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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« March 2008 | Main | May 2008 »

Self promotion

Owen Wilson starred in a really bad movie that came out a few months ago. Most notable: he didn’t go out to shill for it. No Colbert, no Daily Show, no Larry King.

Perhaps he’s nursing a bad cold, but my guess is that he didn’t want to extend his personal brand to promote a movie just because he was in it.

Here’s an interesting dichotomy:

Watch this because I’m in it
vs.
I’m in it because you’ll enjoy watching it.

Or,

I published a book so I need you to read it
vs.
There’s something you need to read, so I wrote about it.

Or

I'm fifty and I just made an album because it was time for me to make one.
vs.
These songs won't let go of me and I want to share them with you because they matter.

The first is me-centric and explains that we’re promoting something that got made because we need to sell it. What we do is make stuff and sell it, and what you do is buy it or watch it.  “I needed to make something to sell, here’s the best I could do.”

The second is you-centric. It starts with the needs and desires of the consumer and ignores the committees, the compromises and the economic realities. It says, “I found something for you, here it is.”

Most of the time, most b2b and most consumer products are sold on the basis of: Yes, there are other choices, but this is the one we make. I'm not sure that's a good enough reason.

80% of the mail and promotion I get (and 98% of the ads) fall into this category. The enthusiasm of commerce, not of belief and pride.

[Apologies if I've given Owen motivations that weren't accurate. Readers have let me know about his recent troubles, and I certainly meant no disrespect.]

Wishing and hoping

Corey found this great insight into the way people think.

Twistori looks for certain words in the Twitstream.

We're a pretty spoiled bunch (check out the 'wish' column).

The fibula and the safety pin

Greek_fibula02b Walter Hunt patented the safety pin almost 160 years ago.

It looks an awful lot like a fibula, which, of course, is used to hold your toga shut.

My friend Kevin has one (not a toga, a fibula). An old one. He's very proud of it.

So, the question that Walter Hunt didn't ask is this, "Why should I bother patenting the safety pin? It's already been done. I mean, even John Belushi has a fibula."

Just about everything has a strike against it. It's either already been done or it's never been done. Ignore both conditions. Pushing an idea through the dip of acceptance is far more valuable than inventing something that's never existed... and then walking away from it.

Signal to noise

In radio operator lingo, you look for a strong signal to noise ratio. That’s the amount of good stuff (the message) that comes through the static (the noise.) You can use your squelch button to turn down the static, but if there isn’t enough signal, you don’t hear anything at all.

For a decade, the web kept delivering an ever better signal to noise ratio to me. I was able to hear more things, more clearly, in less time. Websites and email and my RSS reader were bringing me signals from everywhere, and processing them (and creating, I hope, new signal) was a joy.

Lately, I’m feeling noise creep.

Lately, the noise seems to be increasing and the signal is fading in comparison. Too much spam, too many posts, too little insight leaking through. I don’t use Twitter, but I know a lot of Twitter users are feeling this. So are folks who go to too many conferences. And don’t get me started on victims of Blackberry cc: disease.

I wish I could tell you the easy answer. I can’t. I just know that the faltering signal is a problem.

Ouch!

I just discovered that some of you recently received a piece of spam that began, "dear first name". Apparently, it was sent to people who signed up for an audio call I did several months ago.

This is obviously not my idea, and I'm really upset about it.

I have no idea who got the note, and it probably would make things worse to email everyone on the list apologizing, so instead I'm posting about it.

This is simple: Permission Marketing means delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who WANT to get them. The key word is want. Make it easy for people to sign up, but then give them exactly what you promise.

If you sign up for thing A and the fine print says you get thing B, that's not permission.

All I can do is apologize. I'll try to work harder to make sure that people I work with get this through and through. Sorry.

[Here's a note I just got from my friend who sent the ouch note:

Dear Seth and Seth Godin fans,

Even the biggest Seth fans like me and supporters of Permission Marketing screw up from time to time.  Today, that person is me.  I have egg on my face and give your readers a glaring example of what NOT to do to communicate with a permission-based list and to build relationships with customers and clients

...I accidentally sent an email to some folks who opted in JUST for the Seth teleseminar series earlier this year.  A big mistake...one that I didn't realize until it was too late.  To make matters worse, I left the standard "dear firstname" at the top of the email.  What a brilliant disaster and royal mess.  I did exactly the opposite of what I intended to do - to send a relevant message to a small group who gave me permission to send emails like the one I did.

