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« October 2007 | Main | December 2007 »

That doesn't make sense

Ben has a post about a beer made by an order of monks in Belgium. These monks, who have taken vows of silence, only sell the beer by appointment, don't label the bottles, and severely limit the supply they create. As you can imagine for a beer that some call the best in the world, it has quite a cult following.

There are two ingredients to this remarkability. The first, as Ben points out, is the idea of ritual. By changing the way the product is created and distributed, they add a religious and spiritual element to the process (even if they weren't monks). Second, they're not trying to sell the most. That's critical.

When you try to maximize anything, you work to be efficient, to fit in, to appeal to the average person, since that's where the numbers are. Every time Budweiser makes a decision, it seems to make sense, since they're trying to sell the most beer. Most embraces systems and policies that make sense. But most rarely succeeds.

(Are you) Getting in your way?

So, as a percentage of the time you spend at work, what percent would you say qualifies as "marketing"? I'm going to count educating yourself, networking, creating products, creating media, spending money, building networks of sneezers, inventing great stuff, executing great stuff, motivating front-line people and telling stories.

The other two choices are:
selling your ideas internally/waiting for approval
and
dealing with the chaff of responding to inbound junk and wasted time in meetings...

I know some well-paid people who used to be world-class marketers who are now down in the single digits (less than 10%).

Ouch.

Always on (everybody markets)

I walked past a private dinner being given at a restaurant in New York last night. Perhaps forty people, listening to an after-dinner speaker.

The room was dead. People were sprawled over the chairs. One guy had his head down. Others were facing away from the speaker or checking their iPhones.

They didn't think of themselves as marketers in that moment, but of course, they were. They were marketing themselves to the speaker as uninterested, tired and hard to reach. They probably got very little back in the way of increased energy or enthusiasm from the person they ostensibly came to hear.

Every time you walk into a meeting, agree to sit in on a sales call, do a job interview or have a conversation with a consultant, you're marketing. You're either selling the story of your enthusiasm and attention, or you're not. And more often than not, you get what you put in.

Christmas shopping

A few unrelated ideas:

Brett at Google dropped me a line to let me know that CyberMonday (the Black Monday of online selling) is actually NOT the biggest shopping day of the online year. That comes in 10 days or so. What fascinates me is that online-only retailers do better closer to Xmas, but the online outposts of brick and mortar stores (like JC Penney) do better earlier. Translation: the Penney's and Target customers don't 'get' the whole fast-shipping thing, because when they think of traditional stores, they think slow. The Amazon customer has been spoiled, and in addition to one-click, is now trained to wait until the last minute.

The funny thing is that this is precisely backward what it was just five or ten years ago. Mail order was slow, last minute was for local.

Chris has put together a page about gifts for marketers. He invites you to add your suggestions. And for those in a hurry, focused on stuff in a box and looking for something likely to delight, I put together this one-click quick list.

Even better:

Fred has become one of more than 7000 people that have taken the handmade pledge.

And you can buy a school. Room to Read works with local villages to change lives forever. Or you can build lives in the rainforest. Check out Dos Margaritas.

The caricature of your brand

0513_nixon_cartoon Cory has a post that points out research demonstrating that police have better luck finding suspects using caricatures than boring sketches.

A caricature falsely highlights various anomalies while diminishing the boring parts. So Jay Leno gets a ridiculous chin, or Jimmy Durante gets an even bigger nose (okay, he had a pretty big nose).

The same is true for your brand, but even more so. The best brands are caricatures of their true selves. Yes, they must have exceptional 'features' (a step that's easy to skip, but without which leads to failure) but then, over time, those features become a caricature. During the formative days of Fedex, the caricature was that their drivers would even rent a helicopter to get just one package delivered on time. It's easy to turn Starbucks' variety and focus on your needs into a caricature as well, "half-caf, extra hot, short macchiato, extra foam, with soy, in a ceramic mug...."

As Nixon discovered, when the caricature becomes negative, it's almost impossible to escape (glad I'm not Bob Nardelli or a shareholder at Topps hamburgers). Worse than avoiding the negative, though, is the tendency for most organizations to resist creating a brand that can be caricatured. It doesn't feel safe or responsible or prudent. Coloring inside the lines and pleasing most of your customers most of the time almost guarantees you'll be bland.

It's a lot cheaper and faster and more effective to have a big nose.

False choices that work

Just finished buying some checks online. Got to the page with the ridiculous charges for shipping and handling. They were:

Slow...$14 (Expected delivery, December 15th)
Fast...$18 (Expected delivery, December 10th)
Expedited...$18 (Expected delivery, December 5th)

"Wow!" I said to myself, "I'll show them... I'll get the expedited shipping without paying a penny more than fast."

