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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

« March 2010 | Main | May 2010 »

David Byrne is angry with me

I recently bumped into David (he of Talking Heads fame) at a conference. Our paths have crossed before, we share a few friends, I'm a big fan and he uses permission marketing to sell his records now. I said "hi."

David's eyes flashed, he turned his shoulders, muttered something and rushed away.

What did I say? What did I do? Why he is upset with me?

Of course, David Byrne isn't angry with me. David Byrne doesn't even remember who I am. In fact, David Byrne was busy, or late, or trying to figure out where he was supposed to go next. The last thing he wanted to do was patiently spend a few minutes figuring out who I was and then a few more minutes making promises he wouldn't be able to keep.

The next time you're sure someone is angry with you, perhaps it's worth considering that you might be mistaken. Perhaps that customer or prospect or boss has better things to do than being angry with you. Each of us has a huge agenda, and while it's comforting for some to jump to the conclusion that we've offended, it's far more likely that the person you're talking with merely has something else going on.

In a digital age, our cues for social or marketing missteps might be mistuned. Sometimes, believe it or not, it's not (always) about us. (On the other hand, and just as often, people are annoyed and don't have a clue...)

The coming melt-down in higher education (as seen by a marketer)

For 400 years, higher education in the US has been on a roll. From Harvard asking Galileo to be a guest professor in the 1600s to millions tuning in to watch a team of unpaid athletes play another team of unpaid athletes in some college sporting event, the amount of time and money and prestige in the college world has been climbing.

I'm afraid that's about to crash and burn. Here's how I'm looking at it.

1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.

Pick up any college brochure or catalog. Delete the brand names and the map. Can you tell which school it is? While there are outliers (like St. Johns, Deep Springs or Full Sail) most schools aren't really outliers. They are mass marketers.

Stop for a second and consider the impact of that choice. By emphasizing mass and sameness and rankings, colleges have changed their mission.

This works great in an industrial economy where we can't churn out standardized students fast enough and where the demand is huge because the premium earned by a college grad dwarfs the cost. But...

InflationTuitionMedicalGeneral1978to2008 2. College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.

As a result, there are millions of people in very serious debt, debt so big it might take decades to repay. Word gets around. Won't get fooled again...

This leads to a crop of potential college students that can (and will) no longer just blindly go to the 'best' school they get in to.

3. The definition of 'best' is under siege.

Why do colleges send millions (!) of undifferentiated pieces of junk mail to high school students now? We will waive the admission fee! We have a one page application! Apply! This is some of the most amateur and bland direct mail I've ever seen. Why do it?

Biggest reason: So the schools can reject more applicants. The more applicants they reject, the higher they rank in US News and other rankings. And thus the rush to game the rankings continues, which is a sign that the marketers in question (the colleges) are getting desperate for more than their fair share. Why bother making your education more useful if you can more easily make it appear to be more useful?

4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.

College wasn't originally designed to merely be a continuation of high school (but with more binge drinking). In many places, though, that's what it has become. The data I'm seeing shows that a degree (from one of those famous schools, with or without a football team) doesn't translate into significantly better career opportunities, a better job or more happiness than a degree from a cheaper institution.

5. Accreditation isn't the solution, it's the problem.

A lot of these ills are the result of uniform accreditation programs that have pushed high-cost, low-reward policies on institutions and rewarded schools that churn out young wanna-be professors instead of experiences that turn out leaders and problem-solvers.

Just as we're watching the disintegration of old-school marketers with mass market products, I think we're about to see significant cracks in old-school schools with mass market degrees.

Back before the digital revolution, access to information was an issue. The size of the library mattered. One reason to go to college was to get access. Today, that access is worth a lot less. The valuable things people take away from college are interactions with great minds (usually professors who actually teach and actually care) and non-class activities that shape them as people. The question I'd ask: is the money that mass-marketing colleges are spending on marketing themselves and scaling themselves well spent? Are they organizing for changing lives or for ranking high? Does NYU have to get so much bigger? Why?

The solutions are obvious... there are tons of ways to get a cheap, liberal education, one that exposes you to the world, permits you to have significant interactions with people who matter and to learn to make a difference (start here). Most of these ways, though, aren't heavily marketed nor do they involve going to a tradition-steeped two-hundred-year old institution with a wrestling team. Things like gap years, research internships and entrepreneurial or social ventures after high school are opening doors for students who are eager to discover the new.

The only people who haven't gotten the memo are anxious helicopter parents, mass marketing colleges and traditional employers. And all three are waking up and facing new circumstances.

Carrying capacity

An organization with eight people in it might be happy, profitable and growing. The same business with twenty might be on the way to bankruptcy.

