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

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An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.



All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

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




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

There isn't one bestseller list

Corey showed me the list of the most popular Wikipedia articles.

It's insane. It makes no sense. It has rock stars, dead dictators and body parts on it.

Huh? If you look at the top music of December, 1971, they're all songs you probably like. Pop music appeals to the masses, and the bestseller list was a fairly accurate indicator of what we were humming. All of us.

The way to understand lists that aren't vintage pop music is this: it isn't one list. It's four or five, mushed together. You have the list of rock acts, overlaid with the list of comic book heroes, etc. There isn't one person (at least I hope not) who's interested in all of these articles.

Seen like that, you can understand it. Sure, Batman gets seen more than the Green Lantern. Sure, Michael Jackson got seen more than ? and the Mysterians. And when you combine the lists, you get a mash.

Brands fall into the trap of combining market desires all the time. They forget that perhaps, just perhaps, the people buying diapers are different from the people buying hats, and putting diapers and hats into one combo pack isn't necessarily smart, even if both are bestsellers in their own right.

Seminar for good causes

I haven't done a live public seminar in a while, and I hope to announce two before the end of the year. Stay tuned.

I also haven't done my favorite kind, though, which is a seminar for organizations that are good causes. If you work for (or run) a 501 3(c) organization, I hope you'll consider applying to come to a free session I'm going to run in New York on October 22nd.

If I can help you think through issues related to the new marketing, fundraising, earning permission and building ideas that spread, it will be an afternoon well spent for both of us. I don't do any consulting, so this is as close as I can come to working directly with your organization and helping you leverage the good work you're already doing.

There are limited seats, so please be sure to fill out the entire application. Deadline to apply is Monday, October 5. We'll send out invitations the next day.

PS an inspiring new book came out today. Worth a look.

If Craigslist cost $1

Some things are better when they're not free.

If Craigslist charged a dollar for every listing, what would happen?

Well, the number of bogus listings and repetitive listings would plummet, making the site far easier to use.

The number of scam artists using the site would go down, because it's more difficult to be anonymous when money changes hands.

The revenue of the site would soar, which means that the people running the site could get (far) richer, or fund digital journalism or change the economy of an emerging nation.

Money creates a sort of friction. In the digital economy, magical things can happen when there is no friction. You can scale to infinity. On the other hand, sometimes you want friction.

If you lead a group that allows anyone to join, for free, your group might be large, but it's not tight, it's not organized to make important change. Commitment slows things down in the short run, but ultimately aligns interests.

The future is just like the past (but shinier)

Of course, it's not true.

The record business, for example, is fundamentally altered by easily sharable, zero-incremental-cost digital files. It's not just vinyl but shiny.

Your industry has been completely and permanently altered by the connections offered by the internet. Your non-profit, your political campaign, your service business. Not a little different, not just email enabled or website marketed, but overhauled.

Unfortunately, that's hard to embrace. But it's still true. What are you going to do about it? If you were starting your business today, knowing what you know now, how would you do things (very) differently?

The problem with the transom

It's not difficult to throw something over the transom. That's not the problem.

The problem is it's a waste.

The internet has made it so easy to wrap your idea/proposal around a brick and throw it that we forget sometimes that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

What sort of proposal should you write to be sure that someone who gets it over the transom will read it? You shouldn't.

Instead, spend the time earning the right to make the proposal. Spend the time building a presence that gets you an invitation, or, at the very least, earns you the credibility to walk in the front door. If you want to pitch a great business development idea to a big company you don't already work with, allocate three to six months of focused, patient effort to earn the right to make the presentation in the first place.

AND! If you are an organization that has a transom, how can you make it easier for great ideas to arrive? How about publishing your org chart so people can find the right person to contact? How about publishing a list of others you've worked with and what you've done with them so others can see what you're interested in? How about appointing someone (an agency? a bureau? an individual?) to act as a filter for you so you're not randomly fishing through the slush pile now and then?

A few years ago, Joi Ito used to use his tribe to review business plans. You posted your plan, they (the motivated volunteers) would mark it up and Joi would look at the best ones.  It's not clear to me that opening the transom wider brings you more crackpots. In fact, it may very well shed light on great opportunities you've been missing.

Do marketers have assets?

I gave a talk the other day, and at the end a woman sheepishly asked, "when you talk about an asset, what do you mean?"

It's a fair question.

For a marketer, an asset is a tool or a platform, something you can use over and over without using it up. In fact, it's something that gets better the more you invest.

Running an ad is an expense. Building a brand people trust is an asset.

Buying a trade show booth is an expense. Having a permission marketing list of people who want to get anticipated, personal and relevant emails from you is an asset.

What are Amazon's assets? Well, they have a few warehouses and some fancy software, but they primarily have two: a brand that people trust, and a one-click shopping relationship with 50 million people. On top of that, they have an archive of information about those people, what they like and what they don't, that makes it hard for someone to switch to another store easily. All those assets together comprise most of what Amazon has built over the last decade or two.

If you're an unknown freelancer, you don't have much in the way of marketing assets. If you're Harley Davidson, you've got plenty.

The challenge in growing a business is in building assets daily, and doing it for less money than those assets end up being worth. Your expenses should generate assets.

Adjusting as we go

Two days ago, I posted about Brands in Public.

The response from the brands we've shared it with has been terrific, but other people didn't like elements of it. And they were direct in letting me know.

The goal of the program is to invite brands into the conversation that's already going on around the web, to make it easy for them to do it on their terms. I talked with a brand manager yesterday who explained that this is exactly what he's been trying to do for his company, but the corporate website systems make that difficult for him. We want to open the door and to permit large brands a way to get started without having to roll their own solution.

