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

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An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.



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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« June 2008 | Main | August 2008 »

My tooth doesn't hurt

That's not something you think about very often, is it? (Not my tooth, your tooth).

When you have a toothache, on the other hand, it's all you think about.

This is a double-edged sword for dentists. On one hand, dentists have no trouble whatsoever getting business from people with toothaches. They hardly have to try. Just show up, I'll find you. On the other hand, when my teeth don't hurt, you're invisible. No amount of signs, service and wonderful marketing is going to get me to pay you to drill my teeth when they don't hurt.

There are two challenges for toothache marketers (dentists and non-dentists alike).

1. Figure out a cost-effective way to be there. A way to gently be in my face so that when my toothache shows up (in whatever form that takes) you're the obvious choice.

2. Create new products and services that build engagement and possibly revenue among members of the population that aren't in pain. That, of course, is why teeth whitening services are so smart. You can sell to people who didn't know they had a problem until they met you.

The worst thing you can do is get frustrated when the population (which is very different from the market) ignores you. I'm not in your target market until my teeth hurt, right?

PS No, this isn't a marketing post for dentists. There are toothache marketers in just about every industry. Realizing it is the first step to dealing with it.

The TV dividend

Where did Wikipedia come from?

All those hours, all that work. Where did the time and effort come from?

Clay Shirky points out that it comes from the TV we're not watching.

Take a look at Netroidcomics, courtesy of Bert. Sure, some of these folks were at work, goofing off, but the real influx of time and energy we're seeing online comes from TV. Three, four or even six hours a day not spent doing virtually nothing. Multiply it by 800 million people online and suddenly, there's a huge influx of hours just waiting to be put to good use.

I don't watch TV and I don't go to meetings. You'd be amazed at the difference it makes.

While the last few years have been devoted to mostly trivial pursuits, I would imagine we're going to see a rapid acceleration in the quality and meaning of things we manage to create with our new-found time. At least I hope so.

Are you in the tribe?

[LAST UPDATE: As of 9 am NY time on August 10th, invites are closed. Please don't respond, because unfortunately, we'll have to say no.].

I'd like to invite you to join a members-only tribe. A tribe for marketers, for leaders, for those focused on building communities or creating products or spreading ideas.

This online community will live on a site we've created that will feature blogs, forums, social networking, comments, photos, videos and a job board. And it's by invitation only until October. Spots are limited and early members get privileges and bragging rights.

Members get a password and the privilege of meeting each other, posting thoughts, connecting to big ideas or projects and more. The site will include excerpts from the book as well as a chance to contribute to a new jointly-authored ebook, with full credit and links to the contributors. The contents of the tribe forum won't be posted to the public until October, so it's really the only way to participate until then.

I'm launching my new book in mid-October, and as usual, doing something different to take my own advice.

One of the ideas I talk about briefly in the book is that powerful tribes aren't open to everyone. The exclusivity makes it work. In this case, the exclusivity comes from two things:

1. I'm only announcing the Tribe here on my blog. (Though it would be great with me if you want invite your friends to join, because your friends are my friends and they'll probably appreciate an early invite).

2. You have to be committed enough to pre-order my book, sight unseen (in some places for less than $14), months in advance. It's not about selling more books, of course, it's about creating a small hurdle to get the right people in the door.

The mechanics:

  1. You can be anywhere in the world, and it's fine if you've already ordered a book (you know who you are). All you need to do is forward a copy of your electronic receipt (see below).
  2. You can purchase the book here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CEO Read (great for overseas and bulk orders, too), Borders or any bookstore that will give you an electronic receipt. (Here's the Amazon UK link).
  3. Forward the receipt no later than August 10 to Be sure to include your snail mail address in the email because I'm hoping to send you something in the mail in October. This is an automated autoreply address, so please include only your receipt and your address. Don't send your info directly to me, cause I'll lose it. You know how to find me if you need anything else.
  4. We'll be sending out the invites in batches. Membership is numbered, with low numbers getting prestige, first dibs on various assets and bragging rights. If we get too big a response, I'll shut down the invite address and let you know here.
  5. After August 10th, it's closed. We may decide to re-open the tribe a bit later, but I think that's unlikely.

Members of the tribe will get a chance to win free tickets to my launch event/presentation in New York as well as a few other goodies.

Even with just a few people in the pre-beta tribe we've built, I can already see how powerful it can be to have a safe, well-lit place on line where like-minded people can connect. I hope you can join us.

(Find a FAQ about this right here).

Marilyn Monroe, the Mona Lisa and Jackson Pollock

Hitchcock_profile Markets love icons. We seek them out. Placeholders, shorthand for a bigger idea or a shortcut to a good enough solution.

Marilyn Monroe is an icon. You can use her image and say a lot, instantly. Same with the Mona Lisa.

Is it possible to be more of a blonde bombshell than Monroe? Of course you can be better looking or more blonde or more married to intellectual celebrities or dour sports stars. Is it possible to paint a better painting than the Mona Lisa? Definitely.

It doesn't matter.

