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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list


All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

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




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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Member since 08/2003

« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

Looking for trouble

Avis Every weekend there's a line out front of the Avis rental car window on the upper west side of NYC. Every weekend, ostensibly computer-literate upper-middle-class yuppies waste hours trying to pick up a car when they could just use Zipcar.

For this person, in this moment, a message about zipcar is not only not spam, it's a gift.

Worth wondering why the company doesn't have someone standing out front with fliers.

Along the same lines, why doesn't the local accountant sponsor the business section of the nearby independent bookstore? Slip a bookmark and business card into every personal finance book the store sells... it's the right message at the right time.

Blogs, of course, ought to be the perfect place to find people in trouble. The challenge is in getting past the "I won't click on an ad" mindset that 80% of those online carry around. Guerrilla marketing works best when it takes the form of a sponsorship or other unexpected combination of advertiser and content. Blogs let you go farther than that, though.

The most effective marketing use of blogs seems to be when the advertiser/marketer uses the blog as an opportunity not to sell a product, but to attract people who are in the right mindset. Joel Spolsky rarely writes about his product, but that's fine. The people who read his writing are the very same people who need his product, and his proximity to the valuable ideas (and his reputation) makes it not such a leap to go ahead and buy what he has to sell.

Attract people in trouble-->Help solve their problems-->Build your reputation-->Sales happen.

For a nickel

The current Fast Company reports that when Ikea started charging a nickel for shopping bags, consumption went down by 50% (95% in the UK).

Clearly, it's not the nickel.

The way you charge for something changes the way people perceive it. If the dinner special includes dessert, people get dessert because it's 'free'. Of course, it's not free. You paid extra for the special, remember?

A la carte pricing focuses your consumer. It forces them to make a choice in a spot where they didn't use to make a choice. It can highlight features that might have gone unnoticed (underbody salt removal treatment at the car wash, for example).

If you want people to notice a bit of consumption, charge for it. Even a penny.
If you want people to take something they had been leaving behind, give it away with purchase. Otherwise, they're wasting.

Here's one practical application. If you make something with low marginal cost like a CD, consider offering a second one (same title) for a nickel or a dollar. Why? Because if a customer buys a second as a gift, they've just helped you spread the word...

It (almost) always happens this way

Overlappingcurves I had breakfast today with a really smart person who works for a really big company (that's just about all he'll let me say). He's frustrated because they're fading, and fast. The ironic thing is that if they focused their energy and their guts on the new market that is gaining on them (fast), they'd demolish it. If they embraced the threat, the threat wouldn't have a chance.

Instead, like a million organizations before them, defending the status quo is far more politically correct than change. So they stand back and let dinky startups with no natural advantages run like crazy.

The guys in the blue curve, the new guys, would dearly love the assets and reputation that the green curve guys have. They don't have it, though, so they improvise. They lean into the market. They give customers what they want, and embrace technology and new ideas because they have no other choice. The green curve, on the other hand, is filled with people who feel helpless. They feel like the organization is aligned against them, aligned to fail, all because the status quo is so powerful.

And yes, most of the time, it is the blue curve, the new guys, the ones playing by new rules with nothing to lose, that wins.

But sometimes, just often enough to give the dinosaurs a shred of hope, someone (not often the CEO) stands up and says, "follow me!" And the organization does.


Three simple letters.

Sit down with your web team, pretend you know what you're talking about (it worked for me) and say them with authority.

It's not the next big thing. It's the current big thing. Your site can't help but get better if you start now. Inspiration: If you're puzzled, try this site. Click on some of the examples in the right side bar.

The power of chunking

Aaron has posted a really powerful mindmap of what he knows about internet marketing (which is a lot). I found several sites I didn't know about and you will too.

But the mindmap part just gave me a headache. There really is a rule of seven when it comes to putting ideas into your head (which is why phone numbers have 7 digits...). When you launch a new idea on the world, odds are you've thought it through and realized many permutations of it. When you want to teach Social Studies to 12 year olds, there's lots to teach. When you want to sell something to a business, the richness of your offering demands a great deal of detail.

Obviously, Aaron isn't trying to get us to remember or even grok all the roots and leaves of his tree. My guess is that you will soon be writing down a few things to take action on, as opposed to figuring out how all the pieces fit together. It's a checklist, in practice, at least it was for me.

Even though Aaron wasn't trying to sell a single idea with overkill, sometimes, marketers are doing just that. They're going overboard with all the benefits and features and wonders of the product or service they're launching. Politicians make this mistake every single day.


Seven is probably too many bullets. Three is more like it.

Three we can handle. Three is manageable and memorable and actionable. Give me three things and I can find a place for them in my brain. Each of those three things can probably have three subthings if you like. And then, at least for now, that's it.

The ball bearing and the beach ball

Michael Brooke writes,

1.      I am not publishing a magazine – I am helping to document and foster change within skateboarding. The magazine is part of a greater movement within skateboarding. Concrete Wave exists to spread specific ideas. The more people we can spread these ideas too, the more success we achieve.

2.      I am not merely building readers or subscribers – I am building a cult of supporters, each of whom will further support the cause and bring in more readers and subscribers.

3.      I build marketing INTO the product and distribution. By limiting the kinds of advertisers I allow, by keeping the editorial strictly focused and by carefully distributing the magazine, my readers and advertisers trust the magazine to deliver on its promise of 100% skateboarding. I will never betray that trust.

4.      Concrete Wave wishes to remain a ball bearing – small, hard to find and continually in the state of being polished. Our goal is to provide readers with a deep impression when they get hit with it. Conversely, we do not aim to be a beach ball – big, seen all over the place, colorful and yet leaving very little impression when it hits. A beach ball is very fragile indeed and must avoid challenging environments, because it requires so much air to keep it afloat. A weighty ball bearing can withstand both challenging environments along with the pin pricks of adversity.

Who is Philip Roth?