One way we tried to encourage that was to build 200 sample pages, pages brands could adopt. Alas, some people felt that this was inappropriate, so we've recalibrated and we'll take those pages down before the end of the day.

When a brand wants a page, we'll build it, they'll run it and we'll both have achieved our goals.

Part of the magic of the web is that you can adjust as you go, particularly if you're willing to listen.

I apologize if anyone was confused by my original post, and we're looking forward to having major brands and non-profits using this tool the way we intended--to join in to the conversation that's already happening all around us. Thanks as always for reading.

Cultural Wisdom

It's very easy to underrate the value of cultural wisdom, otherwise known as sophistication.

Walk into a doctor's office and the paneling is wrong, the carpeting is wrong and it feels dated. Instant lack of trust.

Meet a salesperson in your office. She doesn't shake hands, she's fumbling with an old Filofax, she mispronounces Steve Jobs' name and doesn't make eye contact.

Visit a website for a vendor and it looks like one of those long-letter opportunity seeker type sites.

In each case, the reason you wrote someone off had nothing to do with their product and everything to do with their lack of cultural wisdom.

We place a high value on sophistication, because we've been trained to seek it out as a cue for what lies ahead. We figure that if someone is too clueless to understand our norms, they probably don't understand how to make us a product or service that we'll like.

This is even more interesting because different cultures have different norms, so there isn't one right answer. It's an ever changing, complex task. Cultural wisdom is important precisely because it's difficult.

And yet...

Who's in charge of cultural norms at your organization? Does someone hire or train or review to make sure you and your people are getting it right? At Vogue magazine, of course, that's all they do. If they lost it, even for a minute, they'd be toast.

It's funny that we assume that all sorts of complex but ultimately unimportant elements need experts and committees and review, but the most important element of marketing--demonstrating cultural wisdom--shouldn't even be discussed.

The platform vs. the eyeballs

This might be the most subtle yet important shift that marketers face as they deal with the reality of new media. Marketers aren't renters, now they own.

For generations, marketers were trained to buy (actually rent) eyeballs.

A media company assembled a large amount of attention. A TV network or a magazine or even a billboard company found a place you can put an ad, and they sold you a shot at reaching their audience.

You, the marketer, don't care about the long-term value of this audience. It's like a rental car. You want it to be clean and shiny when you get it, you want to avoid getting in trouble when you return it, but hey, it's a rental.

And so when we buy ads, we ask, "how big an audience" and then we design an ad with our brand in mind, not with the well-being of the media company or its audience in mind. And if we get a .1% or even a 1% response rate, we celebrate.

A trade show booth is an example of eyeball thinking. The trade show organizer assembles attendees and your job at the booth is to grab as many as you can.

Old media was not the same as old branding. Media companies built audiences and then brands rented those audiences.

Suddenly the new media comes along and the rules are different. You're not renting an audience, you're building one. You're not exhibiting at a trade show, you're starting your own trade show.

If you still ask, "how much traffic is there," or "what's the CPM?" you're not getting it. Are you buying momentary attention or are you investing in a long term asset?

Now, when you buy something (that thing you used to call 'media'), you're not paying for eyeballs, you're paying for a platform. A platform you can use to build your own audience, one that you can nurture, educate and ultimately convert. You'll take care of this audience differently, measure them differently and have a different sales cycle. This isn't natural, but it works.

Two steps: buy a platform and then fill it with people. Some examples:

Authors have traditionally relied on publishers to bring them readers. The author gives up the majority of the income and the publisher brings them the readers. But then you see someone like Frank at Post Secret who builds his own audience for his (sometimes nsfw) content. He owns a platform, it's not something he rents. Now, using a publisher is a choice, not a necessity. Just about every successful author going forward (except for the lucky exceptions like Dan Brown) will own her own media channel. Not just authors, of course...

Consider the local real estate agent. She can spend to run ads every week in the local paper, or she can use the same money to start a legitimate media channel, a digital magazine, say, one that cheers on the school and gives the local paper a run for its money. And oh yes, the only houses listed for sale are hers. It might take a lot of work and even some money. But what does she get? A platform forever.

Traditionally, a clothing brand has to give up income and control to a retailer, since the retailer has the eyeballs. The web allows a brand like Little Miss Matched to build their own platform, their own audience and thus bypass all those gatekeepers. They invested in a product that told a story instead of investing in giving Walmart a cut. Boring products can't do this.

Or consider the local chiropractor. He can spend money on a yellow pages ad or he can invest in a platform, creating a local running club and doing coaching for its members.

(Compare these examples with McDonald's, a company that continues to rent eyeballs for a high price and has no real platform to speak of.)

Or consider the acquisition of Omniture by Adobe. What did Adobe pay for? I'd argue it was direct access to the right people at the leading advertisers and websites around the world. Technology isn't so hard to copy. Permission to connect is almost impossible to achieve.

Compared to the cost of renting eyeballs, buying a platform is cheap. Filling it with people eager to hear from you... that's the expensive part. But if you don't invest in the platform, you'll be at a disadvantage, now and forever. The smart way to build a brand today is to invest in the elements of the platform... the product, the technology, the websites (plural) and the systems you need to make it easy for people to show up at your very own trade show. And then embrace these people and shoot for 90% conversion, not .5%.

Like most good investments, it's expensive and worth more than it costs.

Everyone gets paid on commission

The Washington Post recently laid off a columnist because his blog posts didn't get enough web traffic.

