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« December 2007 | Main | February 2008 »

What does cheese say when you take its picture?

Thanks to John Moore (again) for giving me a chance to be funny. With straight lines like that, I could go far...

Vestiges

Unless you just started, your organization is different than it used to be. It has evolved.

2217transitionalfossill The marketing you do, the decisions you make, the hurdles you have to go through probably have vestiges of the old model. Sometimes, like the little feet on the back of a whale, it's easy to ignore the vestiges. Other times, it's entirely possibly that they prevent you from achieving your goals.

Example: years ago, Prodigy, the original big online service, reflected its origins from Sears, CBS and IBM when they unveiled chat and discussion boards. Every single message posted was read by a censor before it went online. At one point, they had literally hundreds of full time editors sitting in an office tower outside of NY, painstakingly reading every single post.

Example: the production values of an HD TV show are lost in the YouTube environment, yet plenty of studios and advertisers are having trouble giving up the staffing and hierarchy that served them so well in the other medium. So the vestiges remain, slowing down the entire process (and making it a lot more expensive.) 25 people to film a three minute clip is just silly, but it makes sense if you look back at how they got there.

Example: local banks with limited hours were the norm just a few years ago. The move to online hasn't changed the way they all see the world... it's a skeleton staff at night, because that's the way it always was.

If you're working hard to work around a vestige, maybe it makes sense to work just as hard to get rid of it all together.

More marketing links than you can read in a weekend

Which is too bad, because Tamar has found some good stuff.

Plus, four posts recommended by Maki:

40+ Social News Websites: A List of General and Niche Social Media Communities

The Secret to Building a Popular Blog (and Getting Tons of Readers)

Are You Using the Right Content Development Strategy for Your Website?

16 Effective Strategies to Expand Your Blog’s Reach in 2008


Crime

Oded told me about a major website vandalizing the Consumer Electronics Show by turning off TV monitors using a remote control. They took down entire walls of monitors and interrupted presentations.

Sorry, guys, but this is just like shoplifting or spam or breaking windows. It's not 'no big deal', it's a very big deal. Here's why:

First, in a society where we make concepts, services and ideas as opposed to stuff, breaking that process is identical to breaking the stuff was back then. In other words, it's vandalism.

Worse, what happens when everyone does it? I remember getting my first piece of spam in 1995 or so. Back then, one piece a day was no big deal. But 500 people at CES would be enough to bring the entire show down. Can I protect my monitor with a piece of black electrical tape? Sure. But why should I have to give up using my (authorized) remote in order to put on a public display that people are actually paying to see? When there's two or three or five people at every movie with a laser pointer, the movie is no longer fun to watch.

Here's the downside of the openness that the Web is promoting: the next group of people coming online from around the world will have a lot more to gain by gaming the system, by running confidence games, by spamming comments, by figuring out how to rip you off... It's a lot easier to leave the doors of your house unlocked when you live in a remote village--one where everyone knows your name.

If the standard of the culture we're building online is already low, then it makes it even easier for organized crime (and just plain disorganized scammers) to have a serious impact on the rest of us. Anonymity is the enemy, whether it's online or walking around a trade show with a clicker in your pocket.

Tolerating vandalism doesn't seem to have a lot of upside for the community, imho.

Always easier to just say "stop"

Fred Vogelstein does a dissection of the evolution of the iPhone in Wired. The takeaway for me is that there were nearly insurmountable hurdles in terms of investment, partnership, technology and even security, and that at any time, the easiest thing would have been to just say  'forget it.' Everyone would breathe a sigh of relief and move on. Important stuff is usually like that.

It was interesting to see that the code name for the iPhone was Purple2. I wonder if they were inspired by Alice Walker's book?

I gave at the office

Mark Rovner has an insightful post about the current state of fundraising and non-profits.

The short version: most big charities are based on direct mail fundraising, and as you're read here before, direct mail is dying. What to do?

I'll start with the bad news: I despair for most of the top 50 non-profits in the US. These are the big guys, and they're stuck. Unlike the Fortune 100, not known for being cutting edge in themselves, the top charities rarely change... if you're big, you're used to being big and you expect to stay big. That means that generation after generation of staff has been hired to keep doing what's working. Big risks and crazy schemes are certainly frowned upon.

