Don't Miss a Thing
Free Updates by Email

Enter your email address

preview  |  powered by FeedBlitz

RSS Feeds

Share |

Facebook: Seth's Facebook
Twitter: @thisissethsblog






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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list


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



All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

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




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 08/2003

« November 2007 | Main | January 2008 »

Marketer of the year, 2007

It's a tie. Two marketers, same category.

My criteria:

  • focus on authentic storytelling
  • ability to not just use the web for marketing purposes, but to let the web drive the entire tone of marketing and product development
  • desire to push through the dip and to either quit or win
  • willingness to stand out and do things that people want to talk about
  • guts to avoid burning the permission asset of supporters by spamming them to senselessness

Both winners built world-famous brands in less than a year of effort. Both paid for their marketing largely through self-liquidating campaigns on the web itself. And neither one of them has a job you will ever likely have. Which makes it even easier to learn from their work as marketers.

In two days we find out if either one of them actually built a marketing campaign that worked. It really doesn't matter, though. The fact that they've gotten this far (with diametrically opposed points of view, by the way) is proof that this marketing thing isn't just a fad.

You've probably guessed my two winners: Ron Paul and Barack Obama. Who would have guessed two years ago that without much help at all from the establishment, either would be where they are today? That's the power of the new marketing.

If you want to read more, in order, my books on this: All Marketers are Liars, Meatball Sundae, The Dip, Purple Cow, Permission Marketing.

If you have to drive tonight, don't drink, okay? Happy New Year!

Nickel and diming

If you run a business that's "all inclusive" (like a buffet, a resort, a membership organization or even a consulting practice) you really only have two ways to increase your profits.

The first way is to figure out how to get more money out of each customer. That means a surcharge on the special lobster appetizer or a small extra fee for better service. It means coming up with ways to not actually be "all inclusive", to give the customer less unless they pay you more.

The goal of this method is to come up with goods and services that have a low marginal cost (your cost of getting or delivering one more) and a high marginal value (what it's worth to the customer). So, if you can charge the best members of your club a $500 fee for attending a networking event that only costs you $3 a person to host, you're going to see a large increase in profit.

The second way is to figure out how to give your customers more. To be even more "all inclusive" than the competition. To find countless items of low marginal cost and just include them. Why? Because it creates return visits from your existing base, and even better, is a significant investment in word of mouth, the most effective marketing available to you.

The Beaches resort in Jamaica prides itself on great people (true) and on being totally all inclusive (not so true). I was there for a few days for a family reunion and it was pretty clear to me that an MBA on a mission was at work. The nickel and diming adds up. He had scoured the place to find ways to charge just a little (or a lot) more as often as possible.

Wifi is a great example. The marginal cost of hosting one more person on a wifi network is as close to zero as something can be. Charge people more than $10 a day and suddenly you're making hundreds or thousands of dollars of extra profit. Or promise free scuba, but charge people $70 for a checkout course before you let them dive... low marginal cost, high incremental profit.

I have no doubt that this works in the short run. It might even work out to be a viable marketing strategy in some markets. However, the alternative is worth considering. Not only do everything you say you're going to do, but do more.

Offering low marginal cost items for free is a shortcut to generating word of mouth, which is a lot cheaper than buying ads.

Do heavier packages pay?

We just measured a Poland Spring bottle (the new design) and discovered it weighs precisely half of an empty Gatorade bottle.

That's a lot of shipping, hefting and plastic. Multiply half times a million trillion and that's huge.

Does it increase sales? My guess is that beverage marketers are too smart to have not considered this, so the answer is probably yes.

Same way the fancy iPod box is a lot sexier than the one they use when you get a free replacement at the Genius bar.

Trivial stuff, certainly. Yet it makes a huge difference. Will it flip soon? Will smaller and lighter begin to equal sexier?

[Update: the facts behind the example are a lot clearer now, thanks to a friend who works in the water business. Before I share his take, though, it's important to recognize that fashion often follows function... in other words, even though there are functional reasons for the example above, they may very well incite the fashion... He writes:

I thought I would give you a little context around the heavier bottle:

1) First off, be the lightest bottle in the marketplace, for two reasons:
    a) Given the environmental impact of water packaging, it's the right thing to do
    b) It makes good business sense to reduce packaging...helps offset rising commodity costs

2) Gatorade (and most other bev manufacturers: Vitamin Water, etc.) HAVE to use the heavier bottle due to the process they use to fill their containers.  It's called the "hot-fill" process (I'll spare you the details, but you get the point).  This allows them to avoid using artificial ingredients and preservatives.

3) Soda bottles also use heavier bottles due to the integrity needed to avoid exploding bottles (carbonation).  You'll notice that both Aquafina (Pepsi) and Dasani (Coke) water bottles also use the same heavy bottles...they are purely leveraging existing soda will also see that this is quickly changing as they too are lightweighting their bottles.

So that's it.  Not sure I answered the question of whether heavier packaging increases sales (in our experience, functionality trumps weight)...but I do know that our industry, and CPG companies in general are under tremendous pressure from retailers to lighten their environmental footprints.  While today's consumers are slow in adopting the same concerns, we believe that ultimately "greener packaging" (and products) will begin to make inroads into purchase decisions. ]

Hey kids! It's finally here...

Seth_godin_action_figure_6"I'm not kidding," says Mitch.

"It sounds too fantastic to be true," wrote Mark.

Yes, the Seth Godin Action Figure, with built-in Brandomatic® and PurplePower® is finally ready and you can be the first on your block to have one.

IMPRESS the Harvard MBA down the hall!
VANQUISH low-cost imports and cost-cutting impostors!
DOMINATE emerging markets!
FLOOD your site with web traffic!
DEMONSTRATE a sense of humor!

Not only that, it makes a great paperweight.

The new SGAF comes with mostly articulated joints and is guaranteed to improve market share for all respectable brands (mileage may vary in certain EU countries.) When used as directed, the SGAF can get you better freelance assignments too!

Apple Computer, Starbucks, Nike, JetBlue and 37Signals had nothing to do with the creation of this product and are not mentioned in any of the marketing materials. Guaranteed.

Here are five ways leading marketers are putting the action figure to work in companies just like yours:

  1. Leave one on the desk of that guy who's always trying to spam your mailing list.
  2. Wave one in a budget meeting and watch your allocation soar.
  3. Hang one from your rear-view mirror and watch traffic tickets become a thing of the past.
  4. Hand them out as favors at your next convention or trade show booth and people will line up, at least until the guy across the aisle restocks his post its.
  5. Put one under your pillow and overcome writer's block.
  6. (bonus) Include one in your next job application.

Of course, the Seth Godin™ Action Figure isn't for everyone. One noted tech blogger said, "What a total waste of non-recyclable plastic. Godin has finally jumped the shark. This one is certainly headed for the dead pool."

Is that all you get?

Of course not.

