocal users are hereby excused.]

Stop Vomiting

It's the middle of the night and your child has been up all night, vomiting. What does the modern parent do? How about type stop vomiting into Google?

Here's an interesting ethical dilemma for our age. It turns out that the top match for this search [at least until this post replaces it] is a page at pharmcatalyst dot com (no link here for obvious reasons) that promises to tell you which medicine to take if you pay them $5 via PayPal. They point out that there's a common over the counter drug that will help, but that drug manufacturers can't tell you what it is because the government won't let them. (I'll save you the money, it's doxylamine, the ingredient in Unisom. They encourage you to mix a tablet with Pepsi).

But wait! In most cases, most of the time, common vomiting is a body's natural and positive reaction to something in the environment. Check here: Nausea and Vomiting. And when it's not that, when it is something that should be stopped, you probably should be at the doctor anyway.

Other than trying to leave a legacy for future midnight surfers, the purpose of this post is to help us think about whether charging $5 for information like this is ethical--and if you think it is, whether it is possible to do it successfully for long...

We now take you back to our regularly scheduled programming.

34 years later, what's new?

Robin points us to a McDonald's training video from 1972. The first thing you'll notice is the slow pacing (things have changed) but the message seems awfully timeless. It's clear that a motivational video is not the solution--if it were, our service problems would be long gone.

The future of web media buying (and building)

A dry topic? Probably not, since it drives what gets built online.

MySpace was invented to generate pageviews. That simple stat got them sold for a lot of money. If no one cared about the stat, it would have never been sold, and if it couldn't be sold, it would probably not have been built. Multiply by a million sites that want either ads or a buyout and you get the idea.

So what's next?

Here are useful insights from two smart guys: Fred Wilson, Jeff Jarvis.

What waiters can teach marketers

Waiters (either gender) interact with paying customers in a more freeform way, more often, than most service professionals. Here's one thing the good ones know:

If a customer tells you something, there's probably a reason.

"I'd like a water, with no ice please."

Now, while some people like to talk just to hear their own voice, there's probably a bigger reason the person said, "with no ice please." If you're going to be a great waiter, you realize that every single time a customer says something, you need to listen.

You don't have to do what they ask, but you do need to acknowledge it and respond to it.

Bringing ice in the water and hoping they will forget they asked is not good waitering. Or good marketing.

Zlist update

I've been amazed, then delighted and then disturbed by the response to the zlist plexo I posted.

My original intent was to make it easy for people who weren't on the list to be on the list. I knew after I posted the list I found that I'd hear from a bunch of bloggers asking to be added. Alas, I don't have the time or the energy (or even the skill) to figure out which ones to add, so I decided to make it an open list.

You may have heard the expression, "everything in moderation." I wonder if it needs to be, "everything needs a moderator."

The open list doesn't seem to work in porous, anonymous communities where there is a lot of self-interest involved. The potential for bad actors to spoil it for everyone else is quite large. (The lists that have been posted on other lenses that are focused on egoless topics are attracting fewer visitors but get more thoughtful votes).

Several bloggers worked hard to game the list I posted, instructing folks to vote other (worthy) blogs down. That's sad.

Several bloggers added their blogs even though they were clearly irrelevant to the point of the list.

And many bloggers got their feelings hurt because if there's a list, and you're competitive, then being near the bottom of the list is a bad thing.

No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

My intent from the beginning was not to game technorati nor to create a competitive environment for bloggers. It was simple: to provide a platform with traffic that would make it easy for good blogs on marketing and similar topics to get read. I still believe that we need that. I'm hopeful that with a moderator (and some changes to the plexo algorithm, which we're instituting over the next week or two) we can accomplish that.

So, I'm looking for a moderator. If you think you'd like to run the lens, promote it, improve it, etc., stop by the site and enter a paragraph in the comments field at the bottom (and I need way to contact you!). My first thought was to give Mack something else to do, but he is opposed to rankings like this, and I respect that.  If I can't find someone to give the page to, then I'll probably shut it down. The web is a daily experiment, and this one, like most, was interesting. I'm disappointed that a few dozen had such an impact on the rest of us...

The T-shirt rule

It's a simple test of whether you've created a remarkable experience:

"Would I buy the t-shirt?"

A t-shirt for your blog or your accounting firm or your bug-fighting software.

If you're not t-shirt worthy, what would it take?

The YouTube President

John F. Kennedy was the TV president. The debates got him elected and his newsreel footage lives on. (When was the last time you saw Eisenhower in a video clip?)

That began an era of politics that lasted more than forty years. That's why it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to run for President.

John Edwards announces his candidacy on YouTube today.

With one hand tied behind your back

Empathica George points us to Empathica, pointing out how clueful the copy on the home page seems to be. I was impressed by all the white space and how calm and professional the site appears.

But I have to admit, after several minutes of poking around, I'm still not certain about what they do! Something about surveys, I think.

