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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list


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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Member since 08/2003

« November 2009 | Main | January 2010 »

Seven years gone

A friend worried out loud to me the other day, "I spent the last seven months doing this [job] and I have nothing to show for it. If I had known I would have spent seven months and gotten nothing, you can bet I would have done something a lot more fun."

Ten years ago in Fast Company, I wrote this post about the decade that ends today.

The oughts (the "uh-ohs"?) were a tough decade on a macro level. Front page news events will give the textbooks plenty to write about in the years to come.

But on a micro level, on a personal level, this was a decade filled with opportunity. The internet transformed our lives forever. Opportunities were created (and many were taken advantage of). And, like every decade, just about everyone missed it. Just about everyone hunkered down and did their job or did what they were told or did what they thought they were supposed to, and just about everyone got very little as a result.

Maybe ten years is too long a period of time to plan for. So how about seven?

Seven years from now, what will you have to show for what you're doing right now?

If your answer is, "not much," perhaps you should consider a new plan, one that might generate a different answer, or, at the very least, be a more fun way to waste seven years.

Cheapest reliable alternative

For most products and services, most of the time, people sign up for the Cheapest Reliable Alternative Plan.

If everything appears to be the same, then of course they're going to pick the cheapest one that's good enough.

In the face of this understandable strategy, you have a few choices:

You can be cheapest (difficult to sustain).

You can be more reliable (great if you can figure this out).

You can redefine the playing the field to be the only one (most preferred).

Buying a new microphone or lights for your DJ business doesn't do any of these three to your competitive status, it merely makes you feel good. Same with re-organizing your office, painting the parking spaces or buying a new laptop. They merely keep you where you were.

The scalable, profitable strategy is to change the game, not to become the most average.

Put a name on it

Here's a positive step to avoid the faceless bureaucracy that wants to take over your organization:

Every new rule needs to be associated with one and only one person who is willing to stand up for it and explain it (to your people and to the public).

"No swimming until 45 minutes after eating." Really? Why? Who made this rule up? Why?

I think most international travelers would like to know who made the rule that bans wifi from international flights. Or the name of the other person who made the rule that you can't have a blanket covering your legs during the last hour of a flight. If we knew the bureaucrat's name, could we lobby to have them fired for being ridiculous actors in security theater?

Organizations thrive on their ability to allow individuals to remain faceless. It permits them to act badly, not in the interest of their customers.

One of the reasons I so enjoy buying from small companies is that you know exactly who has their name on each and every policy. It builds a more responsive organization and it's good marketing.

It's not the rats you need to worry about

If you want to know if a ship is going to sink, watch what the richest passengers do.

iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It's the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It's over.

When law firms started switching to fax machines, Fedex realized that the cash cow part of their business (100 or 1000 or more envelopes per firm per day) was over and switched fast to packages. Good for them.

If your ship is sinking, get out now. By the time the rats start packing, it's way too late.

How far away is your future?

Let's try a thought experiment:

A flying saucer comes to Earth, destroys a major city to get our attention, then announces that in 10,000 years it is coming back to destroy the Earth. In order to eliminate any doubt, it then blows up Mars.

Assume for a moment that you believe the threat and there's nothing we can do about it...

Question: how would knowing that the planet would disappear in 10,000 years change your typical day?

Okay, now run the same story, but 1,000 years from now instead.

You can probably guess where this is going. What if it were twenty years? If it were twenty years, how would that change things?

Most of us assume a single range of focus that we care about. And it's usually right around the corner, or even closer. Is that the place to be focusing your brand or your business or your life?


The great brands of our time are not about what they are. They are about what they represent.

Apple, Sarah Palin, Harley Davidson, Tom's Shoes... In each case, the reality of the product means far less than what the brand represents.

The facts of iPod battery life, knowledge of world affairs, gas mileage and foot comfort are almost irrelevant. What matters is the Jungian rush these brands connote, their ability to allow us to identify ourselves and fellow tribe members, the sense of belonging and labeling and the journey we're on (or not, our choice).

Great brands represent something bigger than themselves. You can create this accidentally if you're lucky, but you can create it on purpose if you try.

Learning from bad graphs and weak analysis

Bilton1 Yesterday's Times features a blog post about the Kindle. There's a lot wrong with the post (which hopefully has been corrected by the time you read this) and I thought I'd point out two useful lessons. Nick Bilton, the author of the post, also did the graphs, and as a former newspaper art director, he has no one else to blame for the way the graphs appear or are interpreted. [Nick changed his post before my post went live this morning, and he dropped me a line indicating that his graphs weren't supposed to be deceptive, they were merely mislabeled. I think the points in my post below still stand.]