Every ActionFigure™ comes with a tiny book, maybe even a booklet, filled with pithy sayings that will be familiar to readers of this blog but perhaps inform the uninformed. And yes, there's a money-back guarantee! If you discover that the SGAF™ doesn't get you a significantly better job with 18 months, mail it back to me for a complete 100% non-questions-asked refund.

Need an idea? Rub my head.

And here's the best thing: It only costs $9. Which is like 30 cents for people with euros.

And an even better thing! All my proceeds, every penny, go to the Acumen Fund. Not suitable for children under three or for cynics.

Full disclosure: They only did me because David Sedaris turned them down and Steve Jobs, who occasionally has better judgment than me, wouldn't even consider the idea. Who's next? Michael Crichton is too tall (plastic costs too much), so I'm hoping for Malcolm Gladwell.

PowerPoint slides sold separately. Batteries not included, or required. Will not melt under ordinary use. Not safe for use in the microwave. Void where prohibited. Woodie the wonder dog sold separately. Not responsible for typographical errors.

[Yes, it's funny. Yes it's real. I love Archie McPhee and this one is a dream come true for me. It's also an interesting take on the 'brand as souvenir' riff we've been talking about. Do you think it will outsell Freud? Or the Librarian action figure? Surely I can beat the librarian...]

Only two years left

This is my last post until next week. I want to thank you for reading this year... I'm sure I get more out of this than you do, and I appreciate your attention.

In the meantime, here's a post from four years ago. There's only two years left in the decade, so time's a wasting... Happy new year.


Here's a question that you should clip out and tape to your bathroom mirror. It might save you some angst 15 years from now. The question is, What did you do back when interest rates were at their lowest in 50 years, crime was close to zero, great employees were looking for good jobs, computers made product development and marketing easier than ever, and there was almost no competition for good news about great ideas?

Many people will have to answer that question by saying, "I spent my time waiting, whining, worrying, and wishing." Because that's what seems to be going around these days. Fortunately, though, not everyone will have to confess to having made such a bad choice.

While your company has been waiting for the economy to rebound, Reebok has launched Travel Trainers, a very cool-looking lightweight sneaker for travelers. They are selling out in Japan -- from vending machines in airports!

While Detroit's car companies have been whining about gas prices and bad publicity for SUVs (SUVs are among their most profitable products), Honda has been busy building cars that look like SUVs but get twice the gas mileage. The Honda Pilot was so popular, it had a waiting list.

While Africa's economic plight gets a fair amount of worry, a little startup called Kickstart is actually doing something about it. The new income that its products generate accounts for 0.5% of the entire GDP of Kenya. How? It manufactures a $75 device that looks a lot like a StairMaster. But it's not for exercise. Instead, Kickstart sells the machine to subsistence farmers, who use its stair-stepping feature to irrigate their land. People who buy it can move from subsistence farming to selling the additional produce that their land yields -- and triple their annual income in the first year of using the product.

While you've been wishing for the inspiration to start something great, thousands of entrepreneurs have used the prevailing sense of uncertainty to start truly remarkable companies. Lucrative Web businesses, successful tool catalogs, fast-growing PR firms -- all have started on a shoestring, and all have been profitable ahead of schedule. The Web is dead, right? Well, try telling that to, a new Web site that helps organize meetings anywhere and on any topic. It has 200,000 registered users -- and counting.

Maybe you already have a clipping on your mirror that asks you what you did during the 1990s. What's your biggest regret about that decade? Do you wish that you had started, joined, invested in, or built something? Are you left wishing that you'd at least had the courage to try? In hindsight, the 1990s were the good old days. Yet so many people missed out. Why? Because it's always possible to find a reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. And yet, in retrospect, it's hard to remember why we said no and easy to wish that we had said yes.

The thing is, we still live in a world that's filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity -- we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.

Are these crazy times? You bet they are. But so were the days when we were doing duck-and-cover air-raid drills in school, or going through the scares of Three Mile Island and Love Canal. There will always be crazy times.

So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That's why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.

You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It's never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment -- just one second -- to decide.

Before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that's to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great?

What's the point of this interaction?

Every time you interact with a customer, you're engaging in marketing. Doesn't matter if you're instituting a policy, gaining some data, delivering an invoice... it's a marketing interaction.


When you bother 100 customers to get useful data from 2, you just paid a marketing cost.

When you yell at a classroom full of kids because one kid misbehaved, that's a marketing decision.

When you make 5,000 non-smugglers wait in a steaming customs hall at a resort destination, you may think you're doing your job and collecting those little white forms, but what you're really doing is marketing (negatively).


When you bring a little candy (which wasn't required) with the check (which was) you're using the transaction as an opportunity to do positive marketing.

Here's a little thought experiment that will show how your managers are misjudging these interactions: Go ask your front line people what they're doing when they're doing what they think is their jobs. Like when they're ripping tickets or answering the phone or filling out a form with a customer. How many say, "I'm using this as an excuse to market to our best customers"?


When I was in college, the Dean tried to put together an advisory group of students. Nobody he invited joined--it wasn't worth the time. Then he named it, "The Group of 100" and in just a few days, it was filled. The easiest way to have insiders is to have outsiders.

Credit card companies have made billions by selling a card that others can't get.

Politicians stand up and talk about their (exclusive) religion, or pit one special interest group against another.

And of course, the best nightclubs have the biggest velvet ropes and the pickiest doormen.

Limiting the supply of your service, or the quantity of your product, or being aggressive in who you sell to (and who you don't) are all time-tested ways to build a killer brand. Humans like being insiders, and will work hard to create their own imaginary demarcations to demonstrate that they've made it inside.

Populism is almost always a hard sell, it seems.

When Tiffany's lowered prices and quality and tried to reach out to the masses, they almost went bankrupt.

The Net seems to be turning some of this upside down. Twitter and Yahoo mail and eBay are completely populist. Hotornot, flickr and other websites have embraced this idea as well. (Worth noting that gmail started as a totally insider service, with a limited number of invites, shared person to person).

It's interesting to take a second to look at wikipedia. It started with the most populist, inclusionary point of view of all, but over time, people being people, a hierarchy and inner circle has been created. The exclusion is based on effort and skill, not race or income, but it's still exclusionary. And at its best, it makes the site work. When it fails, it limits discussion, reinforces small thinking and enrages the outsiders.

The first thing I'd ask myself before launching a product, a service, or a candidate is, "who are we leaving out?" If the answer is no one, be prepared for uncharted waters. The future of marketing (at least the big successes) is going to be fueled by those with the guts to embrace the masses. The profits, at least in the short run, may well be found by those that embrace exclusion.

One last thing: while people are delighted to be included (and seem to enjoy excluding others), the benefits they feel are dwarfed by the anger and disappointment of those excluded. It's something that people remember for their entire lives.

What does Santa look like?

Cocacolasanta712w Coke didn't invent Santa. The astonishing thing is that for a moment we might even believe that they did. If you think about it, our conception of just about every distant historical or mythical figure is just an artifact of the stories that marketers have told us. Sometimes they're marketing for profit, other times they're just spinning a tale (Washington and his cherry tree).