I can't undo the damage, but I can apologize and can make sure that you and your readers know that it was not intentional.   I can only hope that you trust my integrity when I say that and trust that it won't happen again.

I have learned the hard way what can happen when you send a hasty email without double-checking whether it's going to the right people.

Moral: stuff happens. At least it wasn't on purpose...]

Nearly infinite

Infinite isn’t what it used to be. There used to be an infinite number of stars, and probably an infinite number of kids in high school who didn’t like you very much, but that was about it when it came to a typical human being’s interaction with the uncountable.

But now, infinite is everywhere.

There’s an infinite number of books at Barnes and Noble (you can’t read em all, in fact, you can’t even find enough time to know the name of every one, or even just the first name of every author.)

There’s certainly, for all intents and purposes, an infinite number of web pages. And even Facebook, just a small subset of the web, has an infinite number of friends for you to make.

That’s where search comes in. Search makes the infinite finite (at least for a while). With search, we turn the infinite selection on Amazon into a nearly manageable finite selection. Except search (no matter where you look) is pretty lame, and it doesn’t really turn infinite collections into manageable choices. There are thousands of Godins on Facebook, too many for me to count (though one Godin friended a family member and it appears she’s trying to friend every Godin in the world--even though my name is a three-generation old fiction). There's a lot of haystacks out there, and the needles are really good at hiding.

There are essentially an infinite number of good causes to contribute to, an infinite number of people to help, an infinite number of great records to listen to as well. The problem is finding them. Connecting. Feeling like you were successful and not missing something you really needed or wanted.

Search on the web is now grappling with this. If you know 100,000 words, names and brand names, there are now a hundred trillion different searches you can do... with only two words in combination.  No, you might not want to search on Starbucks Matzoh, but you could. Just knowing what to search for is now as difficult as the search itself.

In the face of infinity, many of us are panicking and searching less, going shallower, relying on bestseller lists and simple recommendations. The vast majority of Google searches are just one or two words, and obvious ones at that. The long tail gets a lot shorter when you don’t know what’s out there.

Organizations that can help us manage the infinite are facing a huge (can I say it? nearly infinite) opportunity.

Cool Squidoo tool

If you have a Squidoo lens, I hope you'll check this out. (Type in the name of a lens, like sinclairlewis or michelangelosdavid or rick-roll).

Taking it a step further, the idea of being able to check everything you need to know about your blog or website (any website) seems like a powerful business for someone... Technorati and Compete are doing things like this, but no one seems to put it all in one place.

Thanks, Greg

You would think that the Red parking lot, parking lot #8 at JFK, would be the last place you'd find someone who actually cared, never mind someone who pretended to (a pale imitation).

And yet, that's where Greg works. Greg was the airport parking lot attendant who found the bag carelessly left behind on the third floor of the garage. I called, he grabbed it and secured it for me.

He even turned down the reward I offered him. Next time you fly American, be sure to thank the cashiers as you drive out.

Thanks, Greg. People who care are in short supply. I hope to repay the favor one day.

Pretending that you care

I spent part of the day in New York yesterday.

First stop, an expensive sporting goods store that prides itself on service. I bought some skates, paid and then asked the security guy (the one with all the shelves behind his desk, where people check stuff they bring in) if I could leave my stuff there for ten minutes while I ran an errand.

"No, I'm really really sorry," he said, "but we can't take responsibility and I'll get in big trouble if I do. I know it's a hassle for you..."

I left and did my errand. A little later, on my way back to the car, I had one last street to cross. Suddenly, a motorcade of 20 police cars, sirens roaring, whizzed by, blocking the crosswalk and making me miss the light (if anyone knows why NY City cops are suddenly doing this a lot, please let me know. Where are they going? Why? If it's an emergency, why don't they go faster? [Ari knows]).

As I waited for the cops to go by, I watched a meter guy walk up to my car and slowly start to write me a parking ticket. I was being penalized for being a good citizen and waiting for the endless motorcade!

I ran up and begged.

He turned to me and said, "I'm so sorry. I know what a hassle it is, but once I press this yellow button here, I have to finish. But I bet if you go to court and complain, they'll waive it." Then he reached into his pocket and handed me a lollipop. "Thanks for coming to New York, and I'm sorry."

Except this story isn't true.

The guy at the sporting goods store just grunted at me. Explained it wasn't his job and just dared me to return the skates I had just bought. And the meter guy didn't even bother to acknowledge me or make eye contact.

