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« February 2009 | Main | April 2009 »

Why aren't you (really) good at graphic design?

Ten years ago, you had a wide range of excuses for being a lousy visuals person. Starting with no talent, leading to no skill and going from there.

But now, in a world where it is expected that professionals will be able to make beautiful powerpoint slides, handsome business cards, clever bio photos and a decent website, it's as important as driving. And easier to learn and do, and requiring less talent.

No, you and I will never be gifted designers or breakthrough designers. But there's really no reason not to be really good.

I put together a page with some blogs, books and sites you can check out. An hour a day for a month and you won't have to hide your face in shame. Sure, hire the very best in the world when you need a breakthrough. But you don't have to pay for better-than-mediocre design. You can do it yourself.

(Update: as expected, I heard from a few designers, upset that I would recommend that anyone do pretty good design. The thing is, as a designer, if all you can offer is a time-saving way to get pretty good design, that's a tough row to hoe. The magic for the great designer is that once someone understands how to see, understands how powerful great design can be... they are going to be the first person who wants to hire you.

The fact is, business people do copywriting, simple legal and accounting work and more, on their own, every day. You compose your own email, don't you? If your legal decisions were as bad as your design, you'd get fired in a minute for libeling people. Getting pretty good at things is merely a first step, but one that you need to take in order to be ready to spend the money to get great.)

Share of wallet, share of wall, share of voice

The first mistake marketers make is that they want more. More customers, more noise, more ads, more shelf space, more customers, more customers, more customers...

Almost all of their actions are driven by the search for more customers.

The reason this is a mistake is simple: it's expensive. Attracting a new customer costs far more than keeping an old one happy. Not only that, but an old customer is far more likely to bring you new people via word of mouth than someone who isn't even a customer yet.

Which is why share of wallet makes so much more sense than share of market. How much does each of your existing customers buy from you? Do they count on you for all the things they buy in this market, or just some? Does Toyota sell me every car my family drives? Does Chubb get to insure every single thing I own? Usually not. Because marketers are so focused on more that they forget to take great care of what they've got.

Hugh Macleod, gifted cartoonist and profane marketing blogger is now making his living selling limited edition art work based on his cartoons. He's a brilliant marketer, of course, so he's not focused on more. He's focused on share of wallet. On selling his dedicated fans a remarkable souvenir that they can keep and display.

So, what's the problem? Share of wall. Unlike records or shoes, it's hard to buy a lot of art. Pretty soon, you've got no place left to put it, do you? Share of wallet turns into share of wall and you can't grow any more.

That's why you need to be realistic about how much share of wallet you can honestly expect, and why job one is delighting existing customers so much that they can't help but tell their friends. Preferably friends with very big houses.

Ignore your critics

If you find 100 comments on a blog post or 100 reviews of a new book or 100 tweets about you...

and two of them are negative, while 98 are positive...

which ones are you going to read first?

If you're a human being and you're telling the truth, the answer is pretty obvious: you want to know which misguided losers had nasty things to say and you want to know what they said. In fact, if we're being totally truthful, it's likely you're going to take what the critics had to say to heart.

That's a shame. The critics are never going to be happy with you, that's why they're critics. You might bore them by doing what they say... but that won't turn them into fans, it will merely encourage them to go criticize someone else.

It doesn't matter what Groucho or Elvis or Britney or any other one-name performer does or did... the critics won't be placated. Changing your act to make them happy is a fool's game.

Here's a surprising thought, though. You should ignore your fans as well.

Your fans don't want you to change, your fans want you to maintain the essence of what you bring them but add a laundry list of features. You fans want lower prices and more contributions, bigger portions and more frequent deliveries.

So, who should you listen to?

Your sneezers.

You should listen to the people who tell the most people about you. Listen to the people who thrive on sharing your good works with others. If you delight these people, you grow.

Where's the baxter?

If you make something remarkable, that's because there's something to talk about.

But often, if you've created something worth talking about, it's something that hasn't been done before. Which means it needs a name.

So name it.

That extra sharp point on the top of your new rock climbing shoe? It's a baxter.

That service you get at the spa after your massage is over? Oh, you mean the baxter!

That free course in between the main course and dessert? Right... the baxter.

Sorry, "baxter" is already taken. It's my name for that new thing you invented that's worth talking about. You'll need to find a new word that people can use to describe your baxter.

(Heels on Wheels is a baxter. So is the 3/50 project.)

The high road and the low road

Why spend $10,000 to do a photo shoot for a magazine? After all, all your profit is in the ads.

Sometimes it seems like people who build websites and magazines that take the high road aren't paying any attention at all to conversion and revenue and manipulation.

The low road of media ought to work. After all, it's filled with tricks that have been tested and shown to work. On a website, a pop up, a popunder, a cloaked IP address, a persistent window that won't go away, loud headlines and calls to action... all of these things should convert.