Ideas, markets, niches and causes have a natural scale. If you get it right, you can thrive for a long time. Overdo it and you stress the inputs.

The earth has a carrying capacity, certainly. It might change as a result of technology (we know how to grow food more efficiently than we did a century ago) but in any moment of time, there's a limit beyond which degradation kicks in. I don't think many would say that we currently have a people shortage. (Impossible to pull off, but worth considering: what if we skipped a growth cycle in the population and everyone in a generation had just two kids? Or even one...)

Your industry might have room for six or seven well-paid consultants, but when you try to scale up to 30 or 40 people on your team, you discover that it stresses the market's ability to pay.

Interesting note: there's also the common problem of under-staffing. More lawyers in a market might create more lawsuits. More effective ad vehicles certainly create more advertising. More lanes on the highway have been demonstrated to lead to more people commuting to work. Sometimes, adding capacity is exactly the right strategy if your goal is to add more revenue.

The next time you find your business struggling, take a minute to think about scale. More people (or fewer) might be the simplest way to solve your problem.

"Powerpoint makes us stupid"--these bullets can kill

The US Army reports that misuse of Powerpoint (in other words, using Powerpoint the way most people use it, the way it was designed to be used) is a huge issue.

I first wrote a popular short free ebook about this seven years ago and the problem hasn't gone away. So much for the power of the idea.

Here's the problem:

  • Bullets appear to be precise
    • They define the scope of the issue, even if they are wrong
    • They are definitive, even if they aren't
  • Bullets that are read from the screen go in one ear and out the other
  • Bullets are used as a defensive measure
    • see, I told you this in the meeting on 12.3.08
  • Bullets are unemotional and sterile
  • The lizard brain causes us to make presentations that are too long so that nothing in particular gets commented on or remembered or criticized
  • It is harder to interrupt and have a conversation with someone who has a clicker

See what I mean?

If there was any other tool as widely misused in your organization, you'd ban it. The cost is enormous in lost opportunity and lost time. Guns don't kill people, bullets do.

The paralysis of unlimited opportunity

There aren't just a few options open to you, there are thousands (or more).

You can spend your marketing money in more ways than ever, live in more places while still working electronically, contact different people, launch different initiatives, hire different freelancers... You can post your ideas in dozens of ways, interact with millions of people, launch any sort of product or service without a permit or factory.

Too many choices.

If it's thrilling to imagine the wide open spaces, go for it.

If it's slowing you down and keeping you up at night, consider artificially limiting your choices. Don't get on planes. Don't do spec work. Don't work for jerks. Work on paper, not on film. Work on film, not on video. Don't work weekends.

Whatever rule you want...

But no matter what, don't do nothing.

Quid pro quo (santa math)

Walk up to the falafel stand and hand the guy $3. He hands you a falafel, no onions.

This for that.

Something for something.

The time between surrendering the money and getting the sandwich is tiny. You gave him something, you got something. It's simple.

Now, stretch it out a bit. You order dinner in a restaurant. They treat you nicely, the room is beautiful, you enjoy the evening, then you pay the bill. This, pause, pause, pause, that.

Go to law school. Pay a lot of money. Spend a lot of time. Be taught a bunch of things you don't particularly want to know, things you probably don't need. Get a degree with a modicum of scarcity. Pay for a bar review course. Pass the bar. Then you get a job that pays a lot of money.

This, then a multi-year pause, then, in return, that for the next forty years. We call it return on investment.

Online, though, I'm not sure the math is so obvious. You don't write a blog to get gigs. You don't help people out in a forum to build a freelance business. Sure, that might happen, but that's not why you do it. If you are busy calculating quid pro quo, that means your heart isn't in it, and the math won't work out anyway.

Online, the something, the quid, the this, doesn't cost cash. It takes heart and energy and caring, which are scarce but renewable resources. As a result, many people are able to spend them without seeking anything external in return. Even better, the act of generosity, of giving without expectation, makes it easier to do art, to create work that matters on its own.

I think it's more like Santa math. Santa flies around the world, giving stuff away, and for what? He earns gratitude, trust and friendship, that's what. Sure, one day he might decide to license his image or try to sell you something. But right here, right now, gratitude, trust and friendship are plenty. Especially if you enjoy doing what you're doing. Quid, no quo.

Empty your library

If you've read one of my books, thanks. I write them to be read, so without you, it would be a pointless exercise.

I'm asking a favor: Would you give your copy (or lend, I'm fine either way) of Linchpin away?

Go find someone you care about, hand them the book and insist they read it. I'd consider that a gift of the first order, and I hope they will too.

In fact, don't just do it with Linchpin, do it with all the books that have changed you, regardless of author or age. They're not earning interest unless people are reading them. Ideas that spread, win.



