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« September 2007 | Main | November 2007 »

We accidentally marketed ourselves into a corner

What if I told you about an industry which:

  • Indebts most of its customers, sometimes for twenty or more years a person
  • Not only consumes most of four years of its customer's time, but impacts its prospects for years before even interacting with them
  • Enjoys extremely strong brand preferences between competitors and has virtually no successful generic substitutes
  • Dramatically alters relations within a family, often for generations
  • Doesn't do it on purpose

...and

...according to most of the studies I've seen, there's very little or no difference in the efficacy of one competitor vs. another.

Of course, I'm talking about undergraduate colleges in the US.

The most competitive colleges are as competitive as ever--in most cases, more so. Many admit only one in ten students. According to two senior officials at Swarthmore, the differences among the 'good enough' applicants is basically zero. Rather than putting tens of thousands of kids through insane anxiety, they wonder, why not just put all the 'good enough' students in a pool and pick the winners randomly?

Here's the amazing part: According to The Chosen, an exhaustive study of college admissions, there's no measurable difference between the outcomes of education with the most exclusive schools and the next few tiers. Graduates don't end up happier. They don't end up with better paying jobs. They don't end up richer or even healthier.  The whole thing is a sham (which costs a quarter of a million dollars a person at the top end).

There's no question that a Harvard degree helps (or is even required) in a few fields. There's also no doubt that spending four years at Yale is a mind-changing experience. The question isn't, "are they wonderful?" The question is, "Is it worth it?"

It's almost as if every single high school student and her parents insisted on having a $200,000 stereo because it was better than the $1,000 stereo. Sure, it might be a bit better, but is it better enough?

Boomer parents have bought in to the marketing hype at a level rarely seen in any other form of marketing. They push school districts, teachers and their kids to perform pointless tasks at extreme levels just to be admitted to the 'right' school, even though there's hardly evidence that the right school does anything but boost their egos.

Schools respond by spending a fortune on facilities that will increase their rankings in various faux polls, even though there's no evidence at all that a better gym or a bigger library matters one bit to an undergraduate's long-term success in life.

If it weren't so expensive (in terms of time and money) it would make a marvelous marketing case study. Add in the tears and wasted anxiety and it's really a shame. Very few people are pointing out that the emperor is barely clothed, and those that do (like me, I guess) get yelled at.

I'm not criticizing a college education per se. No, it's clear that that's a smart investment. I'm talking about the incremental cost (and anxiety) separating consumers of the 'top' 500 schools from students of the 'top' 50. It appears to be pure storytelling, a story that so appeals to the worldview of baby boomers with teens that they are absolutely unable to resist the story, despite the facts.

High school students are thrust into a Dip, in some cases the biggest one of their lives. The Dip extracts significant costs along the way, and then ends with a giant spin of the roulette wheel. I wonder if we're marketing ourselves to a dead end.

I guess I'd do two things. First, I'd figure out how to teach parents to understand what really matters and what doesn't about time spent in high school and the choice of a college. Second, I'd push for every selective college to share one application and do a draft similar to the one they do for medical residencies. Every applicant ranks the schools they'd like to attend, in order. Every school considers all the applications, grabs the students they'd love to have in priority order, puts the rest into the "good enough" pile and lets a computer sort em all out as pareto optimally as possible. At least kids will go into their twenties correctly blaming a computer instead of mistakenly blaming themselves.

PR and the first amendment and keeping your job

Chris Anderson has had enough: Sorry PR people: you're blocked. He's calling out all the PR flaks spammers, who, in the name of "it's my job," spammed him.

I doubt it's going to work.

That's because PR people who spam bloggers don't think of themselves as spammers. They're "getting the word out." They think they have some sort of obligation/right to announce whatever the client wants.

Here's why this is a problem: stamps add friction. The processing of 100 press releases the old-fashioned way cost more than $100. Doing it to 5,000 people was out of the question.

Email means the cost of adding one more name is zero. Email means that lists keep getting bigger and bigger and once you're on one, you're on em all.

So, the smart PR folks (the successful ones) struggle to make their lists smaller and smaller. The lazy ones just try to make them bigger.

Spoofing

If you got an email in the last two weeks from godinseth@gmail.com, that wasn't me or anyone I know.
This is an incredibly simple hack that works so well because we now trust email as a magical, instant and secure communications tool. It's not. It's sort of a cross between CB radio and two cups and a string.

Recipient beware.

Digg Tools

Amy points us to The Digg Toolbox: 70  Digg-related Scripts, Tools, and Tutorials.

Glasses update

Newglasses Thanks to the hundreds of folks who chimed in with advice about my new glasses. There are several options in the works, but in the meantime, my holiday pair just arrived. As promised, here's a glimpse.

Farming domains

To pick up a bit on yesterday's post, one strategy that smart domain owners are pursuing isn't particularly groundbreaking: they're putting up good content.

When you have millions of free visits, it's okay if you're sloppy, it's okay if you waste some and it's okay if you don't get organic traffic.

For a long time, domain owners acted like real estate investors. Buy. Hold. Sell.

Now, though, they're starting to act like real estate developers. Buy. Build. Hold. Make money on 'rent'.

To that end, we did a deal with the people who own ever.com. Ever isn't a particularly useful domain name (though it's short). So organic traffic is pretty limited, especially if you just put up a few links.

Enter the new ever.com. We hooked up the Squidoo engine to it and people have already built pages like:  best.cameras.everbest.lyrics.ever, funkiest.mammal.ever and even worst.president.ever. We're limiting the number of pages built per person, and after thirty days, if the page isn't improved and promoted, we put it back the pool.

I think it's likely that you'll see more domain holders invest the time and energy to make the domains actually useful. Development, not just investment.

Diabolical

Captchastrip2 Gil points us to this new piece of malware.

Basically, it's a way for spammers to get around that horrible Captcha code. The short version: A spammer tricks you into answering a captcha in order to get into a striptease program. What you don't know is that the spammer is sending you the code he just grabbed from Yahoo mail. You type in your answer, the answer goes to the Yahoo mail interface and boom, he just grabbed another disposable email address.

Lesson 1: don't try to get into striptease programs.
Lesson 2: we need universal webwide identity.
Lesson 3: in the meantime, we need new, friendlier, smarter captcha.

Thinking about domains

Thirteen years ago, Josh Quittner wrote an article in Wired that almost made me richer than Donald Trump.

He wrote about how many domain names were up for grabs, including McDonalds.com.

Inspired, I sat down and registered hundreds of them. I was about to hit the 'buy' button when my office mate persuaded me that it was somehow unethical. Persuaded, I only ended up buying one or two generic terms.

Shoot.

Anyway, a decade and a half later, boom over, domains persist. Many are worth a fortune, tens of thousands are worth a semi-fortune.

Why are they still worth so much?