There are more than 100,000 published authors in the US. Most of them have publishing houses (and at least a tenuous connection to a publicist). What a great marketing problem. The long tail of authors meets the long tail of public interest. How do they intersect?

This is a challenge to authors. Since I know a lot of them (and since many I don't know read this blog) I thought I'd do it here.

Authors like to read.

They also like to write.

Authors hate to promote themselves. And lots of authors don't like the web so much, at least when it comes to promotion. It's not like traveling to an independent bookstore and having tea with the owner while you sign books, or being interviewed for the book section of the Times. Your favorite author probably doesn't have a blog, probably doesn't spend all her time online.

So, instead of a significant web presence that's author-driven, we end up with publishers building their own promo sites (this one has just 40 (!) authors and cost a fortune to build) or we get publishers insisting that all their authors build MySpace pages (just last week, in fact).

There are a few problems with this publisher-first approach. The first is that few readers know which authors are published by which publishers, so there's no way they're going to visit a particular site. The second is that authors aren't going to spend the time to build (and maintain) fancy pages. The third is that because publishers have (legal/sales) trouble picking one bookseller over another, it's really hard to close the sale and sell the book.

I think at the heart of this is the declining value of silos.

Publishers, like many organizations, want to control the conversation, want to own the web page, want to be sure that people come to them, as opposed to going where people are. The irony here is that bookstores are precisely the opposite of this. There's no Knopf bookstore, no Random House store. Bookstores, unlike the current conception of car dealers, work best when they are agnostic about what's for sale.

Authors are brands. Some are billion-dollar brands, some are tiny ones. The web is custom made for authors, but so far, it's largely going unused.

Which brings us to Squidwho. Since we launched it a month ago, people have added more than 7,000 biographies. And most of them, alas, aren't authors. We've got movie stars and politicians and yes, JK Rowling. I wish I had been surprised and had discovered scores of my fellow authors there, but alas, no.

Books aren't the universal medium they used to be, but the industry still ought to be selling more books than we are today. I'm afraid that publishers and authors have embraced a broken system, even though there are tools out there ready to help.

When I set out to build my page on Philip Roth, I discovered some very cool interviews, videos and entries about him. But no one had pulled it all together. No one made it easy to figure out what to buy and why. Forgive me for promoting my own project, but Squidwho just feels right to me. Useful and profitable and easy.

So, here's the challenge. If you're an editor, an agent, a publisher, an author or a fan, go build a page about an author you like. Or yourself. The worst thing that will happen is you'll sell a ton of books and raise some money for charity.

When you are ready to stand up to speak

Perhaps you should consider sitting down.

When you are asked to give a short talk at the big company gathering, or contribute a few minutes in a large group discussion, and you're ready to stand up and have all eyes on you, sometimes, perhaps, it makes sense to sit down instead.

If you're a bit nervous and you've written everything out and your main goal is to say nothing controversial, nothing memorable, nothing that might get you in trouble... well, why say it?

If your job is to act as filler, to say a small not-so-funny joke and then stall for a minute or two, or your job is to put in an appearance, or perhaps to make sure that senior management knows you exist, I bet there are far better ways to pull that off.

The traffic engineers in New York think nothing of wasting two minutes of each person's time as they approach a gated toll booth. Multiply that two minutes times 12,000 people and it's a lot of hours every day, isn't it? If you're speaking to a thousand people for just a minute or two or three and you don't have anything in particular to communicate, you've just wasted many hours of the most expensive time your organization has purchased this year.

Big groups are perfect places for the efficient communication of emotion. They are terrific for the impact that comes from watching your peers shake their heads in agreement simultaneously. The power of groupthink doesn't happen in an electronic memo, but it can sure be powerful in a big room.

The flipside is obvious: if all you want to do is recite a fact or a policy or worst of all, not really be noticed, then it's probably better to just sit down.

Great minds...


Push and pull

I can't use internal wikis. "It's on the wiki" is a dumb thing to say to me.

TV networks know how to put on one show at a time, in order, and broadcast it to whomever is tuning in.

These are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes we push information (like spam email, to pick a horrendous example, or the typical vapid fill-in-the-blank PR pitch to bloggers) and sometimes we wait for it to get pulled (like a blog or a wiki).

RSS transforms blogs from pull to push. The web transforms TV from push to pull.

[RSS is push because once you sign up for my blog, for example, each post is pushed to you. It starts as pull--you have to sign up--but then it no longer requires you to go hunt for it each day].

This isn't trivial. It changes everything about the way you market what you market. I'd spend some time thinking about whether you push or pull, about whether you can flip that, and about whether your posture matches your message.

Finding the long tail

David Gardner at the Motley Fool was talking to me today about their CAPS feature.

Their users are currently ranking and analyzing more stocks than any firm, including all the big analyst houses, etc. And, you probably won't be surprised to hear this, the highest-ranked stocks regularly outperform the lowest-ranked ones.

Give your audience enough choices, give the computer enough numbers to crunch and really useful data often appears. It works for movies, for wine, for stocks... the challenge is to find the next one.

Meatball Mondae (#1)

In about three months, my next book, Meatball Sundae, will be published. I know, I know, I just published a book. I'm breaking the biggest rule in publishing. I'm trying your patience by doing another book so soon, but it really couldn't wait. The new book is on a totally different topic, and it's a lot longer and filled with examples and stuff. It's about the internet and new marketing and the fourteen trends that change everything.

Every Monday for the next few months I'm going to publish a thought piece from the book. We'll start with the basic premise then move on to the fourteen trends in the book. Here goes:

What’s a meatball sundae?

Maybe this is familiar. It is to me, anyway:

You go to a marketing meeting. There’s a presentation from the new Internet marketing guy. He’s brought a fancy (and expensive) blogging consultant with him. She starts talking about how blogs and the “Web 2.0 social media infrastructure” are just waiting for your company to dive in. “Try this stuff,” she seems to be saying, “and the rest of your competitive/structural/profit issues will disappear.”