Perhaps I'm the only customer who had the insight, intelligence and flair to both realize it and take advantage of it. Perhaps some employee is quaking in his boots, fearful for his job because of the millions in losses his employers are going to take because he mispriced expedited shipping.

Or perhaps, perhaps, everybody chooses Expedited.

Nine times out of ten, especially online, people focus on comparisons, not absolutes.

Black, not meatball, mondae

Black Monday was 'invented' by my former colleague Jerry Shereshewsky in 1997. His idea was that since people did so much shopping at work, the real shopping day for Christmas was today.

The important takeaway for most marketers is this: an ever-increasing share of consumer spending is being done during the day, at work. In a place and at a time where you don't have a lot of reach or impact.

Bosses are already rabid about how much web-wasting goes on at work. Loud pop-ups and display ads aren't particularly efficient or effective as a strategy. On the other hand, promotions like this one at Amazon seem custom made for Black Monday.

PS not to disappoint, here's an interview about Meatball Sundae.

SEO for bloggers

A lot of useful insight (and a great example in itself of how to acquire traffic!) right here from Aaron.

When lies/spin become (too) easy

After you've spent a career saying things just to make people go away, I wonder if you lose track of the texture of what you're saying.

They're tearing down a classic diner in New Rochelle, NY and putting up a Walgreen's drugstore, right next to an existing CVS. The diner's fans are up in arms. Not to worry, the NY Times reports. Here's the key quote, unedited:

"Joel Sachs, a lawyer for the developers, said that Walgreens has realized from the beginning that the diner was an icon in the community and would be a sensitive tenant."

Sensitive? Does that meant that the Walgreens is going to serve bacon? Or does it mean nothing whatsoever?

It would certainly be more truthful to say, "hey, it's our right to put up a Walgreens. If you don't like it, you should rent the space instead." But that would be inflammatory, so it's easier to just spin, I guess.

[Two people have pointed out that my 'quote' is a paraphrase. It's entirely possible that Mr. Sachs didn't say anything about being a sensitive tenant. If that's the case, I'm just plain wrong. But (in this case, anyway) I don't think I am.]

Cowboy Junkies Paradox

Twenty years ago, the Cowboy Junkies released close to a perfect breakthrough album. It sold a bazillion copies.

Every since, they've been touring, making a living on the road as they've released almost twenty records, none of them monster hits in the US. The paradox occurs at their concerts... when they play one of the old hits, the crowd goes wild. The people most likely to come to their concerts are the ones most likely to encourage them to become an oldies act. Of course, once the group does that, people are going to stop showing up.

Marketers of all stripes face the same challenge. Your current customers want nothing but the old stuff, but the new customers don't know you exist, so they can't speak up.

[Clarification! I love the Junkies. I saw them last night. They were spectacular... I own more than half their twenty CDs and you should too... my point, which was defeated by brevity, is that the fans create the paradox. The fans, the ones that should be cheering on the hits and the misses, the ones that should  be demanding the next thing, they are the ones that create the paradox, because they're the ones that cheer loudest for the old songs.]

Making your customers uncomfortable

Tomorrow is the ridiculous Black Friday ritual, gaining in steam every year, in which large American retailers run big sales that start at 6 am. People line up even earlier to get in first. Kids are stampeded. Muscles are pulled. Friendships frayed. Credit cards exhausted.

Why? In an always-on internet world, why force people to do something they would ordinarily avoid?

Because they like it. It feels special. They are somehow earning the discount. The store creates discomfort and then profits from it. And the customers save money...

Southwest did the same thing to load their planes. By getting rid of boarding passes, they create a small sense of panic. People line up and push and shove to get on the plane in the mistaken belief that somehow they won't get on.

Southwest created discomfort and then got their planes out faster. And the travelers save time...

Better is not always better, at least according to some measures.

Thanks

The other day, someone pointed out to me that my blog is read by more people than 95% of all the magazines published in the US. She wanted to know why I don't try to monetize it. "Run ads," she said. "Or find a sponsor, or maybe even charge for it!" That's a lot of nickels, after all.

I tried to sum it up like this: Not only can't I imagine charging for my blog, I'm practically in debt to the people who read it. I ought to pay them, not the other way around.

Every time you read something I write here, you're giving me a gift... attention. It's getting more precious all the time, you have more choices every day, and it's harder and harder to find the time. I know. I'm grateful. I'm doing my best to make your attention worth it.

So, have a great Thanksgiving. And thanks.

