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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list


All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

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




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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« May 2008 | Main | July 2008 »

Bravery and Wall-e

At every turn, Pixar messed up the marketing of their new movie. It has a hard to spell name, no furry characters, not nearly enough dialogue (the first 45 minutes is almost silent), no nasty (but ultimately ridiculous) bad guy, hardly any violence and very little slapstick. Wall-e didn't get a huge Hollywood PR campaign or even a lot of promotion, it doesn't feature any hot stars and as far as I can tell, the merchandising options are quite limited.

Can you imagine the meetings?

Can you imagine the yelling?

Pixar, recently purchased by Disney, could crank out multi-billion dollar confections. They know all the moves, they have the chops to create merchandising powerhouses. And with just one movie a year, they certainly must have been under huge pressure to do just that.

And yet, instead, they make a great movie. A movie for the ages. A film, not 90 minutes of commerce.

The irony, of course, is that they'll make plenty of money. Bravery often pays off, even if paying off is not your goal. Especially if that's not your goal.

Marketing isn't always about pandering to the masses and shooting for the quick payoff. Often, the best marketing doesn't feel like marketing at all.

The magic of low-hanging fruit

Imagine that half the cars in the US get 10 miles per gallon. And half get 40 miles per gallon. Further stipulate that all cars are driven the same number of miles per year.

Now, you get one wish. You can give every low-mileage car a new set of spark plugs that will increase fuel efficiency by 5 mpg, up to 15. Or you can replace every 40 mpg car with a car that gets 75 mpg, an increase of 35 miles for every gallon driven.

Which is better?

It turns out that the 5 mpg increase is far better for overall mileage than the 35 mpg increase, even though it's smaller both as a percentage and absolutely. That's because the 10 mpg hogs use up so much gas. They're the low-hanging fruit, not just easy to fix, but worth fixing.

As marketers, we're tempted to tweak the already tweaked, to turn the 100 to 101, to optimize for the peak performances. That long tail is very long, though, and if there's a way you can raise the floor (instead of just focusing on the ceiling) you may be surprised to discover that it can have a huge impact.

Simple example: It's way more profitable to encourage each of your existing customers to spend $3 than it is to get a stranger to spend $300. It's also more effective to get the 80% of your customer service people that are average to be a little better than it is to get the amazing ones to be better still.

How to organize the room

One more post about conferences. (Except it's really about any meeting).

Easily overlooked, but incredibly important: the way you arrange the room where people speak.

The venue owner (hotel/convention center) wants something easy. Your boss wants something cheap. You want something tried and true so you don't get blamed. The end result? Mediocrity. Boring sameness. What a wasted opportunity.

In the scheme of things, a great room at a conference is a bargain. Spending what it takes to make it work has a huge payoff. That said, here are some thoughts:

"What does this remind me of?"

That's the subliminal question that people ask themselves as soon as they walk into a room. If it reminds us of a high school cafeteria, we know how to act. If it's a bunch of round tables set for a chicken dinner, we know how to act. And if there are row upon row of hotel-type chairs in straight lines, we know how to sit and act glazed.

If it's a place where we're used to saying 'no', we're likely to say no. If it's a place where we're used to good news or important news or just paying attention, we'll do that.

You can use this Pavlovian reaction to your advantage, or you can be a victim of it. A non-traditional arrangement can make people sit up and take notice. A rock concert feel is going to raise the energy level of even the skeptics. A circle with no tables makes people feel naked. These are tools, and you get to choose.

If you have to serve lunch, serve lunch. Big round tables, lots of talking. Then have people stand up and go hear the speaker. In a different room, with a different setting, one that works. No one ever heard a speech that changed their lives when sitting around a round table having just eaten a lousy lunch. Mixing the settings serves no purpose, wastes time in the long run and saves very little money.

Do you see that this is just more marketing? You tell a story with where you put the chairs.

If you could do one thing, make one choice, it should be this: make the room too small. Standing room only. People hanging into the hall. Watch what happens to your energy level.

If you're speaking TO people as opposed to encouraging a wide ranging discourse, put the stage along the narrow wall of the room. (in a 30 by 80 room, that means the 30 side). Making the room narrow and long is far better than wide, because it puts the audience in the plane of the speaker.

This also makes it far easier for the audience to see the speaker and the slides/screens at the same time. This is critical. I can't tell you how many times I've watched people stare at the screen and avoid the speaker, or find themselves bouncing back and forth.

iMag: That's the projection of the speaker on the screen. This is pretty expensive, but for groups over 500, it's almost mandatory in our 1984esque world. If you want to get far more bang for your buck, hire a second cameraman, with a hand held camera. When you switch from one view to the other, you add enormous action to the event.

Screens: Big screens are a lot more reasonable than they used to be. Get the absolute biggest and brightest you can afford. Bigger! Big screens, near the speaker. Really close to the speaker. That's a big help for the audience and for your energy.

VGA cables: Have more than one. Switchers are cheap. Nothing worse than having speakers stumbling around swapping laptops. And put the cables and the laptops up front, not in back to be controlled by a tech guy who doesn't care quite as much as you (or the speaker) does.

Music: Every time you introduce a speaker, play loud and inspiring pop music. Not for long, but enough to cue people to remember the way they feel at the Oscars and stuff. After all, those memes are there waiting for you to leverage them.

Marching bands: Yes, they're cheap. No, people don't like them particularly. I've seen this done a number of times, and people are more amazed and aghast than impressed.

Aisles: Watch a room fill up. People always sit on the aisle, don't they? Don't do rows of 40 or 50 chairs with no aisle. Have lots of aisles. Every ten chairs or so. Why not? Makes it faster to get in and to get out, and doesn't hurt your density so much.

Lights: Make it dark in the audience. Make it light on stage. This works every time. Practice the lighting in advance, even for a smaller group.

Q&A: For large groups, don't do Q&A. It sucks all the energy out of the room and stilts the end, "Well, if there are no more questions..." Instead, solicit questions from key people in advance, write them on index cards and have someone raring and ready to go with a microphone and a finite list of questions, bang, bang, bang. It's not a press conference, it's a speech.

