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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.

License to stall

In business to business sales, you will encounter three kinds of people:

  • The vast majority, empowered to stall, to ask for more information, to delay, to send you after the broomstick of the wicked witch of the west.
  • A smaller population that can stall but also have the authority to say no.
  • A tiny portion of your meetings will be with people authorized to say yes (and some of these people are foolish enough to do the other two tasks, just for kicks).

You have no chance (zero) of moving someone from one category to another. The reason this system evolved is straightforward: the yes people are rare in a typical organization, because they have responsibility and power. So they are busy and need to be protected. The no people are easy to train at saying no, and they're waiting to be promoted to yes people. And the stallers? They represent the dip, the barrier salespeople have to get through to show that they are serious.

This is true for all business to business selling, but I think it's worthwhile to consider ad sales.

In today's long tail new media world, I think that marketers that rely on this system are failing. When there were only a few media options worth considering when placing an ad, the stalling, no-ing and eventually yes-please system didn't hurt them much. NBC had the wherewithal to get through the system. Yahoo and AOL organized to get through it as well. A marketer could just arrogantly wait for the best salespeople and buy ads from them and succeed.

Now, though, there are thousands of sites that could offer your organization targeted, efficient media that would pay off handsomely at the price you are willing to buy it.

Look at it from the blogger's point of view: If you're a blogger, would you sell a monthly sponsorship on your blog for $2,000? $20,000? Probably, and it would be a bargain for both sides. But you don't even try, because the overhead is huge.The cost of selling that sponsorship is more than you'd earn.

So, Visa, a stalling marketer, spent a million or more dollars on a very expensive, complex and largely ineffective online promotion last month--not because it was likely to work, but because it was well sold by persistent and effective salespeople. They should have sponsored your blog and 400 others instead.

The opportunity for marketers in search of media is not to play defense, to stall people with clever ideas or small platforms, but instead to stop stalling and start looking. The bargains are there, just waiting.

Yeah, but he really knows his stuff...

Every organization worth its salt has at least one guy like this. Someone who knows every technical detail, or has vast expertise in the parliamentary procedure. Perhaps he's the coot who knows every verse of the Bible or is the only one with a Master's license. Maybe he's the guy (the only guy) who can fix that big machine.

And he's a jerk.

He's the first one to point out a minor technical glitch and the last guy to want to get on board with a new program. He hazes first-timers and avoids the people who are actually productive. Or he's the one who can take any metaphor and make it literal, instantly, poking holes in it as he goes.

And of course, he's the one everyone has to tiptoe around, because they know his technical status can sink their initiative.

I think you should fire this person immediately. Okay, maybe give him exactly one warning.

You'll find someone else who really knows this stuff. No doubt about it. And firing one intransigent bully is a lot less painful than shutting down an entire division next year because he paralyzed your decision-making.

Deep technical competency is overrated compared with the ability to make excellent decisions and to create a culture where forward motion is valued and personal initiative is rewarded.

The good news is that the bully knows this, and the only reason he gets away with being a bully is that he thinks he's got you bluffed. Call his bluff and odds are you'll have a much more cooperative team, top to bottom.

Fitting in vs. standing out

You won't have any trouble at all finding someone who can tell you how to fit in.

They can tell you what to wear to that restaurant or this conference or that funeral. It's not that difficult to figure out how to fit in. If fitting in is your goal, you should be sure to get great advice on how to do that.

Standing out, of course, is trickier. Stand out too much and you're a jerk or a fool.

Clothing is not the point. You have this choice to make in everything you do, from your career to the words you use in a sales letter.

The point: choose.

Are you doing this to fit in or stand out?

Advice on equity

A friend asked me to help him think about how to split the equity in a company he was starting. His colleague is contributing office space and some key technology. My friend is responsible for where the business goes from here. I told him this:

If you apportion equity, you will certainly do it wrong.

That's because it's based on a snapshot, a moment in time.

Sure, today, your partner's share is worth 50% and yours is worth 50%. His because of what he did, yours because of what you're going to do.