As you can see from the graph to the right, [it appears that] he's trying to make the case that lots and lots of Kindle owners are really unhappy (the large gold wedges).

Problem 1: The [original pie charts Nick used, at right, are incorrect]. The corrected one is below. 7% is a much smaller number than you see to the right.

Problem 2: Many of the reviews are from people who don't own the device.

Problem 3: Amazon reviews never reflect the product, they reflect the passion people have for the product. As Jeff Bezos has pointed out again and again, most great products get 5 star and 1 star reviews. That makes sense... why would you be passionate enough about something that's sort of 'meh' to bother writing a three star review?

Problem 4: This is a useful insight for anyone who markets anything--the people who buy the first generation of a product are more likely to be enthusiasts. They are more forgiving. They like new things. Bilton has tried to invent a trend by lining the items up in chronological order, but this is deceptive, both because of the number of reviews, but mostly because the people reviewing the new ones have a different agenda.

Correctednick The Kindle has managed to offend exactly the right people in exactly the right ways. It's not as boring as it could be, it excites passions and it has created a cadre of insanely loyal evangelists who are buying them by the handful to give as gifts.

I think the lessons here are: Ignore graphs intended to deceive and understand the value of the negative review. Catcherrye

PS, as a bonus, here's the same analysis of the reviews of Catcher in the Rye, a book that has sold more than 20,000,000 copies (and changed many lives)--and the author doesn't even have a blog.

We were waiting for you

If the tooth fairy didn't exist, we'd probably have to invent her. Perfect fable for that moment. What would you say to your kid when he lost a tooth if there wasn't a tooth fairy legend?

Kwanzaa is only 43 years old, but it feels as if it's been around forever. The idea of the designated driver is new too, but it so perfectly fit a moment in our culture, it was adopted almost instantly. We also are delighted that there was Guy Lombardo and then Dick Clark, that someone coined a way to say, "what happens in Vegas..." and that a certain kind of ring that you're supposed to buy when you get engaged is now standard so the nervous guy doesn't have to worry about getting it wrong.

When you invent a brand or a word or a concept, you can spend a fortune to force it on the market. Or you can invent one that just fits.

If you see Santa today, send him my regards. He's got it figured out.

The difference between hiring and recruiting

Bob wonders if there's a difference. I'm pretty sure there is.

Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you're accepting applications from people looking for a job.

Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they're doing and come join you.

Hiring is easy and fast and is basically a retail operation.

Recruiting is artful and slow and is essentially a direct marketing effort.

Recruiting raises the bar because it demands you have a job worth quitting for. The recruiter doesn't solve an urgent problem for the person being recruited, in fact, they create one. That person already has a job (hence no problem). The problem being created is that until they change over to your job, they'll be unhappy. That's a huge hurdle for a job to overcome, which leads to this key question:

Is your job opening so good you could recruit great people for it?

If not, perhaps you need to work on that.

First, organize 1,000

Kevin Kelly really changed our thinking with his post about 1,000 true fans.

But what if you're not an artist or a musician? Is there a business case for this?

I think the ability to find and organize 1,000 people is a breakthrough opportunity. One thousand people coordinating their actions is enough to change your world (and make a living.)

1,000 people each spending $1,000 on a special interest cruise equals a million dollars.

1,000 people willing to spend $250 to attend a day-long seminar gives you the leverage to invite just about anyone you can imagine to fly in and speak.

1,000 people voting as a bloc can change local politics forever.

1,000 people willing to try a new restaurant you find for them gives you the ability to make an entrepreneur successful and change the landscape of your town.

Even better, coordinating the learning and connections of this tribe of 1,000 is not just profitable, it's rewarding. If you can take them where they want to go, you become indispensable (and respected).

What's difficult? What's difficult is changing your attitude. Instead of speed dating your way to interruption, instead of yelling at strangers all day trying to make a living, coordinating a tribe of 1,000 requires patience, consistency and a focus on long-term relationships and life time value. You don't find customers for your products. You find products for your customers.

It's no wonder they don't trust us

I just set up a friend's PC. I haven't done that in a while.


Apparently, a computer is now not a computer, it's an opportunity to upsell you.

First, the setup insisted (for my own safety) that I sign up for an eternal subscription to Norton. Then it defaulted (opt out) to sending me promotional emails. Then there were the dozens (at least it felt like dozens) of buttons and searches I had to endure to switch the search box from Bing to Google. And the icons on the desktop that had been paid for by various partners and the this-comes-with-that of just about everything.