My guess is that someone made a company-centric flowchart of what the site had to say and do, and then they were smart enough to hire a designer and copywriter to make it pretty. The mistake is that it assumes that a visitor already knows all about them.

The straightforward solution is to present a first time visitor with the simplest, most complete overview you can.  It's okay if it's long, as long as each paragraph builds on the one that came before, and nothing along the way scares me away or bores me. Examples. Clear testimonials with specifics. Yes, that task is straightforward but that doesn't mean it's easy. But it's worth it.

A note for John Harrobin

To: John Harrobin
VP Marketing--Verizon Wireless
Verizon Communications Inc.
140 West Street
New York,      NY 10007

Happy new year, John.

We've never met, and getting through to an individual at Verizon is (ironically for a communications company) pretty difficult, so I'm going to post my short note to you here, in the hopes that one or more of my readers can get it to you.

According to today's Times, you're leading efforts at Verizon to get banner ads and other advertisements on cell phone screens. The reason? Because advertisers want to buy those ads.

This is not a good reason. In fact, it's a bad one.

A typical cell phone user spends more than $2,000 a year on telecommunications, and the number is going up. For a product with a marginal cost of zero, this is an astoundingly high figure. Why would you risk your market share and what little customer satisfaction remains by selling off screen space to advertisers?

Sure, some folks with more time than judgment will click on these ads, and sure, your advertisers will smile, but do you really want to alienate millions of users by giving us something we don't need and don't want?

Here are the two questions I hope you'll ask yourself:
a. what does the money we make from this effort do to the long-term profitability of our relationship with customers and
b. is this something consumers want? How many calls a day does Verizon get asking for more spam/advertising on their cell phones?

The relentless march of capitalism probably means that this is yet another medium about to go down the tubes in the name of short term profit. I hope not.

How many people need to complain before you draw the line? Tell us where to send a note, and we'll send one!

How to be a millionaire

First step, make a million dollars.

Is purple necessary? Shariq wonders why so many big, successful, profitable companies (Dell, Wal-Mart, Accenture) are boring. Doesn't it contradict so many of the pundits who say we need to be remarkable, small, excellent, etc?

It's pretty compelling logic--look at superbig, superprofitable companies, do what they do and boom, you'll be successful.

There are two problems. The first is that they already did what you are setting out to do. So copying them doesn't give anyone a reason to switch. Filling a filled niche is incredibly difficult and doing it without something to give you a significant edge doesn't work.

The second problem is that long ago, every one of these companies you'd like to emulate was remarkable. Dell, for example, wasn't boring when they invented so many of the tactics that remade the industry. Wal-Mart faced down skeptics for decades.

Bottom line: growth, if it's growth you're after, doesn't come from acting like you are already the dominant force in the market, able to deliver average products for average customers. Growth always comes from the edges.

It's so easy

Cvs I think the reason we get so upset at astounding examples of bad customer service (at least that's what my email seems to demonstrate) is that most of us have given great customer service and realized that most of the time it's not only fairly easy, it's actually quite rewarding.

The Jesuits say, "what we give to the poor is what we take with us when we die." I wonder if the service we get in life is directly related to the service we give? (Thanks to Craig for the photo--yes, it was a personal call.)

What to read now/next

Incorrectly called the z-list, here's an everexpanding list of blogs that's moving its way around the Net. Worth a look! There is no A list, so there can't be a Z list. There's just good blogs.The idea is to add your blog, a few others perhaps, and then post. I haven't visited them all, but I want to, and will: [update: the plexo is getting a lot of votes... feel free to add whatever blog you think might be of interest.]

BrandSizzle
bizsolutionsplus
Customers Rock!
Being Peter Kim
Andy Nulman
Billions With Zero  Knowledge
Working at Home  on the Internet
MapleLeaf  2.0
Darren  Barefoot
Two Hat Marketing

The Engaging Brand
The Branding Blog
CrapHammer
Golden Practices
Viaspire
Tell Ten Friends
Flooring the Consumer
Kinetic Ideas
Unconventional Thinking
Buzzoodle
Conversation Agent
The Copywriting  Maven
Hee-Haw  Marketing
Scott Burkett’s Pothole  on the Infobahn
Multi-Cult Classics
Logic + Emotion
Branding &  Marketing
Carpe  Factum
Steve’s 2  Cents
Simplicity
Popcorn n  Roses
On Influence &  Automation
Servant of  Chaos
converstations
eSoup
Make it  Great!
Presentation Zen
Dmitry Linkov
aialone
Urban Jacksonville
John Wagner
Nick Rice
CKs  Blog
Design  Sojourn
Frozen  Puck
The  Sartorialist
Small  Surfaces
Africa Unchained
Perspective
gDiapers
Marketing Nirvana
Bob  Sutton
¡Hola! Oi!  Hi!
Shut Up and  Drink the Kool-Aid!
Women, Art,  Life: Weaving It All Together
Community Guy
Social Media on the  fly
Jeremy Latham’s  Blog
SMogger Social Media  Blog
Masey.com
37 Days