But a year from now, that number can't possibly be right. You may have acquired six more pieces of software, raised millions, traveled the world, closed sales and sold the company. Wow. Or, you may have done absolutely nothing.

So, my best advice is to say, "Today, right now, your contribution is worth 5% of the company and my creation of the company is worth 5%. The other 90% is based on what each of us does over the next 18 months. Here's a list of what has to get done, and what we agree it's worth..."

And then make a list. Stuff like commenting and updating and supporting the code. Stuff like closing sales and hiring people and raising money...

Of course, you leave an out for unforeseen events and dilution based on bringing in new partners.

You may end up having small disagreements about how to interpret the list, but this sort of advance flexibility is well worth the awkward conversation it takes to get it started. Another tip: put in a clause appointing a trusted third party as an arbitrator, so small disagreements don't snowball into litigation.

The benefits of history

Marketers are good at looking ahead. We predict/create the future, working to build an idea or a product into something that will matter more tomorrow than it does today.

The focus on the future, though, encourages us to take our attention away from what has worked in the past. The next time someone tells you that they've seen a UFO, ask them about this article. A look at a hundred years of UFOs and bigfoots and other things that were certain to change everything shows that they never have. Don't even get me started with the history of astrology.

My question to marketers with a huge idea, something that will change everything, is, "tell me about how someone has done this before." Of course there are first-time-ever groundbreaking exceptions that change the rules forever. But my guess is that you'd rather have a launch or a concept that can follow in the conceptual footsteps of what came before.

Every two years, teenage girls fall in love with an irresistible fashion fad. If you develop the next one, you can look at the last six for clues about how it works.

Every once in a while, a new technology is introduced online and it becomes the must-have, must-be-talked-about breakthrough. If you've got one of those, it would be useful to look at what made the last five work.

Every two weeks, there's a surprise bestseller in the bookstore. Surely we can learn from that process.

But, if all you've got is a lot of confidence and nothing to point to in the past, forgive me for being a bit skeptical. Hopeful, sure, but skeptical.

Where have all the agents gone?

Travel agents... gone.
Stock brokers... gone.
Real estate brokers... in trouble. Photographer's agents, too.
Literary agents?

The problem with being a helpful, efficient but largely anonymous middleman is pretty obvious. Someone can come along who is cheaper, faster and more efficient. And that someone might be the customer aided by a computer.

The airlines don't want to pay travel agents, because the travel agents were making more money on each flight than they were. Some house sellers hesitate to pay real estate brokers because they don't believe the 6% payment is an opportunity, they see it as a tax. Investors abandoned full service stock brokers because trading stocks directly is faster and more accurate than using the phone.

Middlemen add value when they bring taste or judgment or trust to bear on a transaction that isn't transparent. Literary agents are crucial when publishers believe that their choice of content is essential but have too many choices and too little time. But publishers don't trust every literary agent. They trust agents they believe in. Key point: anonymous agents are interchangeable and virtually worthless. Agents that don't do anything but help one side find the other side in a human approximation of Google aren't so helpful any more.

Think about how anonymous the typical real estate broker is. He will sell almost any house or represent almost any buyer. When selling a house, he has a fiduciary responsibility to represent that house to the best of his ability. Just like every other broker. The great real estate brokers do far more than this.

Travel agents still survive, but in a very different way than they used to. Now, the best ones are paid by the traveler, not the airline. The best ones provide a differentiated service that is worth paying for. Instead of being middlemen, then, they are the front men, the attraction, a key asset to the traveler.

To thrive in a world of self-service, agents have to hyperspecialize, have to stand for something, have to have the guts to say no far more than they say yes. No, you can't publish this book. No I won't represent you. No, don't take that flight. No, I won't sell this house, it's overpriced, list it yourself.

The second thing agents must do to make a smart transition is to consider who they are selling to. Should talent agents only sell to Hollywood? Literary agents only to book publishers? Should ad agencies specialize in Google Adwords, not just Super Bowl spots? When markets change, agents can lead the way, not follow along grudgingly.

Linear and parallel

The internet loves parallel projects.

