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« April 2008 | Main | June 2008 »

Thinking about Danny Devito

George Clooney is a movie star. He looks like one. He makes tens of millions of dollars a year, hangs out at Cannes and has starlets falling at his feet.

Danny Devito is exactly five feet tall. He was perfectly cast as the Penguin.

Can you imagine the career advice Danny got? The well-meaning people who explained to him (as if he didn't know) that he didn't really look like George Clooney? That perhaps, maybe, he should consider a job as a personal trainer or short order cook...

The math, however, tells us something different.

(number of people resembling George Clooney)/(jobs for people resembling George Clooney) is a much bigger number than the ratio available to Danny. For the math challenged: Because everyone in Hollywood is trying to be George, there are a lot more opportunities for the few Dannys willing to show up.

Invest in Danny. The edges usually pay off.

Recognition

Just wondering--do you deserve to be recognized by the businesses you patronize, the charities you support and the place you work? Would it feel good to have the barrista remember you? Or the sushi chef at that place you spend so much time and money? (Thanks to Fredd for the link).

Even better, do you think it would be motivating (or even satisfying) to have your boss recognize you for the hard work you did over Memorial Day weekend? Honest recognition, not just a mumbled thanks...

Last question: do you think your customers and co-workers feel the same way?

Links and subscriptions

An interview with Etsy about gender, shopping and stories.

plus

A secret way to find archives and subscription options on my blog (just click on the head logo on the top left corner of my blog).

plus

A longish interview with John Havens about new media.

Such a bargain. Thanks for reading, for listening and for subscribing.

Tide needs your help!

Never mind Darfur or the volcano in Chile or the earthquake in China or the cyclone in Myanmar.

Helptide

Fortunately, as you can see, your answers to the survey will be (completely) confidential. Thanks for the example, Micah.

This isn't nearly as over the top as the huge news coming out of the Chives Marketing Board today.

Let's put on a show

That's what professional marketers do. They put on a show, on purpose.

There are plenty of naive marketers who are quite (accidentally) successful. My friend Al Yeganeh ("no soup for you!") didn't treat customers at his soup stand the way he did as a marketing ploy. It's just who he was. He was a naive marketer, not a professional one. (Not that there's anything wrong with that! Most artists are naive marketers).

The show can be overt (like Cirque de Soleil) or quite subtle (like the music of chirping birds played outdoors at Epcot). But professionals know that they're putting on a show and do it on purpose. Big company CEOs put the show on for guests and investors and underlings. It usually involves lots of assistants and waiting around. Sometimes, as Andy Grove demonstrated, the show involves sitting in a cubicle just like everyone else. Hiring HR people put on the show too.

If I parodied your show, your brand show or your personal show, would people recognize it? Could I spoof you on Seinfeld or imitate you if I were Rich Little?

The buying department at WalMart is one big show, with tiny cubicles and all sorts of rules of engagement. And of course the TSA is nothing but security theatre.

If you had a budget for props, what would you buy? What about costumes?

Your resume might put on a show, and perhaps you put one on at work. Kevin at Digg puts on a show, and does Carly Fiorina and every successful politician you've ever met. Some people insist that they're not putting on a show. That's a show too, of course.

If you can live the role, really be in it, and be transparent about your motivations, putting on a show is productive and highly leveraged. If you work in customer service, marketing yourself as friendly (and being friendly!) is far more effective than just acting however you feel in any given moment, isn't it? That's because, if you're good at it, you realize that becoming a friendly customer service marketer is exactly what you need to do. Not pretend to be friendly, actually be friendly.

On the other hand, even if you're a professional marketer, if your show is cynical or manipulative, it's going to fall apart on you. Even Marlon Brando couldn't live the show all the time if he didn't believe it.

The difference between a professional and a naive marketer is that the professional can put on a different show in her next job, or for her next brand. Al Yeganeh, on the other hand, can only sell soup.

The difference between a company that makes stuff and a company that markets is that the latter is conscious of the fact that the market demands a show. So they put one on, on purpose, the best they can.

The next time you build a trade show booth or answer the phone or write an email, take a moment to think a little bit about the show.

Angry people are different

AngrycurveAngry people are different from other people. They are not just an inch or two along some curve. Instead, there's a gap in the curve, a vertical chasm, separating the angry from everyone else.

You may encounter angry prospects (angry before you even got there) or angry customers or angry regulators or even angry employees. They're similar to each other but different from the rest of us.

It's tempting to treat an angry person just like a typical person, just... angrier. This is probably a mistake, because anger brings its own reality along with it. An angry customer isn't just a little less valuable than a non-angry customer. In fact, she's on a curve all her own.

I have two suggestions for dealing with angry folks:

  1. Sometimes, you can just avoid them. You can choose not to work with angry people. Just move on. There are plenty of non-angry people out there.
  2. You can acknowledge the anger and understand that until you make the anger go away, all responses are going to be off the charts and completely useless to you. The opportunity in working with an angry person is that you can somehow turn that angry person into a non-angry one... and from there, move them up the curve to a relationship you both value. The mistake marketers make all the time is that we believe that moving the person up the curve is the next step. It's not. No one moves while they're angry.

"I'm never coming back to this restaurant again!" is angry.
"Our special next week is lasagna..." isn't going to do the trick as a response.

"I'm angry that my candidate didn't win the primary,"
so, "Consider my health plan," isn't going to work.