In the last ten years, the Internet and radical changes in media have provided marketers everywhere with a toolbox that allows them to capture attention with seemingly little effort, planning, or cash. Six years after the dot-com boom, there are more Web sites, more email users, and more viral ideas, online and offline, than ever before. There are hundreds of cable TV networks and thousands of online radio stations. Not to mention street marketing, email marketing, and MySpace.

Corporations, political parties, nonprofits, job-seekers, and yes, even people looking for love are all scrambling around, trying to exploit the power of these new tools. People treat the New Marketing like a kid with a twenty-dollar bill at an ice cream parlor. They keep wanting to add more stuff—more candy bits and sprinkles and cream and cherries. The dream is simple: “If we can just add enough of [today’s hot topping], everything will take care of itself.”

Most of the time, despite all the hype, organizations fail when they try to use this scattershot approach. They fail to get buzz or traffic or noise or sales. Organizations don’t fail because the Web and the New Marketing don’t work. They fail because the Web and the New Marketing work only when applied to the right organization. New Media makes a promise to the consumer. If the organization is unable to keep that promise, then it fails.

New Marketing—whipped cream and a cherry on top—isn’t magical. What’s magical is what happens when an organization uses the New Marketing to become something it didn’t used to be—it’s not just the marketing that’s transformed, but the entire organization. Just as technology propelled certain organizations through the Industrial Revolution, this new kind of marketing is driving the right organizations through the digital revolution.

You can become the right organization. You can align your organization from the bottom up to sync with New Marketing, and you can transform your organization into one that thrives on the new rules.

Marcel Marceau died

...and despite the void he'll leave, it's almost impossible not to make a small joke.

And that's the point, at least from a marketing point of view. Marceau made it through the Dip. He entered a field that was obscure, suffering from disrespect and filled with poseurs and hacks (all at the same time). But he pushed and focused and broke through. One person = an entire form of expression.

Jackson Pollack did it, as well. So did Yo-Yo Ma.

When a promoter wanted to book someone or promote someone or feature someone, there was only one choice. When Mel Brooks wanted a mime to speak in "Silent Movie," there was only one choice. Only one choice is a good place to be.

The challenge is to find a field where the Dip is small enough to get through but big enough to matter.

(Was it an assassin? Did he use a silencer?)

Bought and sold

Residential real estate is sold. You decide to sell your house, hire a broker and advertise and have open houses. The buyer gets the message and responds if interested.

NCAA stars are bought. The high school kids play their best football and scouts come and find them, court them and 'buy' their services.

Venture Capitalists do a little of both, but it's primarily a sell function. Entrepreneurs write business plans and pitch them.

The hottest properties in an MBA program are often bought. Big consulting firms come on campus to interview, looking for the masters of the universe.

I think it's interesting to consider flopping the buying and the selling.

Companies can go out and find startups that aren't for sale and offer to buy them. Real estate investors can write to people about buying their homes--if and when they decide to sell.

Of course, this already happens, but not so much. When I ran Yoyodyne, we sold advertising to big companies like MasterCard, Procter & Gamble and AOL. And the ads worked. We had hundreds of clients and made thousands of sales calls... and I can't remember once that someone called us up and asked to buy an ad. If they had, you can bet we not only would have been receptive, we would have been discounting our prices as well.

More important than the price break is the idea of being in control, of not just waiting for the next big thing to find you. When a buyer and seller get together, sometimes the possibilities for both sides increase.

[Kevin just riffed on a similar but different aspect of this.]

What was the person who made the sandwich thinking?

Sideswipe117 Could it be, "This is just my job"?

At least there was one layer of meat on the non-display part of the sandwich...

At some point, sooner or later, people take responsibility for what they do. Either that or they're doomed to do mediocre work for shady people. Thanks, Rob, for the link.

David Sedaris meets Woody Allen

Now, if he only resists the temptation to become an SNL hack after college...

This book is a reminder of how rare simple funny writing is.

Seven tips to build for meaning

What happens after I click on your Google ad?

I was thinking about great Squidoo pages (lenses) yesterday, and realized that many of them, along with many blogs, have the same goal: give someone a handle, a sense of meaning--context--so they can go ahead and take action.

You have a blog to turn a browser into a raging fan for your candidate or your product.
You have a lens designed to teach people what they need to know to confidently sign up for your tour.
You have a landing page to convert Google AdWords clickers into buyers.

With that in mind, here are a few tactical tips that might help if that's what you're trying to do online:

  1. Use numbers and bullets. People don't read online, they scan.
  2. Give people a place to go. The web is incredibly efficient when it's a road, much less so when it's a dead end. The best meaning-building delivers the reader to a new place, in context.
  3. Use pictures. Back to the scanning thing. Pictures, properly chosen, communicate quality as well as large amounts of information. I'm not talking about product shots (which are important) as much as pictures that tell a story. (thanks, Benji)
  4. Have an opinion. Guides that bend over backwards to be fair rarely impart information. Context is built more quickly if people know where you stand and can plug that into their previous point of view. If you're giving meaning, you're also making an argument... one in favor of your point of view.
  5. Don't be afraid to compare. Saying this is better than that helps me understand if I already have an understanding of that.
  6. It's a brick wall, not a balloon. This is a hard one for many people. We try to build something quickly and get it totally complete all in one go. If we can't, we get frustrated and give up. But great blogs and lenses are built brick by brick, a little at a time. You learn what works and do it more. Here's a fine example.
  7. It's okay to be long, if you're chunky. The great lesson of direct mail was that long letters always do better than short ones. That's because once you've sold me, I'll stop reading. But if I'm not sold and I get to the end, you lose. The web is infinitely expandable. So go ahead and tell your story.

The reunion problem

Inter_boys Here's what's hard: you're running a 75th reunion for an organization and you want to invite as many past members as possible.

The internet should make this easy. Six degrees of separation, social networks, online profiles and Google should all make it automatic.