Linux development is parallel. Thousands of people can work on it at once, none of them waiting in line. Wikipedia is parallel, because a large group can go at millions of articles, side by side. The YouTube Orchestra auditions were parallel too, because you didn't have to wait in line to practice or apply.

Parallel is faster and more efficient. The Huffington Post will always outperform a traditional news site because they have 3,000 contributors, not a few dozen.

If you want to make a buffet go faster, all you need to do is move the serving table away from the wall and let people serve themselves from either side. If you want to go faster still, use two tables.

Self-service customer support outperforms the traditional model because people don't have to wait in line.

Your organization probably isn't parallel. There are bottlenecks throughout, and finding them and making them parallel could change everything.

There's one place you don't want to be parallel, at least at first: sales.

When you are linear in your sales process, you learn something. You don't make the same mistake on each and every call. Instead, you make a few mistakes on your first call, then a few less and then, finally, you get it as right as you're going to get it. That is when you go parallel, not before.

What's your super power?

Adventure247 When I was a kid, I loved the Legion of Super Heroes and the Justice League of America. These were comics for slumming comic book writers, fun and sort of stupid stories where a whole bunch of superheroes would get together, hang out in the clubhouse and then work together to destroy some sort of monster that any individual superhero could never have bested.

Anyway, near the beginning of most of these comics was a scene where a stranger would meet the team. Inevitably, the heroes would introduce themselves. Of course, Batman or Superman wouldn't need an introduction, but the lesser (lower rent) heroes had to speak up and describe their super power.

"I'm the Wasp. I have the ability to shrink to a height of several centimeters, fly by means of insectoid wings and fire energy blasts."

Some fancy marketers might call this a positioning statement or a unique selling proposition. Of course, it's not that. It's just her super power.

When you meet someone, you need to have a super power. If you don't, you're just another handshake. Don't say, "Hi, I'm Don, I'm from Cleveland." Instead, try, "Hi, I'm Don, I tell stories that spread." It's not about touting yourself or coming on too strong. It's about making the introduction meaningful. If I don't know your superpower, then I don't know how you can help me (or I can help you).

I was sitting next to a guy at a conference a few years ago. When people went around and said who they were and what they did, he said, "I'm Stephen, I'm a judge." He gets points for humility, and not pointing out that he was a Supreme Court Justice was certainly his privilege...  sort of like Superman not having to tout his x-ray vision.

The rest of us, though, do everyone a service when we let others know what we do and how it might help.

What do you do when you read Kevin Kelly?

If you haven't read his book turned into a blog, time to catch up.

The Rorschach test question is this: When you read big ideas online, do you nod your head knowingly, do you argue in favor of the status quo or do you actually do something? Kevin wrote his book ten years ago. If you had known then what you know now, what would you have done differently? Of course, you did know it then. So, what do you do when you read stuff like this?

Do something as in start a new division, change a major policy, quit your job, launch a project, change everything? When people read great ideas online, I often wonder what happens to them after that... it's not too late to start a Permission Marketing campaign, but it would have been better in 1999. It's not too late to start treating your customers with respect or build ideas that spread either.

Nodding is fun to watch, but largely ineffective.

Nothing

The only thing worse than starting something and failing... is not starting something.

Demonization

The closer you get to someone, something, some brand, some organization... the harder it is to demonize it, objectify it or hate it.

So, if you want to not be hated, open up. Let people in. Engage. Interact.

Pivots for change

When industry norms start to die, people panic. It's difficult to change when you think that you must change everything in order to succeed. Changing everything is too difficult.

Consider for a minute the pivot points available to you:

  • Keep the machines in your factory, but change what they make.
  • Keep your customers, but change what you sell to them.
  • Keep your providers, but change the profit structure.
  • Keep your industry but change where the money comes from.
  • Keep your staff, but change what you do.
  • Keep your mission, but change your scale.
  • Keep your products, but change the way you market them.
  • Keep your customers, but change how much you sell each one.
  • Keep your technology, but use it to do something else.
  • Keep your reputation, but apply it to a different industry or problem.