"You cancelled my flight!" is angry, thus...
"That's our policy sir, read the ticket," is obviously a lousy marketing ploy.

Magically delicious

I was talking to a teenager this weekend about the attributes of Lucky Charms. It had never occurred to her that they were magically delicious. In fact, they're a lot like most breakfast cereals, except for the marshmallows.

Some marketers are still relying on the idea that they can drill a catch phrase or benefit or USP or differentiation into our heads through ceaseless ads. It sure worked on me.

Is this the core strategy behind the growth of your business?

Not sure it's going to work any more.

The spirit of the game

There are two ways to get ahead. You can work the system or you can beat the system.

Beating the system usually involves some sort of subterfuge. Once everyone knows how you beat the system, the system adjusts and changes the rules, making it difficult for you to repeat the feat again. When card counters beat the system in Las Vegas, they weren't breaking the rules, but the system didn't care. They just increased the number of decks in use so it would be more difficult and less lucrative. When athletes beat the system by doping, the system adjusts so it's either a lot more difficult or less of an advantage.

Years ago, leading accounting firms were pitching wealthy prospects the idea of "perfectly legal" tax shelters that would lead to paying zero taxes on investments. You guessed it... the secret leaked out and they were busted.

Working the system is very different. Far from being secret, working the system is public and honored. When Malcolm Gladwell works the system to deliver two stunning bestsellers in a row, booksellers and publishers don't quickly make it more difficult to write books that appeal to a large audience... instead, his competitors work to raise their game and everyone benefits. When Bill Boomer taught the US Olympic team to swim in a very different way, he had nothing to hide, because he was working within the spirit of the game.

The web is nothing but a system, a bunch of (largely unwritten) rules regarding search, linking, promotion, etc. It's fascinating to watch as some people work hard to work the system, and succeed time and time again, while others waste countless hours with one scheme after another designed to beat the system. They invent cloaking devices and seo scams and pyramid schemes and lightly disguised spam pages, constantly struggling to stay ahead (and to stay quiet). Sure, you can beat the system (any system) for a while, but it's a constant struggle.

In Ultimate Frisbee, there are no referees. The system insists that you make your own calls... players closest to the play call it, with no real appeals. The goal: play in the spirit of the game. If you keep working to beat the system, you'll end up with no one to play with. Work the system, and you'll win now and later.

Rough edges and attention

Upssafety Most of the time, people notice the If you want to get noticed, don't be so polished.

This UPS truck has a haphazardly affixed SAFETY sign hanging from the back. Think that's unintentional? UPS does it on purpose. You notice it because a human being did it.

Same with the seven-page-long menus at diners in New York City. With thousands of things to choose from on the laminated, typeset menu, it's difficult for some people to make a choice. What to do? Well, there's a stained 3x5 card paper clipped to the front page listing four special dishes. They're not specials in the sense that they change every day, they're just specials because they're on the card. And yes, that's what people order.

When in doubt, scrawl make it human.

A chance to be on the cover of my new book

Tribe It's about you, after all.

If you'd like to be on the cover--at least in a teeny tiny little section of it-- (no promises, none at all--the cutting room floor is bigger than the cover), send a photo of yourself (headshots are best) to me [sorry, you missed the deadline]. If you're lucky, you'll join a thousand other handsome folks immortalized in print.  It could even get you on the Dick Cavett show. Here's your chance to be slightly famous.

It will only be read by a computer, so please don't send me any details or notes (I'll be looking at all of them, though, so rest assured that there's a real person at the other end). Of course, your email address won't be re-used in any way. The book is out in October and I'm not talking about it, not one bit, for months. But lead times are long, so here you go. Deadline is May 31. [We've reached the deadline. Thanks to all of you who responded! It really is an amazing collection. Sorry if you didn't make the cut this time.]

I hope you'll give it a shot. Have a great weekend.

Double, double

I'm standing in line in a strange town, waiting to buy a cup of redbush/honeybush/rooibos tea, the tea so good it needs three names.

There's an angry woman at the front of the line. "Double, double," she says.

The barrista stares blankly. "How can I help you?"

"Double, double!!"

"I'm sorry, do you want a coffee?"

"DOUBLE, DOUBLE!" (At this point, it occurs to me that this might be local jargon for 'double cream, double sugar in a standard coffee').

Sometimes, we get hung up on catch phrases and jargon that work great when everyone understands what we mean, but fail to bring understanding to outsiders. Yelling louder isn't always the answer. Changing your words might work better.

[Graham and others have pointed out that every self-respecting Canadian knows that Tim Horton's coffee chain not only sells the double double but promotes it heavily. So the clueless server was truly clueless. My point stands... when someone doesn't understand what you're saying, saying it LOUDER doesn't usually work.]

Never's not such a long time

"I'll never buy from you again."
"I'll never vote for that candidate if my candidate loses."
"I'll never invest in that stock."

Never seems like a really long time, doesn't it? Practically forever.

Here's the thing. People who say 'never' actually mean, "until my situation or the story changes materially." Making bad decisions in the now to honor absolute statements in the past isn't particularly sustainable. Consumers, short-sighted as they are sometimes, are able to realize this pretty quickly.

In fact, the only thing shorter than 'never' is 'always.'

How to read a business book

I like reading magic books.

I don’t do magic. Not often (and not well). But reading the books is fun. It’s a vicarious thing, imagining how a trick might work, visualizing the effect and then smiling at how the technique is done. One after another, it’s a pleasant adventure.