For a long time, clueless surfers would type a word into the address bar of their browser, figuring it was some sort of magic search engine. Type "gloves" into the address bar of Safari, and yes, it will take you to www.gloves.com.

But Firefox and others are wising up and connecting that spot to the search engines. Type "gloves" into Firefox and you'll automatically go to the number one result on Google. Research shows that the number of people who accidentally end up on these sites is going down. So why the value?

I'm going to argue that it comes from two things.

1. Commitment. Because there's ony one "dot com" TLD and no serious contenders, there's only one neighborhood for business online. You're either on Fifth Ave. (or Rodeo Drive, your choice) or you're not. If you build a site at mexicansugarskull.com, you're making it really clear to the surfer that you care about this topic, that you're here to stay and that you can be trusted.

2. Focus. Similar, but not quite the same. By having a domain that matches what you do, you are able to focus the attention of the surfer. They know what to expect before they get there, and you can spend less time explaining yourself. The web already offers too many choices--this way, your site doesn't have to.

I think this can help lead us to some useful strategies. If you own domains:

  • Reinforce the idea of commitment. Don't use generic photos or standard layouts. The incremental effort to make your domain look like it sounds, to demonstrate your commitment through your actions, is very small, but worth it.

If you don't own a domain that's a perfect match (and that's most of us):

  • Make up for the fact that your domain is imperfect by using design, testimonials and other substantial cues to remind people just how committed you are.
  • Don't hesitate to create multiple domains for your efforts if you think it will help your visitors focus.

Over the last few weeks, Squidoo has launched a number of new domains to take advantage of this focus impulse: Squidbids, Squidvids and Squidwho, to name a few.

I've been amazed at how quickly people 'get it' when they visit each domain, and how productive the effort has been. The internet has taught people what to do when they see a domain. It's not just an address, it's the first bit of marketing.

One last bit of backward thinking: if you're looking to start an online business, consider finding a great domain and build the business around it, not the other way around. If you subscribe to the snapnames newsletter, you can see which interesting domains are about to be sold for not much money. No guarantees as to how effective this service is, but it's a neat way to think about what to build next.

Word of the day: Tricklit

Trick Lit is the term for a chick lit novel that pretends to be something else, hoping to rope people in with an interesting premise. 30 pages later, you discover that you were deceived, that it's just another piece of genre trash.

I don't invent really good neologisms very often, so I felt compelled to share.

[One man's trash... please forgive me if you like the genre! I realize now that was a little too flip. I happen to love other genres that many think are trash, so I hope you'll cut me some slack at the poor choice of words...]

Meatball Mondae VI (short)

Attention spans are getting shorter, thanks to clutter.

In 1960, the typical stay for a book on the New York Times bestseller list was 22 weeks. In 2006, it was two. Forty years ago, it was typical for three novels a year to reach #1. Last year, it was 23.

Advise and Consent won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. It’s 640 pages long. On Bullshit was a bestseller in 2005; it’s 68 pages long.

Commercials used to be a minute long, sometimes two. Then someone came up with the brilliant idea of running two per minute, then four. Now there are radio ads that are less than three seconds long.
It’s not an accident that things are moving faster and getting smaller. There’s just too much to choose from. With a million or more books available at a click, why should I invest the time to read all 640 pages of Advise and Consent when I can get the idea after 50 pages?

Audible.com offers more than 30,000 titles. If an audiobook isn’t spectacular, minute to minute, it’s easier to ditch it and get another one than it is to slog through it. After all, it’s just bits on my iPod.
Of course, this phenomenon isn’t limited to intellectual property. Craigslist.org is a free classified-ad listing service. A glance at their San Francisco listings shows more than 33,000 ads for housing. That means that if an apartment doesn’t sound perfect after just a sentence or two, it’s easy to glance down at the next ad.

If you're exhausted, it's no wonder. You've been running around all day.

The end.

[The story is all here. And here's a relevant post.]

Permeability

Here's an interesting question for the next telemarketer who calls you, or for the next clerk or customer service person you touch base with: "What's the name of the president of your company?"

There's a reason it matters. If the leadership of a company are cut off from vivid, direct contact with the front line, they are cutting off important information. Not just data, which is easy to summarize in a graph or a report, but visceral information that they remember and take action on.

Years ago, I took a friend to a chicken slaughterhouse in the Bronx. You pick a chicken, they bring it into the back room and bring you back fresh chicken parts. The thing you notice when you are walking to the car is that the bag is warm. A little different from the supermarket. Something you never forget, actually.

That's how most CEOs and top managers make decisions. Not based on unemotional data, but on emotion-rich, experience-based stories. And if management isn't permeable to the outside world, the whole organization is going to suffer, isn't it?

End your tasks, end your job?

One reason for organizational paralysis is that it's easy to believe that if your tasks go away, your job goes away.

If you're the district manager for the Yukon Territory and the company stops serving the Yukon, you're going to get fired, aren't you? If you are the product manager for the evangelical market and it's determined that this market isn't growing fast enough, what's going to happen to you?

It's no wonder, then, that groupthink and politics and natural defenses kick in every time strategy is discussed.

The thing is, in most organizations, when the Yukon gets shut down, the district manager does get laid off. Big mistake.

As soon as management starts conflating people with tasks, they've  guaranteed that the organization is going to get stuck. Probably soon. A better plan: rotate your people and continually reward and promote and challenge them. Make a big deal when someone makes the case for shutting down her task. Make it really clear through your actions that tasks come and go, but good people stay.

The secret of writing to be read

Complex Are you Foucault or Gladwell?

Steven Johnson has done some interesting (but not surprising) research on the complexity of the work of a few writers. Basically, short, simple sentences not only sell more books, but spread ideas farther and faster.

The really cool part is that authors have fingerprints. From one book to another, we keep the same style.

"I can't afford it"

That's not true.

At least it's not true almost all the time. Very few of your prospects literally can't afford it. What they are really trying to say is, "it's not worth it." As in, it's not worth reprioritizing my life, not worth the risk, not worth what I'll have to give up to get this, not worth being in debt for.

One response to repeated cries of "I can't afford it" is to lower your prices. A better response is to tell a better, more accurate story, and to tell it to the right people. The best response is to make something worth paying for.

Surveys

Thanks to the internet, surveys are a lot cheaper than they used to be. And the prevalence of roll-your-own amateur surveys means that we all have a lot to learn.

A survey can teach your customers or it can help you learn from them.

And it might be a real survey, or it could be a census.

The traditional understanding of a survey is that the goal is to LEARN from your population and that you will ask a scientific sampling, not everyone.

You can TEACH people with a survey, though, simply by asking them questions that help them notice things they never noticed before. "Do your prefer option A or option B," might just be a way of getting people to notice that you even have an option B. 

