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

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or click on a title below to see the list


An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.



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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« June 2007 | Main | August 2007 »

Toxic employees

125pxhazard_tsvg Toxic employees are the ones that have difficulty with their co-workers, or worse, far worse, with your customers.

They make two big confusions:
1. They confuse "How can I help this prospect/customer?" with "How can I get rid of this person and get back to work?"

2. They confuse, "How can I have a better day by treating this person with a great deal of respect?" with "Why isn't this person treating me with the respect I deserve?"

Toxic employees are usually afraid, poorly managed and underappreciated. They can rarely be bullied into changing their behavior, often because they themselves are bullies. Managers can hire the non-toxic, re-assign the toxic and be really clear with themselves that they're willing to pay almost any price to keep toxic employees away from everyone else. And if toxic employees appears to be a pattern, my bet is that it's your fault, not the employees.

The marine iguana

Marine iguanas swim. They eat stuff in shallow water, which is surprising behavior for an iguana.

How is it possible for there to be marine iguanas?

Ordinary iguanas washed onshore of some of the Galapagos Islands a few millenia ago and quickly
discovered that eating the way they were used to wasn't going to work, because there wasn't anything to eat. Most of them starved to death. A few, though, were lucky enough that they could tolerate foraging around on the edge of the ocean. Over generations, iguanas with this trait thrived, while those that were born without it died out. A new species evolved.

The interesting lesson for marketers is this: if iguanas had had predators and competition while this was going on, they never would have survived. The barren nature of their marketplace gave them the time they needed to evolve (or as marketers with egos would say, "figure out") a strategy that worked.

Too often, marketers are drawn to the hot market. The problem with the hot market is that if you don't get it right quickly, you get crushed. Really big ideas tend to get perfected in the Siberian outposts, the little niches that get ignored (until they get really big). It takes a lot of confidence to walk into a hyper-competitive market with something new. Quieter markets may just give you the cover you need to work out what it's going to take to make those marketers grow.

Benefit of the doubt

You've probably seen it. The customer who's just waiting for you to screw up. The tour passenger who is itching for one thing to go wrong, the legal client who has a whole list of complaints just waiting for the first bill that comes in higher than it should, the boss who hovers, glee in his eye as you work to make a deadline.

In fact, if you're human, it's probably been you once or twice.

As a marketer, one of the most beneficial things you can do is get people to give you the benefit of the doubt before you start delivering a service or a product. Here are five brainstorms to get you started:

  • Be the underdog. Nextel or AT&T? Nextel often got the benefit of the doubt.
  • Underpromise.
  • Build up expectations of difficulty. Magicians are really good at this. If people think what you're doing is really difficult, they root for you.
  • Underhype. If others are building you up day after day, it's easy to root against you. The Germans have a word for everything and they have a word for this: schadenfreude.
  • Call them on it. If you think people are being perfectionists and not giving you a chance, ask for one. It's easier to ask for a chance to excel than it is to ask forgiveness if you fail.

My favorite way to get a chance is to give one. Organizations that are a little more flexible with their customers (and grateful to them) often get a lot more flexibility in return.

Bobcasting (and Google Reader)

I've been a fan of RSS for a long time, and I've been just waiting for it to reach its potential. Most of the readers of this blog read it via RSS, (if you don't, click here--more confusing than it needs to be, isn't it?)

Here's what's I think has been holding back RSS: the name (initials!) and the lack of a standard way to read a feed and to add a feed. We need one button, not twenty or thirty. I think both problems have been solved by RSS inside of Google Reader. (Click the link for a lens on an any easy way to get started). As the acceptance of Google Reader approaches ubiquity, marketers and managers now have the chance to take this technology to a totally new place.

Dave Winer, the pioneer of RSS, had a brilliancy about seven years ago that led to podcasting. Podcasting is just an RSS feed of music, with an easy interface (iTunes). Podcasting took off because it had the good parts of RSS without the hassles. But that's music, not text.

I want to suggest something that takes no new technology but could have a big impact on the way you do business: Bobcasting.

I call it that because instead of reaching the masses, it's just about reaching Bob. Or Tiasha. Or any individual or small group.

The future of online communication is micro-pockets of people getting RSS feeds in their Google Reader or on their Google home page. Amazon updates? Bobcast em to me. Fogbugz summaries for the customer service manager? Bobcast her three times a day.