It all comes down to two simple things:

  • Most people want to believe.
  • And we're most comfortable believing what everyone else believes.

Frequency, Frequency, Frequency and the paradox of the Net

The #1 contributor to success in advertising, without any question whatsoever, is frequency. "Repeat yourself until everyone is annoyed but your accountant," says my friend Jay Levinson.

Most of the time, creative entrepreneurs lose interest long before their marketing message loses its power.

The challenge online is this: smart people are bored by frequency. The people you're trying hardest to reach won't sit still for repetitive messages. I used to read a certain blog religiously, but after the 300th irrelevant post about his new book, I had to flee. I haven't been back since.

So this is the dilemma. If the most powerful asset online is permission, the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to the people who want to get them... and the most powerful tool of advertising is repetition and frequency, which the majority of prospects cringe at (but which works) what to do?

I think there are two strategies that are shaping up online.

The first: burn your permission. Every time you have something to sell, either buy enough ads on popular sites to achieve frequency, or just burn out your core base by repeating your message over and over again. At least you'll make enough money to be able to rebuild your audience later.

The second: go easy on the frequency and embrace your audience. Give them what they want (interesting, new stuff) instead of what you need (frequency). Play for the long run.

I don't think there's a right or a wrong. But I do think actions have consequences, and you should be aware of them when you make your choice.

Learning from flirting

When you get a chance, go take a look at I'm in Like With You.

Not a great name, but a very neat site. Here's what I learned:
a. there's a generation that has absolutely no patience for the interfaces you and I love.
b. the opportunities in creating engagement online are far bigger than most people anticipated.
c. this is just the beginning.
d. there's no way, none, that tradtional online ad models will generate revenue for sites like this.
e. more than almost anything, people like looking at pictures of themselves (and those that admire them).

Given the choice, that teenager you're trying to market to is ignoring you and she's on this site instead. Take it or leave it.

The joy of the commons

We're all familiar with the tragedy of the commons. It's the idea that if everyone shares a resource with no consequences on their individual behavior, people will take but not give and everyone will lose.

Garr Reynolds shows us the joy of the commons. Basically, he's written a book (the book) about presentations and PowerPoint and put entirely too much effort into it. It appears that it has taken him tens of thousands of hours, tweaking endless invisible details to bring us this piece of work.

Because the market is crowded, he overdelivered. Dramatically. And it shows.

I've built a page about his book and his work. I can't imagine someone who gives presentations not being positively impacted by this book. Well worth it.

Thanks, Garr. Go get some sleep.

Your ads are not for you

Here's the puzzling math of advertising, offline and on:

  • Everybody doesn't read, remember or click on your ads.
  • Nobody isn't the right answer either.

In other words, you don't get 100% attention when you buy an ad. In fact, you don't get 50% attention or even 1%. If you're very very good and very lucky, it might be .1% but it's more likely to be one in 10,000. Which is exactly the right number, it turns out, to make advertising work. Any lower and you couldn't afford it, any higher and everyone would need a warehouse, not a house, to store all the stuff they bought.

This is no accident, of course. We look at ads when we need to. Then we stop.

The real question is this: who's likely to look at your ads? Because that's who you're advertising to.

This is especially important online, because an unclicked text ad is truly invisible, with very little subliminal value. One surprising view is that  the typical clicker is female, lower-than-typical income, interested in sweepstakes and coupons. Not that surprising, actually, since if your 'need' is for that sort of content, you're going to click often, and forever. People who click on ads for class action lawyers or kitchen renovation stop doing so once their project is complete. So they're outnumbered.

Anyway, stop advertising to yourself. You're already sold. You're not the target market.

...and your clicks for free (the new ebook)

MoneynothingcoverFor the last two months I've been working away on a (short) ebook about traffic. Traffic to your blog or your company site. It has evolved quite a bit, and ended up using Squidoo lenses as a template for the point I was trying to make.

There's an enormous amount of superstition about what makes some pages rank high while others languish. When you look at the actual figures, though, much of that fades away.

It turns out that the new playing field enforced by the search engines is eliminating many of the shortcuts that used to be effective. In other words, the best way is the long way.

The long way is to create content that is updated, unique and useful. Again and again we see that sites that do all three manage to get more than their fair share of traffic. So, I guess the title of the ebook is a bit misleading. The clicks don't cost money, but they do take effort. That's good news for people who have more talent than cash. I hope you'll find it useful, whether or not you use Squidoo. Click here to start the PDF download. The book is free to post or share.

For scholars who just can't wait

We built a new front door that makes it easy for you to build a scholarly page, filled with details, facts and more on Squidoo. And of course it will be indexed all over the web...

Self promotion

37 Signals, as usual, has a thoughtful post about self promotion.

Except they missed the biggest part, by a mile.

They don't do self-promotion. Self-promotion, as the term is used by many people, is a mildly pejorative way to describe someone who promotes himself at the expense of others.

Nobody says, "That Yo Yo Ma, he's so self-promotional," or, "can you believe what a self-promoter the Dalai Lama is?" That's because they're not promoting themselves. They're promoting useful ideas. They're promoting tactics or products that actually benefit the person they're reaching out to.

Paris Hilton is a self-promoter. You don't get any benefit out of her appearances other than temporary entertainment value and some schadenfreude. The guys at 37 Signals have never done a bit of self-promotion in their entire careers. That's because they're doing you-promotion, not me-promotion.

Facebook for old people

Daan points us to this very funny image. (this link is the original source).


eBooks for sale

While I've had some luck selling ebooks, I've particularly enjoyed giving them away free. While I was busy doing that, an entire industry has evolved around selling pdfs. The math is simple: sell 10,000 at $30 each and you too can move to Gozo and sit in the sun.

The vernacular of the sales process is fascinating, though. Apparently, many ebook authors believe you need to write pages that are 56 inches long, filled with claims, promises and fake book covers. (and sometimes, as you'll see below, this works quite well).  I'm not sure that this, by itself, is the future of the medium, though. I think it belongs to people who find a following, curate information for them, build a permission asset and then write a tremendous ebook at a fair price.

Here are two approaches you might want to look at:

Darren and Julie Getting to First Base: A social media marketing playbook.
Aaron Wall SEO Book.

Meatballs and permeability

A few decades ago, Tom Peters argued that outsourcing everything in your company (and letting the various departments compete with outside vendors) made a lot of sense. If you need to run your copy department or factory efficiently enough to compete, you will, the thinking goes.

Logistics turned out to be a big problem with this idea. The fact is, atoms have to travel, so there's a built-in advantage to the in-house solution.

Bits, on the other hand, don't care so much about where you are. I needed some typing done on Saturday, so a click to Craigslist and then an email and... it was done. In half the time and for less than half the cost of having someone on staff to do it. At most organizations, especially those with more than fifty employees, there are people standing by to either make things get done quickly (like filing or typing) or to slow them down (like committees, lawyers and approvals, etc.). In each case, those skills aren't nearly as valuable as they used to be.

