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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list


All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



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.




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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Member since 08/2003

« May 2007 | Main | July 2007 »

Marketing Fear

Marketing with fear is a powerful tool. Fear is a universal emotion, it's viral and people will go to great lengths to make it go away.

Some items can't be marketed without fear. Seat belts, for example. They're not convenient, good tasting, fun to use or profitable. Fear works great in this case.

An essential question to ask, though, is who benefits? In the case of seat belts, the use of fear directly benefits the prospect, because using seat belts not only decreases fear (peace of mind) but improves safety. It gets a little dicier if you're selling a placebo--increasing peace of mind without increasing safety (a $30 warranty at the cash register for a $16 item is not a smart financial investment, though it may help you sleep better.)

Threat2_copy What if the marketer not only doesn't create peace of mind, but intentionally destroys it for his own benefit? Sometimes, fear is used as a marketing tactic even if it doesn't benefit the prospect at all. That's because news organizations like CNN and various organizations and politicians can benefit. Craig sends us this photo of a convenience store hoping that fear will sell some duct tape.

Without terror, you can't have terrorism.

Most and least

Traveling yesterday, I realized that there are two popular strategies for service delivery. One is a coping strategy and one is a marketing strategy.

You can deliver the lowest permitted amount, or you can work to create the most remarkable experience you can imagine.

Stop for a second before jumping to the conclusion that the latter is always what you do.

When I pay a bill, I don't put more money in the envelope than I'm billed for. And I don't put more stamps on the envelope than the USPS requires, even if I'm in a particularly generous mood. Living life like Spinal Tap (always at 11) is inefficient if not impossible. Very often, we find ourselves doing the least amount of work permitted because, after all, we have more important things to spend our time on.

Smart marketers understand two things. The first is that you must pick your battles, deciding in which areas 'most' matters and living with 'least' the rest of the time. The second contradicts that and makes this a lot more complex: Least spreads.

You've seen this in countless organizations. A few people get in the habit of least, then a whole department does, and the next thing you know, it's an entire airline. Least is contagious.

Really smart marketers understand this: the best way to fight the contagion is to pay what it costs to eliminate least everywhere you look. It's ridiculous to expect most in all things (your postage bill will get out of hand), but I think it''s possible to work to stamp out least.

The Verizon guy who turned down the iPhone

Given the mass hysteria, it's probably not so good to be Denny Strigl this week. He's the COO at Verizon quoted with pride about turning down the iPhone deal (Verizon turned down iPhone's advances.)

The reason you need to care about this: Almost everyone is like Denny.

Most innovative business people who dream of bizdev imagine that they can be just like Steve Jobs. Come up with a super idea, a useful service, a great gizmo and go to an industry leader. Sign lots of NDAs and go to lots of meetings. Demand that they change their ways in order to make your wonderful innovation a game changer, something that will fix their broken industry and make you both a lot of money.

Hey, Steve Jobs himself couldn't do it at Verizon. The list of big companies that didn't jump on game changing ideas is huge. Almost as long as the list of great companies you didn't buy stock in when you had the chance.

The iPhone/AT&T deal is almost certainly the exception that proves Godin's law of bizdev: No is the default answer. The spreadsheets and the marketing team and the CFO and the lawyers have no trouble at all defending the status quo, because, it's their status quo. They created it and they like it that way. Bizdev deals like this almost always fail because the potential for upside seems too small compared to the mammoth disruption that organizations imagine will beset them.

Plan on going under, over or around instead.

A great book for smart friends

...who don't necessarily know the web as well as you do. Mark Fraunfelder of boingboing wrote it and it's really useful. I built a lens about it: RuleTheWeb on Squidoo. When you find a useful link in the book, go ahead and add it to my list.

Positives, not negatives

Doug points us to: Verizon to prospective iPhone buyers: 'Stay near a plug'.

It's basically a memo designed to help Verizon reps denigrate the iPhone. I think this is bad marketing. If someone is going to switch carriers and you've done your best to denigrate their choice, you've not only lost a customer, you've also lost credibility and respect going forward. (Because your criticism of the phone is also criticism of my judgment.)

What I'd try instead? How about this:

"The iPhone will cost $500, plus a new battery next year, plus $50 a month. If you spent that money with Verizon, you could have x, y and z..."

Then I'd spend the rest of the conversation selling x, y and z. I'd talk about a superfast network and a more reliable coverage area and all the cool gimmicks and features in the phone I can buy for $350...  (Remember, before now, all you could talk about was cheap phones, not great ones. Apple raises the ceiling).

The iPhone is a gift for every cell phone marketer in the world. Why? Because it creates a problem where there was none before. Now, a cell phone is not just a phone. Now, a phone is worth spending money on. So, since Apple created that 'problem' in my mind, how are you going to solve it?

How to make a million dollars

One popular method is to make a dollar in profit from each of a million people. Or a penny from a hundred million. This is the China strategy. It almost never works.

It almost never works because the challenge of reaching that many people is just too great. It's too risky and too expensive. Doesn't matter that you're only hoping for a dollar or a penny. The price isn't the challenge, it's the difficulty in spreading your idea.