Yes, Twitter is just an example of Bobcasting, but with a different interface. You only twit the people who want to hear from you, and you do it without spam filters or other noise.

What happens to your team when you have an RSS feed that can put a message or update in front of them without noise? And because the Reader separates the inputs by source, I can queue up my messages from you and read them in sequence. Compare that to the noisy disaster we call an inbox.

Facebook feels seductive, until you realize that the messages from those hundreds of friends are all sort of BlendTecked together. Yes, the spam is missing, but so is control.

With Bobcasting, I can have a feed for my Fedex packages, a feed updating me on the status of my frequent flyer miles at American, a feed from the project manager on the construction of my treehouse... anything that is primarily a one way piece of communication, anything where status updates instead of dialog are the goal.

If we are really living in a one to one future, then Bob (and our interactions with him) represent the asset we need to obsess over. Using RSS and Google Reader (and yes, there will be other, better readers to come) to do Bobcasting feels like a smart asset to build.

The promiscuity paradox

Marketers of all stripes are discovering that acquiring a reputation and permission to market to people isn't as expandable as they might hope.

A PR firm, for example, might have some terrific clients. These clients give them credibility to talk to the media. Over time, the firm gains a reputation with bloggers and other media outlets. Emails get answered, press releases get read. The clients get ink, new clients show up.

The temptation is to grow the business. To take on new clients. To do the PR magic for an ever larger group of people.

Here's the problem: the people who most want to be your clients are the people you should least want to represent. As you promote the unpromotable, the permission you have to talk to the media doesn't go up, it goes down. Better to be the agency that only represents bestselling authors than to be the biggest agency.

In the long run, the pickier you are, the better you do. Same thing goes for online merchants, brokers, church groups and just about anyone else who markets with permission.

Last chance for September 6 seminar

The seminar on 9/6 in New York City is 85% sold out. Details are here. Thanks.

Community Organizer Jobs

As promised, I've posted almost a dozen Community Organizer Jobs. If you missed the deadline and want to add one, feel free. There's even a job at Squidoo available.


A study out today shows that obesity is contagious. If your best friend gets fat, your chances of gaining weight more than double.

Malcolm Gladwell fans will recall his reporting that suicide among teenagers can be contagious as well.

So is terrorism, of course. And spamming. And graffiti. [And becoming a millionaire, getting your company funded, not dropping out of high school and learning how to shop for bargains, too.]

The most important thing you can do is choose who you're hanging out with. The second high-leverage thing is to put dynamics in place that reinforce the ideas you'd like to see spread. Celebrate the heroes. Make it easy for those ideas to spread...

Role models

Hilton Fifteen years ago, I used to frequent a movie theater in Yonkers, NY. It puzzled me that all the teenage girls hanging out front seemed to look alike. Similar hair, similar clothes. Who, I wondered, was their role model? If they were all going to look the same, they needed some central figure to look to for inspiration. I finally figured it out--Barbie. They were dressing like Barbie dolls.

Those same girls now dress like Paris. For now. Then it will be someone else.

You may have noticed that websites do the same thing. Here's an optimization 'expert'. I have no idea if the data is any good, no idea if the results are as promised--I haven't used them. But I can tell in a heartbeat what the role model for the site designer was. The look and feel of the page don't just influence the way I think about the offer, they completely change the way I think about it. That doesn't mean it's wrong, it just means that it's not for me. This sort of graphic approach, like the layout of the spam I get all too often, is the Barbie of the Internet. For now.

Next time you put on a suit or choose a conference room or design a page, realize that you're modeling your behavior after someone. Who? Why?

Permission, Junk and Spam

Since I wrote Permission Marketing in 1999, marketing has changed more than any of us could imagine. One of the biggest changes is the ubiquity of search.

The idea that people would seek out marketing, ads and content the same way they sought out books is radical. The bookstore is filled with hundreds of thousands of titles, most of which I have no interest in. That's okay, though, because books mind their own business, just waiting for someone to find them. Finding what I want isn't particularly difficult, and if you want to write a junky book, it's fine with me, as long as you're willing to be responsible for what you say.