A Clear Eye
Alex Halavais
Blog Brothers
Brand Autopsy

Brand Soul
Creating  Passionate Users
Crossroads  Dispatches
Doc Searls
Drawn

eHub
FAST Company
gapingvoid
gillianic tendencies
Good Experience
Hitchhikers Guide to the Blogosphere
Hobopoet
How to Save the World
Josh Hallett
Joy of Six
Learned on Women
Listics
Make it Great
my topography
New Charm School
Occupational  Adventure
Orbit Now
Pause
PureLand Mountain
Seth Godin
Simplicity
Songs of Experience
Talking  Story
Time Goes By
Tom Peters

Tomorrow Today
WonderBranding
World Changing
Tertiary Education
Joyful Jubilant Learning

Creative Think
8wishes
Movie Marketing  Madness
Blog Till You  Drop!
Get  Shouty!
One Reader at a  Time
100 Bloggers
Critical Fluff
The New PR
Own Your Brand!
OTOInsights
bizandbuzz
Work, in Plain English
Buzz Canuck
New  Millenium PR
Pardon My  French
The Instigator  Blog
AENDirect
Diva  Marketing
Marketing  Hipster
The Marketing  Minute
Funny  Business
The Frager  Factor
Mindblob
OrbitNow!
Open The Dialogue
Word Sell
Note to CMO:
That’s Great  Marketing!
Shotgun  Marketing Blog

PS I've turned this into a plexo. Add yours there. And vote.

Your favorite posts of 2006

plex1825

Anyone can add this feature to a blog. Takes about five minutes (except for the unhappy job of eliminating the hundreds of posts that didn't make the cut). Please go ahead and expand the list and then vote your favorites up and the losers down. Thanks.

The latest graffiti

BubblePLY lets anyone put little talk bubbles on other people's YouTube videos. Sort of a second generation of me-video.

The examples on their site aren't so good, but no doubt the artistz out there will have a good time pushing this envelope.

Sneetchcraft

Check out this spectacularly detailed expose of a brand of chocolate that costs more than $2,000 a pound. Where else but Texas? What's Noka Worth? (Part 10).

Price is always part of the marketing story... always. When the price can't be held up as authentic, things start to fall apart. Consumers, even those that aren't wealthy, regularly pay 10 times or a hundred times more than they need to for some items, largely because of the story. And we justify that expense with some very complicated internal lies. But sooner or later the stories just don't hold up.

Thanks, Andy.

The Career Manifesto

From Michael via Hugh at gapingvoid. Excerpts:

1. Unless you're working in a coal mine, an emergency ward, or their equivalent, spare us the sad stories about your tough job. The biggest risk most of us face in the course of a day is a paper cut.

4. Although your title may be the same, the job that you were hired to do three years ago is probably not the job you have now. When you are just coasting and not thinking several steps ahead of your responsibilities, you are in dinosaur territory and a meteor is coming.

6. Your technical skills may impress the other geeks, but if you can't get along with your co-workers, you're a litigation breeder. Don't be surprised if management regards you as an expensive risk.

8. Don't believe what the organization says it does. Its practices are its real policies. Study what is rewarded and what is punished and you'll have a better clue as to what's going on.

10.If you plan on showing them what you're capable of only after you get promoted, you need to reverse your thinking.

Three follow ups

From Nicolas: ModernCaptcha - when captcha meets usability.

And I recently posted on Whale Season, which I bought. It's very funny and very good. If you're a Carl Hiassen fan, go for it.

And The Houdini Solution is a new book from a new author and quite thought-provoking. Recommended.

Have a nice Festivus... enjoy yourself.

Top Two Best Times to Invest in Good Copy

Badsonyad Time 1: When you're going to spend more than $100,000 on a newspaper ad, it's probably worth spending a few hundred bucks to write a good one.

In case you're having trouble reading the small white print against the faded blue background, here's an excerpt, "It’s time to truly experience high definition. It’s time to finally understand what 1080p really means. The Blu-ray® Disc way. The Sony Way." I won't even try to decode the headline.

Time 2: When you are only spending $50 on a Google AdWord or $100 on a direct mail campaign, if it works, it'll pay for itself. And then you can buy more.

Either way, copy pays.

The story always matters

Fairtrade I got a soccer ball in the mail today. I don't know from soccer, but as far as I can tell, it's just like any other soccer ball.

Except it's not.

It's not... because it's from Fair Trade Sports. They only use adult labor (which shouldn't even be necessary to say) and they donate after-tax profits to kids' charities.

Does it change the way you play soccer? Probably more than you know. Does it change the way the balls get sold? Of course.

