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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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« July 2007 | Main | September 2007 »


Jason is running a long comment-thread at his blog about what a seamless user experience might be. What's seamless, he asks... The answers are pretty predictable, and mostly correct.

The thing is, seams are important.

Try throwing a baseball or a football without seams.

Wear clothes without seams and you look like you're on Star Trek.

Seams make it possible to get a grip.

The goal, it seems to me, is not to create things that are seamless. It's to put the seams in places where they are actually useful.

Audio books

There are only three kinds of people in the world:

  • Those that like audio books
  • Those that don't
  • (and by far the largest) those that have never tried one

The reason for the market failure is historic. Audio books traditionally generate very little revenue to the author. She gets a royalty on a royalty on a small sales base. Not worth the time to promote. Add to that the huge hassle of keeping a large number of titles in stock at a retailer and throw in the high price required by producing many CDs or cassette tapes per title, and you see the problem.

Here's the thing, though: In my experience, audio book listeners are ten times more likely to drop me email or talk about what they heard than book readers. Part of it is the entertaining nature of the presentation, I think (I probably talk better than I write) and part of it is the nature of the experience--it's going into a different part of your brain.

Anyway, digital media, as in so many other areas, changes everything. First, authors are getting smarter about what rights they preserve. Second, digital media has no inventory problem. The Long Tail rules. If you've got an MP3 player, you probably have an iPod, which probably means you have access to the iTunes store. There's a ton of audiobooks there. And (among others) which pioneered the field, has a huge catalog.

You can even set your iPod to speed up the spaces between the words so you can hear the whole thing faster.

The biggest problem that I see is that the prices are still way too high (because of the legacy of the 6 CD set). An audiobook should cost $3 or $4, imho.

Nine of my books are now available as audio books. You can find them all here.

How to make a PowerPoint chart

More data does not equal more information.

Sooner or later, you're going to be tempted to use actual data in a presentation. Powerpoint makes it easy, and it also tempts you to do it completely wrong. Here are some ideas to help.

The first question: What's the point?

Design_chptr_slides094 Yes, there needs to be a point. The only reason to include statistics in a slide is to advance an argument. Unless you work for the National Institute of Health, the chances that you'll be asked to review raw data on a slide and try to figure out causation is slim indeed. (Though this is a really useful way to do research and analysis, most readers of this blog don't get invited to meetings like that very often).

In this slide from Garr, we see too much data, poorly presented. Does the relationship of internet connectivity via cell phone in the UK vs. France have anything to do with why we're here? I don't think it does. My guess is that the purpose of this slide is to persuade the viewer that an enormous percentage of those in South Korean have access. The rest of the stats are certainly nice, and they add credibility, but the details are not just irrelevant to the audience, they are actually distracting.

My version looks like this:

Cellphones001 I've made an assumption--my audience is in the US. I'm trying to teach them that in South Korea, a vastly larger percentage of the market has access to the internet via their cell phone (perhaps I'm pitching a VC on a South Korean internet venture). While China and the UK offer me juicy relative stats, the audience is in the US and they are ethnocentric... they understand the state of their own market.

There are several other things going on here are that are a bit more subtle. The first is that left to right bar charts are silly. The audience takes a lot longer to 'get' the idea that something that extends further to the right is better. UP, on the other hand, is always better.

Second, when dealing with percentages, you need to communicate that getting closer to 100% is incrementally more difficult. In other words, 40% is not twice as good as 20%. It's actually ten times as good if you're talking about some sort of networked device like a fax machine. In this case, I do that by drawing a picture of a cell phone. As you can see, the closer you get to 100%, the happier your psyche is. The US phone is clearly broken, the other two are pretty close to great.

Next question: How do I make it a verb?

Cellphones002 PowerPoint isn't a printout. It's a presentation. As a result, you get to create action. Instead of just showing the slide I just showed you, I'd show this slide instead. Why? Because I want to set the baseline. I'd say, "As you probably know, about a third of all the cell phones in the US have access to the Internet. As a result, there are relatively few useful services available, and most cell phone users rarely if ever go online. It's too slow, too clumsy and there's not enough to do."

Two things have happened. First, I've made a simple statement of fact that is easy to gut check and probably believe. It becomes your fact at that point, not mine.

The second thing I've done, by leaving the left side of the slide blank, is create a little itch. You're wondering what's on the left. You're waiting for the punchline. THEN I show you the slide with all three countries on it, and I can say, "When you have almost complete penetration, the entire game changes..."

And then we're in. We're on the same page, and you're ready to hear my story. Remember, you don't pay by the slide. I did a presentation yesterday... 154 slides in 54 minutes. And I didn't even break a sweat.

Last thought and then I'll let you go. You can also aggregate data. In fact, you're expected to. Pie charts are a great example of how people go wrong.

