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

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all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Linchpin

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

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Meatball Sundae

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

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Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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Poke The Box

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

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Purple Cow

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

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Small is the New Big

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

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Survival is Not Enough

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

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The Big Moo

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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The Dip

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

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The Icarus Deception

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

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Tribes

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

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

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V Is For Vulnerable

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

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We Are All Weird

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

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

« January 2009 | Main | March 2009 »

Personal branding in the age of Google

A friend advertised on Craigslist for a housekeeper.

Three interesting resumes came to the top. She googled each person's name.

The first search turned up a MySpace page. There was a picture of the applicant, drinking beer from a funnel. Under hobbies, the first entry was, "binge drinking."

The second search turned up a personal blog (a good one, actually). The most recent entry said something like, "I am applying for some menial jobs that are below me, and I'm annoyed by it. I'll certainly quit the minute I sell a few paintings."

And the third? There were only six matches, and the sixth was from the local police department, indicating that the applicant had been arrested for shoplifting two years earlier.

Three for three.

Google never forgets.

Of course, you don't have to be a drunk, a thief or a bitter failure for this to backfire. Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you're on Candid Camera, because you are.

The panhandler's secret

When there were old-school parking meters in New York, quarters were precious.

One day, I'm walking down the street and a guy comes up to me and says, "Do you have a dollar for four quarters?" He held out his hand with four quarters in it.

Curious, I engaged with him. I took out a dollar bill and took the four quarters.

Then he turned to me and said, "can you spare a quarter?"

What a fascinating interaction.

First, he engaged me. A fair trade, one that perhaps even benefited me, not him.

Now, we have a relationship. Now, he knows I have a quarter (in my hand, even). So his next request is much more difficult to turn down. If he had just walked up to me and said, "can you spare a quarter," he would have been invisible.

Too often, we close the sale before we even open it.

Interact first, sell second.

Three things you need if you want more customers

If you want to grow, you need new customers. And if you want new customers, you need three things:

1. A group of possible customers you can identify and reach.
2. A group with a problem they want to solve using your solution.
3. A group with the desire and ability to spend money to solve that problem.

You'd be amazed at how often new businesses or new ventures have none of these. The first one is critical, because if you don't have permission, or knowledge, or word of mouth, you're invisible.

The Zune didn't have #2.

A service aimed at creating videos for bestselling authors doesn't have #1.

And a counseling service helping people cut back on Big Mac consumption doesn't have #3.

Reinventing the Kindle (part II)

Okay, so Amazon's Kindle is cool and it's gaining in traction and people who have one buy a lot of books. 10% of Amazon's book sales are now on the Kindle. [For books where both versions are available].

But it could be so much better. Here are my newest riffs for Jeff and Co.:

1. Give publishers (throughout this post, when I say publishers, I also mean self-published authors) the ability to insert passalong credit with a book. So, if you buy a book, it might come with the right to forward it, for free, to two other people who also have Kindles. Three clicks and you just spread the book.

Let me log in with Facebook Connect and send certain books to all my friends who also have a Kindle.

Let me see the list of the fastest-spreading books. Or fastest spreading among my friends.

2. Give publishers the ability to send free samples of new books to people who have opted in. For example, I could have a master setting on my Kindle that said, "for any book I finish, give the publisher permission to send me up to six free samples." This creates a lever for successful authors and an asset for successful publishers. It lets them start publishing books for their readers instead of trying to find readers for their books.

What happens when Malcolm Gladwell sends a note to all his readers recommending a new book?

3. Anytime I send someone a book (see #1) or recommend a book, let me (with the other person's consent) see the comments they write in the margins of the book as they read it. Imagine being able to read a novel this way with your book group, or a sales manual with your department.

4. Create dynamic pricing. As a book gets more popular, allow the publisher to give a rebate to the first # of  readers... either all or part of a book. If I get good at reading hit books first, I'll end up paying close to nothing but be rewarded for my good taste and ability to sneeze ideas.

5. Let anyone become a publisher with just a few clicks.

6. Demolish the textbook market as soon as possible by publishing open source textbooks for free. It's only natural that profit-minded professors will work to replace this by using #5.

7. Give publishers the ability to insert quizzes or feedback. This creates a certification or continuing ed or textbook opportunity far bigger than a book can deliver.