The good news is this: the Internet is not a replacement for direct mail fundraising. It is, in fact, something much bigger than that for just about every non-profit.

As soon as commerce started online, many non-profits discovered lots of income from their websites. This was mistakenly chalked up to brilliant conversion and smart marketing. In fact, it was just technologically advanced donors using a more convenient method to send in money they would have sent in anyway.

The big win is in changing the very nature of what it means to support a charity. The idea of "I gave at the office" and of giving money in the last week in December speaks to obligation. Many people donate to satisfy a guilty feeling, or to please a friend. This doesn't scale. Not one bit. It's super easy to ignore a direct mail solicitation when all you have to do is hit delete and no one notices.

The big win is in turning donors into patrons and activists and participants. The biggest donors are the ones who not only give, but do the work. The ones who make the soup or feed the hungry or hang the art. My mom was a volunteer for years at the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, and there's no doubt at all that we gave more money to the museum than we would have if they'd sent us a flyer once a month.

The internet allows some organizations to embrace long-distance involvement. It lets charities flip the funnel, not through some simple hand waving, but by reorganizing around the idea of engagement online. It means opening yourself up to volunteers, encouraging them to network, to connect with each other, and yes, even to mutiny. It means giving every one of your professionals a blog and the freedom to use it. It means mixing it up with volunteers, so they have something truly at stake. This is understandably scary for many non-profits, but I'm not so sure you have a choice.

Do you have to abandon the old ways today? Of course not. But responsible stewardship requires that you find and empower the mavericks and give them the flexibility to build something new, not to try to force the internet to act like direct mail with free stamps.

Dumbing down

"Our readers won't understand this."

"Our customers are too busy and won't get this."

"The people who come to our restaurant want red meat."

"No one is going to want something this good..."

Think about the stuff you hear on the radio or read about in mass market publications. When they attempt to cover something you really know about, they seem pretty stupid, don't they? Oversimplifying to the point of getting it completely wrong. They're busy pandering to the masses, dumbing things down for the lowest common denominator.

You're under pressure to do that with your restaurant and your spiritual advice and your stump speech and your non-profit pitch. There are gatekeepers pushing you to dumb it down for the average.

The thing is, when you dumb stuff down, you know what you get?

Dumb customers.

And (I'm generalizing here) dumb customers don't spend as much, don't talk as much, don't blog as much, don't vote as much and don't evangelize as much. In other words, they're the worst ones to end up with.

I'll take the smart customers/readers/prospects every time, please.

How to title stuff

(Books, blog posts, breakfast cereals, whatever).

I was talking to someone yesterday about naming books, and I realized that there are three useful schools of thought here.

  1. You can pick a completely descriptive, generic, boring name that precisely describes what's inside. Like "Shredded Wheat" or "12 Ways to Get Traffic to Your Blog" or "Installing Linux on the 8088 Platform in 24 Hours". The advantage of this approach is that Google likes it, and so do people who are quite goal directed. If you've got a Linux installation problem and you find that book at your local B&N, not only are you going to buy it immediately, you're going to do it with a smile on your face.
  2. You can pick a more clever name that's designed to entice the reader to read the subtitle, or the first few lines of your post or the back of the cereal box. You can imbue the name with some attitude, like BlogWild, or you can pick a name that just begs to be researched, like Join the Conversation.
  3. The third approach is to pick a name that gets talked about. To create a phrase that you hope will enter the vocabulary. Yes, that's my strategy. My goal is to have people call something a Purple Cow or eviscerate the boss for suggesting yet another Meatball Sundae. It doesn't always work, but when it does, you sell ten books, not one. (From my point of view, though, I'm happy to sell zero if the phrase catches on... the book is just an excuse for making change).

And now, to really gild the lily, the guys at 8CR have figured out a way to get you a free action figure (yes, there really is an action figure, and yes, it really is a joke) when you buy ten copies of the new book at a discount price, one for everyone who can't figure out what you're talking about. And yes, they ship worldwide. Imagine everyone's delight when you give them one for Valentine's Day.

While we're on the topic, Jackie has a fairly disgusting video.That's not why the book made the WSJ bestseller list, but it can't hurt.