No, you can't always hire exceptional people for these jobs. No, you can't always invest enough time to train them sufficiently. But yes, you can make, "pretending you care," a barely acceptable alternative.

It doesn't take much to take the edge off an encounter.

[Boy does this sound cynical. How inauthentic! How manipulative! Isn't it better to just hire people who actually care? Of course it is. But as far as I can tell, that's a lot harder than it looks--because so many organizations are organized around policies, not caring, and because so many employees have been trained not to care.

So, the essence of the lesson here is this: if people start out pretending to care, next thing you know, they actually do care. They like the positive feedback and they like the way being kind makes them feel. It spreads. It sticks.]

Would you do me a favor?

Just about a year ago, I published The Dip.

It turned out to be one of my most successful books. Perhaps you have a copy--which I appreciate more than you can guess. Now, here's the favor:

A year later, would you mind sharing your copy? Take it off the shelf and loan it to someone. Someone at work or in your family, perhaps. If I could double the number of people who read the book, it would be pretty cool.

Thanks.

The five step brand lifecycle

Who is Brad Pitt? [insert your brand/name here]

Get me Brad Pitt!

Get me someone like Brad PItt, but cheaper!

Get me a newer version of Brad Pitt!

Who is Brad Pitt?

[original source unknown--though readers have suggested Mary Astor, Kirk Douglas, Jack Elam and of course, Ricardo Montalban!].

[Leon adds a few more:

- I wonder what happened to Brad Pitt.

- Get Brad Pitt back.

- Get me someone like Brad Pitt, who was around the same time as Brad Pitt. ]

Of course, it's hard to tell where you are when it's about you.

Silly Traffic

This is a truth of the Internet: When traffic comes to your site without focused intent, it bounces.

75% of all unfocused visitors leave within three seconds.

Any site, anywhere, anytime. 75% bounce rate within three seconds.

By unfocused, I mean people who visit via Digg or Stumbleupon or even a typical Google search. If your site is spammy or clearly selling something, the number is certainly higher. If you’re getting traffic because you have a clever domain name, it might be even higher. I don’t know of many examples where it is lower.

It’s good for your ego, that’s certain. You can brag about hits if you can get away with it, or pageviews or visits. But the bounce rate is still that scary 75%.

So, what should you do about silly traffic?

The tempting thing to do is to obsess over it. If you could just convert 10% of the bouncers, you’d be increasing your conversion rate by almost a third! (7.5% is about a third of the 25% who don’t bounce). There’s a million things you can do to focus on this, and almost none of them will show you much improvement.

One other thing you can do is get hooked on the traffic, focus on building your top line number. Keep working on sensational controversies or clever images, robust controversies or other link bait that keeps the silly traffic coming back

I think it’s more productive to worry about two other things instead.
1. Engage your existing users far more deeply. Increase their participation, their devotion, their interconnection and their value.
2. Turn those existing users into ambassadors, charged with the idea of bring you traffic that is focused, traffic with intent.

“I’m just looking,” is no fun for most retailers. Yet they continue to pay high rent for high-traffic locations, and invest time and money in window displays. Very few retailers lament all the traffic that walks by the front door without ever walking in. A long time ago, they realized that the shoppers with focused intent are far more valuable. Smart retailers work hard to get focused people to walk in the door and to keep the riff raff walking on down the sidewalk.

Your website can do the same thing. In fact, you might want to make it more likely that bouncers bounce, not less, but only if those changes increase the results you get from the visitors you truly care about.

First, do no harm

The best way to keep your bank from getting robbed is to not open a bank.

Sometimes, in our zeal to avoid loss at all costs, we focus too hard on the false positives (that guy might be a robber) and not enough on the false negatives (we just turned away a good prospect).

I just discovered that my gmail spam filter has been blocking orders from Google checkout! Astonishing.

I have also heard from two people who applied to my internship and never got the note I sent announcing that we'd completed our hiring cycle. (I hope to report more on the intern program in a month or two). Stopping spam is a worthless endeavor when you also stop non-spam.

Tolerating some noise and shoplifting and cranky customers is part of the deal. Better to be too open than too closed, I think.

Better?

Are you better at what you do than you were a month or two ago?

A lot better?

How did you get better? What did you read or try? Did you fail at something and learn from it? Does that mindless stuff you do at work when the boss isn't looking (or all those meetings you go to are all those emails you answer) make you better or just pass the time?

If you got better faster, would that be a good thing? How could you make that happen?

A lot of questions so early in the morning, but the truth is that marketing rewards improvement. It didn't used to. It used to reward stability. Corn Flakes are Corn Flakes.