When your organization starts freely sharing internal data (like rolodexes and schedules and cost info) and allows easy use of motivated outsiders, things get faster and cheaper and smarter. That's one of the side effects of organizing around the new marketing as opposed to organizing around the factory.

David's review of the new book is here. Also, a interview with Bryan that goes live today right here.

Building a platform (and thinking about Google's Knol)

At the end of November, I flew out to give a speech to 350 Google folks. They had invited me to join a panel on the best way to for Google to work with partners.

My riff (I only had about 8 minutes... gotta hate panels) was to point out that AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo and others before them had had the same challenges in building an environment that attracted partners and media companies. (I had run companies that worked with each of them). The question it turns out, is always the same: do you have a platform that I can build a business on?

Obviously, a lot goes into that calculation. It’s not just tools and technology. It’s attitude and predictability. It also involves a threshold, an attainable goal that separates insiders from outsiders.

Take Hollywood, for example. There are literally tens of thousands of people and organizations that have built a business around the movie-making platform. The major studios provide a predictable, profitable place to make a living. Screenwriters, technology companies, advertising agencies--they know that they can depend on the system, and even better, they realize that once they’ve paid some dues, they can profit over time by getting better gigs, more reliable income streams, etc.

Wal-Mart has done the same thing with the businesses and vendors that count on them. They have created a series of rules and procedures and over time, it gets easier and easier to make a living working with them.

Small organizations can do the same thing. Restaurants, for example, build a universe of staff and vendors, each of whom is making a small bet on the stability of the platform as well as the opportunity to exploit economies of scale as a trusted partner.

The challenge for Google, I pointed out (and was echoed by others on the panel) is that the 'algorithm' that drives the search engine doesn't favor trusted partners. The New York Times should get the benefit of the doubt, for example, more than it does. It's easy to argue for the democratic nature of search results, but both the business environment and human nature demand elements of promotion and trust.

Anyway, I got back from my trip to Google and crunched some numbers and posted this good news about Squidoo. We’ve hit profitability, grown to be three to five times as big as others in our space and reached more than 125,000 users. A good day.

The very next day, Google announced Knol, a direct lift from Squidoo circa 2005. Apparently, Google wants to be in our business. It’s almost enough to ruin your day.

Then, a funny thing happened: I started getting notes of congratulations. Of all the business models and all the internet ideas to jump on, Google had chosen ours. There were hundreds of neat ideas out there, but they picked ours.

That goes a long way to legitimize the original idea. It brings new users into the space. It makes it easier to find partners who want to exploit this ‘new’ idea. It allows room for creativity. It's not about whether or not someone should be doing this. It's about which place they want to do it in. That's a huge change.

Just as the acquisition of blogger led to an explosion in blogging software, Google’s Knol makes the space pioneered by Squidoo a lot more attractive.  Apparently, the best thing that can happen to you if you pick Google as a platform is that they mimic you. This isn't true in the restaurant business (it's bad news for the farmers when a restaurant starts its own farm). This isn't true for Hollywood (it's bad news when the movie studios start their own film processing labs.) The nature of the Web, though, seems to be that because of the very openness of the system, imitation is the highest form of endorsement.

[aside: I couldn't resist responding to Udi Manber's posting about why Google is launching Knol. He said, "We believe that many do not share that knowledge today simply because it is not easy enough to do that." Well, I took the sample page (under Creative Commons) that his wife had written and turned it into a Squidoo lens. I even added a few features that would double the income she might earn for the charity of her choice. It didn't take very long.]

What good writing looks like

PJ O'Rourke in the Times:

Clark talks a lot about the determination, drive and persistence of the Starbucks Corporation. But if those were the sole qualities of success, toddlers would rule the world. Clark makes much of Starbucks’s discovery that it could put one store close to another and both could thrive. But you can line a street with fire hydrants and dogs will use them all; that’s not necessarily a recipe for wealth, especially if you try to charge the dogs.

Facebook's generational challenge

Last month, I posted about Facebook's issue with ads. I just had two fascinating interactions with the site that point to the good news and the bad news about their future.

I'll confess I'm not a Facebook user. I have an account as a way of checking it out, but I've 'friended' very few people. Why? Because if I friend you, especially someone I don't know, I'm giving you explicit permission to start a fairly intense series of interactions. This makes good commercial sense if you're an insurance salesman or even a musician looking for gigs, but if you've got a limit on the time you can invest, it's not only time-consuming, it's a recipe to bitterly disappoint people. I'm amazed at people who claim to have a thousand friends on FB. Friendship is a little like the Navy. Either you're in or you're out.

What I've recently discovered is that even my real friends, the handful I've got on my list, aren't so good at answering messages (at least messages from me). Three out of the last four people I pinged, folks that would always answer a phone call or an email, haven't written back. That's probably because my generation hasn't figured out how to filter, prioritize and work with the incoming the way we have with email.  This test group appears to have fallen into the trap of accepting friend requests because they didn't want to offend people and now they're overwhelmed with noise, all of it at precisely the same level of urgency. There's no doubt that technology will come up with a far better solution--networked friend-based messaging ought to be super smart and efficient.

The flipside? A friend got into college last week. The university gave her a list of the kids from our state who also got in. Within 24 hours, they were all friends. ALL of them! They knew who knew who, what they looked like, what their histories were. Facebook to the rescue. A new network built on the old network within minutes. By the time September rolls around, they won't need college, they'll need a reunion.

Apple's next problem

AppleseverywhereWalked into Starbucks two days ago and saw five people with laptops. Every single one a white Mac. Five unrelated people out of five, same machine.

When your entire culture is organized about being the other, the outsider, the insurgent, the one that's better than the masses... (like Starbucks, btw), what do you do when you are the masses?

It's a good problem to have, but it's still a problem.

This is the new politics

Forget about YouTube debates.

The future of politics looks just like what Cory did to the Canadian DMCA the last few weeks.

One person, with just a few hard-working people in the field, managed to derail a bill that lobbyists spent millions of dollars on.

Sure, it helps that it was a lousy bill, that Cory co-writes the most popular blog in the world and that the bill was about something that blog readers care about. Doesn't matter. Because as readership grows and issues start attracting loyal readers, what this proves is that Tip O'Neill was wrong. All politics isn't local. All politics is about permission. The permission to share your views with people who want to hear them, people who take action, people who tell their friends.

Nice work, Cory. Who's next?

[Right issue, wrong guy, I'm told! Cory was the one I noticed, but Michael was the point man.]

The Billion-Dollar T-Shirt

Billiondollartshirt This is my favorite article of clothing, and for good reason. It's a t-shirt I produced in 1994 (14 years ago) to promote a book I worked on for almost a year. The book was more than 500 pages long. The t-shirt cost me at least a billion dollars.

