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

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« March 2009 | Main | May 2009 »

A million blind squirrels

My dad likes to say, "even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then." And it's true. You shouldn't pick your strategy by modeling someone else's success. The success might have been strategic and planned, but it's just as likely to be a matter of blind luck. Someone had to get that big deal, and this time it was him.

The numbing reality of the net is that now we can see all the blind squirrels, all the time. A recent piece in the Times talked about bloggers getting six figure book deals in just a few weeks after posting community-driven goofy websites. It's easy to read this and say, "I should do that! I could do that!"

What's missing from the article is that for every 10,000 goofy websites that get launched, one turns into a six-figure book deal and the other 9,999 fade away. If you want to build a goofy website, go for it. Just don't expect to be the lucky squirrel.

Infinity--they keep making more of it

If you had a little business in a little town, there was a natural limit to your growth. You hit a limit on strangers (no people left to pitch), some became friends, some became customers and you then went delivered as much as you could to this core audience. Every day wasn't spent trying to get bigger.

There's no limit now. No limit to how many clicks, readers, followers and friends you can acquire.

I don't think this new mindset is better. It shortchanges the customers you have now (screw them, if they can't take a joke, we'll just replace them!) and worse, it means you're never done. Instead of getting better, you focus obsessively on getting bigger.

You're at a conference, talking to someone who matters to you. Over their shoulder, you see a new, bigger, better networking possibility. So you scamper away. It's about getting bigger.

Compared to what? You're never going to be the biggest, so it seems like being better is a reasonable alternative.

The problem with getting bigger is that getting bigger costs you. Not just in time and money, but in focus and standards and principles. Moving your way to the biggest part of the curve means appealing to an ever broader audience, becoming (by definition) more average.

More, more, more is rarely the mantra of a successful person.

There are certainly some businesses and some projects that don't work unless they're huge, but in your case, I'm not sure that's true. Big enough is big enough, biggest isn't necessary.

Might as well panic

If you don't know what to do, and you're frightened, might as well panic.

That seems to be the first rule of being a member of the human race. Apparently, panicking is an acceptable substitute for forethought, contingency planning or actually taking productive action. We almost want to blame the thing we're anxious about on the person who isn't panicking. "Don't you care! Can't you see that we're all gonna die! That we're going to go bankrupt? That the world as we know it is going to end?"

More people are killed by deer than sharks, but you don't see park rangers running around like nutcases.

There's huge pressure on our leaders and co-workers and institutions to panic. If for no other reason, we say, they should panic as a sign that they care, that they are taking things seriously.

A while ago, I said that the devil doesn't need an advocate.

Let me add to this: we have enough caution. We don't need an abundance of caution. That's too much.

The collectible totem

I've been a huge fan of Hugh MacLeod since he first showed up on the web a few years ago. Hugh is a provocateur, a brilliant marketer and a nice guy. He's also a great cartoonist.

Hugh's images, combined with his insightful promiscuous licensing policy (want to use this cartoon? Sure!) propelled his blog to the top of the charts and led to a book deal.

His newest project, though, is the point of this post.

Hugh is making fine art prints of his cartoons, in very limited editions. It's basically a collectible (like Andy Warhol silkscreens or Swatch watches) but for businesses. But it's more than that, because you can hang it on the wall. By putting something up for all to see, you start conversations or remind people of the mission.

So far, it's working. I'm told that every other poster in the series has sold out its pre-sale allocation, and my guess is that while resales will be rare, they'll go up in value.

PC133 Totem poles have been around for a long time, because they work. We need a place to tell our stories, and a reminder of what to talk about. I think it's really cool to start a conversation with something that hangs on the wall. Years ago, I visited the offices of DC Comics and noticed some plaster on the wall of the conference room. That's when I noticed a hand (Superman's hand) punching through the dry wall. It changed the conversations that got held in that room. Most products (or even services) could turn into totem poles if you worked at it. I'm sort of amazed at how little this idea has been leveraged.