The very act of asking a question may change the experience for the customer. One small firm I know shows prospects a book of testimonials. Then they say, "I hope that when we've completed our job for you, you'll be willing to write one too." That seed increases the likelihood that people are going to be looking for something good to say, which increases the likelihood that they'll enjoy the event.

Of course, this can spiral out of control pretty quickly. Push polling, in which faux pollsters call people up and ask them questions with patently false assumptions about competing candidates, for example, is just wrong.

But don't forget the hybrid solution, which I call a Trident survey. "4 out of 5 dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum..." Hardly scientific, but publishing the results made dentists feel better about recommending the gum and made people with teeth happier about chewing it.

Which leads to the question of how many people you're going to ask. Professional surveyors almost never ask everyone. They carefully select a representative sample (not so easy) and invest in each interview, thus scaling the results for the whole population. That's how Nielsen works.

There are plenty of inexpensive ways to ask EVERYONE your question, though. That turns your survey into a census. A census only works, of course, when the response rate is close to 100%, because uneven response rates are going to skew your results.

Analytics is a form of census survey. You can track how everyone who visits your website behaves. Focus groups, on the other hand, are a poor use of just about anyone's resources, because they are inherently not surveys at all. Without a skilled moderator, all you get is useless (but extremely vivid) data.

So, I guess I'd summarize the survey question by identifying four kinds of surveys that are worth doing:

  • Census surveys designed to teach your market, not you. The act of asking the question is a marketing tactic.
  • Public non-scientific surveys (or census surveys) in which publishing your results to the group helps change the group's behavior.
  • Professional surveys designed to extract really meaningful data from a small group.
  • Census-based analytics in which you are extracting data about behavior from the entire group.

One last warning: round off. 98.2% is a bogus result. "Most" is a lot more accurate. The ultimate purpose of most traditional surveys is to make decisions. Alas, your audience is often the very worst group to help you make a decision. When you let a survey be presented as accurate, it becomes the silent decision maker in the room and leads, often, to mediocre products for the middle of the market.

Thanks to John for the question.

Two live gigs (and a seminar for non profits)

Some of you have been asking about live, public events. Here are two:

THE Conference on Marketing: in Florida. The real reason to come is that Malcolm will be there. February 4-6.

Marketing to Men, Women & Boomers:
in New York. Coming up soon, November 12 and 13.

And if you run or seriously influence a non-sectarian non-profit, I'll be doing a free seminar in my office  on December 10th. Here are the details.

Internal marketing

In the middle of its biggest growth spurt ever, just before Christmas, Apple fired 800 of its employees for stealing. They were caught grabbing $100 rebates on the iPhones Apple had given them for free.

The impact of this sort of action is pure marketing. It sends a powerful message to every other employee (and eventually the public). Most organizations would waffle, or hesitate at the scale of the firing or try to come up with an excuse for the really really good employees.

There are hundreds of stories you can tell to your staff. Even when you don't try, you're telling a story.

The New York Times Bestseller List

Cumulative advantage is a powerful side effect of story telling. Get out front, even a little, and you sell more because many people like to invest in a winner. We like to read what other people are reading.

A classic example of cumulative advantage is the power of the Times' list.

Rebecca has a good post about the list but she misses the two key points.

The first: The Times' list is completely fictional. Made up. Divorced from reality. The stated goal of the list is to find (and promote) books that Times editors want people to read, not books that are actually selling a lot. (The editor of the Book Review told this to me years ago). So, they make up 'rules' to appear consistent. When Harry Potter was selling like crazy, they invented a new list so that they could take JK Rowling's books off the real list. When diet and other books started selling a lot, they made up a new ghetto (miscellaneous) for those books. When books started selling in places like Wal-Mart (thus driving the snootiness factor down) the Times penalized sales in chain outlets. And books like the Bible are banished because they're not current enough.

The second: the list is easier to manipulate than ever before. The identity of reporting stores is becoming easier to find and the leverage of being on the list is high enough that authors can profit just by buying their own books in enough quantity.

The best part... it doesn't matter. Cumulative advantage is so powerful that even though the accurate reports of book sales often completely contradict the Times list, authors and others still obsess over it. We're always looking for clues, especially in crowded markets.

The thing that amazes me is that there are so few bestseller lists in other markets. Consumers want them. Producers can leverage them. It's an opportunity, I think.

Joanne is coming! (Meatball Mondae, part 5)

Everyone is a critic.

One of my dearest friends is Joanne Kates, the restaurant critic for The Globe and Mail, the most important newspaper in Toronto. Joanne carries a credit card with someone else's name on it (I promised I wouldn't say who). Despite her precautions, her picture is posted in the kitchen of dozens of top restaurants. Why? Because once a restaurant knows that Joanne is wearing a wig and sitting in the dining room, the staff can influence the review.

Once a server knows it's her, he can make sure the service is perfect, the food is hot, and the check is calculated properly. Once he knows it's her, he can guarantee that the staff will do their best.

You've already guessed the problem with this strategy. The problem is Zagats (and Chowhound.com, and a thousand other restaurant blogs). There isn't just one Joanne Kates in Toronto anymore. Now there are thousands.

You can no longer be on the lookout for Joanne. Now you have to be on the lookout for everyone.

[Look for the rest of the series here. Notable trackback from last week here.]

What's a logo worth?

Mongol Have you noticed that every single car made has a logo on it? Jeans, too. Not business shoes, but computers, certainly. Phones. Not ties, except maybe Hermes. Not most jewelry, either.

It's funny. We probably wouldn't take $50 or $100 to plaster a logo on the back of our business suit, but we pay extra for a logo on a TV set.

Pencils, yes. Very few foods, except maybe Oreos. Watches, certainly. But not most of the furniture in your living room (though if anyone could do it, it would be Barbara Barry).

Is a logoless car worth more or less than the typical kind? Why do we not only put up with it, but expect it and like it?

Apparently, it's not just a pencil, it's a lifestyle.

Having it both ways

Product of the week:

Haagen

The truth about Radiohead

1.2 million albums sold, $8 each, no middleman, one week: Radiohead Kicks the Middleman to the Curb.

The thing to keep in mind is this: the value of the permission. The fact that the group now has more than a million people they can go make music for is worth many times over what these people already paid. If they're smart, they'll continue to change the way they work. Paying for their mp3s should get you into a club, a club with continuing benefits.

What you need to fight the manual

Fiona wrote in to ask what the alternatives were to being outsourced, to having a job where you're very good at following a manual that someone else might be able to follow for a lot less money.

Here's a starter list:

analysis
insight
surprise
responsibility
humor
creativity
guts
respect
charisma
vision
calm

and

love.

How to do everything better (online)

The folks at mashable do absolutely amazing work. In addition to a useful news feed about what's up online, they regularly put together lists of stuff to make you more productive.