Eye tracking rules

(some of which are made to be broken).

Tim points us to a terrific summary of lessons learned from eye tracking studies.

The highlights, in alphabetical order:

  • Ads in the top and left portions of a page will receive the most eye fixation.
  • Ads placed next to the best content are seen more often.
  • Bigger images get more attention.
  • Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixation.
  • Fancy formatting and fonts are ignored.
  • Formatting can draw attention.
  • Headings draw the eye.
  • Initial eye movement focuses on the upper left corner of the page.
  • Large blocks of text are avoided.
  • Lists hold reader attention longer.
  • Navigation tools work better when placed at the top of the page.
  • One-column formats perform better in eye-fixation than multi-column formats.
  • People generally scan lower portions of the page.
  • Readers ignore banners.
  • Shorter paragraphs perform better than long ones.
  • Show numbers as numerals.
  • Text ads were viewed mostly intently of all types tested.
  • Text attracts attention before graphics.
  • Type size influences viewing behavior.
  • Users initially look at the top left and upper portion of the page before moving down and to the right.
  • Users only look at a sub headline if it interests them.
  • Users spend a lot of time looking at buttons and menus.
  • White space is good.

The 7% solution

Okay, it's a simple idea:

If you're a real estate broker, you work in an industry where everyone used to charge the same fee: 6%. Now, though, discount brokers are turning up the heat on fees. Lots of brokers are unhappy with this.

The challenge is... what if you had to charge 7%. What if you had to charge more when everyone else was charging less?

What would you do? How could you make it worth it?

Now, just imagine what would happen if you did that at 6% or even 5%? You'd be unstoppable.

Similar idea, inspired by the crazy pricing of the Kindle: What if, when everyone else's blog was free, you had to charge money for yours? What would you do? How would you make it worth it?

Advertising creativity is not dead

Wootad ...though it might feel that way as we move pell mell toward a direct marketing, measured world.

This ad from Woot shows up if you do a Google search on the stock symbol for Google (goog).

As more and more advertisers wade online, competition will raise the bar for the steps you take to find the right people in the right frame of mind at the right moment. Some of that will require more cash, but mostly it'll be about being smart and sometimes, funny.

Meatball Mondae, again... this time it's about the wealthy

Parish Rich people used to all be the same, just different from the rest of us. Now they're not only different from the rest of us, but different from each other. Rich people used to do similar jobs, wear similar clothes, live in similar neighborhoods, and read similar magazines. As a result, marketing to rich people was pretty easy. No longer. As the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen, the number of people considered rich increases daily, and the diversity of the rich increases as well.

[By rich, I mean people with enough money to buy what you sell].

It turns out that not only are the wealthy like us, they are us. Despite the widening gulf between rich and poor, there are more wealthy people than ever before. In fact, you're probably one of them. Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske of BCG talked about this in their book Trading Up, and the trend has only become more pervasive.

That means there are rich NASCAR fans, rich porn stars, rich entrepreneurs in Kenya and rich teenagers. Every silo is discovering it can create a top tier.

You can catch up on the series by clicking here.

You won't find me on Amazon's new book reader

Bezoskindle_2 Newsweek has all the details right here.

I've been hyperventilating about Amazon becoming a book publisher since at least 1998. That's the juicy part of the business... finding writers for your readers as much as you spend time finding readers for other people's writers. A book costs about a dollar or two to print and sells for $20... Lots of room there for Amazon to integrate the process, to find long tail successes, to match hidden needs with authors needing promotion.

Kindle, the code name for their new ebook reader, gives them a platform where they can actually begin to be a publisher (though for now, they're resorting to acting like a low-paid middleman, once again leaving short-sighted publishers to cripple a new medium).

When Amazon came to talk to me about being included on the reader a long long time ago, I said sure, but.

The but is that I wanted my books to be free and included in every reader, and my blog, too.

The beauty of real books is that they don't require a reader, which means that millions of people are eligible members of the market. Even if you only have .0001% market share, you can still get your book read.

The challenge that my hero Jeff Bezos has is that if he's really really lucky, he'll sell a million of these things in a year. And that means that at $10 a book, you need to have significant market share to make an impact. The Sony reader has been out for months and it has sold, perhaps, a few thousand units.

My thought was to use it, at least for a few years, as a promotion device. Give the books for free to anyone who buys the $400 machine. (Maybe you can have 1,000 books of your choice, so there's not a lot of 'waste'.) You'll sell more machines that way, that's for sure. And the people willing to buy the device are exactly the sort of people that an author like me wants to reach. No harm, no foul, all three of us win. If there were a million of these machines out there and an author had a chance to have her next book show up automatically on all of them, few among us would say, "no thanks to that exposure."