Hugh's latest print made me blush. He asked me for permission to do the cover of Purple Cow, a book he found inspirational. I agreed to let him take a shot, and here it is. The book exists for people to talk about it, so this is perfect. I told Hugh that my readers needed hear about it first, but Hugh's posting his take on it in a few minutes.

Every penny of my share of the project goes to roomtoread.org. My hope is that this project alone will pay for most of a school in a small village that really needs one. If you're looking for a big purple totem pole, here you go. It's up to you whether to hang it in the portrait or landscape view. Thanks Hugh!

PS I'm signing each print, and so is Hugh.

Making commercials for the web

TV advertisers are finally discovering that YouTube + viral imagination = free media.

The good news for you is that money is not a barrier, which means that marketers of any size can play. But the rules are different, as they always are online.

Because media is free but attention is not
(this is flipped from TV world) you need to make a different sort of ad for a different sort of audience.

1. Assume that the viewer has the attention span of an espresso-crazed fruitfly. That means slapstick, quick cuts and velocity.

2. Find a word or phrase that you can own in Google, that fits in an email, and that comes up in discussion at the cafeteria table or in the playground.

Castrol gets both rules right in this inane commercial.

3. Length doesn't matter. 10 seconds is fine and so is five minutes. Media is free, remember?

4. Challenge the status quo, be provocative, touch a social nerve or create some other sort of interesting conversation. In other words, a commercial worth watching.

Dove does both in this now-famous commercial.

Because of the power of free media, I expect to see a whole host of commercials that would never be deemed effective enough to spend big media money on, but that generate huge views online. Look for plenty of irrelevant slogans and catch phrases and off strategy content... anything for an eyeball.

Also, understand that this is out of your control. Once launched, what happens, happens. One commercial I know of caught fire and ended up with millions of views. The client then called the producer, screaming in anger. He wanted to be able to turn it off, to decide how it got used, who talked about it, etc. You can't. Once it spreads, it belongs to the community, not to you.

The biggest shift is going to be that organizations that could never have afforded a national campaign will suddenly have one. The same way that there's very little correlation between popular websites and big companies, we'll see that the most popular commercials get done by little shops that have nothing to lose.

I need more time

First rule of decision making: More time does not create better decisions.

In fact, it usually decreases the quality of the decision.

More information may help. More time without more information just creates anxiety, not insight.

Deciding now frees up your most valuable asset, time, so you can go work on something else. What happens if, starting today, you make every decision as soon as you have a reasonable amount of data?

Thinking big

Michael Port's latest manifesto ships tomorrow.

If you need a push to think bigger today and tomorrow, here it is.

You're nuts if you believe me

I'm the first person to admit that compared to you, I have no idea what I'm talking about. You're there, doing what you do, and doing it with skill.

Let me be really clear: My job is not to tell you what to do. I don't know what to do. You do.

Not just me, of course. Everybody with a blog or a book or an interest in your success. Don't do what they say. Listen to their questions instead.

My job is provoke you into asking hard questions. Ask those questions to your boss and your co-workers and yourself. It's easy to show that self-aware decisions and thoughtful strategies outperform blind stumbling.

I don't have a lot of patience for this list of seven rules or that manual of how it's supposed to be or the step-by-step road map you can purchase today only. I think you'll do a lot better if you get optimistic about the future and cynical about pat answers at the same time instead.

Pick anything--the calculus of change

Remember WordPerfect? This word processor dominated the world until Word wiped them out. How did that happen?

WordPerfect was the default word processor in every law firm, big company and organization in the land. If you had the DOS operating system, it was likely you were using WordPerfect. And, if the operating system in the office hadn't changed to Windows, it's likely you'd still be using it now.

What happened was that the change in operating system created a moment when people had to pick. They had to either switch to Word or wait for a new version of WordPerfect. In that moment, "do nothing" was not an option.

Do nothing is the choice of people who are afraid. Do nothing is what you do if too many people have to agree. Do nothing is what happens if one person with no upside has to accept downside responsibility for a change. What's in it for them to do anything? So they do nothing.