Once there's an icon in place, it's there because it's working. It serves a purpose, it carries useful information and performs a valuable function. There will never (or not for a generation, anyway) be the next Marilyn Monroe because this Marilyn Monroe isn't broken. Countless artists have seen themselves as the next Jackson Pollock, but as far as the lay public is concerned, we don't really need one, thanks very much.

Google, of course, is the Marilyn Monroe of search. I have no doubt that someone will develop a useful tool one day that takes time and attention away from Google, but it won't be a search engine. Google, after all, isn't broken, not in terms of solving the iconic "how do I find something online using my web browser" question.

The challenge for organizations is this: the easiest projects to start and fund are those that go after existing icons. The search for the "next" is easy to explain and exciting to join because we can visualize the benefits. But success keeps going to people who build new icons, not to those that seek to replace the most successful existing ones.

Promoting the promotion

Rounding a corner, I saw a billboard for baseball's Home Run Derby, a sideshow attraction at the All Star Game.

Turns out that the billboard was paid for by State Farm Insurance, also the sponsor of the Derby itself.

This is how far we've come, how low we've sunk.

An insurance company is sponsoring a baseball stunt to push its brand name out there. And then, with nothing whatsoever to say about itself, or about us, or about how it can help us achieve our goals, the company spends more money to promote the promotion.

Promotions work when they're seen as generous or unique or tied into our needs and dreams. They also work as brand builders when they're so ubiquitous we associate the brand with the event itself. But if I had written "Allstate" instead of "State Farm," would you have realized the error? Doubtful.

Here's my number one fiduciary rule for big brand marketers: The executives involved in approving a sports or entertainment promotion should not be permitted to attend the event.

Weekend reading and viewing

Steve sends us this video, way too true. [Ouch, it seems to have been deleted] [Torley found a copy here]

And Your Business Brickyard, now as a free download to entice you to buy the book.

I need to build a house, what kind of hammer should I buy?

I want to write a novel. What word processor do you recommend?

Yesterday on the radio, Jimmy Wales was talking about the Wikipedia movement. A caller who identified himself as a strategist at Amnesty International asked: We're going to build a website to promote freedom and democracy and human rights. What software should we use?


If you want to do something worth doing, you'll need two things: passion and architecture. The tools will take care of themselves. (Knowledge of tools matters, of course, but it pales in comparison to the other two.)

Sure, picking the wrong tools will really cripple your launch. Picking the wrong software (or the wrong hammer) is a hassle. But nothing great gets built just because you have the right tools.

My approach is to make an assertion about tools early in the process, and then move on to a solid draft of the good stuff. "Given: that we can make a computer do what makes it do. Or, given: we can make a piece of titanium do what Frank Gehry makes it do." Then, go design something, imagine it, spec it, flesh it out and fall in love with it. Now you can ask Jimmy Wales what sort of software to use.

Bait and switch

I feel bad for the airline industry. They are caught in a never-ending price war due to online websites and their own commodification. Pick the cheapest flight to get from here to there...

The natural short-term solution is bait and switch. Advertise the lowest price you can imagine and then require add on fees so you can actually make a profit.

Air Canada, which my readers generally concur is the single worst major airline in North America, has a fascinating policy. No oversized duffel bags, regardless of weight, unless they contain hockey gear. No shin guards, you pay $80 a bag.

Of course, you can have whatever rules you want, even if they're only designed to help defensemen. The problems with bait and switch are:

  1. You have to be very careful to apply them equally, because people hate being treated worse than everyone else.
  2. You have to be prepared for anger, resentment and brand disintegration.

As I said, this is a short-term strategy. Yesterday, they charged me $160 for two bags that had successfully gone through their system uncharged just three weeks earlier. And they did it only three minutes before four of my fellow travelers (and friends) checked virtually identical bags for free.

But the purpose of this rant isn't to hassle Air Canada. The purpose is to learn a key lesson from Disney:
When there is both pain and pleasure associated with your service, work extremely hard to separate them by time and geography.

Disney charges a fortune for the theme park, but they do it a week before you get there, or at a booth far far away from the rides. By the time you get to the rides, you're over it. The pain isn't associated with the fun part.

Airlines, on the other hand, surround the very thing they sell (getting you home) with armed guards, untrained TSA agents, long lines and sneering gate agents eager to take your money when you have absolutely no expectation or choice and when your stress is at its highest. This is a problem in the long run.

Little bits

Aaron decided that the best way to tell his story was to turn his web site into exactly one (non-scrolling) page. I think that boundaries sharpen the mind. And if you have a one page web site, why not try turning it into ten pages to see what happens.

Draw anything for $2?
I think it's a brilliant way to turn the pricing model of art on its head, to gain a following and to practice your drawing. On a similar tangent, Elizabeth points us to an art site that sells limited editions and slightly less limited editions at standard prices. What's the 'correct' price for a piece of art? Is it only art if it costs a lot of money?

Ted Matthews has an interesting thought. Branding is too important to be left to the marketing team. If branding is everything a company does, and the marketing folks persist in acting like advertising people, then put the CEO or her surrogate directly and totally in charge of what a brand means.

It turns out that a lot of searches online are for things that are pretty simple. Like how to boil an egg or how to count cards. Just because you already know something doesn't mean everyone does. Think even simpler than you would expect and you're on to something. (For a very long time, one of the top 100 searches into the search box at Yahoo was: "Yahoo").

