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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list


All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

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




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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Member since 08/2003

« August 2008 | Main | October 2008 »

A memo to the sticklers

In high school, I coached the school quiz bowl team. We made it to the finals. The last question was to name the first man-made satellite. Our team buzzed in and said "Sputnik" to win the city championships. Of course, we didn't win, because the host said we were wrong. The right answer, he said, was "Sputnik 1".

Playing Trivial Pursuit years later with family, the question to win the game was, "What is the official color worn during the world Ping Pong championships?" My team argued back and forth between black and brown and finally picked black. "No," we were told. "The right answer is 'dark'."

And on a recent math test, the challenge for students to answer each question to the nearest tenth. Question five was something like, "what is 10.2 plus 1.8?" Answering "12" would cost you a point, apparently, because the correct answer is 12.0.


Please understand that I have no problem at all with precision. Precision is great, it's essential to engineering and to the function of many elements of society. It's almost impossible to be on time without precision, and quality depends on it. But when we reward people for senseless precision (and punish them randomly for not guessing what we actually meant when we asked a question) then all we're doing is muddying the waters about what matters and what doesn't. Is there a difference between the Dow falling 107.4 points and it falling nearly 1%? If not, don't try to wow me with needless precision please.

This baseless precision fetish has infected all of the soft arts, of course. Now, we reward students far more for following specific instructions for an essay and not nearly enough for saying something original, powerful or useful.

I want precision where it matters, but only there. And dark is not a color.

It's easy to be against something

...that you're afraid of.

And it's easy to be afraid of something that you don't understand.

Get to vs. have to

How much of your day is spent doing things you have to do (as opposed to the things you get to do.)

In my experience, as people become successful and happier (the subset that are both) I find that the percentage shifts. These folks end up spending more and more time on the get to tasks.

You'd think that this happens because their success permits them to skip or delegate the have to tasks. And to some extent, this is true. But far more than that, these people redefine what they do all day. They view the tasks as opportunities instead of drudge work.

A simple redefinition transformed the quality of their day, and more important, the perception of their work.


Politics is nothing but stories. Governing, of course, is more complicated than that, but not much. But storytelling is all we're seeing these days, stories that resonate, stories that spread... Two semi-random thoughts for Sunday:

We need more debates. Not just for President, but for every elected office and for issues as well. (Yes, politics is largely marketing.)

Here's my idea from four years ago. I wish I had pushed it harder:

Dedicate a half hour every night during the last month to a debate series. Put it on a major channel. Or devote an entire cable channel to this, year round. Or a special section of YouTube.

Each side is invited. There is no moderator. There's a chess clock. Each side gets 15 minutes total. While you're talking, your clock is running, but the other side's is not. When you're done, her clock runs. You can talk for ten seconds or ten minutes or whatever you choose. You can ask questions of your opponent, answer questions, make a speech. Whatever you want. It could even be done from two different locations.

Every night. Thirty days.

If you don't show up, your opponent gets the entire airtime slot.

This works best in a limited channel universe, where the airtime is actually worth something, and who knows, it's possible this will be true in four years (but unlikely). Either way, it goes a long way to helping us find thoughtful people who can think clearly (hard to fake it for thirty nights in a row). It's also hard to run negative, untrue ads when you know you'll be facing her tomorrow night.

And here's a clever way to spread ideas: Even if you disagree with what's on the posters, it's a fascinating bridge between the digital and the physical world. Find posters you like and print em out and distribute them. If freedom of the press belongs to whomever owns a printer, that makes everyone obligated to print something...

Random travel thoughts

Have you ever noticed that we don’t have a word for the opposite of faceless (as in faceless bureaucracy)? Faceful? Perhaps that’s because bureaucracies, by their nature, refuse to answer to us when something is broken.

Why does a banana cost twenty cents at the supermarket and  $1.61 at SFO? Are hungry people supposed to subsidize non-hungry travelers?

When I go through security, why do I need to remove a cardigan sweater but the woman standing next to me can keep her cashmere blouse on? Are certain kinds of wool inherently risky?

What would happen if Imagineers from Disney designed the security line? Why not let them try?

Why doesn't the airport have sleeping benches? Worse, far worse, why isn't there someone you can ask that question to?

After inspecting more than twenty million pairs of shoes, have the screeners found even one dangerous pair?

After seven years, why is random yelling still the way that TSA screeners communicate their superstitious rules to people in line? Will this still be true in twenty years?

Why don't we spend some of the time and money we're wasting on security theatre to do things like secure ports or make airport runways safer?

Why don’t hotels have very simple alarm clocks?

It used to be extremely dangerous to give people on planes a metal butter knife and a fork with their meal. Now, it’s apparently no longer dangerous. What happened? If this was an overreaction not based on data, should reexamine other possible overreactions?

If it’s so dangerous to have your ipod on during takeoff and landing, how come you’re allowed to have it with you on the plane at all? Does all the scolding actually increase safety? How?