8. Allow all-you-can-eat subscriptions if the author or publisher wants to provide it. Let me buy every book Seth has written, or all the business books I can handle, or "up to ten books a week." Remember, the marginal cost of a book is now the cost of the bandwidth to deliver it, so buffets make economic sense.

9. And my last one, which I think I mentioned earlier, but it's so good, I'll mention it again: ship the Kindle with $1000 worth of books on it. I'm willing to contribute a couple of titles, and my guess is that most authors would.

It's pretty simple: many book publishers look at this new medium and ask, "how can I use it to augment my current business model." I'd like Amazon to challenge that thinking and say to the world, "how can you use this platform to create a new business model?" Jeff had a very funny appearance on Jon Stewart (it's not easy being funny with a professional comedian) but it would have been easier to tell the story if the Kindle was about community and connection too.

Luckiest guy

This is my 3,000th blog post. (In a row).

Within a week of starting this blog, I had a feeling I wouldn't be giving it up any time soon. It's a difficult habit to develop, but an even harder one to break.

The impact of having one's own personal long tail is huge. It's not about googlefu (at least it shouldn't be) but your footprint expands nonetheless. Do a google search on seersucker suit and there I am, listed third, with a vaguely relevant post. Do one on advice for authors and there I am again. Drip, drip, drip, it adds up. The hard part, as you can guess, is the first 2,500 posts. After that, momentum really starts to build.

Of course, given the lack of ads here, traffic isn't the goal, spreading ideas is. With that in mind, if you'd like to celebrate this milestone (there won't be another like it for three years or so) please go ahead and start a blog. If you already have a blog, please go ahead and post something really interesting today.

If you'd like to vote on your favorite posts over the years, or see my book collecting some of them, it's all here.

And thanks. Thanks for reading and sharing and instigating and helping me grow. I appreciate it more than you know. It's a privilege.

Is marketing evil?

Marketing works.

If you spend time and money (with skill) you can tell a story that spreads, that influences people, that changes actions. Marketing can cause people to buy something that they wouldn't have bought without marketing, vote for someone they might not have considered and support an organization that would have been invisible otherwise.

If marketing doesn't work, then a lot of us are wasting a great deal of effort (and cash). But it does.

So, does that make marketing evil? In a story about this blog, Time magazine wrote, tongue in cheek, "Entry you'll never see [on his blog]: Is marketing evil? Based on a long career in the business, I'd have to answer 'yes.' "

Actually, I need to amend what this pundit said. I'll add this entry: Are marketers evil? Based on a long career in the business, I'd have to answer "some of them."

I think it's evil to persuade kids to start smoking, to cynically manipulate the electoral or political process, to lie to people in ways that cause disastrous side effects. I think it's evil to sell a patent medicine when an effective one is available. I think it's evil to come up with new ways to make obesity acceptable so you can make a few more bucks.

Marketing is beautiful when it persuades people to get a polio vaccine or wash their hands before doing surgery. Marketing is powerful when it sells a product to someone who discovers more joy or more productivity because he bought it. Marketing is magic when it elects someone who changes the community for the better. Ever since Josiah Wedgwood invented marketing a few centuries ago, it has been used to increase productivity and wealth.

I've got a lot of nerve telling you that what you do might be immoral. It's immoral to rob someone's house and burn it to the ground, but is it immoral to market them into foreclosure? Well, if marketing works, if it's worth the time and money, then I don't think it matters a bit if you're doing your job. It's still wrong.

Just like every powerful tool, the impact comes from the craftsman, not the tool. Marketing has more reach, with more speed, than it has ever had before. With less money, you can have more impact than anyone could have imagined just ten years ago. The question, one I hope you'll ask yourself, is what are you going to do with that impact?

For me, marketing works for society when the marketer and consumer are both aware of what's happening and are both satisfied with the ultimate outcome. I don't think it's evil to make someone happy by selling them cosmetics, because beauty isn't the goal, it's the process that brings joy. On the other hand, swindling someone out of their house in order to make a sales commission...

Just because you can market something doesn't mean you should. You've got the power, so you're responsible, regardless of what your boss tells you to do.

The good news is that I'm not in charge of what's evil and what's not. You, your customers and their neighbors are. The even better news is that ethical, public marketing will eventually defeat the kind that depends on the shadows. Just ask Bernie Madoff.

Get rich quick

As long as there have been people who want to get rich, there have been get rich quick schemes. The guys who sell mailing lists have a name for people who buy these schemes: "opportunity seekers."