Piechart001 Here's a typical pie chart, showing traffic sources to a website:

It's accurate. It shows more than a half a dozen places that traffic come from. It's also useless. It's ungrokable. It doesn't have a point.

Piechart002 Here's the same data, grouped to make a point. "We get our traffic from three sources, one dominates the other two, but only one of them is under our control in terms of our ability to scale it directly. So let's talk about how we grow that slice."

By all means, give me the data. All of it. Just do it in a printout, and share it with us at the end of the presentation.

Are you a who?

Years ago, I got a piece of junk mail inviting me to be in Who's Who.

Apparently, this used to be very exciting news. Pre-web, Who's Who was the best way to tell if someone was connected. You went to the library and looked someone up. You could see (most important) if they were in the book, and then you could see where they went to school, who they married, what they did, what clubs they belonged to...

Wikipedia, of course, changed all that. Wikipedia knows all and tells all, and it doesn't even try to sell you something. Wikipedia is my favorite web destination of all.

Lately, though, the folks at Wikipedia are drawing a line about who's important enough to be inside. A good friend attempted to post her bio and was rejected, "not notable enough."


Are you notable enough? I think so.

It occurs to me that the web is redefining what notable means, and so are we. Famous used to mean Gene Kelly and Mae West, or Sandy Weil and Bill Gates. But with the long tail, notable means: you're the #1 player on your tennis team; you're the top of your marketing department; you're a blogger lots of people read and talk about -- you're the best and most" notable" in your niche, however small.  That's the kind of famous that SquidWho is about...

This being the web and not the real world, we decided to take matters into our own hands and launch SquidWho. The people-powered open who's who online. If you think someone is notable enough to warrant a bio, then they are. Your call, not ours, not some invisible editor's.

If you don't like the bio you see on someone, build a better one. It's free. Royalties go to charity. Best one wins. (Here's a good one).

The obvious ones (Bono, Mother Theresa and Jaco) are already taken, but that's okay. Build a better one. Not to mention the room for six billion more.

The one thing

If you didn't want anything in return, nothing at all, what's the most generous thing you could do for your best customer, your best friend, your most important prospect?

Give it a try.

Getting a good night's sleep

Apropos of absolutely nothing, here's an MP3 file that you can load into your iPod. Listen to it every night for three weeks and maybe you'll sleep better.


This has been posted to death, but a recent flurry in my inbox made it worth a comment.

Jim sent a message in reply to a thread.

To read the rest of the thread and reply, follow the link below:

Bacn is a new epidemic. It's spam without the anger at the sender. The Linkedin, Facebook onslaught of noise won't last long, because we're all being trained to ignore it.

A good friend sent a Facebook alert of some sort to twenty of her friends. I replied to her with good wishes. Guess what? It triggered twenty more pings and twenty more emails... and on it goes.

Yet another nail in the "email used to be useful" coffin.

Elephant Math

Darwin pointed out that if you take one pair of breeding elephants and make some conservative estimates about their fertility, you would have more than 15 million elephants in less than 500 years (if none of them died an early death.)*

It's pretty clear it doesn't work that way. Perfect viral growth, even slow viral growth, rarely happens. If it did, we'd have an elephant problem.

The same thing happens with your idea. If one person told four and the cycle repeated itself for a few generations, everyone would know about it. But they don't. It tails off. One person often tells zero. Or people hear about it but forget.

Real viral growth comes from one of a few likely paths:

  • Someone sneezes your idea with amplification. They show up on Oprah, or you have $100 million to spend on ads. Great work if you can get it...
  • The idea spreads with fidelity. One person really does tell four, and there's not a lot of leakage. Starbucks worked this way, largely because the chain grew at just the right rate and kept its character as it did.
  • The idea is particularly 'viral' (using a popular understanding of the word.) One typical person doesn't tell four, she tells 400. This is the blogger effect--lots of small amplifiers, working in unison.
  • The idea lives a very long time and spreads slowly. In our rapid-fire world, this one is pretty rare.

It's possible to combine some of these tactics. When a political candidate starts out, for example, it's almost certainly with a grassroots approach, but then, perhaps, once enthusiasm picks up, he or she shows up on TV. You can organize around this and plan for it, but you certainly can't guarantee it.

Here's the big news: it doesn't matter much how many elephants you start with. In other words, big launches don't necessarily scale. What matters is how fertile your elephants are (number of babies per generation) and how long they live. If Darwin's elephants managed to squeeze in just one more generation, they end up with 30 million.

The Scarcity Shortage

From four years ago:

What's worth more: a pile of gold or a pile of salt? Throughout history, many people have chosen the salt. Gold is pretty, but you can't live without salt, and when it was more scarce than gold, it became valuable enough to use as a currency itself. (The word "salary" is even related to the Latin for "salt.")

Today, of course, salt is close to worthless. Given the choice between a pile of salt and a pile of gold, you'd go for the gold every time, because there's less of it around.