Why does the FAA require the airlines to explain to every passenger how to buckle their seatbelt? Don’t people who have managed to safely get to the airport but have never mastered this skill deserve whatever happens to them?

Tom Peters told me that he’s grateful that he has flown 5 million miles but never crashed. I’m also grateful that he hasn't crashed. I'm grateful that I haven't crashed either. And I'm particularly grateful about café gratitude in Berkeley (go!) and the wonderful chocolate boutique down the street. But should we settle for silly superstitions and uncaring bureaucrats merely because planes rarely crash? I’m not happy to settle for the incredible waste of talent, time and money that the domestic airline system represents.

We can do better. They can certainly do a better of being clear and rational and responsive, don’t you think?

And of course, so can all of us that run organizations.

Looking for a reason to hide

I've seen it before and I'm sure I'll see it again.

Whenever a business cycle starts to falter, the media start wringing their hands. Then big businesses do, freelancers, entrepreneurs and soon everyone is keening.

People and organizations that have no real financial stress start to pull back, "because it's prudent." Now is not the time, they say. They cut budgets and put off investments. It's almost as if everyone is just waiting for an excuse to do less.

In fact, they are.

Growth is frightening for a lot of people. It brings change and the opportunity for public failure. So if the astrological signs aren't right or the water is too cold or we've got a twinge in our elbow, we find an excuse. We decide to do it later, or not at all.

What a shame. What a waste.

Inc. magazine reports that a huge percentage of companies in this year's Inc. 500 were founded within months of 9/11. Talk about uncertain times.

But uncertain times, frozen liquidity, political change and poor astrological forecasts (not to mention chicken entrails) all lead to less competition, more available talent and a do-or-die attitude that causes real change to happen.

If I wasn't already running my own business, today is the day I'd start one.

Irrationally committed

My friend Lynn coined this phrase, and it really resonated with me.

Parents or other adults who are irrationally committed to a kid's well being make a huge (perhaps the biggest) difference in that young person's life.

Entrepreneurs who are irrationally committed to their business are far more likely to get through the Dip.

Salespeople and service providers and marketers who are irrationally committed to customer service can completely transform an ordinary experience and make it remarkable.

Is being irrational irrational? Of course it is. That's why it often works.

If you're looking for the sensible, predictable, long-term strategy, this probably isn't it. Except when it is.

Annoying business school professors since 1983

Fun article in Business Week on yours truly: Seth Godin Profile.

Doesn't sound like I'm going to be getting an endowed chair any time soon.

Also, as long as we're annoying business school professors, please consider grabbing your seats to the NY launch of Tribes while we still have some left.

Patricia Barber, Danny Meyer, art and you

The other night I went to see Patricia Barber perform at the Jazz Standard.

It was a tremendous experience. For over an hour, Patricia went to a new place and brought us with her. She used her voice and her piano to make art, right then, right there.

No one in the room said, "she's just trying to sell albums," or felt like she was phoning it in. She was present and she demanded that everyone in the room engage at the same level.

Danny Meyer
runs the Standard in much the same way. The service standards and generosity that you see in his restaurants aren't manipulations designed to improve profits. It's an art. A gift. A different way of thinking about what you do and why you do it.

The wonderful irony (for the two of them and for any of us) is that this generosity and this approach to art just happens to pay off. In an increasingly commodified world, it turns out that genuine expressions of kindness and art are valued more than ever.

Do you know what the difficult part is? It's not the art. Not the talent or the skill. It's the deciding. Making the decision to be an artist instead.

Probably not stupid

Your difficult boss, customer, prospect, voter, student... probably not stupid, probably just uninformed. There's a huge difference.

Every person makes decisions based on their worldview and the data at hand. If two people have the same worldview and the same data, they'll make the same decision, every time (unless they're stupid.)

So, there are plenty of times where a lack of information leads to a bad decision. Plenty of times where an out of sync worldview leads to an out of sync decision.

When the board of directors embraces a fading old media model instead of embracing a strategy that leads to rapid growth, it's probably because each of them started with a worldview about the way things worked and were going to work. Add to that little direct experience, and it's no wonder they decided what they did. You would too if you were given the same resources to begin with.

Changing worldviews is very difficult and requires quite a bit of will. Changing the data at hand is a lot easier, and that's where marketing can really help. If you, as a marketer, can package data in a way that people with a certain worldview can accept, you move the conversation forward far more quickly than if you merely dismiss the non-customers or the doubters as stupid.

In my experience, a closed-minded worldview ("I can't read that book, I disagree with it") is the most difficult hurdle to overcome. But a closed-minded worldview doesn't mean you're stupid, it means that you are selling yourself and your colleagues and your community short.

The easiest way to grow is to sell to people who share a worldview that endorses your position. The most effective way to grow bigger than that is to inform those that disagree with your position--more data in a palatable form. And, unfortunately, it turns out that the best way to change the world is to open the closed-minded.