This is a disruptive approach, the sort of thing only a market leader could pull off. It changes the world in a serious way. I wanted to be part of that.

I was unpersuasive. Sorry.

Saying goodbye

The restaurant in town closed about six months ago. For weeks, there was a sign about renovations. Then a new sign, this one promising big things. Then, of course, the "for rent" sign from the broker.

A software service I used for a while sent me a note today that read:

Please note that the service has reached end of life and is scheduled to be decommissioned on Monday, December 3rd.  Once the service has been taken down, all content will be deleted.  It is very important that you transfer your data to another service provider prior to this date to avoid data loss.

That's it. The entire note.

One last example: someone I hired a while ago changed her mind after the first day. She never showed up again. Didn't answer calls or email. Just vanished. Not dead, just a chicken.

It seems to me that you ought to say goodbye with the same care and attention to detail and honesty you use to say hello. You never know when you'll be back.

The end of misogyny?

For as long as I can remember, marketers have been using misogyny to sell products, get votes and attract viewers.

It's sort of astonishing... in my lifetime, we've seen the end of public (but certainly not private) attacks on people because of race or mainstream religion (fringe beliefs and sexual orientation are still fair game, apparently)... but trying to humiliate half the population because of their gender seems just fine.

That may be changing. There's a significant backlash about John McCain's handling of a question earlier in the week. If the questioner had used a similar epithet about a black person or someone from Poland, they would have been shown the door. At least I hope so.

And now Robert Greenwald has put together a really disturbing (NSFW) video of misogyny and pornography as broadcast on Fox News.

As Hugh Hefner demonstrated with Playboy fifty years ago, objectifying women was a shortcut to cash. And all you have to do is visit Las Vegas to see it happening in every hallway, on every billboard. What is now becoming clear is that many of the people in your market won't stand for it any longer. One more shortcut, gone.

Great job for the right person

Yasmina at Acumen needs help, and it just might be the most important job you ever do.

Acumen Fund is hiring for a new associate who can work with them on community building, new media, and communications... this individual would join the Portfolio Strategies team which focuses on sharing knowledge and influencing how the world tackles poverty. The associate would be primarily responsible for using the internet, video, and a range of tools available for building community to share what Acumen Fund is learning about effective ways to bring critical goods and services to people living in the developing word who make less than $3 per day.  Acumen Fund wants to engage a wide range of communities in our work, and will reach out to those that care about social entrepreneurship, strategic philanthropy, and solving the problem of global poverty.

Experience building on-line communities or working in communications, media, or video would certainly be beneficial in the role; however we are also looking for someone who is a self-starter and eager to learn new skills and bring their creativity to the work.

Acumen is the single best organization I have ever worked with. The smartest, most focused, kindest people doing the most important work I can think of. I don't run posts like this often, because, after all, it's not a job board... but this is the real deal.

The $8 billion story/scam

In case you had any doubt that human beings are irrational creatures, driven by stories, consider the case of the gift card.

Christmas has become a holiday about shopping, not about giving. Case in point: the $100 gift card, now available from banks, from stores, even in a rack at the supermarket.

Last year, more than $8,000,000,000 was wasted on these cards. Not in the value spent, but in fees and breakage. When you give a card, if it doesn't get used, someone ends up keeping your money, and it's not the recipient. People spent more than eight billion dollars for nothing... buying a product that isn't as good as cash.

Along the way, we bought the story that giving someone a hundred dollar bill as a gift ("go buy what you want") is callous, insensitive, a crass shortcut. Buying them a $100 Best Buy card, on the other hand, is thoughtful. Even if they spend $92 and have to waste the rest.

The interesting thing about stories is that the inconsistent ones don't always hold up to scrutiny. Consumer Reports and others are trying to spread a different story. One that sounds like this:

Gift cards are for chumps.

If enough people talk about this new story, people will be embarrassed to give a gift card. It's a waste. It's a scam. It's a trap for the recipient.

The irony is that the gift card companies could easily spend, say, half the profits and create a wonderful, better story... where every $100 gift card also generates two or three dollars for a worthy cause. That would resonate with a lot of people... But I think it's unlikely.

If I were a creative non-profit, I'd start marketing alternative gift cards. They would consist of PDF files you could print out and hand over to people when you give them cash. It could say,

"Merry Christmas. Here's your present, go spend it on what you really want. AND, just to make sure we're in the right holiday spirit, I made a donation in your name to Aworthycause."

Stories come and go. It's up to marketers to spread the good ones.