Small groups: Even groups of two--don't go along with a lousy setting just because that's what is offered to you. Why would you pitch yourself or your project in a noisy restaurant, seated on a banquette, with one person on your left and two on your right? Don't do it.

If you are using a laptop for a small group, get one with a big screen. Get a simple USB remote. Don't use live web access if at all possible. And make sure that the right person sees the screen (and you) at the same time. If you can't do these things, don't use the laptop.

If you're willing to travel to meet with someone, put in the extra effort to do it in a setting that works. Befriend the admin, befriend the maitre d, even from 1,000 miles away. Both you and the person you're meeting with benefit when you create a room that works.

Five easy pieces

Fivebuildingblocks You really don't understand a concept until you know what it's made of. The taxonomy of marketing (filled with a bazillion tactics) is murky at best. The tactics are so numerous, expensive and sometimes emotional that we easily focus on the urgent instead of the important. Perhaps we could try a different approach:

Never mind the "P"s. Marketing has five elements:
Products (services)

DATA is observational. What do people actually do? Wal-Mart uses data to decide if an end cap is working. Google Adwords advertisers use data to decide which copy delivers clicks and sales. The library can use data to decide which books to buy (and not to buy). Paco Underhill uses data to turbo charge retail. Data is powerful, overlooked and sometimes mistaken for boring. You don't have to understand the why, you merely need to know the what.

STORIES define everything you say and do. The product has a myth, the service has a legend. Marketing applies to every person, every job, every service and every organization. That's because all we can work with as humans is stories. I want to argue that data and stories are the two key building blocks of marketing--the other three are built on these two.

PRODUCTS (and services) are physical manifestations of the story. If your story is that you are cutting edge and faster/newer/better, then your products better be. Average products for average people is a common story, but not one that spreads. When in doubt, re-imagine the product. Push it to be the story, to live the story, to create a myth.

INTERACTIONS are all the tactics the marketer uses to actually touch the prospect or customer. Interactions range from spam to billboards, from the way you answer the phone to the approach you take to an overdue bill. Interactions are the hero of marketing, because there are so many and most of them are cheap. Unfortunately, all lazy marketers can do is buy ads or spam people. Which creates an interaction that belies your story, right?

CONNECTION is the highest level of enlightenment, the end goal. Connection between you and the customer, surely, but mostly connection between customers. Great marketers create bands of brothers, tribes of people who wish each other well and want to belong. Get the first four steps right and you may get a shot at this one.

Some questions marketers must ask: Does this interaction lead to connections? Do our products support our story? Is the story pulling in numbers that demonstrate that it's working?

In that light, what are you working on? If it's not one of these five, not going to seriously change the dynamic of your marketing, why exactly are you bothering?

My guess is that your organization spends almost all of its time on the interactions. Once you see the world through the prism of the five pieces, you can get in balance. Or, you could be Jack.

Learning from frustration

I'm moving this week (new mailing address: Box 305, Irvington, NY 10533).

That meant a grueling marathon with the single worst voice routing VR system the world has ever known: Verizon.

Rants online can be good for the soul, but it's way more interesting as a marketer to learn from what's not working.

Most often, a frustrating situation is frustrating not because the tactics were broken, but because the strategy is fundamentally flawed. In this case, Verizon is acting like a monopoly (they're not, at least not any more) and they are viewing customer interactions as an expense, not an investment.

If you view calls from paying customers as expensive, then your goal will be to cut the cost of these interactions. That means fewer hours, more voice recognition and more wasted time by your customers. Once you've gone down that road, everything else seems like a soft-hearted, expensive compromise.

So, I start by flipping this on its head. Verizon spends a fortune on advertising and outbound marketing. How much of that budget would they have to allocate/invest in order to turn their customer service into a discussion-worthy best in the world? Or at least enough to keep people from switching in disgust? Not much, it turns out.

This leads quite easily to the first conceptual breakthrough: waste your time, not mine! Be open 24 hours a day, because, after all, the amount of customer service you need to do doesn't decrease if you work fewer hours. In other words, spread your people around so they can talk when your customers want to talk.

Wait, you say, we can't afford to have our trained engineers working at night, or they won't work those hours.

No problem. Instead of using a VR system, just route the calls to a different time zone, to alert, kind, English-speaking folks who will carefully enter every detail into a database,  including the return contact info and the best time to call back.

Now, when I call, I spend less than a minute or two with you. The phone is answered on the first ring. Someone sympathetic gets every single detail. Magically, using the best technologies of telemarketing, my cell phone rings at the appointed hour and the right person with the right expertise and the right file in front of them is sitting at the other end, just waiting to talk with me! Instead of wasting my energy with six (yes, I had six, and that was just today) people who couldn't help me, I get to talk to one who can. In fact, this process actually saves Verizon money.

Wait, there's more.

We need deadend safeguards, too. That means after someone has been on hold for more than xx minutes, the call automatically gets escalated to a more powerful person who can take action right then, right there. (Can you agree that this should happen after 4 hours? What about 40 minutes?)

It means that you don't ask me to type in my phone number or account number, but if you insist, then at the very least you make sure that the person who eventually gets my call doesn't ask me for my number again! Getting this wrong for three years in a row is not an error. It's arrogance.

If you have to put me on hold, don't play bad 1980s music. Play me Bill Cosby or Steven Wright. Or why not give me a choice of 100 songs/audiobooks to choose from?

Here's the big lesson, I think: The person calling in is a person, a customer, potentially a blogger, potentially the CEO of a company you might want to sell to tomorrow, and yes, the person you've spent all that time and money marketing to.

It's not about technology. A small firm could accomplish all this with a decent Radio Shack answering machine and a better attitude.

One swell foop

It's not very often you hear people use the word "fell" without the obligatory "swoop", but the combination is common enough that we all know what it means.

Except it rarely happens.

We expect that a big marketing campaign can fix our market share problems in one fell swoop.