Scarcity, it seems, has a lot to do with value.

...we're running out of a lot of important things--clean water, free time, breathable air, the ozone layer, and honest leadership, just to name a few. At the same time, we have to worry about something that is about to affect just about every business I can think of. We're running out of scarcity.

Scarcity, after all, is the cornerstone of our economy. The best way to make a profit is by trading in something that's scarce. This is why the music and movie industries are so terrified by the millions of people who download entertainment from the Internet every day. Downloading threatens to make supply virtually unlimited, and that could make their offerings about as valuable as those of some kids down my street who recently tried to run a stand selling freshly made mud.

It seems as though once a category becomes successful, the headlong rush to knock it off is stronger (and quicker) than it ever was before. Last week, a woman who came to a seminar in my office was desperately searching for a way to improve her mortgage-brokerage business. I ruined her day when I suggested that she shut her company down and try something else. Twenty years ago, most mortgages were written by the local bank. Those banks planted the seeds of their obsolescence when they eliminated judgment from the writing of mortgages. Once they could automate a mortgage application, so could everyone else. So mortgage brokers used their low overhead and quick wits as an advantage and stole the business. Today, there are an infinite number of brokers to choose from, all offering essentially the same service. The result is that there is no scarcity, and no profit.

It's not just about product knockoffs, of course. While there are almost half a million lawyers practicing in the United States today, there are (gasp!) more than 125,000 in school right now. No matter what you believe about lawyers creating ever more work for ever more lawyers, there's no question that with so many of them, they're hardly scarce.

The same thing is true for doctors, Web sites, T-shirt shops, sushi restaurants, thumbtack manufacturers, and brands of blank CD-ROM disks. There are 100 major brands of bottled water. Someone opened a fancy ice-cream parlor in Manhattan, and then there were six.

If it's remotely digital (like music), then it's easy to mimic. And if it's easy to mimic, someone wins if they can knock off the original--the sooner the better. When someone starts to sell exactly what you sell but for half the price, how long does your good-service, first-mover, nice-person advantage last?

Zara, the fast-growing European clothing store, can knock off a new fashion before the original designer even gets it to the upscale department stores. Suddenly, the original appears to be the copy.

So how do you deal with the shortage of scarcity?

Well, the worst strategy is whining--about copyright laws and fair trade and how hard you've worked to get to where you are. Whining is rarely a successful response to anything. Instead, start by acknowledging that most of the profit from your business is going to disappear soon. Unless you have a significant cost advantage (like Amazon's or Wal-Mart's), someone with nothing to lose is going to be able to offer a similar product for less money.

So what's scarce now? Respect. Honesty. Good judgment. Long-term relationships that lead to trust. None of these things guarantee loyalty in the face of cut-rate competition, though. So to that list I'll add this: an insanely low-cost structure based on outsourcing everything except your company's insight into what your customers really want to buy. If the work is boring, let someone else do it, faster and cheaper than you ever could. If your products are boring, kill them before your competition does.

Ultimately, what's scarce is that kind of courage--which is exactly what you can bring to the market.

Marketing = mass psychology

All real estate brokers working today have thrived in an environment in which the price of a house increased on a regular basis for fifty years. Fifty years. Of course, it's not just home sellers, it's us, too. Consumers have built their financial lives around this shared belief.

I've spent the last few years fretting about what just happened: Your home as a piggy bank? Not anymore.

The shared belief about real estate might be in danger. The facts changed this month for the first time. The question that those that market real estate have to answer is this: will people treat a bounce in real estate the way that they think about a drop in the stock market (a chance to profit) or will it lead to a long-term reevaluation of what it means to own a house?

It's interesting to note that insurance on a Ferrari isn't as expensive as you think. That's because fixing a million dollar Ferrari doesn't cost nearly a million dollars. It's the serial number that you're buying--the right to sell that car later for a profit.

If the "serial number profit motive" disappears from residential real estate, what happens? I think it could be bigger (and worse) than most people imagine. If the marketers in the real estate world understand the challenge they face, they may very well be able to market their (our) way out of it. They're out of practice, though.

Lying to your customers

Sawnotworking I found myself at Home Depot on Friday. I needed several pieces of wood, cut to size.

When I noticed this sign on the big saw, I took a picture, intending to write about how important it was to have key customer service features up and running. Then, a few minutes later, a guy in an orange smock walked over, took the sign down and asked what he could cut for us.

It turns out (at this Home Depot, anyway), that whenever they don't feel like using the saw, they pretend it's broken. (Yes, technically, they didn't say 'broken,' they said 'not working,' which is sort of true. Except it was the saw operator who wasn't working.)

Sort of like the gas station that won't let you watch them in the garage because of "insurance regulations". It might be a great shortcut, but it can't possibly help in the long run.