In 1993, I knew a fair amount about the internet, more, I daresay, than most people. I had built products for Prodigy, was working with AOL and had even used a prototype version of Mosaic. I saw what was coming.

So, my company decided to write The Best of the Net. Instead of building a search engine or an auction site or a payment system or ... we decided to spend a year writing a book.


Agenda. Every morning in those days, I woke up and asked myself a question: What should I write a book about?

Assets. I had all the tools I needed to write and sell books. I had a great team, access to the publishing community, a brand... I figured my job was to leverage those assets.

Assumptions. I assumed that the world would stay pretty much the same while I leveraged my assets and completed my agenda.

So I ended up with a t-shirt.

That's what happens in markets that move. If you don't figure out how to set aside your A, A & A, you can't possibly grow. You can't take advantage of changes and opportunities. You snooze, you lose.

Getting sad at Whole Foods (more vs. less)

A trip to the Whole Foods Market used to be really fun. It's an amusement park for food, a place where the lights are bright, the vegetables are fresh, the potato chips apparently guilt free.

Sometime in the last year, it feels to me, the story changed.

The mantra of "less" which is a natural offshoot of carbon-footprint thinking, combined with the mantra of "less" which is a natural offshoot of overfishing, combined with... have made shopping in a store like this a contest over who can have less impact.

So, here's a can of tuna, but maybe that's not okay because it's a can and it's tuna.

And here's an avocado, but maybe that's not okay because it came a long way in a truck.

And on and on.

For me, local and organic is a treat. I feel great doing it and I'm happy to invest the time to go to the Union Square market. I wonder, though, about how long the legs on that story are. If we're going to make people feel guilty when they spend money, pretty soon they're going to start ignoring the story that makes them feel guilty.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you were supposed to clean your plate when eating because somehow that was going to help some starving kid in China? That story didn't last so long.

I'm more and more convinced that the best hope for the eco movement is to tell a story of efficiency and growth and ingenuity. More is easy to sell. Less almost never is.

My DVD boxed set is now shipping

It's designed for training departments and other organizations with a budget for this sort of thing. 8 hours of video, $800. All the details are right here.

For a list of free ebooks, check out this page.

Thanks for reading.

w00t, localvore and gullible

Dictionaries have discovered that they can get publicity by picking and promoting new words. Megan points us to the selection of w00t by one dictionary. Another picked localvore.

I think this trend won't last long. The best promotional gimmick will be the dictionary that finally has the guts to print an edition missing the word gullible. Practical jokers everywhere will need a copy.

Real people invade Amazon

First, this note via Richard.

And then, this review via Micah.

I wonder what it would take for humans to invade your company?

URL Hygiene

Here's a neat blog about good urls and bad ones. Mostly, though, it's about how you present your URL in your ads.


Tip two: we've probably reached the state where you don't need the www. in order to communicate that it's a URL.

Tip three, and the hardest of all: just because it's the best URL you could get, or just because you and your team 'get it' doesn't mean it's going to work.

People don't truly care about privacy

There's been a lot of noise about privacy over the last decade, but what most pundits miss is that most people don't care about privacy, not at all.

If they did, they wouldn't have credit cards. Your credit card company knows an insane amount about you.

What people care about is being surprised.

If your credit card company called you up and said, "we've been looking over your records and we see that you've been having an extramarital affair. We'd like to offer you a free coupon for VD testing..." you'd freak out, and for good reason.

If the local authorities start using what's on the corner surveillance cameras to sell you a new kind of commuter token, you'd be a little annoyed at that as well.

So far, government and big companies have gotten away with taking virtually all our privacy away by not surprising most of us, at least not in a vivid way. Libertarians are worried (probably with cause) that once the surprises start happening, it'll be too late.


This leads us to's new Eraser service, which promises to not remember stuff about your searching. The problem they face: most people want Google and Yahoo and Amazon to remember their searches, because it leads to better results and (so far) rarely leads to surprises.

The irony is that the people who most want privacy are almost certainly the worst possible customers for a search engine. These are the folks who are unlikely to click on ads and most likely to visit the dark corners of the Net. If I were running a  web property, I'd work hard to attract the people who least want privacy and want to share their ideas with everyone else

Make promises, keep them, avoid surprises. That's what most people (and the profitable people) want.

Meatball Mondae: Millions of channels on AdWords

Google AdWords is a very simple idea that’s surprisingly little understood. On every page of Google search results, in your Gmail and your Froogle results, and more and more on the pages of other Web sites (like Squidoo or the New York Times), you’ll find these ads.

The AdWords are smart. They appear based on the context of what you’re doing. Search for “Bextra” in Google and you’ll find plenty of articles about this discontinued pain reliever. But look over at the ads and you’ll see that many of them belong to law firms. These firms are paying handsomely for your attention. They are filing class action lawsuits on behalf of people injured by Bextra, and the law firms figure that the very best way to reach those people is to find them at exactly the same moment that those people are looking for them. In other words, instead of racing around trying to generate attention, the firms merely stand by and wait for attention to find them.

Not since the Yellow Pages has there been a ubiquitous directory that brings together the searchers and the sought.

Not only do AdWords show up at the right time, but they are also priced intelligently. The Yellow Pages charged based on the size of the ad, and you paid whether the ads worked or not.

For AdWords, on the other hand, Google charges by the click. This means that the advertiser determines what it’s worth to get a visit from an interested, qualified, and motivated consumer and pays exactly that. If someone else is willing to pay more, they get the traffic instead.

The bidding system means that the advertisers with the most motivation pay the most for top billing. At the same time, Google will adjust placement based on how many times an ad is clicked on. As a result, the ads that run the most are focused, relevant, and beneficial to both sides.

While this is clearly good news for Google (millions of businesses and organizations bidding against each other, with all the money going to Google!), it’s also great news for marketers. Even marketers who don’t think of themselves as marketers.

The Kahn Law Firm probably thought of themselves as litigators, not marketers. But by using AdWords to assemble a large class of people who saw themselves as victims of a poorly labeled medication, Kahn has an advantage over other law firms. Kahn wins this round not by using their litigation skills, but by understanding the New Marketing.

Every day, hundreds of millions of people do hundreds of millions of searches on Google. Each search is its own “channel.” Each search represents a distinct marketing vehicle, a chance for an individual to directly connect with a marketer.

So the question is this: If there were a TV channel all about exactly what you sell, and the ads cost about $1 each, would you buy them?

See the entire series here.

Thinking about Canadian pricing

For a long time, Canada was a hassle. I still remember years ago, going to "Canadian pricing meetings" where we could discuss how to price our software for the Canadian market.

Canada is a fantastic country, almost certainly more attractive (in terms of a place to live or people to hang out with) than any other I know of. But for US manufacturers, it's a foreign country, with customs and distributors and yes, currency exchange. For decades, the US dollar was worth more than the Canadian, so the easy thing to do was to jack up your prices. Now you had extra cash flow to make up for the difficulties.