Raising ostriches, or timing the market or investing in tulips--there's a long history here. The schemes tend to have a few things in common. They tend to have the same tone of voice (part breathless, part bad design, part 'we're just like you') and most of all, they are too good to be true.

Being too good to be true is the key part, because if it's too good to be true, maybe, just maybe, it is true. Maybe all those stuck in the mud types aren't doing it because they're skeptics, maybe I get a chance to invest in this video program/perpetual motion machine/envelope stuffing scheme precisely because it has scared away the conservative folks who never get anywhere.

Online, of course, like most things online, this has blossomed. You'll see the long long web pages filled with ALL CAPS and bright colors and testimonials and "wait there's more!" They look alike for a reason--it's a signal to the opportunity seeker that this is one of those.

Do they convert watchers into buyers? Sure they do. Do a few people make money? Of course.

There's a tribe here, and it's always looking for a new leader. Someone who will sell them an exclusive $1249 course, or ongoing advice and consulting or some other insight that has escaped the market leaders. The more skeptics they generate, the better they do, because the skepticism itself is part of the story that needs to be told.

What's being sold here? It's not riches, because if the riches were automatic, the seller would just hire people, right? Why make 1,000 people into millionaires if you can just hire 1,000 people and be a billionaire? No, it's the belief in riches, the thrill of finding just the right deal, the challenge of getting a relative to loan you money one more time. It's the frisson of excitement from sending in the money, the rush of impatience that follows as you wait for the package, and then the scary moment when you open the package and come face to face with your dreams.

Of course, your dreams are rarely what you hoped (how could they be?) but soon, you'll be back for more. It seems that being an opportunity seeker is about seeking, not finding.

Like a dream come true

That's the way Derek Sivers (founder of CDBaby) described his mission statement in building the company. "What could I build that would be a like a dream come true for independent musicians?"

What an extraordinarily universal way to construct a product, a service or a business. Notice that dreams are rarely "within reason" or "under the circumstances." No, dreams are dreams. If your business is a dream come true for customers, you win. Game over.

Too often, I hear about businesses that just might be a dream come true for their owners, but hardly for the people they seek to recruit or the customers they hope to snare. What do your prospects dream of? What would get them to wait in line?

Do you deserve it?

Do you deserve the luck you've been handed? The place you were born, the education you were given, the job you've got? Do you deserve your tribe, your customer base, your brand?

Not at all. “Deserve” is such a loaded word. Most of us don’t deserve the great opportunities we have, or the lucky breaks that got us here.

The question shouldn’t be, “do you deserve it.” I think it should be, “what are you going to do with it now that you've got it?"


Change

In down economies, the only thing that’s going to change things is changing things. This is hard for a lot of marketers who are used to defending the status quo, but it’s truly the best option.

If you're not happy with what you've got, what radical changes are you willing to make to change what you're getting?

In my experience, not much. But that doesn't mean you can't start now.

Great job for the right marketer

Sasha at Acumen is hiring. (It's in NY, it's fundraising, it's social marketing and it's for an important cause working with stellar people.)

Someone should start a job board that only lists jobs as good as this one.

Sorry, you can't be our customer

There are interactions marketers have with prospects where the prospect wants something and the marketer or organization just isn't interested in delivering it. These interactions almost always end badly.

I visited a Blockbuster store in London, hoping to rent an appropriately Royal-family focused DVD. After a bit of search, I found it. Would they sell it to me? No, it's rental only. Oh, can I rent it? (I asked with my full US accent). Sure, fill out this form.

Five minutes later, they said, "Oh, you're from the US. You can't rent here." What about if I pay as much money as it would cost if the DVD got lost? Nope. What if my hotel vouches for me? No.

Here's the thing: From the rational consumer's point of view, this is silly. They should take my money and we'll both be happy. From Blockbuster management's point of view, though, allowing clerks to start making up exceptions and prices is just too much trouble. And it probably is.

You can't (and shouldn't) please every single person who may or may not become a customer. But you should (and you must) figure out what to tell the folks you're going to turn away. Endless negotiations are like teaching a cat to swim... the cat never learns and you get frustrated.

"I'm sorry, I appreciate your interest, but you can't be our customer. We can't please everyone and we're focused on customers with different needs just now. Can I suggest you try the place down the street? I'll draw you a map."

The power of this outcome is that you have the freedom to figure out exactly what someone has to do in order to be a customer. You can qualify people by asking the right questions. You can take no for an answer.