To make it easier for you to find the best lists, I put together this votable list of lists. The only problem is that you won't have enough time to discover all the great stuff. Thanks, Pete!

Fonts and your face

So, the eye glasses post led to a deluge of useful and kind advice. Please hold off, I'm still working my way through it all! I'll build a summary soon for the similarly perplexed.

But along the way, I realized that glasses are a lot like typefaces.

  • Both are tools, but with a significant stylistic overlay. You can use the most basic font in the world to get the words across, just like $10 glasses will help you see. The style and design of each, though, has a huge impact on the way you are perceived.
  • There are experts in each, but very few.
  • Despite this, everyone has an opinion! You don't have to be trained in typography to like or dislike a font or to have an opinion on what it 'means'.
  • There are cheap alternatives for both fonts and for glasses. Sometimes a cheap knockoff of Helvetica is just fine, just like $10 glasses work for most people most of the time. But there are plenty of situations where the money for a bespoke solution from a trained pro is money well spent.
  • Almost every PowerPoint user needs a font lesson. Picking something other than Arial (and using it correctly) is essential. Hire a pro, get a font you love and stick with it.
  • People who are good at picking fonts and picking glasses get a lot of respect as a result.

Here are two books about fonts. There are no books, as far as I can tell, about picking glasses.

Eyeglasses

Glasses I just found out I need glasses. This is a traumatic moment for someone who never before fretted about aging. It's one of the parts of my body that I could always depend on, and then boom, no more.

As I stood in the store looking at the racks and racks of glasses (90% profit margins!) I understood why this business is so lucrative. As Jerry Seinfeld has pointed out, for no good reason, folks treat people with glasses as if they're smarter (and they treat people with hearing aids as if they're dumb...).  It's stupid but it's true.

Glasses let you change your brand if you want to. Most glasses just fit in, but some stand out. A hard decision. The hardest since I shaved my head.

If you've got a perfect frame in mind for Seth2.0, send a link over by email. [I got a lot of responses. A ton. Stay tuned for the winners... and thanks.] How vain is that? Letting your readers pick out your new facelogo...

The need to be right

I don't think you can underestimate how important it is to most people to be right.

People choose jobs, products, partnerships... just about everything... in many ways because it makes them feel right or at least diminishes the chance that they will be 'caught' being wrong.

The customer is always right. When they're wrong, they're not your customer any more, because it's better to flee than be wrong.

My post on wikipedia really hit a nerve with a large number of readers. In many cases, the feedback I got was that the article in wikipedia might be wrong or vandalized. And if the underlying article is wrong, well, then you would be wrong. And being wrong is... bad.

I like being wrong. Not enough to make a habit of it, but enough to realize that I'm actively testing scenarios. Take a fact of dubious authenticity, riff a scenario around it and see if it feels right. That act of scenario building is a key factor in brainstorming, in creativity and in problem solving. If you need the core fact to be guaranteed right and perfect, you're doomed, because facts like that are in short supply.

Are you setting up your customers to be right and to feel right? Or is the risk of 'wrong' holding them back?

[I know, there's a huge need to have right facts and right practice, particularly in jobs where quality of service is essential. Got that. My point is that we're so good at getting those sort of facts right that maybe, just maybe, we need to spend more time teaching people the other stuff. Short version: if your job can be completely written up in a manual, it's either not a great job or it's going to be done by someone cheaper, sometime soon.]

The wikipedia gap

I wonder who the first teacher was who said to his class, "Okay, we have ball point pens now. No need to use class time to learn how to use a fountain pen."

I heard from two people this week (one is 11, the other twice that) who were forbidden to use Wikipedia to do homework.

When I was in b-school, I admit that I discovered a shortcut. I had to write a long paper on Castro. I went to the magnificent Stanford library, found a great book on Castro, opened to the bibliography and found ten sources. Which I then laboriously paged through, spending hours and hours in order to find the facts I needed.

Then, facts in hand, I was able to do the actually useful part... I synthesized some new ideas and wrote a paper.

Apparently, going through the act of finding the books, sorting through them, reading a lot of chaff and eventually finding the facts is an essential skill for an 11-year-old kid. And for a college sophomore. Essential enough to be responsible for 80% of the time they spend on the work itself?

Selecting the facts is an important part of the process. Finding them shouldn't be.

I don't know about you, but when I hire someone, or go to the doctor or the architect or an engineer, I could care less about how good they are at memorizing or looking up facts. I want them to be great at synthesizing ideas, the faster and more insightfully, the better.

Until just recently, law students had to learn a painstaking process to look up cases by hand. No longer. The academy realized that teaching students to be great at Lexis was a smart idea.

Please don't tell me that Wikipedia isn't a real encyclopedia or one that can't be trusted. Perhaps it can't be trusted if you're prepping for a Presidential debate, but it is sure good enough to help me learn what I need to learn--which is how to quickly take a bunch of facts and turn them into a new and useful idea.

Here's what just about every exam ought to be: "Use Firefox to find the information you need to answer this question:" And as the internet gets smarter, the questions are going to have to get harder. Which is a good thing.

Until teachers get unstuck, our kids are going to be stuck and so will we.

Is viral marketing the same as word of mouth?

I got a note from a college student last week, explaining that his professor told him he couldn't use the term 'viral marketing' in a paper. It doesn't exist, apparently, it's just a new-fangled form of word of mouth.

I found the interaction fascinating ("I'm not certain what benefit is gained by arguing with an instructor" is my favorite quote from his teacher) but I got to thinking about whether the instructor had a point.

"Viral marketing" shows up 2,000,000 times in Google, "ideavirus" shows up 200,000 times. Of course, you could argue that just because millions of people are using a term doesn't make it legitimate (though you'd be wrong).

Anyway...

Viral marketing [does not equal] word of mouth.
Here's why:

Word of mouth is a decaying function. A marketer does something and a consumer tells five or ten friends. And that's it. It amplifies the marketing action and then fades, usually quickly. A lousy flight on United Airlines is word of mouth. A great meal at Momofuku is word of mouth.

Viral marketing is a compounding function. A marketer does something and then a consumer tells five or ten people. Then then they tell five or ten people. And it repeats. And grows and grows. Like a virus spreading through a population. The marketer doesn't have to actually do anything else. (They can help by making it easier for the word to spread, but in the classic examples, the marketer is out of the loop.) The Mona Lisa is an ideavirus.

This distinction is vital.

For one thing, it means that constant harassment of the population doesn't increase the chances of something becoming viral. It means that most organizations should realize that they have a better chance with word of mouth (more likely to occur, more manageable, more flexible) and focus on that. And it means, most of all, that viral marketing is like winning the lottery, and if you've got a shot at an ideavirus, you might as well over-invest and do whatever it takes to create something virus-worthy.

And yes, I happen to think that arguing with the instructor is a very good idea.

Do you think they did it for the PR?