How much extra for nice?

If I pay $1000 extra for a first-class seat, odds are the flight attendant will be nice to me.

If I pay $2000 extra for the presidential suite at the hotel, odds are the front desk clerk will be nice to me.

If I give the valet $50 to park my car, odds are he'll be nice to me as well.

So, here's the question: if all I want, the only extra, is for someone to be nice to me when I visit your business, how much extra does that cost? How much extra to talk to a nice person when I call tech support? How much extra to find a nice receptionist at the doctor's office? Would you pay $9 extra for a smile when you dealt with the Social Security bureaucrats and were filing a form?

I know you're rushed and stressed and stretched. I know your team deals with hundreds or thousands of customers, and a lot of them aren't very friendly or warm. And I know that some of your customers (maybe a lot) would happily pay a little extra to get that one thing they want most of all...

I think there's a huge gap between what people are willing to pay for nice (a lot) and what it would cost businesses to deliver it (almost nothing). Smells like an opportunity.

Best of the blog

Here are a bunch of posts, culled from this list.

Vote them up or down or suggest your own.


What advertising can't fix

If you spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars on an ad campaign for a tech company, people will talk about it. If you give Jerry Seinfeld, the most famous comedian ever, $10 million to be in a few of the commercials you do, people will talk about it even more.

Microsoft has fallen into a trap that befalls many large companies in search of cred, buzz or respect. They've decided to buy some via advertising.

For more than twenty years, Microsoft has relentlessly commodified itself and the software it makes. It has worked to become a monopoly, a semi-faceless organization that cranks out very good (or pretty good) software that gets a job done for the middle of the market. It's been a profitable strategy.

But now they have Apple envy.

The Zune plays music, the iPod is the badge of a tribe.

A PC laptop runs Excel. A Macbook Air generates buzz and creates joy.

The answer must be to run better ads! And lots of them.

Question: When was  the last time you met an Apple employee who was truly passionate about the products she made or sold? My guess is this happened the last time you went to an Apple store. When was the last time you had a similar experience with a Microsoft employee?

If you talk to Google employees, odds are that they are totally engaged and on a mission to change the way people interact with the internet and with information. Talk to a Microsoft person and they will be happy to talk about reliability or standards they set or the way to engage the bureaucracy of the organization.

Microsoft may very well not be broken. The world needs reliable bureaucracies that mollify the needs of corporations and individuals in the center of the market. But if it is broken, advertising isn't going to fix it.

[Before the legions of committed and engaged Microsoft employees reading this write in, please consider my point. I'm not saying that there aren't large pockets of innovation or joy at Microsoft. I'm saying that Vista and PowerPoint and Microsoft's other core non-game products are largely devoid of personality and are optimized to be sold to organizations that prefer it that way. Microsoft can change this if they want to, but until they do, running ads pretending to be something other than that is a waste of money.]

Thinking bigger

"How do you like the draft of the new brochure?" asks the boss.

There are several responses available to you, in order of wonderfulness:

  1. It's great.
  2. There's a typo here on page 2.
  3. What if we changed the size of the headline?
  4. Are you open to considering different typefaces and colors?
  5. Where are you going to distribute this?
  6. Why use a brochure? Couldn't we spend the same money more effectively?

Where are you on this scale?

You could hire a brilliant graphic designer to take your bullet-filled powerpoint and fix the fonts and clean it up. But would it change the game?

When in doubt, challenge the strategy, not the tactics.

Simple example of thinking bigger: What if you hired Jill Greenberg to Photoshop well-known people in your industry to turn them into memorable images instead?

Every day you have the chance to completely reimagine what it is to communicate via Powerpoint. What Marc Andreessen has done is to completely reimagine what it is to be online. That's where the win lies, when you reinvent.

The bigger point is that none of us are doing enough to challenge the assignment. Every day, I spend at least an hour of my time looking at my work and what I've chosen to do next and wonder, "is this big enough?"

Yesterday, I was sitting with a friend who runs a small training company. He asked, "I need better promotion. How do I get more people to take the professional type design course I offer at my office?" My answer was a question, as it usually is. "Why is the course at your office?" and then, "Why is it a course and not accreditation, or why not turn it into a guild for job seekers, where you could train people and use part of the tuition to hire someone to organize a private job board? You could guarantee clients well-trained students (no bozos) and you could guarantee students better jobs... everyone wins."

I have no idea if my idea for the training company is a good one, but I know it's a bigger one. That's when marketing pays for itself. Not when we find a typo or redesign a logo, but when we reconsider the question and turn the answer into something bigger than we ever expected.

But you're not saying anything

6logos Cory points us to this collection of logos from Saul Bass. Twelve giant companies, all with basically interchangeable logos.

And that's the point. These big companies didn't want the logo to be part of their story, they just wanted it to fit in with all the other big company logos. The only thing the logo said was, "we're a big company with a big company logo."