A lot of people read business books in just the same way. They cruise through the case studies or the insights or examples and imagine what it would be like to be that brilliant entrepreneur or that successful CEO or that great sales rep. A pleasant adventure.

There’s a huge gap between most how-to books (cookbooks, gardening, magic, etc.) and business books, though. The gap is motivation. Gardening books don’t push you to actually do something. Cookbooks don’t spend a lot of time trying to sell you on why making a roast chicken isn’t as risky as you might think.

The stakes are a lot higher when it comes to business.

Wreck a roast chicken and it’s $12 down the drain. Wreck a product launch and there goes your career...

I’m passionate about writing business books precisely for this reason. There are more business books sold than most other non-fiction categories for the same reason. High stakes, high rewards.

The fascinating thing is this: I spend 95% of my time persuading people to take action and just 5% of the time on the recipes.

The recipe that makes up just about any business book can be condensed to just two or three pages. The rest is the sell. The proof. The persuasion.

Which leads to your role as the reader. How to read a business book... it’s not as obvious as it seems.

  • Bullet points are not the point.

If you’re reading for the recipe, and just the recipe, you can get through a business book in just a few minutes. But most people who do that get very little out of the experience. Take a look at the widely divergent reviews for The Dip. The people who ‘got it’ understood that it was a book about getting you to change your perspective and thus your behavior. Those that didn’t were looking for bullet points. They wasted their money.

Computer books, of course, are nothing but bullet points. Programmers get amazing value because for $30 they are presented with everything they need to program a certain tool. Yet most programmers are not world class, precisely because the bullet points aren’t enough to get them to see things the way the author does, and not enough to get them motivated enough to actually program great code.

So, how to read a business book:

1. Decide, before you start, that you’re going to change three things about what you do all day at work. Then, as you’re reading, find the three things and do it. The goal of the reading, then, isn’t to persuade you to change, it’s to help you choose what to change.

2. If you’re going to invest a valuable asset (like time), go ahead and make it productive. Use a postit or two, or some index cards or a highlighter. Not to write down stuff so you can forget it later, but to create marching orders. It’s simple: if three weeks go by and you haven’t taken action on what you’ve written down, you wasted your time.

3. It’s not about you, it’s about the next person. The single best use of a business book is to help someone else. Sharing what you read, handing the book to a person who needs it... pushing those around you to get in sync and to take action--that’s the main reason it’s a book, not a video or a seminar. A book is a souvenir and a container and a motivator and an easily leveraged tool. Hoarding books makes them worth less, not more.

Effective managers hand books to their team. Not so they can be reminded of high school, but so that next week she can say to them, "are we there yet?"

Competition

A few readers have pinged me, asking how I can post to other blogs that write stuff similar to mine. "Aren't you promoting the competition?"

Two part answer. First, I don't think most authors have competition (except television). The more you read, the better we do. That's why bookstores are great places to sell books... even though all the competition is right there.

More relevant to you, the web works when you link out. Hoarding attention (like CNET did for a long time and about.com does like crazy) is a no-win strategy. Shared attention doesn't dissipate, it grows.

Here's some more competition to contemplate:

Bill Taylor on Zappos' amazing buyout offer.

Kevin Kelly on FAQs and NAQs.

Andrew Chen on Metcalfe's Law.

Jeff Widman on wallable.

and, competing with myself, a long Q&A session I did at the Chronicle of Philanthropy today.

Proximity to pain

The closer you are to the point of need, the more you can charge.

Pizza at the airport costs five times more than pizza on the way to the airport.

Tax audit services in the middle of an SEC investigation cost triple what they cost before one.

Scalped tickets cost more than ones bought in advance, by mail.

Emergency towing in a strange town costs more too.

The single easiest way to increase your fees is to get closer to the pain. It's interesting to note that no large-scale advertising ventures are closer to the pain than the Yellow Pages or Google. Both of which are insanely successful.

The new standard for meetings and conferences

If oil is $130 a barrel and if security adds two or three hours to a trip and if people are doing more and more business with those far afield...

and if we need to bring together more people from more places when we get together...

and if the alternatives, like video conferencing or threaded online conversations continue to get better and better, then...

I think the standard for a great meeting or a terrific conference has changed.

In other words, "I flew all the way here for this?" is going to be far more common than it used to be.

If you think a great conference is one where the presenters read a script while showing the audience bullet points, you're wrong. Or if you leave little time for attendees to engage with others, or worse, if you don't provide the levers to make it more likely that others will engage with each other, you're wrong as well.

Here's what someone expects if they come to see you on an in-person sales call: that you'll be prepared, focused, enthusiastic and willing to engage honestly about the next steps. If you can't do that, don't have the meeting.

Here's what a speaker owes an audience that travels to engage in person: more than they could get by just reading the transcript.

And here's what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement.

I'm on a roll here, so let me add one more new standard:

If you're a knowledge worker, your boss shouldn't make you come to the (expensive) office every day unless there's something there that makes it worth your trip. She needs to provide you with resources or interactions or energy you can't find at home or at Starbucks. And if she does invite you in, don't bother showing up if you're just going to sit quietly.

I've worked in three companies that had lots of people and lots of cubes, and I spent the entire day walking around. I figured that was my job. The days where I sat down and did what looked like work were my least effective days. It's hard for me to see why you'd bother having someone come all the way to an office just to sit in a cube and type.

The new rule seems to be that if you're going to spend the time and the money to see someone face to face, be in their face. Interact or stay home!