Of course not.

I heard from a dozen people last night, all pointing me to: I Heart Zappos.

A woman had a touching and memorable experience with Zappos and wrote about it. It's really clear that there was no PR intent at all, it was just one human reaching out to another.

And that's my point. What would the people in your organization do? Are there so many rules and procedures it would never happen? So much suspicion and oversight it never could happen?

Meatball Mondae #4--No middlemen, no insulation

Perhaps the biggest change the new marketing brings is the easiest to overlook, mostly because it's so obvious.

Every organization now has the ability (and probably the responsibility) to deal directly with the world. With customers, with prospects and with those impacted by their actions. No middlemen.

The president of the bank isn't used to hearing from a customer about to lose her house. A retailer in Tucson isn't used to hearing from a potential customer in Nebraska. A rock star is used to being entertained by A&R guys, not by maintaining a permission list of 100,000 customers and 55,000 MySpace friends.

This direct connection is an asset or a risk, depending on how you look at it.

The asset (the only asset, pretty much) that can be built online is permission. The privilege of marketing to people who want to be marketed to. This asset is big enough and valuable enough to build an entire business around (witness Scott Adams and Amazon) and it upsets traditional power structures in just about every industry.

More important, it leads to the idea of "no insulation."

Sonos makes a device that would have been inconceivable only ten years ago. The Sonos system is a remote control (with an LCD screen), a hard drive, and a box. The box hooks up to your stereo speakers, and the hard drive holds all your MP3 files. You can use the remote to review your entire music collection and play it anywhere in your house. Add more boxes, add more rooms. One hard drive can be used to let your daughter play Mahler in her room while you listen to Coldplay in the kitchen.

While the idea is simple, and installation is a snap, the products Sonos replaces weren’t simple or easy. As a result, multi-room speaker systems were sold by consultants—the sort of private services that cater to multimillionaires and their homes. At a recent CEDIA Show (the conference for installers), one of the categories was “Best Installation over £100,000.”

If you were in that business (companies like Runco and Stewart Filmscreen), you catered to the CEDIA installers. You let them be the middlemen, the service and support people, the installers, and yes, the folks that made most of the profit. The installers guided many of the decisions that their clients made, and you were at their mercy.

Sonos sells a product for about a thousand dollars. That’s less than the gratuity on most custom installations. As a result, Sonos decided to use the Web to allow consumers to interact with them directly.

In addition to a well-designed discussion board, Sonos invested in motivated, well-trained online staff members, who are seemingly everywhere, answering questions within a few minutes of them being asked. Sonos has pleasant technicians answering the phone on weekends. They not only publish their email address, but actually answer queries (and helpfully) in a matter of hours.

Of course, Sonos is still happy to work with the CEDIA crowd. But by embracing the ideas of accessibility and speed, they have made their product appealing to people who could easily afford to spend ten times as much.

How will their competition catch up? How can their competition simultaneously jettison their entire sales force, dramatically increase the quality of their customer service, lower their end pricing by 70%, and make the product consumer friendly? They can’t.

When everyone was playing by the same rules, when all suppliers relied on insulation in order to maintain margins and keep throughput efficient, it was a terrific system. But as soon as one player in the industry can use a direct connection to the end consumer, the rules change for everyone.

[Find out more
about this series. Here's last week's installment. Here's a comment from last week. And here's one more.]

Radiohead and the mediocre middle

I got a ton of email this week about the Radiohead rollout. The short version: Radiohead (a million-selling rock band) launched their new album as a pay-what-you-want MP3 combined with an expensive boxed set. This is the sort thing I've been talking about for seven years and many unknown bands have been doing for at least that long.

A lot of pundits have jumped in and talked about how this is the next big thing. That the music industry is finally waking up and realizing that they can't change the world... that the world is changing them.

But that's not the really useful insight here. The question is: why did it take so long, and why did we see it from Prince (CD in the newspaper), Madonna ($120 mm to leave her label and go to a concert promoter) and Radiohead?

Most industries innovate from both ends:

  • The outsiders go first because they have nothing to lose.
  • The winners go next because they can afford to and they want to stay winners.
  • It's the mediocre middle that sits and waits and watches.

The mediocre record companies, mediocre A&R guys and the mediocre acts are struggling to stay in place. They're nervous that it all might fall apart. So they wait. They wait for 'proof' that this new idea is going to work, or at least won't prove fatal. (It's the impulse to wait that made them mediocre in the first place, of course).

So, in every industry, the middle waits. And watches. And then, once they realize they can survive the switch (or once they're persuaded that their current model is truly fading away), they jump in.

The irony, of course, is that by jumping in last, they're condemning themselves to more mediocrity.

The end of the poll

For some reason, Americans love polls. We make very big decisions based on what we think everyone else is doing or going to do. I guess people don't like to be 'wrong' even if wrong means doing what they believe in.

Gallup and others got very good at scientific polling. While traditional polls are often quite wrong when question bias or moving issues are at stake, they got pretty good at measuring conventional wisdom.

The web changes this. It changes this because polls done on the web are as far from scientific as possible (they don't even measure what the web thinks, never mind what everyone thinks) yet they are shrouded in the same respectability, the same graphs, the same nomenclature.

A web poll is nothing but a traffic stunt.

Which makes this note from Allen Wastler at CNBC so ridiculous. They ran a gimmicky poll, the results didn't turn out the way they wanted so they took it down and snarkily blamed those that voted in the poll.

Polls aren't going to go away. They make great traffic bait. But they are clearly sliding from their position of trust. (Which is just fine with me).

Secular Christmas + Creativity = Halloween

Christmas has always been the king of retail holidays in the US and it probably always will be. Many families spend 25% of their discretionary income each year on gifts and trinkets for the holiday.

But Halloween is coming on strong. What's fascinating to me is that this is the only holiday (perhaps in the world) where there is an arms race of creativity. Every year there's new stuff, new ideas, new ways for yuppies and boomers and everyone else to spend time and money.

We launched SquidBoo a few days ago (sorry about the pun... Megan couldn't help it) and within 48 hours it was filled with pages like:

Pumpkin Carving 101, Patriotic Pumpkin Patterns, Hairspray Halloween Costumes, Infant Baby Snail Halloween Costume - Perfect Outfit for a Boy or Girl!, Pumpkin Carving, Clowns: the freakiest things on earth, The Addams Family Halloween Costumes, Disney Villains, Boutique Halloween Costumes | Custom Costumes for Kids and Adults, The Simpsons Halloween CostumesHalloween Costumes for Lazy People, All Hallows Eve - Halloween!, Halloween Fun Activities, What can you do with Pumpkin Guts?, Harry Potter Halloween Costumes, Halloween Parties, Costumes & Decorations, Spooky Music & Decorations, Last Minute Halloween Costumes, All About Halloween, Star Wars Costumes, Mary Poppins Costumes for Halloween, Best Pumpkin Carvings, Childrens Halloween Costumes and even Wisconsin Haunted Houses.