Far easier to make a thousand dollars from each of a thousand people, or even $10,000 from a hundred organizations. You can focus on a small hive of people, a group that talks to itself. You can push through a smaller dip and reach a level of recommendation and dominance that makes incremental sales far easier.

And you can learn much earlier in the process if you've gotten it right or not. Because you're making more per sale, you can spend the time necessary to figure out what really sells and modify your offering sooner in the process.

The irony is that many products and services that have reached huge masses of people actually have significant margins (Windows, for example, or a cup of Starbucks). They got the best of both worlds because first they focused on winning small communities over and that led to the larger market.

The brand that saved baseball

Why doesn't Puma or Adidas (or even Nike) pay the management of the SF Giants to bench Barry Bonds before he hits the record? Now you'd have a brand that really stood for something.

Why don't local businesses buy $50 worth of quarters now and then and feed all the meters in town... just put a little flyer under the windshield wiper.

Once you change the rules, the sponsorship opportunities are endless.

[Brandon has a warning, though, for anyone thinking about parking meters.]

Selling advertising

Wenda Harris Millard is leaving Yahoo. That's as good as an excuse as any to talk about what it means to sell advertising to big advertisers.

Sooner or later, just about every media plan (especially those online) includes the line, "and we'll sell advertising." More often than not, this is a pipe dream. Here's why:

There are two kinds of advertising and this leads to two kinds of ad sales.

The first kind is the rational kind. Yellow Page ads, direct mail and Google AdWords fit into this category. This is advertising that works, if 'works' is defined as, "pay $3 and make $4." With measurable direct advertising, you can count on profit-minded small organizations to give it a try (small buys) and if it obviously makes money, to buy some more. While it helps to have a salesforce, it's not essential (if the ads are really and truly money makers). Most media companies end up with this sort of advertising, and most of them fail, because the advertising just isn't effective enough to be this obviously profitable.

[Most advertising takes skill to turn a profit, and most advertisers don't have any. So, there are people who make a profit with AdWords or with Squidoo offers, but not everyone. It's just too hard to build a medium so effective and so well-priced that anyone with a typewriter can turn a profit.The challenge is to have enough people make money that others are drawn to the medium and invest the energy to actually get good at it.]

The second kind of advertising is the glamorous kind, the kind that people think of when they think of the Super Bowl or Time magazine or of profitable ads that are worth selling. These are the ads that built Yahoo, the ads that built NBC and the ads that so many entrepreneurs and media moguls are counting on. These ads don't sell because they work. They sell because they are sold.

Let me be fair: they work if we define 'working' as: pleasing the client, pleasing the agency, increasing brand goodwill, and building, over time, a groundswell of awareness and brand respect that ultimately leads to profits. A Chevrolet ad on the Super Bowl doesn't generate 2 million dollars in profit. No way. But, perhaps, over time, $100 million worth of Chevy ads turns into a billion dollars of profit. It's vague, it's tricky and it's political.

Jerry, who I used to work with, and Wenda and others understood the investment, patience, malarkey and magic that goes into selling an irrational, expensive item to people who pretend to measure but really don't. I never really figured that out, and my guess is that most people with that line in their business plan haven't figured it out either.

Reasons and excuses

Most organizations need a good reason to do something new.

All they need is a flimsy excuse to not do something for the first time.

And they often need a lawsuit to stop doing something they're used to.

Fall into the Gap

Today, I visited a Gap store for the first time in a while. We all know that they've been having trouble, and it was interesting to see how they're responding.

They're closing about 50 stores net this year, trying to make their business match the market. At the same time, it was pretty obvious from my visit that they're working hard to save money on sales staff, store designers and other expenses. It took me twenty minutes to check out. In the old days, it would have been two minutes. My reading of the Dip is that nickel and diming is a dumb strategy.

They should close 200 or even 500 stores and keep the very best people from each store, redeploying them to their best stores. They should invest in those great stores, invest in design, in targeted marketing. In other words, instead of shrinking themselves back to greatness, they ought to avoid the nickel and diming and go back to what made them great in the first place.

When your current strategy isn't working, doing the same thing, but just a little less of it, doesn't make a lot of sense, imo.

Rochambeau the front line

Rochambeau Freaknomics points us to the greatest fast food promotion in memory. Beat the cashier in a game of rock paper scissors and save a buck.

What I absolutely love about this idea, other than its obvious remarkability, is the way it humanizes the previously automatonized front line worker. Instead of making them invisible, it makes them part of the deal. "Tell your Starbucks barrista a really funny joke, get a free biscotti (knock knock jokes not valid in some states.)"

Why not do this with your accounts payable people? Or give the customer service people the ability to give a prize to the nicest person who calls in each day? What's the worst that could happen--they might use a little judgment, might enjoy the day a bit more, might even start to care.

If you let them.

Pro bono

Lawyers do pro bono work fairly often. Some firms hire lawyers to do nothing but free legal work for those in need. Turns out that it's not just an obligation, it also makes you a better lawyer.

Aaron needs your help doing the same thing with branding, design and marketing.

Just one post

A lot of people have blogs. But most people don't.

I think you should. Even if you only have one post in you.

Having a blog is pretty daunting, especially if you don't like blank paper and are the sort of person that hates falling behind. I can imagine that the idea of posting 50 or 300 times a year is a little bit nuts for many people.