You're right!

You probably get feedback from customers. Sometimes you even get letters.

Occasionally (unfortunately), it’s negative.

Two weeks ago, I left my car at (an expensive) parking garage in midtown New York. When I got back four hours later, I discovered that they had left the engine running the entire time. That, combined with the $30 fee and the nasty attitude of the attendant led me to write a letter to the management company.

The response: it was my fault. When I dropped off the car, I should have taught the attendant how to turn off my Prius.

What’s the point of a letter like that? Why bother taking the time? It’s not even worth the stamp. Does the writer expect me to say, “Oh, great point! Sorry to have bothered you. I’m an idiot! In fact, I'm so stupid, I'll go out of my way to park there again next time...”

It’s pretty simple. The only productive response to a critical letter or piece of a feedback from a customer is, “You’re right...”

You’re right, I can see that you are annoyed.
You’re right, that is frustrating.
You’re right, with the expectations you had, it’s totally understandable to feel the way you do.
You’re right, and we’re really sorry that you feel that way.

Every one of these statements is true, each one is something you are willing to put into writing. It validates the writer, thanks them for sharing the frustration and gives you a foundation for an actual dialogue.

But isn’t this pandering? I don’t think so. The writer is right. They are frustrated. His opinion is his opinion, and if you don’t value it, you’re shutting down something useful.

How about, ‘you’re right, it’s reasonable to expect that we would have turned off your Prius. We’ll post a note for all our attendants so they pay better attention in the future.’ A note like this makes the customer happy and it makes your garage work better.

Someone wrote to me last week, complaining that the handwritten inscription in a book I had signed for his colleague wasn’t warm enough. I responded that he was right to be frustrated, and that if his expectations had been so high, I should either have lowered them or exceeded them. Of course he was right... with expectations like that, it’s not surprising that he was disappointed.

Arguing with a customer who takes the time to write to you does two things: it keeps them from ever writing again and it costs you (at least) one customer. Perhaps that’s your goal. Just take a moment before you launch an unhappy former customer into the world.

Henry Ford and the source of our fear

Henry Ford left us much more than cars and the highway system we built for them. He changed the world’s expectations for work. While Ford gets credit for “inventing the assembly line,” his great insight was that he understood the power of productivity.

Ford was a pioneer in highly leveraged, repetitive work, done by relatively untrained workers. A farmer, with little training, could walk into Ford’s factory and become extraordinarily productive in a day or two.   

This is the cornerstone of our way of life. The backbone of our economy is not brain surgeons and master violinists. It’s in fairly average people doing fairly average work.

The focus on productivity wouldn’t be relevant to this discussion except for the second thing Ford did. He decided to pay his workers based on productivity, not replacement value.  This was an astonishing breakthrough. When Ford announced the $5 day (more than double the typical salary paid for this level of skill), more than 10,000 people applied for work at Ford the very next day.

Instead of paying people the lowest amount he’d need to find enough competent workers to fill the plant, he paid them more than he needed to because his systems made them so productive. He challenged his workers to be more productive so that they’d get paid more.

It meant that nearly every factory worker at Ford was dramatically overpaid!   When there’s a line out the door of people waiting to take your job, weird things happen to your head. The combination of repetitive factory work plus high pay for standardized performance led to a very obedient factory floor. People were conditioned to do as they were told, and traded autonomy and craftsmanship for high pay and stability.

All of a sudden, we got used to being paid based on our output . We came, over time, to expect to get paid more and more, regardless of how long the line of people eager to take our job was. If productivity went up, profits went up. And the productive workers expected (and got) higher pay, even if there were plenty of replacement workers, eager to work for less.

This is the central conceit of our economy. People in productive industries get paid a lot even though they could likely be replaced by someone else working for less money.

This is why we’re insecure.

Obedience works fine on the well-organized, standardized factory floor. But what happens when we start using our heads, not our hands, when our collars change from blue to white?

(Excerpted from Free Prize Inside)

Sometimes, the best part of buying something...

is the buying part.

I watched some shoppers leave a clothing store in NY the other day. They seemed wan and a little sad. The same shoppers, when they were waiting in line at the cash register, seemed thrilled. Fast heartbeats, lips trembling in anticipation...

The (stupid) diet

My friend Chris told me about a diet he used to use to lose weight. He would eat what he wanted five days a week and fast two days a week.

No, that doesn't work.

The parallel to marketing seems pretty obvious, doesn't it?