Or that a consultant can reorganize our operation and get it working again in one fell swoop.

Or that a new product launch is only a swoop away from setting things right.

Of course, that's not what happens. It's more like 35 semi-fell swoops that do the trick. And deep down, we realize that.

But, now that we've said it out loud, now that you acknowledge that you're going to need 35 web visits or permission-based emails or 35 different conference appearances or 35 blog posts or whatever, drip, drip, drip... if you know that you need 35, not one, how would write/appear/act differently?

A foop is different than a bang.

Saying thanks in a conference presentation

I hear quite a few presentations given at conferences. Approximately 5% of the official welcome speech consists of a litany of thanks. The organizer is busy thanking the committee that handled the arrangements, the sponsors, the executive director, the tireless volunteers. I've heard people try hard to read the names superfast, or really slowly, or mumble through them...

Not only is this a total waste of time for most attendees, it doesn't even satisfy the core objective, which is thanking and rewarding the folks who helped. And it certainly doesn't encourage others to look forward to helping out.

The list is impossible to remember, said too fast and dull.

The solution is pretty simple, thanks to Powerpoint and digital cameras.

Prepare for the talk by taking pictures of each person. If they're shy, you can even do photographs in groups of two or three. Good photos, clever photos, funny photos... photos that are interesting are best.

Then, create a new presentation. Put each photo on its own slide, preferably with a well designed ID below it (it should be on a black box, with a nice sans serif font reversed out. Like you see on cable TV news.)

String one after the other. Build a dissolve transition between each one. Program it to put up a new slide every two seconds--don't go too slow!--and to loop the presentation.

Ten minutes before you're due to start, while everyone is finding their seats, run the presentation. It'll cycle 5 or 10 times before you start speaking. When you get up, start your presentation and just dive into the meaty stuff.

Every single person you feature will be famous! "Hey, I saw you in that loop!"

And you won't have wasted your valuable presentation time.

Simple conference idea

At the next conference you run, allocate an hour for table sessions.

Divide the number of attendees by 10. That's how many tables of ten you need. Give each table a theme or topic (entrepreneurship, shoe collectors, whining about the economy, whatever). Post the themes online for people to sign up in advance for each table. First come first served, you don't get to see who's at the table till you get there.

A month after the conference, do you think people will remember the table where they spent an hour? When you force people through mild social anxiety, they thank you for it later.

[Thanks, Kip, for the germ of this idea].

No such thing as price pressure

Your sales force and your customers may scream that you need to lower your price.

It's not true.

You need to increase your value. If people don't want to pay, it's because you're not delivering enough value for the money you're charging.

You're not selling a commodity unless you want to.

Random thoughts about the Kindle

Might be of interest to investors, readers, writers, designers, marketers, etc. Or not...

Two months ago, I got a Kindle. It's a fascinating device, unlike almost any other launched by a significant tech company. Here's why:

1. It's for women and women are buying it. The bestseller list of Kindle titles is much less tech-heavy than Amazon's list was in the early days of the web. An Oprah book is #1. And the colors and feel of the machine don't feel like the current uber-geek tech dream device.

This is a fascinating strategy. It means that typical technology marketing and adoption strategies aren't in play, since most tech devices go after nerdy men. It means a slower start (since paying $400 for technology is a stretch unless it's your passion) but also possibly a much bigger finish.

2. I just got rid of 3,000 books in preparation for an office move. That's two decades worth of reference books. I realized that most of the books I bought I didn't use any more (thanks to wikipedia and google) and that buying books in anticipation of giving them to someone else was generous but not actually happening in practice. For the tiny slice of readers that account for a huge pile of book sales (300 books a year adds up), moving those purchases to the Kindle is smart for Amazon and smart for the reader.

3. It changes (at least for me) what it means to buy and own a book. Delivery is very fast, and I feel a lot less badly about stopping a book on page 10 if it doesn't interest me (sunk costs should be ignored, but that's hard to do--if a book's not worth reading, one should stop). As a writer, this raises the bar even further in terms of keeping people with me past chapter one if they're using this device.

4. The Kindle does a fine job of being a book reader, and a horrible job of actually improving the act of reading a book. This is a surprising design choice, I think, and a mistake. Here are three simple examples of how non-fiction books on the Kindle could be better, not just cheaper and thinner:

--Let me see the best parts of the book as highlighted by thousands of other readers.
--Let me see notes in the margin as voted up, Digg-style, by thousands of other readers.
--Let me interact with hyperlinks and smart connections not just within the book but across books

I can think of ten others, and so can you. Instead of making this a dead end (like a book) they could have made it a connector (like the web).

Word processing didn't work because it was typing but a little cheaper. It worked because it was better than typing. Email didn't work because it was mail but a little faster. It worked because it was fundamentally better than snail mail...

5. The pricing of books is whacked. $9.95 is a publisher-friendly price, not an author-friendly or reader-friendly price.

My first thought is that every Kindle should ship with $1,000 worth of free books on it. I offered Amazon rights to as many of my books as I control if they would just agree to put em free on every Kindle. They declined. I can think of a hundred authors who would be delighted to put one or more of their backlist books in front of this book-hungry audience.

Once you have a device that lets you get any book in a few seconds, one that eliminates both paper and inventory (the two enemies of every publisher and bookstore) then the marginal cost of a book drops dramatically. And as we learned at the iTunes store, when something costs a buck, it's a fundamentally different purchase than when it costs $10 or $20.

The funny thing is: I've heard from a few publishers about my comment about pricing, and they've pointed out that authors would be hurt if the price was lowered, because, they argue, the royalties would go down. This is nuts, of course, because volume would go up, and the author percentage rate would go up as well (no paper costs to pay for). The power stays with the author, because the author is not a commodity.

Some publishers are worried that Amazon would get too much power if the Kindle succeeded. I think the power is going to continue to accrue to authors with direction connections to readers... that's the real asset. Amazon doesn't care which author sells, just as long as something sells.