The key moment for an insurgent, then, is the time of "pick anything." That's why these are such good times for iPhone apps. That's why the beginning of an administration is a good time to lobby. When people have to pick, they have to confront some of the fear and organizational barriers that lead to the status quo.

It seems to me, then, that the best time for a marketer to grow is when clients have to pick something. Seeking these moments out is inexpensive and productive.

What you say, what you do and who you are

We no longer care what you say.

We care a great deal about what you do.

If you charge for hand raking but use a leaf blower when the client isn't home
If you sneak into an exercise class because you were on the wait list and it isn't fair cause you never get a bike
If you snicker behind the boss's back
If you don't pay attention in meetings
If you argue with a customer instead of delighting them
If you copy work and pass it off as your own
If you shade the truth a little
If you lobby to preserve the unsustainable status quo
If you network to get, not to give
If you do as little as you can get away with

...then we already know who you are.

Whether or which

Most marketers are busy trying to persuade people to buy their product. Confusion sets in, though, when you compare a pitch designed to get someone to buy any product in the category (you need an mp3 player because you can listen to music) vs. buying your product instead of the competition (ours is cheaper and bigger and better).

Are you trying to make the market bigger, or just grow your share?

When competing against a market dominator, your marketing generates more bang for the buck when you try to steal people who have already been persuaded to enter the category by the other guy. This is the Newton running shoe story. Nike sells fitness, running, camaraderie, effort, glory. Newton sells "buy us instead of Nike."

It doesn't pay for an insurgent energy drink to sell "thirst" because much of that marketing will just get people to go buy the brands they've always bought. The opportunity instead is to provide leverage at the last possible moment in the buying cycle.

Getting new people to enter your market is hugely expensive. There's no way I can persuade a non-book buyer to start buying books--I don't have enough time or enough money.

This thinking rarely grows the market, though, so it falls on the market leader to figure out how to market well enough to get people into the category itself. The critical issue is to decide which one you're doing. Are you working on whether or not someone should buy, or on which one they should buy once they realize a need? Do your employees have the same answer?

This is broken

I did this talk about three years ago. [Higher quality version]. I have to admit that very little in the way of progress has occurred as a result.

Business rules of thumb

My very first book is no longer in print. It was called "Business Rules of Thumb" and it came out in 1984 (not a typo). My thesis was that if you understood the hidden rules people used in business, you could do a better job of understanding your peers and working with them.

My hero Alan Webber has just written a far better, for more useful and far more original take on this topic.

It goes on sale today.

Sixty to zero

Ever notice that most car specs focus on acceleration, not braking? It's more fun to focus on getting fast than it is on getting slow.

How would you manage or market differently if you knew that you had to hit the brakes, and hard? Slowing one thing and speeding up something else.

Prediction: there will be no significant newspapers printed on newsprint in the US by 2012. So, you've got two and a half years before the newspaper industry is going to be doing something else with the news and the ads, or not be there at all. Does that change what you do today if you work in this business?

Insight! The newspaper industry is in trouble, but news is not going to go away, just the paper part. Those who are working hard to preserve the paper part are asking the wrong questions and are doomed to fail.

Prediction: 90% of your sales will come from word of mouth or digital promotion by 2011. How do you change what you're doing today to be ready for that?

Prediction: The effort required to outsource a task involving the manipulation of data of any kind will continue to decrease until it will be faster and cheaper to outsource just about anything than it will be to use in-house talent. What will you do today to ensure your prosperity when that happens?

Question: how come the Stanford Publishing Course special week on digital media isn't sold out yet? It seems to me that if you know the old world is about to end, you'd run like crazy to master the new one.

Going fast, doing your best and then slamming into a cliff works best for Wile E. Coyote, not humans.

How to opt out of cookie sniffing and trading

As discussed before, there are networks of companies planting cookies on your machine and tracking behavior across websites. That means you'll see an ad on one site based on what you did on another.

You can opt out for free. Here's the not very well promoted link.

You'll see a list of which members of the NAI are already placing a cookie on your machine and you can get rid or some or all of them.