Here's a beta test you might be interested in: Faceblurb. (I know there are still some bugs). The guy who wrote the "Purple Cow" poem that has inspired so many of us also invented the word "blurb" to describe that ego-satisfying quote on the back of a book from another author, telling the world how great the book is. The idea of Faceblurb is that you can use Facebook to blurb your favorite books or sites or whatever, and then spread those positive vibes to your friends, who will return the favor.

Alvo Stockman is one of a number of magicians who is building a following, one person at a time, online, and making it pay by selling them a series of manuals or devices. The secret for many magicians, it turns out, is video. Showing is far more effective than telling. In Alvo's case, it's about finding a tiny niche and creating enough innovation that the word spreads among the community.

How (not to) pick a company spokesman

39 years ago, Neil Armstrong became the most famous person in the world.

He was an astronaut, of course, but there were dozens of people who could have done the technical work that Armstrong did. What Armstrong became was a spokesperson for an organization, a nation and a movement.

NASA did what many organizations do when picking someone to act as company spokesperson. They avoided risk, played it safe and chose someone who wouldn't make a ruckus.

What a shame.

Armstrong could have taught the world about science. He could have done work that would have won him a Nobel Peace Prize. He could have had a huge impact on his country and the world. Instead, he mostly disappeared.

Many organizations worry that if they put their clout behind an individual, he or she will gain notoriety and power and eventually double-cross the organization. So, instead, they go for bland.

As marketers, you already see the problem. It's like putting a tennis ball on the end of your sword. Sooner or later, people communicate with people. Sooner or later, your organization needs a voice. You take lots of risks when you market a product, and this one--the risk of an engaging and motivated spokesperson--is smarter than most.

Are they ready to listen?

Most marketers forget to ask this critical question.

When I was pitching for investors in Yoyodyne (1994/1995) I met with many of the biggest VCs on the East Coast. Same company, same pitch, very different results.

In retrospect, the reason was simple, and it didn't have a lot to do with the way I presented our company. Firms that had funded Federal Express and insurance companies and patented chemical formulations weren't ready to hear about an Internet company in 1994. It didn't matter what I said, they had decided before I showed up. Fred Wilson and Jerry Colonna, on the other hand, had a different worldview. They were choosing to pay attention.

A few years before that, I had published a book about a political issue. An activist's handbook. I had 20,000 copies in my garage when I found out about a large march in Washington. I bought an outdoor booth and trucked the books down to DC. I stood on the Mall in my little booth and watched more than 250,000 people walk by in less than two hours. Every single one an activist. Every single one a demographically perfect match for my handbook. After 100,000 people had walked by and we'd sold only one book, I lowered the price from around $10 to $1 just to prove my point--that it wasn't the book and it wasn't the price, it was the ability of the audience to listen that mattered. This group, in this moment, was there to march, not to shop.

Most people, most of the time, steadfastly refuse to pay attention.

The tragic mistake of demographics and media planning is that they overlook the single most important issue: is the person you're talking to ready to listen?

The web doesn't care

When I first started talking about Permission Marketing ten years ago, marketers asked, "sure, but how does this help us?"

A decade later, marketers look at Wikipedia or social media or the long tail or whatever trend is finally hitting them in the face and ask the same question.

Here's the essential truth:

This is the first mass marketing medium ever that isn't supported by ads.

If a newspaper, a radio station or a TV station doesn't please advertisers, it disappears. It exists to make you (the marketer) happy.

That's the reason the medium (and its rules) exist. To please the advertisers.

But the Net is different.

It wasn't invented by business people, and it doesn't exist to help your company make money.

It's entirely possible it could be used that way, but it doesn't owe you anything. The question to ask isn't, "but how does this help me?" as if you have some sort of say in the matter. You don't get a vote on whether Google succeeds or whether your customers erect spam filters.

The question to ask is, "how are people (the people I need to reach, interact with and tell stories to) going to use this new power and how can I help them achieve their goals?"

12 proven ways to get your post to the top of digg

Well, that was one of them. Put a number in your headline and do a list.

You know, there are a ton of tactics that you can use to increase readership. Plenty of blogs will tell you what they are.

And Rickie Lee Jones knows full well how to record a top 40 record.

Except she doesn't. She chooses not to. She chooses to make a record she loves, instead.

Some politicians know all the tricks. They know how to get a crowd on its feet, every time. And yet, the best politicians don't use the tricks every time. They slow it down, or get serious, or avoid pandering.

One difference between creating something you believe in and creating something that's popular is that popularity seekers follow established steps. Do this, do that, do the other thing... lots of traffic. Do this, do that, do the other thing, a quick boost in Google. DT, DT DTOT and get a standing ovation...

The problem with this, that and the other thing is that you end up with a career filled with it. Instead of creating long-lasting art, ideas that matter and things that spread organically, you end up with a bunch of calculated mini-hits.

Wilson Pickett was a master at creating hits. He had an astonishing output--50 R&B hits. That's amazing. It's one way to make a living, one path.

The other path is to be Van Morrison. To blast open rules, not to follow them.

Write what you believe, not what sells.