A commodity is only a commodity if you treat it as one.

Random Links for a Tuesday

Different takes on being purple:
Digg now does video.
OttoBib launches a very simple bibliography tool.

...and unrelated, Cisco launches an iPhone, demonstrating that Apple isn't always so good at naming products.

Another seminar

Just in time for year-end budget filling: A Day with Seth Godin.

The last one sold out in a few weeks, so don't dilly. See you there.

Here comes the Long Tail of Reddit (and Digg...)

It had to happen, and it's happening all at once.

Several sites (a few links at end of the post) are launching very focused, very vertical Digg-like features. My favorite is probably Squidoo (of course) because we've been working on it for a few months and I think you'll like some of the features.

As you know, making the front page of Reddit is worth three bucketfulls of clicks. The thing is, there's only one front page. Even as these sites split into multiple front pages (Digg now has seven front pages), there's never going to be enough front pages to satisfy everyone. The irony is that Chris Anderson (author of the Long Tail) is at Wired, new owner of Reddit...

Digg and Reddit are groundbreaking and they are not going away. The power of the audience they aggregate is huge--putting all those seekers in one place makes it irresistible.

Now, though, instead of aggregating to one much seen page, Squidoo now permits you to build your own list (and syndicate it), on whatever topic you can imagine.

Examples I built by using some lists I found around the web:
Fred Wilson's Top 10 Albums of 2006
Which Broadway Show?
Doc Searls' Top Blogs
Seth Godin's List of Books About Spreading Ideas

Here are some that are better than mine:

Videogames for toddlers, John Williams soundtracks, sci-fi movies and essentials. So what's missing? Stuff that's focused on current affairs within a field. The best posts on architecture, for example.

Like Digg and Reddit, you can add your own entries to (some of) the lists, and the lists change in real time. You can also syndicate them, posting the sharable ones on your blog or your website.

What this means is that there's a new group of sites coming along, sites that reward people for being curators.

Addressing one of the issues I had been fretting about, each list has a human editor and each list has a doorman--if the person building a list desires, she can screen what's posted to maintain list quality.

PlugIM is doing something Reddit-like with news about web marketing.

Stumbleupon just did it with videos (sort of)

and Wikia is using a less elegant voting mechanism to highlight the best posts or entire wikis.

Bet you money there will be more soon!

Embracing the naive prospect

Many businesses cater to individuals and corporations that are making a once in a lifetime purchase. Whether it's a DJ for your kids sweet 16 or a company that pours tar on the roof of your factory, it's unlikely you're an expert when you go to buy the product or service.

So, unlike a purchase from an educated consumer (shoes, for example, or a car or workman's comp insurance) this purchase has very different rules. Jargon, for one, is missing, so it's hard to communicate crisply. Education matters, because without the confidence to decide, the prospect will stall, or evade, or just move on. And trust is essential, because there's so much fear on the line.

I think there are a few valid tactics to consider:

EDUCATE--not a little, but a lot. Run a school. A real honest to goodness school, online or off, by phone or by plane. If it's important enough to me, I'll attend.

BE TRANSPARENT--tell me all about your competitors. Sure, I might buy from you if you're the only one I can think of, but I'm way more likely to buy from you if you have the confidence to give me a list of questions and a list of competitors.

A GUARANTEE might be worth less than you think. It certainly won't help replace my ruined bar mitzvah!

REALIZE that your reputation might not precede you. In other words, it's entirely possible that I have no clue who you are or what you've done before.

COMMUNITY--put me in a room with ten other people facing the same quandary. As we talk with each other, we'll gain trust in you.

Most of all, I think it's essential to acknowledge internally that your job is to turn naive, fearful new prospects into confident spreaders of word of mouth.

Or, intentionally ignore this market and demand jargon and a reference before you let me in the door. Either strategy can work. What doesn't work is intidimidating the already intimidated.

Adventures in personalization

Conrad points us here. Just change the last two words in the URL and the animation changes. Personalization appears to be a little like salt on potato chips--when there's too much, it's not so good.

The Whole Wheat Test

It appears that the typical Whole Foods Market employee has a heart.

For a variety of reasons, the company attracts employees who care about what they're doing. Which makes this test relevant to you (because you care) and poignant, too.

I asked at the Whole Foods bakery for a loaf of "whole wheat bread" that looked quite tasty. As the clerk was bagging it, I asked, "Is it 100% whole wheat?" It turns out that lots of bread that's labeled as whole wheat really isn't. In fact, there's no regulation on this at all, and you can sell a loaf with just a tablespoon of whole wheat in it as "whole wheat."

"Actually, no," she responded, putting it back.

Here's the thing: Virtually everyone who buys whole wheat bread is buying it because they want whole wheat bread, not white bread with some caramel color and a little whole wheat. While it might be legally permissible to sell a pale replacement, it's certainly not ethical.