Of course, in the old days, the newspaper had no real way to tell which columns got read and which ones didn't. So journalists were lulled into the sense that it didn't really matter. The Times quotes Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU,  “It’s an unusual public rationale for serious newspaper people, that’s for sure.”

Wrong tense. It's not going to be unusual for long.

In fact, in a digital world where everything can be measured, we all work on commission. And why not? If you do great work and it works, you should get rewarded. And if you don't, it's hard to see why a rational organization would keep you on.

You don't have to like the coming era of hyper-measurement, but that doesn't mean it's not here.

Launching Brands in Public

I was talking with a senior marketer at one of the most famous brands in the world last week. She said, "executives keep coming to me with stuff they find on the internet, stuff they find on YouTube about us, and say, 'take it down!' Of course, I have to explain that I can't take it down. No one can."

If your brand has any traction at all, people are talking about you. Of course, they've always talked about you, but now they're doing it in writing, in video and in public.

Today, Squidoo (a company I founded) is launching Brands in Public. It's a neat idea and I wanted to give you an overview and a first look.

You can't control what people are saying about you. What you can do is organize that speech. You can organize it by highlighting the good stuff and rationally responding to the not-so-good stuff. You can organize it by embracing the people who love your brand and challenging them to speak up and share the good word. And you can respond to it in a thoughtful way, leaving a trail that stands up over time.

But how?

Over the last few months, we've seen big brands (like Amazon and Maytag) get caught in a twitterstorm. An idea (one that's negative to the brand) starts and spreads, and absent a response, it just spirals. Of course, Amazon can't respond on their home page (they're busy running a store) and they don't have an active corporate blog that I could find, so where? How?

Enter Brands In Public.

[see update at the bottom] Squidoo has built several hundred pages, each one about a major brand. More are on the way. We'll keep going until we have thousands of important brands, each on its own page (and we'll happily add one for you if you like). Each page collects tweets, blog posts, news stories, images, videos and comments about a brand. All of these feeds are algorithmic... the good and the bad show up, all collated and easy to find.

Of course, these comments and conversations are already going on, all over the web. What we've done is bring them together in one place. And then we've made it easy for the brand to chime in.

If your brand wants to be in charge of developing this page, it will cost you $400 a month. And once [we build] the page, the left hand column belongs to you. You can post responses, highlight blog posts, run contests or quizzes. You can publicly have your say right next to the constant stream of information about your brand (information that's currently all over the web--and information you can't "take down" or censor). You can respond, lead and organize. If a crisis hits, your page will be there, ready for you to speak up. If your fans are delighted, your page makes it easy for them to chime in and speak up on sites around the web.

If you have the tools and wherewithal to build a page like this on your own site, you should consider that. The challenge is getting it done, regardless of where the page lives.

There are already monitoring tools online (like Radian6) that allow big brands to watch from behind the scenes. That's great, but what are you doing in front of your audience? Is there a low-cost, easy way to let one of your non-technical marketing people lead and engage with people who are already in the conversation?

We have beta-testers like Allstate and Molson and Home Depot that see the value of showing up where the conversation is happening. My guess is that other significant brands will discover that they can't just rely on a static home page, nor is it sufficient to post an ephemeral response in a feed somewhere. Brands in Public isn't the first, nor will it be the last place brands need to be to coordinate and organize the conversation. People (your customers) will find these pages, point to them, link to them and talk about them, creating a new circle of interest online. If you know a brand that needs to hear about this, there's a short ebook (download) about the project.

It's worth saying that we care a lot about keeping this simple for your organization.  A Brands in Public page for your brand requires no development team, no ad buys and no deep pockets. While you control the left-hand column and can pepper it with good stuff, it's still part of a larger site, not "your" page. That means that the number of meetings you need to go to for approvals and permissions is going to decrease. It means that it's not behind your firewall and not something that has to fit into the larger über-corporate strategy. More like a tradeshow and less like your home page. It's in public. It's simply a place for your brand to see and be seen, to organize and to respond.

I'm guessing that big brands are going to need to be in dozens of places like this going forward, because media has shifted from top down, "here's what we say, we're putting on a show, watch us!" to, "oh, you're here, you're talking, hi."

The first 100 brands that sign up will benefit from a share of the $500,000 in house ads Squidoo will run across the site promoting the service and the first partnering brands. Sales are handled by BzzAgent, so you'll be in good hands--please give them a call if you have any questions about the service. If you've got a brand that people are talking about, I hope you'll give it a try.

[UPDATE: We're now offering free pages to chosen charities. If your non-profit organization is interested, please fill out this form. We'll choose a bunch each month, set them up and then the page belongs to you.]

[UPDATE: Our intent in building sample pages and letting brands see them in action was misunderstood by many people, and I can understand why. As a result, to clear the air, we're going to be taking these 200 sample pages down today. The only pages that we'll be posting are those from our sponsors, we won't be building any others. Thanks to those that let me know about their concerns, and I'm sorry for the confusion.]

Win the fight, lose the customer

Does it really matter if you're right?

Given the choice between acknowledging that your customer is upset or proving to her that she is wrong, which will you choose?

You can be right or you can have empathy.

You can't do both.

It's not the nature of capitalism to need to teach people a lesson, it's the nature of being a human, we just blame it on capitalism. In fact, smart marketers understand that the word 'right' in "The customer is always right" doesn't mean that they'd win in court or a debate. It means, "If you want the customer to remain a customer, you need to permit him to believe he's right."

If someone thinks they're unhappy, then you know what? They are.