If it turns out that you're getting too many 'no' responses, too many people walking out empty handed, it's probably time to reconsider what you need from someone in order for them to do business with you.

The rational marketer (and the irrational customer)

The most common frustration I see, and I see it daily, comes from marketers who can't figure out why more people won't buy their product. This particularly afflicts b2b marketers, who ostensibly have rational customers.

Let's say, for example, that you have a service that can deliver leads for five percent of what it costs to get them via a trade show. Why would any rational business, particularly one that says it wants qualified leads, spend that money on trade shows and not on you?

I mean, I mean, you can PROVE that your system works. You can guarantee it. You can provide testimonials and real-time evidence. And yet, the person you're calling on won't give you money and will spend it on the traditional system, which is a total waste.

You know that your car is more aerodynamic. You know that your insulation is more effective. You know that your insurance has a higher ROI.

You've thought about it a lot because it's your job to think about it. It's your job to make those charts and tables and graphs and brochures. So you know it.

The problem is that your prospect doesn't care about any of those things. He cares about his boss or the story you're telling or the risk or the hassle of making a change. He cares about who you know and what other people will think when he tells them what he's done after he buys from you.

The opportunity, then, is not to insist that your customers get more rational, but instead to embrace just how irrational they are. Give them what they need. Help them satisfy their needs at the same time they get the measurable, rational results your product can give them in the long run.

Authenticity

If it acts like a duck (all the time), it's a duck. Doesn't matter if the duck thinks it's a dog, it's still a duck as far as the rest of us are concerned.

Authenticity, for me, is doing what you promise, not "being who you are".

That's because 'being' is too amorphous and we are notoriously bad at judging that. Internal vision is always blurry. Doing, on the other hand, is an act that can be seen by all.

As the Internet and a connected culture places a higher premium on authenticity (because if you're inconsistent, you're going to get caught) it's easy to confuse authentic behavior with an existential crisis. Are you really good enough, kind enough, generous enough and brave enough to be authentically a hero or leader?

Mother Theresa was filled with self doubt. But she was an authentic saint, because she always acted like one.

You could spend your time wondering if what you say you are is really you. Or you could just act like that all the time. That's good enough, thanks. Save the angst for later.

Five tips for better online surveys

  1. Every question you ask is expensive. (Expensive in terms of loyalty and goodwill). Don't ask a question unless you truly care about the answer. This means that a vague question with vague answers (extremely satisfied...acceptable...extremely dissatisfied and no scale to compare them to) is a total waste of time. What action will you take based on that? It's smarter to ask, "how much would you say lunch was worth?"
  2. Every question you ask changes the way your users think. If you ask, "which did you hate more..." then you've planted a seed.
  3. Make it easy for the user to bail. If you have 20 questions (that's a lot!) make it easy to quit after five and have those answers still count. If you waste my time and then don't count my answers, see #2.
  4. Make the questions entertaining and not so serious, at least some of them. Boring surveys deserve the boring results they generate.
  5. Don't be afraid to shake up the format. Instead of saying, "Here are ten things, rank them all on a scale of one to five..." why not let people compare things? "We had two speakers, Bob and Ray. Who was better?"

Bottom line: before you let the survey guys run a survey of your loyal customer base, make them pay you with resources you can use to reinvigorate those users you just bothered.

Citizen Reviewer

It's quite possible that the era of the professional reviewer is over. No longer can a single individual (except maybe Oprah) make a movie, a restaurant or a book into a hit or a dud.

Not only can an influential blogger sell thousands of books, she can spread an idea that reaches others, influencing not just the reader, but the people who read that person's blog or tweets. And so it spreads.

I'd like you to help me spread the good word about my friend Jacqueline's important (essential) new book, The Blue Sweater. I'll be reviewing it here in two weeks, but there's a great opportunity now if you have an influential platform and are inclined to pitch in.

Visit this form and describe your platform if you'd like a copy. I'm buying books for a few bloggers interested in doing a review of the book and then giving it away to one of their readers or friends. (I'm not picking the winners, so don't blame me). Apologies in advance that only a few people will get a free one (they will email the lucky recipients, so if you don't hear, you know you need to buy your own copy).

PS as a public service, a reminder that today is the king of all Hallmark holidays. Pretend you didn't forget.