Halloween represents a real transition point, imho, between a backward-looking tradition and a Make-magazine how-smart-and-clever-are-you do-your-own-thing festivity of the future. In other words, a growth industry that depends on betting on the ego and smarts of your customer.

Teaching your customers a lesson

Returnforpostage_small Megan points us to this photo of a package returned by the post office. For being less than 1% short on postage.

Obviously, it's cheaper to deliver the package than to go to all the trouble to void the postage and send it back just because it's a penny short. So why bother? To teach her a lesson. To be sure she never does it again.

A million pennies adds up, after all.

While monopolies can get away with this, you probably shouldn't try. Yet businesses (and non-profits!) do it all the time. We overreact to slightly bad behavior because we worry, "If we don't slam this door shut, then everyone will do it..." So we yell at the church member who parks the wrong way, or we grudgingly change a policy but loudly proclaim, "but just this one time!"

Hey, it's not the Supreme Court (fortunately). You're not setting precedent every time you interact with someone. The best thing a marketer can do is have the attitude that customers deserve a little slack now and then. If it gets out of hand, then you can start acting like the post office.

How to create a great website

Here are principles I think you can’t avoid:

1. Fire the committee. No great website in history has been conceived of by more than three people. Not one. This is a dealbreaker.

2. Change the interaction. What makes great websites great is that they are simultaneously effortless and new at the same time. That means that the site teaches you a new thing or new interaction or new connection, but you know how to use it right away. (Hey, if doing this were easy, everyone would do it.)

3. Less. Fewer words, fewer pages, less fine print.

4. What works, works. Theory is irrelevant.

5. Patience. Some sites test great and work great from the start. (Great if you can find one). Others need people to use them and adjust to them. At some point, your gut tells you to launch. Then stick with it, despite the critics, as you gain traction.

6. Measure. If you’re not improving, if the yield is negative... kill it.

7. Insight is good, clever is bad. Many websites say, “look at me.” Your goal ought to be to say, “here’s what you were looking for.”

8. If you hire a professional: hire a great one. The best one. Let her do her job. 10 mediocre website consultants working in perfect harmony can’t do the work of one rock star.

9. One voice, one vision.

10. Don’t settle.

How to create a good enough website

For most people, that's all you need. A website that's good enough. Not that breaks new ground, establishes a new identity, discovers new ways for people to interact online. Just a good enough website that didn't kill you to launch.

To be clear, the following advice assumes that:

  • You're not trying to reinvent the idea of a web page--that the page is a means to an end
  • You work with other people

So, here's what you do. First, realize that traditionally, the job of designer has been linked with the job of programmer. There were very good reasons for this. Designing a page that can't work is silly, and changing the design every time you change the way the page works can be time consuming and expensive.

As a result, web design became a sacred art, one done only by the blessed few, in caverns far away from where mortals tread. In addition, it became expensive, because design changes (which marketers love to make) got in the same queue as programming changes.

We need to start by divorcing the two practices. There's no longer a really good reason for the two to be so closely linked, especially since disciplined use of CSS and testing pays such dividends.

Start with design. Don't involve the programming team until you're 90% done with the look and feel of your pages. It's cheap to change design if it can't by supported by programming, and cheaper and faster to have design done in Photoshop before you commit to cutting it up and coding it.

I'm going to go out on a limb and beg you not to create an original design. There are more than a billion pages on the web. Surely there's one that you can start with? If your organization can't find a website that you all agree can serve as a model, you need to stop right now and find a new job.

Not a site to rip-off, but an inspiration. Fonts and colors and layout. The line spacing. The interactions. Why not? Your car isn't unique, and your house might not be either. If you've got a site that sells 42 kinds of wrapping paper, why not start by finding a successful site that sells... I don't know, shoes or yo-yo's... something that both appeals to your target audience and has been tested and tweaked and works. No, don't pick a competitor. That will get you busted. Pick a reasonably small but successful site in a totally different line of work. Say to your designer: "That's our starting point. Don't change any important design element without asking me first. Now, pull in our products, our logo and our company color scheme and let's take a look at it."

At this point, some people are aghast! Shouldn't the web be a design contest on top of everything else? I don't think so.

Now, take your finished Photoshop pages and get every single person who can possibly veto your project to say okay. THEN give it to engineering to make it work.

[Boy, am I in trouble. People hate posts like this one. They read all sorts of things into it that I don't intend. I'm certainly not against bespoke design, or designers. I certainly don't believe that all engineers are bad designers or even difficult to deal with. The point of the post is most definitely not to encourage you to commit copyright violations or even ethical ones. It merely works to recognize two things:

1. If you are unable to agree on an existing site, you are sure going to spend a lot of time and money trying to agree on a custom one.

2. The process of design and user interaction is best done separately from the process of server speed, database structure and uptime.

Forgive me!]

What you're up against

Sayagaki This guy makes swords.

Actually, he bought charcoal, built a furnace, smelted his own steel, created his own ingots, then created his own magical pastes. He sharpened and built a blade and on and on and on to build an astonishing tatara.

Do you really think an enthusiast is going to buy your ordinary tatara in order to save a few bucks?

Meatball Mondae #3 (Columbus Day Edition)

Google and Discovery

Google and the other search engines have broken the world into little tiny bits. No one visits a Web site’s home page anymore—they walk in the back door, to just the place Google sent them. By atomizing the world, Google destroys the end-to-end solution offered by most organizations, replacing it with a pick-and-choose, component-based solution.

Columbus is the center of a popular fable about discovery. He set out to find something, got lost along the way and instead gets credit for an ever bigger find. The analogy of the web is pretty much a stretch, but here goes: people don't always find you the way you want to be found.

Not only are there literally a million ways to discover you and your offerings, but rarely people hear your story the way you want it to be heard. The idea of a home page and a site map and a considered, well-lit entryway to your brand is quaint but unrealistic.

I can clone a frog from one skin cell--and get the whole frog.

Can I clone your brand from one interaction, from one web page, from one referral? Whether I can or not, I will.

The means that bundling is harder than ever.

Bundling was the glue that held together almost every business and organization.

Bundle donations and parcel them out to charities that deserve them. (That's the United Way).

Bundle TV shows and present them, with ads, on your TV network.

Bundle the items in your industrial supplies catalog and hand it to the business buyer.

Bundle thirty businesses and house them in one big office tower.

The Yellow Pages is a multibillion-dollar business that consists of nothing but bundled ads for local businesses. No one wants to keep a flyer for every business in town, but everyone has a copy of the Yellow Pages.

Book publishers bundle authors and share the expertise of their staff, their sales force, and their capital in order to bring books to readers.