Trying say this to yourself: I have no problem acknowledging that you're unhappy, upset or even angry. Next time, I'd prefer to organize our interaction so you don't end up feeling that way, and I probably could have done it this time, too. You have my attention and my empathy and I value you. Thanks for being here.

If you can't be happy with that, then sure, go ahead and fire the customer, cause they're going to leave anyway.

Understanding business development

Business Development is a mysterious title for a little discussed function or department in most larger companies. It's also a great way for an entrepreneur or small business to have fun, create value and make money.

Good business development allows businesses to profit by doing something that is tangential to their core mission. Sometimes the profit is so good, it becomes part of their core mission, other times it supports the brand and sometimes it just makes money. And often it's a little guy who can be flexible enough to make things happen.


  • Starbucks licenses their name to a maker of ice cream and generates millions in royalties.
  • A rack jobber like Handleman does a deal with a mass marketer like K Mart. K Mart gives them room in the store to sell records and gets a cut, Handleman does all the work.
  • AOL buys AIM instant messaging software and integrates it into their service.
  • Years ago, I licensed the rights to Isaac Asimov's Robot novels from a business development person at his publisher and turned the books into a VCR murder mystery game which I licensed to a business development person at Kodak, a company that was experimenting with becoming a publisher. (Isaac made more from this project than he did from many of his books).
  • Best Buy offers extended warranties on appliances you buy. They don't provide the warranty, of course, a business development person did a deal with an insurance/service company to do it and they share the profit.
  • The Princeton Review built a huge test prep business, but only by licensing their brand to a series of books which did the lion's share of their marketing for them.

You don't see business development from the outside, particularly all the potential deals that fail along the way. Many companies, though, spend millions of dollars a year looking for deals and then discovering that they pay off many times over. Others, particularly smaller competitors, are so focused on their core business that it never occurs to them to consider partnerships, licensing, publishing, acquisition and other arrangements that might change everything. Harley Davidson probably makes more money on business development than they make on motorcycles.

The thing that makes business development fascinating is that the best deals have never been done before. There's no template, no cookie cutter grind it out approach to making it work. This is why most organizations are so astonishingly bad at it. They don't have the confidence to make decisions or believe they have the ability to make mistakes.

Think about the Apple Nike partnership on making a device that integrates your iPod with your sneakers. This took years and cost millions of dollars to develop. Most companies would just flee, giving up long before a deal was done and a product was shipped.

Here are some tactical tips on how to do business development better:

  1. Process first, ideas second. If you're going to be bringing new partners and new ideas into your organization, you need a process to do it. Professionals don't, "know it when I see it." Instead, professionals think about the abilities of their company and strategies necessary to bring ideas in, refine them and launch them. Great business development people don't waste time in endless meetings with random vendors or hassle about tiny details up front. Instead, they have an agenda and a project manager's understanding of what it means to get things done. They don't keep the process a secret, either. They share it with anyone who wants to know. Someone needs to say, "here's how we do things around here," and then they have to tell the truth.
  2. Who decides? Because every great business development project is different, it's incredibly easy to get stuck on who can say yes (of course, everyone can say no). Professional business development people intentionally limit the number of people who are allowed to weigh in and are clear to themselves and their potential partners about exactly who can (and must) give the go ahead. Don't bother starting a business development deal unless you know in advance who must say yes.
  3. Courtship, negotiation and marriage. Every deal has three parts, and keeping them straight is essential. During the courtship phase, you win when you are respectful, diligent, enthusiastic, engaging, outgoing, and relentless in your search to make a connection. Do your homework, research people's backgrounds, learn about their kids, visit them--don't make them visit you. Look people in the eye, ask hard but engaging questions, you know the drill. Basically, treat people as you'd like to be treated, because the people you most want to work with have a choice, and they may just not pick you. Hint: if you skip the courtship part, the other two stages probably won't come up.
  4. Buyer and seller. If you've ever pitched a product or service to a business, you know how soul-deadening it can be. The buyer works hard to make it clear that she's doing you a favor, and you need every dog and every pony available at all times (and you better be the cheapest). But business development doesn't have this dichotomy. Both sides are buying, both sides are selling, right? So talented business development people never act like jaded buyers, arms folded, demanding this and that. Instead, from the start, they seek out partners.
  5. Enthusiasm is underrated. Business development people are exploring the unknown. That means that there's more than cash on the table, there's bravery and initiative and excitement. The best business development people I've ever worked with are able to capture the energy in the room and amplify it. They'll build on the ideas being presented, not make them smaller.
  6. Close the open door. I regularly hear from readers who are frustrated because a big company wasn't willing to hear a great idea they mailed in. Here's the thing: there isn't a shortage of ideas. There's a shortage of execution. That means that successful business development teams look for proven partners and organizations with momentum. A key part of that is the decision to say no early and quickly and respectfully to people who don't meet that threshold.
  7. Call the lawyers later. A business development deal that never happens is one that's sure to cause no problems. While the legal clarity you need is important, there's plenty of data that shows that ten page NDA agreements and onerous contracts early in the process don't protect you, they merely waste your time and energy.
  8. Cast a wider net. The Allen and Co. annual gathering is a dumb place to choose a merger partner. Limiting the number of potential partners to people you've met at a trade show is also silly. Business development (when it works) creates huge value for both sides, so better to be proactive in searching out and soliciting the organizations that can make a difference. Here's a simple way to widen your net: start a blog and go to conferences to speak. Describe your successful business development projects to date and let the world know you're looking for more of them. How many amazing partnerships could the Apple store launch? How many great books could Starbucks highlight? Not only don't they do this, they hide. Don't hide.
  9. Talk to the receptionist. This is huge, and so important. When a great partner shows up at your doorstep, do you know? Here's a test: call your organization (pretending to be from some respected organization), describe a business development opportunity and ask who can help. If you're not immediately transferred to your office, you've failed, right? Make it easy for the right people to know that you're the right guy.
  10. Hire better. How do you decide who to put in this job? I'd argue that glibness and charisma aren't as important as strategic thinking, project management and humility.
  11. Structure deals with the expectation of success. The only real reason to do business development deals is because when they work they're so powerful. Andrew Tobias put his name on a piece of software that ended up earning him millions of dollars. It's easy to get hung up on all the bad things that could happen, but keep your focus on how the world looks when you get it right.
  12. End well. Most of the time, even good business development deals fall down before the end of the negotiation process. If a deal doesn't come together, say so. Acknowledge what went wrong, thank the other party and end well. If it does come together, track the integration and stay involved enough to learn from what works and what doesn't. I'm still waiting to hear from people who said they'd get back to me "tomorrow" fifteen years ago, but I'm losing hope... Ending well not only teaches you how to do better next time, but it keeps doors open for when you need to come back to someone who you should have done a deal with in the first place.