Music vs. the music industry

Some excerpts from an interview on the future of the music industry. I was being specific about one industry, but I think it applies to just about everything:

The music industry is really focused on the ‘industry’ part and not so much on the ‘music’ part. This is the greatest moment in the history of music if your dream is to distribute as much music as possible to as many people as possible, or if your goal is to make it as easy as possible to become heard as a musician. There’s never been a time like this before. So if your focus is on music, it’s great. If your focus is on the industry part and the limos, the advances, the lawyers, polycarbonate and vinyl, it’s horrible. The shift that is happening right now is that the people who insist on keeping the world as it was are going to get more and more frustrated until they lose their jobs. People who want to invent a whole new set of rules, a new paradigm, can’t believe their good fortune and how lucky they are that the people in the industry aren’t noticing an opportunity...

I define a tribe as a group of people sharing a common culture, a goal, a mission, probably a leader. There are tribes of people – like the ones who go to South by Southwest – who are connected because they want to remake the music industry. There is the tribe of people who follow Bruce Springsteen and will pay unreasonable amounts of money to hear him live and compare playlists. The important distinction here is that music labels used to be in the business of grabbing shelf space, on the radio and in the record store. Now, the music industry needs to realign and be in the business of finding and connecting and leading groups of people who want to follow a musician and connect with the other people who want to do the same...

In the ‘70s or ‘80s you listened to a song because “everyone else” was also listening to it. That’s the definition of pop music. In those days we defined “everyone else” as people in our high school or people who listened to WPLJ. Now, “everyone else” is not defined by where you live or what radio station you listen to. It’s defined by which horizontal or vertical slice of the world you connect yourself with. I might listen to Keller Williams because everyone else in my world includes frustrated Deadheads. We don’t have new Grateful Dead to listen to, so everyone else in my circle is listening to Keller Williams, so he is pop to us. He’s not pop to the kids at the middle school who have never heard of him, right? So you end up with all these silos and niches and lots and lots of ways to look at the world...

Digital is about to surpass the CD, and once it starts to happen it’s going to happen faster and faster and faster. The more interesting thing to me is who is going to control the playlist. If there is an infinite amount of music available – and I would argue that as soon as the amount of music available exceeds the amount of time you have in your life, that’s infinite – somebody will have the leverageable spot of deciding what to listen to next. And it’s unclear whether someone will charge to tell me that or will pay to tell me that. It’s still up for grabs in every one of these vertical silos. Who are the tastemakers and how do these ideas spread? The analogy I like to give is if you’re an author and Oprah Winfrey calls, you don’t say, “How much are you going to pay me to go on your show and give away all the ideas in my book?” In fact, if you could you would pay to be on Oprah. For a really long time the music industry has had two minds: On the one hand, they would pay money to be on Clear Channel or MTV; on the other hand, they would charge you money to hear their music in concert or out of your stereo. Those days are all getting intermingled now. “I am the program director of my radio station, so where’s my payola?”

R&G: When a band brands itself, there is a credibility issue with their fan base; they run the risk of being perceived as a sellout.

Seth: I think the first thing I’d ask is, “perceived as a sellout by whom?” Some people say Patricia Barber is a sellout because she’s a popular jazz musician as opposed to a starving jazz musician. But the people in the crowd don’t think that. I think selling out is largely about expectation, about being transparent and telling the truth to your audience. When Talking Heads went from being unsuccessful at CBGB to being really successful on MTV and making a movie with Jonathan Demme, some people said they sold out. Other people said they wished they were more pop-like. I’m not sure that’s something that needs to be at the beginning of the conversation. I think that what you have to do is make it clear to your tribe and to yourself what you stand for, and do that.

Calling your bluff

Billionaire raconteur Mark Cuban just posted a fascinating challenge. Post a business plan that meets certain criteria and he'll consider funding it, right here, right now.

Here's what's neat:
1. As soon as you see enough plans, you realize that in fact there are tons of ways to create a viable business in just a few months. There's no shortage of ideas worth stealing.

2. Mark asks that you describe how much money you need and how much equity you'll give up for it. My guess is that for most of these businesses, that causes the entrepreneur to whittle down the money that's actually necessary (hey, that money is expensive!) until the point that they don't need Mark's money at all. They can just start.

The comments on his thread are typical of what happens when you call someone's bluff. There are plenty of skeptics, critics, trolls and naysayers. What a shame. Shun the non-believers.

PS! If you think you don't have a good enough idea, nine superpowered friends of mine came up with a list that might just help.