We saw the same thing with magazines over the last few decades. You can fill a magazine with come ons, get rich quick claims and guaranteed results... and yet Conde Nast (home of The New Yorker) and other high road publications made more money and had happier advertisers...

The reason manipulative media doesn't work as well as you might expect is that people have a choice. Sure, on a per thousand basis, the manipulative tricks you might decide to use seem to work, but people don't have to show up in the first place. Generally, the people who do show up for these low road attempts at manipulation aren't the right people to begin with.

I see this every day at Squidoo, blogs and other user generated pages. People who build pages that are generous, filled with useful information and generally focused on teaching people do extremely well. They get a lot of traffic, a ton of clickthroughs and earn money every day. And yet, countless businesses in search of a quick buck show up with obviously selfish scams involving Forex and affiliate-Bank and 'exclusive' offers. And they fail, again and again. They fail because people who have a choice don't participate.

Data is your friend. And the data shows that the top blogs, top lenses, top magazines... they all follow the high road. If you need to be manipulative or non-transparent to make a buck, time to rethink the plan.

Getting serious about your meeting problem

Do you have one? Some folks are going to eight hours of meeting a day. At Ford, they used to have meetings to prepare for meetings, just to be sure everyone had their story straight.

If you're serious about solving your meeting problem, getting things done and saving time, try this for one week. If it doesn't work, I'll be happy to give you a full refund.

  1. Understand that all problems are not the same. So why are your meetings? Does every issue deserve an hour? Why is there a default length?
  2. Schedule meetings in increments of five minutes. Require that the meeting organizer have a truly great reason to need more than four increments of realtime face time.
  3. Require preparation. Give people things to read or do before the meeting, and if they don't, kick them out.
  4. Remove all the chairs from the conference room. I'm serious.
  5. If someone is more than two minutes later than the last person to the meeting, they have to pay a fine of $10 to the coffee fund.
  6. Bring an egg timer to the meeting. When it goes off, you're done. Not your fault, it's the timer's.
  7. The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.
  8. Create a public space (either a big piece of poster board or a simple online page) that allows attendees to rate meetings and their organizers on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of usefulness. Just a simple box where everyone can write a number. Watch what happens.
  9. If you're not adding value to a meeting, leave. You can always read the summary later.

This is all marketing. It's a show, one that lets your team know you're treating meetings differently now.

The right size

I've been thinking a lot about issues of scale and units of measure.

Many businesses that are in trouble are in trouble for a simple reason: they're the wrong size.

A newspaper that only had a few dozen employees would be doing great today. But they have hundreds or thousands of employees because that was an appropriate scale twenty years ago. When I started my first web company fifteen years ago, the idea that you could be successful with six or ten employees was crazy, but today many of the most successful companies have not many more than that. That's 15,000 fewer employees than eBay has.

It's tempting to get bigger. But is bigger better? In many cases, it's worse, particularly when you can leverage reliable systems that are cheaper and faster and more stable in the outside world. If you can make your product better by assembling it yourself, you should. But if that action makes it worse, why do it?

Which leads to the idea of figuring out what the unit of manufacture or delivery is. Do you deliver the entire solution or just a piece of it? Twitter delivers a sentence, sandwiched in between two other people's sentences. A blog delivers a series of longer pieces, sandwiched in between other pieces by the same person. A website delivers page after page of pieces, all from the same organization. What's the unit that works right now?

Creative Computing delivered an MP3 player. That was the unit. Apple changed this and delivered the player, the software, the music store, the headphones and the retail outlet. Both sold music, ultimately, but Apple choose a far wider unit. Very risky, but it worked.

The flip side works as well. If you want Kona coffee in Senseo pods, the web makes it easy to find. Aloha doesn't have to subsidize the cost of the entire system, worry about shelf space or build coffee makers. They can just make a profit from a small piece of the entire system.

Ford Motor used to hire shepherds to tend Ford sheep on Ford land so they could weave Ford fabric to put on the seats of Ford cars. Today, of course, that's crazy. One day soon there will be car companies that have 200 employees.

So many businesses are stuck on tradition. What happens to your agency or brokerage or factory or freelance practice when you make the unit of measure bigger? smaller? Why are you assuming that your scale is correct?

The pillars of social media site success

Why people choose to visit online social sites:

  • Who likes me?
  • Is everything okay?
  • How can I become more popular?
  • What's new?
  • I'm bored, let's make some noise

None of these are new, but in the digital world, they're still magnetic.

If you want to understand why Twitter is so hot, look at those five attributes. They deliver all five, instantly.

A chance to join the online triiibe

Five months ago, I built a social network on Ning. No ads, all free. I briefly opened it to the readers of this blog as a place to talk about leadership and connection. A few thousand people bought my book and signed up. Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of posts and connections and stories. The plan was to run it as a closed community and then open it once we laid a foundation of connections and content.