That same dynamic now drives everything from radio shows to web sites to scuba tanks. Go ahead and make what you want, as long as you stand behind it and don't bother me. If you want to sell magnetic bracelets or put risque pictures on your website, it's your responsibility, your choice. Want to find a website featuring donkeys, naked jugglers and various illicit acts? It's junk, sure, but it's out there. You just have to go find it. Junk turns into spam when you show up at my doorstep, when your noise intercepts my quiet.

The result of Google and the prevalence of search means that people are far more forgiving of things that need to be sought out, and less patient than ever with selfish marketers that insist on showing up in your face.

Are you looking for a community organizer?

My post on this job title got a lot of response. So I figured I'd put together a job anthology.

If you've got a job opening for a community organizer, write it up. Post it on your blog or your lens or your site. Send me the link. Put COJ in the subject line. I'll post a bunch of them on Thursday.


A flurry of unsolicited questions came in on Friday, including two "please review my blog" letters, and a "please review my book" package. (For the record, I'm totally useless at reviewing your blog, sorry.)

One person was very honest and asked, "Is my blog boring?"

If you need to ask, you probably know the answer.

The mistake most blogs and books make: they are about the writer, not the reader.

Years ago, a friend (a former judge) wrote a thriller. It was based on a true story that actually happened to him. It was terrible. Why? The fact that it had actually happened was interesting to him, but the typical reader didn't care at all. That's because the typical reader didn't know him.

The things that fascinate you about your life are almost always banal to strangers. Strangers want to read about their lives, not yours. And guess what? The same thing is true about prospects and customers and just about anything you can imagine marketing.

Two New York marketing mysteries

Cofeecup Today, in Brooklyn, I passed a woman wearing a large red t-shirt. It said, in full, "Celebrate Life with Ketchup." [Mystery solved! it's a reference to Prairie Home Companion. Thanks, guys].

And last week, in the middle of a crosswalk (18th and 8th Ave., I think) I passed this item, embedded in the asphalt in the middle of the street. [Piet points us to the answer].

I'm as mystified as you.

Nophoto_2 The last marketing mystery is a bonus more than a mystery. The iconic Pinkberry yogurt chain is racing across America as fast as it can, open places hither and yon. The front of the store features a variety of almost illegible bits of marketing froth, accompanied by exactly one image that is clear. So clear, you can read it across the street. Of course I ignored it, but the question is, why? Is it a deliberate attempt to attract interest by forbidding people to share what they see? Or is it some security-theatre minded person run amok?

The longest tail

I stopped by a garage sale today. The guy had thousands of CDs, most of them in their wrappers. $3 each. I was excited.

Two boxes in, I felt like I was in a different universe. Every single artist was someone I had never heard of. After 25 years of buying CDs (a lot of CDs) I had come face to face with a huge Dip. It's almost impossible to buy music with no frame of reference. There were no hits, no recommendations, no "if you like x, you'll like y". I realized that the time it would take to decide if I liked an album was probably worth more than the $3 it would cost to buy one--in other words, not even worth it for 'free.'

Musicians, bloggers, writers--if you're toiling in the long tail, getting stuck at zero is now a real possibility. Being just like the other guys but trying harder is less of an effective strategy than ever before.

Keeping a secret

By now, the Harry Potter hype machine has told you all about the pre-shipped copies, the scanned book and the spoilers. No doubt it'll sell a few copies, and no doubt the reported $20 million on security (not to mention fedex expense) was both useful and ineffective.

The interesting thing for me is how the Net changes what it means for something to be a secret. Five hundred year old technology (books) is just too slow for the Net. The act of printing, storing and shipping millions of books takes too long for a secret to ever be in a book again.

My solution? A hybrid. Publish the first edition of the book without the last three chapters. Take your time, save the $20 million. Every purchaser then gets access (hey, everyone gets access) to the last three chapters on launch day.

Books are souvenirs. No one is going to read Potter online, even if it's free. Holding and owning the book, remembering when and how you got it... that's what you're paying for. Books are great at holding memories. They're lousy at keeping secrets.

Jobs of the future, #1: Online Community Organizer

If you want to hire a union organizer, you probably know what to look for. Someone with resilience, passion, persistence and excellent interpersonal skills.

What if you want to hire someone to build an online community? Somebody to create and maintain a virtual world in which all the players in an industry feel like they need to be part of it? Like being the head of a big trade association, but without the bureaucracy and tedium...

