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

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All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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

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Poke The Box

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

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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The Dip

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

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The Icarus Deception

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

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

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

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

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We Are All Weird

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

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

« March 2007 | Main | May 2007 »

The marketer's guide to personal finance

Debtsavings Even in the web 2.0 world, marketers need money. We need money to create remarkable products and to tell stories that spread. We need it to hire the best people and most of all, to stick it out until our ideas spread.

Which is why all but the largest companies need to learn a key lesson of personal finance.

This chart shows what happens to two people. The smart person, we'll call him Gallant, manages to save $100 a month for five years.

The other one, we'll call him Doofus, spends $100 more than he has every month.

After five years, Gallant has almost $7,000 in the bank. Even with only 5% interest, he's building an asset that keeps him out of trouble with his mother-in-law and gives him the freedom to invest in the next part of his business.

The same period of time, Doofus has used his credit cards to finance his debt of $100 a month. That tiny nut has now added up to about $13,000 in 24% credit card debt. And every single month it gets a lot bigger.

If this isn't interesting to you, consider the company that spends $10,000 or $100,000 extra every month.

A lot of organizations decide to skip the rice and beans and studio apartment step. They decide to "go big or stay home." More often than not, they end up going home.

I spent many years window shopping restaurant menus and driving all night to get to meetings where the plane cost just a bit too much. I thought at the time that I had no choice, but now I realize that I could have borrowed money on my credit cards and lived a little easier. I'm glad I didn't.

When I talk to people who want to become marketers, I almost always tell them to go start something and go market something. The same advice for 15 year olds and seniors. Turning off the TV and building a Cafe Press store is not only free, but it starts to build a professional-skills asset for the long haul. Pay as much as you need to for things that matter, and as little as you can for things that don't. And never borrow money to pay for something that goes down in value.

Informal workshop

Sorry, full!

Friday, May 4, I'll be trying out some new slides and riffs on the presentation for the Dip. If you'd like to be part of the audience (I need your feedback!), would love to have you stop by the office. Drop me a line, there's only room for ten or so people (and it's an off the record, non-public sort of thing). I'll write back with specifics, timing, etc. Admission is free, no strings, no promises. The focus is going to be on the presentation, so it's not really a workshop, except in the theatrical sense.

I'll take this post down once we're full. Thanks.

iPhone Challenge: Marketing pundits unite

Predicting the future of the iPhone is perfect bait for marketing pundits everywhere. How about a pool and we'll see who's as smart as they pretend to be?

Steve Ballmer says, "There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."

Laura Ries writes,

"I don't disagree with the prediction that initially Apple will sell quite a few iPhones. Steve Job's brilliant job with the PR and the media's love of convergence will make an iPhone a must have for some early adopters and elites.

But shortly after the launch the initial hype will wear off and Steve will move on to the next project at Apple. Then the iPhone will end up in the convergence scrap heap along with the ROKR, N-Gage, WebTv and many others."

Easy to be hard, I guess. My take is quite different. I think the iPhone is going to sell 2 million units in 2007 and more in 2008. There, I said it.

So, I invite you to make a prediction, trackback it here and a year from now, we'll take a look.

The power of connection

Pam points us to Family to Family. This extraordinary non-profit connects communities with plenty to communities without enough.

I'm fascinated by the lack of infrastructure necessary to accomplish this. An all-volunteer group is able to become a clearinghouse, connecting people who need and want to be connected.

Even governments market

...sometimes, though, they don't do it very well.

If you want to travel to India, you need a visa. The Indian government would very much like you to travel to their country, to exchange ideas, do business, see the sights and spend some money. But you need a visa first.

I spent a few hours at the Indian consulate in New York Friday. It was filled with so many possibilities, I had trouble remembering them all.

Many of the chairs are broken, leaving sharp steel platforms on which to crouch. And there aren't enough chairs, broken or not. The signs are confusing, the two clerks are protected by a sheet of glass a full inch thick (which is twice the thickness of a typical bank's) and the little machine that dispenses deli-style tickets is broken.

Fixing the consulate would be easy. I'd start by putting in phone lines to a call center in India and making it easy for anyone waiting to get questions answered by a helpful person with plenty of time to invest in the conversation. I'd buy some comfortable chairs. I'd invite airlines and hotels to have brochures or even better, a booking agent right there in the waiting area. I'd hire seven more clerks. And I'd definitely lose the glass.

The more important issue is this: this is a business. They take in more than $20,000 a day in fees, but even more important, the way they market themselves has a direct and important impact on travel decisions. No visa, no trip. Big hassle, no trip. Given that every single person traveling to this vast country must deal with the consulate first, think of the leverage... Just a small influence on the quantity or quality of travel to India would be huge.

My takeaway was this: the people in that building were way too nice and way too smart to not know the many ways they could fix this process. The problem is that this bureaucracy, like most bureaucracies, has an attitude of minimizing, not maximizing. They want to minimize expense, not maximize benefit. There isn't a single person there who has as part of his job, "change systems to increase the satisfaction of people we deal with." Nobody who is charged with, "increase revenue opportunities for us and for the people we work with." Or even, "employ more people in Delhi."

Same thing happens at my village zoning board, at most schools, at many churches and even, believe it or not, at most businesses. It's not that difficult, but it requires a very different mindset.