Conceal vs. Reveal

Ritzwholewheat Marketing spends a lot of time concealing things.

Take this box of Whole Wheat Ritz crackers. The #1 ingredient? White flour.

Or consider the fine print read in a hurry at the end of the car ad or the fact that most bottled water comes from the tap... Most contracts are designed to conceal as much as to reveal, which is one reason lawyers get a bad rap.

If you set out to conceal as a marketer (airbrushing a photo, leading with your strengths, staying within the letter if not the spirit of the law) it's easy to invent creative new ways to achieve your goals. It sure feels as though you can stay ahead of the game.

Scallops_2 A different technique is starting to gain traction, though. Working to reveal instead of conceal. My fish monger in Grand Central has started placing signs in front of each fish. They describe exactly where the fish came from, whether it's healthy and how endangered it is. You'll never see fine print saying "previously frozen." They don't have any fine print. The first few times you visit the stand, it's actually off putting. It takes the romance and pleasure out of buying the fish, because you realize that there's a cost to it. The meat guy across the way doesn't have pictures of cows being slaughtered, does he?

But after a while, because the information is out there, because smart fish buyers already know some fish is endangered, the signs give you power. They allow you to make smart choices. They send a message to the customer about the honesty and intent of the seller. They build trust.

Once you embrace the idea of revealing as much as you can (consider Amazon's policy of selling the cheaper used copies right next to the new ones, as well as featuring ads from competitors on the same page) it's a lot easier to live and thrive online.

[Jess sends us this post from her blog. Apparently, Monsanto has made it against the law for Pennsylvania dairies to reveal what's in (and not in) the milk they sell. Astonishing.]

Who pays the messenger?

In just about every business, the last mile accounts for the bulk of the cost of the service or good being sold. Retailers get half. Insurance people get commissions. Distributors make their share.

When the internet drove the cost of some things to zero, the equation could change, because you don't need to pay a messenger when your offer is so irresistible. So, free email could be free not just because it's so cheap to run and because you have ad revenue, but because you don't need much of a marketing effort to get the word out.

As we enter a new stage of post-industrial businesses, it's easy to forget to build in the cost of the messenger. A great idea isn't a great idea unless you can pay someone to help you spread it, to help you overcome our natural inclination to ignore you or to say "no," purely out of habit.

If you're not going to plan on paying the messenger, your offering better be so remarkable and have such a viral story that your investment in product eliminates the need for media and sales.

Meatball Mondae week 9: The Long Tail

[Somehow, this post disappeared. I'm trying again!]

(Almost) everyone wants choice

Choice makes some people stressed and unhappy. But it also makes lots of people happy. And now people have the choice

By itself, a bias for choice is interesting but not particularly surprising. What's surprising is the magnitude of this desire. My favorite example is the comparison of a typical Barnes & Noble store with Amazon. If you examine the sales of the 150,000 titles in a big store, you'll see that they account for perhaps half of Amazon's book sales. In other words, if you aggregate the millions of poorly selling titles on Amazon, they add up to the total sales of all the bestselling books in the physical world put together.

Another way of looking at it: More people watched more video on YouTube last week than watched the top ten shows on network television.

Another way: A quick look at your grocer's beverage aisle will prove to you that Coca-Cola is no longer the most popular soft drink in the country. The most popular soft drink is "other": none of the above.

The mass of choices defeats the biggest hit.

This curve shows up over and over. It describes travel habits, DVD rentals, and book sales. Give people a choice and the tail always gets longer. Always.

The Long Tail has been around forever, but only now does it really matter. That's because of several trends working together:

a. Online shopping gives the retailer the ability to carry a hundred times the inventory of a typical retail store.

b. Google means that a user can find something if it's out there.

c. Permission marketing gives sellers the freedom to find products for their customers, instead of the other way around.

d. Digital products are easy to store and easy to customize.

e. Digital technology makes it easy to customize non-digital goods.

The question isn't, "Is this real?" The question is: "What are you doing about it?"
         

The rest of the series is here.

What brand is your mattress?

According to a Times interview with the head of Tempurpedic, you don't know.

That's how they built a built a billion dollar company. By getting 2% of a market that doesn't care about brands to care about them. A typical marketer looks at this and says, "great marketing! You branded a product in an unbranded marketplace."

I actually don't think that's what really happened. I think what happened is that every single product in the mattress market was perceived as the same, so there was no reason to care about which brand, because, frankly, it didn't seem to matter. Like brands of gasoline or milk.

Many marketers are excited about a brand-free market. They walk in wads of cash and try to buy share. They believe that the brand can build the product. That's backwards.