It would help if that person understood technology, at least well enough to know what it could do. They would need to be able to write. But they also have to be able to seduce stragglers into joining the group in the first place, so they have to be able to understand a marketplace, do outbound selling and non-electronic communications. They have to be able to balance huge amounts of inbound correspondence without making people feel left out, and they have to be able to walk the fine line between rejecting trolls and alienating the good guys.

Since there's no rule book, it would help to be willing to try new things, to be self-starting and obsessed with measurement as well.

If you were great at this, I'd imagine you'd never ever have trouble finding good work.

We're all irrational

Well, most of us anyway.

This terrific article about a study of eBay buyers and sellers proves it. In some categories, more than 40% of the auctions went for more than the Buy it Now price. Hmmmm. Two tips from the end:

  • Set low opening prices. When choosing between identical items, buyers seem to favor whichever auction has the most bids. The best way to grab early bids: Start with a cheap price. By the time a $1 DVD auction reaches $10, it will probably attract more newcomers than a DVD that started at $10.
  • Don't use secret reserves. A study of online auctions with and without hidden minimum prices showed that many buyers steer clear of items with a secret opening price. It’s like that old shopping joke, "If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it."

Letters, brochures and email

If you've ever written a direct mail letter, you've probably agonized. "One more sentence," you wonder, "this might just be the one." After all, direct mail has a job to do... you send the letter and you get the sale (or you don't.) Making it longer and more powerful and more complete are all essential tasks.

Brochures are a bit different. Brochures rarely lead to a sale. They lead to a sales call. So a brochure has to be engaging and hopefully viral. But its only job is to keep you in the running, not end in a transaction.

Email (sent with permission) has a different function. Its job is to get a response. To move a conversation forward, to help you learn a little bit about the person you're engaging with.

If your emails read like direct mail letters or look like brochures, you're wasting time and effort.

Avoiding the blacklist

If you send out an email newsletter, you may have experienced the hassle of being blacklisted from an ISP or web service. The asymmetrical nature of spam makes this particularly painful--professional spammers don't mind being blacklisted, because they regularly switch identities. It's the good guys (and the amateur spammers) who get hassled.

Here's a lens that can help good guys navigate their way through the issue.

Löb Strauss, the gold rush and DRM

Everybody knows that the big winner during the 1849 gold rush was a guy named Strauss, who made jeans (he changed his first name along the way). He figured that he might not find gold, but everybody needed pants. Win or lose, he won.

If you want to really understand what's going on with copyright and digital rights and all the fights about YouTube and radio, etc., it helps to think about Levi. It's not personal. It's just about billable hours.

Fred points out that the music industry is working to cripple internet radio without thinking the strategy through. Many others have reported getting notes from various lawyers that seem more like fishing expeditions than serious efforts to patrol copyrights. I even got a letter from Abbot and Costello's lawyer.

Watch the money.

In most of these cases, the lawyers get paid by the hour. A copyright holder pays a retainer and the associates just churn and churn and churn. They've got a form letter and a whois lookup and they send out another letter. That's their job. Not to win, but to keep the cycle moving. It's a bit like selling jeans.

Nine times out of ten, regardless of the industry, strategy is a byproduct of a series of tactics.

Buy one get one free

Brice points us to TOMS Shoes.

I like several things about this approach. The simplicity of the offer, first of all. If you buy a pair of these very inexpensive shoes, he gives a pair to a kid in the developing world for free. No fine print.

Second, Tom has turned the shoe into a souvenir. A post-modern shoe, a shoe for people who don't need shoes, but are happy to wear a statement. This isn't the first pair of shoes most Americans will buy, it might not even be the tenth. But it will be one that people talk about when they're wearing it.

Changing the future

That's what marketers do, after all. We spend time and money to change the role of our products and services sometime in the future (whereas salespeople try to change the now).

Changing tomorrow is really, really difficult. It's expensive and abrupt and rarely works out for the best. Which is why the worst time to change your marketing is right after 60 Minutes calls on the phone. Tomorrow is so close, it's probably going to go down the way it's going to go down, regardless of what you do. Changing the future of tomorrow is tough.

Changing next week's future is a little easier, next month is easier still. You can lay the groundwork now to change your team and your products and your story so that over time, you're in a different place than you are now.

