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Seth Godin has written 12 bestsellers that have been translated into 33 languages

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All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Linchpin

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

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Meatball Sundae

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

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Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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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.

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Small is the New Big

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Survival is Not Enough

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

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The Big Moo

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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The Dip

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

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The Icarus Deception

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

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Tribes

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

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

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V Is For Vulnerable

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

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We Are All Weird

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

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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.

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All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« May 2008 | Main | July 2008 »

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.

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