What happens to reading habits when you can buy all the books you want for $40 a month? What happens to book consumption when books become social objects, commented upon by you and your participating friends or network? The conversations surrounding books are often a prime driver behind book sales ("You haven't read it yet?) and the conversation-enabled Kindle takes that to a whole new level.

How does a classroom or corporate book circle or book group change when 20 or 50 people each spend a dollar or five dollars to engage in a spirited device-based/book-based discussion around a big idea?

6. As an author, I won't write directly for the Kindle until it has a big audience and it offers more than just a linear reading experience. When that happens, though, when thousands of writers start using this portal to reach millions of readers, it becomes a killer app. Not until then, though.

A lot has been written about how cool the screen is. It is cool. A lot has been written about the offbeat interface (not so good) and the seamless downloading (a wonder.) This is all irrelevant to me. What's worth commenting on is how close the Kindle comes to revolutionizing the way ideas are sold and spread, and how short it comes out in the end (for now.) My bet is that this is just round one. Round five could be/should be powerful indeed.

The power of remarkable

Lmmsocks When I first wrote about Little Miss Matched about five years ago, they were an obscure little sock company, selling funky socks to fashionable girls.

The idea was beyond clever. 3 to a box, 133 styles, none of them match. Instead of a strategy built around a consultant's vision of 'utility' or a strategy built around cheap or a strategy built around excessive retail distribution and heavy advertising, they built their strategy around one girl saying to another girl, "wanna see my socks?"

I couldn't have invented a better Purple Cow story if I had tried.

The company let me know today that they just did a huge deal with Macys and closed a $17 million funding with the folks who financed Build a Bear's retail rollout. Money isn't the only point, of course, but if that's the way you keep score, that's a long way for a little company to come in five years.

[full disclosure: My feet are sponsored by LMM and I wear their socks every day. I am compensated by the company--they give me 33 free socks a year (not pairs of socks, just 33 socks), worth about $110.]

Is it worthy?

Is this the best I can do?

I’ve paid for the rent and the furnishings and the menus and the staff and the insurance... is this plate of food worthy of what went before it?

I’ve flown across the country to visit this museum--a building that cost more than a billion dollars to create and fill and maintain. Is my attention focused enough?

We paid $300 in marketing costs just to get this phone to ring this one time. How shall we answer it?

I’ve had a great education, suffered and scraped and scrounged to get this point... is this diagnosis, this surgery, this prescription, this bedside manner the end that justifies that effort?

We live in a stable democracy, a place where people have lived and died to give us the freedom to speak out... is that talking head or this spinning pundit the best we can do? Or is he just trying to make a profit and air another commercial?

Is cutting corners to make a buck appropriate when you consider what you could have done? What would someone with a bigger vision have done instead?

Is being negative or bitter or selfish within reason in face of how extraordinarily lucky we were to have been been born here and born now?

I take so much for granted. Perhaps you do as well. To be here, in this moment, with these resources. To have not just our health but the knowledge and the tools and the infrastructure. What a waste.

If I hadn’t had those breaks, if there weren’t all those people who had sacrificed or helped or just stayed out of my way... what then? Would I even have had a shot at this?

What if this were my last post? Would this post be worthy?

The object isn’t to be perfect. The goal isn’t to hold back until you’ve created something beyond reproach. I believe the opposite is true. Our birthright is to fail and to fail often, but to fail in search of something bigger than we can imagine. To do anything else is to waste it all.


As part of a promotion we're doing, I built a Squidoo page about my friend Jacqueline.

It got me thinking about what it takes to make change, particularly change in the way markets respond. Markets are big and slow and often sort of dumb, so a memo isn't going to be enough to make change happen.

As far as I can tell, there's no demographic formula for determining who will make a difference. It doesn't seem to matter where you were born, how much money your parents made or where you went to college. Sure, a head start in those areas makes it more likely that you'll end up in a position of leverage. But it seems as though that isn't enough.

Superheroes don't have a look, but they definitely have an attitude. They're restless and impatient, but, here's the cool paradox, they're also calm and patient. Patient because they realize that change takes a while. Patient because they understand that if it's worth doing, it's worth getting through the Dip. Impatient and restless, though, because they refuse to accept the status quo. Most of the time, of course, these can't co-exist. Most of the time, the impatient flit. They don't stick it out. Acumen just celebrated their seventh anniversary and this is the year traction is really kicking in.

The more superheroes we can find, the better. If you know one, celebrate them!

What Dave just did

Dave Balter, an old friend and colleague, has written a new book. It costs $45 on Amazon. But, for my loyal can get a copy of the ebook (the entire book) for free here.

The way he is bringing his idea to the world is instructive.

First, he wrote a book. You should write a book, too. Publishing a book is easier than it appears (in some ways, like the typing, typesetting, printing, and distributing part) but more difficult in others (like the writing something worth reading part.) Writing a book forces you to be organized and passionate and persuasive. Isn't that worth trying?

Second, he rejected the idea of having a 'real' publisher publish it. A real publisher adds time (perhaps six months or a year or two) and limits many of your options re: pricing, distribution, royalties and promotion.

Third, he realized that the ideas in a book are different than the book itself. The ideas are free. Dave made the ideas even easier to share by putting them into a PDF. If you want the souvenir edition, the one you can hand to a friend or read on the beach or store on your shelf, that costs a lot of money, but you don't mind, because you've already decided you wanted one (no risk, cause you've read it!)

Fourth, he figured out a way to use scarcity to create promotion. On the day a book is released, it's scarce. Scarce because no one has read it yet. That scarcity makes it more likely that someone will blog about it, because it's a scoop. News. Cooler still, he's not offering a copy of the book. Instead, he let me and a few other people offer it exclusively.

No, this doesn't work if you haven't worked with the blogger for years, haven't earned a reputation and most especially, haven't written something worth reading. In other words, it takes about six years of hard work to become an overnight success. So, if you're going to write a book in six years, please start now and focus on hard work, breaking new ground and being a standup guy.