When you change the product enough, branding happens.

There are two traps here:

first, entering a brand-free market where people have been trained to ignore the various competitors is really expensive, because people aren't listening, no matter how great your offer is. I think Tempurpedic got a little lucky.

and

second, believing that you can have the brand before you have the product. You almost certainly don't have the money to pull that off.

He also said that 95% of his customers have recommended his product to others. Not the brand, not the experience, but the product. I have, it's true. I've recommended a thousand dollar mattress to someone. Go figure.

The internal blog

I think it's time you put up a blog for internal use.

Use a password if you like.

Use it as an internal diary, a way of tracking each day so that a month or a year from now, you can look back at where you were and how you dealt with the issue of the day. Even if no one else on your team reads your blog, the act of creating it will be worthwhile.

Perspective is worth a lot more than it costs.

"A potential spoiler"

Here's a quick way for the mainstream media to enrage people: In a New York Times review of Ron Paul's latest TV commercial, Julie Bosman concludes, "The advertisement accomplishes what the Paul campaign said was its modest goal: to introduce Mr. Paul to voters in that state, where he is emerging as a potential spoiler in the Republican primary."

But this isn't a post about politics, it's about spoiling things.

When you're trying to sell something new, particularly in a business to business setting, there are always people like Julie Bosman. They are the defenders of the status quo.

They have an important job to do: to point out to everyone the risks of change. To identify potential spoilers.

You don't have to like Ron Paul's politics to be annoyed at this (I'm not voting for him), particularly if you're an agent of change, someone who tries to sell growth or new ideas or even a product.

The thing is, being annoyed at it doesn't do you any good at all. The status quo police aren't going to go away, and in fact, they are often a big help in that most of your competition is held at bay by them.

So, how do you persuade the status quo police to stop treating you like a potential spoiler? You don't. I don't think you have a prayer. Instead, you create an environment where her colleagues and her family persuade her.

The establishment didn't like the microcomputer (the president of Digital Computer thought it was dumb), the iPod or even Nike sneakers. The establishment didn't like Jimmy Carter's chances the first time out either. You can spend all your time selling the establishment, or you can just work around them. Sell to people who are listening. Create stories that spread, from the converted to the skeptical.

Go spoil something!

The Seth Godin Boxed Set

I've been playing with this idea for about eight months and it's just about ready. I'm really pleased at the finished product.

I've never offered a video or a training product, despite the fact that I get asked about it a lot. I figured (pre-glasses) that it was time to give it a try.

These DVD products usually run about 45 minutes and sell for $900 to a thousand dollars. I thought I'd try something a little different. In addition to my seminar, I wanted to add some other elements that make it more interesting and useful to a wider audience.

I'm producing a four DVD set.

The first DVD includes a full speech I did in Denver in March, along with an hour-long interview with Charlie Rose. The next three DVDs include six hours of informal Q&A from a seminar I did this fall. Eight hours of me (heaven forfend!) and the price is $800. $100 an hour, more if you nap.

I'm going into production now and I realize that I have no idea how many to make. So, here's the deal:

If you're interested in buying a set for your company, click here and drop me an email. I won't bill you or even make you promise you'll actually cough up the money. But I will add you to a list and alert you when it's ready, and I'll use your note to guesstimate the interest. I'll keep the email lines open for two weeks and then let everyone who responded know what's up. All I need is your contact info... it's not for correspondence, please.

You get the rights to watch the thing as often as you like, and to show it to groups as large as 30. It's pretty clear I can't visit as many places as I'd like in order to give my seminar, so this is a chance to go places without flying. Not included are the rights to do large group presentations or to post it on a public or private server. Unfortunately, it's not an erasable DVD, so you can't delete me and put Seinfeld on instead.

Anyway, let me know if you want me to plan on making a set for you. Thanks.

Put it in your portmanteau

Jonathan points us to FreeRice.

Sites like this rarely have a valid business model, but it doesn't make them less fun. I was amazed at how well I did. If you're a web developer, notice how interaction leads to involvement which leads to learning and exploration. In that order.

Small business success

Three things you need:
1) the ability to abandon a plan when it doesn't work,
2) the confidence to do the right thing even when it costs you money in the short run, and
3) enough belief in other people that you don't try to do everything yourself.

Sorry to talk so long...

I was at a gala a few weeks ago (featuring no less than ten speakers). At least 80% of them began their talk by saying, "I know you're hungry, but..." or "I know it's late, but..." or "I know you want to go home, but..." and then apologized for giving a speech.

If your speech needs to be prefaced by an apology...

don't give it.