Simple examples:

  • Keep the musicians, but change how you make money (sell concerts, not CDs).
  • Keep making guitars, but make bespoke expensive ones, not the mass market ones that overseas competition has made obsolete.
  • Keep the punch press and the lathe, but make large scale art installations, not car parts.
  • Keep your wealthy travel clients, but sell them personal services instead of trips to Europe.
  • Keep the factory that makes missiles, but figure out how to make high-efficiency turbines instead.

In search of dolphin leather

There's a story in the bible with very specific instructions for building an ark. Included in the instructions is a call for using tanned dolphin leather. Regardless of your feelings about the historical accuracy of the story, it's an interesting question: why create an impossible mission like that? Why encourage people who might travel 100 miles over their entire lifetime to undertake a quest to find, capture, kill, skin and eventually tan a dolphin?

My friend Adam had an interesting take on this. He told me that the acquisition of the leather is irrelevant. It was the quest that mattered. Having a community-based quest means that there's less room for whining, for infighting and for dissolution. Having a mission not only points everyone in the same direction, it also creates motion. And motion in any direction is often better than no motion at all.

All around you, people are telling you two things:
1. whatever you want, forget it, it's impossible, and
2. sit still, preserve resources, lay low.

And yet, the people who are succeeding, creating change and (not coincidentally) are happier aren't listening to either of these pieces of advice. Instead, they're on the search for dolphin leather.

Frank Sinatra had it wrong. Your dream shouldn't be impossible, but it sure helps if it's improbable. Don't choose your dreams based on what is certain to happen, choose them based on what's likely to cause the change you want to occur around you.

The difference between PR and publicity

Most PR firms do publicity, not PR.

Publicity is the act of getting ink. Publicity is getting unpaid media to pay attention, write you up, point to you, run a picture, make a commotion. Sometimes publicity is helpful, and good publicity is always good for your ego.

But it's not PR.

PR is the strategic crafting of your story. It's the focused examination of your interactions and tactics and products and pricing that, when combined, determine what and how people talk about you.

Regis McKenna was great at PR. Yes, he got Steve Jobs and the Mac on the cover of more than 30 magazines in the year it launched. That was just publicity. The real insight was crafting the story of the Mac (and yes, the story of Steve Jobs).

If you send out a boring press release, your publicity effort will probably fail, but your PR already has.

A publicity firm will tell you stories of how they got a client ink. A PR firm will talk about storytelling and being remarkable and spreading the word. They might even suggest you don't bother getting ink or issuing press releases.

In my experience, a few people have a publicity problem, but almost everyone has a PR problem. You need to solve that one first. And you probably won't accomplish that if you hire a publicity firm and don't even give them the freedom and access they need to work with you on your story.

Slack

A lot of corporations have seen dramatic decreases in revenue and have cut back projects as well. In many cases, this is accompanied by layoffs, and so everyone is working far harder.

But in other organizations, and for a lot of freelancers, there's more time than work. In other words, slack time.

Assume for a moment you don't have money to develop and launch something new. So, what are you going to do with the slack?

What can you build over the next year that will take time now and pay off later? How can you invest the slack to build a marketing asset that you'll own forever?

May I offer two suggestions:

1. Learn something. Become an expert. For free, using nothing but time, you can become a master of CSS or HTML or learn Python. You can hit the library and read the entire works of important authors, or you can borrow some books from a friend and master Analytics or discover case studies and corporate histories that will be invaluable in a year. You could learn to become fluent in Spanish...

If you're a glass blower without a job, you can't do much glass blowing. But if you're a digital marketer between gigs, you can do a lot of digital marketing... build a tribe for your favorite non-profit and make it a case-study for an entire industry.

2. Earn a following and reputation. Use social networking tools to connect to people for no good reason. Post tons of useful answers on discussion boards where your expertise is valued. Build a permission asset in the form of an email newsletter or a fascinating blog that people want to read. Do resume makeovers for 100 friends. Start a neighborhood or industry book group. Don't go to conventions, earn the right to speak at them.

If you were as serious about these two endeavors as you are about doing your job (eight hours a day on a slow day), imagine how much more powerful and in demand you'll be a year from now.

Beats the alternative, by far.

