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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


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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Member since 08/2003

« July 2008 | Main | September 2008 »

Every Sunday is the same

Please don't show me graphs that place the days in order, in a bar chart.

I know it's convenient, but it's useless.


Every week I get a chart like this, and every week Wednesday is after Tuesday (and Tuesday's on the phone with me). Highlighting web traffic in this way is not helpful. All it tells me is that once again, the weekend was sort of slow.

Or consider this chart, the standard comparison display, from Google Analytics.


This chart is only useful if both months begin on the same day--once every seven months, give or take. Why isn't the computer smart enough to line the dates up for us?

Week on week and month on month matter a great deal online (and off). Daily charts, on the other hand, just confuse things.

The uncanny valley

Tom points us to this fascinating concept. It's called the uncanny valley and it goes back as far as Freud.

When you get too good at faking it, people freak out.

We love cute dogs, cute monkeys, clairvoyant websites, smart voice mail systems.

But we get totally wigged out when a website knows too much about us, when we start talking to a voice mail attendant like she's a real person or when a photo or a robot is just too good. A magician is fine, an actual mind reader we burn at the stake.

The relevant issue here for marketers is what happens when our databases and predictions get too good. I don't want the hotel to automatically serve me the same breakfast as last trip, or for the doorman to pretend he's my friend just because he read a database entry.


Why cartoons work

070827evolution Tom Fishburne has a new book out, and you should take a look if you're seeking a new way to think about marketing, your brand, or your colleagues. The whole tour is here.

Andrew Kaufman's book does the same thing, but in a totally different way--with text that has the same power of a great cartoon. Thanks, Andrea, for sending it to me... I loved every word of it.

Cartoons work because they're not monologues. Even though the medium is one-directional, a dialogue takes place. In between the panels, in between the talk bubbles, the cartoonist demands you fill in the blanks.

This call and response gives the reader far more of a jolt than a paragraph in a book could. Even better, it gives the cartoonist the confidence to proceed boldly. He knows you're there, volleying with him, interacting with the idea as you read it.

Marketers are taught from the beginning to grab the microphone and never let it go. We can learn from authors and cartoonists and talk show hosts that sometimes you gain more power when you let the other person feel engaged.

You get what you pay for

If you don't want spam in your inbox, never respond, never buy anything. Not even if it's a good deal.

If you don't like TV commercials featuring loud aggressive announcers, don't buy what they're selling. Ever.

If you don't want people ringing your door asking for donations, don't give, no matter what.

If you think politics is too nasty and not focused enough on creating value, then don't donate to a candidate that's nasty, even if you agree (and even better, call or write and tell them why).

If you don't like bait and switch marketing, where promises don't match the product, don't buy it.

If you don't like snarky, angry blogs, don't read them.

If you deplore the lousy service at big chains or certain airlines, don't shop there, even if it's cheaper.

There's a new asymmetry, with loud consumers able to connect and actually have an impact.

We're all hypocrites, and we get what we pay for. The market is astonishingly quick at responding to what consumers do (and incredibly slow at reacting to what we say).

The first law of mass media

Organizations will work tirelessly to de-personalize every communication medium they encounter.

Radio ads used to be live, personal and spoken by an individual.
TV ads used to feature actual people, demonstrating something, usually live.
Phone calls involved a live speaker, talking, with permission, to another person.
Email used to be honest interactions between consenting adults.
Facebook pages (and Wikipedia, too) were built by people, not staffs.
Twits came from real people, and so did instant messages.

One by one, the mass marketers have insisted on robocalling, spamming, jingling and lying their way into our lives. The pronoun morphs from "you" to "me" to "us" to "the corporation" ...

The public works tirelessly to flee to actual interactions between real people, and our organizations work even more diligently (and with more leverage) to corporatize and anonymize the interactions.

The irony, of course, is that an organization with guts can go in the opposite direction and win.

My name is Seth Godin and I approved this message.

'Where to' might not be as important as 'how loud'

Here's what they say to you when you graduate: "What are you going to do now?"

And here's what they say to you when you're about to leave on vacation: "Where are you going?"

In marketing (and thus, in life) it might be a lot more important to know, "How are you going to do the next thing?" or "How are you going to do your vacation?"

Direction is drilled into us. Picking the right direction is critical. If you don't know the right direction, sit tight until you figure it out.

The hyperactive have trouble with this advice. So they flit like a hummingbird, dashing this way and that, trying this tactic or that strategy until something works big, then they run with it.

What we're seeing, again and again, is that both of these strategies rarely work.

Organizations that sit tight tend to get verry comfortable with sitting, and they don't move when they need to move. They want proof that the direction is the right direction, they study it, consider it, test it, and the next thing you know, they are fourth in a three-person market.