Politics is flat

On Friday May 18 in NY, Micah and Andrew are running a conference that just might be one of those seminal events that everyone remembers attending years later... even if they didn't. Like the Fast Company Advance in 1997, or the AOL partner event in 1996. Check it out: Personal Democracy Forum – Technology Is Changing Politics.

Some speakers: Tom Friedman, Arianna Huffington, Jay Rosen, Kim Malone, Robert Scoble, Jeff Jarvis, Cheryl Contee, Eli Pariser, Sara Horowitz, Josh Marshall, Ruby Sinreich, Craig Newmark, Joe Trippi, Becki Donatelli, Andrew Keen, Ellen Miller, Chris Rabb, David All, Todd Ziegler, Allison Fine, Clay Shirky, Liza Sabater, Brian Dear, Ben Rattray, Seth Godin, Steve Urquhart, Mindy Finn, Mike Turk, Zack Exley, Walter Fields and Robert Greenwald.

Hope to see you there.

Book tour update: When the funnel gets flipped

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a new kind of book tour I am planning for May. Little did I know that it would turn into a fascinating experiment in the power of the network. Find out all the details on the entire tour right here.

As of now, the tour is scheduled for about half a dozen cities, including:

Philadelphia, May 16

Chicago, May 22

 New York, May 29

Santa Clara, May 23

Ann Arbor, May 22  

Phoenix/Tempe, May 24

...with Salt Lake City coming as soon as we nail down the timing. [Breaking news: Salt Lake City, May 24 in the afternoon is now ready for booking.] The amazing thing is that most of these were created, built and run by people I have never met before. Satisfied readers decided it would be fun to see if they could organize hundreds of people, find a venue, work with a bookstore and pull the entire thing off. And they have. It's gratifying and humbling, and a testament to what one person with dedication can do now that we all have access to the network. You can find organizer pages for Salt Lake, Phoenix, Ann Arbor and Silicon Valley for more details on how they did it.

This is a much bigger story than one author visiting a few cities. This sort of approach works for just about any marketer. If you don't have customers who are willing to organize this sort of event, what are you missing? It's easy to imagine doctors doing it when bringing a brain researcher to town. Or chocolate or wine fanatics welcoming a particularly talented vintner to their neighborhood. And it doesn't have to be an in person visit. It could work just as well in sending people to a vibrant, important YouTube document on a politician, or a blog post about a new actuarial practice.

It's taking the world (including me) a long time to get around the top-down, Oprah-driven mindset that comes so naturally.

Almost all authors hate book tours. They hate the idea of going to a city on spec, hoping the bookstore can scare enough people into coming by (usually by posting signs in the lobby) and most of all they hate the idea of a slightly indifferent audience walking by, sniffing at a book and walking away. Ouch. And it's not just authors that hate it. Willy Loman hated it, too. So does John McCain.

The takeaway for all of us is this:
1. Build a permission asset: a group of people that actually wants to hear what you're up to.
2. Create something (a product, a service, a story) that those people want to spread (not get paid to spread, but choose to spread) and get out of the way.

Thanks to the organizers around the country, we all just learned something.

Marketing time

Smart marketers already know that marketing is more than advertising. Here's one tactic that might be overlooked: time.

Domino's rode this for a while with 30 minute delivery. Fedex still does. But using time as part of your story can be a lot more subtle than that.

At a conference I recently attended, the group was 50 minutes behind schedule after only 2 hours of the program. For the speakers, the message was, "I'm important, as important as the last guy, so since he went over ten minutes, I will too." For the audience, the message was, "this is a conference about the guys on the stage, not about us."

When a doctor overbooks her schedule and it's typical to wait ten or thirty minutes for an appointment, then the story is made really clear to the patient. Who's more important? And doesn't this marketing effort affect the way the patient and the doctor communicate?

A contractor that prides himself on finishing every single job on the day it's due, regardless of what it takes, is telling a powerful story, doing marketing that's actually cheaper and more effective than advertising ever could be.

Going too far

Sometimes, organizations tell a story that works. And then they overreach. They believe that they have the ability to expand the story, to move it beyond where their authenticity lies. It's very tempting to do this, because the old story was so effective and people are giving you the benefit of the doubt. The challenge is, once your new story is discovered to be a fraud, your old story starts to be scrutinized even more closely, you no longer have goodwill or momentum and the whole thing falls apart.

I accidentally brought a grapefruit with me on my last trip to Florida. Tucked it into my carry on, didn't eat it at the airport and forgot about it. A big grapefruit. A juicy one. No one questioned it.

Hmmm. I wonder what all that fuss about four ounces of hair gel is about.

Magic Coincidental Tuesday

Tuesday I was checking out the very neat Google History feature and discovered that I do far more searches on Tuesday. In fact, it looks like a graceful curve that peaks each week on Tuesdays.

Your brain looks for coincidences wherever it can find them. That's how we make sense of things. Even though the chart seems to be clearly non-random, I can guarantee that there are no external factors at work here. It's a coincidence. Short version: just because a graph looks good doesn't mean it's true.

Some people might like it

The best businesses are the ones where everyone benefits.

Robocalling is not one of these.

Robocalling is phone spam, protected by a loophole that allows politicians to evade the do not call list. Now, some states are trying to ban it, or at least make it less efficient by requiring a human operator to ask you if you want to hear the recorded vitriol before they play it for you.