To be really clear: I don't mind the cookie sniffing. I don't mind getting better ads. I don't mind the sites making money.

I mind the sneaking around part.

Snarky vs. earnest

In the ongoing battle between dismissive irony and well-intentioned trustworthiness, the early rounds always seem to go to those that sell snark.

Snark is clever and funny and easy to spread. Snark protects us from confronting the truth of the situation, and snark is incredibly easy to do. Snark is fun, but it doesn't look good on you.

In the long run, though, it's those with right intention, a long term view and consistent persistence that manage to win.

Good thing, too.

Blogs, books and the irony of short

Blogs have eliminated the reason for most business books to exist. If you can say it in three blog posts and reach more people, then waiting a year and putting in all that effort seems sort of pointless. The chances that your effort will be rewarded with income in proportion to the time you put in are pretty low.

This has raised the bar for what it takes to write a decent business book. I really enjoyed The Peter Principle years ago, but I think we can all agree that today it would be better as a blog.

The best non-fiction books today either deliver a complex message that takes more space and attention than a short series of blog posts can deliver, or they are convenient packages to spread an idea from person to person in a more powerful way than an emailed link can. Books can take their time and build an argument, while blog posts are constantly fighting the reader's ability and desire to click away.

The irony? The market demands that you summarize your book in a blog post.

We're hesitant to buy a book (which is a far better value than just about any form of media) if we don't think we're going to like it. I guess that's built in from childhood, cause you get in trouble if you don't finish a book, and who wants to finish a book they don't like?

At least once a week, someone emails me a lousy review someone did of a summary of one of my books. Not the book, but what they thought the book was about based on a blog post summary of the book.

Critics and shoppers are doing the same thing about your spa, mp3 player and insurance company. We now review the blog post version of it, not the actual experience. "I heard the service at this restaurant was lousy." How's that for condensing four years of hard work and training into a sentence?

And then we complain when the long version doesn't pack enough punch, seems too short and isn't transcendent enough for those that persevere.

This is irony (we say we want long and deep and rich but we also insist that it be condensed to a sentence) so it's not clear what you should do about it as a marketer, other than to accept that it's going on.

Making a living online

Chris just published this free manifesto. This PDF is what generous looks like.

Things to remember on a job interview

It's all here on hidden camera.

What do you call things you disagree with?

In the 1950s, Congressman George A. Dondero denounced modern art as a communist plot.

Every day, you market ideas that some people are annoyed with or more likely, afraid of. And in the face of fear, we lose eloquence and start calling things names, usually names that don't make a lot of sense.

Nothing is a communist plot any more, but there's never a shortage of bogeymen available to the people in the community that you're frightening.

The hierarchy of presentations

A presentation is a precious opportunity. It's a powerful arrangement... one speaker, an attentive audience, all in their seats, all paying attention (at least at first). Don't waste it.

The purpose of a presentation is to change minds. That's the only reason I can think of to spend the time and resources. If your goal isn't to change minds, perhaps you should consider a different approach.

  1. The best presentation is no presentation at all. If you can get by with a memo, send a memo. I can read it faster than you can present it and we'll both enjoy it more.
  2. The second best presentation is one on one. No slides, no microphone. You look me in the eye and change my mind.
  3. Third best? Live and fully interactive.
  4. Powerpoint or Keynote, but with no bullets, just emotional pictures and stories.
  5. And last best... well, if you really think you can change my mind by using tons of bullets and a droning presentation, I'm skeptical.

A presentation isn't an obligation, it's a privilege.

Imminent

The one thing that will allow your business to get funded, or to get a business to business buyer to buy from you or a college to admit you is the sense that your success is imminent.

If it's a foregone conclusion that you're going to break out, that all systems are go, then only an idiot wouldn't jump on board.

So, the real question is: what signals indicate that your success is imminent?