Of course, the loonie is now worth more than a buck, so from a marketing point of view, Canada is a huge issue. When you have $28 written on your product but try to sell it for $35 in Canada, you're doing nothing but annoying your northern neighbors. When you prohibit your Detroit car dealers from selling cars to visiting Canadians, you're enraging them.

When I was growing up in Buffalo, businesses had three choices when dealing with visitors from Canada (just ten miles away): they could take Canadian currency but charge a fee for the transaction, they could refuse to take Canadian currency, or they could take it at par even though it was worth less.

Guess which companies got the business.

I think you have the same choice today with the products you export. If you expect to get your fair share of the market up North, you better have parity in your pricing, even if it costs you more to get the product there.


In a new study released in today's Times, it turns out that the typical NY police officer only hits 34% of the time she fires a gun. Even from a distance of six feet or less, it's 43%. Obviously, Bruce Willis is the exception.

I wonder how it changes your decision making when you discover that you're only going to be successful one out of three times. Never mind blasting a weapon out of an assailant's hand, we're talking about hitting the target at all... How does a cop have the guts to even pull a weapon knowing that most of the time, it's not going to have its desired effect (my guess is that the threat and the noise and chaos is as positive an outcome as an actual hit...). I know I would never have the guts to do that job.

Salespeople have a harder time with this than marketers. Marketers have lots of 'bullets' and they don't notice the ones they miss (I usually miss 99.5% of the time online, and more than 99.999% of the time selling books). We just reload and blithely continue on. But salespeople have to deal both with personal rejection and the expectation of the boss.

The poor hit rate of selling explains call resistance. Non-professional salespeople almost aways wash out because they can't keep at it, day after day, once they realize that most of the time, they fail. I guess my point is that if a policeman can risk his life doing it, we can probably find the nerve to go on one more sales call.

How long has it been...

since you went an entire day without buying anything at all?

Monopolies, seven years later

Seven years ago, I wrote an article about media, copyright, monopolies and the future. You can find the unedited version right here. I'm fascinated by the stuff I got right, and amused that while the concepts are there, many of the examples would be different today.

Here's a (slightly) shorter version, because most people don't read long stuff so much:

You're a monopolist.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

If you're reading this magazine, it's likely that you're a successful member of the profit-seeking entertainment industry. And if you're making money in movies, books, music or TV, it's because you can take advantage of a legacy of monopolistic (or maybe oligopolistic) practices.

Having a monopoly is fun and exciting and fraught with power. It's also intoxicating.

How else to explain the hubris of three of Hollywood's best and brightest launching a well-funded website that managed to go out of business before it even launched? If you're used to being able to corner the market, it's easy to think that another medium is just another medium.

How else to explain the exploits of the RIAA as they valiantly duel with Napster, trying to put the genie of widespread music distribution back into the bottle. They're used to having a monopoly on the distribution of music, and they want it back.

How else to explain the antics of the book industry as they stumble their way through the minefields of Microsoft, Stephen King and free e-books? "Publishers control the distribution, not these weenies, dammit!"

It was great to be a monopolist. Steady profits and no hassles. It would be great if we could stay monopolists forever, wouldn't it?

Before you call the Justice Department, let me explain. The limited supply of content, the few choices of distribution--these practices are all legal... most of them are actually enforced by the government. But understanding where these monopolies came from (and why they're going away-fast(!)) will give you a new way of looking at your business, and it turns out that this sort of analysis can open amazing new markets and new ways of generating profits.

We know that if you offer a smart consumer two products that are absolutely identical (same quality, similar brand attributes, just as convenient), she'll choose the cheaper one. Gasoline stations have price wars-but movie theatres don't. Supermarkets lose money when they sell milk, but TV networks are dedicated to turning a profit on just about everything. The heart of the media business is the prospect of being a monopolist-of getting paid a lot more than our products cost to make. But when the monopoly goes away, there's not a lot of room for obscene profits. In markets where people have a choice between equals, the cheapest and most convenient often win.

Over time, the media business has done everything it can to be sure that consumers don't have a choice. After all, a CD increases in price about 25 times from the time it's made to the time it's purchased by the listener. And a TV ad that costs a network zero to broadcast might end up selling for a million dollars.

There are three things that led to the monopolies we now enjoy:

  1. The FCC limited the number of TV and radio stations in every market, allowing three networks to dominate TV and the record companies to dominate radio.
  2. Copyright ensures that we can charge a lot for a book or a record... way more than it costs to make it.
  3. The limited number of physical distribution outlets (record stores, movie theatres) guarantees that distributors with clout get more shelf space.

This triad is responsible for the profits you're enjoying right now. Imagine a nightmare of a world in which all three legs on this stool disappear. At the same time.

Time to wake up. It just happened.


The past, the glorious, profit-making, fun past of the media business was based on:
• scarce creators, under long term contracts
• scarce retail outlets, able to be controlled with marketing muscle
• scarce spectrum (few radio stations, few TV stations)
• copyright laws (and a lack of technology) that limited theft of services
• limited power of the creators to compete without a large media company as partner

It's hard to outline a point of view that shows the power of any form of media getting stronger over the next decade. There are going to be more TV channels, not less. More ways for authors to distribute their works, not less. More ways for musicians to connect with listeners, not less. More ways for consumers to sample or take content, not less.

You were a monopolist. You're not anymore.

To succeed in the old days, here's what you needed to do (choose any two!):
1. Grab a piece of the electromagnetic spectrum, hopefully one limited by the government
2. Buy up the supply of actors or writers
3. Establish long term profitable relationships with distributors and retail outlets

Welcome to a new century. In the new century, we all have the same goal:
1. Establish a direct and positive relationship with the end user.

It sounds easy. It's not. It's scary. It's likely to wreck your business before it saves it. Doesn't matter. The truth is: businesses that don't aggressively pursue this tactic will disappear.


How dare he! He has no big studio money. He has no relationships with CAA and he doesn't exhibit at Cannes or NATWest. Yet he has an audience around the world. Yet he's building characters with real value-characters that will become toys or movies or t-shirts. He has violated every single rule of the old order, and he's still succeeding.

Could you imagine this happening ten or twenty years ago?

Now do this: Visit Publishers Lunch You'll get a free subscription to Publishers Lunch, a daily newsletter chronicling what's going on in the book business. It's free, of course, and it's always interesting and occasionally juicy. It's written and distributed by one guy, who every day increases his power by talking to thousands of people in the book business.

Could you imagine this happening five years ago?

Sorry to remind you, but consider the Drudge Report. Four years ago, nobody had ever heard of Matt Drudge. Today, for many Americans, he's one of their most important sources of news. He paid no dues, didn't work his way through a corporate hierarchy, owes nothing to the head of the network.

Hardly seems fair, does it?