The power of an algorithm

An algorithm is a set of instructions that allows you to solve a problem.

Each instruction is simple and repeatable. It's important to understand that the instructions work on all similar problems, not just one.

Here's an algorithm for sorting any set of numbers, to get them into order. Start with 4,3,5,6,2 for example.

The bubble sort algorithm is simple. Compare two numbers. If the first number is higher than the second, switch them. So now it's 3,4,5,6,2. Next step is to compare positions two and three. If the second is higher than the third (it's not) switch them. Repeat for the whole string. Then start over. Do it over and over again until you can go the whole way with no switching. Done.

Same trick works for alphabetizing words or sorting kids in order by height.

Of course, there are algorithms that are far more complex, far more intuitive or far more useful.

Algorithms don't care a bit if you believe in them or not. They either work or they don't.

Algorithms in business appear to be magical, because they allow you to be smart about problems you haven't seen before. The 'angry customer' algorithm or the 'promote a book' algorithm don't always work, but they are approaches that work on a huge range of problems.

All of which is a long way to wish Charles Darwin a happy birthday. The simple algorithm he described is often misunderstood but is robust and flexible and powerful, and it works for ideas and businesses as well as fruit flies and turtles.

Ideas that spread, win. Sometimes ideas get changed in transmission, and sometimes those changed ideas spread even farther and with more impact than the ideas that came before them.

In business, if you lock down ideas, make them difficult to change and spread and have impact, you fail. If you accept the fact that change is real, that there is competition for your ideas and that amplifying the good stuff works, you can grow and thrive.

Seeing the algorithm in action (which the Net makes easy) helps you understand the notion of failing fast, of exposing ideas to the real world with a posture of perpetual beta. The clothing store Zara doesn't have clothes for a particular season, they launch clothes for a particular fortnight. They watch and measure and adjust and then repeat.

Your organization (and your career) either embraces change and turmoil and sudden shifts in the rules or you fear it. In times of rapid change (that would be now), embracing the algorithm of the evolution of ideas and systems is a significant competitive advantage.

Make the world smaller

The secret to being the best in the world is to make the 'world' smaller.

Alan Scott was the best community-focused artisan pizza oven builder in the world. A niche that didn't exist before he got there, but one that spread, that engaged people, that created a tribe and that supported him.

Alan was passionate about his craft and wasn't shy about sharing it. He trained others, turned it into a movement.

It's entirely possible that you will choose a niche that's too small. It's much more likely you'll shoot for something too big and become overwhelmed. When in doubt, overwhelm a small niche.

Which parts are you skipping?

The top of a mountain is rarely the best part.

You can watch "the good parts" of a baseball game in about six minutes. The web has become a giant highlights reel... the best parts of SNL, the best parts of a speech, the best parts of a book.

We can skim really fast now. This is a problem for marketers, because it means that if they don't make the good parts easily findable and accessible (and bold and loud and memorable) then the whole product becomes invisible.

As consumers of information, though, I wonder if the best parts are really the best parts. Yes, you can read a summary of a book instead of a book, or watch the trailer instead of the movie, or read the executive summary of the consultant's report instead of the whole thing... but the parts you miss are there for a reason.

Real change is rarely caused by the good parts. Real change and impact and joy come from the foundation and the transitions and the little messages that sneak in when you least expect them. The highlights of the baseball game are highlights largely because the rest of the game got you ready for them.

Don't skip that page, it's there for a reason.

Sprint!

The best way to overcome your fear of creativity, brainstorming, intelligent risk taking or navigating a tricky situation might be to sprint.

When we sprint, all the internal dialogue falls away and we just go as fast as we possibly can. When you're sprinting you don't feel that sore knee and you don't worry that the ground isn't perfectly level. You just run.

You can't sprint forever. That's what makes it sprinting. The brevity of the event is a key part of why it works.

"Quick, you have thirty minutes to come up with ten business ideas."

"Hurry, we need to write a new script for our commercial... we have fifteen minutes."

My first huge project was launching a major brand of science-fiction computer adventure games (Ray Bradbury, Michael Crichton, etc.). I stopped going to business school classes in order to do the launch.

One day, right after a red eye flight, the president of the company told me that the company had canceled the project. They didn't have enough resources to launch all the products we had, our progress was too slow and the packaging wasn't ready yet.