Return on Design

Return on investment is easy to measure. You put money in, you measure money out, divide and prosper.

But return on design? (Design: graphics, system engineering, user interface etc.)

Design can take money and time and guts, and what do you get in return? It turns out that the sort of return you're getting (and hoping for) will drive the decisions you make about design.

I think there are four zones of return that are interesting to think about. I find it's more useful to look at them as distinct states as opposed to a graduated line, because it's easy to spend a lot of time and money on design but not move up in benefits the way you might expect. Crest might have a better package than Colgate (or the other way around, I can't remember), but it doesn't sell any more units...

Negative return. The local store with the boarded up window, the drooping sign and the peeling paint is watching their business suffer because they have a design that actually hurts them. Software products suffer from this ailment often. If the design actively gets in the way of the story you tell or the utility you deliver, you lose money and share.

No impact. Most design falls into this category. While aesthetically important, design in this case is just a matter of taste, not measurable revenue. You might not like the way the liquor store looks, or the label on that bottle of wine, but it's not having any effect on sales. It's good enough.

Positive return.
We're seeing a dramatic increase in this category. Everything from a bag of potato chips to an online web service can generate incremental sales and better utility as a result of smart design.

The whole thing.
There are a few products where smart design is the product (or at least the product's reason for being). If you're not in love with the design of a Porsche 911, you would never consider buying it--same as an OXO peeler.  The challenge of building your product around breakthrough design is that the design has to in fact be a breakthrough. And that means spending far more time or money than your competitors who are merely seeking a positive return.

Knowing where you stand and where you're headed is critical. If you have a negative return on design, go ahead and spend enough money to get neutral, asap. But don't spend so much that you're overinvesting just to get to neutral. Watching a local store build an expensive but not stellar custom building is the perfect example of this mismatch.

If you're betting the whole thing, building your service launch on design first, skimping on design is plain foolish.The Guggenheim in Bilbao would be empty if they'd merely hired a very good architect.

How far away is your emergency?

It's amazing that people have so much time to fret about today's emergency but almost no time at all to avoid tomorrow's.

A glimpse at the TV and internets shows one talking head after another angsting about today's economy. These are the same people who needed to devote entire hours to mindless trivia nine months ago when they could have done an enormous amount of education about avoiding this mess in the first place.

Six years ago, I gave a mildly controversial talk to the newspaper publishers at an annual convention. I explained in detail why they were just a few years from bankruptcy and how they could use the momentum and assets they had to build up a hyperlocal internet presence and permission asset now, because it would be too late when the emergency hit. Of course, my talk wasn't an emergency, they had other priorities, and so the dire prediction comes true.

When gas is $10 a gallon (and it certainly will be), we'll have plenty of time to obsess about what we can't change and what a mess our world is. So I wonder...Where are the groundbreaking reports about how this device or that organization are wasting so much energy today, when we can still do something about it? Why not shine a light on the holes we're digging today as opposed to the canyons we'll have to deal with years from now?

They say the best time to look for a job is when you don't need one. And the best time to invest in a new Purple Cow is when you're still milking the old one. Move your emergency back in time and you'll be amazed at how far your money goes.

Direct from consumer marketing

Drug companies have coined an acronym for the marketing they do that bypasses doctors: DTC. Direct to consumer. Those happy face ads you see in Readers Digest and other magazines, or the erectile dysfunction ads during the Super Bowl.

What they are totally unprepared for, and what your organization may be unprepared for is Direct from consumer.

If someone takes your medicine and gets sick, do you want to hear from them, or would you rather have them blog about it or make a video?

Most drug company marketers instantly say, "we want to hear from them!"

Really?

When your airline or hotel has a passenger or guest who is so angry he could spit, do you want to hear from him or do you want him to make a long Powerpoint that spreads around the whole web? Really?

And when your cable company or chiropractic clinic or consulting firm has a disappointed client, what about you? Really?

I think the actions of almost all marketers say, "we'd rather you were happy, but if you can't be happy, please go away."