Organizations (and leaders, and followers) that flit have a similar problem. They're so good at flitting, so happy with it, that they continue to flit even when a decent path shows up. (Classic Dip behavior). No direction is perfect, so we play with a strategy for a while, but you know what, flitting is more fun, so we go back to that.

The alternative is to do your best to pick a direction (hopefully an unusual one, hopefully one you have resources to complete, hopefully one you can do authentically and hopefully one you enjoy) and then do it. Loudly. With patience and passion. (Loud doesn't mean boorish. Loud means proud and joyful and with confidence.)

No flitting, no waiting for proof. Just consistent, overwhelming performance in pursuit of a vision you believe in. That's far more important than which direction you chose in the first place. And yes, I think it's a marketing decision, because the market embraces 'how.'


More vs. enough

Lesley reminds us of Herzberg's work on hygiene.

It's not just theory, it's a vitally important marketing concept. It's easy to believe that joy lives on a simple curve. If you give me more of what I want, you give me more joy.

If one baseball game is good, season tickets are better. If $300 an hour for consulting is good, $400 is better.

Improved = more.

It turns out, though, that there isn't just one curve, there are two. The second one is about hygiene. Not just being clean, of course, but being in an environment in which certain requirements are met. All the farm-fresh groceries in the world won't make you happy if your kitchen is filled with bugs. A high-paying job that delivers a screaming boss, no job security and a home life fraught with tension isn't a stable place for most people. Not because the money isn't there, but because basic "hygiene" needs aren't being met.

Hygiene We see this with computer hardware and software (crashing is a hygiene issue). We see it with thrift stores for food (freshness, or the appearance of it, is more important than money for many people). And we see it with every human resource issue.

Next time you try to grow market share, while it may be tempting to lower price or offer more features, perhaps it's worth considering addressing unfixed hygiene issues instead.

Monkeys with megaphones

Jack points us to this regularly updated collection of inane, indecipherable or insulting comments from YouTube.

When will it get better?

Now that everyone has their own channel, their own newspaper, their own station, it's pretty shocking how low the average has sunk. The question is: will it be so noisy and offensive that the rest of us just tune it out completely? Do you care enough to dig through the pond scum comments to find the pearls? My guess is that few people do. It's like most cell phone calls... not a lot of people listening, just waiting for their turn to talk.

On a closed, non-anonymous site I get to use, I'm noticing that the quality of comments continues to increase. I don't think people are dumb. I think ease of use combined with anonymity and vanity just makes them seem that way.

[Tim sends us to this powerful extension that boots out the coarsest comments.]

The decision before the decision

A friend sent me a business plan the other day. He outlined four or five elements of the project he was launching and wanted my feedback on each.

In our haste to get started, we jump ahead.

He'd already decided to launch a project. To make it a non-profit. To build it on a scale of a million dollars a year. To do projects that would involve certain types of growth but avoid others. To include primarily live events instead of online or media properties. He'd also decided not to create a self-propelling movement, not to be tribe-focused and not to be huge (or tiny).

That's a lot of decisions to make before you start.

Someone I met has a big idea. He asked me, "What should I title the book so the publisher will promote it?" There's a book? There's a publisher?

Your choices used to be astonishingly limited. Now, they're relatively infinite. Not just the choice of what color to make the logo, but the whether or not choices. Perhaps you don't need a live conference. Perhaps you don't need to write a book. Perhaps you don't need to start a non-profit. Perhaps you can spread your ideas and generate impact with more speed and more power but with a lot less traditional overhead.

I'm probably wrong, but making the decision before you make the decision seems backward.

Beating the status quo

[Updated: Upending a finely tuned machine: It's pretty clear that this post and the one before were seen by practitioners of click advertising as just plain stupid. If you read them the way they read them, that interpretation is entirely possible, and I apologize. My intent was to point out that we're creating a culture of surfers who just don't click on ads, which has far-reaching effects for our medium. For those that saw some other intent, I'm sorry. I'll try to do better next time.]

My last post about ads as tips led to a firestorm in my inbox, so a few thoughts:

1. I'm not suggesting click fraud, far from it. Just as you're more likely to go to a restaurant that advertised in a magazine you like, you're more likely to click on an ad that lives on a relevant page you liked. Click fraud is a whole different game (primarily because the clicker benefits).

2. Much more important than that is thinking about the status quo:

The way that text ads work is this: you pay by the click. Then, after someone clicks, you get a chance on the page they land on to sell them something (a product, a service, signing up for a free newsletter, whatever).

The goal of the marketer is to have no one click on the ad EXCEPT for people who intend to buy. In fact, clever marketers try to sneak in ads that are unappealing enough that only the truly motivated will actually click.

And so, given the status quo, you beat it by getting fewer clicks and converting the ones you do get.


What if it became common for popular pages to generate lots of clicks? What if some of those clickers were less motivated?