PS notice the tag line on the sign. "No one beats our prices, guaranteed..." When was the last time you heard someone complain about the prices at Home Depot? Would you pay 50 cents extra to save half an hour at the checkout? Or a dollar extra to have a trained person help you find something? You can be too thin and you can be too cheap.

The Netflix of...

I heard from a few readers about BookSwim which goes as far as using the term "Netflix-style" in the headline of their site to describe what they do. It joins sites that are the Netflix of watches and the Netflix of handbags. Apparently, inventing the wheel is hard, opening a wheel store is easy.

The thing about magical business models is that they are usually unique. A perfect storm, if you want a cliche. DVDs have the following attributes:

  • We're already used to renting them
  • The renting process is fairly inefficient, sometimes horrible
  • We watch DVDs in a group and talk about them
  • They don't weigh much
  • It only takes 2 hours to watch one
  • Many people have an insatiable desire (hundreds a year) for them
  • The sellers are an oligopoly and willing to dramatically discount wholesale pricing in exchange for volume
  • Investments in process can dramatically lower costs and prevent competition

So, while a few passionate people may wish for handbags or jewelry or books or watches to be available this way, none of them are even close to matching the dynamic of Netflix.

That doesn't mean the entrepreneurs shouldn't try. They should. A new business model offers way more room for a new company than an existing one. What it does mean is that they should accept the limited upside of their riff on the model and set their expectations and scale so that they thrive when they're tiny, as opposed to waiting for a miracle to happen.

Follow through

Why do you need to follow through so much on a tennis or golf swing? After all, the ball is long gone.

Why do you have to honor a money back guarantee with a former customer who is never going to buy from you again (and it's six years later)?

Why do you have to reinvest and retrain an existing employee who needs some guidance when it would just be quicker and easier to hire someone new?

I think the reason is the same in all three cases. It's not because the thing you do at the end of your swing matters. It's because it's a slippery slope.

If you know that the last two inches of your follow through don't matter, then you'll start slowing down at three inches, or even four, and suddenly it does matter. If you draw the line on money back guarantees you'll keep sliding backwards, bit by bit, until it does matter. If you're quick to fire the employee who needs a lot of help, you'll be quicker with those that need just a little, and then, pretty soon, it's a very different place to work, isn't it?

Obsessing about the last inch of follow through ensures that the important parts of what you do get just as much (if not more) commitment.


Shoreline Eugene Kates died yesterday. I knew him for more than thirty years, and he was a giant.

Eugene helped invent the idea of summer camp in North America. He stood up to the government, to rangers, to staff and even to his customers, the parents. He had a clear view of the way he wanted the world to be, and he stuck with it, regardless of what the world thought.

In an age of 'the customer is king', Eugene was an anachronism. He never said things to make people happy, didn't sugar coat his point of view and he didn't compromise.
He once made my parents sit on a mosquito-infested dock for an hour because they had the temerity to come visit without buying lunch at his hotel. And he fired employees (any employee) who put their own needs before safety or the environment. There was one way, and it was his way.

In an age where few people stand for anything, Eugene stood for something. He wasn't afraid to tell you what he thought, and it didn't take long to guess what he expected.

I often encourage you to be like this person or be like that person. I'm not sure anyone could be like Eugene, or even want to be. It's a hard road to be that authentic, that driven, that certain. For fifty years, he made things happen. He didn't sell every slot, didn't make every possible fan, but he made things happen.

For a lot of people, it was easy not to like him. For everyone, it was impossible not to respect him.

I miss him already.

Google book search

Flexing their traffic muscle, Google today started including book search results at the top of search (at least on my computer.) Here's three samples: 1, 2, 3.

Two things to notice:

1. if you were an author or publisher and it was easy to ignore them before, it isn't now. Google is going to do stuff like this often... being the front door to the web has its privileges. If you're an author or publisher, time to play ball.

2. the search results are terrible. They don't seem to be in any order whatsoever. Not sales, not links, not relevance or date of publication. Sort of like someone threw all the books on the ground and mixed em up. I expect that this will improve, but I'm not sure when.

Loss vs. Gain

I was hunting around at nameboy yesterday and found an amazing domain that was perfect for a new project we're working on. I grabbed it. When I got to the checkout, nameboy apologized and told me that in fact, the domain was already taken. (This is because nameboy does its magic on a cached database of available names... they'd never be able to make it work in real time).


My name was gone. MY name. It was mine! And now it wasn't.

I immediately tracked down the dastardly organization that had stolen my name and offered them $600 for it. (I would never have paid $100 for this name before it was 'mine.') They turned me down. Not because they were doing anything with it (they weren't, at least not yet) but because they had, in a few short days, grown accustomed to owning it, to dreaming about it, and my guess is that they wouldn't have let it go for thousands of dollars, even though they, like me, would not have paid $100 for it at first.