The digital world, even the high end brands, has become a sleazy carnival, complete with hawkers, barkers and a bearded lady. By the time someone actually gets to your site, they've been conned, popped up, popped under and upsold so many times they really have no choice but to be skeptical.

Basically, it's a race to the bottom, with so many people spamming trackbacks, planning popups and scheming to trick the surfer with this or that that we've bullied people into a corner of believing no one.

You can play along, or you can be so clean and so straightforward that people are stunned into loyalty. You know, as in, "do it for the user," and "offer stuff that just works" and "this is what you get and that's all you get and you won't have to wonder about the fine print."

Rare and refreshing. An opportunity, in fact.

Fear of bad ideas

A few people are afraid of good ideas, ideas that make a difference or contribute in some way. Good ideas bring change, that's frightening.

But many people are petrified of bad ideas. Ideas that make us look stupid or waste time or money or create some sort of backlash.

The problem is that you can't have good ideas unless you're willing to generate a lot of bad ones.

Painters, musicians, entrepreneurs, writers, chiropractors, accountants--we all fail far more than we succeed. We fail at closing a sale or playing a note. We fail at an idea for a series of paintings or the theme for a trade show booth.

But we succeed far more often than people who have no ideas at all.

Someone asked me where I get all my good ideas, explaining that it takes him a month or two to come up with one and I seem to have more than that. I asked him how many bad ideas he has every month. He paused and said, "none."

And there, you see, is the problem.

In search of customer intimacy

Many brands want deep and long-lasting relationships with their customers.

Social media makes these interactions even more likely, because it encourages customers to speak up and to connect.

The fallacy is believing that whining equals intimacy. It doesn't. Whining and complaining is easy and natural, but it's not a foundation for a long term relationship.

Instead, the goal should be to get your customers to share their dreams, not their peeves.

You don't have the power

A friend is building a skating rink. Unfortunately, he started with uneven ground and the water keeps ending up on one side of the rink. Water's like that, and you need a lot of time and power and money if you want to change it. One person, working as hard as he can, has little chance of persuading water to change.

Consider this quote from a high-ranking book publisher who should know better, "We must do everything in our power to uphold the value of our content against the downward pressures exerted by the marketplace and the perception that 'digital' means 'cheap.' ..."


You don't have the power. Maybe if every person who has ever published a book or is ever considering publishing a book got together and made a pact, then they'd have enough power to fight the market. But solo? Exhort all you want, it's not going to do anything but make you hoarse.

Movie execs thought they had the power to fight TV. Record execs thought they had the power to fight iTunes. Magazine execs thought they had the power to fight the web. Newspaper execs thought they had the power to fight Craigslist.

Here's a way to think about it, inspired by Merlin Mann: Imagine that next year your company is going to make 10 million dollars instead of a hundred million dollars in profit. What would you do knowing that your profits were going to be far less than they are today? Because that's exactly what the upstart with nothing to lose is going to do. Ten million in profit is a lot to someone starting with zero and trying to gain share. They don't care that you made a hundred million last year from the old model.

If I'm an upstart publisher or a little-known author, you can bet I'm happy to sell my work at $5 and earn seventy cents a copy if I can sell a million.

Smart businesspeople focus on the things they have the power to change, not whining about the things they don't.

Existing publishers have the power to change the form of what they do, increase the value, increase the speed, segment the audience, create communities, lead tribes, generate breakthroughs that make us gasp. They don't have the power to demand that we pay more for the same stuff that others will sell for much less.

And if you think this is a post about the publishing business, I hope you'll re-read it and think about how digital will change your industry too.

Competition and the market are like water. They go where they want.

Think like me, agree with me

When you're trying to sell your idea, it's natural to assume that the people you're selling to think the way you do. If you can only show them the facts and stories that led you to believe what you believe, then of course they'll end up where you are... believing.

The problem, of course, is that people don't always think like you.

Go watch some videos of people of different political ideologies talking about why they support a candidate other than your candidate. These people are stupid! They can't conjugate an idea, they have no factual basis for their beliefs, they are clueless, they are ideologues, they are parroting a talking head who knows even less than they do! (And those epithets apply to anyone you disagree with, of course). In fact, they're saying the same thing about you.

Same goes for diehard fans of the other brand, or worse, the clueless who should be using your solution, but don't even care enough to use your competitor's product.

If they only thought like you, of course, and knew what you know, then there wouldn't be a problem.