The brilliant venture capitalists are the guys who invest their money months or years before everyone else realizes how imminent the success is. They have better radar than the rest of us. Your job as a marketer or entrepreneur is to amplify the signals that buyers and investors look for. Spend your money on the right stuff, ignore the rest. If you try to market and spend on every element of your story, you'll be merely average. If, on the other hand, you can focus on which signals represent an imminent success, the leverage kicks in.

Simple old-school example: In 1984, I drove across the country from California to Boston to take a summer job at Spinnaker Software. As I drove through Chicago I passed a billboard for the company. Incredible! This little startup already had billboards across the entire country.

A few months later I found out that they had exactly one billboard, located between the airport and the convention center, put up just in time for the Consumer Electronics Show. For the buyers flying in from Minnesota or Texas, this was was one more clue that the company was about to hit it big.

How to make money with SEO

There are two ways to use SEO to help your organization. One is reliable and effective, the other is a glorious crap shoot that usually fails but is wonderful when it works. I'll start with the second.

The most common way to use search engine optimization is to find a keyword (like "plumbing") and do whatever you can to 'own' that word on Google. This is Google as the Yellow Pages (with free ads).

The Yellow Pages are terrific for plumbers, because if you need a plumber, that's where you're going to look. Buy the biggest ad, be the first listing, you get calls. Google is a revelation because it's a super Yellow Pages and it's free! The problem: how to be the first listing, because being the 40th listing is fairly worthless.

The answer: You probably won't be. There are 14 million matches for Plumber, and no, you won't be #1 or #2. You lost. In fact, in just about every keyword worth owning, your chances are winning are small.

(To the .00001% of the people reading this who win--congratulations. You can ignore this post.)

This method is so appealing because it's all about converting the non-converted. For free, you show up in front of people who didn't know about you and you get your shot to convert them. This is the marketer's dream.

Am I saying it's not worth trying to win? Of course not. If you can give it a shot for the right set of keywords and not spend too much or count too much on winning, then go for it. But the other method is a lot more compelling (and, yes, you can do both at the same time).

The other way to use SEO is a bit more organic. (Let's call it the White Pages approach). It involves owning a keyword that you already own. Do a search on ShoeMoney in Google and you'll find 340,000 matches. Wanna guess who's first? ShoeMoney. Why is this surprising? After all, he invented the word and he owns the domain.

Someone hears about Jeremy's site from a friend or from a blog or from some other source. They want to visit his site and they type it into Google. He told me that he gets five times as much traffic from this search term as any other on Google.

The power of this technique is that with determination and patience, you will certainly win. It requires inventing a trademark and then building a business or service or organization around this trademark that people actually talk about. You want to be able to say to someone, "just type ____ into Google."

Obviously, the only people who will do this have heard about you in some other way. So this is an amplification and word of mouth strategy, not a blue sky conversion play.

Here's the math:
If you are lucky enough to 'win' at traditional Yellow Pages SEO, you might convert a few percentage points of the traffic you get into customers. On the other hand, if you win at White Pages SEO, if you win because people talk about your unique take and use your name, you convert just about everyone. Think about that... if someone types Seth into Google, they're probably looking for me, and so when they arrive here, they stay, because they found me. If, on the other hand, they type in Cow, most of the people who end up here aren't looking for my book, so they leave.

David Meerman Scott owns the word 'Meerman'. I have no idea if he uses his middle name in real life, but it sure helps him online. Scott Ginsberg owns the term 'nametag scott'. You get the idea. It's like owning the perfect domain, via Google.

When you start to win at the White Pages strategy, it turns out that this helps you win at both. Your blog or site gets more organic traffic, which will organically raise your Google results for other words and phrases.

Step by step:

1. Make an incredible product, offer a remarkable service.

2. Associate a unique term or trademark with it. (Something that isn't generic, and preferably, not a crowded search term already).

3. Assuming that you do #1 and #2, you'll end up owning that word in the search engines. If you don't, revisit the first two steps.

The hard part, of course, is making something people choose to talk about. The good news is that this is under your control, which is better than the alternative.

So exclusive, even you can have one

Exclusivevisa Here's an ad for the super-exclusive new Visa black card. "It's not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it's the ultimate buying tool."