I asked the person why she didn't change the sign. Call it whole wheat blend or something catchy. She explained that she wasn't allowed to. Yes, they have other loaves that are whole wheat, and she sold me one of those.

The question I'd ask you is this: if you worked at the bakery, would you change the sign? Or direct people to the real whole wheat bread? Or would you follow the company line and deceive your customers?

It comes up more than you would think. I get email from marketers complaining that they are forced to spam people and from retail associates who are upset that they are measured on how many worthless warranties they sell...

Where do you draw the line? How do you decide what's a sufficient amount of non-transparency and what's unacceptable?

[Contributed by Doug Sandquist, DDS (ellipses his): there are plenty of buzz words to market... I try and teach my employees, my philosophy that is based on experience and research... Take tooth whitening for example... a laser does nothing to bleach teeth... the bleaching agent bleaches teeth.. the Laser is a marketing tool...  The theory goes that if you light/heat activate the bleaching agent it will work faster.. but all the research shows that it doesn't matter... the research also shows that tooth whitening at home works as well if not better than the in office "Laser" whitening systems... in fact the research shows that it typically takes a patient 2-4 visits(usually a week apart) of Laser visits to equal 4 weeks of at home daily whitening... so the results are the same... here's the catch... I can charge $360 for a 4 week at home system.... For an in office laser system I have to charge the patient $500 each visit.. which means it could cost $2000. I am happy to the go the in office way if the patient understands all the alternatives.. I expect my employees to understand all the buzz words and understand how our office handles them... My employees need to know the pros and cons of the options..... and I expect them to educate our patients about them too!  If we are not honest about tooth whitening, how are we to be trusted for other larger treatment options?]

The wet fish handshake

It's happened to all of us. We meet someone and they hand over the wet fish.

I don't know about you, but I'm immediately inclined to flee.

Well, now that spammers (and their evil cousin, the PR flak who emails every blogger in a database in order to flog a new product/site) are trying harder than ever to pretend it's not spam, we've got our eyes peeled.

Like the note I received today from Glenn, a flunkie at a VC firm:

Dear SETH,

it began (first clue!)

and in the middle,

...a future investment in Seth Godin.

(the person, not the company?)

The good news is that human beings are really really good at looking for the tiny clues that let us know if they're legit. The bad news is that spammers are going to get even better at disguising themselves (I admit I get tricked every now and then--I get tricked by handshakes sometimes too).

Just because a marketer can trick someone doesn't mean she has the right to.

What is a click worth?

You probably have already figured it out (if you're buying clicks, I hope so!). If not, here is a handy spreadsheet: Click value measurement.

When the public can comment on your ads...

They will. And when your ad is on YouTube, they can.

Link: YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.

Government regulates sneezing

John points us to:  FTC Moves to Unmask Word-of-Mouth Marketing - washingtonpost.com.

It asks more questions than it answers, but maybe it will put transparency a little higher on the agenda. One sure winner: lawyers.

The check is in the mail

This is a great riff from Artie. Thanks to Ed for the link. I'll reprint it here. I think it's a fascinating marketing strategy because it causes half the people he engages with to take action, and I also think it's a compelling commentary on how incredibly difficult it is to get the richest people in the world to become philanthropic:

---snip---

Of all the direct mail we create at Young Isaac, our own holiday cards are my favorite.

Once again, our holiday checks are in the mail to hundreds of our favorite clients and friends. Each check is signed and ready to cash for $8. But there's work to be done by the recipient. Each of our friends has to forward the check to a favorite charity. (And some of our friends add their own checks because $8 isn't much.)

We get three questions every year. Here are the questions and the answers:

Why do you do this? Back in the 1990s, we received a lot of holiday cards that said, "Happy holidays. We donated to a charity in your name." We wondered, tactlessly: "Oh, yeah? Exactly how much did you donate in our name? Did you spend more telling me than you did donating?" (We're not proud to have thought this way, but that was the thought.) So we decided to send money rather than self-congratulatory cards about some mysterious gift we made. Problem was, we couldn't afford more than $8 (it was $5 the first year) per person. True, $8 isn't much, but we send a bushel of these, so it puts a dent in our net revenue.

How many get cashed? In all our years, our record is 53% cashed. That seems sad, because so much money doesn't reach a charity. On the other hand, most direct mail doesn't enjoy even 2% conversion. On the third hand, since we forecast that half gets trashed, we send out twice as many as we would if 100% were cashed. This year, we've tried a few new things to increase the yield. We're testing an additional envelope to help get the check forwarded, and we added a list of charities with their addresses on our website.

What's been the best story? The first year, a young woman called to say thank you: "It was interesting. I first thought, 'I like the zoo, so I'll send it to the zoo.' Then, I sat back and thought about being a single mother. And I decided to send it to Planned Parenthood and I added a check for $100. You know, this was the first time that I had ever made such a conscious charitable decision." It thrilled us to think that our check made this person a philanthropist.