The challenge doesn't lie in getting them to know what you know. It won't help. The challenge lies in helping them see your idea through their lens, not yours. If you study the way religions and political movements spread, you can see that this is exactly how it works. Marketers of successful ideas rarely market the facts. Instead, they market stories that match the worldview of the people being marketed to.

[There's an alternative, one that you might want to think hard about: perhaps you should only market your idea to people who already think the way you do. After all, you're not running for president, you don't need a majority. Screen people by their behavior (what they read, what they buy, how they act) and only tell your story to the people who will embrace it. That's a lot easier to do that than it's ever been before.]

Different kinds of work

If your boss asks you to move a box from point a to point b, it's probably not okay to say, "I don't feel like it right now."

If you work on the chain gang and it's time to dig a ditch, you don't get a reprieve if you roll your eyes and say, "that's not what they pay me for."

And if you're a dishwasher, you don't get a chance to say, "I guess I'm just not the kind of person who's good at putting his hands into really hot soapy water all day."

And yet.

And yet when we ask you to look people in the eye, be creative, brainstorm, be generous, find a way to satisfy an angry customer, work with a bully, learn a new skill or bring joy to work, suddenly the excuses pile up. Is this a different sort of work? Is raising your hand in class too much to ask of you?

The jobs most of us would like to have are jobs like this. And yet we put up a fight when given the chance to do them well.

Save the date: January 15 in New York for the book launch

[NOW SOLD OUT. See you there.] I'm doing a live presentation on the morning of January 15th in New York. The low price for general admission is basically the retail price of the new book, and we're giving ticket buyers a copy of the book as well.

Arrive as early as 9:20 am to get your ticket checked, doors open at 9:30, we start at 9:45 sharp.

Hope to see you there. Tix are limited (and there are a few VIP tickets as well, which also include a small Q&A session after).


Dancing with entropy

It's far easier to mix up a Rubik's cube than to solve one.

People are often paid to enforce compliance. The job is to ensure that everything is in its place, that errors are zero, that things are delivered on time and as expected. The random event is a problem, something to be feared and extinguished.

A few people (not many) get paid to create a ruckus, to insert the random, to yell 'fire' and to shake things up.

Most people, though, the ones with great jobs, are in the business of dancing with entropy, not creating it. Take what comes, sort it, leverage it, improvise and make something worthwhile out of it.

The secret of dancing is that you must respect and admire your partner. Thus, entropy isn't the enemy, and the goal isn't for "everything to be all right."

Without random events, there is no dance.

There is no good, there is no bad, there's just what happened. Dance with it.

8 questions and a why

Who are you trying to please?

What are you promising?

How much money are you trying to make?

How much freedom are you willing to trade for opportunity?

What are you trying to change?

What do you want people to say about you?

Which people?

Do we care about you?

(and after each answer, ask 'why?')

It's still too difficult

If you read the previous post this morning, you saw tons of links, many from some of the smartest people I know. And too many were broken (they're all fixed now... click through to see the accurate list, which I'll update all day, and thanks for clicking). Apologies for the hassles.

We keep adding all this power to the web, but with the power seems to come complexity. I wish it were easier. Maybe it will be one day, but I'm getting less optimistic.

PS The launch of this ebook has been thrilling. For more than 7 hours it was a trending topic on Twitter, with as many as 20 tweets a minute flying by. PS we found two typos and fixed them. (Download here).

More important, the conversations that are being generated are just what we hoped. Clearly there are too many ideas in this ebook to absorb in one sitting, and certainly some don't apply to you. But that's not the point. The point is to think, to cycle, to talk about it.

Thanks for reading and for sharing and contributing to the conversation.

What Matters Now: get the free ebook

[Update! Now available in a print edition, all proceeds to Room to Read. Thanks Bernie!]

Now, more than ever, we need to shake things up.


Now, more than ever, we need a different way of thinking, a useful way to focus and the energy to turn the game around. I hope a new ebook I've organized will get you started on that path. It took months, but I think you'll find it worth the effort. (Download here).

Here are more than seventy big thinkers, each sharing an idea for you to think about as we head into the new year. From bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert to brilliant tech thinker Kevin Kelly, from publisher Tim O'Reilly to radio host Dave Ramsey, there are some important people riffing about important ideas here. The ebook includes Tom Peters, Fred Wilson, Jackie Huba and Jason Fried, along with Gina Trapani, Bill Taylor and Alan Webber.