Changing next year, though... that's really hard. It's hard because a year is so far away, you can count on the world being a very different place by then.

Something to think about if you're running for President, building a website or selling services to a big corporation.

Death of the farmer's market

As you may have noticed, farmer's markets are springing up all over. The combination of organic and local is proving irresistible to many towns and consumers.

The market in my town is now twice as big as it was just last year. New vendors sell muffins, cookies, muffins, cheese, muffins, and yes, frozen risotto cakes in their own disposable plastic tray. Somewhere along the way, the farmer part got left behind.

This brings out tons of people, consumers who would rather buy a sandwich than a zucchini. It's the normal progression of things--from the edgy early adopter who seeks purity and novelty above all things, all the way through the early majority and then the mass market. As the market grows, it gets, by definition, more average. Until, as Yogi Berra says, "no one goes there, it's too crowded."

This creates opportunities and challenges. Last one in with a mass market offering can do very well after the market is pioneered by the iconoclasts. And the iconoclasts have to be very careful of depending on the market they created staying just the way it was, but bigger.

Dijon ketchup

Very good ends up being worth a lot more than just good.

And yet some goods and services only seem to offer one level of quality... good. What can you transform into very good?

It's the best I've got...

...but it'll do.

Sure, it would be great if IDEO could design your next product or the CEO of Texaco would introduce your sales guy to his purchasing department. It would be great if you had the resources to have a detail force at every retailer, or Russell Simmon's PR firm or a page that got linked to from Yahoo's home page.

But they won't, he won't and you don't.

The art of marketing is not finding more money to do more marketing. It's figuring out how to tell a story that spreads with the resources you've got.

Small before big

One of the luxuries of being in a low-cost business or in having access to capital is that you can scale quickly. You can go from one salesperson to a hundred, one store to twenty, no franchises to a thousand.

In our rush to scale, sometimes we forget something essential: if it doesn't work when you've got one, it's extremely unlikely to work when you have dozens.

If a political candidate can't sway the audience with one speech, how will doing the speech across the district do anything but waste time?

If a direct mail letter doesn't work when you mail it to a hundred people, it won't work any better when you mail it to a thousand.

All a roundabout way of saying that obsessing about that tiny moment when someone decides to buy pays big dividends. Rejiggering or even overhauling a single example of what you do is almost always a better way to spend your time than in trying to double the number of places you do what you do.

The first thing

Before you start firing customers, you better be committed to satisfying the rest of your customers. The giant flaw in Sprint's logic, as many readers have pointed out, is that plenty (almost half) of their customers don't like them. Getting rid of a nasty group of 1,000 isn't going to change that very much.

First job: get serious about customer satisfaction.

The honor system

Just about everything in civilization works on the honor system.

No armed guards at the local grocery store, no pat down as you leave the library. Most people cross the street without fear of crazed hit and run assassins.

Great marketers are able to deliver customer service because they're willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. They tend to take your word for it.

Of course there are bad actors. One out of a thousand people will cheat on that test or rip off that store. When LL Bean or Patagonia offers a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee, some jerks decide to buy an outfit, go on a trip and then return it all.

If you spend all your time worrying about these folks, you end up underserving the other 99% of the population. Take the write off. That's what successful marketers do.

When we move online, though, two things happen. First, word among the black hats spreads fast. One person starts ripping you off and suddenly it's a hundred.

Worse, the ripoffs and bad actions can scale. Sure, only one in a thousand email users is a spammer. But one spammer, aided by a computer, can send a million or more emails in a day. Suddenly, the people who violate the honor system are able to drown out the good guys.

Just like the real world, though, if you spend all your time preparing for and defending against the black hats, you'll never accomplish anything. If you assume that every single interaction online is fraudulent until proven otherwise, people will just move on to the competition.

So, online, you're between a rock and a hard place. The first opportunity is to treat your friends better than ever, because word of mouth online is incredibly powerful. The Net brings significant leverage--you can spread ideas farther and faster.

The temptation is to embrace only the advantages of the web and insist on eternal vigilance against the possiblity of getting ripped off. To act as if everyone online is a criminal. To assume that the moment you are generous or trusting, squadrons of bad actors will exploit your generosity. I don't think that's the answer. If you treat people like criminals, the good ones will leave, because people have a choice.