Robert E. Kaiser, who runs a company that spams millions, doesn't seem to get the whole idea of permission marketing. He's quoted in the Times as saying that he should be allowed to continue this because, "You might not think there would be a segment of the public that would want the calls, but there probably is." Fortunately for those of us in need of more negative, anonymous phone harassment by computer (even though we're on the do not call list), Robert is working late to ensure that we can
be sure we'll get  our fill.

Media rule of thumb: if people wouldn't miss your ads/content/noise if it went away, you should find something else to sell to advertisers. Not because it is ethically wrong to annoy people just because you can, but because in a world with a bazillion channels, people will just ignore you if they choose to.

When URLs are cheap

...a simple idea becomes worthy of its own domain: D-E-F-I-N-I-T-E-L-Y.

If you had 10 or 100 or 1000 domains each leading to a single idea, would your web presence feel the same? Would it be better?

We don't like you, go away

SubwaysignHey, I know that your last customer was a jerk. I know that you get asked the same stupid questions over and over. I know that people don't appreciate you, they're boors, they're selfish, they're in a hurry.

But, here's the thing: I'm not those people. I've never been here before. I didn't do anything wrong! Don't blame me for them.

If you're going to be in the service business, you need to accept that or you're going to hate it and be lousy at it, both at the same time.

The brand formula

What's a brand?

I think it is the product of two things:

[Prediction of what to expect] times [emotional power of that expectation].

If I encounter a brand and I don't know what it means or does, it has zero power. If I have an expectation of what an organization will do for me, but I don't care about that, no power.

Fedex is a powerful brand because you always get what you expect, and the relief you get from their consistency is high.

AT&T is a weak brand because you almost never get what you expect, because they do so many different things and because the value of what they create has little emotional resonance (it sure used to though, when they did one thing, they did it perfectly and they were the only ones who could connect you).

The dangers of brand ubiquity are then obvious. When your brand is lots of things (like AOL became) then the expectations were all over the place and the emotional resonance started to fade. If the predictability of your brand starts to erode its emotional power (a restaurant that becomes boring) then you need to become predictable in your joyous unpredictability!

If you want to grow a valuable brand, my advice is to keep awareness close to zero among the people you're not ready for yet, and build the most predictable, emotional experience you can among those that care about you.

Ego

Authorwelcome Just about every book publisher, including mine, has a beautifully lit display case of their books in the lobby. And just about every author, including me, looks at the display case when he walks in, hoping (expecting?) to see one of his books there.

So put it there.

Sure, we'll know you put it there just because you knew we were coming, but we can't help but wonder whether it's always there. And even if we know you put it there just for us, that's a nice thing, isn't it? That's a big part of what the author is paying you for.

And of course, the same thing true is for any business. If I come back to your website and you know my name, why not plaster it across the page? If I come to your fancy restaurant for dinner, why not ask me about some of my preferences on the phone and laser print a menu that highlights some of my faves. Or better yet, the waiter (with help from a computer) should remember that I loved the cucumber soup and maybe he can let me know the chef will make it again if I'd like. If I'm visiting your insurance brokerage for a meeting, how about a little welcome sign on the cube, or my favorite seltzer on ice?

Amazon has raised the bar. Invasion of privacy? Creepy? I think it has become an expectation. People like to be recognized, respected and trusted.

Just because they say it

I get more complaints about the bad customer service provided by cell phone companies than just about any other sort of organization. It's the combination of broken promises, bad attitude and the perception that the service is so important they better be good.

So why am I dubious about Voce? (thanks, Cory). The deal: they charge you a lot and they give you a lot. Human beings who care. Phones that get answered. Free loaner phones for travel... you get the idea.

Given the millions of people who are already spending more than $2000 a year for a cell phone, you'd think there'd be a line out the door for a service like this one. But my guess is it'll be a slow growth curve. Because we don't trust them.

We're waiting for the bait and switch, for the service to fade out, to be stuck, once again with a company that doesn't care. It might very well be that this time it's different.

The challenge to a marketer that chooses to enter a market with a miserable history of customer abuse is obvious: you can claim to be better, to be unevil, benevolent even, but people just aren't prepared to believe you. It doesn't fit the consumer's worldview. So, you could be the honest politician or the quality contractor or the direct marketer with no fine print and no spam, but you better be prepared to prove it over and over before we believe you.

Building a viral campaign

Brick by brick... Unitus is Empowering Women.

I heard it about from Dave and Tim, both in personalized notes. It combines video with blog-like behavior and a worthy cause. Not to mention the interesting notion that surfers and online denizens might want to honor their moms.

Yet another overnight success that takes months.

Carefully designed to make you look stupid

Apostrophe2 That's the primary function of the apostrophe--to expose apostrophe ignorance.

You get no points for using one right, and lose big points when you market any idea while using them wrong. It doesn't take long to check (especially in a headline or even worse, when designing a sign) and it's worth it. The Marriott in Boston spent a fortune in interior decoration, and then decides to invent a whole new word.

Sincerely your's, Seth.

People talking to people

Ken points us to Emma. I have no idea if their email service is any good, I've never tested it. I can tell you that their site is really good. Great, even. It's written by real people to be read by real people. The tone is just right.

It's not the only way to design a b2b site. But it's sure a good way.

[Bryan would like you to compare that site to this one.]

MPAA Uses Dogs to Find Pirated DVDs

Who knew that DVDs even had a distinctive smell? The MPAA in its never-ending quest to keep the world safe from a pirated copy of Star Wars is enlisting well-trained labradors.