George Clooney is not normal

You can't hire that guy because he's not as good looking as George. And you can't believe that speaker because he doesn't present as well as George. And that guy? He's short. Short? Well, shorter than George. And you can't trust him to make good decisions because his skin is much darker than George's.

You can't date her because she's not as good looking as Jennifer (whichever Jennifer you want to set as the standard). And her? Well, she stutters, and Jennifer doesn't. And Jennifer herself, of course, is not nearly as smart as George.

Jennifer and George may be extraordinarily good looking movie stars, but you don't get to work with them. By buying into a standard of expectation for what's normal (or great or very good or trustworthy) we shortchange ourselves every single day.

Organizations (bosses and teachers and colleagues and buyers and sellers) that manage to get past the George expectation have a spectacular advantage. They're willing to take great ideas and great attitude and great effort wherever they can find it, regardless of what it looks like.

I was talking to someone at the Federal Reserve this week. He explained that in our electronic age, his relationships often start on the phone or by email. And they usually go extremely well, moving things quickly toward a happy conclusion. Sometimes, though, these folks meet him in person... and realize that he doesn't look a bit like George (he's black). Understanding that people are judging you—looking for a shortcut in the story they tell themselves—is the first step in telling them a different, better story.

Even better, over time, once it becomes clear that George isn't so normal after all, we won't have to worry so much about that story.

The Pope is coming

Whether you run a hotel or a retail store or a parts supply store, things change when you find out the Pope is coming for a visit.

The fresh flowers get delivered, the beds are made a little tighter and your best staff are waiting out front. Everything is a little bit cleaner and shinier. Maybe, a few staff bring in their kids to sing a song or two.

The thing is, everyone enjoys this extra work. It's fun to stretch a bit. It doesn't feel quite as much like work when you're doing something special.

You probably guessed the punchline: The Pope isn't coming to your place of business this trip. He won't be reading your blog or calling your customer service line either. Sorry for the confusion. Go ahead and rent out that room or give away that table you were saving.

But since it's so much fun, why not do it for someone who isn't the Pope? Like your next customer?

What's remarkable?

This morning at 5:05, I drove away from my house outside of New York City. I flew out of White Plains on USAir... and it worked.

At 7:25 am, I was at the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. (No, my meeting wasn't at the White House, it was next door, but still). No hassles, no affronts, no work stoppages, no FAA inspections, no surly overworked attendants, no lost items or near arrests or runway tie ups or traffic jams.

A few years ago, this was normal. Not worth remarking on. Today, it's a friggin miracle.

What it takes to be remarkable changes every day. Which means you have to change as well.

What happens when we organize?

Arlo Most power occurs because one side is better organized than the other. Labor is usually less well organized than management, criminals are usually less well organized than the police and customers are always less well organized than producers.

The internet promises to change that. It does it occasionally, sort of randomly. Sometimes, users will rise up and complain (as they did at Facebook). Or voters will organize online and hurt (or help) a politician or candidate.

Wikipedia works because so many contributors figured out how to self-organize into a group that produced something far more useful than a traditionally organized document.

I think we're at the earliest possible beginning of the changes we're going to see because of this sort of grass roots coordination.

Simple example: the Starbucks in Larchmont, NY keeps their thermostat at 64 degrees. And the stores in Breckenridge, Colorado keep their doors wide open all winter. If you're raging mad about energy waste, you could say something. And nothing would happen. But if customers organized and ten people said something or a hundred people said something... boom, new rules.

The system doesn't know what to do with a movement.

Two seminars

The Acumen charity seminar is officially sold out. Thanks to everyone who signed up.

Here are two more upcoming events, including one in my old home town:

For Buffalonians! Entrepalooza 2008

And a very cool conference in Boston with Joel in September: Business of Software.

The wealthy gardener

At a seminar at the local library, someone asked, "how do I make a lot of money blogging?"

My guess is that at last week's seminar, the one on growing orchids, no one raised his hand and said, "how do I make a lot of money growing orchids?"

Sure, people make money growing orchids. Some people probably get rich growing orchids. Not many though. And my guess is that the people who do make money gardening probably didn't set out to do so.

Blogging is much the same way. The best bloggers make money, but mostly as a side effect, not as a direct result of setting out to use a blog to make a profit. It's just too long a ramp up time, too frustrating and too uncertain to be the best path to make a living.

If it makes you happy (and your readers happy) it's a great place to start. Step by step you get better at it, and then you discover the ancillary benefits. But the benefits kick in best when you don't set out to achieve them.