Happy new year!

Always a new way to interrupt

Cingular_on_rhapsody Blake sends us this story:

I signed up for the 14 day trial of rhapsody.com ... As I'm enjoying Roxanne by Sting I hear Feliz Navidad playing over the track.  I instantly assume that something is wrong with the stream and try to replay the song.  It happens again.  I then go back to the song list page trying to figure out what the heck is doing that.  Then I realize it.  It's the Cingular Banner at the top of the page!!!   How horrible.  I was enjoying rhapsody.com.  Now I'm done.

I don't think the game is to find new ways to interrupt people in annoying ways, is it?

Brand as mythology

Just under the wire, L. Frank Baum's heirs have no copyright protection on The Wizard of Oz. As a result, there are Broadway musicals, concordances, prequels, sequels and more. All of which creates a rich, emotional universe (and makes the copyrighted movie even more valuable).

Most of us remember the mythology stories they taught us in school (Zeus and Thor and the rest of the comic-like heroes.) Myths allow us to project ourselves into their stories, to imagine interactions that never took place, to take what's important to us and live it out through the myth.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of entertainment mythological brands. James Bond and Barbie, for example.

But it goes far behond that.

There's clearly a Google mythology and a Starbucks one was well. We feel differently about brands like these than we do about, say Maxwell House or Random House.

Why do Santa and Ronald McDonald have a mythology but not Dave at Wendy's or the Burger King?

Let's try the Wikipedia: Myths are narratives about divine or heroic beings, arranged in a coherent system, passed down traditionally, and linked to the spiritual or religious life of a community, endorsed by rulers or priests.

So, if I were trying to invent a mythic brand, I'd want to be sure that there was a story, not just a product or a pile of facts. That story would promise (and deliver) an heroic outcome. And there needs to be growth and mystery as well, so the user can fill in her own blanks. Endorsement by a respected ruler or priest helps as well.

The key word, I think, is spiritual. Mythological brands make a spiritual connection with the user, delivering something that we can't find on our own... or, at the very least, giving us a slate we can use to write our own spirituality on.

People use a Dell. They are an Apple.

This can happen accidentally, but it often occurs on purpose. A brand can be deliberately mythological, created to intentionally deliver the benefits of myth. Casinos in Las Vegas have been trying to do this for decades (and usually failing). But talk to a Vegas cab driver about Steve Wynn and you can see that it's been done at least once.

There's a mythology about Digg and about Wikipedia, but not about about.com. The mysterious nature of rankings and scores and community ensures that, combined with the fact that the first two have public figures at the helm... heroes.

It's easy to confuse publicity with mythology, but it doesn't work that way... there's no Zune mythology, for example. It's also easy to assume that mythology will guarantee financial success, but it didn't work for General Magic, a company which successfully leveraged the heroic reputations of its founders, created a very hot IPO but failed to match the needs of the larger market.

It did, on the other hand, work for Andersen's, an ice cream stand in Buffalo (!?) that has a line every single day, even in January.

Hard to explain, difficult to bottle, probably worth the effort to pursue.

Me me me

Rugby_20061211 Alex Pooley reminds us that people really enjoy seeing their name (and hearing it as well).

Your name is the simplest, shortest way to be involved. Spammers have figured this out, but it still hasn't diminished the pleasure people get in hearing their name. I even smile when I get email from someone else named Seth

Infinitely customizable short run printing makes it possible to create color images like this one. No doubt that this tactic, like all others before it, will be abused and eventually lose its luster. Until then, people love seeing their name in lights, especially if the message that goes with it is authentic.

PS check out this one from Dan.

Badmouthing the competition

A great post from the always great tompeters!

I'd be a lousy pilot

Sitting behind the pilot on a tiny plane today, I was reminded how important, difficult and tedious this job is.

Pilots have to get it right every time. They have to follow a myriad of procedures. They must be calm and focused and consistent, and yes, boring. No one wants to notice the pilot.

Good pilots probably do very well in job interviews--and not just for pilot jobs. They have many of the traits that hiring managers look for. They follow instructions with an eye on detail. They don't fail (if they did, they probably wouldn't be at the interview). They show up on time.

I'm grateful there are pilots. I'm also glad I'm not one.

Here's the thing: I think (outside of the airline business, of course) that our need for pilots is diminishing, and rapidly. I think the value add of a person who carefully follows instructions and procedures keeps going down. I think the fact that pilots would do well in a job interview at your organization means your organization probably should change the way interviews get done.

We don't need pilots. We need instigators and navigators, rabble rousers and innovators. People who can't follow a checklist to save their life, but invent the future every day.

Free one-pager for non profits (org2.0)

Courtesy of Npower New York and Squidoo. Download pdf  Feel free to share.