Well, under the original status quo (TV thinking) this is good, because you got a chance to immerse someone in an entire page you designed. In other words, a chance to convert mild interest into big interest.

Under the current status quo  (click thinking) this is bad, because you paid for a window shopper.

My point was that if everyone started clicking, clickthrough rates would go up. For a while, there'd be an imbalance, and sites would make too much and advertisers would pay too much.

But then, advertisers would use the landing pages to start converting. They'd adjust to the new status quo, to seeing a stream of happy clickers who came through because they liked the page they were on. And they'd get better at converting those folks (something that doesn't happen now, because only the hardcore click through). Do you see the benefit? If more people convert, the budget goes up. The spend can increase because converting mild interest (which they don't see now in a rare-click world) into sales is profitable.

I think the most robust ad environment for the web is one in which more surfers give permission to more marketers to make their case. And one way to get that permission is to have a culture in which surfers agree to "pay" attention in exchange for great content.

Who wins?

Surfers, who get more great content and might actually learn about something they want to invest in.

Content providers, who get more money in the short run and in the long run, as more ads convert more people.

Advertisers, who can begin to reach the unreachable non-clickers.

The irony is not lost on me. The people who so desperately interrupt everyone all the time are now squealing because I'm recommending that more people pay attention to their offers.

Ads are the new online tip jar

"I never click on ads."

It's almost a badge of honor to say that. The subtext is, "I'm too smart/busy to waste my time doing that," or perhaps, "I don't want someone to sell my attention."

But the real effect is that you're starving great content.

I can say this because there are no ads here but,

If you like what you're reading, click an ad to say thanks.

Pretty simple, but not an accepted online protocol, at least not yet.

If every time you read a blog post or bit of online content you enjoyed you clicked on an ad to say thanks, the economics of the web would change immediately. You don't have to buy anything (though it's fine if you do). You just have to honor the writer by giving them a click.

You still get what you pay for, even if you pay with attention.

Who's telling you the truth about your online personal marketing?

Yes, it's true. People judge you.

They judge you especially harshly online.

They judge you by your teeny picture on Facebook (named, after all, after the original quick judgment document) and they judge you by your email sig file and your domain (Hotmail?!) and by the look of your bio on Squidoo or Linkedin or the number of typos in your instant messages. They even judge you by the typeface and ads on your blog.

So, are you getting good feedback on your brand presentation?

Would it hurt your feelings if I told you that your picture made you look dumpy? Or that it was boring? Or way too outre?

It seems like it's better to hear this from a few trusted people than to continue to stumble without knowing why.

I'm not proposing that you let the crowd dictate, or that you work hard to fit in. Far from it. I'm proposing that you know the impact your choices are having and act accordingly.

Pictures are the easiest. Post three or four and let trusted people vote (and tell you why). Don't pick the winner, but read their reasons. And yes, if connecting online is important to you, go ahead and spend a few dollars and get a good photo.

This isn't about ignorance as much as it involves effort. Once you pay attention to this, it'll get better.

The predictable lifecycle of the skeptic (or even better, cynic)

The Kindle is a lousy idea. No one will read a book that way.

The Kindle is late. Amazon has no clue how to launch a product.

The Kindle is poorly designed. See, we told you.

The Kindle's pricing model hurts book publishers. It will never be adopted by them.

The Kindle is pretty cool. Non-techies like it.

The Kindle is sold out. Amazon doesn't know how to produce a product.

The Kindle is selling far more than anyone ever predicted.

The Kindle will sell millions and we are raising our predictions for Amazon's earnings as a result.

... The Kindle missed our estimates. See?

Creating stories that resonate

Goldwater Every person in the market has a worldview when it comes to what you're selling. It might be, "I don't care about that," or it might be, "all big companies are evil" or it might be, "I love new stuff."

When your story aligns with my worldview, we have something to discuss. When it doesn't, you're likely to be invisible.

A worldview is a lot like the strings on a piano or the cables in a bridge. When it hits something that is of the same frequency, it resonates. The cause and the effect embrace each other and the story sticks, and spreads.

It's essentially impossible to tell a story to an entire population and have it resonate with all of them. The global warming story, for example, has influenced some people a great deal and been dismissed out of hand by others.

While most marketers spend their time telling stories about themselves, politicians spend a lot of time telling (negative) stories about the competition. It's illuminating, because it makes the resonance idea really clear. [The rest of this post is about politics. It's okay with me if you skip it, feel free to do so if you expect to be offended.]

Here are two stories:

Barack Obama is hopelessly liberal. He will raise our taxes, and he's not a real American. You can't trust him.


John McCain is a fake. He will say and do anything to be elected, and he is just four more years of our last mistake.