Catchers and throwers

Megan has a great post about the difference between catchers and throwers, inspired by my post about twits: SquidBlog: Catchers and throwers.

I had an interesting interaction along these lines this week. A woman named Jennifer Rosini at Forbes sent a note that read:

Hi ,

You are invited to join the new community of the high quality business and financial bloggers from Forbes.com. Our community - the Business and Financial Blog Network, will launch shortly.

I wrote her back, pointing out that she hadn't even bothered to pretend it was a personal note... just a mail merge missing my name.

She responded (this is the entire note):

I'm not sending these out. I have people working for me that send out 500 a day. Are you interested in joining, Seth?

The juxtaposition of the third sentence with the second just highlighted the inanity of the entire enterprise. It's a high-quality network, but 500 people a day are being asked to join, and it's okay to spam people but do I want to join anyway?

The end result of spam (email spam, blog spam, Twitter spam, Squidoo spam, comment spam, phone spam, politician spam) is that it eats away at your brand. If you don't have a brand, you might make some short term cash but it gets tiresome creating annoyance everywhere you go. If you do have a brand, a brand like Forbes, say, you don't notice the brand erosion... until it's too late.

Here, it's simple:

You can contact just about anyone you want. The only rule is you need to contact them personally, with respect, and do it months before you need their help! Contact them about them, not about you. Engage. Contribute. Question. Pay attention. Read. Interact.

Then, when you've earned the right to attention and respect, months and months later, sure, ask. It takes a lot of time and effort, which is why volume isn't the answer for you, quality is.

That's a great way to get a job, promote a site, make a friend, spread the word or just be a human.

Drip, drip, drip goes the Twit

I trust Sarah Fishko.

I don't know her, I'v'e never bought anything from her and I wouldn't recognize her if we met, but I trust her.

Every once in a while, over the last few years, Sarah's voice has come out of my radio, telling me about one interesting cultural event or another. She's consistent. She shows up. She has built a body of work over time, taking her time, that leads to trust.

Twitter can do that for you.

Not for a million New Yorkers, but perhaps for a hundred or a thousand people you want to reach. Blogs do the same thing.

The best time to look for a job next year is right now. The best time to plan for a sale in three years is right now. The mistake so many marketers make is that they conjoin the urgency of making another sale with the timing to earn the right to make that sale. In other words, you must build trust before you need it. Building trust right when you want to make a sale is just too late.

Publishing your ideas... in books, or on a blog, or in little twits on Twitter... and doing it with patience, over time, is the best way I can think of to lay a foundation for whatever it is you hope to do next.

Zappos wants you to return those shoes

"We are a service company that happens to sell."

Zappos wants you to call their 800 number. They want you to order too many shoes. They want you to return (at their expense) the shoes that don't fit.

As a service company, the more they service you, the better they do. They don't buy (an enormous number of) ads, they don't pay rent. Instead, they carry inventory that serves the long tail, they answer their phone and they pay for a lot of fedex shipping.

The more you ask for, the better they do.

Simple, but not so easy.

[Judging from my mail, some readers see this as a blanket endorsement of Zappos. Of course, that's not my intent (though I do buy shoes from Zappos now and then). My point is that just as Sears used its guarantee 100 years ago to usher in an era of catalog selling, Zappos changed the fundamental business model of a small-time retailer. Instead of real estate, big ads, limited selection and grumpy salespeople, they figured out how to turn the internet to their advantage by reversing every one of those rules. If it can work for shoes, one wonders what it won't work for... and I think the only reason what they do is unusual is that most entrepreneurs/investors don't have the discipline and guts to go as close to the edge.]

Drop the dot?

Giantfonedial Rob writes in from Australia, proposing that [dot] com is superfluous, just as www is.

We don't say, "Visit us at http://www.askinosie.com," we just say, "askinosie.com."

It's pretty clear that we don't need the front matter. In fact, the latest version of most browsers are intelligent enough that you don't have to type www in. But do we need the [dot] com part? Shouldn't the user be smart enough to type in the brand name and expect to get the site?

The suffix is useful, and we'll have it for a long, long time in my opinion. That's because [dot] com uses just four characters to say, "we have a website and this is the address for it." No need to say  "our website is" when you can just use four characters instead.

Toll free numbers developed a similar shorthand. We used to have to explain that an 800 number was free and that you could call it for more info. Now, the area code does all that in 3 digits.