If you follow Dave's tactics exactly, you'll certainly fail (at least with me), because it's already been done before. But, I have no doubt that variations on this method are going to get more and more powerful. (You can read my original free ebook--it was seven (!) years ago--right here. That book was a total homerun for me and for my readers--it has been downloaded, emailed and purchased millions and millions of times. I'm surprised the tactic isn't more popular.)

Find hundreds of other free ebooks at changethis. I started changethis with some talented interns a few summers ago, and because I'm not involved with it any longer, it's cooler than ever.

Silence is a virtue

Steakofmind If the best thing you can think of is a bad pun, random capitalization and a weak photo (salt and pepper included!) it's probably better to do nothing at all.

Nothing at all is actually the biggest difference between professional and amateur marketers. The pros are better at being quiet.

Even if there's room left on the page, or in the display window or in the blog post...

Authenticity and reality and intention

Take a listen to this montage of three songs.

Listen to mp3

Any guesses as to what you just heard? Go ahead, I'll wait.

That's right, it's the Silver Beats, a group of four young men from Japan that have a serious Beatles Otaku. (One of John Lennon's original name for his group was the Silver Beetles.) They mimic each note, each cable, each instrument. I saw them in concert and it was uncanny.

Here's the thing: As far as I know, they don't speak English. 

Does that change things? Does it make the song different when you know the singer has no idea what, "I want to hold your hand," means? If every original Beatles song was replaced by an indistinguishable Silver Beats cover, would it matter? What about when a rich guy sings the blues? Or when a heartbreaker song is sung by a happily married man?

The popcorn videos I posted the other day have been seen around the web millions of times. It's now generally assumed that they are fake. Does that make them resonate differently for you?

What about the difference between Jerry Seinfeld (who writes his own material) and someone like David Letterman (who doesn't). Does it change your experience to know that?

How much marketing fakery do you willingly accept, and how much do you want to know about? Does the vegetarian really want to know that they didn't wash the pot at the restaurant and a few molecules of chicken broth are in that soup? How many molecules before it matters? Is it different if it's an accident? Why?

Marketers like to talk about transparency and authenticity. I think for most people, most of the time, we care a lot more about the effect and use of a product or service and less about who made it and why. We chose Converse because they get us a date, and we don't change brands just cause Nike owns them now.

Except for when we do. When we feel deceived or tricked, the game can change, and rapidly.

It's easier than ever to mount ornate hoaxes and fancy subterfuges. And you can get away with it for a while. But often, and at the worst possible moment, the market might change its mind. It might stop enjoying the fakery and switch to scorn and anger instead. I have no clue how to predict when this will happen. How much risk are you willing to take?

All customers are smarter than average

In study after study, respondents rate themselves as less racist than average, smarter than average, more generous than average.

And though they are never asked, I'm pretty certain that your customers also believe that they are righter than average as well.

At the airport yesterday, a woman at security said to the TSA official, "I'm a regular traveler, a frequent flyer and I know the rules. I want the fast line." A moment later, it was determined that the woman had two huge bottles of shampoo in her very large carry on. "No one told me that there was a restriction on liquids! Where does it say that?" she snarled, as she stood in front of the sign that said that...

Any time you ask customers to self-segregate, they will put themselves in the best line.

And just about any time you ask a customer to acknowledge that they were wrong, you will fail.

Thanks for your mail!

We answered all three, at least pretty much. You can move on, now. Nothing to see here...

Unanswered (random) questions

Now answered:

1. How did Economics get to be its own academic department? Surely, before Marx, it was part of the philosophy department, right? There are lots of fields that are subfields of something else (SEO, for instance, is part of 'marketing' and probably will be forever). Being your own department (in a company or a university) is a big deal. So, how exactly did it happen?

[Alan comes through with this article about Alfred Marshall. His life's work appeared to be creating Economics as a department-worthy science.]

2. What's the deal with brown rice? How do people become so attached to the social implications of food that they are willing to starve or suffer from malnutrition rather than take a step backward? The price of rice has soared, yet it seems like people are still demanding white rice, instead of the more nutritious (and almost certainly cheaper) brown rice. How high does the price have to go before people make a different choice?

[Dustin writes in with a great thought piece which concludes: "I don't know where the breaking point is. At some point in the starvation chain, of course, people will eat whatever's put in front of them. Bugs, live rodents, even, yes, human flesh. But war, famine, environmental disaster, and other cataclysmic events have rarely been enough to cause anything more than a short, non-systemic turn to substitutes, even when a long-term switch might be better in dozens of ways. After all, we humans eat so that we can make meaning, not the other way around."

To which I add: If people near starvation are willing to make choices based on self-esteem, I wonder what that says about those customers you think are focused only on the lowest price?]

3. Is there a web based service that permits the following: dozens or hundreds of people can participate in a live chat Q&A, probably with a moderator, along with a Skype-like audio function? Imagine how much cheaper and more effective large group conference calls could be. Skype limits conference calls to about 15, and it's flaky at that size. This seems like an easy problem to solve extraordinarily well and even charge for...

[We've got Yackpack and dimdim. Thanks to Ross and Jayson. Two should be enough for now.]

Easter eggs and the Rick Roll

Bihn Perhaps you haven't heard of either term, but there's no doubt you've seen or heard of both.

An easter egg is a hidden treasure, usually inside of a video game. For example, in an old version of the Mac, pressing certain keys brought up a picture of the Mac development team. In various games, you might find special levels, the names of various contributors or logos.

The magic of the easter egg is that it gives your most devoted users something to talk about. Hey, they say, try this... It demonstrates their insider status as well as making them feel generous when they share the knowledge.

Tom Bihn put one on a piece of luggage, which became so popular it turned into a fundraising t-shirt.

You should think about rewarding your obsessed users with an easter egg.

And the Rick Roll? You visit a YouTube video promising some sort of insight or riches or scandal, but instead, quite suddenly, you are confronted with an old music video instead.

The Rick Roll is perfect because two things happen:
1. It shocks, at least a little bit. Not painful, but fun.
2. You feel compelled to Rick Roll someone else. So it spreads.