Great post on the wienie

From Mark.

Why word of mouth doesn't happen

Sometimes, what you do is done as well as it can be done. It's a service that people truly love, or a product they can't live without. You're doing everything right, but it's not remarkable, at least not in the sense of "worth making a remark about."

What's up with that?

Here's a smörgåsbord of reasons:

  1. It's embarrassing to talk about. That's why VD screening, no matter how well done, rarely turns into a viral [ahem] success.
  2. There's no easy way to bring it up. This is similar to number 1, but involves opportunity. It's easy to bring up, "hey, where'd you get that ring tone?" because the ring tone just interrupted everyone. It's a lot harder to bring up the fact that you just got a massage.
  3. It might not feel cutting edge enough for your crowd. So, it's not the thing that's embarrassing, it's the fact they you just found out about it. Don't bring up your brand new Tivo with your friends from MIT. They'll sneer at you.
  4. On a related front, it might feel too popular to profitably sneeze about. Sometimes bloggers hesitate to post on a popular source or topic because they worry they'll seem lazy.
  5. You might like the exclusivity. If you have no trouble getting into a great restaurant or a wonderful club, perhaps you won't tell the masses because you're selfish...
  6. You might want to keep worlds from colliding. Some kids, for example, like the idea of being the only kid from their school at the summer camp they go to. They get to have two personalities, be two people, keep things separate.
  7. You might feel manipulated. Plenty of hip kids were happy to talk about Converse, but once big, bad Nike got involved, it felt different. Almost like they were being used.
  8. You might worry about your taste. Recommending a wine really strongly takes guts, because maybe, just maybe, your friends will hate the wine and think you tasteless.
  9. There are probably ten other big reasons, but they all lead to the same conclusions:

First, understand that people talk about you (or not talk about you) because of how it makes them feel, not how it makes you feel.

Second, if you're going to build a business around word of mouth, better not have these things working against you.

Third, if you do, it may be a smart strategy to work directly to overcome them. That probably means changing the fundamental DNA of your experience and the story you tell to your users. "If you like us, tell your friends," might feel like a fine start, but it's certainly not going to get you there.

What will change the game is actually changing the game. Changing the experience of talking about you so fundamentally that people will choose to do it.

Packaging for retail

Item 1: My Logitech cordless remote (which I like a lot) came in plastic, non-recyclable packaging that weighed twice as much as the remote itself.* The plastic was so well sealed and so thick that I actually broke a kitchen knife trying to open it. (*this is not hyperbole. I weighed it).

This is expensive, time-consuming and positions the product as extremely ungreen.

This packaging is the result of a paranoid retail buyer (the person who orders in bulk for the store, not the buyer at retail) demanding pilfer-proof packaging combined with a lazy brand manager choosing a lousy solution to the challenge presented by getting it into a retailer. "Make it pilfer-proof or we won't carry it," he says. The brand manager doesn't want to take a risk, so she packages it the way they packaged it when the device cost $1,000. Impregnable.

When you buy it from Amazon, of course, a cardboard sleeve would be sufficient. The manufacturer, though, only wants to have one sku, so Amazon sells the wasteful one as well.

So, why not compromise and shrink wrap it to a cardboard backad? A simple piece of cardboard, 8 x 10, impossible to fit under your jacket, much lighter, easy to recycle, cheaper and easier to ship.

Item 2: Those stickers on digital cameras that say things like "8 megapixels". Why is there a sticker on the camera that you don't even see until you've already purchased it?

Because one out of 100 boxes are opened by the store to put on display. By stickering ALL the cameras, they can be sure to get that sticker on the one that gets in the case... I am just fascinated by this. It seems so clever. The mystery is why the digital photos that they provide to Amazon et. al. don't have the stickers affixed.

Lessons: Package your stuff so that it works at retail. Put stickers on things that are going to get unboxed. Create sample kits. Consider offering a second package to Amazon. Think about cutting down weight and customer angst by making pilfer-proof packaging that is lighter, easier to open and recyclable. You save money and you sell more stuff. Oh, and don't ship stuff with styrofoam peanuts. We can do better.

Lenore Godin's son

[Intentionally posted on a day that's not Mother's Day].

My mom always disliked Mother's Day. She had a few good reasons.

First, she pointed out that anytime you do something because you're supposed to, or because everyone else is doing it, it's not worth as much. Flowers the week before or a nice poem the day after were priceless compared to the trudge to the restaurant on the appointed day.

I think this is true of all marketing. Nice words to a customer the day they say they're quitting, or to an employee during an annual review aren't worth much at all, imho.

Second, she didn't understand why it was necessary to commercialize something that worked even better when it was free. Just because you can market something for a profit doesn't mean you should.

As for me, I'm amazed at all the folks who would talk about the lessons they learned from their mom and would act that way, at least for a few hours... but then would spend the rest of the year as if they'd been raised by wolves.

At the CMA conference yesterday, someone asked me about marketing ethics. I said that marketers have to act as if their mom is watching... because even if she isn't, someone else is.

Every day (except for maybe Mother's Day), I try to act like my mom's son. I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be, but it's worth the effort. I miss you, mom.

We specialize in everything

If the world is really bigger, if you can find the best in the world to do what you want, no matter what it is you want, does that change things?