We’ve been doing the bundling so long, we forgot we were doing it.

The world just got unbundled. Like it or not, there you are.

[This is the third in a series. Here's an interesting comment post from last week.]

Choice

If I had to pick one word to describe what's new, what's different and what's important about now vs. then, it would be "choice."

The choice of more products.
The choice of more retailers. Many a click away.
The choice of more consumers to ask for an opinion.
The choice by marketers over who to market to (precision increases).
The choice of workers to be virtual or flexible or change careers.

I used to have one choice to make a phone call. Now I have a dozen. I used to have one place to buy insurance for my company, now I have thousands. One bank near my house, now ten thousand a click away.

I have more choice in who to hire, who to work for and most important...

More choice in who to listen to (and who to ignore).

Thinking outside the (eBay) search box

More than a million people sell on eBay regularly, and by some estimates, more than half a million people do it as their full-time job.

The prevailing wisdom is this:

  • Sell a commodity
  • Sell it cheap
  • Do good enough customer service that you have high ratings
  • Wait for your fair share of search traffic

So, a prospect goes to eBay, types in "Elmo" and sees all the listings. Common sense tells the prospect to find the cheapest one from an acceptably rated bidder. The end result is average stuff sold to average people for slightly below average prices. The long tail kicks in and there's a business! eBay does its share by putting a part of its profits to work in promotion and in affiliate programs and in ads on Google, etc.

You, loyal reader, can already guess what's coming: average stuff for average people is no way to make a living. In fact, the big eBay success stories, the ones that people talk about, are the Alan Greenspan paintings, the grilled cheese sandwich that looks like the Virgin Mary, or the woman who sold the Pokemon cards for a fortune, etc. In other words, buzzable stuff. Unique stuff. Remarkable stuff. Stuff that got sold despite the search box, not because of it.

That's all fine if you're running a circus sideshow, but what about the hundreds of thousands of people that just want to sell typical stuff and don't have great copywriting talent? They need a different strategy, one that gets them attention off eBay and builds an asset they can profit from.

7 years ago I helped a friend at Yahoo by writing a short book about the short-lived Yahoo auctions business. I argued that the asset sellers should build is permission. That the way to make a living as a seller on eBay is to have a list of people who want to get a weekly or monthly email from you outlining your latest and greatest auctions. And to do that, you need a specialty, you need to be real and you need to be trusted.

If I collected Fiestaware, for example, I'd look forward to an update from a trusted source on her (and everyone else's) Fiestaware auctions, sorted by desirability.

Instead of running a rolling garage sale, you need to become an expert. Someone who is seen as knowing what they're talking about, and someone who can reach out to possible buyers instead of waiting for them to find you.

Chestnut_logo2 I'm selling my treasured canoe on eBay. Without this blog, it's really unlikely that I'd get even a bid or two on it. Of course, if every eBay seller had a blog like mine, they'd be fine, because they could just post their auctions as I just did, and they'd get plenty of traffic. But building thousands of blog posts over nearly a decade is a lot of investment just to sell a canoe.

For the seller who doesn't have that asset, we've just launched SquidBids.

Here's the page I built about my canoe auction.

It doesn't work so well if you're doing what I'm doing, which is selling just one item. But imagine that someone decides to specialize in antique teaspoons or even bulldog puppies... the idea is to build a blog, a twitter following, a FaceBook social graph, and even a SquidBids page that:

  • establishes your reputation
  • earns you a following
  • gives you a tool to notify people about new listings

The goal, to make a really long post short, is to create an environment where people will pay extra because it's you who's doing the selling. And that happens when you give your audience things. Give them information and access and insight. Point to auctions that aren't even yours... if it's good stuff.

This feels hard. It takes time. But it's far far easier and more profitable then wishing and hoping that someone stumbles onto you. If selling on eBay is actually your business, you need to start setting out the breadcrumbs that make you worth more than the next guy.

It always comes down to human nature. We'd rather buy from a friend.

Some books

The Houdini Solution

Surrounded by Geniuses

I liked them both.

Also, comic book fans, if you haven't seen this yet, it's something that will thrill you.

And I just read Scott Adams new book, which he certainly doesn't need my link to promote, and it's exactly what you'd expect if you read his blog. He can write.

I've been reading a lot of Max Barry lately. Sort of what happens if an accessible Kurt Vonnegut starts writing about marketing.

And lastly, Fred has a challenge going on at Donor's Choose. A very cool idea.

Sputnik and Roger Bannister

Big marketing lessons here:

1. when you do something that everyone said was impossible, or that they never even considered, you get remembered for a long, long time.

2. once you demonstrate that the jar actually doesn't have a lid on it, people start jumping out left and right.

There was no space race before Sputnik. We didn't even have something called a space program. Even Arthur C. Clarke, who invented the idea, didn't expect it would happen.

The other thing to remember: There was a Sputnik II. There's just about always a sequel, so don't worry about making the first one perfect.

This changes everything

Never mind the buy 1 give 1 (a great idea). Don't wait until November when you can directly buy laptops for kids right here: One Laptop Per Child -- XO Giving. I just bought five. (Hit the Donate button).

This is a story about tools and bravery and marketing.

The tools: when you give a kid a net connection, access to wikipedia and to the rest of the world, things change fast. Things you wouldn't necessarily predict. Like a ten year old who can diagnose his dad's illness. Or a farmer that can ask his daughter to find out where to get a new part for the tractor. Or...

The bravery: When Nicholas Negroponte and his team started this project, they had nothing but obstacles. The status quo of software and hardware and skeptics stood firmly in his way. And he took a lot of grief for the effort. Even when you're doing nothing but good, fear of change is going to cause a lot of people to object.

The marketing: Everything, even laptops for kids, works its way through the innovation diffusion curve. That means that most countries, most organizations and most communities aren't going to adopt this tool for a few years. It doesn't matter if it's perfect... these things take time. Smart marketing embraces the curve and doesn't insist that it must change for this project, right now.

One kid (or five kids) at a time. It's enough. It'll happen.

A great story

About leadership, brand, authenticity and acting small: Brand Autopsy: How Tiffany Saved Michael’s Life.