I went to my office spent the next 20 hours rewriting every word of text, redesigning every package, rebuilding every schedule and inventing a new promotional strategy. It was probably 6 weeks of work for a motivated committee, and I did it in one swoop. Like lifting a car off an infant, it was impossible, and I have no recollection at all of the project now.

The board reconsidered and the project was back on again. I didn't get scared until after the sprint. You can't sprint every day but it's probably a good idea to sprint regularly.

Learning all the time

My post on possible uses of education struck a chord with people. Different people are looking for different outcomes.

The first implication of this list: why did you stop educating yourself when you graduated?

Not you, of course. You read blogs and by that action demonstrate that you're looking for something new, or useful, or important.

I'm fascinated by the way the marketplace treats non-fiction books, particularly business books. The most popular business book of all time was purchased by less than 3% of all the people who could benefit from it, and read by a tiny fraction of that group. I'm guessing that less than 10% of the people who read this blog have read one of my books.

Books remind us of school, of chores, of homework. Give someone a DVD of a hit movie currently in the theaters and they'll eagerly thank you and watch it that weekend. Give them a book and it's a whole commotion. "I read that book!" they brag to you next week, when maybe they didn't really.

Which leads to The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, which is a shortcut in the best sense of the word. Not some sort of prurient blog list designed to draw traffic, the book actually makes you sound smart because the authors tell you what each book says... so you can get back to your DVD.

The #1 habit successful people share with me is this: They read books to learn. They do it often and with joy. It's cheap (or free, at the library or online) and portable and specific. Jack and Todd's book might be a good place to start the habit.

The customer is always wrong

Richard was telling me that he doesn't care what his customers think.

Instead, he writes and creates for himself. If his customers like it, fine. If not, fine.

This is the gutsy statement of an artist. I pointed out to him that he's had a long line of successful books, conferences and consulting gigs. "I don't care what they think," he said with a bit of contempt.

Fortunately for Richard, there's a high correlation between what he likes and what the market likes. The power of his conviction, though, is that instead of being joyful when he runs into a customer who thinks the way he does (and annoyed at those that don't), he's comfortable enough with his sense of art and craft and quality that it's enough. He does it for himself. He actively ignores the market.

If you're strong enough to do that, more power to you. If you do your art and the market rejects you, though, you need to make a choice. If your art has no market, it's still art. It just might not be a living.

Bonus links from all over

Wired interview about Tribes

Video interview about thriving in a down market

Bryan starts a web podiatrist testing/improvement service

Andy Nulman has a surprising new book out (about surprise and expectation and marketing)

And here's a video interview I did with Loic two days ago at TED.

The difference between a show and a story

The Super Bowl hype is blissfully long gone, and lazy media outlets can no longer reprint press releases and dissect multi-million dollar wastes of time and money.

The lesson of these ads is simple. Putting on a show is expensive, time-consuming and quite fun. And it rarely works.

The Gatorade commercial, or the guy clipping his toenails or someone throwing a rock through a vending machine... it's all show biz, it's not marketing.

Marketing is telling a story that sticks, that spreads and that changes the way people act. The story you tell is far more important than the way you tell it. Don't worry so much about being cool, and worry a lot more about resonating your story with my worldview. If you don't have a story, then a great show isn't going to help much.

(And yes, every successful organization has a story, even if they've never considered running an ad, during the Super Bowl or anywhere else.)

Solving a different problem

The telephone destroyed the telegraph.

Here's why people liked the telegraph: It was universal, inexpensive, asynchronous and it left a paper trail.

The telephone offered not one of these four attributes. It was far from universal, and if someone didn't have a phone, you couldn't call them. It was expensive, even before someone called you. It was synchronous--if you weren't home, no call got made. And of course, there was no paper trail.

If the telephone guys had set out to make something that did what the telegraph does, but better, they probably would have failed. Instead, they solved a different problem, in such an overwhelmingly useful way that they eliminated the feature set of the competition.

The list of examples is long (YouTube vs. television, web vs. newspapers, Nike vs. sneakers). Your turn.

Which comes first, the product or the marketing?

Well, if you define marketing as advertising, then it's clear you need the product first (Captain Crunch being the only exception I can think of... they made the ads first.) This great clip from Mad Men brings the point home. If the Kodak guys hadn't invented the Carousel slide projector, Don Draper could never have pitched this ad.

But wait.