But what if there's just one thing you need to say, but you can say it clearly and well and in a way that hasn't been said before? What if you've got one great blog post inside of you, and, even better, you're willing to update that post as you learn more and gain more insight?

An entire post about a certain kind of fossil. Or the misuse of a certain word. Or about a key difference between two kinds of bluetooth...

Why not?

Bad customer service... by design

Worst Most of us do customer service in one way or another. And most of us believe that customer service represents an investment and a commitment. The more you spend, the more you get. Companies that do lousy customer service are short-sighted or just plain cheap. So we say.

I don't think it's that simple, though.

Consider this screen shot. Possibly the single worst online customer service I have ever experienced. AT&T has online tech support (yay) in real time (super) that is totally and completely broken. Not because they're not spending the money, but because the committee that designed it is a few cards short of a full deck.

This is a simultaneous chat room, which means that each person in the room sees everyone else's questions getting answered (not useful.) Which means that it's unthreaded, so it's in no particular order (less useful). Worse, there's a 10 minute wait time after you type in your question before it gets answered. And the reps spend a lot of time waiting for people to respond, and only answer one question at a time.

The result is a traffic jam that satisfies no one.

For less money, in less time, with less software hassle, they could have used any of a number of free or nearly free systems that would be fast, pleasant and efficient. You and I could fix this system in an afternoon.

Before we jump all over AT&T, here's the real question: what's broken about the architecture of your customer service? What could you change that would leverage the effort you're already putting into it?

Trade show tactics

P1010110 Megan and I just got back from eBay Live. Our goal as an exhibitor was to get the 10,000 attendees talking about Squidoo. And my guess is that your goal as a trade show exhibitor is to do the same thing (no, not to talk about Squidoo, to talk about you, of course).

Here's what we did: we printed 600 t-shirts with a long, hand-written letter on the front, explaining how Squidoo helps eBayers. And we gave the shirt away to anyone willing to wear it. The incentive? Each day, Megan picked someone who was wearing the shirt and gave that person $9,000 worth of ads on Squidoo.

Within an hour, you saw orange t-shirts on the show floor. By the second day, every single t-shirt was taken and more than 5% of all the people there were wearing the shirts.

Total cost: $3,000. (plus the ads).

This obviously doesn't work at every trade show. You need both an audience that's into playful promotion and a suitable and appropriate prize to reward the t-shirt wearer. Since this was self-referential (Having people build Squidoo pages about you is a lot like getting them to wear a t-shirt about you) it was easy for us to do, but it occurs to me that there are much broader applications of this technique. Hey, it even worked for radio stations all the years I was growing up. Stations used to offer a cash prize if they found your car and you had the bumper sticker. And no, the station never did pick our car...

Amy_2 A gimmick? Of course. But a relevant one. The spreading of the idea was not just our tactic, it was the entire point. Too often, trade show exhibits seem focused on either getting rid of the people who stop by or getting their badge scanned. What a waste. The real win is to generate true buzz... people talking about you and what you do, not about your tactics. So, a magician in your booth might be fun, but if all I talk about is the magician, you've wasted your money.

PS The shirts were so popular that our booth was marauded. People took our sample shirts, they even took the shirt off the mannequin we brought. If you took a shirt you can part with, drop me a line. I'll be happy to buy it from you!

Joseph [Speaking of spreading the word, here's an SEO related interview you might enjoy. Plus a phoner I'll be doing soon (actually, there's two). And here's a summer intern-type gig you might want to mention to a stranded teenager in your house.]


Most successful organizations are driven by something. Figuring that out isn't always easy, and is often misunderstood:

MARKET DRIVEN: Lots of people claim this one, but few achieve it. Creating what the market wants. I'll put JetBlue in this category.

MARKETING DRIVEN: Much more common. This involves creating what the marketing department wants. Like American Express.

FASHION DRIVEN: This involves changing the market to have it want what you just made. Armani, certainly, but also an art dealer at Basel.

FOUNDER DRIVEN: Idiosyncratic activity, usually by the person who's name is on the door. I'd put Virgin in this category.

SKU DRIVEN: More titles = more success, even if it's not true. Publishers live this model.

SUBSCRIPTION DRIVEN: How do we transform a stranger into someone who uses what we do, all the time. Intuit, certainly.

PAYCHECK DRIVEN: This is what happened to Home Depot under Bob Nardelli.

TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN: When you launch products because you can, not because they're particularly useful. HP did this for a while.

LITIGATION DRIVEN: Lawyers with an open checkbook to bill for letters sent and actions brought. The RIAA, or any of a thousand law firms representing estates by sending out reams of mail.

COMMUNITY DRIVEN: Making decisions based on what's best for the community you serve. Room to Read makes my list.

TROLL DRIVEN: Growth by enragement. Engage others, say annoying things that aren't true and bask in the attention. No examples will be given, which is the best way to deal with trolls.

MONOPOLY DRIVEN: Create a system and a standard and charge increasing tolls to travel on your roads. iTunes.

EGO DRIVEN: Just be sure you spell my name right.

REVIEW DRIVEN: Don't worry about the public. Worry about people with a pen. Broadway certainly qualifies.

IDEA DRIVEN: This includes the Segway.

PHILANTHROPICALLY DRIVEN: Paul Newman is well into giving away a few hundred million dollars so far.