If TV ads were free

If ads had been free, then the way people would have learned how to do TV advertising would have been by running ads. If they were free, why not? Why talk about it if you could do it? Why guess what would work if you could actually find out for yourself? Running ads would have been cheaper than focus groups. But ads weren't free in 1964, so people talked and pontificated instead of actually running every ad they came up with.

You guessed it: new media is largely free. So why teach it in school as if it were a scary theory? Why encourage people to be afraid? Just do it. Build your own platform. Appear in the places that seem productive or interesting or challenging or fun. Experiment quietly, figure out what works, do it more. No need to be a dilettante, and certainly you shouldn't spread yourself too thin or quit at the first sign of failure... but... quit waiting for the right answer.

By the time we tell you the right answer, it'll be too late.

The priority list

What should you do next?

Is it better to email an existing customer, send a brochure to a prospect or improve your product a bit? Should you tweet or post a new blog post? Should you have a meeting to coordinate your team or spend ten minutes returning phone calls instead?

This is an unheralded skill, something successful people do really well and others struggle with.

How do you decide what to do next?

One of the challenges we have in reducing carbon emissions is that (as far as I know) there's no priority list. Which is worse: leaving your computer on all night or not having the windows weatherstripped? Which is worse: driving a car to Boston or going by plane with 200 other people? Is it worth driving across town to buy a pint of organic strawberries or should I get the ones from the nearby store that came from California? If you have a thousand dollars to invest in making a reduction in greenhouse gasses, should you buy new tires, switch to local foods or perhaps send $900 to help a factory in China switch away from coal and then use the other hundred to have a massage?

Without a list, you can see how making intelligent decisions is impossible, so we resort to confusing activity with productivity.

Back to your office: do you have a list? Have you figured out which metric you're trying to improve? Can you measure the impact of the choices you make all day?

I see this mistake in business development all the time. Assume for a moment that the goal of someone in this department is to maximize profit. Why then would this group spend most of its time tweaking existing deals (looking for a 3% improvement in yield) instead of spending the same time and effort doing new, game-changing deals?

Things to ask before you redo your website

I don't do any consulting, but that doesn't stop people from asking me questions. The most common question people ask me when they want a new website is, "If you were in charge of this, who are the 2 or 3 people you’d want to be sure to talk to – to help think through the issues, help us figure out who should do the work, etc.?"

The second most common question people ask me,  "In addition to Apple’s site, are there 2 or 3 that you think are really appealing and work well for their business?"

I think these are perhaps the tenth and eleventh questions you should ask, not the first two. Here's my list of difficult and important questions you have to answer before you spend a nickel:

  • What is the goal of the site?
  • In other words, when it's working great, what specific outcomes will occur?
  • Who are we trying to please? If it's the boss, what does she want? Is impressing a certain kind of person important? Which kind?
  • How many people on your team have to be involved? At what level?
  • Who are we trying to reach? Is it everyone? Our customers? A certain kind of prospect?
  • What are the sites that this group has demonstrated they enjoy interacting with?
  • Are we trying to close sales?
  • Are we telling a story?
  • Are we earning permission to follow up?
  • Are we hoping that people will watch or learn?
  • Do we need people to spread the word using various social media tools?
  • Are we building a tribe of people who will use the site to connect with each other?
  • Do people find the site via word of mouth? Are they looking to answer a specific question?
  • Is there ongoing news and updates that need to be presented to people?
  • Is the site part of a larger suite of places online where people can find out about us, or is this our one sign post?
  • Is that information high in bandwidth or just little bits of data?
  • Do we want people to call us?
  • How many times a month would we like people to come by? For how long?
  • Who needs to update this site? How often?
  • How often can we afford to overhaul this site?
  • Does showing up in the search engines matter? If so, for what terms? At what cost? Will we be willing to compromise any of the things above in order to achieve this goal?
  • Will the site need to be universally accessible? Do issues of disability or language or browser come into it?
  • How much money do we have to spend? How much time?
And finally,
  • Does the organization understand that 'everything' is not an option?

Chai Wallah

It's so tempting to do a little bit of everything. All the tools are there, a click away. You can be the designer, the copywriter, the head of customer service. Hey, you can even do the manufacturing or easily outsource it to a commodity producer. One benefit of diversification is that you can average out your risk.

Or you can be a wallah. Someone who does only that one thing.