Choose your story (or the competition's story) wisely, because you have to live with it for a long time, and if it's not authentic, if it doesn't hold up, you're left with nothing. In the case of an election, the effect of your competitor's story on your base is critical. (And vice versa). John Kerry called George Bush dumb, but it didn't matter, because Bush's base didn't care that Kerry thought he was dumb. The people who did care had already decided not to vote for Bush, so the story had no power. Will McCain's base care that he's a fake? Will Obama's base care that he's untested and different?

I think that Obama's base isn't as shaken by that story as McCain's base is by the 'fake' one. The worldview that elected Ronald Reagan is one that admired his authenticity and his ability to stick to his principles. George Bush took advantage of that same worldview in the stories he told about being a strong leader. "Fake" undoes a lot of that.

The reliance on negative stories in politics makes me sick. I think we should be above that. The fact that negative stories have influenced every election of my lifetime, though, means that I'm wrong, we're not above it. If politicians are going to tell negative stories, they might as well pick useful ones.

Start with the truth. Identify the worldview of the people you need to reach. Describe the truth through their worldview. That's your story. When you overreach, you always fail. Not today, but sooner or later, the truth wins out. Negative or positive, the challenge isn't just to tell the truth. It's to tell truth that resonates.

Destroying happiness

A journalist asked me, Most people have a better standard of living today than Louis XIV did in his day. So why are so many people unhappy?

What you have doesn't make you unhappy. What you want does.

And want is created by us, the marketers.

Marketers trying to grow market share will always work to make their non-customers unhappy.

It's interesting to note that marketers trying to maintain market share have a lot of work to do in reminding us that we're happy.

The dead zone of slick


There was a terrific duo playing live music at the farmer's market the other day. They were well-rehearsed, enthusiastic and really good. Being a patron of the arts, I bought a CD.

I hated it.

I've thought a lot about what turned me off, and I think it's the curve above.

Faced with the excitement of making a CD and all the knobs and dials, they overproduced the record. They went from being two real guys playing authentic music, live and for free, and became a multi-tracked quartet in search of a professional sound. And they ended up in the dead zone. Not enough gloss to be slick, too much to be real.

This happens at restaurants all the time. Give me a handmade huarache and it's fine if it's on a paper plate. Or give me something from Thomas Keller. But I have no patience for the stuff in the dead zone, the items that are too slick to be real, but not slick enough to be a marvel. Who, exactly, wants an industrial tuna sandwich wrapped in plastic wrap?

You can send me a hand-written note (but don't write it in crayon with words spelled wrong) and I'll read it. And you can send me a beautifully typeset Fedex package. But if you send me mass-produced junk with a dot matrix printer, out it goes. The dead zone again.

That's why really well done HTML email works, as does unique, hand-typed text email. It's the banal stuff in the middle that people don't read. And yet, 95% of what I see is precisely in the dead spot of the middle zone.

The Blair Witch Project and Pi both felt authentic. The Matrix was perfectly slick. The new Star Wars cartoon is just dumb.

That's why a personalized letter works better than a generic resume. We crave handmade authenticity and we adore perfectly professional slickness.

Like your hair is on fire

In the US, the next two weeks are traditionally the slowest of the year. Plenty of vacations, half-day Fridays, casual Mondays, martini Tuesdays... you get the idea.

What if you and your team went against type? What if you spend the two weeks while your competition (and the forces for the status quo) are snoozing--and turn it into a completed project?

So, here's the challenge: Assemble your team (it might be just you) on Monday and focus like your hair is on fire (I have no direct experience in this area, but I'm told that hair flammability is quite urgent).

Do nothing except finish the project. Hey, you could have been on vacation, so it's okay to neglect everything else, to put your email on vacation autorespond and your phone on voice mail and to beg off on the sleepy weekly all-hands meeting and to avoid the interactions with those that might say no...

And then finish it. Finish the website or the manuscript or business plan or the suite of tools. No, this isn't a great week to do outreach or make a pitch. That's not the goal. It's to finish that project that's been stuck too long. Finish it or cancel it.

Policies, biases and conflicts

I don't take advertising on this site. I never have, I don't intend to.

If there's a link on this site, it's because I thought it was a good idea. I don't get paid to include links. I write about stuff I like, stuff you might like and people that I like.

The only affiliate program I belong to is Amazon. All my proceeds go to charity.

I don't take PR pitches. If you send me a press release, I will go out of my way not to mention you here.

I'm a principal shareholder in, a company I founded. I don't get paid a salary by Squidoo and all my Squidoo royalties go to charity.

I get paid to write books and give speeches. I don't mention them on this blog because I want you to buy them, though, I mention them because I figure people who like the blog will find them interesting. Fine with me if you borrow a copy instead of buying one...

I don't know if you can tell, but I'm trying hard to make this as pure an exercise as I can. I'm very fortunate to have your attention and (possibly) trust, and I'm certainly not going to blow it for a few bucks. But I'm not naive enough to believe that there are no conflicts. There are plenty of them. People and ideas that I have an irrational attachment to, or habits I've got that are hard to break. I'm hoping that won't get in the way of provoking you to think a little differently.