It is now clear that is no longer easy to tell fact from fiction. The net gives everything equal authority, and it's often impossible to figure out what's true. MPAA Uses Dogs to Find Pirated DVDs.

If the MPAA story is fact, it's ridiculous at about 17 levels. If it's fiction, then it further reinforces the notion that news about everything is suspect.

[UPDATES: Martin says it's true. Travis says that handburnt DVDs smell different than mass produced ones.]

Meetings

I had breakfast today with a senior executive who estimates she spends more than 30% of her time in internal meetings.

My guess is that many marketers (who seem to go to more meetings than most people) might envy a number that low.

Despite the time spent, most people don't seem particularly happy with the results the meetings create. In that spirit, I want to share some radical thoughts on how you could completely change the meeting dynamic in your organization.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEETINGS. It's a huge mistake to just show up in a conference room and have a meeting. If the expectation is 'yet another meeting', then the odds are, you'll have yet another meeting.

Here are a few very distinct types of meetings:

  • Just so everyone knows: This is a meeting in which one person or small group tells other people what's already been decided and is about to happen. These meetings should always have a written piece to go with them, and in many cases, it should be distributed a day before the meeting. The meeting should be very short, take place in an auditorium type setting, not a circle, and have focused Q&A at the end. Even a quiz. It's the football huddle, and the running back isn't supposed to challenge the very premises the quarterback is using to call the play.
  • What are you up to: This is a meeting in which every participant needs to present the state of their situation. It probably happens on a regular basis and each person should have a strict time limit. Like two minutes (with an egg timer). After presenting the situation, each attendee can send their summary in an email to one person, who can sum it up and send it out to everyone.
  • What does everyone think? In third place, a meeting where anyone can speak up. People who don't speak up on a regular basis should not be invited back. It's obvious they are good at some other function in the office, so you're wasting their time if they sit there.
  • We need a decision right now. These are ad hoc meetings that have a specific agenda and should end with a decision. A final decision that doesn't get reviewed.
  • Hanging out meetings. These are meetings with no real agenda, lots of side conversations, bored people, people instant messaging and just sort of hanging out. Sometimes these are fun, but I wouldn't know, because I haven't been to one in three years.
  • To hear myself talk meetings. You get the idea.

There are more, of course, and your situation is special, but in general, you ought to be able to clearly delineate what an ideal meeting is like, and then make it happen.

TIPS: I think most of the time, most meetings should be held without chairs. People standing up think more quickly and get distracted less often. And the meetings don't last as long.

All day meetings should be banned. Meetings that attempt to accomplish more than one of the tasks above should be banned.

Bonus tip: Last person to walk in the door pays $10 to the coffee fund.

Extra bonus tip: hire someone to come in and videotape a few of your standard meetings. Watch what happens.

Last tip: if there's someone senior in the group who comes to meetings, spouts off and then either changes his mind or doesn't take action, start asking people to sign in to meetings (with a pen) and then, when the meeting is over, sign out (with a pen) on a document that you create in the meeting that says what you did and what's going to happen next.

If it's not worth doing this stuff, then I guess it's worth wasting 30% of your day.

Overnight success

Channel 4 in the UK claims they shut down a magazine after a week because it didn't sell well enough. Either there's some bigger political agenda at work or they are totally clueless. The myth of the overnight sensation is a dangerous one. Marketers are starting to learn that staying power is probably more important than weekend gross.  Pop magazine axed after one week. Thanks, Ken, for the link.

One second

At 5, the clock radio at the hotel started playing Steely Dan. I knew it in less than a second. Two notes.

Same thing happens when I see just the edge of the New Yorker sitting in the pile of mail or the formatting of an email from a friend. I could probably tell a Starbucks just from the sound and the smell of the store. They all have brand DNA.

Do you? Does your blog? Your company? I don't think it happens by accident.

Now available as an email

By popular request, you can subscribe to this blog by email now. Once a day, it just shows up in your inbox. Same low, low price as our regular blog, just more convenient for the easily forgetful.

An artist in residence

Sumo1thumb_2 I just left Dave Balter's very cool office at Bzzagent. One highlight: the work of his artist in residence.

Seth goes to work and makes paintings. The paintings hang throughout the offices, and in May he's doing a show.

What a great idea for a mid-sized or big company. What a great idea for a real estate agency... put the paintings in houses for sale, put them in your offices, have regular shows. Give the community (and your staff) some art and the benefits are significant.

Why not?

Hoteling---Starbucks without the riffraff...

I'm looking for a few roommates for our very cool office near the train station in Irvington, NY.

Now that offices are no longer about housing machinery and all about finding energy and creativity, I'm looking for a few people that can add both. A clean, dry space, out of the rain, with weekly cross-pollination brainstorming sessions to keep everyone's juices flowing. Drop me a line with your how and why, though I can't promise instant turnaround.

Welcome to offer world

Bobray_copy Do a google search for Bob Ray, and you'll end up with this page as the first match. This is as it should be. If you already know you want to buy some Bob and Ray recordings, you're motivated enough to poke around and find what you want.

What makes something a good page for the motivated searcher doesn't necessarily translate into a page that can pay for itself with offers.

Do a search on 'comedy' and if you're in the right part of the world, you might encounter the ad on the left (in a black box) for an Andrew Dice Clay concert that's taking place in New Jersey. The organization running this ad is hoping that a big enough percentage of those clicking on it will convert so they can run the ad more often.