John wrote a crisp review. So did Marc. I'd say "thanks for reading," but what I really want to say is, "thanks for talking about it."

Music lessons

Things you can learn from the music business (as it falls apart)

The first rule is so important, it’s rule 0:

0. The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now.
Soon, the new thing will be better than the old thing will be. But if you wait until then, it’s going to be too late.  Feel free to wax nostalgic about the old thing, but don’t fool yourself into believing it’s going to be here forever. It won’t.

1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success
Every single industry changes and, eventually, fades. Just because you made money doing something a certain way yesterday, there’s no reason to believe you’ll succeed at it tomorrow.

The music business had a spectacular run alongside the baby boomers. Starting with the Beatles and Dylan, they just kept minting money. The co-incidence of expanding purchasing power of teens along with the birth of rock, the invention of the transistor and changing social mores meant a long, long growth curve.

As a result, the music business built huge systems. They created top-heavy organizations, dedicated superstores, a loss-leader touring industry, extraordinarily high profit margins, MTV and more. It was a well-greased system, but the key question: why did it deserve to last forever?

It didn’t. Yours doesn’t either.

2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dream
If the product you make becomes digital, expect that the product you make will be copied.

There’s a paradox in the music business that is mirrored in many industries: you want ubiquity, not obscurity, yet digital distribution devalues your core product.

Remember, the music business is the one that got in trouble for bribing disk jockeys to play their music on the radio. They are the ones that spent millions to make (free) videos for MTV. And yet once the transmission became digital, they understood that there’s not a lot of reason to buy a digital version (via a cumbersome expensive process) when the digital version is free (and easier).

Most items of value derive that value from scarcity. Digital changes that, and you can derive value from ubiquity now.

The solution isn’t to somehow try to become obscure, to get your song off the (digital) radio. The solution is to change your business.

You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you can sell interactivity and souvenirs.

3. Interactivity can’t be copied
Products that are digital and also include interaction thrive on centralization and do better and better as the market grows in size (consider Facebook or Basecamp).

Music is social. Music is current and everchanging. And most of all, music requires musicians. The winners in the music business of tomorrow are individuals and organizations that create communities, connect people, spread ideas and act as the hub of the wheel... indispensable and well-compensated.

4. Permission is the asset of the future
For generations, businesses had no idea who their end users were. No ability to reach through the record store and figure out who was buying that Rolling Stones album, no way to know who bought this book or that vase.

Today, of course, permission is an asset to be earned. The ability (not the right, but the privilege) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them. For ten years, the music business has been steadfastly avoiding this opportunity.

It’s interesting though, because many musicians have NOT been avoiding it. Many musicians have understood that all they need to make a (very good) living is to have 10,000 fans. 10,000 people who look forward to the next record, who are willing to trek out to the next concert. Add 7 fans a day and you’re done in 5 years. Set for life. A life making music for your fans, not finding fans for your music.

The opportunity of digital distribution is this:

When you can distribute something digitally, for free, it will spread (if it’s good). If it spreads, you can use it as a vehicle to allow people to come back to you and register, to sign up, to give you permission to interact and to keep them in the loop.

Many authors (I’m on that list) have managed to build an entire career around this idea. So have management consultants and yes, insurance salespeople. Not by viewing the spread of digital artifacts as an inconvenient tactic, but as the core of their new businesses.

5. A frightened consumer is not a happy consumer.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but here goes: suing people is like going to war. If you’re going to go to war with tens of thousands of your customers every year, don’t be surprised if they start treating you like the enemy.

6. This is a big one: The best time to change your business model is while you still have momentum.
It’s not so easy for an unknown artist to start from scratch and build a career self-publishing. Not so easy for her to find fans, one at a time, and build an audience. Very, very easy for a record label or a top artist to do so. So, the time to jump was yesterday. Too late. Okay, how about today?

The sooner you do it, the more assets and momentum you have to put to work.

7. Remember the Bob Dylan rule: it’s not just a record, it’s a movement.
Bob and his handlers have a long track record of finding movements. Anti-war movements, sure, but also rock movies, the Grateful Dead, SACDs, Christian rock and Apple fanboys. What Bob has done (and I think he’s done it sincerely, not as a calculated maneuver) is seek out groups that want to be connected and he works to become the connecting the point.