Amazingly, it's limited to just 3,000,000 people and advertised with full page ads.

When mass marketers try to market exclusivity, the paradox always catches up with them. And we're on to this.

This is a huge opportunity for smaller players and insurgents, because you actually can offer exclusivity, and not just to three million people.

It's harder to hire great people in a tough economy

The reason is pretty simple: it's noisy.

Lots of organizations have used the downturn as an excuse to trim people who weren't producing. So, if you need cheap bodies, this is your moment.

But if you need amazing people, be prepared to work hard to find them.


Opening acts and rock stars

The opening act has the toughest gig in town. The audience isn't here to listen to you. They're restless. Perhaps you'll get a few seconds to earn their attention, but not much. Your gimmicks will fall flat and you might even get booed off stage.

The rock star, on the other hand, has the crowd chanting for him before he shows up. He starts a song and people applaud. They sing along. They finish his lyrics for him.

Most marketers are opening acts. The ad or blog post or tweet is a desperate attempt at attention, at keeping people from switching it off or booing. The posture of the marketer who is an opening act is unstable and a little sad.

Some marketers are rock stars.

How'd that happen?

I'd argue that the two keys to becoming a rock star marketer are:
1. settle for a tiny audience that views you as a star, not an opening act. Then grow that audience.
and
2. Be really good.

I just went to see Keller Williams in concert. Without a doubt, he's a genius and a rock star. If he tried to pull this stuff as an opening act for someone else, he'd be booed off the stage. But he doesn't. Because he's a rock star. If he was selling something, I'd buy it.

Intentionally building communities (More hallway!)

If you think about the tribes you belong to, most of them are side effects of experiences you had doing something slightly unrelated. We have friends from that summer we worked together on the fishing boat, or a network of people from college or sunday school. There's also that circle of people we connected with on a killer project at work a few years go.

These tribes of people are arguably a more valuable creation than the fish that were caught or the physics that were learned, right?

And yet, most of the time we don't see the obvious opportunity--if you intentionally create the connections, you'll get more of them, and better ones too. If the hallway conversations at a convention are worth more than the sessions, why not have more and better hallways?

What would happen if trade shows devoted half a day to 'projects'? Put multi-disciplinary teams of ten people together and give them three hours to create something of value. The esprit de corps created by a bunch of strangers under time pressure in a public competition would last for decades. The community is worth more than the project.

The challenge is to look at the rituals and events in your organization (freshman orientation or weekly status meetings or online forums) and figure out how amplify the real reason they exist even if it means abandoning some of the time-honored tasks you've embraced. Going around in a circle saying everyone's name doesn't build a tribe. But neither does sitting through a boring powerpoint. Working side by side doing something that matters under adverse conditions... that's what we need.

The first question every web site designer must ask

If a client comes to you for a web site, the first thing you need to know is:

"Do you want the people visiting this site to notice it?"

It's a subtle but essential question.

For artists, musicians and web 2.0 companies, the answer is probably yes. Yes we want people to see the interface or remark on our skills or cleverness.

For everyone else, it's no. The purpose of the site is to tell a story or to generate some sort of action. And if the user notices the site, not the story, you've lost.

Amazingly, this means that not only can't the site be too cutting edge, clever or slick, it also can't be too horrible, garish or amateurish. It's sort of like the clothes you want the person giving a eulogy to wear. No Armani, no cutoff jeans.

Reinventing the conference call

Sasha had an interesting post on his blog about how horrible the typical conference call is. I hate them. He had some good tips, but it's still horrible.

So, here's my idea:

Conference calls should be accompanied by an online chat room. (Here's my favorite, it's easy and free for a month). Or try calliflower.

When you put text chat in parallel with a voice conference call, magical things happen.

The first is that everyone participates. If you don't, it's noticeable and you won't be invited back.

Second, the voice part of the call acts as a narrative for the chat part, allowing people to highlight or respond to what's being said.

Most of all, it creates organized, trackable chaos, which was the reason for the meeting in the first place.