The same thing goes on with pricing. If you price your products like the competition does, you're not saying anything with your pricing. "Move along, there's nothing to see here." Which is fine. It just means you need to tell a story with something else.

Marketing storytelling is not about doing everything differently. You do many things the same, intentionally, because those 'same things' aren't part of your story. It's the different stuff where you will be noticed, and the different stuff where you tell your story.

The layout of this blog is intentionally bland. The books I write intentionally have standard covers and paper and are sold in standard stores at standard prices (most of the time, anyway). That's because the distribution and pricing isn't part of what I'm trying to say.

If you're not telling a story with some aspect of your marketing choices, then make sure that aspect is exactly what people expect. To do otherwise is to create random noise, not to further your marketing.

Non profit riffs

A free half hour audio lecture I just did for non-profits that want to grow is right here. Please skip over the first few minutes of silence and announcements...

You can see all of Network for Good's presentations right here.

Over the top isn't...

over the top any more.

The bar keeps being raised. That service you thought was so remarkable is now standard. Sorry.

The small-minded vision of the technology elite

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home."

                                     Ken Olsen, ceo of DEC,

Only 31 years ago. DEC was one of the leading computer companies of the day, but not for long.

Take a look at the geek discussion boards and you'll see an endless list of sharp-tongued critics, each angling to shoot down one idea or another. And then take a look at the companies that show up at the various pitch shows, and you'll see one company after another pitching incremental improvements based on current assumptions.

The reason is simple: technologists know how to make things work.

When an engineer has a proven ability to ship stuff, to keep things humming and not crashing, it's easy to fall into the trap of rejecting anything that hasn't demonstrated that it can work, that hasn't proven itself in the market.

Competence is not the same thing as imagination.

PS the marketing elite have precisely the same problem.

In search of value

The stock market is going to be bonkers today.

And for most people, it won't matter so much. Because most of us aren't focused on flipping assets. We're building value by creating interactions that work, by writing stories that spread or by designing products and services that actually create something worth paying for.

That sounds like a treacly mission statement, but it's easy to get distracted by external noise instead of focusing on what counts. Hint: They started Google in the middle of the dot com melt down.

The short-term consequences of an unstable stock market are real and uncomfortable. More (and better) adult supervision would have gone a long way, imho. But we can't control this, all we can do is focus on what matters.

Hang in.

The power of lists

The web loves lists almost as much as it loves video.

Consider this list from Chris Brogan.

Or take a look at this PDF

(exclusively published here) from Ed (with editing help from the triiibe).

I'd give you a list of lists, but there are already plenty of those. Your turn to add a list to the list.

Firefox is missing the point

I'm a devoted FF user, and have been forever.

But the response to Chrome shouldn't be to launch new features.

Here's the problem/challenge: when your friends switch to Firefox, your life doesn't get better.

And the key to growing any piece of software (or just about any product or service, actually) is the opposite. People will recommend something if adoption improves their lives.

Fax machines? Life is better for me if you have one.

Fashion? Life is better for me if I'm not the only one wearing this.

Religious sect? Life is better for me if I'm not the only one in the building.

So, Firefox needs to add functionality that makes the surfing experience better for all users when more users use Firefox.

There are many ways to do this, and you can invent more than I ever could. Systems that allow for rating pages, or grouping them, or communicating (but only with FF users). [worth clarifying: I'm not saying that FF should arbitrarily exclude outsiders from a common form of online communication. I'm saying that FF as a tool can create new forms of communication and collaboration, forms that only work if you have the right technology. So far, web browsing hasn't been about communication among browsers, it's largely a monologue from the site to the user. The browser can be a lot more than that.]

In fact, this sort of functionality benefits any brand or product that can figure out how to create it.


The supply and demand curve isn't a curve. It's an abstraction of lots of individual behaviors.

And so, lots of organizations end up hitting a wall with no warning.

My car insurance bill has been steadily rising, year after year, despite the fact that I have a clean record. The logic, I'm sure, was, "well, let's raise it a little and see who quits..."

If revenue increases enough to make up for the few who quit, you come out ahead. So, quarter after quarter, year after year, repeat the same process. Raise it a little, check to see if revenue rises in aggregate, and repeat.

I'd get the bill, sigh about the fee, consider the hassle of switching, pay the bill and move on.

Until last week. Last week the number was too high. Something in my relationship with the insurance company shattered. After all, it's not like they had done anything for me, not like I knew anyone there. It was just momentum. And the number was suddenly enough to make me take action.

19 minutes later, I was at Geico.

The problem for my insurance company is that a whole bunch of people will do this at once. When you hit the breaking point with one person, it might be 1,000 or 100,000 people who do the same thing at the same time. And you don't get a second chance. They're gone.

It's not just money. It's service. Or trust. Or spam.

You can stretch a rubber band for a long time. But then it breaks.