People will go to great lengths to keep what they think they already have. Just watch how slow people are to volunteer to be bumped from an airplane... Same thing happened when Google recently cancelled videos that people had purchased.

Marketers spend too much time trying to get people to leap over the hurdle of "buy this, right now" and not enough on "it's yours, here's how you keep it."

Pecha Kucha

My ebook Really Bad Powerpoint has generated plenty of mail and comment in the years since I wrote it. I just wish everyone would read it. Now, though, Rick points us to Pecha Kucha Night. [and Dan Pink wrote about it this month in Wired.]

I love this idea to pieces. I also love the translation on the site (Japanese for "the sound of conversation.")

If you are really and truly having a meeting to discuss something, then the Pecha Kucha approach is brilliant. 20 slides, 20 seconds each. Then the PPT gets turned off.

Tell me a problem that can't be outlined in six minutes and I'll show you a problem it's probably not worth having a meeting about.

Business card mistakes

Businesscardsamples_2 Business cards are almost quaint. After all, I can get your info into my computer a lot quicker if you'll just email it to me.

Precisely because they are an anachronism, they serve a vitally important function. In an era where no one dresses up anymore, they give you a chance to position yourself, to represent who you are and what you do in a three cent piece of paper. And yet... almost all business cards are terrible. They are the leisure suits of the marketing the world, the place where bad design not just lives, but thrives. (Wanna guess which one of these ten cards I don't hate?)

I think the point of your card should not be to demonstrate that you are creative. The point should be to demonstrate that you have good taste.

Here's my checklist of common mistakes (and a few suggestions). It's $30 well spent, I think.

  • Don't print your own cards. Just because Avery and others make those little perforated sheets of paper doesn't mean you should use them.
  • Don't use big type for the address and contact info. The #1 way we can tell if a business card is cheesy is with a glance at the type size. Really.
  • Don't buy those color business cards with your face on them. You're not an ordinary real estate agent, so there's no sense in acting like one.
  • Don't go with metal business cards. It might work for Steve Wozniak, but everyone else wants to bring your cards on an airplane.
  • You might think it's a great idea to do a full color card with a big (lousy) picture on it. It's not.
  • I like rounded edges. But only if you leave plenty of margin. (as below)
  • Margins matter. Anytime your type gets anywhere near the margin, you've blown it.

My favorite sources are Moo (for non-traditional but totally remarkable cards) and for classy cards with rounded edges. (The only card of the eight above that I like is the bottom left).

The Argument

The web is about tactics, at least most of the time. Most of the meetings and most of the effort goes into honing our tactics.

One of my concerns about the misuse of SEO by marketers is that it's largely about tactics. It's easy to get hooked on constant cycling of this approach or that tactic, all to incrementalize your improvements.

Big successes, on the other hand, come from arguments. Arguments about what you stand for. Arguments about big strategic shifts. Google wasn't a tactic, it was a game-changing strategy. eBay's tactics are often poor or slow, but their strategy has been consistently brilliant.

And brilliant strategies lead to arguments. Go have one.

(Inspired by: The Argument).

Cheap media, cheap ads

Listening to AM radio at 7 am on a Sunday is a real chore.

Even in a city like NY, the ads are virtually free. Mysteriously, when the ads are cheap (think banners, or cable or AM radio), the content is lousy.

A SuperBowl ad costs a few million dollars to run... so the beer companies and the dot com companies spend millions creating the ad, even if it runs only once. A banner ad that you can buy for $200, on the other hand, appears to be created by a small chipmunk in the secretarial pool.

There's no economic reason for this. You can run that banner ad in a thousand places. You can run that radio ad in 200 cities. If the media is cheap, it might just be a good value. And if you can run an effective ad, you can run it far and wide and turn a profit.

Or you could just run a cheap ad.

Weird stuff happens at trade shows

If you have five minutes and forty seconds (and a strong stomach for the just-a-little-pathetic) then you might enjoy this riff from a Microsoft event. The last six seconds might be worth the whole thing, or not. Thanks, Oded, for sending it along.

If you produce materials for trade shows, it's important to remember that just because someone is sitting in an auditorium, it doesn't mean that their standards for entertainment, video or content have been mysteriously erased. They remember what they saw on TV last night, and they probably realize it was a lot better than what you're showing them now, no matter how much you spent on it.

No business model

I just got off the phone with Kent, who in addition to his day job doing online marketing, runs pdxMindShare - Portland's network event and emails. It's a free local newsletter with several thousand subscribers.

Kent told me that the only purpose of the newsletter is to help connect the community... that it doesn't have a profit motive. A quick look, though, shows that this isn't really true. By building something that connects his community, by building a permission asset with the right people (and not asking anything in return), Kent builds his reputation. He makes it more likely that people will trust him, talk to him and hire his firm. In an industry in which anyone can claim to be an expert, his firm's connections and relationships confirm that they are the real deal.