It's not, for a few reasons. First, people rarely surface all of the details of their life online (or even in Facebook). Most of my readers, for example, have no clue about the undefeated hockey team I was on in 1973 (of course, the only goal I scored was on my own team, but that's a story for another day). The second reason is that spammers would be all over this information if it were easy to find. If one could email every single Facebook user who came from Cleveland, the thing would fall apart. For good reason, permission to contact the right people isn't easy to get.

While shouting about a reunion from a blog might work, it's not particularly efficient, is it?

So, what would I build? It seems to me that the two steps are enumeration and contact. First, you need to list everyone you're trying to reach, and then you need to figure out how to contact them. If there were a simple piece of web software available (basically a smarter wiki), you could reach out to the 20 or 50 or 500 alumni you already know, point them to that and get them busy enumerating the list. How many people can you list from cabin 7? Who's missing?

Once you've got the list, put the six degrees thing to work. As each person on the list gets contacted, you can put a mark next to their name. As the list of the uncontacted gets smaller, it's easier for people on the fringes to focus on who they know that might know the person that needs to get reached.

My guess is that the solution already exists, but a bit of googling failed to find it.

And, if you're a Camp Arowhon alum (or you know one) and want to hear about the 75th reunion, drop a note to Marnie asap.

[Scott has a solution, but it's not quite as bare bones as I described.]

Customer of the month

Jntanzania Do you have one? With a special parking space and their picture on the wall?

What a great idea. The hardest part is getting over the fear that you'll alienate all your other great customers. Give it a try, it's probably worth the risk.

Blue jeans

When I was in college, a local human rights group posted up signs around campus one Monday. They read:

On Wednesday
Wear Blue Jeans
If You Are Gay

This is brilliant marketing. On Wednesday morning, you needed to have a discussion with yourself. "Should I wear jeans?... if I'm in the closet... or if I'm supportive of the quest for rights... or if I don't want to stand out... what will it mean if I don't wear jeans? Or if I wear jeans and didn't know about the sign..."

This, of course, was precisely the point. It started internal debate which led, all day, to spoken discussion. Which raised the issue.

A huge amount of marketing is about "in" or ignore. This is about "in" or "out." By forcing people to make a choice, they created a conversation.

Check out what happened in Nova Scotia last week.

Mean vs. Median

How to be wrong: measure the mean when you really should measure the median.

Consider a website that reports a mean (average) of 2.1 pages per visitor.

Then realize that the median is 9. (actually, my math nerd friends inform me that my example is impossible, because of the peskiness of zero and negative pages. I'll leave the number here as a testament to my carelessness, and will inform you that my point remains correct... that the distribution is way more important than the average. I hope Godel will forgive me).

That's because there's a large number of people visiting 1 page and a large number visiting 10 or 20.

Once you see that, you will completely change your understanding of what's happening and what you need to do to change it. (In this case, the goal wouldn't be incremental improvement from 2.1 to 2.4. It would be to figure out how to activate the one-page people and turn them into 20-page viewers... a 2000% increase from each impacted person).

You'll find the same behavior among McDonald's customers. The typical (mean) American eats a meal at McDonald's once every two weeks. But I never go and some people eat there twice a day. That's a lot more useful to know.

[Bill did a graph.]

Life-changing internship

Acumen has just posted this year's application.

Not only do 100% of the participants report an astonishing experience, but the people they touch (thousands of them) do as well.

Two kinds of 'don't know'

I don't know French. I can't play the piano. I have no clue how to catch a bony spinefish. This is the first kind of don't know. Stuff you don't know because you haven't been taught it yet. Books are awfully good at solving this problem, so are good teachers.

The second kind of 'don't know' is often confused with the first type, but it's really quite different. This is the person who says they don't know how to cook, or that they can't balance a checkbook. This isn't about technique or a lack of knowledge. It's usually either fear or lack of interest. People with this type of deficit won't find the answer in a book or (usually) in a seminar either. You don't learn how to cook from a cookbook.

The answer lies in trial and error and motivation and in overcoming the fear that makes us avoid the topic in the first place.

And why should a marketer care?

You need to care because if you try to solve the second kind of ignorance with a manual or a PDF or a blog post or even a long infomercial, you're going to fail. If you discover that users are afraid or resistant to what you're trying to get them to do, more information is almost always the incorrect response. The effective technique involves peer pressure and support and in changing the design and inputs of what you're doing so that this group is more receptive to what's on offer. For example, internet penetration isn't up by a factor of 20 because people read a lot of copies of Internet for Dummies. It happened because of what peers said to each other over time, and because the act of getting online is a lot easier than it used to be. And you can help that happen.

Sweet spot marketing

Golf (or maybe tennis) has the true myth of the sweet spot. That special part of the club (racket) that magically makes the ball go farther and straighter.

There's a sweet spot in promotion and PR as well. Let me give you a few examples from the book world to get us started:

Peter Drucker was in the sweet spot for the Harvard Business Review. His background, reputation and style of writing contributed to him writing more pieces for them than anyone else. (My stuff, on the other hand, is blacklisted by the HBR. They won't even consider my work.)

If you want to get reviewed by the New York Times Book Review, don't even consider self-publishing. Don't write a how to book. Don't write something particularly funny, either. But it sure helps to be published by Knopf. Literary fiction by respected writers published by Knopf is the sweet spot (history comes in a close second).

There's a sweet spot for getting on Oprah and for being on NPR as well.You rarely hear about romance novels on All Things Considered.

My point isn't that you shouldn't try to get these middlemen to broaden their horizons or to give up on something you're passionate about. It's just that it might be easier to build a new sweet spot than it is to persuade an established middleman to change his rules for you.

I never had a chance with existing magazines so I invented a writing style for myself that worked well with Fast Company, which until then had never had a columnist. Bloggers around the world are discovering that it's cheaper and faster and more effective to build their own media channel than it is to waste time arguing with the old ones.