There's a different path. Awareness of the potential problem helps you keep your eyes open. You can watch the trends, be aware, but still embrace the honor system. Realize that the vast majority of your customers will always want to do the right thing. Look both ways before crossing the street... but still cross.

Treating different customers differently

I've gotten a lot of email about: Sprint may cancel your service if you call customer service too often.

Apparently, about 1,000 people got this note. They weren't delinquent in their bills, but they were calling in and complaining approximately 25 times a month.

If you're going to be obsessed with delighting customers, it's a lot more efficient to focus on customers that are able to be delighted. That sounds like a tautology, but it's actually a guiding principle for successful businesses. Hire nice people and attract satisfiable, gabby customers. Why not?

These 1000 people were actually happy to be unhappy. They were unpleasable, and they weren't helping either word of mouth or the ability of the call center folks to do good work.

I think the mistake Sprint made was in only giving people one day's notice. I probably would have given them a month or so... Turns out Sprint even gave them one month's notice.

What would happen if you fired (nicely) the very few customers that take your best effort but rarely appreciate it or spread the word?

A new seminar: September in NYC

Thanks for all of you who have asked for this. I'm trying a slightly different format, which should be interesting. I've found that most people who come to my sessions have read enough of my work to be up and running before they arrive, so I thought we'd just start at the end, with the Q&A.

September 6, in New York, all day Q&A and brainstorming session. I hope you can make it.

The world is actually not flat, it's sort of lumpy

Waterbuff On Friday at 2 pm, I was standing in a small room, about 100 km outside of Delhi, talking with a young man who shared his home with a water buffalo. Less than 20 hours later (thanks to the miracles of 15-hour non-stop flights and many time zone changes) I was at the local Toyota dealer, watching the sales manager working hard to avoid talking to me (or even acknowledging my presence) about how they hadn't finished servicing my car after a week.

Given the ubiquity of cell phones and the internet, outsourcing this gentleman and his three service consultants to India would be very easy. Instead of having people manning terminals in high-cost Rockland, NY, you'd have 10 people answering the phones (and inputting the same data) in India. More access for less money.

I have no doubt it would create savings. I'm also pretty sure it wouldn't add much value.

It wouldn't add value because reducing the cost of an interaction with a consumer isn't usually the point. The real win is when a service person does the difficult work of solving problems and the essential work of connecting with people as individuals. You can't outsource this easily.

You've heard it before: every single interaction is an opportunity to do marketing, not a chance to cut costs.

PS in addition to owning the water buffalo, the young man in India ran a micro-business in coordination with Drishtee, while others I worked with on my trip were part of Scojo and some other very cool organizations. If you bought the Big Moo, you've funded some of their work via Acumen.

Sloppy naming

If you've got more than one product or service, you have a problem. You need to decide if there's going to be an architecture to the way you name things. General Motors has a division, Chevrolet. Chevrolet makes cars, and each car has a name (Corvette, Impala). They have an architecture in place that makes some things clear very quickly.

It's easy for the brand managers at GM to figure out the steps to go through before naming a car. It's easy for consumers to subconsciously figure out the hierarchy of how it all fits together.

This architecture isn't a cure-all. Sometimes it leads to internal navel gazing that prevents great stuff from happening. (I remember sitting in long meetings at Spinnaker, where I was a brand manager in the 80s, arguing about what color the little logo banner should be on a particular product--teal meant educational, but siena meant family...)

The alternative, which is to make stuff up as you go along, can lead to chaos. Check out the chart of Apple products through the ages. Apple's sloppiness has cost them millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements, not to mention making it hard for the team to keep up with the engineers.

First, Apple was a brand that modified a noun. Apple Computer, Apple II, Apple III. Then Macintosh was a brand that was modified by a brand that modified a noun. Apple Macintosh computer. Then Apple Mac IIfx computer, etc.

Then Apple was a brand that modified a brand that modified no noun at all. Apple Newton.

Then Apple modified its own subbrand by adding the letter "i" in front of it. Apple iMac.

Then they went back to the Newton strategy, with a twist: Apple iPod. The thing is, the "i" in Mac modified something we knew what it was (a Mac). But what's a "pod"?

Wait, it gets a lot worse.

Now that Apple had two successful "i" products in a row, they got giddy and tried to own one of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Which you can't do. So iHome isn't made by Apple, but iLife is. The more equity Apple puts into the i, the more they waste, because others can just leverage it for free and people get confused.