Hat tip: George Meyfarth, who told me about 'marketing driven' in 1983. Been waiting this long to figure out the rest...

[I forgot:

SALES DRIVEN: In which the salesforce runs the operation. Car dealers.

ASSEMBLY LINE DRIVEN: Keep the line moving, at all costs. Detroit, alas.]

Buzz is an inside job

Tom shares a powerful story about where buzz begins: The Messaging Times :: Blog.

Letting off steam

Josh points us to: Clientcopia : Coping with stupid clients

So a client calls me on a Friday - 4PM.

CLIENT: I'm about to talk to the pharma client, I need a computer graphics budget for an interactive CD-ROM.

ME: Great, email me the project details, how many screens, client deadlines, etc.

CLIENT: Well, can't you just give me a ballpark figure?

ME: A ballpark figure? But, I don't know any of specs, nor any of the client info. Please send me what you have, I'll look over it this weekend and I'll have something for you first thing Monday morning.

CLIENT: Well, we need to send them something today, by 4:30PM. Can't you just estimate it?

ME: Okay, $100,000.

CLIENT: $100,000! Why is it that much?

Misunderstanding Steve Jobs

In a small-minded riff on Steve, John Heilemann writes  (hat tip:

“Less than two weeks from now, when the phone hits the streets, the consumerist pandemonium will likely be hysterical. Once again, Jobs may have fashioned a totemic object that will capture the culture--and cause rival CEOs to have coronary events. No one else in history has pulled of this kind of coup, as Jobs has, with four different products. The Apple II. The Mac. The iPod. The computer-animated feature film. Betting against a track record like that would be a dangerous wager. Especially when you know, deep down, that you want an iPhone. Bad..

...But Jobs has been wrong before. And if the iPhone proves a disappointment, his reputation will take a precipitous tumble: from unerring visionary to just another overreaching mogul. What’s at stake for Jobs, then, isn’t money or power--for no matter how the iPhone fares, he’ll still have both in abundance. What’s at stake is the thing that now must matter to him above all: the ending of his story.”

If you've never pushed the envelope of the accepted wisdom, it's easy to misunderstand what drives Steve Jobs. I can see how someone living in a status quo world would ascribe familiar motivations to him, but it's just not true. "The ending of his story"? Nonsense. Jobs doesn't care about his legacy or making more money. He's addicted to Rifting--he process of fixing problems, of leaping from one broken market to another. Why would he stop?

I wrote about this in Fast Company seven years ago, pre-iPod:

After the death of Walt Disney the man, something happened to Walt Disney the company. You see, Walt Disney was a three-time rifter. He was one of the few people who have successfully managed to find a rift in the continuum of life, to bet everything on it, and to make a profit by doing so. And he did it three times.

What's a rift? It's a big tear in the fabric of the rules that we live by. It's a fundamental change in the game, one that creates a bunch of new losers -- and a handful of new winners.

Most people who build important businesses build them on a rift, usually one that they find by accident, and usually only once. Sometimes, after they've succeeded once, they fool themselves into thinking that they're so gifted that everywhere they look, they can see a rift. But Disney was different: He really was rift gifted. After all, he did it three times.

[you can read the rest, here].

[Rifters don't worry so much about being seen as "unerring visionaries". They just keep going.]

In the mail today

Avinash's new book about web analytics. Someone in your organization should (must) read this. Maybe you?

The "sitting-on-the-floor-is-not-boring, anything-can-be-designed-better" inspirational critbuns.

And a good old-fashioned selling book. (See page 117).

Catching up on the Dip blog

You might not be a regular reader of my Dip blog. New posts are more likely to start showing up on this main blog now, so if you want to catch up, now's a good time.

Included: images from the book, and dozens of tasty, free posts.

Everyone is lonely

People spend money (and make money) and join organizations and invest time and enormous energy to solve this problem. Every day.

Engagement first


Saw this sign in Boston today. The person behind the counter does nothing all day. Nothing. Never a line.

Why forbid her from being helpful? Why not do the opposite? Why not make her the go-to person for useful information? Maybe, just maybe, engagement will lead to inquiries which will lead to sales...


Marketing works.

Advertising and promotion and lobbying cost money. And organizations pay for it because, by and large, it works. Not all the time, and rarely as big as people hope, but sure, you can influence the public by spending money.

Which leads to the key question: are you responsible for what you market?

Some people will tell you that the market decides. They’ll remind you that most consumers are adults, spending their own resources and doing it freely. That people have a right to buy what they want, even if what they want isn’t good for them (right now, or in the long run). That’s what living in a free country is all about, apparently. Buy what you want.

But wait.

I thought we agreed that marketing works.

If marketing works, it means that free choice isn’t quite so free. It means that marketers get to influence and amplify desires. The number of SUVs sold in the United States is a bazillion times bigger than it was in 1962. Is that because people suddenly want them, or is it because car marketers built them and marketed them?

Cigarette consumption is way down. Is that because people suddenly don’t want them any more, or is it because advertising opportunities are limited?

Others will tell you that if it’s legal, it’s fair game. If it’s legal for Edelman to post a blog called Working Families for Wal-Mart (when it’s really working Edelman employees for Wal-Mart), then they have every right to do so. In fact, they have an obligation to their shareholders to do so. Or so they say.