So I guess my advice would be to either build your product and network along the way to align with exactly what the middlemen want... or reject them and live/thrive without them. It's the middle ground that's really frustrating.

Alarm clocks

For twenty cents or so, alarm clock manufacturers can add a chip that not only knows the time (via a radio signal) but knows what day it is too. Which means that they can add a switch that says "weekends." Which means that the 98% of the population that doesn't want to wake up on the same time on weekends as they do on weekdays will be happier (and better rested.)

This isn't as complicated or expensive as my idea four years ago.

So why doesn't every alarm clock have this feature? Because most people in that business are busy doing their jobs (distribution, promotion, pricing, etc.), not busy making products that people actually want to buy--and talk about.

There are very few products and services that wouldn't get a lot better if people just tried to make them better.

You get to choose

That's the cool thing about marketing. Unlike most other functions in the organization, you get to choose where and how you do what you do.

If you don't have the money to do a full-scale TV campaign that's going to work, you shouldn't choose TV.
If you don't have the organizational support to engage in a long-term grassroots strategy, don't do it.

I was talking to a journalist about bootstrapping the other day and he wanted me to share some examples of big, capital-intensive companies that got their start by bootstrapping. My answer was pretty simple, "If you don't have a lot of capital, don't choose a business that requires it."

If you have an organization that is slow and deliberative, don't enter a market that rewards the fleet of foot.
If you have colleagues that love to discuss everything out loud, don't choose a campaign that will fail if the market senses internal discussion and disagreement...

Don't raise VC money for a business that can't possibly pay off for the investors. Don't promote a lunch menu in a neighborhood where no one goes out for lunch. It seems terribly obvious, but bad choices, choices where you're going against the wind instead of with it, are the easiest mistakes to avoid.


Google analytics has been available for free for a while now, and most of us still aren't using it properly. Here's a book (and blog, etc.) that really helped me get started.


New times demand new conventions. In a world where twitter and facebook and blogs can spread an idea around the world in a few seconds, how do you have a conversation with someone in confidence?

Just say NFYB ("not for your blog.")

Just like safe sex, it might not be romantic, but it's something we need to talk about. So talk about it. The presumption is rapidly changing. It used to be that all emails or whispered hallway discussions were 'off the record.' Now, more and more, there is a bias to post/twit or share. "NFYB" clears the air.

When everyone is a journalist, most things are on the record.

Hugh's list

The net loves lists. Sometimes, they're even really inspiring and really useful.

Punishing the outliers

Mushahid points out that a nearby McDonald's has a sauce policy. If you want six or eight packets of dipping sauce for your chicken knuckles (or whatever), they charge you for them. The sign is big and loud and probably in ALL CAPITAL letters.

I can see why this happened.

99 people out of a hundred take one or two packets of sauce. One guy takes 20. This is infuriating. You lost money on this guy. He's a pig. He probably hordes the sauce and uses it on his eggs in the morning or whatever.

Like the jerks who buy a couch at DWR and then return it after the party.

Just because you're in business doesn't mean you have to be a patsy, doesn't mean you have to give away everything all the time. Or does it?

There are two pieces of math that might help you figure this out. The first is simple: How much do the bad guys cost us? If it's a cost of doing business, it's probably not worth changing your atmosphere/guarantee/state of mind over. Sure, shoplifting would go down if you locked up each item behind the glass. But punishing the majority costs you far more than the theft does.

The second is a little more subtle: does the bad behavior spread or damage the experience of the good guys. Not in the sauce example, certainly, but yes when it comes to people spamming your comments board or smoking in the elevator.

If I were McDonald's, I'd just add another item to the menu: Extra sauce, 20 cents. Give your frontline staff the authority to waive the fee for good customers or small extras ("I'm supposed to charge you for the extra sauce, but don't worry about it, it's free for you today.") but it's an easy way to deal with the guy who wants 25 packets. It doesn't offend the good guys and provides a limit for the bad guys.

The finger moustache virus

Andrew sends us this video. The local TV element is hysterical, but what I commend you to is the extremely viral nature of the tattoo. By turning something passive (body art) into something active, the item spread like wildfire. (It also helps that it feels like a much smaller commitment than say, an eagle on your back.)

Of course, lots of people are taking credit for inventing this. My guess is that it goes back to the days of particularly silly pirates.

The irresistible story

Many stories that spread and stick do so because we so desperately want them to be true. Urban legends (and urban truths) fill a niche that we've built for them.

Miss Teen South Carolina has been watched nearly 20 million times over the last few weeks... because her inane prattling confirms our funniest dreams of empty-headed beauty queens. Doesn't matter whether she is actually a dolt or not... the story matches our worldview, so we embrace it. It makes us feel even smarter than we did yesterday.

Jeff points us to Done, an SEO firm that claims it can quash bad reviews from showing up in Google. Sort of a reverse SEO play, they offer to take angry customer rants or riffs on sites like Consumer Reports and
make them less likely to show up in a Google search. MSNBC reports that they point to success with companies like (Typical search here). Marketers love this story. They love the idea that SEO could be done in reverse and that unfair and unjust besmirchments can be made to disappear.

The problem, of course, is that while the story is seductive, it's not particularly true. As soon as a company starts to push the bad stuff down, someone writes about it or new bad stuff shows up and on it goes... Even worse, not only is there always another bad thing to push down, but the act of writing about what the company is doing (like I'm doing now) makes it even more difficult to "manage your reputation" by burying the critics.

The real answer is simple: be transparent, do good work, answer your legitimate critics in the same forum or through your actions.

Let's make up some numbers

The Times reports today that the MPAA has released a study that DVD pirates are costing New York City $903 million a year in lost wages.

Making up numbers is a brilliant marketing technique, especially when the numbers are precise and untestable. Ivory Soap, after all, is 99 and 44/100 % pure.

$903 million is about 9,000 jobs paying $100,000 a year each. That's a lot of ticket takers, Blockbuster clerks and gaffers. And yet the Times reprints the numbers as true.