There are plenty of bloggers and online writers who have far more significant conflicts of interest than I do. And that's just fine. I have no issue with people selling ads or links or affiliate programs. I think, though, that it's essential that you make it clear to people what those conflicts are. Most of the great bloggers I read do just that.

Thanks for reading.

Deep dialing

"My computer will call your computer..."

Lisa points us Fonolo, a company in beta that spiders phone trees at big companies and promises to make it easy for you to go straight to the spot you want. Then it calls you when the phone is answered and records the call so you can keep a record.

Bringing symmetry to asymmetrical relationships is a huge opportunity for a technology company. I think there's room for a union of top high school students, for example, to give some leverage in the recruiting process. And of course, stubhub took the power away from ticket scalpers.

Can you bully someone into a sale?

Of course you can.

It's human nature to resist saying yes. Human nature makes us hesitate, sometimes for a week or a month, at the very last minute, at the moment of truth.

One technique to get through this hesitation is to be a sales bully.

Sales bullies describe their approach as ethical, because, after all, it's in the best interest of the prospect to say yes. It's okay to be a sales bully when you're trying to get someone to take their TB medicine, so it must be okay to be a sales bully to get them to sign this contract.

And it works. On some people.

The flaw in thinking is this... the people you most want to sell to won't respond well to this. The people you most need to spread the word, the people who are the best partners, the most loyal customers--they blanch in the face of bullying. They walk out.

So, if bullying is the only tool you've got, it makes sense to focus on an audience that responds to it (and lower your expecations accordingly). Even better, get some new tools.

The intangibles

Let's say your service costs more than the commodity-oriented competition (I hope it does!).

Where do you find repeat business or even new business? How do you make a sale (to another business or to a consumer) when you cost more?

The answer, of course, is the intangibles. The things that have no price. Things that customers value more than it costs you to provide them.

If you don't have that, all you can do is beg. And begging is not a scalable strategy.

If you find yourself saying, "the boss won't let me lower the price," or "we're more expensive, but that's because our cost structure is higher," then you're selling the intangibles too short. The stuff people can't buy at any price, from anyone else, but that they really value...

Here are some random ways you can embrace some intangibles:

  • Call the person before you get the RFP, before they know they need you. Brainstorm with them about how you can work together to create the thing they need. Participation is priceless. After all, if all you're doing is meeting my spec, why exactly should you be rewarded?
  • You'd be amazed at how much people value enthusiasm. Genuine, transparent enthusiasm about the project they're working on. Are you a framer? How do you respond to someone who brings something in to be framed? (Hint, if it involves a tape measure, you're missing the point).
  • Don't forget speed. If you are overwhelmingly faster than the alternatives, what's that worth? For some people, more than you can imagine.
  • Focus and personal service are obvious (but priceless) intangibles.
  • Generosity is remembered for a long time. People remember what you did for them when you didn't have to do a thing, when you weren't looking for new business, when it was expensive or costly for you to do it. Did you know that the movie studio bought Robert Downey Jr. a Bentley when Iron Man hit it big? He didn't ask, they didn't want anything (at least right now).
  • Error correction. How do you respond when you make an error? This is actually a huge opportunity to deliver an intangible, especially in a business to business setting. The last thing a client wants is to have to explain a snafu to her boss.
  • Peer pressure is another silent intangible. What will my friends and colleagues think if I choose you? What if I don't choose you? Is it fashionable to pay a lot? How hard are you working at establishing a connection across your market that choosing you is the right thing to do, regardless of the price?
  • The last one is probably the biggest. Hope. Do you offer hope for something really big in the future? Maybe just around the corner, but perhaps in the long run... What does it look and feel like? Are you drawing a vivid picture?

Simple example: Ideo. Check them on each one of these criteria and you'll see why they have a waiting list.

When providers are stressed or scared or pressured, they instinctively resort to price. It feels real and reliable. It's a trap, I'm afraid. It's the intangibles that drive all of the non-commodity decisions, and your job is to build remarkable ones and tell stories about them.

Old marketing with new tools

Remember hand-written thank you notes?

Then they became xeroxed form letters.

And then mail-merged form letters.

And then Amazon order confirmations by email.

We tend to use new tools to do less.
We try to save time and money at the same time, and end up depersonalizing and commodifying what we do.

A simple example: cost and speed pressure means that when you get your car serviced, it's unlikely you'll be greeted by the mechanic himself, wiping his hands on a greasy rag, telling you exactly what he did to your car. Instead, you'll get a difficult to decipher printout.

Why not use the technology to give more?

The mechanic can have a simple digital voice recorder. As he works, he can describe each thing he's testing and what he finds. You can then email the digital file to Iowa, India or Israel, have it typed up and beautifully formatted and waiting for the customer when he returns. How can that not be worth the $1.50 it would cost?