Listening to the loud people

Of course you should listen to your customers.

But which ones?

Should you listen to the loud ones, the ones who call the sports radio stations to complain about the pitching, the ones who post websites about your lousy service, the ones who organize nationwide boycotts? Should you listen to the angry ones, the ones with a limited vocabulary (heavy on profanity, short on spelling) who know how to use email and aren't afraid to use it?

Or, should you listen to the customers that are the most profitable, the most loyal or the most likely to spread word of mouth among the people you want to become your customers?

Here are three common listening mistakes:

  1. Believing that your customers are monolithic, that they all want the same thing.
  2. Believing that loud customers speak for all customers.
  3. Worrying that if you don't satisfy short-term, loudly articulated needs, you will fail.

There's an art here, it's not a science. I'd focus on a few tactics:

  • When someone is in pain, recognize it and address it if you can.
  • You decide, not your customers, where you want to go. Lead, don't follow.
  • Amplify the voices of the people you care about, those with the most value to you in the long run. Give them a platform and make it easier for them to speak to you and the rest of the market.

And here's one thing I'd do on a regular basis: Get a video camera or perhaps a copy machine and collect comments and feedback from the people who matter most to your business. Then show those comments to the boss and to your staff and to other customers. Do it regularly. The feedback you expose is the feedback you'll take to heart.

Free ebooklet, free seats, live event

I'm hoping you can take a look at these two free opportunities:

1. On October 22nd, I'm doing a live event in New York to launch my new book.

If you can make it, you are encouraged to video the event, remix it and if you like, give the talk on your own using my slides (which will be available to every attendee). There are fifty VIP seats and some free seats as well.

2. has made it to 50 issues in print.

This is really exciting for me, since I was lucky enough to have some amazing interns help me launch the site years ago. By my estimate, four gazillion useful, provocative PDFs have been distributed since launch. If each one had been made out of chocolate instead of digits, they would have made a pile taller than the Empire State Building.

If you'd like to see my latest free manifesto, the PDF is right here.


Is it worth doing?

What was my impact?

Will it matter in the long haul?

What sort of connections did I create?

Wherever you live, whatever you do, you have an obligation.

How often should you publish?

How many movies should you star in next year?

How many records should you release? How many songs should you write?

How many times a week should you post to your blog?

And when should my next book come out? Or your next newsletter or that next cartoon? What about Nike--they launch more than one product every day. Is that too many?

A lot of the stuff marketers make is unanticipated, impersonal, irrelevant junk that consumers merely tolerate.

But some of it is not spam, it's content. Stuff worth reading, worth paying for (at the very least, worth paying attention to.)

So, how often?

This discussion is usually filled with superstitions, traditions and half-truths. Daily comics come out every day because that's when newspapers always came out. And newspapers came out once a day because it was too expensive to publish three times a day (and advertisers and readers wouldn't support the extra expense.)

When movies were met with great fanfare and often stayed in the theaters for months, it was suicide for a big movie star to do three or four movies a year. But in a DVD/YouTube world, there's not a lot of evidence that this pace makes as much sense. Saturday Night Live was on every week because there's only one Saturday a week, but if it had launched today, it's hard to see the benefit of it being a weekly...

I'd like to propose that you think about it differently. There's frontlist and backlist.

Frontlist means the new releases, the hits, the stuff that fanboys are looking for or paying attention to.

Frontlist gets all the attention, all the glory and all the excitement. They write about frontlist in the paper and we talk about the frontlist at dinner. Digg is the frontlist. Siskel and Ebert is the frontlist.

Backlist is Catcher in the Rye or 1984. Backlist is the long tail (the idea) and now, the Long Tail (the book). In a digital world, backlist is where the rest of the attention ends up, and where all the real money is made.

Backlist doesn't show up in the news, but Google is 95% backlist. So is Amazon.

Sitting in a meeting yesterday, I brainstormed a term, "haystack marketing." I googled it to see if someone else was using it. You guessed it--number one match was an article I wrote eight months ago. Google doesn't forget even if you do.

So, here's the strategy:

  1. Assemble a tribe, a group of true fans, followers, people who have given you permission. Give them all the frontlist they can handle. Make it easy for them to spread the word, to Digg you or bring a friend to your movie or buy your new book for their friends. If you create too much content for this crowd, then you're publishing too much. They care, and they want to hear from you.
  2. Promote your backlist. Invest significant time and money to make your backlist available, to recirculate it, to have it adopted as a textbook in English class or featured on Netflix or part of a retrospective on TV. Take all that money you waste in frontlist marketing and spend it on the backlist instead.
  3. Repeat. Frontlist becomes backlist, backlist grows, fan base grows, it scales.

Frontlist reaches your fans. Your fans spread the word, and eventually your backlist reaches everyone else. The backlist turns some people into fans, who then look for the frontlist.