An old colleague of mine calls himself a chai wallah. Perhaps he loves spiced tea, but I'd prefer to believe it's a reminder that his success lives and dies on the performance of just one task.

When you go all in, it focuses your attention and effort, doesn't it?


Diapers Stamps (remember those?) make direct mail work. Because it costs money to send a piece of junk mail, you'll think two or three times before you mail something to a million people.

Email, of course, is free.

Except it's not. The friction that slows down sending email to everyone all the time is the cost of all the people you'll lose. You might lose them because they unsubscribe, or more likely, you'll train them to ignore you. Worse still, you might just make them annoyed enough to badmouth you. made two mistakes with their relationship with me. First, they bought the lie that opt out is a productive strategy. They unilaterally decided that I'd be delighted to get regular emails from them, merely because I bought some shaving cream.

The second mistake? They didn't bother to be selective about what they sent.

I've never purchased diapers online, since my diaper purchases predate online diaper shopping. And my hope is that I won't be buying Depends for another fifty years or so. should know this. And yet, because it's apparently free to email me, some lame brand manager says, "sure, do it!"

Except then I unsubscribe and an asset that is worth ten or a hundred or a thousand dollars disappears, probably forever.

Find friction and embrace it, don't ignore it.

The problem with non

Non as in non-profit.

The first issue is the way you describe yourself. I know what you’re not but what are you?

Did you start or join this non-profit because of the non part? I doubt it. It's because you want to make change. The way the world is just isn't right or good enough for you... there's an emergency or an injustice or an opportunity and you want to make change.

These organizations exist solely to make change. That's why you joined, isn't it?

The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.

Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you're doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I'm betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way?

Beth has a great post about the feeling of vertigo that non-profits get when they move from the firm ground of the tried and true to the anti-gravity that comes from leaping into change.

Where are the big charities, the urgent charities, the famous charities that face such timely needs and are in a hurry to make change? Very few of them have bothered to show up in a big way. The problem is same as the twitter resistance: The internet represents a change. It's easy to buy more stamps and do more direct mail, scary to use a new technique.

Of course, some folks, like charity: water are stepping into the void and raising millions of dollars as a result. They're not necessarily a better cause, they're just more passionate about making change.

A few years ago I met with two (very famous) non-profits to discuss permission marketing and online fundraising and how they might have an impact. Each time, the president of the group was in the room. After about forty five minutes, the meetings devolved into endless lists of why any change at all in the way things were was absolutely impossible. Everyone looked to the president of the group for leadership, and when he didn't say anything, they dissembled, stalled and evaded. Every barrier was insurmountable, every element of the status quo was cast in stone.  The president of the group was (he thought) helpless.

When was the last time you had an interaction with a non-profit (there's that word again) that blew you away?

Please don't tell me it's about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don't have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you're not working on something important enough. The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy. Which is scary because it leads to change.

If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you'll find thousands of case studies of small (and large)  innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change.

The marketing world has changed completely. So has the environment for philanthropic giving. So have the attitudes of a new generation of philanthropists. But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn't tell. Because they're 'non' first, change second.

Sorry if I sound upset, but I am. The work these groups do is too important (and the people who work for them are too talented) to waste this opportunity because you are paralyzed in fear.

The hierarchy of success

I think it looks like this:

  1. Attitude
  2. Approach
  3. Goals
  4. Strategy
  5. Tactics
  6. Execution

We spend all our time on execution. Use this word instead of that one. This web host. That color. This material or that frequency of mailing.

Big news: No one ever succeeded because of execution tactics learned from a Dummies book.

Tactics tell you what to execute. They're important, but dwarfed by strategy. Strategy determines which tactics might work.

But what's the point of a strategy if your goals aren't clear, or contradict?

Which leads the first two, the two we almost never hear about.

Approach determines how you look at the project (or your career). Do you read a lot of books? Ask a lot of questions? Use science and testing or go with your hunches? Are you imperious? A lifehacker? When was the last time you admitted an error and made a dramatic course correction? Most everyone has a style, and if you pick the wrong one, then all the strategy, tactics and execution in the world won't work nearly as well.

As far as I'm concerned, the most important of all, the top of the hierarchy is attitude. Why are you doing this at all? What's your bias in dealing with people and problems?

Some more questions:

  • How do you deal with failure?
  • When will you quit?
  • How do you treat competitors?
  • What personality are you looking for in the people you hire?
  • What's it like to work for you? Why? Is that a deliberate choice?
  • What sort of decisions do you make when no one is looking?

Sure, you can start at the bottom by focusing on execution and credentials. Reading a typical blog (or going to a typical school for 16 years), it seems like that's what you're supposed to do. What a waste.

Isn't it odd that these six questions are so important and yet we almost never talk or write about them?

If the top of the hierarchy is messed up, no amount of brilliant tactics or execution is going to help you at all.

The end of dumb software

Ical In the age of rapid cycles and connected data, how long are we going to have to settle for dumb software?

Here's the detail screen from iCal. If I write a long text to go with an appointment, the only way to see the whole thing is to hit "edit."  But I don't want to edit it, I just want to see it.

If I try to schedule an appointment for 2 pm, it requires me to not only hit the 2, but also select pm. I have never once had a meeting at 2 am. Shouldn't it know that?

When I type in someone's name, how come it doesn't know that this is someone I know, correspond with and meet with often? Why isn't it connected?

I have tens of thousands of people in my address book. Some of these folks were put there ten years ago and, alas, are dead or long gone. Do I really have to go through and delete people manually? Why isn't my address book smart enough to sort the list in reverse order of use, so I can see records I haven't encountered in seven years first and start from there? Or, better, why doesn't this address book hook up with other address books of trusted peers and automatically correct and update?