For two days in a row, I've talked about outbound marketing that doesn't feel like marketing. That's because I want you to more broadly define what you need to do all day. If it touches the user, if it involves a story, if it's part of the product, it's marketing.

Serial number marketing

Some tips on creating useful serial numbers (yes, it matters). It's easy to program your series and design your products to avoid these problems. That leads to happier customers who feel smarter:

  • Don't use 0 or 1 or O or I in serial numbers that combine letters and numbers. 0O1I42 is asking for trouble.
  • Never run a string of more than three identical numbers in a row. 89355555232 is bound to be a problem.
  • Don't be case sensitive.
  • Print the serial number larger than you think you need to. If you want the user to be able to read it to you, make it big. Then increase the size.
  • Think hard about whether you need a serial number at all. An email address is easier to remember and just as unique.
  • The number itself can carry useful data, like date of manufacture. If you're selling to business users, figure out how to integrate the serial numbers with their systems so they can coordinate with PO and other data.
  • [David suggests you break up your long numbers with dashes. 108-23-2219.]
  • With computers doing the heavy lifting, you can use serial words instead of serial numbers. If you have a combination of two words in a row, 100 words times 100 words is 10,000 combinations.
  • Related: when doing Captchas, consider using combinations of words instead of random letters. CowNerd is just as hard for a computer to crack, but more fun (and easier) for your users.
  • Why not make your serial number database public? Think about how many cool easter eggs you could bury online for people to look up on their product? (For example, a photo of the team putting my product into the box). I could upload my picture to go with it, or you could offer a prize to the first group of five consecutive product owners who found each other. Just a thought about organizing your followers...

The goal is to make it easy, make it fun and encourage people to become obsessed.

The marketing of fear

Sharkattack Fear is a powerful driver of decisions Without fear, no one would use seatbelts... you don't use them because they're fun, you use them because you worry about what would happen if you crashed without them.

The challenge of marketing with fear isn't efficacy. Of course fear marketing works. The challenge is ethics and brand.

I got a note from Rob McGinley at Chubb Insurance today. Not a note, actually, but an official envelope, with the extra touch of bold red writing on the top of the official looking letter. Chubb, it turns out, is happy to sell me insurance against home invasion, carjacking, etc. The $110 a year includes coverage for psychiatric care and "reward money leading to the apprehension of the perpetrator."

I was incensed by this.

My clueless broker didn't understand why. "It's just like flood insurance," he said. Actually, it's not. It's not because:
1. Floods can be solved with money. Your house gets flooded, money can replace it.
2. The odds of a flood are fairly significant, in the scheme of things.

Scaring people (scaring good customers) to make $100 is stupid. It hurts your brand. It makes it less likely they'll open the envelope next time. And most of all, it's wrong.

You can do it, no one can stop you. You shouldn't do it, though, because you burn brand trust and you can't get it back.

Why not sell shark attack insurance? After all, almost a handful of people died last year from shark attacks.

[Andy sends this one along. Robots eat old people's medicine:]

Urgent personal finance advice

If I could only share one piece of personal finance advice to grads or to just about anyone, it would be this:

Only borrow money to pay for things that increase in value.

It's a short list: your business, your house and your education, mostly. Stocks if you're smarter than me. That's pretty much it.

If you have credit card debt, you're in big trouble. Your bank account has a huge leak in it, and it's getting worse. Hence the urgency.

If you have credit card debt, that means that every time you spend money (even cash), you're borrowing money to do so. And so, if you're going out to dinner or buying a new pair of shoes, you've just broken the single most important rule of personal finance. You're spending borrowed money on stuff that is decreasing in value.

This is an emergency. It's an emergency because every single day you wait, the problem gets worse. A lot worse.

My suggestion: Go to defcon 1, and do it immediately. Shift gears to live well below your means. That means:
No restaurants
No clothes shopping
No cable TV bill
No Starbucks

It means:
Take in a tenant in your spare bedroom
Carpool to work
Skip vacation this year

Eat brown rice and beans every night for dinner. Act like you have virtually no income.

The result? You'll save $5,000 to $20,000 a year. Send all of it to the credit card company. Do this until you're debt free, the faster the better.

There. Now you're rich. Now you get interest on your savings instead of paying the bank. Twenty years from now, this emergency action will translate into perhaps a million dollars in the bank, depending on how much you earn and how serious you are.

You can thank me then.

Vivid stories

Like you, I'd heard scares about cell phones increasing the risk of brain cancer. While this is a scary story, it's not so vivid. After all, it takes years to get brain cancer, there are countless factors involved and it's impossible to test. It's hard to visualize and easy to rationalize.

Popcorn, on the other hand, is a totally different story.

I'm just wondering... can you find a story this vivid for your product or service? Pass the bluetooth headset, please. [Won't get fooled again? Stephen writes in and says the video is a hoax. And I found a video online of a repeat of the experiment that didn't work. Snopes is silent on the matter, pointing out that eggs don't cook, but nothing about popcorn.

If it's a hoax, it's not ethical marketing, but it's still vivid.]

The clowd

So, very soon, you will own a cell phone that has a very good camera and knows where you are within ten or fifteen feet. And the web will know who you are and who your friends are.

What happens?

Well, when you take a photo, you can automatically send it to the clowd. The clowd can color correct and adjust the photo based on the million other photos it has seen just like this. [Debbie wonders, isn't it called a "cloud"? I guess I was subconsciously coining a new term--which I so rarely do--this time, combining crowd and cloud into something new. I think I like it, even if it is a bit artificial].

The clowd can figure out that this was the high school graduation (same time, same location), and realize that you were there with fifty of your closest friends, and automatically group the photos together... leaving out the people it's obvious you don't like.

The clowd can also find pictures taken of the same person, but by other people, and show them to you. Or cooler still, introduce you to those people. So, you take a picture of Keith Jarrett at Carnegie Hall and the clowd introduces you to other people who took his picture in ther places. (No, you shouldn't have to tell the clowd it's Keith, it should know. But yes, you will opt in to all of this... you ask before it takes these matchmaking liberties).