Are all three of these examples perfect businesses, bound to bankrupt you and your peers? No way. They're nits. Chinks in the armor. Little businesses that might get bigger. Sure, there are tons of example of well-financed new media companies that went under. That's not the point. The point is that individuals with little or no money are building real media properties that are attracting the consumers that you want to attract. There will be plenty of carnage and disappointments in this new arena. Who cares? What matters is that there is a new arena. It's mere presence means that the monopolies are dying.

I had coffee with the executive producer of a network news show last week. He told me that every year, in addition to getting smaller in size, his audience, on average, ages almost a year. The people he needs in order to maintain his monopoly are finding something else to do with their time.

Need more proof? Take a look at Tivo and Replay. These digital VCRs have tiny audiences (but expect a bunch to sell this Christmas). It's easy to dismiss them as toys for the digerati. Easy, except for one fact: 80% of the people who use one of these devices skip all of the commercials during the shows they watch. ALL of them! Imagine. So much for the business model of the most powerful medium of all time.


Face it. The barriers are falling and they're falling fast. If there are limits to how many competitors you were facing, those limits are going away. There used to be room for just a few movies to open over Labor Day. But when movies are shown on DVD players in my house and yours, there's room for hundreds of millions of movies to open on the same day!

Think it's easy to sell banners on the Internet? There are 40 million different sites, with more every day. How much of a premium are you, the advertiser, willing to pay for one thousand impressions on this site instead of that site? That's why the CPM went from $100 a thousand to a buck in less than two years. What happens to the ad sales of your TV network when there are 40 million different TV networks? What happens to the budget for your new arthouse movie when there are millions of people cranking out their own arthouse movies?

You're not going out of business tomorrow. The structures you've built and perfected are going to stick around for a long time. We still want blockbuster movies and the Top 40 and Tom Clancy's next book. But it's not going to get better, more profitable or more fun. It's going to get worse.

As I write this, NBC has flown hundreds of its best people to Sydney. Is it possible to overpay for the Olympics? When the mass market is long gone, and network viewership is at an all time low, probably not. It's a fun way to revisit the glory days of Ed Sullivan and Mary Tyler Moore. Alas, in the long run, the folks who run the Olympics will end up with all the money and NBC (or whatever network is dumb enough to take its place) ends up with two weeks of memories and a black hole where their wallet used to be. People are wringing their hands over NBC's Olympic ratings. They say they're lousy because of the time zone issue. Nonsense. They're lousy because Americans are no longer willing to sit down for two weeks and all watch the same stuff, especially when it's jammed with irrelevant commercials.

The alert reader now interrupts and shouts, "Wait a minute!" After all, just went bust. Viacom spent a ton on MTVi, and look where it got them. And Warner Bros. spent years and years with an entertainment portal (lately called Entertaindom) and it tanked as well.

"We're not against new media. We just think it's a bit of a fraud."

And my response is to cry foul. I spent years dealing with many of these organizations, and I was astonished and overwhelmed by the combination of old-media thinking, arrogance and lack of vision they managed to squeeze into just a few very well furnished audiences.


...Don't bring the old monopoly-driven mindsets to the non-monopoly marketplaces! Just because you can get away with being a bully ("Do you know who you're talking to!") in your current job doesn't mean that the mindset is going to fly in a world where the rules are different.


So now, the good news:

Oprah Winfrey launched a magazine in the Spring. It has millions of readers, starting from zero. Probably profitable from day 1.

Stephen King wrote a book and more than 150,000 gladly paid him for a chance to read the first chapter.

Jimmy Buffet is one of the most successfully recording artists working today, and he rarely makes a record.

The answer to your monopoly problem is to create a new monopoly. I call it the Permission Monopoly.

Here's how it works:

Everyone has a limited attention span. We can't read all the books we want, listen to all the music we want, go to all the movies. So we filter. We ignore. We procrastinate. And we hide.

Have you heard the new album from Bill Frisell? Read Descarte's Error? Seen Croupier? Didn't think so. No time. Of course, if someone you trusted insisted that you spend the time to try them out, you might. Of course, if they were created by people you'd liked in the past, you'd be more likely to try them out. If you could try them out for free, you'd be more likely to try them out as well.

In the past, Tower Records or The Tattered Cover or WNEW or General Cinema was appointed (by default) as the arbiter of what we'd pay attention to. If it got played on the radio, we heard it. If it was by the cash register, we saw it. If Brandon Tartikoff liked it, we watched it.

In today's million channel universe, though, those arbiters are a lot less powerful. Now, maybe I want Slate to recommend it. Now, maybe the programmer of my internet radio station has to cue it up.

So, without powerful arbiters, it's way harder for powerful media companies to modify the marketing conversation. Way harder for ten well-funded salespeople to get shelf space everywhere that matters. Way harder for a crack PR person to get you a review in just the right publication.

What's a megalomaniac media mogul to do?

The wrong strategy, it seems to me, is to go court and try to stop the leaky bucket. It also seems like a mistake to call the authors and filmmakers and others who abandon you, "crazy" or "short-term focused" or to say, "well, they can get away with that but the others can't."

The defectors know something you don't. The defectors know that if they hurry, they can build a new monopoly, a monopoly you don't control. They know that they can build a direct and long-term relationship with the end user, one that will survive competitive incursions and will last a long time. if they hurry.

And so, learn from these folks. you should hurry. You must hurry. If you understand that the game is radically and permanently being changed, you can go out today and start building mutually beneficial relationships with your listeners/readers/watchers. You can offer these folks something of value in exchange for their attention. You can then build a new monopoly.

Imagine trying to get Bill Clinton to allow you to publish his new autobiography. What happens when you can say, "We have a permission-based relationship with 32 million Americans, all of whom look forward to hearing from us every two weeks with our hot new book offerings. And by the way, our competition doesn't even have 10 names."

What happens when you're trying to break a great new trance band, and you have permission to send the first single, by e-mail, to 600,000 kids who loved the last trance band you broke? Think that helps your career?

PLEASE NOTE: I'm not talking about treating consumers the way you and other marketers have been treating them for a century. No churn and burn. No contemptuous, "we'll talk to you when we want to, otherwise keep quiet!" And no renting, buying or selling lists. No, I'm talking about treating this new client the same way you treat your most important retail account or radio station or theater owner. You don't show up at his house in the middle of the night (or if you do, you bring a big box of cubans). You don't send them e-mail spam, or call them on the phone over and over again.

You have a relationship. You understand that every interaction has to benefit BOTH of you or the relationship is over. If you're going to build a monopoly on consumer attention, you'll need to do the same thing.

Here's how I boil it down to as few words as possible:
1. Make it easy for your happy users to tell as many of their friends as possible.
2. Give away free samples early and often.
3. Get permission from anyone who likes what you do to follow up with anticipated, personal and relevant messages that benefit both of you.
4. If this requires changing what you make and what you charge for, fine.
5. If steps 1,2, 3 and 4 mess up your current business model, fine.


The new monopoly of the future is permission. Permission to talk to your customers directly about new stuff. Permission to teach, permission to ask, permission to learn. If you have that monopoly, you profit over and over and over again.