By being open to choices of format, to points of view, to moments in time, Bob Dylan never said, “I make vinyl records that cost money to listen to.” He understands at some level that music is often the soundtrack for something else.

I think the same thing can be true for chefs and churches and charities and politicians and makers of medical devices. People pay a premium for a story, every time.

8. Don’t panic when the new business model isn’t as ‘clean’ as the old one
It’s not easy to give up the idea of manufacturing CDs with a 90% gross margin and switching to a blended model of concerts and souvenirs, of communities and greeting cards and special events and what feels like gimmicks. I know.

Get over it. It’s the only option if you want to stay in this business. You’re just not going to sell a lot of CDs in five years, are you?

If there’s a business here, first few in will find it, the rest lose everything.

9. Read the writing on the wall.
Hey, guys, I’m not in the music business and even I’ve been writing about this for years. I even started a record label five years ago to make the point. Industries don’t die by surprise. It’s not like you didn’t know it was coming. It's not like you didn't know who to call (or hire).

This isn’t about having a great idea (it almost never is). The great ideas are out there, for free, on your neighborhood blog. Nope, this is about taking initiative and making things happen.

The last person to leave the current record business won’t be the smartest and he won’t be the most successful, either. Getting out first and staking out the new territory almost always pays off.

10. Don’t abandon the Long Tail
Everyone in the hit business thinks they understand the secret: just make hits. After all, if you do the math, it shows that if you just made hits, you’d be in fat city.

Of course, the harder you try to just make hits, the less likely you are to make any hits at all. Movies, records, books... the blockbusters always seem to be surprises. Surprise hit cookbooks, even.

Instead, in an age when it’s cheaper than ever to design something, to make something, to bring something to market, the smart strategy is to have a dumb strategy. Keep your costs low and go with your instincts, even when everyone says you’re wrong. Do a great job, not a perfect one. Bring things to market, the right market, and let them find their audience.

Stick to the knitting has never been more wrong. Instead, find products your customers want. Don’t underestimate them. They’re more catholic in their tastes than you give them credit for.

11. Understand the power of  digital
Try to imagine something like this happening ten years ago: An eleven-year-old kid wakes up on a Saturday morning, gets his allowance, then, standing in his pajamas, buys a Bon Jovi song for a buck.

Compare this to hassling for a ride, driving to the mall, finding the album in question, finding the $14 to pay for it and then driving home.

You may believe that your business doesn’t lend itself to digital transactions. Many do. If you’ve got a business that doesn’t thrive on digital, it might not grow as fast as you like... Maybe you need to find a business that does thrive on digital.

No_one_cares 12. Celebrity is underrated
The music business has always created celebrities. And each celebrity has profited for decades from that fame. Frank Sinatra is dead and he's still profiting. Elvis is still alive and he's certainly still profiting.

The music business has done a poor job of leveraging that celebrity and catching the value it creates. Many businesses now have the power to create their own micro-celebrities. These individuals capture attention and generate trust, two critical elements in growing profits.

13. Value is created when you go from many to few, and vice versa
The music business has thousands of labels and tens of thousands of copyright holders. It's a mess.

And there's just one iTunes music store. Consolidation pays.

At the same time, there are other industries where there are just a few major players and the way to profit is to create splinters and niches.

13. Whenever possible, sell subscriptions
Few businesses can successfully sell subscriptions (magazines being the very best example), but when you can, the whole world changes. HBO, for example, is able to spend its money making shows for its viewers rather than working to find viewers for every show.

The biggest opportunity for the music business is to combine permission with subscription. The possibilities are endless. And I know it's hard to believe, but the good old days are yet to happen.

Editors

Turns out that for the last seventeen twenty-seven years, every single movie that managed to win the Oscar for best picture was also nominated for best editing.

Great products, amazing services and stories worth talking about get edited along the way. Most of the time, the editing makes them pallid, mediocre and boring. Sometimes, a great editor will push the remarkable stuff. That's his job.

The easy thing for an editor to do is make things safe. You avoid trouble that way. Alas, it also means you avoid success.

Who's doing your editing?

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