Wait. Alex suggests that this is the yearbook of the future. What an antiquity the yearbook we all own is. What happens when every student builds her own yearbook all year long? The clowd grabs your pictures, your friends' pictures, pictures that the group has admired. It grabs the teachers you've written about, but leaves out the ones you've never interacted with. And everyone gets a different yearbook, of course.

PS your privacy is fairly shot. See a dangerous driver? Send a video snippet to the clowd. The clowd collates that with a bunch of other shots of the same driver... busted.

And the clowd also knows where you are, camera or no camera. So it can tell you when your old friend is just two gates away from you, also wasting time at the airport waiting for her flight. Or it can do Zagats to the ten thousandth power by not only suggesting the best nearby restaurant (based on your food circle of friends) but can also integrate with Open Table and only recommend restaurants that actually have room for you. Or it can let restaurant owners do yield management and find you a table at a good enough restaurant at the best possible price...

[And Dave points out that facial recognition lives in the clowd as well. Take a picture of someone and the clowd tells you who it is...]

This is going to happen. The only question is whether you are one of the people who will make it happen. I guess there's an even bigger question: will we do it right?

The cure

That's what everyone wants.

Not a process or an approach. Not a treatment or an attempt. Not a best effort or a thoughtful response.

They want their problems cured.

Doctors, of course, can rarely provide a cure. Neither can accountants or marketing consultants. But that's what gets sold, cause that's what people want to buy.

We fool ourselves constantly. We know, deep down (or not even so deep) that there's no real cure out there, but that's what we pay for anyway.

Email checklist

Before you hit send on that next email, perhaps you should run down this list, just to be sure:

  1. Is it going to just one person? (If yes, jump to #10)
  2. Since it's going to a group, have I thought about who is on my list?
  3. Are they blind copied?
  4. Did every person on the list really and truly opt in? Not like sort of, but really ask for it?
  5. So that means that if I didn't send it to them, they'd complain about not getting it?
  6. See #5. If they wouldn't complain, take them off!
  7. That means, for example, that sending bulk email to a list of bloggers just cause they have blogs is not okay.
  8. Aside: the definition of permission marketing: Anticipated, personal and relevant messages delivered to people who actually want to get them. Nowhere does it say anything about you and your needs as a sender. Probably none of my business, but I'm just letting you know how I feel. (And how your prospects feel).
  9. Is the email from a real person? If it is, will hitting reply get a note back to that person? (if not, change it please).
  10. Have I corresponded with this person before?
  11. Really? They've written back? (if no, reconsider email).
  12. If it is a cold-call email, and I'm sure it's welcome, and I'm sure it's not spam, then don't apologize. If I need to apologize, then yes, it's spam, and I'll get the brand-hurt I deserve.
  13. Am I angry? (If so, save as draft and come back to the note in one hour).
  14. Could I do this note better with a phone call?
  15. Am I blind-ccing my boss? If so, what will happen if the recipient finds out?
  16. Is there anything in this email I don't want the attorney general, the media or my boss seeing? (If so, hit delete).
  17. Is any portion of the email in all caps? (If so, consider changing it.)
  18. Is it in black type at a normal size?
  19. Do I have my contact info at the bottom? (If not, consider adding it).
  20. Have I included the line, "Please save the planet. Don't print this email"? (If so, please delete the line and consider a job as a forest ranger or flight attendant).
  21. Could this email be shorter?
  22. Is there anyone copied on this email who could be left off the list?
  23. Have I attached any files that are very big? (If so, google something like 'send big files' and consider your options.)
  24. Have I attached any files that would work better in PDF format?
  25. Are there any :-) or other emoticons involved? (If so, reconsider).
  26. Am I forwarding someone else's mail? (If so, will they be happy when they find out?)
  27. Am I forwarding something about religion (mine or someone else's)? (If so, delete).
  28. Am I forwarding something about a virus or worldwide charity effort or other potential hoax? (If so, visit snopes and check to see if it's 'actually true).
  29. Did I hit 'reply all'? If so, am I glad I did? Does every person on the list need to see it?
  30. Am I quoting back the original text in a helpful way? (Sending an email that says, in its entirety, "yes," is not helpful).
  31. If this email is to someone like Seth, did I check to make sure I know the difference between its and it's? Just wondering.
  32. If this is a press release, am I really sure that the recipient is going to be delighted to get it? Or am I taking advantage of the asymmetrical nature of email--free to send, expensive investment of time to read or delete?
  33. Are there any little animated creatures in the footer of this email? Adorable kittens? Endangered species of any kind?
  34. Bonus: Is there a long legal disclaimer at the bottom of my email? Why?
  35. Bonus: Does the subject line make it easy to understand what's to come and likely it will get filed properly?
  36. If I had to pay 42 cents to send this email, would I?

Start with a classified

Shortlong Copy gets in the way.

Actually, thinking about copy gets in the way. You start writing and then you patch and layer and write and dissemble and defend and write and the next thing you know, you've killed it.

So, try this instead:

Write a classified ad. What's the offer? What do you want me to do? You're paying by the word!

"Lose weight now. Join our gym."

Six words. Promise and offer.

Now, you can make it longer. Of course, if your gym is on the space station and it's the only gym around, and if the people reading your ad are looking at the bulletin board and seeking out what they want, then your ad is now long enough.

But most of the time, in most settings, a little longer is better. So, add a few words or even a sentence. Is it better? More effective? Gently and carefully add words until it's as effective as possible, but as short as possible.

Perhaps you want to make your promise more vivid, or more clear. Perhaps you need a testimonial or two to back up your promise. Perhaps your call to action needs to be more urgent... You can play with all of that, keeping in mind the original classified, keeping in mind that you're still paying by the word (because attention is expensive).

And yes, this applies to articles in the newspaper, to blog posts, to how-to books and to direct marketing letters. It applies to the emails you send and the copy on your website too.