The most important part of the story is this: he doesn't do the community work for that reason. He does it for the right reason--because it feels good to help his community. The magic of the zero-marginal-cost scalable nature of the web is that your volunteer effort goes a long way and generosity almost always pays off, even when it might feel like it doesn't.

The Galapagos Post Office

Postoffice Not sure what you can do with this story, but here you go:

On a deserted beach on a small island near the equator, there's a barrel and some ziploc bags. This post office has been here for more than a hundred years. It was built by whalers who needed a way to get letters home to England. The idea was that the last stop you would make on your way home was to the post office. You'd pick up whatever letters were there and bring them back to England.

I dropped two postcards in the barrel ten days ago (no stamps, of course). They arrived on Wednesday. I'm told some notes take as long as a month or two. Apparently, you can send a letter anywhere in the world and count on it showing up. There's actually a shortage of mail... more people want to carry the letters then write them.

Ideas spread in funny ways. In this case, the joy of the person who helps out by delivering the note is probably greater than that of the sender. And the story is so irresistible for both parties that it can't help but spread. By word of mouth or by blog...

Video changes things

With very little notice, YouTube has become a significant force in business learning. People that would never read a 200 page book will happily watch a three minute video. Here's a page with a dozen or so videos to get you started. Feel free to add your favorites. My guess is that the quality and the quantity of material like this is about to soar. [Dan points us to a similar site with a very different business model].

Amazon crosses a line (and forgets to bring a gift)

I got an interesting email from Amazon today.

We noticed that you purchased an e-commerce related book in the past and we thought you might be interested in an exciting new product from Amazon Services: WebStore by Amazon.

This is the first time I can remember them cross-selling from a $20 book to a service that costs more than $700 a year. It feels a little weird. Their list of people interested in ecommerce is insanely valuable, but if they put off those very people, it becomes worthless.

The mistake continues when you go to sign up.  All the usual sign up bells and whistles are there, including a neat phone authentication tool, but there's no promises, no feature exposition, no benefits. It's just a rush to collect your credit card and start charging you. Other parts of the site promise a free month trial, but I couldn't see it mentioned during the sign up. I bailed at the very last page, because it wasn't clear to me what I was getting, why I wanted it and how much it would end up costing me.

It's very tempting to take your permission list and expand the offerings you bring to it. New products for your customers instead of new customers for your products. The challenge is that you must realize that this transition is a risky event and you need to be clear, pro-active and generous as you head down that path.

Just in time for fall

Mismatch2a_2 I just got a case of socks from You may remember them from Purple Cow. Hundreds of styles of socks, none match. Three to a sleeve, $10 or so.

Why bother with mismatched socks? Because most people don't want them. The few that do love to talk about them. It makes us happy. Ten dollars for 40 days worth of joy over a few years is a bargain. The obvious market was 12 year old girls, the sort of people who love having people notice their socks. The company is now branching out into more adult (I use the term advisedly) styles. I hope they don't get too popular!  (Not that you care, but I've been wearing their socks every day for three years or so...)

The key lessons:

  • The product is the marketing.
  • Choose a hive of people who seek out products like yours and then talk about them.
  • Be true to what you stand for.
  • It's okay not to be serious, especially if you're selling a want, not a need.
  • Be patient. The market will find you.

The opposite

The opposite of up is down.
The opposite of in is out.

Those two are easy. They are one-dimensional.

The opposite of Steve Jobs is Bill Gates.

Sort of. That's because Bill and Steve have a lot in common (outsize personalities, many Google matches, successful tech companies). But it's useful to consider them as opposites because we learn a lot about their approaches, personalities, and yes, brands, by looking at the inverse.

The opposite of Starbucks is Dunkin Donuts.

Not an independent coffee shop, and not coffee at home.

On the other hand, the opposite of Dunkin Donuts is not Starbucks. The opposite is 'not having coffee out.'

That's because when someone considers getting their morning coffee, the choice is usually home or Dunkin. That person doesn't have Starbucks as part of their choice set. Defining your brand in this way makes it easier to ignore the irrelevant competition and easier to figure out what you are (and aren't).

Bill Clinton and John Edwards aren't the opposite of Rush Limbaugh. Al Franken is.

The Blackberry isn't the opposite of the iPhone. A plain jane Motorola phone is. Apple understands this. Blackberry doesn't seem to.

The opposite of the Food Network is hours spent poring over cookbooks at a local independent bookstore. Or perhaps it's Good Housekeeping magazine. Or Gourmet...

One of the hardest things to do is invent a brand with no opposite. You don't have an anchor to play against.

Does your team agree on who your opposite is?

The Encyclopedia of Business Cliches

It's easy to make fun of business clichés. Tempting to string a bunch together in a blog post or a memo and show how clever you are. Harder, though, to avoid using them.