I love the story on boingboing about how the phone company worked so hard to teach kids how to dial the phone. Everything is new, at least for a while.

Who answers the phone?

The new rules mean that the most valuable marketing event is almost always an inbound phone call.

An inbound phone call is the ultimate in short-term permission. The customer or prospect is taking the time to call you. She's focused, interested, paying attention and willing to trust you.

Think for a minute about how much you spend (and how high up in the organization the discussions go) when it's time for a new logo or a new Super Bowl ad.

And yet, even though the rules have changed, the lowest-paid, least-respected, highest-turnover jobs in the organization now do the most important marketing work.

Scharffen-Berger Chocolate (which I've featured in some of my books) was bought by Hershey three years ago. They bought it because of me (and people like me). People who will go out of their way to find high quality dark chocolate and then pay a huge premium to buy it.

I've been really disappointed with the quality of their product for a few months. It seems to me that in order to ramp up production, they've smoothed out some edges and the product is becoming boring. Fewer high notes,  less interesting. So, I called.

The operator, who couldn't have been nicer, offered me a coupon for a free replacement bar.

A replacement of what? More of the same mediocre product I was calling to complain about?

Of course, she was just doing her job, but who's fault is that? Who decided to give her nothing but a script, who decided not to take the inbound calls seriously,  who decided that it made sense to put up a wall instead of opening a door? I guess the short version is, "why isn't the brand manager answering the phone?"

"Your call is very important to us,"

does not jibe with,

"Due to unusually heavy call volume."

And the phrase, "I'm sorry, I'm just doing my job," does not match up with the marketing event of a person taking the time to call (or to email).

No, of course Sumner Redstone can't answer every single letter sent to Viacom. But...

Shouldn't every single inbound call be answered in one ring? Shouldn't there be as much spent on self-service customer support as is spent on the design of the selling part of your website? Shouldn't you be tracking in the finest detail what people have to say when they call in? Shouldn't you be rewarding call center operators by how long they keep people on the phone, not how many calls they can handle a minute? Shouldn't there be an easy, fast and happy way for an operator to instantly upgrade a call to management (not a supervisor, I hate supervisors) who can actually learn something from the caller, not just make them go away?

And I guess that's my biggest point: the goal of every single interaction should be to upgrade the brand's value in the eye of the caller and to learn something about how to do better, not to get the caller to just go away.

Why downloading Firefox is like getting into college

A quick glimpse at just about any profession shows you that the vast majority of people who succeed professionally also went to college.

This could be because college teaches you a lot.

Or it could be because the kind of person that puts the effort into getting into and completing college is also the kind of person who succeeds at other things.

Firefox is similar.

Example: 25% of the visitors we track at Squidoo use Firefox, which is not surprising. But 50% of the people who actually build pages on the site are Firefox users. Twice as many.

This is true of bloggers, of Twitter users, of Flickr users... everywhere you look, if someone is using Firefox, they're way more likely to be using other power tools online. The reasoning: In order to use Firefox, you need to be confident enough to download and use a browser that wasn't the default when you first turned on your computer.

That's an empowering thing to do. It isolates you as a different kind of web user.

If I ran Firefox, I'd be hard at work promoting extensions and power tools (I love the search add-ons) and all manner of online interactions. Think of all the things colleges do to amplify the original choice of their students and to increase their impact as alumni.

And if I ran your site, I'd treat Firefox visitors as a totally different group of people than everyone else. They're a self-selected group of clickers and sneezers and power users.

In the lingo of Nancy Reagan, Firefox is a gateway drug.

Last call for the April seminar

Turns out there are about 8 seats left for my all day seminar. All proceeds go to the Acumen Fund. Not sure when the next one will be!

See you in New York on April 30th...

Write like a blogger

You can improve your writing (your business writing, your ad writing, your thank you notes and your essays) if you start thinking like a blogger:

  1. Use headlines. I use them all the time now. Not just boring ones that announce your purpose (like the one on this post) but interesting or puzzling or engaging headlines. Headlines are perfect for engaging busy readers.
  2. Realize that people have choices. With 80 million other blogs to choose from, I know you could leave at any moment (see, there goes someone now). So that makes blog writing shorter and faster and more exciting.
  3. Drip, drip, drip. Bloggers don't have to say everything at once. We can add a new idea every day, piling on a thesis over time.
  4. It's okay if you leave. Bloggers aren't afraid to include links or distractions in their writing, because we know you'll come back if what we had to say was interesting.
  5. Interactivity is a great shortcut. Your readers care about someone's opinion even more than yours... their own. So reading your email or your comments or your trackbacks (your choice) makes it easy to stay relevant.
  6. Gimmicks aren't as useful as insight. If you're going to blog successfully for months or years, sooner or later you need to actually say something. Same goes for your writing.
  7. Don't be afraid of lists. People like lists.
  8. Show up. Not writing is not a useful way of expressing your ideas. Waiting for perfect is a lousy strategy.
  9. Say it. Don't hide, don't embellish.