The bestselling fiction authors (with one exception) all got hassled by their publishers for writing too often. Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, JK Rowling... all but one had to write under a pseudonym because their publishers said they wrote too much. Nonsense. They wrote for their tribe, they give their followers just barely enough to read. Not too much, not by a long shot. And then, they were lucky enough to have persistent and talented publishers that managed to get their backlist read, over and over, by millions of people. People who turned into fans.

Key assertion: you don't publish it unless it's good. You don't write more blog posts than you can support, don't ship more variations of that software than your engineers can make marvelous. But given that you've got enough bench strength, enough remarkability to spare, now what?

When I look at my work, I think I'm in sync with my readers--one blog post a day feels right, while ten (which some bloggers pull off) wouldn't work for us. One book a year feels right, while three a decade (which Malcolm Gladwell does) wouldn't work for me or my core readers.

On the other hand, I do a lousy job of self-marketing my backlist. I have no doubt that a more patient push of The Dip would have doubled the numbers of books I sold (but posting about quitting all the time would have annoyed you guys to no end). It's still selling well, but given the base of sales (a big frontlist launch can lead to even bigger backlist, of course), more focus on the backlist would have been a profitable choice. The thing is, organizations can do this far better than an individual author can.

[Example: In the last month, four of my books have been mentioned in the NY Times. (The Dip, All Marketers are Liars, Meatball Sundae and Small is the New Big.) All backlist. All to people not in our tribe. This is far more useful and surprisingly, predictable, than the hit or miss nature of frontlist promotion. In my case, I think I'm putting my skills to better use when I'm writing, but that means I need to figure out how my backlist is going to get noticed. If you've got a team, part of the team should obsess about the backlist, honing it, editing it and promoting it, while the rest work to generate (as opposed to promote) the frontlist.]

The opportunity isn't to give into temptation and figure out how to recklessly and expensively market the frontlist. It is to adopt a long and slow and ultimately profitable strategy of marketing your ever-growing backlist.

A life-changing internship

The Acumen Fund fellowship is the most coveted, competitive job I know of. If it's not for you, consider telling an extraordinary friend about it.

In the meantime, Tom Friedman's new book is already #1, and deservedly so. Please buy four, three for the skeptics in your life.

And while I'm rambling, in the category of "you can't make this stuff up," Robert points us to a site that has uncovered the one and true source of the Meatball Sundae:



Large_spinners Humans are lie detectors.

We hear stories. We enjoy them. We try them on for size. We're looking for falsehoods and we sniff them out.

We value the truth and we enjoy it. And we're always wary about the occasional lie.

That's why political season is just so w e i r d.

The spinners lie constantly. They lie with a straight face. They lie sentence after sentence, relentlessly.

Like the uncanny valley, we don't really know what to do in the face of non-stop lying. Is this person an alien? Do they think we're stupid? How are we supposed to respond to the onslaught of disrespect?

Some people suspend disbelief and just believe all of it. In an internet era, I'm wondering if that's going to continue to be true. Once we see video evidence of a few lies, it all starts to unravel (or ravel, depending on your use of English). A cynic would say that the ravelling is a pleasure to watch, and the media enjoys it too.

But the spinners continue to spin, as relentlessly as ever. I wonder if this election is going to mark the end of classic spin or the beginning of a whole new class of even slicker lying.

And since most marketers follow the lead of politicians, I wonder what it means for the rest of us? Is there new slack for truthiness? Is the jaded consumer even more likely to stand by as marketers continue to fabricate falsehoods by the yard? I'm amazed at corporate spokespeople who utter complete falsehoods, rationalizing that it's just their job.

All I know for sure is that it gives me a headache. I think there's a huge opportunity for a trusted media source that takes on spin from all quarters and throws it back in the face of the spinner. Show them video of themselves from last week and ask them to respond. Oh, I'm probably just being a hopeful idealist.


Here's the #1 most overlooked secret of marketing, of growing your organization, of building trust and creating for the long haul. Actually, it has two parts:

Show up on time. It doesn't cost anything to keep your promises when it comes to time. Show up for the meeting when the meeting starts. Have the dry cleaning ready when you promise. Ship on time. Return that phone call. Finish the renovation ahead of schedule.

Boy that's simple. Apparently, it's incredibly difficult.

If you want to build trust, you need to be trustworthy. The simplest test of trustworthiness for most people is whether or not you keep your promises, and the first promises you make are about time.

Cherish my time. The second part is closely related. It has to do with respect. You respect my time when you don't waste it. When you don't spam me. When you worry about the 100 cars backed up on the road and figure out how to get us moving more quickly. You respect me when you value my time more highly than your own.

If you want someone to think you're selfish, just ask for a minute of their time and then waste it or use it for your own ends. Or automate the process so three minutes of your time wastes three minutes of the 1,000 or one million people on your list.

In a society where so many people have enough, few people have time to spare. When you waste it (by breaking a promise and being late) or abuse it (by viewing your time as worth more than mine), we respond by distrusting you, ignoring you and eventually moving on.