The problem with this offer is that it is slapped on top of a page that was never intended to convert someone who had responded to an offer. The page it links to looks like this.

So, what happens when an advertiser runs an offer and connects to a page like this? They blame the offer. They blame the medium. They complain that it just doesn't work for them.

Of course it doesn't work!

Not because of the offer but because of the page the offer connected to. And even if the page was perfectly formatted, it's unlikely it would work. Why? Because it's unlikely that you're going to be able to turn someone from a stranger (pre-offer) into a loyal customer with a single page.

Smart internet marketers have learned that it's a step by step process, not an event.

Instead of this:
offer ---> sale

it works like this:
offer---> sample ---> permission ---> learning ---> sample ---> sale ---> subscription.

If you can't embrace this, I think you need to walk away from the medium entirely. On the other hand, this is the engine that is capable of growing businesses in a predictable, straightforward way.

I call it an 'offer culture.' The same way Lillian Vernon and LL Bean developed a direct mail culture, some organizations are developing an offer culture. They search out new places to run their offers, test them quickly, adjust their landing pages, experiment with how many steps they need between first contact and closed sale... these organizations really understand the value of a long-term customer, because they've earned them.

In working with the early advertisers in Squidoo offers, there has been a clear dichotomy between marketers and those making offers. The same thing is obviously true among regular Google adwords buyers. Are you on the bus?

[Chad points us to this article from five years ago...]

Worst powerpoint slide ever used by a CEO

Worstpptever And yes, I know the competition is fierce. In fact, the title of the post is pretty redundant. But still.

Thanks to Bas for the link. Here's my ppt riff. And yes, I still think it applies to any field, at any level. No exceptions for doctors, CEOs, structural engineers or marketers.

Rapport

Jon from New Zealand writes:

I was amused by my own behaviour this morning.

I was looking for a welder of stainless steel to make up some security gates.

I went to a website list of suitable contractors, clicked on all those in my area and ended up with 25 pages opened. I then called the first one and asked if they could make up something to my drawing. They couldn't (not their type of business) but I had a very pleasant and helpful discussion with the owner about stainless steel in general.

I then asked if he could suggest anyone else that might be able to do the work. He suggested a name and number. I called them, discussed the project and am waiting for their quote.

I then closed the other 24 web pages - unseen or contacted.

The rapport that I felt (from a perfect stranger) was sufficient to make me take his recommendation and pursue a quote from his referred "friend" in preference to the other 24 open pages. Funny that! The need for a personal link goes deep.

Modems are no match for human interaction and trust. Not carefully tracked online ratings, but the sound of a voice, the tone of authority, the receipt of a favor. It matters more than it ever did.

Trick shot video

The very first time I ever presented the Purple Cow was years ago at Ted. I get nervous just watching it. The neatest part of the site, though, is how they handle the ratings.

That video is nothing compared to this array of trick bowling shots, however.

Meeting needs

It's not often that I disagree with Hugh, but this time, I do: gapingvoid.

The headline of his post is, "How well does open source currently meet the needs of shareholders and CEOs". I think this question is part of the problem.

Almost no new idea meets the needs of shareholders and CEOs. That's because most of all they need predictability and apparent freedom from risk. This is why public companies are almost always on the road to disaster. They flee from change in order to do what they think is meeting the needs of those constituents. They fight changes in laws, policies, technologies and markets because their CEO (especially) wants a nice even flight pattern while he racks up big time options.

Shrink wrap software feels safe. Secure. Supported. Beyond reproach.

But...

It turns out that open source can do a brilliant job of meeting their actual needs (lower overhead to install and maintain, higher productivity to use, more stable over time) but the problem is that apparent needs (playing it safe, making your boss happy) almost always get in the way. Until it's too late. When it's too late, the competition has leapfrogged you.

Simple example: blogging. Blogging doesn't seem to fit into the command and control mindset of media companies. It doesn't seem to have obvious ad-driven or traffic-driven payoffs. It represents a threat (or at least volatility) to the stock price. So they ignore them. Until, of course, a blog has a greater circulation than the company's magazine.

Is online advertising broken?

This post is worth a read: The Devil & Online Advertising -- Young Go Getter.

Memo to the very small

What should my local chiropractor do? Or the acupuncturist? Or the pet store? What about that small church or mosque?

The web has changed the game for a lot of organizations, but for the local business, it's more of a threat and a quandary than an asset. My doctor went to a seminar yesterday ($100+) where the 'expert' was busy selling her on buying a domain name, hiring a designer, using web development software, understanding site maps and navigation and keywords and metatags and servers...

These are businesses that have trouble dealing with the Yellow Pages. Too much trouble, too much time, way too expensive. So, should local micro-businesses just ignore the web? Or should they become experts in the art of building and maintaining a website?

We're talking about people who don't like to tweak. About local businesses that are struggling to be found by people a block or a mile or five miles away. Entrepreneurs who can't be bothered to understand typography or HTML. Why does my dog's vet have such a lame website? Why do basement waterproofing sites sit moribund? Do they all have to become experts and spend the money--or sit it out and lose out?