I believe that every criminal, no matter how heinous the crime, deserves an attorney. I don't believe that every product and every organization and every politician deserves world-class marketing or PR.

A neighbor was complaining that the baseball field in my town needs upkeep, and wonders why we don’t go ahead and take $100,000 from Pepsi for sponsorship of the field and a long-term contract to put vending machines on site. It doesn’t matter to him that obesity and heart disease are the number one preventable cause of death. He says that it’s a personal choice, and if we can get the money, we should.

Who’s responsible?

I was surprised at how angry I got in an email exchange with John, a reader near Detroit. I wrote, “I'm sorry if I seem like a curmudgeon, but the arrogance and  blindness of Detroit's management really and truly annoys me. Tens of thousands of innocent workers lost their jobs while clueless overpaid  company men drove the industry into the ground for decades. These were the guys who had plenty of time to fix their problems (20 years)  but instead lobbied hard to maintain SUV subsidies and gas subsidies  and on and on. They're sort of like cigarette companies, but with far  more side affects. They've let down our country, in my opinion, and just because they  are lip synching a bit now, I'm in no hurry to tell you that the problems are gone.”

And now Detroit is marketing hard in DC to fight against mileage standards again, claiming that they make the cars that people want to buy.

There are two problems with blaming the market:

The first is that the market is short sighted. Which means that in a year or two or five, when the market changes its mind and wakes up, you’re left holding the bag. By not taking responsibility for growing and nurturing the market in the right way, you get punished later.

The second is that if you poison your market, it all goes away. Not just your job, but your community too.

Let me be really clear, just in case. If you think that the world would be a better place if everyone owned a handgun, then yes, market handguns as hard as you can. If you honestly believe that kids are well served by drinking a dozen spoonfuls of sugar every morning before school, then I may believe you're wrong, but you should go ahead and market your artificially-sweetened juice product. My point is that you have no right to market things you know are harmful or that lead to bad outcomes, regardless of how much you need that job.

Along the way, “just doing my job,” has become a mantra for blind marketers who are making short-term mistakes in order to avoid a conflict with the client or the boss. As marketing becomes every more powerful, this is just untenable. It’s unacceptable.

If you get asked to market something, you’re responsible. You’re responsible for the impacts, the costs, the side effects and the damage. You killed that kid. You poisoned that river. You led to that fight. If you can’t put your name on it, I hope you’ll walk away. If only 10% of us did that, imagine the changes. Imagine how proud you’d be of your work.

The amazing thing is that over and over again, we're discovering that marketers who actually take responsibility for their marketing are actually more successful. Go figure.

Shoestring opportunity

TV Guide was purchased for more than $3 billion, back when a billion dollars was a lot of money. At one point, it was worth more than ABC or NBC.

CMP, like many other trade magazine publishers, is busy consolidating, laying people off and closing magazines as they try to move to digital.

Put those two facts together and there's an opportunity. In fact, a bunch of them.

Who is curating YouTube? Who's the TV Guide of a world with a million channels?

We don't need someone to point us to goofy edited scary car ads. What we need are tiny, specialized sites that obsess about specific industries. Is there a good video every day about how to do better real estate sales? If there isn't, there soon will be. Or for heart surgeons?

For every segment where there is currently a trade magazine, I believe there's an opportunity to build a blog-like, woot-like, ad supported page that finds the good stuff. Jeff Jarvis, who ironically used to work at TV Guide, is already doing this with politics.

Like most opportunities, this one will be obvious later. And then it'll be too late for most of us to get in.

Popping up here and there

Here's an interview I did that might be of interest to authors and booksellers.

And one for eBay sellers.

I take a shot at stock picking.

And a more far-ranging discussion about The Dip.

Megan wrote an ebook for eBay sellers on Squidoo. (that's the lens, here's the download)

And coming in the next few days: Riffs on radio.

The vibe

Have you ever been at a banquet or in a boutique or at a concert or a meeting or a company where the vibe was incredibly positive?

I think you know what I mean. A time and place where there was an overflow of positive energy. You felt surrounded by possibility, or people who believed in you, or just felt like buying (or eating, or talking) a lot.

The vibe changes everything. It's a place you want to work, or a restaurant you want to come back to. I remember the first time I walked into Fast Company's offices. I remember the original Legal Seafoods. And I remember, just a few weeks ago, the buzz in the lobby of the PDF conference in NY.

If vibe is so important, why does it sound flaky to worry about it? Who's in charge of the vibe at your place? Could it be better? A lot better?

Changing the vibe isn't always possible, but most of us rarely try. From physical layout to organization to what leaders say and do... it matters. Sometimes, it's all that matters.


How can someone: opposed to euthanasia but in favor of the death penalty? in favor of the impeachment of Bill Clinton but not of George Bush? worried about global warming but fly in a big private plane? in favor of the impeachment of George Bush but not of Bill Clinton? opposed to amnesty for illegal aliens but in favor of a pardon for Scooter Libby? in favor of military intervention in Darfur but not in Iraq? opposed to big government but want the government to control public speech? in favor of banning medical marijuana but opposed to government regulation of cigarettes? opposed to judicial meddling, except in cases where you disagree with the current laws?