That's why they call it giving a speech. It's a gift. If you have to apologize, it's no longer a gift, is it?

Our collective fear of public speaking has created a host of awkward situations and events. It's pretty simple: Be brief. Or don't come at all. Don't do anything you need to apologize for.

(and brief means sixty seconds, usually. That's enough to say hi, to say thanks and to move on.)

FaceBook's Hotmail problem

Real old-timers remember Hotmail. They came out of nowhere to become a massive ideavirus. growing exponentially and then selling to Microsoft for more than $400 million (in cash).

And yet Microsoft has never ever come close to making a profit on this. Why?

Because Hotmail trained users not to click on the ads. The last thing you want to do while checking your email is to stop doing that and read some ads, or to click away to another site.

The mistake Hotmail made? Not building a permission asset. What if registration gave you a choice of 5 or 10 or 1,000 different newsletters you could get for free every week. (Pick one for your free membership, or pick as many as you want). And what if every newsletter was filled with actual news and plenty of free samples, gift certificates and big time savings directly related to your topic?

Most people would look forward to the newsletter. The ads would be a bonus, not a penalty.

When someone goes to FaceBook, they're not looking for stuff. They're looking for people. But people don't buy ads, stuff does.

That's a problem.

Any platform that makes ads a distraction or a cost is always going to fail compared to a site where the ads are a welcome part of the deal.

[Many readers have pointed out that Hotmail has added newsletters. My point is that if the newsletters are the core of the offering, they work. If they're just hype or a waste, there's not so much point.]

Spam: They still don't get it

Michael got a note from Dell today, shortly after buying a computer at work. It starts:

Thanks for doing business with Dell! As a gesture of our appreciation, you're receiving a subscription to the weekly Dell Small Business E-mail Update. Every issue is loaded with great deals on the latest technology — from systems and servers to TVs and printers.

Just keep watching your inbox for exclusive promotions in the weeks to come.

A "gesture of appreciation"? "Watch your inbox"? Maybe on Planet Dell people fall for this, but most of the people I know just delete it and end up thinking less of a company that cares that little about their attention.

I got a call today from The Better Business Bureau. Jeannie wanted me to call her back--reason unspecified. I did. It turns out that her job is to voicemail spam a list of more than a hundred people every day, hoping they will join the BBB. When I pointed out that this bait and switch was surely injuring their good name and that spamming people to get them to buy a membership didn't seem quite to their ethical standards, she got all "that's my job" on me. She pointed out that my number wasn't unlisted and it was legal for her to call me. I guess it is. Though I'm not sure it's productive or helpful.

She pointed out that some people she called actually buy a membership. When I asked about the people who didn't, the ones who felt as though they'd been tricked, she didn't really have an answer. I think she deserves a better job.

Meatball Sundae VII: Election Day Edition

In the new transparent age, it's really difficult to tell two stories simultaneously.

Why George Allen won’t be running for president:

It was a great Web moment. George Allen was the Republican Party’s next star, anointed as a potential candidate for president in 2008. But first he had to win the Senate race in Virginia, considered by many to be a layup for him.

The traditional way to run a political campaign is to control your message. Control what you say and when you say it. Control who hears it.

Tell one story to your raving fans, and a more moderate story to people in the center.

As voters have seen again and again, politicians are good at this. Some people call it lying. But in general, politicians have gotten away with it.

The top-down, control-the-message strategy worked in the past for a few reasons:

  • Media companies were complicit in not embarrassing the people they counted on to appear on their shows and authorize their licenses.
  • Politicians could decide where and when to show up and could choose whether or not they wanted to engage.
  • Bad news didn’t spread far unless it was exceptionally juicy.

But George Allen discovered that the rules have fundamentally changed. Allen’s challenger asked S.R. Sidarth, a senior at the University of Virginia, to trail Allen with a video camera. The idea was to document Allen’s travels and speeches. During a speech in Breaks, Virginia, Allen turned to Sidarth and said, “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia,” said Allen. As I write this, YouTube reports that Allen’s slur has been watched on YouTube more than 318,000 times. Add to that the pickup from the broadcast media (which picked it up because it was popular, not because it was “important”), and you see why George Allen lost the election.

The ironic part of the appearance is that the first words out of Allen’s mouth on the tape are, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re going to run positive campaign.” The story didn’t match the facts, and the facts showed up on YouTube.

Summary for nor non-politicians: You can't tell two stories at the same time. Not for long.

Catch up on the last six installments of this series here.