The people who make desktop software are making themselves obsolete. When you start developing on the web, your default is to be smart, to interact and to be open (with other software and with your users). Desktop software (like Word) is insanely unaware of what I do, why I do it and who I do it with. Right now, the desktop folks have the momentum of the incumbent. Not for long. Time to hurry.

Flipping abundance and scarcity

I think it's dangerous and often fatal to put free on top of an existing business model. Things fall apart.

People look at the free revolution and say, "oh, that could never work. If I gave x, y or z away for free, I'd fail." They're right. They will fail... If they keep the model the same and just give away stuff for free.

The way you win is by reinventing the model itself. So, for example, lululemon doing giant free yoga classes in New York. The more people come, the more clothes they'll sell... it'll become a movement. Or Crossfit, publishing their insane work outs online. The more people do them, the better the scarce part (private coaching, etc.) does.

We spent a generation believing certain parts of our business needed to be scarce and that advertising and other interruption should be abundant. Part of the pitch of free is that when advertising goes away, you need to make something else abundant in order to gain attention. Then, and only then, will you be able to sell something that's naturally scarce.

This is an uncomfortable flip to make, because the stuff you've been charging for feels like it should be charged for, and the new scarcity is often difficult to find. But, especially in the digital world, this is happening, and faster than ever.

Taking the time to teach

What we do in the long run, over time, drip by drip, affects the market so much more than an angry reaction or urgent event.

Smoking a pack a day for twenty years is a great way to be sure you'll die early. Far more likely, in fact, than getting hit by a car. And yet it's so easy to talk to our kids about cars...

Delivering out of the box remarkability day after day counts for far more than one hit or one misstep. When we teach people about our story or our industry or about making connections, the teaching lasts.

Teaching people not only impacts the market, it changes the world. Teaching about connection and community and science, a little bit at a time, can heal our world in the long run. It doesn't happen as fast as we might like, but it works. Emergencies fade, and in the long run our teaching lasts.

The challenge is in responding with education, not reacting with anger.

The big drop off

We try so hard to build the first circle.

This is the circle of followers, friends, subscribers, customers, media outlets and others willing to hear our pitch. This is the group we tell about our new product, our new record, our upcoming big sale. We want more of their attention and more people on the list.

Which takes our attention away from the circle that matters, which is the second circle.

The second circle are the people who hear about us from the first circle.

If the first circle is excited about what we do and it's remarkable enough to talk about, they'll tell two or six or ten friends each. And if we're really good, the second circle, the people we don't even know--they'll tell the third circle. And it's the third circle that makes you a hit, gets you elected and tips your idea.

The big drop off is the natural state of affairs. The big drop off is the huge decline that occurs between our enthusiasm (HEY! BUY THIS!) and the tepid actions of the first circle (yawn). Great marketers don't spend their time making the first circle bigger. They spend all their time crafting services, products and stories that don't drop off.

Righteous indignation

This is a default response for many people--irked customers, angry bosses, disappointed colleagues. It's easy to go into high dudgeon (in fact, low dudgeon isn't even in the dictionary, it's always 'high').

The thing is: it doesn't work. It rarely succeeds in accomplishing much, and it makes you unhappy at the same time.

What if you took it out of your toolbox of responses?

What if, just like becoming a cannibal or painting your face green, you eliminated righteous indignation as an option in your list of responses to various situations, no matter how unfair? What if the people you work with weren't permitted to indulge? Just think of how much more you'd get done and how much calmer everything would be.

Bonus: a big week for books

Lots of books cross my desk, and I think Amazon has me down as customer of the year. I've noticed that the quality of books keeps going up, particularly some of the business titles I've seen lately.

No room for all of them here, but I've made a handy one-page guide to some books I've been reading lately. You can't go wrong with any of them. If you meet an author in the street, give him a hug. Then buy his book.

Achievable avalanche opportunities

That's what your team wants. Your employees, your investors, your boss. They're willing to put in the time and the energy and the work if they think:

  1. The outcome might be an avalanche of attention, new business and growth, and
  2. Their work makes that outcome achievable, even likely.

If you are vague about the outcome, or if the steps are too complex, or involve sacrificing a goat or waiting for lightning to hit, it's going to be very difficult to get the group excited. People are far more likely to embrace a smaller goal that feels likely than they are to devote themselves day and night to the amorphous jackpot. The specific jackpot, sure we'll sign up for that, but amorphous and ethereal is largely beyond our ability to imagine and sacrifice for.


The web knows something, but it's not telling us, at least not yet.

The web knows how many followers you have on Twitter, how many friends you have on Facebook, how many people read your blog.

It also knows how often those people retweet, amplify and spread your ideas.

It also knows how many followers your followers have...

So, what if, Google-style, someone took all this data and figured out who has clout. Which of your readers is the one capable of making an idea break through the noise and spread? Bloggers don't have impact because they have a lot of readers, they have a lot of impact because of who their readers are (my readers, of course, are the most sophisticated and cloutful on the entire web).

If you knew which of your followers had clout, you could invest more time and energy in personal attention. If we knew where big ideas were starting, that would be neat, and even more useful would be understanding who the key people were in bringing those new ideas to the rest of the world.

Back in the old days, we had no idea, so we defaulted to big newspapers, or magazines or the TV networks. But now we know. We just need to surface the data in a way that is useful.