Not so grand

Grand openings are severely overrated. So are product launches and galas of all sorts.

Make a list of successful products in your industry. Most of them didn't start big. Not the Honda Accord or Facebook, not Aetna Insurance, not JetBlue or that church down the street. Most overnight successes take a decade (okay, four years online).

The grand opening is a symptom of the real problem... the limited attention span of marketers. Marketers get focused (briefly) on the grand opening and then move on to the next thing (quickly). Grand opening syndrome forces marketers to spend their time and money at exactly the wrong time, and worse, it leads to a lack of patience that damages the prospects of the product and service being launched.

Non-profits do the same thing when they spend months planning an elaborate gala that takes all the time and enriches the hotel and the caterer. Far better to spend the time and money building actual relationships than going for the big 'grand' hit.

The best time to promote something is after it has raving fans, after you've discovered that it works, after it has a groundswell of support. And more important, the best way to promote something is consistently and persistently and for a long time. Save the bunting for Flag Day.

Do you own trees?

Today's New York Times reports an astonishing fact: Book publishers wholesale their ebooks to Amazon for precisely the same price as their paper books. Amazon loses money on every ebook for the Kindle they sell because publishers don't discount zero-cost ebooks.

Apparently, the publishers don't count the paper, storage, inventory, shredding and shipping expenses in their cost calculations.

Either that, or they own a tree plantation or a printing plant.

And of course, they own neither.

Many businesses act as if they have a stake in their suppliers and other vendors. Instead of scaling the part of their business that can move quickly and well, they defend the part they don't even own.

Jason wrote in to ask why I thought that the newspaper industry was in a Dip. In my book, I point out that with classified ads disappearing and the web thriving, the days of newspapers as we know them are clearly over. That shouldn't mean the industry is in trouble. In fact, there are more people reading more news every day than ever before--without the cost of printing and distributing a costly piece of newsprint every day. Happy days...

But (many of) the people in the industry have built their lives around the trees. As a result, the industry is over. A new industry is being built in its place, often with new people doing work that might be done far better by the old hands, the ones who are stuck defending the wholesale slaughter of trees.

If you think your job is to keep the printers busy, then you see the world differently. You focus on per issue sales, you worry about people sharing a paper (!), you don't count online readers as valuable (even though they're more valuable). You focus on one edition, not a thousand different versions. You focus on having one front page, not dozens based on who is reading.

If you work for a newspaper that feels this way, every day you stay is a day wasted.

I worry about my esteemed friends in the book publishing industry as well. The amazing thing about the Times story today was the report that the mood at BEA was 'unease' about ebooks. The fastest-growing, lowest cost segment of the business, the one that offers the most promise, the best possible outcome and has the best results... is causing unease! All because of the trees.

Of course, there are trees in your business too. There are trees in the photography business (chemicals) and in the music business (plastic) and even in the personal computer business (computers). They may not be called trees, but they're there.

7 Tips for Amateur Type Designers

You, a type designer?

Of course you are.

You are if you make presentations in PowerPoint or Keynote, or if you have a resume, or create signs or brochures or ebooks or even a blog.

And sadly, it seems that the bar is low and most people have trouble reaching it!

So, at the risk of the one-eyed giving driving directions, here are seven tips. There's a  PDF of the tips below (illustrated) right here. Feel free to share.(My goal isn't to teach you the answer, it's to get you worried about asking the question!)

At the risk of offending actual (talented) designers, here's my quick list of seven (mostly for print... the web is a slightly different story):

  1. If you want professional results, hire a professional.
  2. Don’t use the built-in fonts that come with your PC. (Type is cheap. Invest.)
  3. Headlines in sans serif. Body in serif. (Easy tip—headlines are bold and condensed.)
  4. Black type/Light background. Don’t screw around unless you have some sort of design point to make. (Goth bands, it’s all yours).
  5. Headlines look great reversed. With two caveats: 1. don’t overdo it. 2. make sure you leave plenty of black around the border.
  6. TYPE SIZE! Too big is good. Too small is good.Just right might be a problem.
  7. Line spacing! Use less or more than the automatic. 14 point type probably deserves 15 or 16 point spacing.

Feel free to add your own tips or check out some books I've highlighted here.

Books worth your time

Rob Walker's (great!) new book on the overlooked triggers of marketing ships this week.

Clay Shirky's book on social media is a classic for the ages.

N. Kelby's funny mystery ships this week as well.

Tom Vanderbilt's book on traffic is out next month.

On a regular basis I see books that are rehashes of six books that came before (with the same anecdotes even!), or else are so focused on appealing to everyone (and offending no one) that they don't actually say anything. I want a book to change me in some way. Show me a different way to think and you've earned my attention.

You can get all four of these for less than the cost of dinner in a restaurant!

Should you fire the voice mail guy?

Let's say the person in charge of your retail operations does the following every single day:

  • Puts up a sign indicating which of five doors customers should use.
  • Locks that door.
  • Randomly unlocks another door.
  • When someone figures out which door to use, he runs out and kicks them in the groin, then locks the door.

Maybe, just maybe, after a day or two of this, and a few warnings, you'd realize that this person was doing serious damage to your organization, no?

I called a company yesterday, one that promises 24 hour a day response. I worked my way through four levels of voice mail choices, then got a recording, "Please call back during our regular business hours." Then it hung up. No mention of when regular business hours were, and no indication four levels back that they were closed but automated help was available.

And I'm guessing the voice mail system has been doing this every single day for months or years. Who is in charge of this? Why do they still work there? If the person in charge were stealing laptops or peeing in the soup, it's unlikely he'd still be around, no?

It's pretty obvious: the CEO would notice the angry crowds in front of the store, she'd notice the police being called and the riot out front if the person in charge of the front doors was such a jester. But voice mail trees are invisible and the CEO doesn't notice them. She should. You have my permission to call your company and see what happens. If you're not proud of it, let the CEO know. If this isn't your biggest marketing emergency, I'm not sure what is. Invisible doesn't mean unimportant.

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