Here's the deal: it's free. Download it here. Or from any of the many sites around the web that are posting it with insightful commentary. Tweet it, email it, post it on your own site. I think it might be fun to make up your own riff and post it on your blog or online profile as well. It's a good exercise. Can we get this in the hands of 5 million people? You can find an easy to use version on Scribd as well and from wepapers. Please share.

2downloadfree Have fun. Here's to a year with ideas even bigger than these.

Here's a lens with all the links plus an astonishing array of books by our authors.

NEW BONUS: A different coop ebook, (click for free download) this time with contributions from authors that include JC Hutchins, Cory Doctorow, Joseph Finder and Chris Brogan.

define: Brand

Here's my definition: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. 

A brand's value is merely the sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose, the expectations, memories, stories and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.

A brand used to be something else. It used to be a logo or a design or a wrapper. Today, that’s a shadow of the brand, something that might mark the brand’s existence. But just as it takes more than a hat to be a cowboy, it takes more than a designer prattling on about texture to make a brand. If you’ve never heard of it, if you wouldn’t choose it, if you don’t recommend it, then there is no brand, at least not for you.

If you hear a designer say this (believe it or not, I didn't make this quote up), “A TCHO Chocolate bar, with its algorithmic guilloche patterns, looks like a modern form of currency. “Modern” was always part of the brand brief — no faux traditionalism, but resolutely forward-looking for a new generation of chocolate enthusiasts...” then I wonder if there’s a vocabulary disconnect.

Design is essential but design is not brand.

PS a Google tip: you can find the definition of any word by typing "define:" followed by the word into your search box.

A free supersimple to-do list tool

Here it is.

Alas, it doesn't work for groups, won't even let you share a username. That's what we need. Everyone on your team adds items, everyone can cross off items. Go.

Maybe next revision. In the meantime, it's so pretty you'll cross stuff off just because you can.

PS Michael likes cothrive.

PS Rajesh likes Remember the milk.

PS Corey likes Things.

PS Jennifer likes this one.

Discover the truth about a site's online traffic

You can find the traffic of a popular website (and compare it to another site) by entering the URL into Or quantcast. This data is far more accurate than the charts Alexa offers, because most of the sites being measured cooperate. I'm pretty proud of Squidoo hitting the top 100 sites in the US.

You can see the referrals and traffic to an individual bitly twitter URL by copying the URL and adding + sign to it. For example, if you see something like this in a tweet: just copy it and paste it with the plus and you'll see I think that's pretty neat. You can also track top retweets on an hourly or daily basis.

Many sites also publish how many subscribers they have. The "K" stands for thousands.

PS You can get updates on this blog in Twitter by following @thisissethsblog. And you can get a free subscription by RSS (the best way) or email.

Who controls your media?

1966: NBC, CBS and ABC decided what I did every night at 8 pm.

Today: are you still ceding control to others?

It's easy to allow 'them' to dictate how (and how often) you friend or post or follow or tweet...

Shouldn't you be the one who decides?

If your Facebook circle is draining your energy and not pushing you forward, why, precisely, is it there? If you are spending more than a few minutes a day on Twitter, is it because you can't stop or because stopping will cost you your goals? Which is more important: a ringing telephone or an unfinished new concept on your screen, waiting for you to type out the rest of it?

The magic of dynamic pricing

Status quo seekers in publishing are now talking about delaying Kindle and other ebook editions of their new books. The idea would be to come out with a hardcover, then a few months later an ebook, then a year later a paperback.

This is lame-brained thinking on many levels, one involving teaching the market a lesson. Leaving that aside, it ignores the magic of dynamic pricing.

When you produce a physical good like a book, it's really hard to change the price over time, especially if there are retail stores involved. But changing the price on an electronic good is trivially easy.

So, for example, you could charge $24 for the Kindle edition for the first two weeks, then $15 for the next two weeks and then $9 for the year after that. Once it's a backlist classic, it could cost $2...

Or, thinking about how you might create launch excitement, you could reverse it. $2 the first day, $5 the first week, then $9 later. Better hurry!

Or, to get more sophisticated, you could reward the market for getting excited. What if the price for everyone drops if enough people pre-order it?

This isn't just about books, of course. It's about anything where you have the ability to change pricing based on time or demand... tolls, music, phone calls, consulting... We need to stop assuming that digital goods are just like physical goods, but shinier.

Technology puts a lot more pressure on your imagination and creativity, even in pricing.

The reason social media is so difficult for most organizations

It's a process, not an event.

Dating is a process. So is losing weight, being a public company and building a brand.

On the other hand, putting up a trade show booth is an event. So are going public and having surgery.