Getting used to infinity

Batfliesintostands I have a new thing to collect.

I collect pictures of crowds stunned by a baseball bat heading their way. I don't collect photos where anyone is injured, just the ones where people are all weirded out.

This, of course, is a crazy thing to collect, but the fascinating thing is that it's possible at all. All of us grew up in a world of content scarcity, and now we live in a world of content infinity.

That means, for example, that finding a rare song is essentially banal. There are no rare songs (except on LP). It means that finding a photo of what you're looking for isn't the hard part, it's deciding what to look for in the first place.

Of course, it's not just photos or music. It's service providers, freelancers, employees, charitable tools, places to live, vacation spots, dogs to adopt, people to date.

If you find a great baseball bat flying in the stands photo, I'm hoping you'll send me one. In the meantime, don't be afraid of infinity. There's a lot of it going around.

Drip, Drip, Drip

Every day, day in and day out, Tim Manners drips a new marketing idea. He finds something in the news and explains it. And now he has a new book out.

Tim will make you think twice about what you thought you knew.

Getting reporters to call you

Peter R. points us to this innovative free service run by Peter Shankman.

You tell him your name and email address, and a few times a day, he forwards you a list of reporters looking for experts to quote for various articles in various media. Sort of like Daily Candy for publicity hounds.

It doesn't work if you answer all the queries. So be honest with yourself, save your time and the reporter's. Just speak up when it's helpful.

Fixing the one big thing

Joe Biden is long winded. His voters say so, so does the press. And now his new boss does as well.

The feedback couldn't be more clear. So why not fix it?

Verizon has mind-numbingly bad customer service. People hate to call them. People switch providers just to avoid this problem. So why not fix it?

DiFara's makes the best pizza in New York. But it takes 90 minutes or so to get a pizza. Everyone complains, so why not fix it?

In the case of DiFara's, the answer is easy: because fixing it would make it normal. It would take away what makes the place special. People wouldn't complain any more, but people wouldn't go, either.

If your 'one big thing' is a key part of what makes you successful, how dare you change it.

On the other hand, if momentum or laziness or lack of will (or focus) is the thing holding you back, it's time to get serious. When you remove the one big thing from people's list of objections, your career and organization will take off.

Joe Biden can carry a timer in his pocket. He can become reticent in public. He can, in just one day of hard work, solve his problem. Verizon can invest focus and and money and solve their problem. AT&T can invest and fix their wireless network. It just takes commitment, not a miracle.

The myth of launch PR

New startups can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars racing after a dream: a giant splash on launch.

Just imagine... a big spread in Time Magazine, a feature on all the relevant blogs, a glowing review in the Book Review. Get this part right and everything else takes care of itself.

And yet.

Here are some brands that had no launch at all: Starbucks, Apple, Nike, Harry Potter, Google, William Morris, The DaVinci Code, Wikipedia, Snapple, Geico, Linux, Firefox and yes, Microsoft. (All got plenty of PR, but after the launch, sometimes a lot later).

I'm as guilty as the next entrepreneur. Great publicity is a treasured gift. But it's hardly necessary, and the search for it is often a significant distraction.

It works for movies, in fact, it's essentially required for movies. But for just about every product, service or company, the relentless quest for media validation doesn't really pay. If you get it, congratulations. If you don't, that's just fine. But don't break the bank or your timetable in the quest.

Your competitive advantage

People are fickle, but we're generally rational. When someone makes a choice (hiring, firing, choosing a vendor, buying a soda) they're using some sort of internal logic and reasoning to support that choice.

As a marketer, you win when they choose you.

So, why choose you?

The answer to that question is your competitive advantage. What makes it likely that more than a few rational people will consider their options and choose you or your company or your organization?

Truth: It's rarely a computerized cost/benefit analysis. Instead, it's a human choice.

When the factors that matter to me are processed through my worldview and compared against the options I'm aware of, I will choose you when your advantages are greater than the competition, provided I believe that you're worth the cost of switching.

Key points:

Matter to me: Not matter to you or to the next guy, but matter to me. That's all I care about. (Example: it might mean more to me that my friends use your product than it does that you're cheaper).

Worldview: Based on the way I see the world, the assumptions I make, the truth that I believe in. (Example: If I don't trust young people as a matter of course, I'm not likely to choose you if you're young, all other things being close).

Options I'm aware of: If I don't know about you, you don't exist.

Switching cost: The incumbent gets a huge advantage, especially in high cost/high risk/network effect instances.