What would happen if every single high school student had to have a blog? Or every employee in your company? Or every one of your customers?

In and on and 'a'

How to sound smart when talking about the Internet:

You don't have 'a facebook.' Facebook is a place, a network, not a page. You're 'on facebook,' or you 'use facebook.'

'Friend' is a verb. "I'll friend you," is a totally valid thing to say.

You don't look up things on 'the google'. It's just Google, no 'the.' 'Google' is also a verb, as in, 'Google me'.

Instant messaging refers to a wide range of software tools and communication channels. It's called 'IM' and it too is a verb.

A blog is something you have (unlike a Facebook). And blog is also a verb. As in, "I have a blog, this blog, which you probably found by googling me. I blogged about Facebook (which I'm on but don't use often). I don't IM, and I'm impossibly lax about friending people."

[Jackson chimes in that a blog is the whole, and that a post is just one article (like the one you're reading). So you don't say, "I wrote a blog about that," you say, "I just blogged about that," or "did you read my post on how to talk about the Internet?"]

Little scraps

Too whom it may concern:

That's the way the letter of reference started off. I confess, I didn't make it to the second sentence.

And that store with the really loud electronica music? I left.

But I still remember that kid I met a year ago. I can't tell you what grade he was in, but the energy in his face and his enthusiasm was enough to get my full attention.

The facts:
Too many choices.
Too little time.

The response:
Quick decisions based on the smallest scraps of data.

It's not fair but it's true. Your blog, your outfit, the typeface you choose, the tone of your voice, the expression on your face, the location of your office, the way you rank on a Google search, the look of your Facebook page...

We all jump to conclusions and we do it every day.

Where do you want me to jump?

Would we miss you?

John Moore has a great series about known brands and their importance to our lives. If Pizza Hut disappeared tomorrow, who would miss them? Could you find a replacement pizza? A replacement place to work?

What about your personal marketing, though? If you disappeared tomorrow, would the customers you call on miss you? The places you're applying for a job? The guys on the board of directors you sit on? The users who call tech support where you answer the phone?

I spent an hour on the phone with Apple support yesterday. The guy I talked to was named Seven. (Gotta love that). Seven would be missed. In fact, every time I call Apple, I hope it's Seven on the phone.

The problem with fitting in and being a cog in the machine is that cogs are intentionally designed to be easily replaceable. When one breaks, you just get another. No one particularly misses the old one.

Waiting until the last minute

In a nutshell: don't.

Bad situations to wait until the last minute:

  • Catching a transcontinental flight
  • Asking your secret crush to the prom
  • Applying for a summer internship
  • Setting customer expectations
  • Studying for the SATs
  • Saving for retirement
  • Giving up smoking
  • Asking for a raise
  • Teaching ethical behavior to your kids
  • Winning a primary
  • Asking for directions
  • Sharing an idea

And, for balance, two times when it pays:

  • Bidding in an eBay auction
  • Giving up hope

Free meatball call

If you already own the book, you can enroll. April 9th, everywhere.

Details here. See you there. [It's a call, not a webinar, btw, which I actually greatly prefer.]

Which comes first (why stories matter)

Storywork I was brainstorming with my friend Jay today and he put this picture into my head.

Most of the time we do the work. The work is our initiative and our reactions and our responses and our output. The work is the decisions we make and the people we hire.

The work is what people talk about, because it's what we experience. In other words, the work tells a story.

But what if you haven't figured out a story yet?

Then the work is random. Then the story is confused or bland or indifferent and it doesn't spread.

On the other hand, if you decide what the story is, you can do work that matches the story. Your decisions will match the story. The story will become true because you're living it.

Does Starbucks tell a different story from McDonald's? Of course they do. But look how the work they do matches those stories... from the benefits they offer employees to the decisions they make about packaging or locations.

Same is true for that little consulting firm down the street vs. McKinsey. While the advice may end up being similar, each firm lives a story in who they hire, how they present themselves, etc.

The story creates the work and the work creates the story.

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