Or have your private school or summer camp record a 7 minute video on every student every month (that's a seven minute a day commitment per teacher) and post them privately. Seven minutes is the equivalent of a three-page personal letter, with far less resistance on the part of the teacher.

A friend of mine is wrestling with this right now. It's so so easy to hide behind technology, to use it as a shield, instead of as a clever tool to actually get you closer to the customers you depend on.

Another example: if you have high-value customers, you should never give them a mass Survey Monkey type survey. It's dehumanizing and it sends exactly the wrong message. Instead, ask them for feedback by email or web form. A few easy toss up questions and then just ask whether they'd recommend you and why.

If you get 200 responses, you ought to care enough to read and reply yourself. If you get 2,000, go hire someone to digest them all and make it easy for you to see the trends.

Inertia is one reason that techniques like these aren't done often, but the real reason is fear. We use technology to insulate us from our customers instead of bringing us closer.

Thoughts on popcorn

I don't like popcorn.

But today, walking by a bowl of it, I took some.

Most people do. The thing about popcorn is that it is a low investment, low risk snack. You can eat it if you're not hungry. You can successfully have a tiny portion. You are virtually certain that it will taste very much like your last popcorn snack.

There are products that are as easy to sample as popcorn. And making your product more popcorn-like is a great idea.

At the same time, it's interesting to note that very few people make a lot of money from popcorn. For a product this ubiquitous, it's surprisingly unsuccessful. Coke and Nike and Marlboro are a lot more powerful than Jiffy Pop.

So, the second lesson is that you want to make the sampling popcorn-like, but the commitment to be far bigger than it is for popcorn. Easy trial and consistent quality can lead to low commitment, not a great combination.

How do we make this more like popcorn? How do we make it less like popcorn?

The difficult choice

In a review of The Dip, a listener writes,

"Many winners and people or companies that get great results or wind up on top simply stumbled into winning or lucked out! He ignores the whole notion of how randomness plays into people or companies being winners or losers. But that's the whole point of these types of books - to make you feel like you have more control over your destiny. I would argue that luck and randomness play at least as big a role as all of this dip stuff. "

Without a doubt, luck is involved. I don't think anyone would tell you otherwise. The choice one needs to make, though is this:

Either you believe that luck is dominant, in which case, why bother with effort?
You believe that luck is random, in which case it can be eliminated from your thinking and you can focus on all the stuff you can control.

I don't think luck alone gets you into Harvard Law School or a clerkship at the Supreme Court. I don't think luck gets someone to buy your car (the best in its class and a great value) instead of the lame alternative.

I've been astonishingly lucky with many elements of my career. Mostly because solid singles turned into doubles or the occasional homer. I figure most of the failures are my fault and many of the successes were really good breaks. But I can't imagine how lonely and depressing it would be to view myself as nothing but a pinball, batted around by forces over which I have no influence.

The problem with not assigning it all to luck, of course, is that you're not only responsible for your wins, you're also responsible for your losses. This decision also means you've got a lot to do all day.

Waiting for the fickle finger of fate to point at you (and cursing the universe until it does) is a lousy strategy. What a shame that so many people rationalize their lives this way. It might be a useful rationalization, but how does it increase the likelihood you'll get what you want?

The secret of the web (hint: it's a virtue)


Google was a very good search engine for two years before you started using it.

The iPod was a dud.

I wrote Unleashing the Ideavirus 8 years ago. A few authors tried similar ideas but it didn't work right away. So they gave up. Boingboing is one of the most popular blogs in the world because they never gave up.

The irony of the web is that the tactics work really quickly. You friend someone on Facebook and two minutes later, they friend you back. Bang.

But the strategy still takes forever. The strategy is the hard part, not the tactics.

I discovered a lucky secret the hard way about thirty years ago: you can outlast the other guys if you try. If you stick at stuff that bores them, it accrues. Drip, drip, drip you win.

It still takes ten years to become a success, web or no web. The frustrating part is that you see your tactics fail right away. The good news is that over time, you get the satisfaction of watching those tactics succeed right away.

The trap: Show up at a new social network, invest two hours, be really aggressive with people, make some noise and then leave in disgust.

The trap: Use all your money to build a fancy website and leave no money or patience for the hundred revisions you'll need to do.

The trap: read the tech blogs and fall in love with the bleeding-edge hip sites and lose focus on the long-term players that deliver real value.

The trap: sprint all day and run out of energy before the marathon even starts.

The media wants overnight successes (so they have someone to tear down). Ignore them. Ignore the early adopter critics that never have enough to play with. Ignore your investors that want proven tactics and predictable instant results. Listen instead to your real customers, to your vision and make something for the long haul. Because that's how long it's going to take, guys.