Events are easier to manage, pay for and get excited about. Processes build results for the long haul.

Lead with your glass jaw

Here's one way businesses can profit from a social media presence:

Make it easy to get hurt.

If you're in a low trust industry (like car sales), a social media presence dramatically increases the opportunity people have to call you out, beat you up, tattle on you and flame you in public. If you have a Facebook page and people can YELL at you there, for all to see, it makes you vulnerable. Do you really think that a Chris or a Guy or Gary is going to risk ripping you off for consulting or wine? No way. Too easy for someone to post a comeback for all to see.

When your staff sees how much power you've given random consumers, they'll freak. And then, magically, they'll start treating customers differently, because maybe, just maybe, this customer is the one who's going to use the power. Suddenly, the answer to, "do you know who I am!!" is, "yes sire, forgive me."

It might not be comfortable, but you can bet it will build trust.

Fallback for the 2%

If you ask one hundred people to do a task (particularly one that involves following instructions or using a computer or both), figure that two of them will mess it up.

It doesn't matter if you use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. It doesn't matter if your instructions are crystal clear. It doesn't matter if you ask them to sign a release. Two percent will mess it up. And it won't always be the same two percent either, so the idea of kicking the clueless out won't work.

Which means you only have two choices:

  • Design systems that have the good sense and gracefulness to permit the 2% to proceed, or
  • Annoy, demonize or lose these people

Technologists hate this choice, but it's true. We have to plan for human failure and part of our job is to have the resources and back up to allow these people to remain in our tribe even though they're unable to follow a simple instruction.

[Can I just clarify that the first choice isn't the only choice. Plenty of successful designers (including Apple) gladly choose the second. Pleasing everyone isn't required. Making the choice intentionally is.]

How to protect your ideas in the digital age

If we're in the idea business, how to protect those ideas?

One way is to misuse trademark law. With the help of search engines, greedy lawyers who charge by the letter are busy sending claim letters to anyone who even comes close to using a word or phrase they believe their client 'owns'. News flash: trademark law is designed to make it clear who makes a good or a service. It's a mark we put on something we create to indicate the source of the thing, not the inventor of a word or even a symbol. They didn't invent trademark law to prevent me from putting a picture of your cricket team's logo on my blog. They invented it to make it clear who was selling you something (a mark for trade = trademark).

I'm now officially trademarking thank-you™. From now on, whenever you use this word, please be sure to send me a royalty check.

Another way to protect your ideas is to (mis)use copyright law. You might think that this is a federal law designed to allow you to sue people who steal your ideas. It's not. Ideas are free. Anyone can use them. Copyright protects the expression of ideas, the particular arrangement of words or sounds or images. Bob Marley's estate can't sue anyone who records a reggae song... only the people who use his precise expression of words or music. Sure, get very good at expressing yourself (like Dylan or Sarah Jones) and then no one can copy your expression. But your ideas? They're up for grabs, and its a good thing too.

The challenge for people who create content isn't to spend all the time looking for pirates. It's to build a platform for commerce, a way and a place to get paid for what they create. Without that, you've got no revenue stream and pirates are irrelevant anyway. Newspapers aren't in trouble because people are copying the news. They're in trouble because they forgot to build a scalable, profitable online model for commerce.

Patents are an option except they're really expensive and do nothing but give you the right to sue. And they're best when used to protect a particular physical manifestation of an idea. It's a real crapshoot to spend tens of thousands of dollars to patent an idea you thought up in the shower one day.

So, how to protect your ideas in a world where ideas spread?


Instead, spread them. Build a reputation as someone who creates great ideas, sometimes on demand. Or as someone who can manipulate or build on your ideas better than a copycat can. Or use your ideas to earn a permission asset so you can build a relationship with people who are interested. Focus on being the best tailor with the sharpest scissors, not the litigant who sues any tailor who deigns to use a pair of scissors.

What's it like? (The sad story of the hot pepper)

Can you imagine how difficult it was to sell the jalapeño when it came over from the new world?

"What's it like?" you'd be asked.

Well, it's like a pepper (of course, it wasn't. Black pepper is dried and tastes very different).

Well, it's hot (no, it's not. Hot is a temperature, spicy is a taste).

It's not like anything, actually. Capsicum is an experience unto itself, and forcing me to tell you what it's like does neither of us much of a service.

"What's it like," is actually shorthand for, "I don't trust you enough to just try it, so you better explain in detail what category this item fits into so I can decide in advance how to understand it."