If I need an animator, I can find the world's best animator. If I need a bond to insure my movie, I can find the best broker at selling completion bonds. If I need SEO help, get me the world's best SEO person. If I need braces, I can find the best orthodontist in my area. Not the second-best or someone who will try really hard or someone who is pretty good at that and also good at other things. Sure, there are occasional tasks where a diagnostician with wide-ranging experience is important (but I'd argue that that's a specialty in and of itself).

When choice is limited, I want a generalist. When selection is difficult, a jack of all trades is just fine.

But whenever possible, please bring me a brilliant specialist.

If you're shaking your head in agreement with this obvious point, then the question is: tell me again why you're a generalist?

[Forgive me, dear reader, for not being clear enough in the post above. I got a lot of mail, much of it mentioning Leonardo, etc. Here's what I failed to say,

"It's okay to specialize in being a generalist, of course. By that, I mean that there are many problems (like the diagnostic one mentioned above), where someone who can see wide and doesn't have an allegiance to a particular solution is exactly the right person to call. I rely on generalists all the time, and so do you. My point is that you never call on these people when there's a better specialist available. And in the old days, a little town could only support one generalist, so it wasn't an issue. Today, especially in high-value situations, that's just not the case. So, yes, generalize. And specialize in it!"]

Brand magic

Torley points us to brand tags.

It's a simple game where you pick one-word associations to go with major brands. The result pages are actually pretty inane, but the magical way each and every one of these brands compels you to think is fascinating.

I saw the Harley logo and I immediately typed "macho". But it's just a motorcycle. A vehicle, no more macho than any other. Yet the word just popped into my head.

And the same thing happened for the next brand and the next one as well.

Superbrands have a mystical connection with people. Odds are, you can't own one, but there's no reason you can't build a micro one, a local one, a brand that's magical for a smaller group of people.

Working with Apple Tech Support

Sixteen tips for getting your Mac or iPhone fixed:

  1. The contact number is (800) 275 2273
  2. While you're on hold, go to Google and type: Troubleshoot Mac xxx, where xxx represents the error message you got or the sparsest description of what won't work.
  3. If those links don't help you, visit the Apple site and choose your product. Under each product is a discussion forum. Search for your problem.
  4. By now, someone has answered your call. Don't tell them your entire problem. Instead, politely identify yourself, give them the short version and then say, "would you please escalate this call to a yyy specialist?" where yyy is the type of problem you have: wireless or backup or imovie or whatever. Persist.
  5. When you get a specialist on the line, ask politely for her direct phone number in case you get disconnected. After you describe your problem, ask for a case number. If the person isn't being helpful, politely excuse yourself and start over with a new call.
  6. Apple gets lots and lots of calls. As a result, don't expect the person you're working with to immediately be willing to skip over all the troubleshooting steps you tried before you called. They have a protocol. It's easier to just take five minutes to follow that protocol.
  7. If the specialist you're working with is having trouble figuring out what to do next, politely say, "I hope you don't mind, but can you escalate this case to a specialist?" And then wait, patiently, until they do.
  8. If your product is less than thirty days old, and you've gone through the protocol with no success, say, "I'd like an RMA for this product so I can return it and start with one that works. It's under the return warranty, right?"
  9. If you found lots of examples of the same problem in Google, tell them. Point out that this "is not an isolated problem" and suggest that others have solved it by getting a new machine sent to them. Be ready with links, because the rep has Google too.
  10. Engaging in friendly banter doesn't just help you get what you want. It makes the call better for you too. These guys aren't your enemy. In fact, right now, they're the best friend you have in the whole world.
  11. This is the one I should have listed first: go to the Genius bar at your local store. The guys at the Genius bar are much more likely to just swap out your broken hardware and give you a new machine. It might seem time-consuming, but it's probably faster than waiting them out on the phone. Spending $99 on a One to One card is a brilliant investment.
  12. At least once a minute, say 'thank you.' If you thought about it, you'd realize that yes, you do mean it. They're being quiet and calm and trying to help.
  13. If you own a computer, back it up. If you don't, all bad things are your fault.
  14. I have no personal experience in begging or sobbing, but I'm told that in some cases, this is effective.
  15. If you use an email program, clean it out. Regularly. One friend of mine had 27,000 emails in her outbound mail folder, including some from 2002.
  16. Trust me, it doesn't matter how big the readership of your blog is, the folks on the phone are unlikely to care.

Your interaction is a marketing event. Apple is marketing to you. The rep is marketing to you (that's a feature, not a bug). And you're marketing yourself and the problem to them. Clarity and cooperation combined with determination and persistence appear to be the best combination.

What do you know?

Three years ago, I published this list, which was very much a riff, not a carefully planned manifesto. It has held up pretty well. Feel free to reprint or otherwise use, as long as you include a credit line. I've added a few at the bottom...