Some of the ways you might build or maintain a competitive advantage:

  • Access to hard-to-replicate Talent
  • Hard-earned skills
  • Higher productivity due to insight or organization allowing you to be cheaper
  • Low cost of living for you and your staff allowing you to be cheaper
  • Protected or secret technology or trade secrets
  • Existing relationships (switching costs working in your favor)
  • Virally organized product and organization
  • Large network of users already and a network effect to support you
  • Focus on speed
  • Monopoly power and the willingness to use it
  • Unique story that resonates with the worldview of your target audience
  • Shelf space due to incumbency
  • Large media budget
  • Insight into worldview of prospects--making what they care about
  • Emotional intelligence of your salesforce or customer service people
  • Access to capital and willingness to lose money to build share
  • Connection to community

Not on this list, at least not prominently, are "we are #1!", "we are better!" and "we try harder." Cheerleading skills are not a competitive advantage in most settings. And, with few exceptions, neither is "we are new." Also, "we are better and I can prove it," is rarely a successful argument.

Here's what your board wants to know:

  • What's your competitive advantage?
  • Is it really, or are you dreaming it up?
  • How long will it last?
  • Can your competition copy it?
  • Does it resonate with the part of the market that is looking to buy?
  • Is the advantage big enough to overcome the switching cost?

Learning from a summer intern program

Twenty-five years ago today (boy that was a long time) I finished the internship that changed my life. My bosses at Spinnaker Software gave me a lot of room and I ran with it.

Last March, I posted about an intern program I was starting.

I was overwhelmed by the quality of what I got back. (The quantity was expected... interesting internships are hard to find). I heard from students on most continents, with a huge variety of backgrounds and life experiences. And these people were smart.

Unable to just pick a PDF or two, I invited the applicants to join a Facebook group I had set up. Then I let them meet each other and hang out online.

It was absolutely fascinating. Within a day, the group had divided into four camps:

  • The game-show contestants, quick on the trigger, who were searching for a quick yes or no. Most of them left.
  • The lurkers. They were there, but we couldn't tell.
  • The followers. They waited for someone to tell them what to do.
  • The leaders. A few started conversations, directed initiatives and got to work.

Want to guess who I hired? (It was a paid gig and five ended up spending time with me in NY on a somewhat rolling basis). If you're hiring for people to work online, I can't imagine not screening people in this way. This is the work, and you can watch people do it for real before you hire them.

As I went to send a note to the 150 or so who didn't make the cut, it felt like a waste. A waste for me, surely, because here were a large number of over-talented, under-employed students facing a boring summer. And for them, too, because I thought some might want a chance to continue the virtual experience.

So I started a group on Basecamp and invited the rest of the interns to try an unpaid virtual experience. The idea was that I'd provide a platform and some projects, and they could (if they thought it might be interesting) participate online. No grunt work, just interesting stuff to try. To my amazement, more than sixty took me up on it. The conversations ebbed and flowed, the work got done (or didn't) but I think everyone learned a lot.

Part of the deal was that active participants would get a shout out here on the blog. So we've put together a PDF of handmade bios of some of the coolest interns in the program. A shortcut for anyone looking for smart folks from around the world.

If I did it again, I'd definitely do it again. I think that smaller, more closely managed projects would probably lead to more productivity, but I also know that when faced with opportunity and freedom, amazing people get stuff done.

If you gave this a try, I think it would be a brilliant move, for you and for the people you work with. It's clear that formal education is failing the smart kids entering our field (not certain what 'our field' is, but you know what I mean). We need to create pathways for students to discover that there's absolutely nothing holding them back.

The new meaning of Labor Day

Karim points us to this update on

Kiva doesn't fund factory workers on an assembly line. They fund entrepreneurs who are changing a tiny portion of the world. It scales.

Reaching the right people

Here's a great idea.

What if your new rock group appeals to fans of the B52s? Or if your new book is just perfect for people who like Brad Meltzer? If you have a CD or a book or an idea that will appeal to a certain psychographic, it might not be so easy to reach just those people.

Dave came up with a super idea: go buy a bunch of B52s CDs. Then list them (brand new!) for sale on Amazon and eBay. Price them ridiculously low, like a dollar. The only people who are going to buy a copy are focused fans. Then, when you ship out the CD, include your new CD in the box as well. You've reached exactly the right people (purchasers! who spent money! who are fans!) at exactly the right moment. Why not include two or three in the box? Fans know fans, and they like spreading the good stuff around.

What a shame that Amazon hasn't figured out how to provide this as a useful service. Amazon knows who buys a lot, they know who reviews a lot... why not ask those people if they want a free prize now and then? An influential person would earn the right to a huge number of free samples. Radio DJs used to get them... but now, of course, it's us that are the DJs...

(It doesn't work so well for used cars, of course.)

This works for other fields as well. If you have a massage service that is the perfect complement to customers of a personal training service down the street, why not give that trainer a dozen intro gift certificates she can use to thank her best customers?

MJ points out that the few mainstream publishers that promote their books spend $10,000 or more on ads that don't work. Putting a book into the hands of 1,000 perfect fans may be a far smarter investment.

Thinking small, again. It tends to work. Along those lines, Rich has a neat promo going on.

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