The Long Tail and the Dip


When you launch a new product or service, you have a choice.

It's tempting to go for the bestseller list, to create a mass market hit. This is the box labeled 1 on the tail above. Everyone wants to be here. It's where ego meets profit. A home run. Pixar lives in box 1.

In order to have a bestseller, you must reach the unreachable. Most of the people who buy a bestselling book buy no other book that month, or even that year. The very nature of the top of the list is that you're reaching not just the frequent purchasers and the passionate, but those that only show up for the hits.

The second pocket is labeled, conveniently, #2 (not because it's second best, merely because it's the second one I'm mentioning). This is the profitable, successful niche product. Roger Corman's horror movies, say, or Vandersteen's $3,000 stereo speakers. Not a product for everyone, certainly, but among those that care and are choosing to pay attention, a fantastic choice.

The reason you can make money in the niche pocket is that it costs far less to compete here. First, because there's less competition and the competition is less fierce, and second because it's cheaper and easier to reach your target market because they're choosing to pay attention.

There's a spectacular amount of overhead associated with a mass market hit. You need to buy shelf space and hype and promotion and noise in order to momentarily have a shot at stardom. If you don't push your way into this arena, you'll be ignored.

The third pocket is to own the long tail, to make a small royalty on a huge range of products. That's CDbaby and iTunes and the Garrett Wade tool catalog.

And The Dip? The Dip really kicks in when you're comparing the first pocket to the second.

If you want to compete with all of those folks shortsighted enough to shoot for the big win, you need to invest a great deal of time and money. And very few make it through the Dip... there are far more movies like Speed Racer than Iron Man. Speed Racer got stuck in the trough. It wasn't the best in the world, it wasn't the one the masses chose to see, it lost. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent, but not enough time or talent invested to get through the Dip.

When the masses went to see a movie in June of 08, they had a choice. Naturally, they chose to see the movie that was the best available, the one they wanted to see the most. If you're the third best choice, you lose.

The alternative? The makers of Speed Racer could have spent less money and made a movie aimed at pocket 2, a niche movie where they could have easily made it through the Dip, easily overwhelmed competition for that niche, easily become the best in that world.

Bruce Lee wasn't the best movie star in history. But he was the best kung fu star in history. Different dip.

The most common misconception about Long Tail thinking is that if you don't succeed at pocket 1, don't worry, because the tail will take care of your product and you'll just end up in #2. That's not true. #2 isn't a consolation prize for mass market losers. Mass market losers are still losers. In order to become a mass market star you make choices about features and pricing and quality--and if you lose that game, there's no reason to believe that those choices are going to pay off for a different market.

The long tail doesn't offer a consolation prize. Instead, the wide selection (in every market, not just digital ones) is a collection of smaller long tails, each with its own dip, each with its own winners (and losers). Pick the biggest market you can successfully dominate, the biggest slice where you can get through the Dip and be seen as the best in that world.

There it is again

Chris Anderson of Wired had the insight and guts to discover one of the two most important natural laws of the Net, give it a name, explain it and teach it to the rest of us. The Long Tail is a natural law, the sort of thing that just keeps showing up. Every time I crunch a set of numbers, every time I examine something happening online, I see it again.

(The other one? Metcalfe's Law, which explains the network effect. It's sort of like the long tail, but flipped in the mirror. The more people who connect to a network, the more it's worth--squared. Facebook and fax machines are both network effect businesses).

A lot of people don't seem to understand a key implication of the long tail: Given the choice, it's better to make a hit.

If you have a choice of cutting a top 10 record or making a track of Jamaican polka music for iTunes, go for the hit.

If you have a choice between being on page 30 of the Google results for "Bolivian sushi" or the number one match for "buy life insurance", go for the latter. No brainer.

The problem, of course, is that you don't have a choice. You can give the hit a shot, but it's awfully crowded at that end of the curve.

The implications of the long tail have nothing to do with this false choice. What it explains in a powerful but subtle way is:

  1. Collecting many many products among the tail permits you to amalgamate a market that may be just as big or bigger than the short head. But you need a lot of them. Squidoo is my proof--a profitable site with no real short head. So are eBay and YouTube and dozens of other places. Which is going to be worth more in ten years: the leaky boat of a network TV franchise or the relentlessly growing collection of long tail video at YouTube?
  2. Within the long tail, there are micro long tails. The long tail permits entirely new micro-markets to emerge (exercise clothing, for example) and within that market there are hits and then the tail. It's sort of a fractal curve of new markets living within markets. (Simple example: Amazon enabled an entire eco-system of books on presentations and graphics to emerge).

Aside: In the last few weeks, I've gotten a ton of email about an article in the Harvard Business Review and a companion slash piece in Slate about the Tail. A professor tried to poke some holes, and in my opinion, missed the entire point. The long tail is so clearly a force that the real work is in refining the definitions and expectations of those that are affected by it.

If you don't want to get email

...don't send email.


If you send a note to 100 or 1000 customers/clients/prospects/shippers/parents (whatever), be sure to give people a way to reply! I think this is especially important for small organizations or small subsets of lists... Amazon and eBay and others get a bit of a pass.

If it's important enough for you to send to me, it may be important enough for me to write back.