Litmus test: is your organization so gutless it won't even try this technique?

On becoming proactive

Tom points us to a provocative idea for home builders. If you want to sell a new house, why not offer prospective buyers help in selling their old houses? Send your idle crews to their house to paint it or do other important cosmetic fixes. Fill the old house with the furniture you use in your models, etc.

Take it a step further. If your home building service is totally slack, why not get to work upgrading and selling older homes or even foreclosed ones?

Consider what a solo entrepreneur could do using eBay: instead of waiting for people to hold garage sales, why not distribute flyers offering to run a virtual garage sale for anyone who will open their home to you? Go in with a digital camera, catalog and photograph the top 20 most valuable items in the house and sell them on eBay... and split the money. Your proactive effort overcomes the seller's inertia and you both profit.

There are huge opportunities for this in the business to business space as well. Most companies would welcome a post-tax-day accountant who offered (on spec) to review bills or expenses in exchange for half the money saved. If they had time, they'd do it themselves, but of course they don't.

In my experience, much of marketing is a game of waiting for the other guy to go first. Well, if nothing is happening, you go first.

What does better mean?

Are zippers better?

For years, I always wore jeans with a zipper. After all, zippers are better. They're faster and easier and they do what they're told. What an amazing invention! How did we survive without zippers?

Last year, just for kicks, I bought a pair of jeans with a button fly. Middle age crisis, I guess.

Now, that's all I wear. Buttons are better.

How can buttons be better? They're archaic. They take a long time. They're difficult.

Except that I like the way they look. And since I like them better, they are better.

This is a hard lesson for marketers, particularly technical marketers, to learn. You don't get to decide what's better. I do.

If you look at the decisions you've made about features, benefits, pricing, timing, hiring, etc., how many of them are obviously 'better' from your point of view, and how many people might disagree? There are very few markets where majority rule is the best way to grow.

The power of a tiny picture (how to improve your social network brand)

If it's important enough for you to spend your time finding and connecting with new people online, it's important enough to get the first impression right.

If you use any online social network tool, the single most important first impression you make is with the 3600 to 5000 pixels you get for your tiny picture.

In the social group I run, part of my job is to pick the featured members. As a result, I spend a lot of time looking at little pictures. Here's one person's take on the things you can do to avoid wrecking that first impression:

  1. Have a professional or a dedicated amateur take your picture.
  2. Use a white background, or at least a neutral one. No trees! No snowstorms!
  3. The idea of having your significant other in the picture is a good one, at least in terms of maintaining peace in the presence of a jealous or nervous spouse. But the thing is, I'm not friending your girlfriend, I'm friending you. I'd vote for the picture to be solo.
  4. If you are wearing a hat, you better have both a good reason and a good hat.
  5. I totally understand that you are shy, modest and self-effacing. But sabotaging your photo is not a good way to communicate that. We just assume you're a dork.
  6. Conceptual photos (your foot, a monkey wearing glasses) may give us insight into the real you, but perhaps you could save that insight for the second impression.
  7. How beautiful you are is a distant second to how happy you are. In my experience, photos that communicate openness and enthusiasm are far more appealing than photos that make you look like a supermodel.
  8. Cropping is so important. I should have put this one first. A well cropped photo sends a huge, subliminal message to other people. If you don't know how to do this, browse through the work of professionals and see how they do it. It matters.
  9. Some people have started adding words or signs to their images. If your goal is to communicate that you are the website or you are the company, then this is very smart. If not, then remember the cocktail party rule: if you wouldn't wear it there, don't wear it here.
  10. If, after reading this list, you don't like your picture, go change it. No reason not to.

Sugar-coated corporate speak

There's a new class of internet companies that collect cookie data across websites and sell compiled personal data to advertisers. This means, for example, that Mazda can run banner ads on site X only to people who were looking at new cars on site Y.

In order for this to work, of course, the companies need to get site Y to secretly sell them huge bundles of personal surfing data. You can think that this is okay or not okay, that's not the point of my post.