Thinking about Bizdev

Some ideas to get you started:

  1. Who goes first? Most biz dev is supplicant driven. You need a license or traffic or cooperation and you are forced to figure out who to call and to make your pitch. The posture of the licensor is to work to avoid trouble (saying "no" is always safe) or to maximize the money on the table (which kills the best deals.) What happens if the licensor turns it around? What happens if they proactively seek out aggressive, smart, successful organizations to run with their brand or property?
  2. Who lays out the deal? Most licensors are hesitant to offer a deal first, because if it's accepted, they have to say yes. As a result, there's a lot of fencing back and forth (sometimes this lasts for years... I've seen it many times). The most successful deals are the ones that are simple and quick. The goal isn't to have the biggest piece of pie, it's to have the biggest pie.
  3. How easy is it? You'd be amazed how many people will do a deal because it's easy. Because they feel respected. Because they trust the other person. When you get all lawyered up on both sides, little good can come of it. If I were a bizdev person, I'd try to close every deal, yes or no, within a week. Even acquisitions.
  4. Who's responsible? Disney says that they don't test the toys with their name on them. Shame on them. The value of the license/traffic whatever goes up if the customer is treated well, so both sides need to be clear about what the standards are and both sides need to be on the same side when it comes to controlling and patrolling those standards.
  5. Is a big advance proof of good intentions? In the toy and apparel and book businesses, licensees usually indicate their aggressiveness and dedication with big advances. Ironically, the hits usually come from the stuff where the advance wasn't so big. That's because small (or no) advances encourage organizations to experiment and to promote without being in a defensive posture.
  6. Is it a waste of time? At the risk of contradicting some of the above, most biz dev deals are a total waste of time. That's because they are safe, because they are either risk-free and boring or because they do nothing but leverage the existing brand without adding anything new. The question is still the same: "Is it remarkable?"
  7. Are you measuring? Bizdev can be pretty glamorous. But does it work or just make press releases? If you measure, you'll know.

Business development

A friend of mine wears only Armani eye glasses.

Of course, the glasses aren't actually made by Armani. Or, if you think about it, designed by him. Perhaps they're sold by Armani stores, but I'd guess most of them are sold in stores that are totally unrelated to the company.

So what, exactly, explains the success of the line?

Licensing, affiliates, franchises, partnerships, traffic exchanges, joint ventures and co-promotions live in a netherworld. While they are all important marketing techniques, they often come under the rubric of business development, a department where there is little structure and few rules.

Bizdev is hard, but worth it. Hard because there's no 'retail' deals. If I want to license the Armani name I can't just pick up the phone, get a rate card and use it. No, it takes months or even years. In most cases, there isn't even an easy way to figure out who to talk with.

So most marketers avoid it altogether. Don't you think that Pop Tarts filled with Kraft cheese singles would be a hit? (They'd taste terrible, but kids and harried moms would go wild.) So why not a simple licensing deal or joint venture? Because there's no such thing as simple in this industry.

Take a look at the growth of the web. Most companies end up doing it solo, when it would have been so much easier to grow in concert. My friend Dev worked on a company that figured it could make money on the click after you bought something from a store. That's a wasted page anyway... you just finished buying, the page says thanks and you go somewhere else. Wouldn't it be great to just put that page to work? Sure, but doing that deal isn't so easy.

Next time you make a list of the top 10 things you can do to grow your organization, non-profit or cause, add bizdev to the list.

Data vs. Software

The last ten years online have been breathtaking, not because of software (which isn't much better) but because the treasure trove of data keeps getting better and better. Wikipedia, all by itself, is worth the price of admission.

This site gives a glimpse of the amazing collection of fixes and addons you can find for Firefox and other browsers. I highly recommend it. I can only marvel, though at how hard it is to do some things online. Why can't I, in one click, grab all the links on a page and save them as a text file?

While I'm at it, I think we're on the edge of two big software breakthroughs. The first is programs that live on the web instead of your desktop (I know, we've heard a lot about how this is the next big thing, but it's almost here) and second is in desktop software that is truly web-aware. That knows the definitions of words. That can update and correct and conform my address book. It's all still lousy, all still in the dark ages, but there are glimmers of hope.

For now, the data is far far ahead of the tools.

PS Randy came through with the magic tweak I asked for above. Really nice of him, though of course it shouldn't be bespoke! If it's something you've been wanting to do, here's how: First, make a bookmark. Second, go edit the bookmark by hitting "organize bookmarks". Change the URL to this: javascript:(function(){as = document.getElementsByTagName("a"); str =""; for (i=0; i<as.length; i++) { str += as[i].href+"<br>\n" }with(window.open()){document.write(str); document.close();}})()    that's it, done. And Joost just sent a clickable version:  javascript:(function(){as=document.getElementsByTagName("a");str="<ul>";for(i=0;i<as.length;i++){str+="<li><a href="+as[i].href+">"+as[i].href+"</a></li>\n"}str+="</ul>";with(window.open()){document.write(str);document.close();}})() Whenever you hit that bookmark, it'll open a new window with all your links on it.

Meatball Mondae (#2)

Talking 'bout a revolution...

Everyone studies the industrial revolution in school but most of us don't really understand it. The basic idea, it seems, is that Henry Ford, Eli Whitney and some guy with rifles invented the assembly line and the whole world changed in about a week.

Actually, we've had several industrial revolutions over the last 250 years. While the assembly line, the invention of the corporation and improvements in transport appear to be the obvious causes, it's easy to forget that in just a few generations we saw changes in every element of what it meant to be in business. Standardized quality control, innovative product design for utilitarian products, employees (!), branding, investment, advertising, insurance, product development... the list is miles long.

Why care?

Because just sixty years ago, there was another revolution. This one was caused by the triumph of mass marketing. General Foods, General Motors and the rest of the consumer-focused Fortune 500 are organized around a single idea: that efficient factories making average stuff for average people could triumph.

GM had a great run. So did tons of other companies. They figured out how to make stuff in large quantities. Run big factories. Hire and manage large numbers of people. The age of advertising ushered in a revolution that had more impact on organizations (and the planet) than any that came before it.

The Meatball Sundae is an idea that's possibly even bigger than that one. When mass marketing dies, the future of the companies that embrace this approach dies too. We're living through a wholesale change, but all most of us can do is worry about the color of the links on our blogs.

The Meatball Sundae has a subtle but subversive lesson: change the media, and the organizations change too. Kiva instead of the American Heart Association, Amazon instead of the local bookstore, MoveOn instead of the DNC.

We're spending a ton of time arguing about tactics, social networks and adwords. Behind the scenes, an even bigger revolution is brewing. It's the one where entire organizations change in response to the lever of the change in marketing. Henry Ford could have said, "we're all manufacturers" and been right. Today, we can say, "we're all marketers," and we will be just as right.

Every time the deck is reshuffled, the early players profit. You and I don't have the chance to build a mass media company ever again. But every organization has the chance to reinvent and grow in the face of the huge opportunity today's shift brings.

This sounds hard. It's not. Once you understand the key forces at work (I figure there are about 14 of them) it's actually easier to go with the flow than it is to fight it.

This is way too conceptual for a blog post or even a useful book, so I guess I'll ask the question this way: If you were alive in 1947 and knew what you know now about the last sixty years of mass marketing, what would you have done? What would you have built? Was it just about making better TV commercials?

[This post continues from the first in the series. Each week, I'll try to point to other blogs that riff on these thoughts. Last week's: here and here and here.]

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