The Tipping Point

Sanj sends us this quote:

Last weekend our family had a get together for my aunt and uncle's 40th anniversary. Anyway, I brought my 360 with to play some games with my nephews. Turns out both of my nephews that showed up already had 360s, and one of them even brought theirs with, too. So we went downstairs to hook them up, when my uncle said "don't bother, I already got my 360 hooked up to the big screen". I was floored. My uncle is 62 years old! Just then my other uncle (the 62 year olds brother) said "What? I didn't know you had a 360! We could have been playing Gears of War coop!" Now I couldn't believe my ears. Just then our family priest showed up at the door, he normally stops by for big events like this. Well, under his arm he had a 360. He had just bought it and didn't want to leave it out in the cold. All of us who were just talking about 360 were shocked and we all just started laughing, including our priest.

While we were laughing we heard a big sound, like boxes falling over. My aunt had opened a closet where no fewer than two dozen Xbox 360s tumbled out all over the floor. She looked embarrased, then explained she had bought them for all the memebers of her bridge club. They were tired of playing bridge and heard about how you could play Uno online with 360. She was worried my uncle would be mad for spending so much money. Luckily he wasn't mad at all, he said 'No way, I love Xbox 360!'. Then we all laughed for a good half hour.

Yeah, I'd say 360 is really picking up some steam.

The 360 buying spree has begun... - Page 3 - Xbox 360 & Xbox Forums.

[PS, added a few hours later for my irony-disabled readers: the above is an over-the-top bit of hyperbole, a fake, a scam, a joke, a riff on florid marketing prose.]

Whale Season

The web hates channel conflict.

Actually, it's consumers who hate it.

Channel conflict is what happens when a producer doesn't want to favor one retailer over another, or gets stuck because the terms at the effective retail channel conflict with the terms at the channel they would like to have succeed.

Too confusing. Let me try again.

I visited a blog this morning. There was a clever ad for a new paperback book called Whale Season. I clicked, intending to buy, partly to support the blog, partly because I needed a trashy book for vacation.

Oh. It's the Random House site. See, Random House, the publisher, doesn't want to send me to Amazon, because then all the other bookstores would be angry with them. So they offer to sell me the book at full retail, and I have to pay for shipping and I have to enter all my data. Nope. Bye.

See, it's the "nope, bye" part that producers have to worry about. I have a million ways to spend my time and my money, and Random House's channel conflict problems are irrelevant to me. So I leave. The ad is wasted. The author is bitter.

If you are getting in the way of the path between your customers and your products, your customers are just going to go away. Clear the path, don't clutter it.

You can't say you can't play

Lenny Levine died yesterday at 67.

He was the greatest kindergarten teacher ever.

Lenny taught kids two things:

He taught them how to learn. He understood that kindergarten wasn't third grade for little kids. It was an important step in beginning the process of becoming someone who could learn without stress, forever.

And he taught them this motto, "You can't say you can't play." It was a mantra about inclusion and openness and it let kids understand that what you thought about someone yesterday didn't really matter if they had something to contribute today.

I'll miss Lenny. But the world (all of us) will benefit from what he taught for a long time to come.

Invest an hour

It'll pay big dividends. Ben and Jackie's new book pubs today: Church of the Customer Blog.

Pencil Drop (The end of Digg as we know it?)

So, the latest bit of civil disobedience from the seventh grade is the pencil drop (nothing new). Word goes out that at exactly 2:04, everyone drops their pencil.

Teachers hate this.

Coordination turns random events into noticeable events.

I'm on record as being a huge fan of Reddit and Digg and the other social bookmarking sites. I'm still a big fan. But I wonder about the self-inflicted damage of their success.

Now that they are so powerful (the front page is worth hundreds of thousands of impressions, for free, in one day, among some of the most influential people online) people are starting to notice.

They're noticing by encouraging their fans to post in a coordinated way.

Sometimes they do this in ways that most of us would consider ethical (hey, please Digg this post if you think it's worthwhile) while others are hiring clickfarms in India to do it for them. The leverage is just so great, it's irresistible (in some categories, just a few hundred Diggs is enough to work your way up to the top).

As this gaming approach catches on, I have no doubt that the social networking sites will do a pretty good job of stopping the spammers. But they can't (and shouldn't) stop the semi-organic ones, the good blog posts where the blogger asked for the Digg and made it easy, right?

So the market will adjust and the good will still win.

Except it won't. It won't because the truly good, the overlooked, the stuff that is built by someone who doesn't know how to IM the top Diggers, doesn't want to pay a bribe or even know how to put in links to the sites--those pages can't possibly compete with the coordinated pencil drop. So they disappear.

I'm fully expecting that sometime quite soon, the front door won't be open quite so wide... that it won't be so easy to get a dubious page into the clickstream. The idea of social bookmarking isn't going to go away, I think, but it can't help but evolve.

Under New Management

Newmanagement Another mystery to ponder.