Apple made the same mistake with the Powerbook (a third sub brand, the Apple, Macintosh, Powerbook laptop). They had to give up the word "Power" when they switched to the Intel chip from the PowerPC chip. A multi-billion dollar brand name, shredded.

Apple had to pay a million dollars for, because the brand managers didn't see it coming years ago. Same thing with Cisco's phone.  They even paid a million dollars for permission to use the word 'classic' for one of the Macs years ago. Did I mention the hassles with podcasting?

When a newer, more integrated version of the iPhone comes out, what do they call it?

My guess is that everyone waits to see what Steve likes.

It's absolutely true to argue that a naming architecture is no replacement for amazing products that people choose to talk about. But if you're going to pay all those lawyers and marketing suits to work on the names, they might as well be encouraged to lead, not to follow.

Brand names aren't brands, not by a long shot. But they are valuable clues to consumers, as well as assets you own.


Word of mouth comes directly from expectations.

Low expectations are a terrific shortcut, because when you exceed them, people are so amazed that they can't help but talk about it.

But low expectations are dangerous, because if you fly too low, you're invisible. Worse, when people expect little of you, they often don't bother listening at all.

So most of the time, you're challenged with this: high expectations that must be beat.

Broadway shows. Apple products. Expensive consulting services. Promise big and deliver bigger seems to be the only reliable strategy.


Why all the hoopla about a date? (Marriages are up by 30% year on year for today over a similar Saturday last year, for example).

Simple. People are meaning machines. We look for hints about what the future will hold and add meaning, often where there is none.

Putting a lucky number on your marriage certificate is just as silly as all the other cues (from the typeface in the ad to the tie on the applicant's neck) that we use to make decisions.

Maternity ward lesson

Lifespring The staff and doctors at the LifeSpring hospital told me that they have to do exactly three things:
1. Realize that their customers* have expectations
2. Exceed those expectations
3. Do better at it every day

That's as good a marketing plan as I've heard in a while.

*(notice that they didn't say 'patients')

Times a million

Natlamp73 Politicians, social-cause marketers, health product marketers and others have a particular problem that makes marketing difficult: The closer an issue is to the purchaser, the easier it is to use it with impact. People care about a fire in their movie theatre, a lot less about one across the country. People care about an illness that they have right now, a lot less about preventing something twenty years from now. When you create gaps in time or space, people lose interest.

There's another factor to consider as well: the consumer will be more motivated by something that she can have a direct influence on. Sure, every little bit helps, but every little bit is really difficult to market.

I was driving on the Taconic Parkway last week and noticed a Porsche Cayenne and a Ford Edge were keeping pace with me. I was driving my Prius and getting about 51 miles per gallon. The other two cars were averaging about 20 each. Here's an analysis I just grabbed from a random website:

Even though I drive over 35,000 miles per year, a CX-7 would only save me about $300 per year over an Explorer Limited V8 (with regular at $2.40 and premium at $2,60). Even though the Edge will run on regular, and probably achieve a bit better mileage than the CX-7, it would probably only save me about $900 per year on fuel vs the Explorer Limited V8. For someone who drives more typical distances, the annual savings would be less than half those amounts.

Notice the lack of "times a million" math.

If we figure that the average driver in the US does 20,000 miles a year, I'm going to use about 400 gallons of gas. A car getting 20 mpg is going to use closer to a thousand gallons. Figure that there are about 100 million actively driven cars in the US, which means that the net difference if "everybody did it" has the potential to save 60 billion gallons (600 times 100 million) of gas. A year.

No, this isn't a pitch to switch. It's a pitch to describe how amazingly difficult it is to market that story.

The guy above who's not going to switch from his Explorer to an Edge because it will only save him $300 a year is clearly not going to be interested (never mind moved) in the thought experiment above. It's too distant. Too far away.

The same as the person who buys one of the million bottles of Fiji water sold every year. The same as the person who doesn't want to know about a kid about to die... if the kid is thousands of miles away and it's not clear how one person can make a difference right now. Here's the thing: all marketers who whine about the distant do is annoy people. At least the people who don't care about the distant. They don't get "times a million" math, and repeating it with frequency isn't going to help much.