Pay for stuff

As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, my instinct has always been to work before spend. If there was a way to spread the word virally instead of buying ads, I would. If there was a way to change the project so I could do it myself, I would. If I could trade or whittle my way into getting an asset on the come, I would. That's the mantra of the bootstrapper.

It turns out that paying for stuff works too.

Ads that pay for themselves are worth buying. Employees and freelancers that produce more than they cost are worth hiring. Office rents that generate productivity, foot traffic or revenue are probably worth paying.

In the free media world in which we're living now, it's so easy to get stuck on not investing, on avoiding outlays at all cost. Frugal is an admirable trait, but being a miser is dumb.

Square one is underrated

Perhaps the worst outcome most people can imagine when a project stutters is having to go, "all the way back to square one."

Apparently, square one is an unhappy place, and far away, too.

Hey, if you're lost, if you've gone down the wrong road, it doesn't make sense to speed up and keep racing down the wrong road. Instead, the smart thing is to go back to the last spot you were in where you had a chance to find the right road and start from there.

Square one: nicer than people expect.

The problem with positive thinking

All the evidence I've seen shows that positive thinking and confidence improves performance. In anything.

Give someone an easy math problem, watch them get it right and then they'll do better on the ensuing standardized test than someone who just failed a difficult practice test.

No, positive thinking doesn't allow you to do anything, but it's been shown over and over again that it improves performance over negative thinking.

Key question then: why do smart people engage in negative thinking? Are they actually stupid?

The reason, I think, is that negative thinking feels good. In its own way, we believe that negative thinking works. Negative thinking feels realistic, or soothes our pain, or eases our embarrassment. Negative thinking protects us and lowers expectations.

In many ways, negative thinking is a lot more fun than positive thinking. So we do it.

If positive thinking was easy, we'd do it all the time. Compounding this difficulty is our belief that the easy thing (negative thinking) is actually appropriate, it actually works for us. The data is irrelevant. We're the exception, so we say.

Positive thinking is hard. Worth it, though.

Help wanted: Squidoo is hiring a sales pro

$5,000 bounty if you find us someone we end up hiring and loving.

All the details are right here.

Organizing customers

The local youth theatre troupe recently put on a performance of Grease. It was a high-spirited outing, with terrific performances and it was a great way for them to spend a month or two over the summer. I was amazed to discover, though, that the budget for the rights to the play were $3,000. That's pretty steep for a high school production of an old, not particularly wonderful musical script that was only going to be seen by the local community. Should it really cost $7 for every person who watches the play?

The reason fees for licensing plays are so high is that almost all plays and musicals are licensed by just a few firms and the purchasers have no power whatsoever. The sellers have signalled each other and created an artificially high pricing floor. "Take it or leave it" is their motto.

Here's the opportunity that the net provides (in this case and so many others): someone should organize the customers and negotiate on their behalf.

Imagine contacting 3,000 high schools and finding 500 willing to join together and agree to act as a buying cartel. Now, the organizer can poll the directors at these schools and find thirty plays they'd be willing to put on next year. Go to the rights holders of these plays and say, "We're going to pick six of these plays. Each of the six will get a huge number of customers as a result, perhaps twenty times as many as you usually get. But to be among the six, you need to lower your price by a factor of ten."

Now, if you're the rights holder, you have a dilemma (but not a huge one). You can agree to lower your price and thus double your annual revenue on this dusty old play, or you can stay where you are and make zero.


Over time, the cartel will only grow more powerful. Word of mouth will spread, because news that joining this cartel cuts the cost of renting a play or musical by 90% is noteworthy. More will join. The benefits to the rights holders who agree to play along will go up because they'll have the play reach more audiences. The only losers will be those that are stuck on the old model of taking advantage of independent communities with no purchasing power.

While this has been tried in markets where it's very difficult to make it work (like consumer electronics where the margins are small) I think it can thrive in business to business, service and intellectual property markets where market share can easily make up for lowered profits. Universities can join up to push down the price of textbooks by agreeing to adopt the one of the six acceptable ones that's the cheapest--and all the others get zero. The key is frequent communication and solidarity as you go through the dip that will happen when providers resist your initial offers. That's why the net (and free online coordination and messaging) are so critical.

Think of all the tiny vertical markets where this can really pay off.

And of course, the organizer deserves (and gets) a piece of the savings.


Enormity doesn't mean really enormous. It means incredibly horrible.

The problem with enormity in marketing is that it doesn't work. Enormity should pull at our heartstrings, but it usually shuts us down.

Show us too many sick kids, unfair imprisonments or burned bodies and you won't get a bigger donation, you'll just get averted eyes.

If you've got a small, fixable problem, people will rush to help, because people like to be on the winning side, take credit and do something that worked. If you've got a generational problem, something that is going to take herculean effort and even then probably won't pan out, we're going to move on in search of something smaller.

Not fair, but true.

Magic beans, TV and the web

New media isn't the perfect marketing medium, and it won't be until we find the magic beans.

TV had magic beans for forty years. For forty years, anyone, even a complete moron, could make a lot of money using TV ads. Buy enough ads, don't screw up, you're rich.

The hard part was buying enough ads, but once you did that, victory could be declared.

On the web, there are countless marketers just standing around waiting for someone to hand them the magic beans. And that's the problem.

Marketing online takes too much measurement, patience, creativity, technical knowledge, flexibility, speed and authenticity. It requires too much thinking and not enough going out for dinner with clients.

Perhaps there will never be magic beans again. Perhaps marketing is about to transition to a new kind of profession, one that requires insight, dedication and smarts.

Or maybe someone will find some magic beans.

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