I think there's a third way, one that gets them just about everything they need, takes an hour or two a month and costs about $60 a year. Here goes:

Step one: head on over to Typepad and sign up for their cheapest service. It's about $5 a month. Pick a 'quiet' and professional blog layout. Your first post should include the name of your business, your address, your specialty and your hours and phone number. Click the button that says "Feature this post." From now on, this post will be at the top of your blog (which is really your 'website', so first time visitors
will see it front and center. When you go on vacation or stock a new line of products or have a story to tell, just blog it.

The beauty of this first step is that for $5 you have a web server, a professional layout, no worries about design, a site you can edit yourself in no time and no hassles with weird domain names.

Next step: build a Squidoo lens about your business. List your hours and stuff. Then insert a google map of where you're located. Put in a list of books if you think your potential (or current) customers will benefit from an understanding of what you do. Insert a guestbook so your favorite customers can give you testimonials. Put in an RSS feed from your blog, so every time you update it, it will show up here, too. If this is too tricky, have your smart next-door-neighbor do it for you. You won't have to do it again.

Next step: Get a sign featuring your name and phone number. Something 1 foot by 2 foot or so. Printed on cardboard. Now, take your digital camera and start taking pictures. Pictures of your offices. Of your staff. Of your satisfied customers. Each picture should include the sign! Now, go post those pictures on Flickr. (And then put the pictures into a set and pull that set into your Squidoo lens, and post the best pictures on your blog too).

Last step: Ask your best customers to build Squidoo lenses about your business. Ask the ones who blog to mention you in their blogs. Ask the happiest of all to pose for a picture holding your sign, or to give you a testimonial for your blog.

So, you've probably invested a few hours by now. You've spent a few dollars, read a book or two on blogging. But you haven't become an expert, not by a longshot, in any technologies. You haven't tweaked a font or focused on a sitemap. Instead, you've been running your dry cleaner or writing your sermons.

Even better, no one is judging you on whether or not you're an expert at building websites. No one is choosing not to do business with you because your website looks like your cat designed it. And you're not spending big money tweaking tweaking tweaking just to get the last ounce of blood out of your site.

A month later, if someone types, migraine acupuncture des moines, into Google, they ought to find you. Or pet store 10706. The beauty of your situation is this: if only 5 or 10 new people a week find you via this ring of links and google searches, you're going to have a shot at doubling your customer base within a year. For $60.

I'd ignore him too

I got more mail about this story in the Washington Post than any other non-blog topic ever. I saw it when it first came out, but didn't blog it because I thought the lesson was pretty obvious to my readers. [World-class violinist plays for hours in a subway station, almost no one stops to listen]. The experiment just proved what we already know about context, permission and worldview. If your worldview is that music in the subway isn't worth your time, you're not going to notice when the music is better than usual (or when a famous violinist is playing). It doesn't match the story you tell yourself, so you ignore it. Without permission to get through to you, the marketer/violinist is invisible.

But why all the mail? (And the Post got plenty too). Answer: I think it's because people realized that if they had been there, they would have done the same thing. And it bothers us.

It bothers us that we're so overwhelmed by the din of our lives that we've created a worldview that requires us to ignore the outside world, most of the time, even when we suffer because of it. It made me feel a little smaller, knowing that something so beautiful was ignored because the marketers among us have created so much noise and so little trust.

I don't think the answer is to yell louder. Instead, I think we have an opportunity to create beauty and genius and insight and offer it in ways that train people to maybe, just maybe, loosen up those worldviews and begin the trust.

Marketing to seniors (open and closed)

It's common knowledge among marketers that marketing to seniors is largely a waste of time. All you need to do is look at the ads in Modern Maturity magazine compared to, say, Rolling Stone, to see what marketers believe.

The reason most believe this is because of a simple distinction: open and closed.

Open people are seeking out things that they believe will make their lives better. Experiences and products and styles that will open doors, cause growth, save time and money and increase status. All of these things are 'go up' events. Find people who are open and you find people you can talk to.

Closed people are trying to maintain the status quo. They are very focused on keeping things from getting worse, but they're not particularly concerned about joining the in crowd or starting something.

For a long time, the easy way out was to believe that 18 to 34 year olds were open and seniors were closed. Web surfers are open, National Enquirer readers are closed. etc. etc.

Then the baby boom happened.

Baby boomers have been open their whole lives. And now they are seniors. So all the conventional wisdom goes out the window. Senior travel, senior fashion, senior experiences... it's all fair game, because there's a different demographic inhabiting that age group now.

Psychographics (open vs. closed) are way more important than demographics.

Do you have to be anti-change to be pro-business?

A few months ago, I heard an interview with one of the leading metal baseball bat manufacturers. They were lobbying hard against regulations that would require little league players to use wood bats.

Today, Chris point us to this story about emissions. The car makers continue to lobby hard, or even sue, over emission rules. Wendy's, as previously discussed, is working hard against a rule in New York requiring they post calorie counts. It's common wisdom that government regulation is bad for business, and especially bad is regulation that requires change.

I don't get it.

A few years ago, the FTC changed the law about how wide apart the bars in cribs for children had to be. Wide spaces between bars end up strangling kids and breaking arms. The law only applied to home cribs, which meant that hospital cribs weren't covered. Hard Manufacturing, my favorite hospital crib company, took the regulation to heart and alerted every hospital in the country that the cribs they were using weren't deemed safe for home use... so why use them in a hospital? What do you think happened to crib sales? It was a huge few years as the cribs were replaced (and the kids ended up safer).

Wendy's did the best when they were growing with the launch of salads. Not when they were copying McDonald's over burgers. Change is their friend.