I know it's horribly expensive and inconvenient to work your way through the replies, but aren't the replies exactly what you need to see? What an opportunity.

Email is medium all onto itself. It's the only medium where the human voice appears the same whether it's 'live' or 'recorded' and where there's an expectation that all interactions are two-way.

Here's what you do:

1. Send the email to your permission list, an announcement that's anticipated, personal and relevant.

2. Set up a "reply to" that's a different address.

3. In the email, at the bottom, give people a web address where they can go to give feedback, or give them an email they can write to that will be read by a real person.

4. If they hit reply, the replyto will automatically send the note to the right person.

Getting rigorous about viral video

Mike has a fascinating post categorizing many of the most viral videos of our time.

When a field gains steam, it seems as though everything is sort of random or magical (what does McDonald's have in common with Delmonico's? Not much). While Mike's categories might not resonate with you, I think it's a fascinating place to start the analysis.

Should small businesses whine?

I bought some clothes from a merchant via Amazon. The company that I ordered from shipped the wrong item. I sent it back and was told it will take three or four weeks to process my return. A month!

I wrote back, asking why it would take so long. The response, "Thank you for your inquiry. To answer your question we are NOT an big company like Amazon we are actually a small company, That is why it does take us a little longer than others."

Of course, you'd think a small company could be faster. More important, you'd think the company would realize that I couldn't care a whit about how small they are... I just want good service.

If your small company can't deliver a better experience (in areas people care about) than a big one, why on Earth should someone do business with you? I'm not saying you must have faster service, a bigger website, lower prices and twenty-four hour a day phone support. I'm saying that for some of your customers, you have to be monstrously, demonstrably, better.

The web is a great equalizer. A tiny business can have a better website than a huge one. A tiny business can do better customer support than a big one. A tiny business can write a better newsletter than a big one. Maybe not for everyone, but everyone is for the big companies. The passionate minority is happy to embrace the small company. As long as they focus and don't whine about it.

Small is a weapon, not an excuse.


Iphone190_2 One day, you may be lucky enough to have a scarcity problem. A product or a service or even a job that's in such high demand that people are clamoring for more than you can make.

We can learn a lot from the abysmal performance of Apple this weekend. They took a hot product and totally botched the launch because of a misunderstanding of the benefits and uses of scarcity.

First, understand that scarcity is a choice. If you raise your price, scarcity goes away. If your product is going to be scarce, it's either because you benefit from that or because your organization is forbidden to use price as a demand-adjustment tool. I'm going to assume the former. (But I riff a bit on the latter toward the end)

Why be scarce?

  • Scarcity creates fashion. People want something that others can't have.
  • Lines create demand. People want something that others want.
  • Scarcity also creates word of mouth, because people talk about lines and shortages and hot products.
  • And finally, scarcity drives your product to the true believers, the ones most likely to spread the word and ignite the ideavirus. Because they expended effort to acquire your product or service, they're not only more likely to talk about it, but they've self-selected as the sort of person likely to talk about it.

The danger is that you can kill long-term loyalty. You can annoy your best customers. You can spread negative word of mouth. You can train people to hate your scarcity strategy (Apple did all four this weekend).

Take a look at the guy in the photo. That's the goal. He feels great. He's a hero, at least for a moment, all because he stood in line all night. He gets to talk about it and others (not everyone, but enough) aspire to be him next time. You reward the tribe and you build the tribe at the same time.

The problem is that our kneejerk way of dealing with scarcity is to treat everyone the same and to have people 'pay' by spending time to indicate their desire.

Waiting in line is a very old-school way of dealing with scarcity. And treating new customers like old customers, treating unknown customers the same as high-value customers is painful and unnecessary.

Principle 1: Use the internet to form a queue. If you have a scarce product, you almost certainly know it's scarce in advance. Instead of taxing customers by wasting their time, reward the early shoppers by taking orders online. A month before sale date, for example, tell them it's coming. If you sell out before ship date, that's great, because next time people will be even quicker to order when they hear about what you've got. (And you can do this in the real world, too--postcards with numbers or even playing cards work just fine.)

A hot band that regularly sells out on the road, for example, could put a VIP serial number inside every CD or t-shirt they sell. Use that to pre-order your tix.

Principle 2: Give the early adopters a reward. In the case of Apple, I would have made the first 100,000 phones a different color. Then, instead of the buyer being a hero for ten seconds, he gets to be a hero for a year.

Principle 3: Treat different customers differently. Apple, for example, knows how to contact every single existing customer. Why not offer VIP status to big spenders? Or to those that make a lot of calls? Let them cut the line. It's not fair? What's fair mean? I can't think of anything more fair than treating the people who treat you well, better.

Principle 4: When things happen in real time, you're way more likely to screw up. One of the giant advantages of the Net is that you can fix things before the whole world notices. Try to do your rollout in small sections, so you can fix mistakes before you hurt the very people you're trying to embrace.

Principle 5: Give your early adopters a forum to celebrate. A place to brag or demonstrate or show off or share insights and ideas. Amplify the heroes, which is far better than amplifying the pain of standing in line.