Marketers make up numbers all the time. It's a great way to tell a story with efficiency, and if you do it in the right spirit (meaning that the numbers are as close to true as you can get them) there's little downside or damage. Except to your reputation when you're wrong...

Do we need to know how much the Dow moved to a tenth of a point? No, of course not. But when we start delivering numbers with that level of accuracy, people can't help but believe them.

Big ideas

Padmanabhan wrote me a nice note today, asking why I so freely give away ideas. (It was nice because he thought some of the ideas were actually good ones).

I responded that ideas are easy, doing stuff is hard.

My feeling is that the more often you create and share ideas, the better you get at it. The process of manipulating and ultimately spreading ideas improves both the quality and the quantity of what you create, at least it does for me.

History is littered with inventors who had "great" ideas but kept them quiet and then poorly executed them. And history is lit up with do-ers who took ideas that were floating around in the ether and actually made something happen. In fact, just about every successful venture is based on an unoriginal idea, beautifully executed.

So, if you've got ideas, let them go. They're probably holding you back from the hard work of actually executing.

Thinking about this war

This is the first war that's a marketing war.

The New York Police Department just released a report on Jihad and terrorism. [It seems as though the NYPD has taken the document down. Not sure why....Here it is.] It's controversial, particularly among people who haven't read it. I'm going to skip over some of the ethnic generalizations and focus on other parts of the document... I think there are some fascinating implications for marketing in this document, so here's my riff (those who wish I would just write about selling soap should skip to my next post).

How come there are no longer any famous bank robbers?

During the heyday of bank robbery (from Butch Cassidy to John Dillinger), banks were a great option for criminals. After all, that's where the money is.

The FBI realized that they didn't just have a crime problem. They had a marketing problem. Bad guys knew that robbing banks paid. In response, the FBI did a few things. First, they focused on catching every single bank robber. And second, and more important, they built Alcatraz and promoted it like crazy.

Alcatraz marketed a concept. "Bank robbery is a really bad idea." Combine that with some big arrests, marked bills, silent alarms, video cameras and some movies and TV shows and the act of robbing a bank shifted from easy to dumb. There's no doubt that Dick Tracy and the FBI TV series did more to stop bank heists than bullets ever did. The money might have been in the banks, but smart crooks looked elsewhere to commit their crimes.

No ads were purchased, but marketing was done nonetheless. Stop for a minute and think about that. The FBI did this on purpose. They marketed to criminals. They spread an ideavirus.

Some people saw the post 9/11 world as an enforcement problem. With enough guns and wiretaps (along with a modern Alcatraz), the idea was that a similar sort of anti-crime marketing could be effective. Catch every single terrorist and put them in a high profile jail. I don't agree with this perspective. There's still a marketing problem, but it's a different one.

As the NYPD report points out, fundamentalist terrorism is an ideavirus. It spreads (via mass media) but unlike bank robbers, Jihadists and others are far more immune to the idea of law enforcement. In fact, unlike the bank robbery meme, the ideavirus that leads to this behavior is actually enhanced and further spread by traditional enforcement tactics and martyrdom.

The NYPD report frequently mentions the Internet as an enabler and connector, but monitoring and regulating the internet isn't going to be effective in stopping the problem. If the RIAA can't stop file sharing, imagine how difficult it will be to hinder the spread of text online. The medium is far too permeable. If we shut down all media, including the Internet, we could slow the virus, but even that wouldn't stop it--and no one is willing to pay that price.

The best way to counter an ideavirus, any ideavirus, is not by challenging the medium in which it spreads. It didn't stop pirate radio or salacious TV shows or online porn. What has always worked the best is countering one ideavirus with another one. To use the same medium to spread a different, better, more powerful ideavirus. You don't counter racism by making the act of uttering racist statements against the law. You do it by spreading an idea (racism is hateful, wrong and stupid) that keeps the racist from expressing his ideas because all his friends will shun him if he does.

If you want moderate ideas to spread in a community, promote the people who are spreading those ideas. Make them heroes. Amplify their message and help it spread.

Hamas leverages and extends its power with the Palestinians by providing health care in neighborhoods. That's the message that gets through to the people on the ground. Every action a group (any group) takes tells a story. What's that story? Does it spread? When it spreads, how does that story affect the conversations that people have with each other? If the NYPD is right (and I think their analysis of how this meme spreads is right) then the most important thing our government can do is discuss what sort of ideavirus they are working to spread. And then take action. And spread the right story in the right way.

What's the story? What is the TSA 'saying' in their work at LAX? What is the brave soldier saying as she does her stint in Takrit? What does the NYPD or the school district or the local hospital say as they interact with immigrants in their daily lives?

I guarantee you I don't know the answer. I don't know where we should send troops and how long we should stay there. I don't know who to arrest and what to look for. But I do know this: it's a marketing problem, the most important one we face. By and large, the marketing is being done by people who don't see that we have a marketing problem. Understanding the words and concepts behind the ideavirus is the critical next step in spreading the right message to the people who need to hear it.

I sat in my office six years ago, looking south along the Hudson and watching our world change. I don't think anyone could have predicted then where we'd be now. I'm hopeful that by looking forward, we can market our way to better place. Thousands of brave people have sacrificed for our safety and peace of mind. I'm grateful to them. The next step is to get smart about strategy and marketing.

The haystack

It's easy to be wowed by what a magical job the search engines do in finding you just the right needle in the haystack.

The fact is that search engines are very good at fairly simple searches, and very good at finding information about single products, services, people and ideas.

But they're terrible at connections, at rankings, at horizontal results. They can't help me find the 25 most important up and coming artists in the United States. They can't help me find six products that are viable alternatives to something that was just discontinued. They can't help me rank the service of four accounting firms.

There's a giant opportunity. (Many opportunities, actually). It's to collate and slice and dice and rank domain-specific knowledge and surface it. There are some areas where this is done extremely well (restaurants, for example), but in most cases, it's not done at all.