Marketing is not the same as advertising.
Advertising is a tiny slice of what marketing is today, and in fact, it's pretty clear that the marketing has to come before the product, not after. As Jon points out, the Prius was developed after the marketing thinking was done. Jones Soda, too. In fact, just about every successful product or service is the result of smart marketing thinking first, followed by a great product that makes the marketing story come true.

If someone comes to you with a 'great' product that just needs some marketing, the game is probably already over.

Grave new world

Creativity loves a problem, but it hates a lousy audience.

If everyone around you is sure the economy is tanking, that the end is near, that time is up and the company is headed for the tubes, it's almost impossible to find a creative solution.

Creativity changes the game, whatever game is being played. "We're going to run out of cash by the end of the year," is accurate unless you count creativity into the equation. Then the accurate statement is, "Under the current rules and assumptions, we're going to run out of cash..." Big difference.

Creativity demands exposure to market needs, and insulation from market fears. Give it some time to work, some support, some breathing room. That's when creativity has a chance to change the game.

I'm sorry, we're out of time

What do you do when the deadline looms?

I often hear blowhards on the radio, wrecking the entire interview because they don't know how to call it quits when the host tells them they have thirty seconds to wrap up. They try to say one more thing, one more thing, one more thing and they get hung up on and the message is lost.

I often hear presenters who always manage to need just two more minutes than the time allows. So, instead of exiting gracefully when there's ten seconds left on the clock, they either steal time from the next person or try to rush through six slides and their conclusion.

What a waste.

Do you save the most important part of the meeting for the end, when everyone is already standing?

Plan for the end.

Expect that the amount of time you've got is going to be the amount of time you've got. And then use a little less.

No one ever leaves a speech or a eulogy or a presentation saying, "I wish it was longer."

If the Groundhog understood this, winter would be a lot shorter.

Email campaign case studies (one good, one bad)

In one week, I heard from two companies in the same industry. The comparison is instructive, I think.

Every month, I get a great email from Paul McGowan, founder of PS Audio. His newsletter is anticipated, personal and relevant. I signed up for it and I look forward to it.

Paul mentions his products, their reviews and their new technology. He also tells stories and acts like a real person. Because I signed up for the newsletter, I open it. Because he never abuses my trust, I trust him. If I hit reply, he writes back.

When it's time to buy the sort of thing he sells, I won't look around much, because I'm already sold.

I also got two identical emails (with different subject lines) from a speaker company called Thiel Audio. I never signed up to hear from this company, and judging from the email addresses they used, they harvested my address either from an attendee list at a conference at which I spoke or from an old business card.

The problem with believing that just because you have access to an address you have the right to mail is that there is no friction with email. It's free. You can email a million people in a heartbeat, costing the recipients time (and thus money) and you not much of either. The recipient knows this, and feels exploited or cheated. It's not fair, and so the lack of friction backfires. The very ease of interruption makes the interruption more annoying.

I get a lot of spam from non-reputable companies, but it was surprising to get this html ad via email from a company that used to have a good reputation.

My email box is where I live all day. They showed up, uninvited, and worked to sell me something even though they had no connection with me as a consumer or a blogger. That's not brand building, it's the opposite. Even worse, it's undependable.

With PS Audio, Paul realizes that over time, the more months I get the newsletter, the greater the chance I'm going to trust and like and buy from him. For Thiel, the opposite is true. The more they send, the more people will get in the habit of deleting or unsubscribing. It's not an asset, it's a risk. It doesn't scale, it shrinks.

No doubt, there are old-school marketers who will talk about their right to email or interrupt because it's not against the law, or perhaps it generates short-term sales. The thing is, consumers now have rights too. The right to ignore, to distrust and to choose someone else when it comes time to spend money.

There are a hundred ways to skulk around, to collect email addresses, to write clever privacy policies or to argue about whether opt-out ("you can always unsubscribe!") is a valid way to build a brand. None of those schemes work. What works is exactly one way: making promises and then keeping them. Every person who unsubscribes or deletes or just stops reading your mail is a person lost, a negative word-of-mouth opportunity waiting to happen. 

Run an ad in traditional media or online and promise me a great newsletter, or a prize or news or even a discount if I sign up. That's clear and honest and it works.

A spam campaign feels like a smart idea, but over time, the more you use it, the less your brand is worth. A permission campaign, on the other hand, only grows in value, until it gets big enough that you can build an entire business around it.

Earning permission is a long-term, profitable, scalable strategy that pays for itself. Think about how much better off a brand would be if it took the time to make promises, keep them and be transparent about its communications.

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