Easy. Because people aren't consistent. Sure, you say, each of the examples above isn't fair. They don't match. They don't line up. [Smart people are lucky: they can hold seemingly contradictory ideas in their head while they look more deeply into the facts and make good decisions... it's called nuance.]

We don't eat dessert cause we're on a diet, but we put blue cheese dressing on our salad. We don't pay extra for first class, but refuse to give up a seat to get bumped from a flight, even though the reward is a thousand dollars. We curse the spam that clutters our email boxes but turn around and authorize millions of pieces of junk mail to go out to support our new business.

The local hardware store owner curses the existence of Home Depot but buys his family's clothes at Wal-Mart. The vegetarian wears a leather belt...

Everything is a special situation, everything begs for inconsistency. If all we did was market to computers, life would be a lot simpler, but a lot less interesting.

First, do no harm

The new in-flight entertainment systems are all digital. The recently installed model on Air Canada remembers the volume that the person before you used. Which means that mine was set for 11.

Several agonizing seconds later, I was able to rip off the headphones.

Design often needs to be remarkable. But it also needs to be smart.

[Rick writes in the next day:

I’m in the maple leaf lounge at the Toronto Airport. Sitting with two of the execs who worked on this project for Air Canada.  I showed em your post and said “well?”

[cue depressing music]

They are still having a debate on this (45 minutes later), deciding if they should put this into the update/rev plan.  One guy actually said, "who puts on a headset without check volume first?"

Somethings you just can’t make up.]

That moment

When you are sitting right on the edge of something daring and scary and creative and powerful and perhaps wonderful... and you blink and take a step back.

That's the moment. The moment between you and remarkable. Most people blink. Most people get stuck.

All the hard work and preparation and daring and luck is nothing compared with the ability to not blink.

The expectation paradox

So, people are upset because of the non-ending of the Sopranos. People are always upset when a TV show ends with a big finale, because it never meets the hype, never meets the expectations. If HBO had been quiet about it, hadn't done the full page ads and the radio shows and the newspaper articles, it would have been fine. Expanded expectations led to big disappointment.

The paradox: if expectations hadn't been raised, fewer viewers would have tuned in.

My main site has been down off and on over the last few weeks. I apologize to those of you who have been frustrated by this. My expectations of were fairly high--I thought that after all the years I'd been using the company they acquired, they'd do a better job. I was disappointed. We're moving on.

I visited webex today to prepare for a web conference I'm doing in a few weeks. Again, lots of high expectations (big company, lots of promotional effort) and was amazed to see a workaround about Firefox on the screen. The workaround didn't work. I was even more amazed to discover that the version I was using doesn't even bother to support the Mac.

I'm not one of those Mac whiners who say that everyone has to support my little boutique OS. If they had lowered expectations by clearly stating the incompatibility in the first moment, I wouldn't have been happy, of course, but at least I wouldn't have sat there for ten minutes, blaming myself for not understanding it.

In each case, the paradox is at work. On one hand, you want to raise expectations, because without doing that, you diminish trial. On the other hand, you want to exceed expectations, because that's what generates word of mouth.

As word of mouth becomes an ever more important component of marketing, the scales are tipping. Undersell, overdeliver. It's the strategy that works in the long run.

Every marketer has a choice... to make the first interaction the best of the experience, or the worst (least best).

1840s democracy

150 years ago, we had pretty much settled on all of the protocols and conventions of the American democractic system. We had figured out the steps and rules of electing a president.

Before radio, before TV.
Before planes or cars.
Before computers or voting machines.
Before YouTube.

Since mass democracy is essentially an exercise in communication and marketing, the fact that this essential process is frozen in time is a problem.

Here's a few why not questions:

  • Why not have six-hour long debates, and do them once a week on Cspan, with the highlights diced and sliced and put on any number of online or offline channels?
  • Why not use a chess clock style timing device so that each candidate can be free to answer a question for as long as she likes, but each candidate enters the debate with exactly the same amount of time to allocate?
  • Why not have the early state primary voters have the ability to vote for their four favorite candidates? It'll reward consensus candidates that have a better chance of winning the election.
  • Or, with a small upgrade to voting machines, why not let voters rank all the candidates? It's been shown to lead to better results.
  • Why not let us vote at ATM machines?
  • Why not run the final elections over the course of a week, announcing the balloting results at the end of each day? It would certainly increase turnout.
  • Why rely on geography as the primary mechanism for districts and electoral college votes? Our issues aren't farm-based any more. Why not let me pick which 'state' I live in?

If I ran a party and wanted to increase my chances of getting elected, I'd figure out how to turn the primary process into something that was simultaneously more interesting and more likely to lead to large numbers of my party turning out to vote in the general election. Instead, it's almost guaranteed to do the opposite.

The relevant lesson for you, even if you're not an active citizen or if you live elsewhere? Is your organization just as stuck? Are there marketing dynamics that you're not discussing, merely because there isn't even a way to talk about them?


A friend is wrestling with his ability to be coached. For the coachable, "Turn right at the light" is seen as a helpful suggestion for someone lost in a strange town... the advice goes in, is considered and then acted upon. For someone wrestling with coaching, though, it's like surgery. It's painful, it has side effects and it might lead to a bad reaction.