If I were a leading bat company, I'd formulate a 'slower' metal bat that would be just as safe as wood... and unbreakable too. What a marketing coup! Then I'd lobby like crazy for change.

If I were Ford Motor, I'd lobby as hard as possible for the strictest emissions regime in the world. If you're losing the game, change the rules. Start over. Be the only major car company to produce 100% zpev or hybrid cars.

Business as usual is almost always lousy marketing, because there isn't a lot of room for growth. The opportunities kick in when an external force requires a brand new story, when consumers are choosing to pay attention because they've got no other choice.

It's easy to argue against change. It disheartens shareholders and even employees. But external change is the most likely lever of growth, because it puts you back on the agenda of attention.

The mechanics of word of mouth

Hotchart_2 Last weekend, I saw The Hoax, with Richard Gere. It's a fantastic movie, one of the best I've seen in a while. As soon as it ended, I had a compulsion to tell you about it. So I sat down and had a long talk with myself about why.

Why was it so important to me to tell other people? It's not a movie that will make the world a better place. It won't increase my reputation or give me a sense of power to be able to tell people about it. So why?

I don't know. It's just a really good movie.

Sometimes, we worry so much about tracking and selfish actions and mechanics that we ignore the biggest factor: people like to talk about stuff.

Which leads to this terrific commentary about the #1 song in America. Irony alert: it's tongue in cheek. My guess is that listeners on the radio today didn't get it. I'm glad to say I did.

Often, something is popular just because it's popular.

eBay as a platform for outrage

Chris points us to this "auction." Like the Chicago Cubs play baseball...

[update: removed by eBay. Sorry.]

One thing every web marketing manager can do today

Usererrorezpass Send this post to your tech team. Tell them to find and destroy any error messages that might be shown to a user that bear any resemblance to this one from the NY EZ Pass site.

Take the rest of the day off. Nice work!

The Dabbawalla's secret

Dabbawalla2 Zaki points us to the phenomenon of the Dabbawalla. These men deliver thousands of lunches every single day in Mumbai... from the person's home to their office, hot and fresh.

The reported error rate is one in six million.

How is this possible? How do you create and run a service with thousand of employees, no technology and a poorly-educated workforce and have better than six sigma quality?

Simple: the dabbawallas know their customers. If they rotated the people around, it would never work. There's trust, and along with the trust is responsibility. By creating a flat organization and building relationships, the system even survives monsoon season.

Useless marketing

Brokenflowers That's what florist David says is the value of marketing to recipients of flowers. Zero. Useless.

What a great way to get a post out of me!

You can market by telling or you can market by showing. There's no doubt that interactive marketing, marketing where you actually deliver something of value, is far far more powerful than telling. Telling is just bragging. Telling is ignored. Showing, on the other hand, is about me. Me, me, me! It's about providing an interactive experience that touches me.

What a great opportunity to do just that. I might be crazy, but my guess is that people who get flowers are also people who give flowers. And my guess is that giving someone an extraordinary experience when they get the flowers is the best way in the world to turn that person into a sender, too.

[Visitors to the office building where you are the landlord are more likely to rent space in an office building. People going to a funeral are more likely to be buying a plot or a service soon. Guests in a restaurant are more likely to be hosts at a restaurant. You get the idea.]

After I tracked down the local florist, I pointed out the condition of the flowers (that's a genuine, unretouched photo). The florist said, "Oh, those stems are very soft. They're supposed to be that way."

Useless marketing, indeed.

Shutting down interest

I wrote a note to the Strand bookstore, inquiring about an old set of encyclopedias. Here's the entire response:

Dear Customer

Thank you for your recent order/inquiry.

Unfortunately, the title(s) you requested are not in stock. Please
consider the search completed.

Thank you again for thinking of Strand Book Store.

Strand Bookstore.

Oh. Well, see you later.

At the same time, political candidates are viewing even the slightest gesture on your part (an encouraging email, for example) as proof that you want to receive daily fundraising emails for the next two years.

There's a middle ground, one that is not computer-decided. It's based on a human being treating another human being the way they'd like to be treated. And it's easy to see how just about any organization, at just about any scale ought to be able to make thoughtful decisions about setting expectations and then meeting them. (and doing it profitably.)

The Strand walked away from hundreds of dollars of orders, all because they couldn't write a more encouraging standardized note.

Political campaigns extinguish plenty of goodwill because they instantly move from 0 to 60 miles per hour.

Permission has never meant 'access to my email.' It's a privilege, one that you earn or lose.

The Dip Tour, update

There are now three cities confirmed for May: Philadelphia, Chicago and now, New York. Details are here.

Stinky Durian

Durian is a fruit from Southeast Asia that can be charitably described as smelling like stale baby vomit. It is also revered by millions and served with pride in many Thai and Malaysian households. Most of all, it's a great way to learn about marketing.

Songpol Somsri, a scientist fascinated by the durian, has spent decades cross-breeding more than 90 varieties of Durian and come up with a stinkless variety. No odor.

This is what most marketers do. They listen to complaints from non-customers ("why don't you buy from us?") address them and wait for the market to grow. After all, if the people who don't eat Durian don't eat it because of the smell, then removing the smell ought to dramatically increase the size of your market.

Except this almost never works.

Non-durian eaters don't have a 'durian problem'. They aren't standing by, fruitless, impatiently waiting for Songpol Somsri to figure out how to make a stinkless one. Nope. They've got cantaloupes and kiwis and all manner of other fruits to keep them busy.