The bitter taste of nickels and dimes

Stopped by a Whole Foods early one morning this week for an iced tea.

I ordered a hot rooibos (you should try it) poured over a glass of ice.

Whole Foods is under two kinds of pressure: shareholders that want better results, and consumers who point out that it's really expensive. They're working hard to position themselves as not so expensive.

Anyway, the tea was $1.79 (a 90% gross margin) but the ice cost 50 cents extra.


I mentioned to the cash register person that I wasn't going to pay fifty cents for ice. Understandingly, she said, "no problem."

And then, instead of doing what I expected (giving me the precious ice for free), she didn't give me the ice. I had hot tea. I got what I paid for.

The thing is, Whole Foods didn't get what they wanted. They focused on the add on revenue and generated ill will. No joy in Mudville that morning.

The problem with the infinite add on gross margin strategy is that it doesn't work on everyone. The problem with charging $95 to deliver a $10,000 purchase is that all the buyer remembers is the indignity of the add on.

Here's my advice: have all the add ons you want. But waive them early and often. Waive the charges for great customers or for customers that make a face or just because it's Tuesday. "Well, the to go charge is usually a dollar, but since you come here a lot, no charge for you."

It's not about charging less. It's about delight.

When in doubt, (don't) follow the money

People need to understand motivation in order to make sense of a story. When we see a person or a business take action, our first move is to try to figure out their motivation. The why. The what's in it for them.

We want to know why someone is acting the way they are. Your customers or your friends or your investors or your boss want to know what makes you tick.

And the reflex explanation is: money.

He works a ton of hours, but that's because he gets paid so much.

A going out of business sale? Oh, they're in pain, so I get to save money.

He recommended that book, but that's because he got a kickback from Amazon.

She wants me to buy that service because she works on commission.

Of course, in a few cases, this is exactly the correct explanation. Except it almost always isn't.

People don't volunteer long hours at the museum or at an online forum for the money. There isn't any.

People don't work nights and weekends at some jobs because they have to... they have colleagues that get paid just as much who work less.

I smiled a bit when I saw a few posts from people who suggested I started the Triiibe group as some sort of grand scheme to sell books. I've gotta tell you, there are far easier ways to sell a few thousand copies of a book than to build and run an online community.

No, people (most people) don't do things only for money. There's usually a minimum threshold that gets someone to pick a job and stick with it, but beyond that, the things we do are expressions of who we are and what we love and the impact we wish to make, not selfish acts designed to earn a few extra bucks. (No one paid you to read this post, I bet).

All other things being equal, people pick what pays the best. All other things being equal, people buy the cheapest one. Fortunately for marketers, all other things are rarely equal. People don't all sign up to work at Goldman Sachs. Most of the meaning and activity in our lives comes from the things we do for free, or the choices we make about work, not the financial exchanges we do to support ourselves.

Next time you catch yourself following the money, it's worth another look. Follow the non-money first.

Is architect a verb?

Michael_graves I confess. I like using it that way.

I think architecting something is different from designing it. I hope you can forgive me but I think it's a more precise way to express this idea.

Design carries a lot of baggage related to aesthetics. We say something is well-designed if it looks good. There are great designs that don't look good, certainly, but it's really easy to get caught up in a bauhaus, white space, font-driven, Ideo-envy way of thinking about design.

So I reserve "architect" to describe the intentional arrangement of design elements to get a certain result.

You can architect a computer server set up to make it more efficient. You can architect a train station to get more people per minute through the turnstiles.

More interesting, you can architect a business model or a pricing structure to make it far more effective at generating the behavior you're looking for. Most broken websites aren't broken because they violate common laws of good design. They're broken because their architecture is all wrong. There's no strategy in place.

Stew Leonard's, which used to be my favorite supermarket example, is architected to extract large amounts of money from customers. One example: there's only one route through the store. You start at the beginning and work your way to the end. No one goes there to buy a half-gallon of milk. And he's not going to win any design competitions either...

Or consider the architecture of the pricing at 37signals or the architecture of Hotmail's viral marketing campaign years ago.

Architecture, for me anyway, involves intention, game theory, systems thinking and relentless testing and improvement. Fine with me if you want to call it design, just don't forget to do it.

Two for two

Good news in the, "if you use them as examples, good things might happen" category.

Daily Candy, poster child for permission marketing, sold for $125 million today.

and CDBaby, my favorite ideavirus/music industry pioneer, just sold for a billion simoleons to the folks that also own the cutting edge duplicator, Oasis. Three companies that really pushed against the status quo to carve out important new businesses.

Selling out is no measure of real success, of course, but it helps make the case.

Next thing you know, we'll see tribal marketing musicians like Bon Iver continue to thrive.


Are consumers responsible for the behavior of marketers?