Imagine what the Apple and AT&T stores would have been like this weekend if they were filled with happy customers who had pre-paid, pre-registered and were just dropping in for three minutes to pick up their (very coveted) phones, walking up the VIP line, past all the others just waiting for a chance to buy one...

Hot restaurants in New York violate all five of these principles on a regular basis. So do sports teams and stores that have lines out front in the middle of winter. What a waste.

Even colleges do it. They pretend they've got a meritocracy, but in practice, it's a high-pressure lottery with enormous financial and stress overhead involved.

Yes, there are times when scarcity is mandated (the TSA at airports, for example, or food rations at an emergency site). I know that there are plenty of ways to deal with this scarcity as well. Ways to treat your customers (and yes, they are customers) with more respect, to communicate the situation more clearly and to architect the environment so that people are grateful, not stressed out.

Smart marketers understand that scarcity (intentional or not) is a tool, one that can be used to enhance the story, not detract from it.

What do you do when your systems break?

If you want to enrage customers, just sit idle while they rage against a broken system at your organization.

Someone shipped me a package from Indiana more than two weeks ago. UPS shipped it to my old address, mis-sorted it, shipped it back to Indiana, mis-sorted it before returning it, shipped it back to NY, mis-sorted it, shipped it back to Indiana, mis-sorted it, shipped it back to NY (I'm not making this up and I'm not exaggerating) and yes, it's now on it's way back to Indiana. Maybe.

There have been a dozen phone calls by the shipper and myself to UPS. And every time, the agent and the supervisor insist that there is nothing they can do and that all the correct buttons have been pushed. When pressed, they acknowledge that something appears broken, but "my hands are tied."

Stuff happens in every organization that has a system. You can't eliminate it. The question is: what do your people do when they see 'broken.' What do you encourage/permit them to do?

I'd install a BROKEN button. When you hit it, you can do anything and everything to fix the problem. Train people when to hit the button and then trust them to do the right thing.

Worth a click

A terrific post on how to write stuff worth reading.

A nicely laid out (always use landscape for ebooks) ebook about ideas that spread.

A different way to do pricing online, starting to realize the vision that the Internet is not just an expensive cash register.

A different way to think about your site's help page.

And finally, a clever idea about interacting with customers, particularly for b2b sellers.

Bar graphs vs. Pie charts


The bar graph is read left to right and seems to imply something about the declining relevance of Billygoats (even though close inspection shows that we expect high growth in billygoats next year). There's data here, but no information.

The pie chart contains far less data, but the point is obvious: Trolls are where we should focus our energy.

That's why you use it. It makes an obvious point and leaves no real room for discussion. I think discussions are great, but that's not why you are doing a presentation.

I stepped on the toes of many data presentation purists yesterday, so let me reiterate my point to make it crystal clear: In a presentation to non-scientists (or to bored scientists), the purpose of a chart or graph is to make one point, vividly. Tell a story and move on. If you can't be both vivid and truthful, it doesn't belong in your presentation. (I can think of dozens of good uses of bar graphs... they're not forbidden, they're just overused and misused).



The three laws of great graphs

If you use graphs in your Powerpoint presentations, I hope you'll follow these three simple principles.

1. One Story
2. No Bar Charts
3. Motion

Mmartcr1 The only reason (did I mention only) to use a chart in a presentation is to make a point. If you want to prove some deep insight or give people textured data to draw their own conclusions, DON'T put it in a presentation. Put it in a handout. Give them a URL with a spreadsheet at the other end.

No, the reason you put a chart in a presentation is to tell a story. A single story, one story per chart. "Oh," the attendee says, "our costs are going through the roof!" Or, in the case of the picture here, "Oh boy LA and Florida are in big big trouble."

There is no room for nuance here. You don't have nuance in the other parts of your presentation, and it doesn't belong here.

If the facts demand nuance, don't use a graph, because you won't get nuance, you'll get confusion.

Bar charts are dramatically overrated, primarily because they're the first choice in many graphing programs.

The problem with bar charts is that they should either be line/area charts (when graphing a change over time, like unemployment rates) or they should be a simple pie chart (when comparing two or three items at the same scale).

[I know full well that pie charts are not rigorous and often misused. My point is that if you need to show slight differences or many bits of data, you probably don't want a chart at all.]

The correct use of a bar chart is to show how several items change over a period of time. This, of course, demands nuance.

Here's the surprising one: You should animate your charts.

It's simple: create two slides. The first one shows where the data used to be, the second one, on the same axes, shows where it is or where it's going. Motion.

Establish the first slide. Make your point about your source and its validity. Then press the advance button. Boom.

There are 314 principles for good graphs and charts. But these three laws will take you far.

The limits of meta

Blogging about blogging, writing about writing, documentaries about documentaries, songs about songwriting...

It's tempting to use a medium to write about the medium.

It works for a while, but there's a limit. Pretty quickly, you hit a natural ceiling and you won't be able to go any further. The most obvious trap online: websites that make money by teaching you about making money by using the web.

How to make everyone happy

Greg sent me an article about a bridge in Folsom. $117 million spent, it needs a name.

How about "Johnny Cash"? He's famous, he made Folsom famous, he's dead, his daughter said yes, he has fans, they need tourists... you get the idea.

City Council votes 4 to 1 against.