I think they exist to hide. By providing a layer of insulation between what you say and the truth, you can avoid saying what you mean, avoid confrontation and avoid change. Clichés make it easy to talk without really saying anything. Clichés make it easy to hide and to lie.

Does anyone really think Karl Rove is going off to spend more time with his family? Does he even know the names of the people in his family? Did the people at Ford Motor really drop everything to make quality job one, or was it just marketing tinsel?

The few people who actually mean it when they use clichés are now frustrated because no one believes them any more. The entire lexicon is discredited.

Let's save time and effort and say what we mean. Here's my start on finding the best of the worst: The Encyclopedia of Business Cliches. Feel free to robustisize it.

Apple store update

Couples Really long time readers might recall that perhaps my first blog post ever was about the Apple store.

Here's an update, five years later:

I spent an hour or two on Saturday at the Soho store. The obvious difference, other than how incredibly jammed it was, was who was there.


In fact, my guess is that more than half the people in the store were women. And they weren't all buying iPods, that's for sure. This is clearlyImg_0023 the result of an intentional multi-year strategy. Apple has succeeded in doing something that no one else in tech or even cars has done. They've crossed the gender barrier and made people of both genders passionate about what they sell.

Next project: hiring more people to work the registers! When you have a gross margin as high as they do, it's a sin to make someone wait even one minute to hand you money.

The new list

Josh points to his list of great business books.

Is good enough enough?

Most marketing efforts are projects in response to problems. "We need a box for the product launch." "We need a press release for the tour the boss is doing." "We need an ad campaign for the Super Bowl."

In response to projects, many organizations figure out the resources they've got and then work hard to do something good enough. On time, within budget. Meeting spec, after all, is your job.

You end up, if you're talented, with something good enough.

Is that enough? Is good enough enough to win? To change the game? To reinvent your organization and your career? In a crowded market, when all the competition is good enough, not much happens.

Good enough is beyond reproach. It's safe at the same time it represents quality. Good enough demonstrates effort and insight and ability. People rarely get fired for good enough, which is a shame.

If you redefined the objective to be, "makes some people uncomfortable, changes the entire competitive landscape and is truly remarkable in that many of the key people we reach feel compelled to talk about it," what would happen?

First, it would require significant risk-taking. Which would include the risk of failure and the risk of getting fired (omg!). Can you and your team handle that? If not, might as well admit it and settle for good enough. But if you're settling, don't sit around wishing for results beyond what you've been getting.

Second, it would mean that every single time you set out to be remarkable, you'd have to raise the bar and start over. It's exhausting.

Third, it means that the boss and the boss's boss are unlikely to give you much cover. Are you okay with that?

I hope so. It's worth it.

Have fun!

You can search this blog

The Google search box is right down at the bottom of the main page.

I visited an organization's site today, and they didn't have one. What a shame.

The question is, why doesn't every site have one? It's only $100 a year (or even free). Google Custom Search Business Edition.

What to do when you're wrong

The Red Cross got sued by J&J yesterday.

It turns out that in the 1800s, Johnson & Johnson had used the Red Cross symbol for more than a decade before the US non-profit started using it. It also turns out that they generously gave the organization the right, for free, to use the symbol for its work, forever, as long as they didn't use it for reasons not directly related to their mission.

Mission? The Red Cross recently licensed their logo to a brand of surgical gloves, for example. And first aid kits that a licensee sells at Target.

In the press release, Mark Everson, the Red Cross' president, is quoted as saying, "For a multibillion-dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute, . . . simply so that J&J can make more money, is obscene."

I think that's a typo. My guess is that Mr. Everson meant to say, "Oops! J&J is a good corporate citizen, a significant donor to the Red Cross and the original and rightful owner of the trademark. We'll unwind our deals as soon as we can and go back to focusing on what we do best."

That's what I would do, anyway.

[UPDATE: I got quite a bit of mail about this post, as I expected. I think I need to clarify something: I'm not asserting that J&J is legally or morally right, nor do I have expertise or knowledge in the history of the issue or the role of the International Red Cross. My point is this: The mission of the Red Cross in the US isn't advanced by this fight. Thumbing a nose at a long time supporter and contributor doesn't help them. Having a lawsuit doesn't help them. Distracting senior management from the urgent issues at hand is silly. It tarnishes the group in the eyes of other corporate supporters, because companies don't like to do business (or charity) with groups that are intransigent. So, by "wrong", I mean, "off target, out of focus, in the wrong place." Like that.]

No one expected a tornado

New York City was shut down yesterday by three inches of rain and a tornado in Brooklyn. The trains, the subways, the roads... they all stopped working. There were small boulders on the West Side Highway and rivers of water everywhere.

Millions of critical citizens were answered by officials who pointed out that they had rehearsed for all sorts of events, but a tornado in New York?