What Every Good Marketer Knows:

  • Anticipated, personal and relevant advertising always does better than unsolicited junk.
  • Making promises and keeping them is a great way to build a brand.
  • Your best customers are worth far more than your average customers.
  • Share of wallet is easier, more profitable and ultimately more effective a measure than share of market.
  • Marketing begins before the product is created.
  • Advertising is just a symptom, a tactic. Marketing is about far more than that.
  • Low price is a great way to sell a commodity. That’s not marketing, though, that’s efficiency.
  • Conversations among the members of your marketplace happen whether you like it or not. Good marketing encourages the right sort of conversations.
  • Products that are remarkable get talked about.
  • Marketing is the way your people answer the phone, the typesetting on your bills and your returns policy.
  • You can’t fool all the people, not even most of the time. And people, once unfooled, talk about the experience.
  • If you are marketing from a fairly static annual budget, you’re viewing marketing as an expense. Good marketers realize that it is an investment.
  • People don’t buy what they need. They buy what they want.
  • You’re not in charge. And your prospects don’t care about you.
  • What people want is the extra, the emotional bonus they get when they buy something they love.
  • Business to business marketing is just marketing to consumers who happen to have a corporation to pay for what they buy.
  • Traditional ways of interrupting consumers (TV ads, trade show booths, junk mail) are losing their cost-effectiveness. At the same time, new ways of spreading ideas (blogs, permission-based RSS information, consumer fan clubs) are quickly proving how well they work.
  • People all over the world, and of every income level, respond to marketing that promises and delivers basic human wants.
  • Good marketers tell a story.
  • People are selfish, lazy, uninformed and impatient. Start with that and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
  • Marketing that works is marketing that people choose to notice.
  • Effective stories match the worldview of the people you are telling the story to.
  • Choose your customers. Fire the ones that hurt your ability to deliver the right story to the others.
  • A product for everyone rarely reaches much of anyone.
  • Living and breathing an authentic story is the best way to survive in an conversation-rich world.
  • Marketers are responsible for the side effects their products cause.
  • Reminding the consumer of a story they know and trust is a powerful shortcut.
  • Good marketers measure.
  • Marketing is not an emergency. It’s a planned, thoughtful exercise that started a long time ago and doesn’t end until you’re done.
  • One disappointed customer is worth ten delighted ones.
  • In the googleworld, the best in the world wins more often, and wins more.
  • Most marketers create good enough and then quit. Greatest beats good enough every time.
  • There are more rich people than ever before, and they demand to be treated differently.
  • Organizations that manage to deal directly with their end users have an asset for the future.
  • You can game the social media in the short run, but not for long.
  • You market when you hire and when you fire. You market when you call tech support and you market every time you send a memo.
  • Blogging makes you a better marketer because it teaches you humility in your writing.

Obviously, knowing what to do is very, very different than actually doing it.

The power of the interface

Here's what happens when you rearrange YouTube to make it work.

Architecture matters.

Marketing the charity auction

How much would you pay for a twenty dollar bill?

In tough times, many schools and non-profits rely on charity fundraisers, and a popular one is the auction. The method is simple: supporters donate things, and then they're auctioned off, with all proceeds going to charity.

If you have a vacation house, the thinking goes, the incremental cost of donating a week is low. And wow, I can buy a week at that house for way less than it's worth. Everyone wins.

If you have a friend who works on the Letterman show, you can get two VIP tickets for free and donate them and someone at the auction gets to go to the show for not so much money.

This bargain hunting is fine as far as it goes, but it never leads to a wildly successful auction, because the story that's told is too small.

If you're only willing to bid $19 to buy a $20 bill at this auction, you're not doing charity, you're bargain hunting. There's nothing wrong with bargain hunting, it's fun, but it's not philanthropy. I think bargain hunting for a good cause is just fine, but wouldn't it be great if the event could raise far more money and change the way people view the organization?

The Robin Hood Foundation raised more than 24 million dollars at their last auction, because people competed to overpay. And that's the secret. The story the charity must tell is: "don't pay $19 for this twenty dollar bill, don't even pay $30, we need you to pay $40!" The satisfaction of overpaying (whether you overpay anonymously or in public) is what they sell, not a bargain.

This is not the easy path. It is much easier to sell your public on bargains than it is to sell them on generosity. The good news is that once you get over the hump, it scales. Bargains scale downward... better bargains are lower-priced bargains, which means you scale to zero. Philanthropy scales upward... better overpaying is more overpaying. A public auction is always a public competition. The challenge is to create social approval for what would otherwise be bad auction skills! Enlist a few stooges in the audience in advance, then start by auctioning off that $20 bill. When it goes for $45 and the winner gets an ovation, you've set a tone.

The goal of a non-profit seeking money needs to be to create an environment in which the community congratulates itself on overpaying.

Breaking the glass

Theclock2 John sends us this astounding thought piece.

It's a clock, turned off, not ticking, showing no progress, encased in glass.

When you're ready to make the leap, to commit, to make something happen, you break the glass. The sculpture is ruined. All you have is shards of broken glass. And a working clock. It's alive and it's changing and moving forward.

Analogy, anyone?

Four more words

Connect like-minded people.

My previous post only captured one part of the equation... the work of the marketer marketing to (or at) the consumer. It leaves out the future, which involves finding and leading and empowering the tribe of people who surround your organization.

While the obvious successes are sites like Facebook or Flickr or Twitter, this idea of connection is far more pervasive than that. Starbucks connects people, and so does Apple. Accounting firms have the opportunity to create value by connecting their clients to each other, and so do trade shows.

So, I guess we’re up to eight words, or seven if you believe in hyphens.

The Media markets

The product they sell is drama.

When I went to business school, we spent an entire 90 minute class on how to read the Wall Street Journal. That's a rare treat... being taught how to understand and psyche out the media.

With the vast bulk of our news coming online now, it's worth taking a second to look at the way mainstream media markets drama. You know and I know that they're doing this, but maybe it'll strike a chord with someone...

Take a look at a screen shot from the front page of CNN.com today:

Mediamarket I put a green checkbox next to every statement on the page that might be considered 'true' but could certainly be considered irrelevant, or at least unimportant compared to the actual 'news'.