Organizing the world's information is a laudable goal. But we're only an inch down the road.

Random Acts of Initiative

As a young first-year student at the Stanford MBA program (most of the other 300 students had wasted a few years working at a bank, but he came straight from undergrad) Chip Conley picked out four other students--strangers to him and to each other--and invited them to a weekly brainstorming session. He explained to us that once a week we'd meet for four hours and brainstorm business plans and entrepreneurial ventures.

A year later, we had compiled more than 500 great ideas, countless lousy ones and  had figured out how to think about the structure of a business. I think the five of us would all agree we learned more in that room in the anthropology department than we did in the classes we were paying for.

The extraordinary thing about Chip's little bit of initiative in setting up the group is how rare it is. Successful people have this in common. It's not the giant breakthroughs, it's the willingness to take little chances.

Chip has gone on to be the most successful of our team, running one the largest independent hotel chains in California. We had a deal... I agreed not to open hotels, he agreed not to write books. Well, once again, he broke his end of the bargain.

Even if you don't have an anthropology department nearby, there's no doubt that there's some small piece of initiative you can grab a hold of tomorrow.

How to spend $20 million

Treating different customers differently is important.

Customers actually like it if you do it right. People in coach don't mind the folks in first class getting more service, because they'd like to be there one day. (Or because they like the fact that the people paying too much for a fancy seat are subsidizing their flight). People at nightclubs like watching celebrities being whisked to the front of the line, because it reinforces their belief that they're at a special place.

The trouble kicks in not when you treat different people differently but if it's random, or unfair or unpredictable.

When Steve Jobs gave a $200 discount to the late adopters of the iPhone, the early adopters were incensed. They were being treated differently, but in the wrong way. My guess is that his $100 store credit and personal note helped a great deal, but it also cost about $20 million in profit. If Apple had thought it through, he could have offered any of the following (and done it during the presentation he did of the new products):

  • Free exclusive ringtones, commissioned from Bob Dylan and U2, only available to the people who already had a phone. (This is my favorite because it announces to your friends--every time the phone rings--that you got in early).
  • Free pass to get to the head of the line next time a new hot product comes out.
  • Ability to buy a specially colored iPod, or an iPod with limited edition music that no one else can buy.

The key is to not give price protection to early buyers (that's unsustainable as a business model) but to make them feel more exclusive, not less.

Backpacks As for being capricious, consider this photo from the US Open. The Open doesn't allow spectators to bring in backpacks of any size--IF the straps are padded. They don't announce this rule, and they enforce is somewhat randomly.

If it were really a security issue, they'd have to enforce it completely. If it's just a silly policy that someone dreamed up one day, it's sure to annoy people. Because it's irrational. Because it's not enforced in a way that makes sense.

So yes, treat different customers differently. The more the better, actually. But do it consistently and in a way that your customers respect and understand.

Charity idea

Given the serendipity of having 17 (almost 18) people running for president, we need a charity to sponsor a baseball game. Do it in a big stadium, and you'll raise a lot of money and awareness. Be sure to ban steroid use.

How to do an interview

Tamara recently interviewed me for UXPioneers. The only reason I agreed to consider it was that a good friend introduced us. Then I read her other interviews and realized that this woman had figured out how to create a very different kind of interview. It was a lot of fun. More relevant, as a reader, is that I actually learned something from reading the other interviews she had done.

I guess this is what happens if you ignore press releases, don't have a traditional editor and aren't trying to appeal to the largest possible audience segment. Either that or if you're a good interviewer.

NBC and missing the point about power

A lot of buzz this week about NBC switching from iTunes to Amazon.

One can't help but be reminded of the rearranging of deck chairs.

For fifty years, NBC's major asset was that there were only three TV networks. That meant that all other things being equal, there was a 33% chance you'd tune in. They had a partial lock on attention. TV Guide was important, but it didn't have enough power to make or break a network.

Welcome to the new age, guys.

Now NBC has a .00001% chance of being picked at random, and plenty of competition for attention. It also means that there's a new powerbroker, a middle man with far more power in influencing what people watch (and pay for).

NBC could have been this middleman. They ceded this role to YouTube and then iTunes. Switching to Amazon merely creates a third player, but it doesn't do what the networks truly needed to do--build a direct relationship between the network and the viewer. Amazon has one, so does Apple.

This is the major scramble of this generation... who gets permission to talk to the consumer, to represent the consumer, to determine what's hot and what's not. If all three of these players gain power, my guess is that content providers will provide content to all three. On the middleman's terms. If you're not listed, you're invisible.

The early adopters matter

Maureen points us to: Steve Jobs steps up to the plate: Apple - To all iPhone customers.

Expand the box

Thinking outside the box isn't nearly as productive as building a bigger one.

Three years ago, I put together a team that built a free PDF service. Thanks to Todd and his team, it's still running. Looking back at the bestseller list, I'm awfully proud of what's there. Worth more than it costs:  ChangeThis :: View manifestos.

Yet another frontier ruined marketers.

Apparently, the gurus at Jupiter ("Flip a coin!") have issued a report about viral marketing. Micah points us to: Viral Campaigns Falling Short, Says JupiterResearch - 09/05/2007. The article says that the thrust of the report is that marketers are failing at viral campaigns because it only works 15% of the time, and that the most popular technique was "targeting influentials."

Excuse me... the most effective technique is making stuff worth talking about in the first place. True viral marketing happens not when the marketer plans for it or targets bloggers or skateboarders or pirates with goatees, but when the item/service/event is worth talking about.

There, now you don't have to buy a study to know what to do next. [I feel badly to be picking on a report I haven't even read. I hate it when people do that. I guess my knee jerk reaction occurred because marketers are always the first to look for a shortcut... and the shortcut is almost always the long way around. I apologize to the people who worked hard on the report, but here's my free alternative: Just make great stuff.]

What are you hiring for?