Check out some of the language BlueKai uses on the page of their site addressed to consumers [I notice that the company has since changed the wording, which is certainly a good thing. Here's the original text]:

It's all about choice, reward, and privacy...

In return, you, the consumer, are rewarded with the 3C's: control, charity, and content...

Charity—It gets better! When marketers pay to access anonymous data from BlueKai, you will be rewarded with a credit to donate to the charity of your choice...

BlueKai's mission is to build the world's most comprehensive registry of online preferences that is dedicated to ensuring your anonymity and privacy.

Give me a break. Is this really BlueKai's mission? I doubt it. When marketers talk to consumers like this, it's no wonder consumers hate us and distrust us. Wouldn't it be refreshing if we just told consumers the truth? They could (but don't) say:

BlueKai makes money by help advertisers show you ads relevant to your behavior and interests. We harvest the information we need by paying sites for your cookie information... this money makes it more likely that the sites you visit have enough income to survive, without having to resort to even more intrusive ads. It also keeps companies from showing you totally irrelevant ads. Most people we talk to think this is a great deal all around.

If you don't want the ads you see online to be relevant, if you don't want us to keep your cookie information on file, all you have to do is click here and we'll banish you from our database. No, you shouldn't have to opt out of us using your personal data to make money, but hey, that's life.


The direct marketing industry has a long, troubled history of sneaking around, assuming permission they don't have and making it difficult for people to opt out. This has been shown again and again to be foolish and short-sighted.

It is not just an issue for direct marketers, of course. It turns out that being direct and honest is a scalable communications strategy.

Poisoning the well

Judith comments on her frustration in joining a new website, "Sorry I do not provide passwords or birthdate.  I would have like to have joined otherwise." Obviously, there's a trust problem here.

Frank won't read the instructions that come in an email from a trusted company, because there's always so much noise and clutter and legal garbage in the text that it doesn't pay to read it anyway.

Tim is in a bad mood the moment he arrives at the airport, because every other time he's been there, a marketer tries to rip him off, a security guard treats him like a criminal or an airline doesn't keep its promises.

Sarah won't give money to charity because the last two times she discovered that it was a false front for a high-overhead scam operation.

Emily got the three thousandth automated call giving her a second notice that her factory warranty had just expired... and she doesn't have a car.

Marketers have spammed, lied, deceived, cluttered and ripped us off for so long, we're sick of it.

Which means that even if you have a really good reason, no, you can't call me on the phone. Which means that even if it's really important, no, I'm not going to read the instructions. Which means that god forbid you try to email me something I didn't ask for... you're trashed. It's so fashionable to be skeptical now that no one believes you if you attempt to do something for the right reasons.

Selfish short-sighted marketers ruined it for all of us. The only way out, I think, is for a few marketers to so overwhelm the market with long-term, generous marketing that we have no choice but to start paying attention again.

First, ten

This, in two words, is the secret of the new marketing.

Find ten people. Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you...

Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they'll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat.

If they don't love it, you need a new product. Start over.

Your idea spreads. Your business grows. Not as fast as you want, but faster than you could ever imagine.

This approach changes the posture and timing of everything you do.

You can no longer market to the anonymous masses. They're not anonymous and they're not masses. You can only market to people who are willing participants. Like this group of ten.

The timing means that the idea of a 'launch' and press releases and the big unveiling is nuts. Instead, plan on the gradual build that turns into a tidal wave. Organize for it and spend money appropriately. The fact is, the curve of money spent (big hump, then it tails off) is precisely backwards to what you actually need.

Three years from now, this advice will be so common as to be boring. Today, it's almost certainly the opposite of what you're doing.

Exceeding expectations (or don't bother)

Today, as you've no doubt discovered, is April Fools, the official holiday of the web.

I had, as I do every year, a fools post written and queued up. (It was about JD Salinger and the Dalai Lama as twitter users.) It was good, not great.

So I posted nothing.

I couldn't exceed my (or your) expectations, so I posted nothing.

That's a brave thing to do and a good feeling as well. Next time all you have is 'good', try nothing on for size.

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