The two key money quotes:

“Why would we promote a prison? We are known for a lot more things than the prison.”

and my favorite:

In regards to the Folsom Lake Crossing name, King said “just about everybody I’ve talked to is happy.”

Here's the takeaway: If you are willing to satisfy people with good enough, you can make just about everybody happy. If you delight people and create change that lasts, you're going to offend those that hate change in all its forms. Your choice.

Let me see

Mark Brooks had a Kindle idea which got me thinking:

  1. Let me see the percentage of people who have bought a book and actually finished reading it. (The Kindle knows, right?) Even better, let me see Kindle books that are finished by people who finish books that I finish!
  2. Let me see a map of my town with the location of pedestrian accidents highlighted by color.
  3. Give me a listing of all the houses in my city sorted by (value of house/taxes paid). That would go a long way to bringing equity to the assessment system.
  4. Sort restaurants on Open Table by the percentage of reservations booked by returning diners.
  5. Sort Facebook invitations in order of how many times someone has been unfriended.
  6. Sort credit card offers based on data from Mint or Wesabe... show me the credit cards with the fewest bankruptcies/financial troubles among recipients first.
  7. Sort corporate email by how many people in my company have indicated that a sender is important.
  8. Let me see stocks ranked in order of recent purchases by successful investors.
  9. Let me review bids from builders ranked in order of complaints filed or the length of time between first application for a building permit and finished building.
  10. Let me see potential online dates sorted by how frequently (or infrequently) the person goes on first dates.
  11. Sort car models by crash and repair data.
  12. Let me see my salesforce ranked by closing rate or cold call rate or customer satisfaction.
  13. Let me see my inbound call data by hour, sorted by number of rings before answer, or by percentage of calls unanswered.
  14. Let me sort my customer service requests by customer value. (Including loyalty, purchases and referrals).
  15. Let me choose a doctor by malpractice suit rate.
  16. When I watch TV online, recognize the pundit and flash historical accuracy rates on the screen while she talks.
  17. Blank out comments on posts that agree with my point of view.
  18. Highlight the floor of the trade show and let me see which paths are walked the most. Or give me glasses that let me follow in the footsteps of people I admire. Or let me walk on paths no one else is walking on.

I guess I'm talking about passive contributions of public behavior information to traditionally-sorted data.

Wikipedia gets fictional

The biography of George Costanza is five times as long as that of Tim O'Reilly.

As Wikipedia matures, there are hard decisions to be made about depth and breadth. Shouldn't Tim's entry be many pages long? He's one of the great thinkers of our time. If IBM and Jones Soda get entries, why not your brand (or my old summer camp, which was ruthlessly deleted)?

Most serious web users realize that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone. Above the echelon of casual editors are more serious volunteers who set standards, delete articles and argue with each other about what belongs and what doesn't. There's an entire cadre of deletionists who want fewer articles of higher quality, while there are others that would choose to embrace the long tail and create a freeer environment. The seeswaw arguments make for entertaining discussion but it can be hard to predict what will happen on any given day.

SEO rewards Wikipedia, and well it should. Most searchers who end up there are pretty happy with that result. But as we get further and further into Googleworld, who decides what's worthy?

A consistent rule on Wikipedia has been to rely on edited print publications (the mainstream media) as well as physical or unchanging materials (like the DVD of a TV show). This made sense five years ago, but as the world abandons print reference (which Wikipedia largely relies on for verification), are we biasing the entries in favor of Abraham Lincoln (plenty of printed facts available) and TV series characters (we can prove that George worked for Vandalay Industries)?

Another rule has been a taboo on self-promotion (which is smart), but it runs headlong into the issue of completeness and relevance. If you know or like Tim (or me or your company), you're more likely to invest the effort to write about him. And you're certainly more likely to have access to the interesting and relevant facts. This rule gets bent all the time, but again, it's rarely made crystal clear.

There's no right answer, of course. But "no answer" isn't an answer either. Not for a site with this much power and this much potential. [I re-edited this post for clarity].

Two seconds

Sometimes, busy people need to remind themselves (and us) how busy they are by shaving off the last two seconds of what would otherwise be a pleasant interaction.

At a restaurant yesterday, the maitre d, who is paid to be busy, looked up our name in the reservations book and then said, "over there against the wall," while he pointed. He repeated this approach with at least three other parties.

How much longer to say, "Welcome, we'll be ready for you in just a second. Would you mind waiting over there please?" Amazingly, saying that while smiling takes precisely the same amount of time.

I know you're busy, so I'll keep this short... if you're going to interact, spend a few extra beats to be calm and gracious. It's hard to overstate how much better everyone will feel and how much more productive you'll become as a result.

Joining the luck parade

Some businesses seem to be really lucky. Some careers, too.

They have good things happen, things that push them along, that change the game in a positive way.

If you think about parades, one thing that's clear is that marching bands get invited to parades a lot more often than chiropractors do.

Bear with me for a second.

If your goal is to be invited to a parade, it sure helps to be in a marching band. Your chiropractic firm might, just might, be invited to be the grand marshal or something, but in general, it helps to be in a parade-friendly line of work.