Coaching happens all the time. Most often, it's not from a boss or a professional coach. In fact, the best insights and advice usually come from informal or unexpected sources.

In fluid marketing and organization environments, where the world changes rapidly, coachability is a key factor in evolving and succeeding. Not because all advice is good advice. In fact, most advice is lousy advice. No, the reason coachability is so crucial is that without it, you don't have the emotional maturity to consider whether the advice is good or not. You reject the process out of hand, and end up stuck.

Symptoms of uncoachability:

  • Challenging the credentials of the coach
  • Announcing that you're being unfairly singled out
  • Pointing out, angrily, that the last few times, the coach was wrong
  • Identifying others who have succeeded without ever being coached
  • Resisting a path merely because it was one identified by a coach

Years ago, at the great Bolshoi Ballet, auditions for the troupe were conducted among 8 year old girls. That's because it took ten years to become great. How did the auditions work? The teachers weren't looking for the best dancers. They were looking for the dancers who took coaching the best. The rest would come with time.

"It's always like this"

Sethpicnic I visited some friends for lunch at the annual book trade show in New York last week (recognize anyone in this photo?). There were so many people eating lunch next to the very lame cafe at the Javits Center that we were forced to eat on the floor.

There's a lot of floor. In fact, there's enough floor for at least 1,000 more chairs and tables.

You can't see the overflowing garbage can next to us, or the ketchup smeared on the floor.

If something like this happened once a year, you'd probably be a bit forgiving. But this happens every single time the Javits Center hosts a large conference, which, of course, is exactly why the Javits Center exists... to hold large conferences.

No doubt, the poor guys who have to empty the jam-packed garbage cans curse at the short supply every day. And no doubt, the people who organize various conferences notice how few places there are to sit. The problem isn't that they don't know. The problem may not even be that they don't care. The problem is that the mindset of the organization doesn't include the sentence, "your job is to make things better."

Does yours?

Three humps and a stick (on pricing)

I've been working on a video project and thinking about pricing. That led me to this chart, which is more conceptual than accurate.

Let's go through it, starting with the stick on the left.

FREE stuff spreads. You don't make any money from the thing you're giving away, but you do get attention, which is worth as much, or more in many cases.

Charge even a penny, though, and the drop off is huge.

Jump over to the middle hump, the one without the question mark.

REASONABLE PRICING puts you right in the middle of the market. With reasonable pricing, you can move just a bit to the left or the right to find the sweet spot, the spot where you can balance money for promotion or shelf space or advertising against keeping your price low. Most of us are familiar with the shape of this curve in our industry. For example, hardcover books go for about $21. At $28, you have more money for co-op and ads, but sales go down a bit. At $19, you can't promote much, but sales go up a bit.

Move a bit to the left to the first hump with a question mark.

REALLY LOW PRICING is a whole new world. That's when something becomes cheap enough to be irresistible to someone who might not consider the category at all. This is what happens when MP3 songs go from 99 cents to 20 cents. This is what happens when you sell a hardcover book for $10. There's no room for big promotion, at least at first, but as WalMart has shown us, you can get scale at the super low end and have plenty of profit left over to hire fancy PR firms and lobbyists and ad agencies.

The last hump, the one on the right, is usually unexplored.

REALLY HIGH PRICING is the domain of specialty markets and superstars. Elton John gets $300,000 to do a bar mitzvah. John Cleese offers training videos that cost $1000 for one DVD. This is the land of high service and extreme exclusivity.

What's interesting about the four choices is that most organizations are only familiar with one. Ask them to try another and they freak out. They don't even want to consider it.

I think real growth can come when you get out of your comfort hump and create a blend. Understanding how to live in multiple worlds and to balance them isn't obvious, but the opportunities are worth it. Ben Zander's brilliant book costs $10.20 at Amazon in hardcover.  Buying the DVD costs $1495.00.

If he wanted to sell the DVD in large quantities, he'd need to price it differently and sell it in a different channel. But if he wants to work with trainers and the distributors who sell to them, he's exactly in the center of that third hump.

Careful about the Y axis (volume). Units aren't always the goal. (that's why I said this chart was conceptual). FREE gets you the most units, REALLY EXPENSIVE the least. But depending on your objectives, units might not be the point.

It's not important to know the right answer, which hump to choose, because there isn't one. It''s essential to know the question, because there are four distinct choices, and not choosing is still choosing.

My web vs. The web

The web has billions of pages. You'll see so few of them over your lifetime that the percentage is almost unmeasurable.

Your web, on the other hand, is well-traveled and familiar to you. It's the one you travel daily.

Facebook and sites like it are changing the world because they're becoming, for millions of people, "My web." Just as it's possible to do an entire day's work using nothing but email, it's now possible to live all day with your social network on Facebook. The new launch of open widgets makes that even more likely. I just discovered ztail, (which I haven't tested) which is an automatic process to let you create and then promote your auctions via your Facebook page.

It's not for every seller--it doesn't help you reach strangers, it doesn't help you teach people about who you are or what you do. But for those that are building their web around their social network, it's an inkling of what's to come. (hat tip to Fred for his insights on Facebook).