If you really want me to call you, then put your toll free number in giant type on the label. (If you run a free service, Google style, I think it's okay to settle for an easy to use and responsive web presence). Answer the call on the first ring. No phone tree. And give me instant sympathy, maybe a little empathy too. Don't blame me or evade. Give me a refund. And say sorry and thank you.

"Oh," the powerful marketers say, "we could never do that." Two reasons, apparently. First, they say, because it would encourage people to pretend they were angry in order to take advantage. And second, they say, because it would be too expensive.

Compared to what?

Back when every consumer was alone, you could ignore the few angry ones and use the money you saved to run more ads. But now? Now in the DFC era, do you really have any choice?

Angry phone calls are your friend. They're your friend because the alternative is angry tweets and angry blog posts.

The two elements of a great presenter

1. Respect (from the audience)
2. Love (to the audience)

There are no doubt important evolutionary reasons why this is true, but in my experience, every great presenter earns the respect of the audience (through her appearance, reputation, posture, voice, slides, introduction, etc.) and captures the attention of the audience by sending them love.

Love takes many forms. I love you enough to teach you this. I love you enough to help you. I love you enough to look you in the eye. Or, in the case of rock and roll presentations, I love you enough to want to engage in various acts with you, right now, backstage.

Margaret Thatcher was a great presenter, even though she had none of the glib charisma people expect from someone with that title. That's because people (even those that disagreed with her) respected her before she started, and they understood at every moment that her motivation was to motivate and improve the lives of those she was presenting to.

In the famous interrogation scene in Basic Instinct (link not included so no one yells at me), Sharon Stone does a brilliant presentation. She instantly earns (a sort of) respect from the cops and their undivided attention at the same time. She replaces love with sex, and it works.

Tony Robbins is considered an astounding presenter for a similar reason. His stage presence and reputation and energy and sheer size earn him respect, and his generosity and complete connection with the audience is received by them as love. The result is a connection far bigger than the content alone would account for.

If you have love but no respect, you're a lounge singer. Fail.

If you have respect, but no love, you're like one of the rare self-promotional talks at TED. Fail.

Consider this clip from Patton. In 28 seconds, George C. Scott delivers both.

When you create a presentation, think about what your status will be as you begin the presentation. What can you do to prewire, to earn more respect from the start? How can you be introduced? Lit? Miked? What can you wear? If your reputation doesn't precede you, how do you earn it?

Don't apologize at the beginning of the talk. For anything. Don't hide in the dark. Don't hide behind a wall of bullet points.

And then, as the talk (pitch/presentation/interview) begins, don't focus your energy or concern on yourself. It's not about you. It's about them. The presenter who loves his audience the most, wins.

Three kinds of meetings

Meetings are marketing in real time with real people. (A conference is not a meeting. A conference is a chance for a circle of people to interact).

There are only three kinds of classic meetings:

  1. Information. This is a meeting where attendees are informed about what is happening (with or without their blessing). While there may be a facade of conversation, it's primarily designed to inform.
  2. Discussion. This is a meeting where the leader actually wants feedback or direction or connections. You can use this meeting to come up with an action plan, or develop a new idea, for example.
  3. Permission. This is a meeting where the other side is supposed to say yes but has the power to say no.

PLEASE don't confuse them. Confused meeting types are the number one source of meeting ennui. One source of confusion is that a meeting starts as one sort of meeting and then magically morphs into another kind. The reason this is frightening is that one side or the other might not realize that's actually occurring. If it does, stop and say, "Thanks for the discussion. Let me state what we've just agreed on and then we can go ahead and approve it, okay?"

While I'm at it, let me remind you that there are two kinds of questions.

  1. Questions designed to honestly elicit more information.
  2. Questions designed to demonstrate how much you know or your position on an issue and to put the answerer on the defensive.

There's room for both types of questions, particularly in a team preparing for a presentation or a pitch. Again, don't confuse them. I like to be sure that there's time for the first type, then, once everyone acknowledges that they know what's on the table, open it up for the second, more debate-oriented type of question.

How big is your world?

Is everything okay?

Well, do you mean in my house? My neighborhood? The home office of my company? The entire industry?