Well, just like parades for July 4th or Flag Day, there's a luck parade. And some organizations are just better suited for this opportunity than others. If your business plan includes the phrase, "and then we luck out," or "and then we become fashionable" or "and then the market embraces this idea," I sure hope you're organized for that.

There used to be a luck parade in Hollywood, but then too many people showed up and the odds plummeted. A few years ago, there was a luck parade in Silicon Valley, because Sand Hill Road was so eager to hand out venture funding. Today, good fortune seems to be smiling on quirky visions and those willing to self-publish.

Luck isn't predictable, but it tends to come in packs.

Two simple web businesses

The world needs fixed-price web podiatrists.

Podiatrists, not doctors.

Doctors do surgery and prescribe expensive drugs and stuff. Podiatrists can just make it easier to get around.

So, a pretty smart web-savvy person could have a checklist of fifty items and work her way through a corporate website. She could come back with a simple, easy to execute list of things worth changing:
--put USA above Afghanistan on your country pull down list
--make it so clicking on your logo takes me back to your home page
--the font is too small on this page and it's hard to read

Low hanging fruit, stuff that doesn't need approval from the CEO to fix. Maddening idiosyncracies, worth the few minutes it takes to fix them.

Second gig: Web analytics pro. Someone who can, for a generous hourly fee, set up analytics for a website and do weekly reports (by email) that are actually useful and actionable.

$200 an hour is totally reasonable for work like this. It's worth ten times that when it's done right. We're talking about optimizing an AdWords campaign that returns millions of dollars in profit.

Of course there are people who already know how to do this. The question is: can it be marketed as an easy thing, a simple sale, a matter of course...

Neither will make you rich. Either might open doors for your next step in life.

Who vs. how many

Scoble has a great post about a 14 year old kid with 45 million viewers on YouTube.

45 million! He wins. You lose. You won't have more traffic than he will. Ever.

And what about your ads? Are you busy sponsoring sites that have less traffic than he does? Sure you are. Why? I thought it was all about reaching the masses...

Well, since you're over that now, since you realize that "how many" is not nearly as valuable as "who", why not put that into practice?

Just because something is easy to measure doesn't mean it's important.

The statesman, the lawyer and the marketer

Perrymason There aren't so many statesmen. People who speak truth to power. Leaders who describe what they see, whether or not it serves their short-term interests. They say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, as long as it serves the long-term needs of their constituents. No wonder we like them so much.

Lawyers are sworn to be advocates. It's their duty. They take a side and they argue it. They're not supposed to tell the truth, they're supposed to argue a point of view.

Guess who has a better reputation?

Which leads us to marketers. Have you noticed that most of us act like lawyers?

Perhaps, just perhaps, someone would be better off with a competitor's product instead of yours. Or perhaps the world doesn't really need what your factory just rolled out. If you're a lobbyist, it's hard to act like a statesman and keep your job. Or if you're a pharmaceutical sales rep. Or a PR firm. Or a brand manager at a software company.

Marketing culture has become a culture of lawyers. Apparently, marketers are now advocates sworn to argue on behalf of a client.

This attitude leads to spam (hey, it's not against the law and it helps my client) and to dicey product claims and to awful side effects like obesity, shoddy products and massive debt. If your job is to represent a product and ensure its short-term sales, that's exactly what you're sworn to do.

I believe that anyone, regardless of situation, deserves the best possible lawyer. Our advocacy-based justice system depends on it. But does every product, service and organization deserve the best possible marketer?

What happens when marketers stop arguing on behalf of their corporate or organizational client and start arguing on behalf of the customer instead? What happens when marketers become statesmen?

This is a very practical hypothetical question I'm asking.

When a sales rep says, "You know, after hearing your situation, I think you'd be a lot better off with my competitor's product instead, here's her number," it actually creates positive word of mouth and long-term growth. When a brand manager says to the product development people, "I'm not proud of this design, we're not going to market it, so you better make something else," it actually creates market share growth. And when a CEO says to Congress, "Our industry relies on chemical X and we're going to keep using it as long as our competitors do, so please ban it," she creates a long-term path to stability and growth.

The lawyer works with constituents who fully expect him to be an advocate. The judge, the clients and the jury (hopefully) understand that he is making a case, not telling the truth.

Marketers work in a different world. As marketing has transformed from a specialized subset of business to a ubiquitous element of society, marketers still have the chance to be believed. But trust belongs to statesmen, not lawyers. People don't say, "I trust her, she's the lawyer for the other side."

The real question, I guess, is this: who's your client?

When you least expect it

I sent in a t-shirt order to customink a few weeks ago.

Three days later, I got a note from someone named Lori that said,

"Hi Seth,

I noticed that you have designed shirts that appear to be for a charity event. If that’s the case, CustomInk would love to make a small donation to your team or to the charity itself on your behalf.

Please let me know if your order is for one of these events. If you would like us to pitch in and support your cause, please include information about your charity event, a link if you have one or the organization’s name if there is no link to a team web page."

That's it. No policy, no standard operating procedure, no promise in advance. Just plain generosity.

It turns out that customink does this as a matter of course, regardless of whether the customer has a blog or not. They don't do it as an inducement, they just do it.

Formula: The value of a perk is inversely related to the expectation of that perk.

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