If you're trying to hire someone who presents well to strangers, creates documents without typos, is good at seeking out interesting new opportunities, can think on her feet in an interview and can network with strangers in search of a goal, your current hiring system is probably perfect.

Unfortunately, those skills don't apply to most jobs.

As a result, we end up hiring people who are good at self-marketing, not at what we need them to do.

It may very well be that this programmer or that cleaning person or this animator is absolutely terrible at the things that make it easy to get hired. Is there anything wrong with that? Isn't the entire point of a hiring process to separate the people who will be good at the job from those that won't? Why is "clever cover-letter writing" or "willingness to travel across town on spec for an interview" a leading indicator of that?

Yellow Pages in your Pocket

Rumors are swirling around that there will be a gPhone soon (the Google Phone).

Google is turning into an operating system company. Apple = = > Apple, while Microsoft = = > Google.

My non-inside prediction of what the third-generation phone they ship will be like:
(Relatively) free
(Relatively) open
Ad supported

So, any carrier can offer it (hence the free part), any developer can easily modify it/enhance it, and the thing is paid for by location-aware permission marketing. Anticipated, personal and relevant ads based on who you are, what you do and where you are. GPS-coded photographs from all over the world automatically appended to Google Maps. Free calls if you're on a wifi network. And it won't be nearly as design-wonderful as an iPhone. But it will be addictive and in many ways, better.

I've been wrong before, but my guess is that this is a huge sweet spot and an even bigger market than most people imagine.

Labor Day

I'm working today. In fact, if I'm conscious, I'm working. That's largely because it doesn't seem like 'work' today. I'd write this blog even if no one read it.

More and more people are lucky enough to have a gig like mine... work you'd do even if you didn't have to, even if you didn't get paid to do it. This is a bigger idea than it seems, because it changes the posture of what you do. Different motivations ought to lead to different results.

My version goes like this: If I'm doing this for fun (and I am) then I might as well doing something remarkable/great/worth doing. Otherwise, why bother?

Here's something I wrote in 2003, shortly before Purple Cow came out. I reference it a lot, I guess I think it's good:

Your great-grandfather knew what it meant to work hard. He hauled hay all day long, making sure that the cows got fed. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser writes about a worker who ruptured his vertebrae, wrecked his hands, burned his lungs, and was eventually hit by a train as part of his 15-year career at a slaughterhouse. Now that's hard work.

The meaning of hard work in a manual economy is clear. Without the leverage of machines and organizations, working hard meant producing more. Producing more, of course, was the best way to feed your family.

Those days are long gone. Most of us don't use our bodies as a replacement for a machine -- unless we're paying for the privilege and getting a workout at the gym. These days, 35% of the American workforce sits at a desk. Yes, we sit there a lot of hours, but the only heavy lifting that we're likely to do is restricted to putting a new water bottle on the cooler. So do you still think that you work hard?

You could argue, "Hey, I work weekends and pull all-nighters. I start early and stay late. I'm always on, always connected with a BlackBerry. The FedEx guy knows which hotel to visit when I'm on vacation." Sorry. Even if you're a workaholic, you're not working very hard at all.

Sure, you're working long, but "long" and "hard" are now two different things. In the old days, we could measure how much grain someone harvested or how many pieces of steel he made. Hard work meant more work. But the past doesn't lead to the future. The future is not about time at all. The future is about work that's really and truly hard, not time-consuming. It's about the kind of work that requires us to push ourselves, not just punch the clock. Hard work is where our job security, our financial profit, and our future joy lie.

It's hard work to make difficult emotional decisions, such as quitting a job and setting out on your own. It's hard work to invent a new system, service, or process that's remarkable. It's hard work to tell your boss that he's being intellectually and emotionally lazy. It's easier to stand by and watch the company fade into oblivion. It's hard work to tell senior management to abandon something that it has been doing for a long time in favor of a new and apparently risky alternative. It's hard work to make good decisions with less than all of the data.

Today, working hard is about taking apparent risk. Not a crazy risk like betting the entire company on an untested product. No, an apparent risk: something that the competition (and your coworkers) believe is unsafe but that you realize is far more conservative than sticking with the status quo.

Richard Branson doesn't work more hours than you do. Neither does Steve Ballmer or Carly Fiorina. Robyn Waters, the woman who revolutionized what Target sells -- and helped the company trounce Kmart -- probably worked fewer hours than you do in an average week.

None of the people who are racking up amazing success stories and creating cool stuff are doing it just by working more hours than you are. And I hate to say it, but they're not smarter than you either. They're succeeding by doing hard work.

As the economy plods along, many of us are choosing to take the easy way out. We're going to work for the Man, letting him do the hard work while we work the long hours. We're going back to the future, to a definition of work that embraces the grindstone.

Some people (a precious few, so far) are realizing that this temporary recession is the best opportunity that they've ever had. They're working harder than ever -- mentally -- and taking all sorts of emotional and personal risks that are bound to pay off.

Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you'd rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And, after you've done that, to do it again the next day.

The big insight: The riskier your (smart) coworker's hard work appears to be, the safer it really is. It's the people having difficult conversations, inventing remarkable products, and pushing the envelope (and, perhaps, still going home at 5 PM) who are building a recession-proof future for themselves.

So tomorrow, when you go to work, really sweat. Your time is worth the effort.

Talking about Web 2.0 with Gerhard

A new video, about six minutes.                
Here's the official link and the rest of the site.

Rancid Bacn

It's getting easier and easier for services to raid your address book.

I got nearly a dozen notes from people I don't even know today, all asking me to join their network at a service called Quechup. "Wow," I thought, "this service is really getting traction."

Then I got a note from Scott, pointing out that the service had automatically sent email to his entire address book without his participation. My guess is that it's not quite that automatic, but there's definitely a danger here... a danger to services that end up alienating people by sending email they didn't expect, a danger to people who end up alienating their network, and a danger to my (and your) inbox, which is already overflowing.

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