Why does spam exist? Because (some) people respond to it. Why are ineffective pharmaceuticals so heavily marketed? Because (some) people demand that doctors prescribe them. Why are so many local stores struggling? Because so many customers cross the street to the big box stores.

I've maintained for years that marketing is so powerful that marketers have to take responsibility for the choices they make. And they do.

But what about us? What about the New York Times reporter who writes an entire column about the cheap grill he bought at Home Depot--he's upset that it didn't come with better service... At some level, isn't he getting what he paid for? And when consumers so often choose the cheapest possible tickets for air travel, aren't we arguing for a lousy product?

When I go back to a convenient B2B vendor even though they treated me poorly last time, aren't I complicit in rewarding that attitude?

(And please (!) if you think we need more ads like this or more stores like this or more service like this, go for it... you have the very same power in supporting them as you might in criticizing them. Consumers are also complicit when they fail to support the organizations that they agree with).

Ten years ago, this was a discussion that could be reserved for philosophy class. After all, ten years ago, what could one person do? Today, though, when everyone can be a blogger (as powerful as almost any broadcast journalist with the right story) and when everyone can spread ideas, what's our excuse?

Should you ignore the n00bs?

In the old days, a common DOS warning ended with, " any key."

And yes, there were plenty of tech support calls that asked, "where is the ANY key?"

Every interaction with your public runs the risk that some people just won't get it. They won't understand the protocol at your jazz club, or figure out how they use that new thing you just built. They won't get your verbal shorthand or they'll be frustrated by your presumption that they're insiders.

One approach is to n00b-proof your offerings. To create products and services so simple and so well-explained that every single person will get it. Big warnings, extra paragraphs of copy, limited features... make it idiot-proof.

The problem with this approach is that you can never be simple enough. And of course, the bigger problem: Once you dumb it down so every single person gets it, you bake out the magic and the mystery and the elegance. Simple example: it's not obvious how to use an iPhone, not obvious what to do when you walk into a church for the first time, not clear what to do when you visit Facebook for the first time either. At the symphony, should there be big applause signs so that people don't clap at the wrong time?

Great design is intuitive. Great design eliminates confusion. But not for everyone, not all the time. The words and interactions you use often have a sophistication that will confuse some portion of your audience.

Why not consider making it easy for the confused to ask for help? And treat them with respect when they do. If you don't create a little confusion, it's unlikely you've built something remarkable.

And to go one step further: sometimes it's okay to lose the n00bs. Not in an arrogant way (except for some brands) but in a way that says, "this might just not be for you..."

Inbox culture

When you're done with your email queue, are you done?

Do you spend your day responding and reacting to incoming all day... until the list is empty? ... and then you're done.

I'm noticing that it's easier than ever to have that sort of day. Online tools are arranging interactions in a line, allowing you to feel satisfied with a constant stream of incoming alerts and pings.

Years ago, I got my mail (the old fashioned kind) once a day. It took twenty minutes to process and I was forced to spend the rest of the day initiating, reaching out, inventing and designing. Today, it's easy to spend the whole day hitting 'reply'.

Carving out time to initiate is more important than ever.

Sing it (please S I N G I T)

Sing it!

I spent some time a few days ago listening to a nascent band performing classic rock songs.

The first group sang a note-for-note rendition of a song by the Stones. The notes were right, but nothing else was. The singer didn’t know what the song meant. And the musicians, they just stood there. No energy, no smiles, no connection. It could have been a funeral with a great soundtrack.

A concert isn’t about the music, is it? And a restaurant isn’t about the food.

The funny thing is that learning to Sing It is a lot easier than learning how to play the guitar. For some reason, we work on the technique before we worry about adding the joy.

If you’re going to go to all the trouble of learning the song and performing it, then SING IT. Sing it loud and with feeling and like you mean it. Deliver it, don’t just make it. When you answer the phone or greet me at your office or come to a meeting or write something, don’t bother if all you’re going to do is do it. Sing it or stay home.

I had composed this post in my head, when, in a scary example of blog synchronicity, they announced the next song. One by Bluë Oyster Cult, of course. And yes, the announcer demanded that the guest on stage give us more cowbell. More cowbell indeed.

"I call dregs"

Bert was happy to eat the leftover rice from the rice cooker, but he didn't want to grab something that someone else on the team needed. So he said, "I call last dibs." Dibs, of course, is a priority, your chance to get ahead of someone else in line.

Megan pointed out that last dibs was sort of an oxymoron, so she coined the term 'dregs.'

Calling "dregs" is actually a great marketing strategy. It lets the community know that you'll backstop them, you'll worry about what's left, and you're happy to be generous. It's an expression of great humility, sort of the opposite of what people expect from a business.

Pay what you think it's worth, money back guarantee, are you sure you're delighted, try it and let us know, a bonus for quitting... these are useful examples of calling dregs. Remarkable indeed.

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