"What's it like?" is a huge impediment to growth and to the spread of new ideas, because forcing a marketer to pigeonhole an idea naturally limits it.

"What's it like?" leads to sequels and high concepts and crossovers, but it doesn't get us 1966 Bob Dylan or even yoga class.

Great marketers take advantage of categories every day. Great marketers understand how to create books or services or products or technologies that are very much like something else, but better. You should do that whenever you can.

If you want a fast start and good sales, be ready to answer the question.

When you have something that's a breakthrough, though, perhaps you need to say instead, "It's not like anything. You need to trust me and just taste it."

The first transaction

Do you really expect that the first time we transact, it will involve me giving you money in exchange for a product or service?

Perhaps this is a good strategy for a pretzel vendor on the street, but is that the best you can hope for?

Digital transactions are essentially free for you to provide. I can give you permission to teach me something. I can watch a video. I can engage in a conversation. We can connect, transfer knowledge, engage in a way that builds trust... all of these things make it more likely that I'll trust you enough to send you some money one day. I can contribute to a project you're building, ask you a difficult question, discover what others have already learned.

But send you money on the first date? No way.

The question then, is how much time and effort does your non-profit/consulting firm/widget factory spend on pre-purchase transactions and how much do you spend on trying to simply close the sale?

Over the top

You never cease to amaze me.

Just 48 hours after launching a review copy fundraiser for Acumen Fund, we have crossed the goal of raising $100,000.

People gave far more than the minimum, which delighted but didn't surprise me.

I'm afraid the site is now closed. If you'd like to donate directly to Acumen without getting a book, have at it. The site is here.

Thanks to everyone who participated. I'll email you in early January when the books ship. Thank you for everything.

Within reason

Often, someone will riff on a concept or approach that characterizes the revolution that we're living through online, and heads will nod. "Sure, that sounds great [insert idea here... like Free, or social media or permission or ideaviruses or empowered consumers or treating people with respect, etc.] within reason."

It's the last two words that make it a lie.

The last two words allow you to weasel your way into failure. Within reason means, "without bothering the boss, without taking a big risk, without taking the blame if we fail, without alienating our current retailers... be reasonable!"

And so you do it half-heartedly and you fail.

And who beats you?

The people who did it without reason.

Is it too late to catch up?

What if your organization or your client has done nothing?

What if they've just watched the last fourteen years go by? No real website, no social media, no permission assets. What if now they're ready and they ask your advice? And, by the way, they have no real cash to spend...

Here's a list of my top ten things to consider doing:

  • Use gmail to give every person in the organization that can read English an email address.
  • Use a free website creating tool or even Squidoo to build a page about your company. Nothing fancy, but list your locations, your people (with addresses) and make it clear you want to hear from people.
  • Start an email newsletter using Mad Mimi or Mail Chimp. Give the responsibility for the newsletter's creation and performance to one person and offer them a bonus if they exceed metrics in sign ups and in reducing churn.
  • Start a book group for your top executives and every person who answers the phone, designs a product or interacts with customers. Read a great online media book a week and discuss. It'll take you about a year to catch up.
  • Offer a small bonus to anyone in the company who starts and runs a blog on any topic. Have them link to your company site, with an explanation that while they work there, they don't speak for you.
  • Have the president post her (real) email address in every invoice and other communication the company sends out, asking people to write to her with comments or questions.
  • Start a newsletter for your vendors. Email them regular updates about what you're doing, what's selling and what problems are going on internally that they might be able to help you with.
  • Do not approve any project that isn't run on Basecamp.
  • Get a white board and put it in the break room. On it, have someone update: how many people subscribe to the newsletter, how many people visit the website, how many inbound requests come in by phone, how long it takes customer service to answer an email and how often your brand names are showing up on Twitter every day.
  • Don't have any meetings about your web strategy. Just do stuff. First you have to fail, then you can improve.
  • Refuse to cede the work to consultants. You don't outsource your drill press or your bookkeeping or your product design. If you're going to catch up, you must (all of you) get good at this, and you only accomplish that by doing it.

The problem is no longer budget. The problem is no longer access to tools.

The problem is the will to get good at it.

Get a review copy of my new book

[UPDATE: Our goal was reached and exceeded in just 48 hours! The site is no longer accepting donations, but you can visit Acumen's site and donate without getting a book.]

There used to be one hundred people who mattered.

That's true in a lot of industries, but particularly in books.

One hundred people who could make a book a hit. These were key buyers at bookstores, reviewers and editors at newspapers, the person who booked time at Oprah or the Today Show.