Thanks to airplanes, television and the internet, the scope of our experience continues to widen. Now, we're concerned about wildfires in Australia or failing banks in the UK. Now, we celebrate when conjoined twins are saved a few continents away, and join in the search for a missing adventurer in a place we've never been.

But, there's a difference between being aware of the emergency of the day and having firsthand experience and firsthand empathy for different people in different places.

My friend Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, is at the forefront of making the world smaller. She has the unique ability to combine the financial and the spiritual in a way that does justice to both.

Her new book, The Blue Sweater, publishes in the United States this week. It's the work of a passionate amateur, an honest memoir of someone who has lived a life most of us can only dream of. When you read of Jacqueline's experiences as a naive banker newly arrived in Africa, or her extraordinary efforts to connect people of similar spirit but different cultures, you can't help but become emotionally involved in the positive energy that's spreading everywhere.

It may seem like this book has little to do with what I write about all day, or what you focus on in your work, but nothing could be further from the truth. No matter what you do, the smaller world is coming to your doorstep. No matter how you spend your day, the living, breathing, interacting big world is going to touch your private one.

An anonymous donor has put up $75,000 in a matching grant--if you buy the book this week, $15 will be donated to Acumen (for each of the first 5,000 copies sold). I hope you'll take advantage and order a copy today. Thanks.

UPDATE: The book is officially a New York Times bestseller. Thank you. It means a lot that you helped spread the word.

Looking for yes

I hate going to the post office in the town next to mine. Every time I go, they look for a reason not to ship my package. "Too much tape!" "Not enough tape!" "There's a logo!"

On the other hand, I really enjoy the few times I have something weird to ship fast... and I bring it to Fedex. The guy at the desk has a totally different approach. He's not looking for a reason to say no, he's looking for an opportunity to say yes. "Here's some tape, we'll just add it right here..."

The obvious reason is that the person at this post office has no incentive to make a sale. Okay, fine. But why doesn't she? Why is it okay to have employees in any organization who look for a no? It turns out that the post office in my little town has a few yes men, people who look for a reason to ship my package even though they work for a big government bureaucracy.

The same thing happens with the tech crew before I give a speech. About 75% of the time, the lead tech guy (it always seems to be a guy) explains why it's impossible. Impossible to use a Mac, impossible to use the kind of microphone I like, impossible to use my own clicker, etc. And then, the rest of the time, using the same technology, the producer asks, "how can I help make this work for us?" and everything is about yes, not no.

I don't think it should matter whether or not you're trying to make a profit. If you're out to provide a service, or organized to deliver a product, then look for a yes. At every interaction.

Beware of trade guilds maintaining the status quo

I am not a member of the Author's Guild.

Please don't blame me for their ludicrous positions. They have spoken out against public libraries, against used book stores online and now, against the Kindle reading books aloud.

I used to have a record label, but I never joined the RIAA. You know, the guys that under Hilary Rosen made the multi-billion dollar mistake of trying to maintain the status quo by suing their users as a way of stopping file sharing. It's hard to overestimate how damaging relying on this single action was to an entire industry.

I've eaten in restaurants, but I don't support the New York State Restaurant Association, which has spoken out against banning smoking in restaurants (it will wipe us out!) and now are giving the New York City health department a hard time for wanting to post easy-to-understand ratings of restaurant cleanliness.

I drive a car, but I deplore the lobbying the car companies did to fight fuel efficiency rules--the very rules that would have transformed their industry and raised their profits.

Whenever a trade association raises the barricades and tries to lobby their way into maintaining the status quo, they are doing their members a disservice. Instead of spending time and insight and effort reinventing what they do and organizing for a better future, the members are lulled into a sense of security that somehow, somehow, the future will be just like today.

The key takeaway isn't that the lobbying doesn't work (though it usually doesn't). The problem is that the lobbying takes your attention away from the changes you can actually control and implement. Simple example: why doesn't the NYSRA have a staff of unofficial inspectors who help their members get an A when the real inspector comes around? Why didn't the RIAA help the record industry figure out how to transform into an industry that would embrace and leverage file sharing?

You don't have to like change to take advantage of it.

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