The reason PETA has had good success railing against fur coats is that they make it personal. The same way faith healers bring an impact to a room.

The lesson of the National Lampoon cover above, the best magazine cover in history, should be obvious by now. The way to sell the distant is to make it immediate. The way to sell the drop in a bucket is to make the bucket a lot smaller, not to extrapolate to even bigger numbers. "Buy this car and we'll kill 10 penguins" is a lot more powerful than "Buy this car and forty years from now, if everyone else buys a car like this one, your grandchildren are going to spit on your grave."

Who knew I could be wrong in so many ways

I got a lot of feedback from my post about reorganizing for profit. It broke down into several groups:

  1. non-retailers explaining why it would be impossible logistically to do this
  2. retailers explaining that making it hard to find related items actually helps them, because as you search around the store, it increases the chances you'll find something you didn't remember you were looking for
  3. high-end believers who insist that the salesperson will find what I want for me
  4. fashion hounds who insist that they buy the wrong size just to get a great label

     5. retailers who have actually done this and regularly report increases in sales of 30%.
(I heard from people who sell high end clothes, hardware and bikes).

Of course this won't work for everyone. (Of course label-centric sport shopping is here to stay). And of course it's doable (hey, you separate the men from the women from the kids already).

The most fascinating takeaway for me is this: many retailers believe that they still have the power to inconvenience shoppers as a way of increasing revenue. "Too many stores in that mall," in my opinion, for me to stay with you if it's easier and more fun to go over there instead.

Test it first. If it doesn't work, let me know.

You can ask, "First time here?"

Alysoup Airports, restaurants, online stores and police stations often have the same challenge: they don't deal with regulars. A lot of the time, people are walking in the for the first time.

If it's an experience that's fairly common, human beings are very good at looking for clues about where to go for more information or to get started. That tall desk in the back of the drugstore probably has a pharmacist behind it...

Often, though, especially in international travel or new experiences or emotional events, we just don't know. So why not make it easy?

Be obvious about it. A sign that says First Time Here in three or four languages is a fine place to start. You can explain that while you serve minestrone, the locals come for the gumbo. Or that you should keep that little tag from the customs form cause you'll need it when you pick up your luggage.

Sure, not everyone is going to read that page on your menu or press that button on your voicemail, but your smartest and often loudest prospects will. And that's who you most want to persuade. (PS Richard has a plugin that does this for Wordpress users.)

Reorganizing for profit

Here's what most retailers do:
They organize by brand/designer or label
Within that, they organize by type of item
and within that, by style
and finally, by size

So, all the Armani blue suits are next to each other, then by size.

So, all the boxer shorts at the Gap are on a wall, organized by style first (checks over here, stripes over there,) then by size.

So, all the power tools at Home Depot are together, sometimes by brand, sometimes by function (saw) and then by type of material to be cut (wood).

This is dumb, and the web makes it obvious why it's dumb. It's dumb because it makes it easier for the clerk, not for the customer. And dumb because it plays to the label's ego, not to ours.

Does anyone say, "okay, even though my son wears size large boxers, these striped ones are really nice, I'll buy the small instead." Of course not.

So why not put all the large boxers right next to each other, regardless of designer and style?

When you go to Home Depot to get what you need to build something out of wood, why don't you find the glue and the wood saws and the screwdrivers and the screws all together in a section called, "working with wood"?

It's pretty simple: if you want to sell belts and socks and even shoes, you need to sell a suit first. Make it easy to add on, and people will do it, quite happily.

Pushing and running

One of the most difficult transitions that marketing organizations go through is shifting from pushing against resistance to running with acceptance.

The culture at insurgent companies is all about pushing. You get turned down on sales calls, you have tiny market share, people walk away from your trade show booths. You have trouble finding suppliers and a bank loan and even employees.

So you learn to push. In fact, you may discover you start to lean against that resistance, that it becomes part of who you and your team are.

If your work is successful, you break through. You become Apple or the politician who leads in the polls. And then what?

If you're very good, you start running like crazy. You have the wind at your back and the chance to dramatically increase your impact and market share. But most organizations keep pushing. Because that's what they know how to do. Instead of running up the scoreboard, they look for something else to push against. I think the fascinating transformation at Apple is worth noting. The iPod gave them the opportunity to start running.

It's not easy.

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