Well, the group that orginally homesteaded the site has agitated to keep it as a closed community. I can't disagree. In fact, the password-protected, non-anonymous nature of this community makes it work. People hesitate to spam or troll because they know they'll get kicked out and won't be able to return. They talk to one another with respect because it's really them, and they're really there.

I've decided to let a few more people join in order to keep things fresh and growing. The only requirements:
1. To be fair, you need to have purchased at least one copy of Tribes, just like everyone else there.
and
2. It's a promotion-free zone. If you attempt to sell things or sites or anything, we'll ask you to leave.

[NOW CLOSED AGAIN! I got a huge response, there are some amazing people, and I'm closing the group again for a few months to let the tribe coalesce again. I apologize if you missed the window]. I'm only going to keep it open for a day or so. If you don't get an invitation from me, it's because Ning's invites often end up in spam filters. I'm sorry, but there's no way I can manually resend it, so watch carefully. (PS Robin Sharma has a similar, open network as well.)

The myth of big salaries (it's all marketing)

The failed bankers on Wall Street have been whining that if they have to cut bonuses and salaries dramatically, they'll be unable to recruit great talent, and they need great talent to fix the situation.

And for years, boards have been claiming that they need to pay CEOs $50,000,000 salaries in order to recruit the very best for their companies.

Jamie Dimon at Chase said, "It's possible someone's going to walk in my office and say, Jamie, I have a family. I can't afford to live that way."

This, of course, is nonsense.

After a million dollars or so in salary, the absolute amount that a person is paid has no real impact on their life. They can't eat more meals in a day or wear more shoes. What matters to the manager is the relative amount. How much more would I make over there? Why does that company pay its CEO more than my company pays me?

(Aside: should the guys who drive an armored car that carries millions of dollars in bonds get paid more than the guys that drive an armored car that only carries thousands of dollars in cash? Does the amount of money handled change the difficult of the work?)

Twenty years ago, financial industry salaries were a tiny fraction of what they are today. Did lesser people do the work? Did they try less hard? Think smaller thoughts? Of course not. The reasons salaries are high is that the number is a signaling mechanism, a very expensive marketing campaign.

Law firms went through this cycle twenty years ago. The top firms competed with each other to recruit a too-small pool of talent from the top law schools. Unable to muster up even a mite of marketing insight, they chose to compete on only one axis: salary. So, 24 year olds were given jobs at $120,000 a year, when their peers from college were making 20% of that. The firms could have found great people at half the price, except that with only one axis, they had to be at the top if their peers were.

If you were a law student, the choice was easy. Either you got a job at a firm that proved its worth by paying a lot or you didn't. You didn't have to know anything about the firm, apparently, other than the fact that they were top tier, and the way you knew that was because they paid a lot.

Hence the current situation with CEOs and bankers. There's no real effort made to market the jobs, just to race to the top (or the bottom, depending on your point of view) with the easiest marketing signal of all. Price. Yes, it's exactly the same as a retailer trying to improve business by being the cheapest.

In addition to this being a huge (!) waste of money, it's also provably false as an accurate portrayal of what's necessary to recruit. For every great job at Goldman Sachs, there are still 1,000 totally qualified applicants waiting for that job. So, when demand is high and supply is low, the power goes to the supplier. Lower the salary until you get just a few qualified applicants, right?

This moment in our economic cycle is a great opportunity for shareholders and taxpayers to let the organizations we own and support know that wasting money on this sort of marketing is silly. Just as an industry-wide gas standard would have actually helped Detroit twenty years ago, an industry-wide tax and trade salary cap will actually help these organizations. They'll be forced to recruit with useful marketing techniques (I'd rather work at an innovative, fast-moving, respectful company, given the choice...so the companies would have to make a better 'product,' not just pay a lot as a result of financial engineering).

[I think performance pay is great, risk should be rewarded and stock options are just fine. I also think it's fine for risk-takers and skilled pros to make a ton of money. I'm mostly talking about guaranteed bonuses which aren't bonuses at all, just a bribe to sign on and stay on.]

Sometimes markets get stuck because there is a disconnect between what something costs and what you get. It costs the individuals on the board of a public company nothing to pay more, they get bragging rights and a CEO who is focused on money. And that works until the next board leapfrogs them. The boards themselves should be lobbying to end this practice, but they won't because... guess what... the folks on the boards are the CEOs of other companies. It's stuck.

If you are a relentless free market believer, more power to you. If your company is private, pay yourself a trillion dollars a year, fine with me. In fact, we need more private companies that innovate and pay their staff a ton. But if you're owned by shareholders or bailed out by taxpayers, wasting trillions of dollars because you don't have the guts to market your jobs properly is silly.

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