The page would have been more accurate if it had said things like, "Obama gains more than 200,000 votes over Clinton" or "Obama campaign further extends delegate lead, picking up 12 more delegates" or even "Obama pummels Clinton in the bigger state."

That's not dramatic, though, and as William Randolph Hearst taught us a long time ago, the goal is to sell newspapers, not to report the news.

There isn't media bias in favor of Hillary (my friend Jeff is the first to point that out). Nor is there media bias in favor of floods. There's media bias in favor of drama.

Most of us are inclined to believe that government officials, doctors and the media are making an effort to tell us the truth. Actually, just like all marketers, they tell us a story.

All the News That Fits (do what you're great at)

The New York Times, like all newspapers, is in big trouble.

Unlike other papers, though, they've got a shot. And we can all learn a lesson about focusing on the great (by looking at what they should be doing, anyway).

All the News That's Fit to Print used to be the motto they lived by. Of course, now, all the news that fits = the web. Unlimited space and free newsprint means the web can actually hold all the news. "Fit" is a big question mark.

So, where can the Times excel?

I'd argue they have two opportunities:
1. If it's in the Times, it's true
2. If it's in the Times, it's important

I should clarify. By 'true', I mean vetted as well as can be vetted, I mean more true than other places. They can never reach this level of course, but they can try harder than most and they can be transparent and they can admit when they're wrong and correct it. Lots of noise online, not so much truth.

By 'important', I mean 'important because everyone else is reading the same thing.' So, for example, the NY Times bestseller list is important. A half page story about the last factory making washboards is important. A glowing, thoughtful review of an overlooked opera is important. It's important because the Times becomes one of the last cultural touchstones, the thing the other smart people read.

The mistake the Times is making, over and over and over again, is that few of the stories in the paper are edited with these wins in mind. I'm just not sure that anyone there has a list of what they're great at, or want to be great at.

Monday featured TWO stories about Barbara Walters and her new book. Why? We don't need the Times for 'truth' here, and while it may be important to Knopf and to Barbara, it's not really that important to us.

Sunday, my local version of the Times featured an in-depth restaurant review of the Olive Garden! And it was for a location 30 miles from my house (they're saving money by combining regional editions). Ouch.

If I were editing the Times, I'd look at every single editorial feature, every single article and ask if it met either of the two things the Times could stand for. If not, that piece should be gone, deleted, unassigned. No sports section, for example. If you can't be the best in the world, don't bother, because someone else is going to get my attention. The Times needs 50 more bestseller lists, 20 more trusted stories about real political fact and insight, ten more cultural touchstone features... and a lot less filler, a lot less copycat stuff and nothing, nothing about Barbara Walters.

[Not because I don't like Barbara Walters. Merely because a link to the other sites that can happily review and sell me her book is far more effective than wasting time and resources flogging a book that needs no flogging. Pick 20 books a day and point to them, don't write vapid features about three every week. The Times does better when they find something we don't know about and celebrate it instead.]

These choices represent the same quandary you face. Your product line, your choices, your services... if you obsess about doing the thing you are great at and let the mediocre stuff go, you'll do far better.

What are you great at? What if you did it exclusively?

More on passion and pop

The post about the gulf between passion and pop touched a chord.

A few readers remembered Geoff Moore’s classic Crossing the Chasm. This is a super book (particularly the original (used) edition, not the updated one). Geoff has a different take on the curves, but his approach is well worth a look, especially for technology related products.

A few other readers wrote in, pointing out that they are going for both. Both passion and pop because the flexibility of the web makes it easy to do that. Of course, it doesn’t, not really. Going for both is rarely the right strategy.

Most germane: the two humps are not static. They move. Sometimes you can move them (I think Apple did) and sometimes the market moves on its own (music, for example). Most businesses don’t have the patience or the resources to move the Pop hump on their own, and I think it’s usually foolish to try. Passion, on the other hand, is always fast moving, and if you have something extraordinary and there’s a cadre of believers, the passionate will find you.

Avoiding the Passion Pop Gulf

Passionpop Here's a new curve for you: I'm calling it the passion/pop curve.

That bell curve to the left represents acceptance by the focused/excited/tastemaking community. Those are the people who love microbeers and haute couture and Civil War memorabilia. Like all market curves, there's a sweet spot. Go too nutsy on us ($90,000 turntables, for example) and even the committed will flee. Go too pop, though, and we'll avoid you as well.

Simple example: Jazz. If you do atonal world jazz played in the dark underwater, few people will come. On the other hand, you won't get many jazz fans at a Spyrogyra concert either. Too pop.

The bell curve on the right, you'll notice, is bigger. This is a second market, a bigger market, the market of pop. These are the folks who go to the Olive Garden for a nice italian meal instead of the authentic place down the street. They too want something that's not too edgy and not too (in their opinion) trite.

The reason you need to care is that gap in the middle. Every day, millions of businesses get stuck in that gap. They either move to the right in search of the masses or move to the left in search of authenticity, but they compromise. And they get stuck with neither.

A delta blues guy who plays for tiny audiences in Memphis is in the sweet spot of the passionate. John Mayer is in the sweet spot of pop. Both are great guitarists, neither is too edgy or too trite. Both made a choice. But there are a thousand guitarists who are neither. They're afraid to embrace one curve or the other and end up with neither.