About thirty years ago, three companies dreamed up logos that have become so powerful, I don't even have to show you the images to get them to pop up in your head. A sneaker company paid a few hundred dollars for an abstract, upside down wave, a coffee company picked a half-naked mermaid (is there any other kind) that cost them nothing, and a computer company picked [hired a PR firm that picked] a piece of fruit with a bite out of it.

What the images had in common: nothing. They range from abstract to woodcut to groovy. The art of picking a logo, even one for the Olympics, has almost nothing to do with taste or back story. A great logo doesn't mean anything until the brand makes it worth something.

That's why spending $800,000 for a logo is ridiculous. And it's why you can't (I don't think I'm going out on a limb here) draw the logo of any Olympic games since 1898. The Olympics have trouble creating new logos of value because each Olympics already has an image that sticks with people... and that's the image of the city where the games take place. Putting an abstract picture on top of something that already has a picture doesn't work.

[and of course, the original Olympics logo meant nothing much when they started, but now provides a great shorthand to remind us of a whole bunch of attributes (youth, sportsmanship, spirit of the games, yadda yadda) that would be very hard to visualize without it.]

The iPod didn't need a logo, where a pair of sneakers or a cup of coffee do.

If you're given the task of finding a logo for an organization, your first task should be to try to get someone else to do it. If you fail at that, find an abstract image that is clean and simple and carries very little meaning--until your brand adds that meaning. It's not a popularity contest. Or a job for a committee. It's not something where you should run it by a focus group. It's just a placeholder, a label waiting to earn some meaning.

Anyone want to join me for a cup of mermaid? No sugar in mine.

Maybe not so dumb

Help_wanted_original Mike sends us this help wanted photo. (All ages encouraged to apply... minimum age 16).

It's easy to snicker at this sign. It only has three lines, and two of them are in direct contradiction to each other.

But then, if you think about it, you might realize a few things:
a. it's a restaurant, not a literary agency, so the fact that they are poor at putting together sentences doesn't hurt their branding so much, and
b. you thought about it.

By creating this error (and there's no doubt in my mind it was an accident) they called attention to the fact that seniors and 16 and 17 years olds are welcome to work there. They've dramatically increased the size of the potential worker base. Stupid sure, but not so dumb.

Actually, it's just a jaggy picture

Uklogo The UK games have unveiled the Olympic logo for 2012. If you were an ordinary person, you'd describe it as a slightly jarring, very bright piece of abstraction. Of course, you're not an ordinary person, you're a marketer, in which case you might understand this:

"This is the vision at the very heart of our brand," said London 2012 organising committee chairman Seb Coe.

"It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world.

"It is an invitation to take part and be involved."

If you are paying money to someone who talks like this, may I suggest you stop? And if you work for someone who talks like this, time to look for a new gig.

Building 43

Saul Hansell writes what will certainly be the most-linked article in this week's Times: Inside the Black Box.

The big takeaway for me is that there are [x] number of people, where x is a large number, working in a secret building at Google constantly changing the algorithms that they use to rank sites.

Being first in the Google rankings is more important than it ever was. And getting there is now more straightforward (but not easier) than ever.

It seems to me that in the SEO arms race, shortcuts have a shorter shelf-life than ever before. Building 43 is obsessed with them, and they outnumber whoever you might hire to beat the system. Organic success, on the other hand, is a clear path. If you want to be on the front page of matches for "White Plains Lawyer", then the best choice is to build a series of pages (on your site, on social sites, etc.) that give people really useful information. Not just boilerplate information you stole from a legal website, but really useful stuff about you, the local courts, the forms people need... the things you'd want to find if you were doing that search.

Once you've done everything you can... once you've built a web of information and once you've given the ability to do this to your best clients and your partners and colleagues, then by all means apply the best SEO thinking in the world to your efforts. Hire the best consultants and use the resources you've got left to be sure you're playing by the right rules.

Betting against Building 43 doesn't seem nearly as smart as betting on them.

Who wins?

newspapercrime.jpg The recycled newspapers in Grand Central Station are kept in cages more appropriate for pythons. It is apparently against the law to reuse a paper and read an old copy.

Perhaps the newspaper folks felt that it would hurt their circulation if passalong went up. This is stupid, of course, since people willing to fish a paper out of the recycling bin aren't your typical pay-a-dollar sort of readers.

Perhaps the janitors thought it would be too much trouble to clean up.

It's certain, though, that the people who decided to do this weren't marketers.

The Blind Squirrel Problem

My dad likes to say, "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then."

The thing is, acorns are getting a lot better at hiding.

I was in the local family-owned stationery store yesterday. A young man, perhaps 18, walked in and said to the foreign-born owner, who was busy behind the counter, "You don't have any summer jobs, do you?" It was clear that he had never been to the store before, and from his dress (ripped shorts, sandals) that he wasn't too serious, either.

You can probably guess the answer. The seeker thanked him and walked out, headed across the street to more rejection at the drug store.

This squirrel can stumble all he wants, but he's unlikely to find a job, never mind a good one.

Even a summer job is 400 or more hours of work. I wonder why he didn't bother to invest three hours in advance, looking for a job worth doing?

Actually, marketers do precisely the same thing all the time. Until it's imminent, an emergency, it's not high enough on the priority list. Which means that the effort (when we finally decide to allocate the time) is greater and the results are worse.

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