So publishers courted these people. If the one hundred loved it, the book launched as a hit. Of course the 100 all get free copies. Lots of free copies.

Today, of course, those one hundred people matter a lot less. And who matters more? You.

You, because you have a network. You blog. You tweet. You talk things up at meetings or recommend things to friends.

And there are a lot more than a hundred of you.

One solution is to give everyone a free copy. Publishers and authors could do this and try to make money doing something else. Another solution is to let the best of this group, the most committed, the most interested... let them stand up and identify themselves.

So, that's what we're experimenting with on Linchpin. For a select group of motivated readers, I want to send you a copy of Linchpin (at my expense) three weeks before anyone else can buy one. My US publisher is not sending free review copies to magazines (the few that are left), newspaper editors, TV shows, any of the usual media suspects. Instead, we're allowing people like you to raise their hands and, if they like the book, asking them to tell the world about it in January.

How to choose? I can't afford to buy a book for everyone, so I needed to come up with a filter. Here it is: The first 3,000 people who make a donation to the Acumen Fund (at least $30) get one at my expense. The money you pay goes directly to Acumen, you get the fun of making a donation and get a tax deduction before the end of the year, and I figure out which of my readers most want a copy of my book.

If you're excited about getting a first look, I hope you'll [link removed]. And thanks for your support, every day. It means a lot to me.

Please hurry, since once they're gone, I probably won't be able to offer any more.

[UPDATE: After 9 hours we've sold half of the reserved books and raised more than $70,000 for Acumen. Thanks guys. UPDATE 2: After 49 hours, we raised over $108,000. Wow.]

How to be a great client

As a client, your job isn’t to be innovative. Your job is to foster innovation. Big difference.

Fostering innovation is a discipline, a profession in fact. It involves making difficult choices and causing important things to get shipped out the door. Here are a few thoughts to get you started.

  • Before engaging with the innovator, foster discipline among yourself and your team. Be honest about what success looks like and what your resources actually are.
  • If you can't write down clear ground rules about which rules are firm and which can be broken on the path to a creative solution, how can you expect the innovator to figure it out?
  • Simplify the problem relentlessly, and be prepared to accept an elegant solution that satisfies the simplest problem you can describe.
  • After you write down the ground rules, revise them to eliminate constraints that are only on the list because they've always been on the list.
  • Hire the right person. Don't ask a mason to paint your house. Part of your job is to find someone who is already in the sweet spot you're looking for, or someone who is eager and able to get there.
  • Demand thrashing early in the process. Force innovations and decisions to be made near the beginning of the project, not in a crazy charrette at the end.
  • Be honest about resources. While false resource constraints may help you once or twice, the people you're working with demand your respect, which includes telling them the truth.
  • Pay as much as you need to solve the problem, which might be more than you want to. If you pay less than that, you'll end up wasting all your money. Why would a great innovator work cheap?
  • Cede all issues of irrelevant personal taste to the innovator. I don't care if you hate the curves on the new logo. Just because you write the check doesn't mean your personal aesthetic sense is relevant.
  • Run interference. While innovation sometimes never arrives, more often it's there but someone in your office killed it.
  • Raise the bar. Over and over again, raise the bar. Impossible a week ago is not good enough. You want stuff that is impossible today, because as they say at Yoyodyne, the future begins tomorrow.
  • When you find a faux innovator, run. Don't stick with someone who doesn't deserve the hard work you're doing to clear a path.
  • Celebrate the innovator. Sure, you deserve a ton of credit. But you'll attract more innovators and do even better work next time if innovators understand how much they benefit from working with you.

Shocking Tiger Woods video (exclusive)

You should be careful about headlines.

It's pretty easy to write a headline that will get someone to forgive your spam, and perhaps even to open your note (CyberMonday! 85% off...). It's pretty easy to write a headline that will get someone to click through on their RSS reader. It's even easy to write a tweet that will get a click through.

But is it better to get a click and then annoy someone, or better to only reach the people who care?

The mindset of the brazen copywriter is, "Well, even if only 1% of the people I trick are actually interested in the content, that's worthwhile. After all, there are a lot of people out there, and offending 99 to get one subscriber or one sale is good math."

The word I use for people like this is 'spammer'.

The mindset of the modern marketer is, "I can build a reputation in everything I do. If I teach people to trust me, then over time, I'll conserve their attention and build permission. That's priceless, particularly in a world that's getting more skeptical by the minute."

Of course, the best thing of all is to have content that deserves a great headline. If you can't do that, though, I think you should forgo the headline.


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