You can move a curve one or way or the other... the curves change all the time. Chuck Mangione was pop for a while, much to the derision of the jazz purists. Now, though, the curve of pop has moved and Chuck can't possibly chase it down.

It's not just musicians, of course. Even dentists face this quandary. Should you be the most expensive, best trained, most extreme dentist in the world, catering to the edge of the passion market, or perhaps develop a chain of $19 five-minute whitening shops for the outer edge of the pop market?

You might get lucky and end up with a sweet spot accidentally. Inevitably, you'll itch to move to the other curve (cause it's bigger or because it feels more authentic) and I worry about your ability to do that.

The best choice is to choose.

Four words

Make big promises; overdeliver.

If you can define great marketing in fewer words than that, you win.

"Big promises": treating people with respect, improving self-esteem, delivering results, contacting as often as you say you will but not more, including side effects in your planning, delivering joy, meeting spec, being on time, connecting people to one another, delivering consistency, offering value and on and on. Caring. The stories involved in your promises matter. That's often what people are buying.

This is the first place that the equation breaks down. Marketers often make big promises that appear to be unrealistic or are delivered in ways that don't match the worldview of the prospect. Marketers get carried away with themselves and focused on their greatness and forget to tell a story that people enjoy believing.

And sometimes, they make promises that are too small to get our attention. Boring promises are hardly worth making.

"Overdeliver" means doing more than you said you would, which is the secret to word of mouth.

Here, of course, the pitfall is obvious. You made too big a promise and you did your best, but no, you didn't overdeliver, not really. You didn't amaze and delight and yes, stun me with the incredible results of your offering.

Just because it's only four words doesn't mean it's easy!

The coming backlash over green marketing

Go_green Micah points us to this campaign from Tumi Luggage. Buy some nylon luggage, they'll plant some trees (one tree? A bush? It's not clear how many trees per suitcase). It's entirely possible that Tumi's campaign is nothing short of generous, but as a consumer, it's awfully difficult to tell.

The easiest marketing promise to make is to say you'll do something green if people consume what you sell. That you'll support one green cause or another. No one is in charge of checking out your story, and my guess is that 90% of the time, it leads to a net negative--more landfill, more carbon, more waste.

I can still remember a car commercial that ran when I was a teenager... during the first big energy crisis. It touted that a certain brand of car was the one to buy, not because it got better mileage, but because it had a bigger tank! "Range," the announcer intoned, "is what you need in a car."

Consumers aren't stupid (we're dumb sometimes, but not stupid.) So, when the backlash hits, when every single brand has used up some green angle, then what?

Here's what's missing: a number. When you buy a fridge, there's a big yellow sticker with a number about relative energy consumption. Now, we could argue all day long about how to figure out the right number (should the number on the fridge include data about the amount of energy needed to make the fridge in the first place?) but an imperfect number sure seems better than no number at all.

Drive to Philadelphia: 150.
Take Amtrak: 22.

Stick with the lightbulbs you have throughout your whole house until they burn out: 175.
Replace them all now with something better: 142.

Organic strawberries from California: 88
Frozen strawberries from California: 80
Apple from Dutchess County: 4

The power of a number is the effect we saw when they put a number on restaurants (Zagats) and wines (Parker) and gas mileage (the EPA). People notice a number, and they work to improve it. If every car sold in our country had a real-time gas consumption meter on the dashboard and the rear window, things would change very fast. The only change from the status quo would be the story (communicating impact) but marketing the story is our biggest challenge right now. Once we communicate the most efficient path, I think we'll be delighted at how many people take it. Right now, marketers are doing a lousy job of that, devolving into short-term, often selfish come-ons. That's not going to last and it's not going to scale.

Marketers who truly care about the green thing should be scrambling right now to find a number or an organization that can defend the green brand. If not, it's going to be worthless and a great opportunity for improvement is going to be lost.

Inhaling

Dave Pell has a brand new site.

It's pretty simple. It gives you a popurls type view of the web for any search term you can imagine. Nicely done.

Sucking all the juice out

Just got some work back from a new copyeditor hired by my publisher. She did a flawless job. She also wrecked my work. Totally wrecked it.

By sanding off every edge, removing every idiom, making each and every fact literally correct, she made it boring and dry and mechanical.

If they have licenses for copyeditors, she should have hers revoked.

I need to be really clear. She's not at fault. She did exactly what she was supposed to do. The fault lies in the job description, not the job. If the job description of your lawyer or boss or editor or client is to make sure everything is pure and perfect and proven and beyond reproach, they are making things worse, not better. (Unless you're in the vaccine business).

Almost everything you do has some sort of copyediting filter. It might be the legal eagle or the graphic supervisor or the customer service police. They're excellent at making round things fit perfectly through round holes.

Boring and ignored is fine with them, because no one complains.

Fortunately, copy editors have a remedy. It's a word called STET. Which means, "leave it alone, it was fine." Time to teach that to your editors, wherever they may be. Maybe there should be a t-shirt.

If all you want is safe, have baby food for dinner. Just leave me out of it.

Let's skip the meeting

Meetingsad Chris sends us this classic "ad."

Today's resolution: skip at least one meeting every day for the next two weeks. Watch what happens.

The first rule of b2b selling

If it gets to the RFP stage, you lost.

Great business to business marketers (and profitable ones) make the sale long before that happens.

The RFP is an organizational punt, it's a way of saying, "it's all a commodity, we can't decide, cheap guy wins."

The cheap guy, of course, never wins.

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