The power is certainly moving. It's moving from five oligopolistic status quo gatekeepers that controlled money and promotion and retail to a much messier, faster-moving, more interesting amalgamation of database keepers, musicians and fans. Today, there's a chance to co-op parts of that system. Tomorrow, that chance will be gone.

Ham for Channukah

Thanks to Jon and Mordechai for this photo.[original source] Sometimes, a little knowledge isn't such a good thing.


The discipline of one ring

There were 12 people on line at the post office today. That's fine, I guess, because for most shipments, the post office is both a monopoly and a pretty good value. So service isn't high on their list.

There are many businesses, though, that have no other useful tool available to build market share. They can't profitably advertise (at least not so much any more) and they have competition. So they say they're in the "service business."

But then, here comes the dreaded, "due to unusually heavy call volume..." or the line at the door or the interminable wait for a waiter.

[To interject: I'm not arguing that every business practice needs to be instant, or totally cater to the needs of the user. For example, I don't think Google ought to have operators standing by to answer toll free calls from people who don't know how to use the search engine. I'm arguing that if you're going to compete on service, you ought to compete on service. Back to the post...]

So, some companies have decided to answer the phone on one ring. Fedex did this for a long, long time. Rackspace still does, which is exactly why we chose them (and they've made enough from one account with us to pay for dozens of people to answer the phone...).

When you need to answer the phone in one ring, you discover exactly what it means to provide a certain level of service. Either you're succeeding or failing. So you hire more people and devote more resources, because there is no slippery slope. On or off.

Expensive? Well, it's more than you're spending now. But it's cheaper than advertising and cheaper than losing a customer to the competitor who had the discipline.

When spam approaches infinity

After years of resisting, I finally gave up yesterday. I turned on the Yahoo spam filter.

So far, it's caught 443 pieces of spam in 14 hours. The problem is that it's wrong about .5% of the time, which means that two good mails got caught. If you write to me and I don't write back, try not to give up. I'd ask you to write again, but of course, that won't help so much.

What a shame that we let organized crime, aggressive promoters and selfish nebbishes wreck such a useful medium.

[Thanks to all your suggestions, I switched to Google's spam filter. It's terrific.]

Fools, facts and the more we know.

Neal points us to: Saying more by saying less.

This post then leads to an extraordinary blog post. It's long enough to be a book and includes more than a thousand comments. It's a piece of work that would be hard to imagine in any other medium. The filmmaker Errol Morris analyzes two photographs (of cannonballs!) and tries to figure out which one was photographed first. The key quote:

"Certainly the more information we get, the higher the level of ignorance seems to be."

Time has a long tail too

Bevan points us to the Terry Tate commercials from Reebok. Three years ago, they were a big hit for the company. And they're still a big hit online, gaining more than 2,000,000 views across six or seven commercials. At the end of every commercial, a splash page sends you to No need to click... it's a 404 dead page.

Once you promote a page or a feature online, it stays promoted, pretty much forever.

Big Ideas (Meatball Mondae 11)

In a factory-based organization, little ideas are the key to success. Small improvements in efficiency or design can improve productivity and make a product just a bit more appealing. New Marketing, which exists in the noisy marketplace, demands something bigger. It demands ideas that force people to sit up and take notice.

At the same time that we see how game-changing ideas (like the iPhone) can trump little improvements, we're also noting the end of the “big idea” in advertising.

There’s a difference between a big idea that comes from a product or service and a big idea that comes from the world of advertising.

The secret of big-time advertising during the 1960s and ’70s was the “big idea.” In A Big Life in Advertising, ad legend Mary Wells Lawrence writes, “... our goal was to have big, breakthrough ideas, not just to do good advertising. I wanted to create miracles.” A big idea could build a brand, a career, or an entire agency.

Charlie the Tuna was a big idea. So was “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.”

Big ideas in advertising worked great when advertising was in charge. With a limited amount of spectrum and a lot of hungry consumers, the stage was set to put on a show. And the better the show, the bigger the punchline, the more profit could be made.

Today, the advertiser’s big idea doesn’t travel very well. Instead, the idea must be embedded into the experience of the product itself. Once again, what we used to think of as advertising or marketing is pushed deeper into the organization. Let the brilliant ad guys hang out with your R&D team and watch what happens.

Yes, there are big ideas. They’re just not advertising-based.

The whole series is here.

Thanks for calling, please go away

Most customer service organizations are architected around a simple idea: interacting with customers is expensive, driving costs down is a good thing, thus getting people to go away is beneficial.

Think about it: most inbound customer service people are rewarded for on-phone efficiency. Calls per hour. Lack of escalations. Limited complaints. What's the best way to do that? Get people to go away.

If you're on this system and a long-time customer calls in with a complicated problem, one that's going to require supervisor intervention and follow up, what's your best plan? Is it to spend an hour with this person over three days, or is the system designed to have you politely get them to just give up?

I'd focus on building a system that measures [sales rate before call] vs. [sales rate after call]. If the sales rate goes up, give the call center person a raise. It's that simple.

Paypal seized the money in my account on Friday. After seven years as a user, they decided my new DVD project was suspiciously successful and it triggered all sorts of alarms. The first step was a call from them... a cheerful person asked me a few questions and all seemed fine. Then, with no warning, they escalated the process. The system they put me in treated me like a criminal and at every step they made it difficult for me to keep going. Phone calls were made, and I spoke with two incredibly friendly people who were clearly unable to do anything other than be friendly. Both people were happy to talk to me for as long as I wanted, but neither person was able to do anything at all. The system is clearly designed this way... to insulate the people who make decisions from the actual customers. The desired outcome (I go away) doesn't seem like it's aligned with the corporate goals (I stick around).

The question I'd be asking is, "Do people who go through process and manage to prove that they are not criminals end up doing more business with us as a result of the way we treated them?" If the answer is no, you're probably doing it wrong.

The last straw was this: After I put together all the documents they wanted (including a copy of my passport) and created a PDF, I tried to upload it. They don't take PDFs, the alert box said, just JPGs. So I sent the images and get this notice:

Internalserver I followed up with the email address on the screen and got an email back, informing me that the email I had mailed to at PayPal wasn't monitored.


[PS in the ninety minutes after I posted this, I heard from a slew of people. Guess what? Every single one had a Paypal horror story to share. Once you teach an entire organization to mistreat customers, it's hard to fix.]

[PPS the problem is fixed now. Thanks for your concern...]


Lawrence sent me a note asking about subscribing to this blog. It's free, and you can get it by email or in an RSS reader.

Here's the link.

If you're not currently reading your blogs through a reader, I highly recommend it. It's possible to go through a hundred blog posts in four or five minutes once you get good at it. When you click on the Subscribe link (in the left column on this blog) you will see a list of available readers. Google Reader and Bloglines are quite popular. I use the Newsfire reader on my Mac, though it's not exactly clear why.

« November 2007 | Main | January 2008 »