The feedback you get from non-consumers is rarely useful, because the objection they give is the reason they don't buy from you, not the thing that will cause them to affirmatively choose you.

Will stinkless durian revolutionize the marketplace? Possibly. I've been wrong before. But if I were a durian farmer, I'd work hard to make durian stinkier.

One way to dramatically lower customer complaints

A florist dropped off a few dozen flowers at my house. The card had our name on it, but nothing was printed, there was no way to tell which florist brought them by.

I can just see the discussion at headquarters. "We've been getting way too many customer complaints. People get the flowers and they're not happy with them, so they call and want a refund or replacement. It takes a lot of time and hassle."

"I know! Let's just take our name and phone number off the card."

Sort of like having heavier than usual call volume, or hiding your contact info somewhere deep on your website.

The evening danger discount

Carwashbroken

Idea saver

Eric points us to Jott.

You call a toll free number from your cell phone, leave yourself a message and it types it and emails it to you. Perfect for creating to do lists.

Even cooler, you import a bunch of friends or colleagues and you can send them all an email at once via your cellphone.

I have no clue how they make money, but as we say online, they'll figure it out later.

BONUS: Phoebe points us to this very cool, very cheap way to make a website. I will probably steal this idea one day, but wanted to be fair and point out that this is where it came from.

Odds and ends

If you haven't seen Mark Hurst's new book, you should check it out. If you're using RSS, then your friends need it. If you're not, then you do, but first, subscribe to my RSS feed!

You can get a free pass to the Future of Online Advertising conference if you're one of the first five to email Ryan.

Guy Kawasaki posted about the Effort Effect last month. It's a good recommendation, the book makes a lot of sense.

Federico points out scientific research that proves my thesis about Powerpoint.

Scientists (different ones) have discovered that only a single gene is responsible for the difference in size between a dachsund and a great dane.

Have you noticed that some Google results now include StumbleUpon reviews via a prominent little icon?

The most important rule

Have you ever recommended a doctor?

On what basis?

Did you do an analysis of the outcomes of his treatments along a wide range of patients and compare those outcomes to similar doctors in the same community?

Or was it based on his bedside manner or even how polite his receptionist was?

And what about the accounting firm or law firm or personal trainer you were talking about the other day?

Is it possible that people recommend a Mac so often because of things that having nothing to do with a side-by-side analysis of the speed of data entry in Word?

All a rhetorical way of pointing out that businesses (and people) do two things. Most of focus on just one (at least when we're doing the task at hand) which is the task at hand. But, there's something else that's far more important, something disconnected from what's produced but certainly related: how you made the customer feel.

How's this for a 98% rule: By a factor of three, what you do is not nearly as important as how it makes people feel.

If you buy that, then the question is this: why do you spend almost all your time on the wrong thing?

In praise of a blank page

Blank2 A friend just sent me a book he worked on. It's a terrific book, but it has an astonishingly mediocre (if that's possible) cover. I can just see how the cover came to be. There were proposals and meetings and compromises and a deadline.  As the deadline loomed, the compromises came more often, until they ended up with a cover that didn't match the power of the book.

They should have just shipped a cover that was blank.

Knowing that you need to ship a blank cover if you can't come up with something great focuses the mind and takes the edge of the conversations about compromise. If 'good enough' isn't good enough, and if the alternative is certain failure, people will dig in and come up with something better.

It's not just book covers, of course. Ethanol is the equivalent of this book cover. It feels like it might be a good enough solution to a range of energy problems. And once embraced, it serves as a bandaid, making the problem less urgent, "oh, we already took care of that," and allowing people to move on to something else.

Every quarter, your company ships new products or services. And every quarter, someone says, "under the circumstances," or "given the deadline" or "with the team we had available"... it's the best we could do. I say ship nothing.

In a few of my seminars, I've encouraged marketers to refuse to market mediocre stuff if that's the best the folks in R&D and production can bring you. The first time, they'll be shocked. Your job will be at risk. But then you'll notice something... the stuff gets better. Fast.

In Japanese car factories, this is called kanban. You trade production efficiencies for quality. If a part isn't perfect, the worker refuses to install it. And the entire assembly line stops. Detroit was horrified by this idea. Keeping the assembly line going is the holy grail. Guess what? The line doesn't get stopped very often. Things get better, fast.

[Ralph Bernstein, at Productivity Press, knows his stuff about Kanban. He writes:

In your posting, In praise of a blank page, your use of the word kanban is incorrect. Kanban refers to a type of visual control that signals an upstream operation to deliver what is needed. (The Wikipedia description to which you linked touches on aspects of the concept, but doesn’t get it exactly right.)

What you probably meant was andon.

An andon is a device that calls attention to defects, equipment abnormalities and other problems, or reports the status and needs of a system by means of colored lights. Typically, when a worker on a line encounters a problem, he or she will pull a cord that lights up the andon board and stops the line.

Also, it’s a little misleading to say that in such a system, you trade production efficiencies for quality. It’s a lot more efficient to stop and eliminate a defect immediately than to repair a finished product (or dozens of finished products) containing the defect. But you are right about one thing: with this kind of system, things do get better fast.

You may want to obtain a copy of the LeanSpeak dictionary, available on our website.

My response, which you've probably already guessed, was that this is what they taught us at business school!]

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