What they're missing is this: people weren't complaining about the trains or the roads. They were complaining about the communication of the news. Commuters spent hours on trains into the city, only to find that the subways were closed, thus wasting the ride. I spent two hours on the road going to a meeting in the city--and the radio never once mentioned what was going on. The city didn't start telling people to stay home until after 9 am... two hours late.

Airlines screw this part up all the time. So do websites. And even pizzerias that close for vacation.

Bottom line: the first thing to rehearse is your communication strategy. You can't predict weird events, but you can get really good at alerting people when they happen.

The 80:1 Freakonomics Paradox

The Journal reports that there are a slew of Freakonomics-like books on the market. Some of them are actually pretty good, few are selling at all. My guess is that the original has outsold its competitors by about 80 to 1.

That's not surprising if you talk to people. A good friend of mine who never ever reads books about business or economics just picked up a copy last week. She said, "I think it's time I read this, right?" When a product becomes a hit, an entirely new class of people become interested in it, largely because it's a hit.

Which leads to the paradox. The easiest products in the world to develop, option, license and get to market are copycat products. They are beyond reproach. They feel safe. In actuality, though, most markets aren't big enough for two blockbusters. The first one dominates the little market, which allows it to break through and capture the attention of the big market. The bestseller creates the problem (I haven't read that/tasted that/been there) and then solves that problem. The second (and third and fourth and fifth) are trying to sell a solution to people who no longer have the problem.

Sure, in the long run, a blockbuster can create an entirely new market that lasts for a long time (The Model T, for example, or Star Wars) but building your own blockbuster is generally a lot easier than copying someone else's.

Shipping and handling

Here's a product sold by a merchant via Amazon that costs about $2.50. Except that the shipping and handling are more than $8. And the item weighs about two ounces.

Shipping and handling charges have always been deceitful. Storefront merchants rarely charge "for the little hangtags" or add a "mannikin surcharge". When direct mail was new, sellers tried to persuade buyers that the prices were just as good as at the local store--and they segmented S&H as a way of comparing it to the hassle of driving over. When the shipping and handling for an order was $1 or 2, this wasn't such a big deal.

Two things have changed. First, Amazon has taught millions that free shipping is the way the world should work. As a result, anything more than free just feels wrong. Second, other merchants have realized (like the squeeze bottle example above) that you can make 100% of your profit from shipping and handling and do quite well.

For a while.

How many people who get that product are going to buy from the store again?

Online, the economics are clear. Repeat business is what matters, and that happens when you surprise people (for the better). Not when you rip them off.

I'm totally over my stats problem...

But I worry that if you're an author, you might not be. You might be spending hours a day checking your sales ranking on Amazon. If that's you, I hope you'll forgive me sharing this site that Imal sent in today. Type in an author's name and watch the rankings all day long. If I were in charge, I'd reformat the page, but like I said, I don't check anymore.

The two best ways to make money with your blog

The first way is to build your reputation and to have a permission asset to talk to people who want to be talked to.

The second way is to read this detailed page by John Unger about how to actually monetize a visit to your blog: Blogs as Stores: A Comprehensive Overview of Ecommerce Solutions for Bloggers: TypePad Hacks.

Like the phone book, but in a more interesting order

Aaron points us to the nearly endless listing of website traffic rankings at Quantcast.

There's no doubt that the list is rife with errors, but it's free and fascinating. My two top takeaways:

  • It's not one list, it's 43 different lists blended together. So, you might find the #1 craft site nestled between the #9 news site and the #25 sports site.
  • It's really early days on the Net. The long tail is still fleshing out, and 99% of the market is totally up for grabs.

Happy brainstorming.

Creativity and the unexpected

Just because it's on the menu, doesn't mean you have to order it.

Ask for a gimmick...

In interview questions, college applications and on a first date, it's easy to ask a gimmicky question. U of Chicago business school now wants PowerPoint slides as part of the application (thanks Christina: Business school wants Power-ful applications)

The first batch will be gimmicky, no doubt. And gimmicky answers have their place, because they demonstrate a person's willingness to do something trivial, stupid and creative, all at the same time. That's a useful skill.

The second year is when it gets interesting. I'd challenge the school to publish the first year entries, eliminating most of the gimmicks from use. Just as blog entries and YouTube videos keep getting better, this gimmick will probably start to lead to useful contributions.

Toxic bosses

Asher and Benjamin and others wrote in to remind me that toxic bosses are far worse than toxic employees. Because bosses are often able to define reality, at least for those in their sphere of influence, they can cause whole sections of an organization to go off the rails. More often than not, in organizations with significant marketing problems, we can point to one person who's responsible. And you can bet that person is a boss.

Great marketers often have the unusual combination of humility and confidence. Toxic ones have neither.

Now in the UK

The Dip is now available in the UK edition.

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