Why would anyone put a sign like this up on her store?

If I liked your store before, now I'm on notice to be careful--it might not be as good.

If I didn't like your store before, why on earth am I paying attention to your little sign and why should I go out of my way to take another chance?

This is a vivid symbol of the ego-centric nature of most marketing. The sign is about the owner, not about the prospect.

I have no explanation

Here's a link to the ingredients of Kraft Guacomole.

WATER, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COCONUT AND SOYBEAN OIL, CORN SYRUP, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE (FROM MILK), FOOD STARCH MODIFIED, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF POTATOES, SALT, AVOCADO, DEFATTED SOY FLOUR, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, TOMATOES, SODIUM CASEINATE, VINEGAR, LACTIC ACID, ONIONS, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, GELATIN, XANTHAN GUM, CAROB BEAN GUM, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, SPICE, WITH SODIUM BENZOATE AND POTASSIUM SORBATE AS PRESERVATIVES, GARLIC, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, CITRIC ACID, YELLOW 6, YELLOW 5, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, BLUE 1, ARTIFICIAL COLOR.

 
As you can see from this list of the ingredients in order of quantity, avocado is the ninth ingredient by weight, coming in at less than 2%, less, in fact, than the salt.

I think I understand why the folks at Kraft prefer to use modified food starch instead of avocados (cheaper, easier to source, keeps better) but what I don't understand is why people buy it more than once.

In fact, over time, a generation grows up thinking this is the 'regular kind' and wrinkling its nose at the chunky, irregular original kind.

How did we get programmed this way? Is it an inevitable part of the human condition to prefer things that are bland, preprocessed and not so good for us? Or did we market ourself into this corner?

The 5 pump chai

That's what the guy in front of me at Starbucks had. "No water," he added. I don't even know what a 5 pump chai with no water is...

The next guy had a latte, 120.

I think that's degrees.

There's no longer 19,000 different beverages at Starbucks. There may be several million if you count outliers like these.

And why does it matter? Surely we could agree on, say, 1,000 different options that would be enough.

Nope. Never enough. Never enough because the selection is the equivalent of friendship, of recognition, of self worth. Having it your way is a power trip, and one that's well worth $4.

It's hard for me to imagine a business that couldn't offer the same to its best customers.

Commercializing Captcha

Picture_43 So, here's my great branding/commercialism/capitalist captcha idea for the day:

Everyone has this stuff now. Comments, sign ups, it's everywhere. We only want people, not computers. But it's way way too hard to decipher the writing.

What we need is a centralized captcha server that everyone can use for free. And how would it be monetized, you ask?

Easy. Logos.

It might be for soup or a server or an airline...

Type the brand you see above, please.

Only the very best

If you are an all-star, please read this. It's one of the most amazing organizations I've ever worked with... and you would be a good match:

Dear Friends,

We are looking to quickly fill the role of Chief Development Officer at Acumen Fund. I have attached a detailed job description to this note; however in summary, this individual would sit on the senior management team and be primarily responsible for the organization’s revenue generating activities to ensure a funding base for Acumen Fund’s investments as well as operations.  He or she would also be heavily involved in setting the strategic focus for the organization.

Prior fundraising experience would certainly be beneficial in the role; however we are also looking for someone with a strong track record of managing and building systems and who would be excited by our fast-pace entrepreneurial environment.

Given the need to fill this position quickly we will be accepting resumes until next Friday, December 8th and would like to fill the role by January 1. Please contact our Talent Manager, Deepti Doshi (ddoshi@acumenfund.org) if you are interested and feel free to send this out to others who you think may be a good fit.

Lifetime warranty

Laurie writes, "amazing customer service from le creuset, the french enamel on cast iron cookware people

i dropped something on a pot cover while it was in the sink and the knob shattered

i called ...

"give me your shipping address and we'll send the replacement knob for the pot cover"

no questions asked ... i've had that pot 10 years ... lifetime warranty really does mean lifetime warranty ...

while i had them on the phone, i mentioned that i had another pot of theirs that got a chip on the enamel on the inside, and i had been wondering about getting it fixed

no questions asked ...

"we don't repair, we replace; here's the address to send the pot and we will replace it, and here's your confirmation number ... just put it on the inside of the package"

that pot is at least 8 years old ...

and here i am telling you all about it"

Stopping, not starting.

Helene points out that Google is shutting down Google Answers.

My first response was "oh no!! I love Google Answers... I use it all the time. It's amazing! I'll miss it."

And my second was to think about this as the obvious side effect of being in the fashion business.

If you're going to launch stuff, and launch it often, then you must clean house. Even though Google Answers is a great idea (hint, someone should recruit all their brilliant researchers), it's not a great enough idea to hit Google's numbers. So kill it.

Ignore people like me who scream and yell about how much they love it and how much potential there is. Just kill it. That's what fashion companies do.

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