Some recent posts on other blogs:

Seth Godin Dishes Out Meatball Sundaes, megaphone or magnet, Seth Godin: Meatball Sundae Webcast, Fraser Mcculloch, 60 Minutes with Seth Godin and a Meatball Sundae, You So Can Do This | iScatterlings, myblogharvester.com, myblogharvester.com, Seth Godin Likes Meatball Sundaes?, Pre-SES Chicago Seth Godin Webinar, Pre-SES Seth Godin Webinar, Bruceclay.com - Pre-SES Seth Godin Webinar, Notes from a Seth Godin Webinar, david dalka, » Seth Godin Dishes Out Meatball Sundaes, Seth Godin Asks: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync?, Blogging? Consider this advice, www.tmesolutions.co.uk, Seth Godin and a Meatball Sundae and BL Ochman.

What you can learn from the primaries

Clintontriangle This year, the presidential candidates in the US are going to spend a fortune (or perhaps two or three fortunes) marketing themselves in the primaries. Any product or service that is being launched has to deal with its own 'primary.' Here are a few universal lessons any marketer can take away:

  • Primary voters pay attention. They need far less yelling than the typical consumer, and many of them will go out of their way to poke around. Go where they are, and they'll listen.
  • Primary voters are not everyone. They have different needs and beliefs than the mass market.
  • Primary voters want a candidate that will offend other primary voters.
  • Primary voters want authentic, direct communication.
  • Primary voters are still people. They are often fooled by great haircuts, well presented speeches or the paint job on the tour bus. (Not for long, though--it wears off).
  • Primary voters don't care a bit about how your candidate is doing in another state.
  • Primary voters establish the stories that last long after the primaries are over. When Hillary Clinton has to deal with accusations of triangulation, she knows that they will stick with her for a while.
  • Primary voters are far more likely to talk to each other about candidates than other people are.
  • Primary voters are far less likely to need to know who is going to win before they 'waste' a vote. Witness Ron Paul's legions.
  • Primary voters, like all human beings, have a limit. They are not insatiable. They can be spammed to excess.
  • Primary voters want to be heard, not just led.
  • Primary voters make unreasonable demands.
  • Primary voters want to be treated with respect.

Change your clocks

Here's why.

What is the 'live web'?

You didn't realize it, but just about everything you do online is asynchronous.

Craigslist ads run on Thursday and you see them on Friday and get the job on Monday.
Email gets sent at 2 and you read it at 3 and write back at 4.
eBay listings run for a week.
You're reading this post later than I wrote it (for your sake, I hope that's true).

There are a few reasons for this. The biggest one is this: TV works as a live medium because millions watch just a few channels. The web needs to be asynchronous because there are too many channels! If you had to be 'tuned in' to see a blog post or read an email (the way you need to be tuned in to catch a live phone call or hear something on a police scanner) you'd miss too much.

Technology in the form of fast enough bandwidth is combining with a bigger audience to create live pockets online now. This blog feed, for example. This post was on it at 7:36 EST, but you missed it.

Watch for more live stuff. It'll probably happen in places where there are clearly defined and very motivated audiences, and in pockets where there is so much value to be gained by monitoring the live feed on the web or your phone (like stock news or leftover tickets) that it's worth your attention.

States rights

If you own a web page, you really owe it to yourself and to your users to pay attention to state.

Don't treat everyone the same. First time visitors want something different than repeaters. Loyal customers want to see something different from the masses.

Get your IT person to show you how to divide the world into states. Then start from scratch and make a different experience for everyone.

[PS years ago, at Yoyodyne, we had a wannabe competitor who kept stealing our ideas. We programmed the site to recognize traffic from their site and put up all sorts of fake announcements and stuff, just to throw them off. You can get really specific if you want!]

Changing the game

Google announced an open interchange that allows users to take their social graph with them from one site to another. MySpace just joined in. This changes the rules for FaceBook, because now users have a choice of picking from dozens, soon to be hundreds of open sites... or just one closed one.

How can you change your game?

Consider the plight of Mike Huckabee and John Edwards. Both are making strong runs for the nominations of their parties, but both  suffer because they're not seen as front runners. So why not change the game? Instead of waiting for a TV network to invite them to a debate, why not make your own TV show? Debate each other, in public, in Iowa. Broadcast the whole thing on YouTube. When you're done, challenge others in the opposite party to debate you, one on one. On your channel. What are they, chicken?

Consider the sandwich/burger shop/deli on a street crowded with choices. What to do? Why not get rid of all the meat and become a vegetarian/kosher sandwich/burger shop/deli? Now, it's five competitors and you. Anyone with a friend who eats carefully will bring her to your shop, the one and only one of its kind.

Usually, when you destroy the barriers in an existing industry, everyone loses... except you.

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