How much of the time you invest in a project is spent preparing excuses, creating insurance, seeking deniability and covering your ass just in case things go poorly in the end?

At some point, that effort becomes so great you never actually ship anything, which of course is the very best protection against failure.

Who judges your work?

Here's the mistake we make in high school:

We let anyone, just anyone, judge our work (and by extension, judge us.)

Sue, the airheaded but long-legged girl in Spanish class gets the right to judge our appearance.

Bill, the bitter former-poet English teacher gets the power to tell us if we're good at writing.

And on and on.

The cheerleaders are deputized as the Supreme Court of social popularity, and the gym teacher forever has dibs on whether or not we're macho enough to make it in the world. These are patterns we sign up for, and they last forever (or until we tell them to go away).

In high school, some people learn to ship, they learn to do work that matters and most of all, they learn to ignore the critics they can never possibly please. The ability to choose who judges your work--the people who will make it better, use it and reward you--is the key building block in becoming an artist in whatever you do.

8 things I wish everyone knew about email

  1. Change your settings so that email from you has a name, your name, not a blank or some unusual characters, in the from field. (ask a geek or IT person for help if you don't know how).
  2. Change your settings so that the bottom of every email includes a signature (often called a sig) that includes your name and your organization.
  3. Change your settings so that when you reply to a note, the note you're replying to is included below what you write (this is called quoting).
  4. Don't hit reply all. Just don't. Okay, you can, but read this first.
  5. You can't recall an email you didn't mean to send. Some software makes you think you can, but you can't. Not reliably.
  6. Email lives forever, is easy to spread and can easily show up in discovery for a lawsuit.
  7. Please don't ask me to save a tree by not printing your email. It doesn't work, it just annoys the trees.
  8. Send yourself some email at a friend's computer. Read it. Are the fonts too big or too small? Does it look like a standard email? If it doesn't look like a standard, does this deviation help you or hurt you? Sometimes, fitting in makes sense, no?

And a bonus tip from Cory Doctorow (who got it from danah boyd). Cory gets more email than you and me combined: When you go on vacation, set up an autoreply that says, "I'm on vacation until x/x/2010. When I get back, I'm going to delete all the email that arrived while I was gone, so if this note is important, please send it to me again after that date."

The April Linchpin Session

Here's a 45 minute-long live recording of a master class session I did last week in New York. No slides, no script, just a riff.

Download LinchpinSessionSethGodinApril

(Here's a high bandwidth link to download the same file)

(and here's the transcript for those that would rather read it.)

Some people have recommended that I start selling these recordings in the iTunes store. For now, I think it's more interesting to share them for free, to encourage you to share them and to see if we can change anyone along the way. Feel free to post in other places to cut down on the bandwidth bottleneck.


Sad Tim

At the post office the other day, a guy wearing a beautiful handmade scarf finishes his transaction and starts away from the counter.

A small nail holding the molding apparently isn't hammered in all the way. It catches the scarf, pulls the threads and ruins the scarf. The man turns to the counter, looks at the postal worker who took his money and says, "There's a loose nail here, it just ruined my scarf."

Tim, the postal worker, beaten down, tired, given up, stands behind the counter and barely makes eye contact. "Oh."

End of interaction.

When you allow (yes, allow) all humanity to be stripped from your day, all day, then what?

"I quilt"

When you've had enough, can't tolerate your job any longer and are ready to quit, perhaps you could try one last thing.

Quilt instead.

You've got nothing to lose, right? I mean, you're going to quit anyway, so what's the worst that could happen to you?

So quilt. Spend hours every day integrating the people you work with into a cohesive group. Weave in your customers as well. Take every scrap, even the people you don't like, and sew them together. Spend far less time than you should on the 'real' work and instead focus on creating genuine connections with the people you work with. Including your boss. After all, once you quit, you're never going to see them again anyway, right? Might as well give it a try.

Careful... it might change everything.

How to buy a house

Actually, how to think about buying a house.

You don't see a lot of ads trying to sell you on spending too much money on a house. It's more subtle than that. The marketing is all around us, and has been for years. The enormous social pressure and the expectations that come with it lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Here's my advice to someone in the market:

  1. In an era where house prices rise reliably (which was 1963 to 2007), it was almost impossible to overpay for a house. It was an efficient market, and rising prices cover many mistakes. Investing in houses in the USA was a no-brainer. More leverage and more at stake just paid off more in the end. This consistent, multi-generational rise taught us more than an ad every could: buy a lot of house  with as little downpayment as you could.
  2. A house is not just an investment, it's a place to live. This is the only significant financial investment that has two functions. Things like cars and boats always go down in value, so most of the time, if you're investing, you're doing it in something that you don't have to fix, water, fuel or live in. You shouldn't fall in love with a bond or a stock or a piece of gold, because if you do, you won't be a smart investor. The problem (as people who sell and fix and build houses understand) is that you just might fall in love with a house. What a dumb reason to make the largest financial investment of your life.
  3. The psychology of down markets is irrational. Rising house prices might be efficient (many bidders for a single item lead to higher prices), but when there aren't so many bidders, irrational sellers (see #2) don't lower their prices accordingly. So, inventories get longer and it's easy for the prospective buyer to think that a certain price is the 'right' price because so many people are offering houses at that price. Just because someone offers a price, though, doesn't mean it's fair in a given market.
  4. Along the same lines, anchoring has a huge impact on housing prices. If someone offers a house for $800,000 and you think it's worth half that, you don't offer half that. No, of course not. The price is a mental and emotional anchor, and you're likely to offer far more.
  5. The social power of a house is huge. When you buy a big house or an expensive house, you are making a statement to your in-laws, your family, your neighbors and yourself. Nothing wrong with that, but the question you must ask yourself is, "how big a statement can I afford?" How much are you willing to spend on personal marketing and temporary self-esteem?
  6. Debt is an evil plot to keep you poor. If buying a bigger house (or even a house with a living room or a garage) is going to keep you in credit card debt, you've made a huge financial error, one that could cost you millions.
  7. By the time you buy a house, you probably have a family. Which means that this is a joint decision, a group decision, a decision made under stress by at least two people, probably people that don't have a lot of practice talking rationally about significant financial decisions that also have emotional and social underpinnings. Ooph. You've been warned. Perhaps you could add some artificial rigor to the conversation so that it doesn't become a referendum on your marriage or careers and is instead about the house.
  8. If you have a steady job, matching your mortgage to your income isn't dumb. But if you are a freelancer, an entrepreneur or a big thinker, a mortgage can wipe you out. That's because the pressure to make your monthly nut is so big you won't take the risks and do the important work you need to do to actually get ahead. When you have a choice between creating a sure-thing average piece of work or a riskier breakthrough, the mortgage might be just enough to persuade you to hold back.
  9. Real estate brokers, by law, work for the seller (unless otherwise noted). And yet buyers often try to please the broker. You'll never see her again, don't worry about it. [Let me be really clear about what I wrote here, just in case you'd like to misinterpret it: When a prospect sees an ad or goes to an open house, she is about to interact with a broker. That broker, in almost every case, is hired by the seller and has a fiduciary responsibility to the seller to get the very best price for the house. There are exceptions, like buyer's brokers, but those brokers, as I said, note that they are representing the buyer--how can you represent someone without telling them? Many brokers like to pretend to themselves that they are representing both sides, and while that's a nice concept, that's not the law.]
  10. You're probably not going to be able to flip your house in nine months for a big profit. Maybe not even nine years. So revisit #2 and imagine that there is no financial investment, just a house you love. And spend accordingly.
I'm optimistic about the power of a house to change your finances, to provide a foundation for a family and our communities. I'm just not sure you should buy more house than you can afford merely because houses have such good marketing.

Giving away a magician's secrets

Steve Cohen makes more than a million dollars a year doing magic tricks.

I will now tell you the secrets of this magic:

  1. He sells to a very specific group of people, people who are both willing to hear what he has to say and able to pay what he wants to charge them.
  2. He tells a story to this group, a story that matches their worldview. He doesn't try to teach non-customers a lesson or persuade them that they are wrong or don't know enough about his art. Instead, he makes it easy for his happy customers to bring his art to others.
  3. He intentionally creates an experience that is remarkable and likely to spread. "What did you do last night?" is a great question when it's asked of someone you entertained the night before, particularly if you can give the audience an answer they can give. That's how the word spreads.
  4. He's extremely generous in who he works with, how promiscuous he is about sharing and in his attitude.
  5. He's very good at his craft. Don't overlook this one.

I guess it comes down to this: if you're having trouble persuading people to buy what you sell, perhaps you should sell something else. Failing that, perhaps you could talk about what you sell in a different way.

Important clarification: I'm not telling you to sell out or to pander or to dumb down your art. Great marketers lead people, stretching the boundaries and bringing new messages to people who want to hear them. The core of my argument is that someone's worldview, how they feel about risk or other factors, is beyond your ability to change in the short run. Sell people something they're interesting in buying. If you can't leverage the worldview they already have, you are essentially invisible. Which is a whole other sort of magic, one that's not so profitable.

In search of a jealous chipmunk

You won't find one, so don't waste your time.

Chipmunks, wolves and other wild animals rarely get jealous. The number one emotion among wild animals isn't vanity or happiness: it's fear.

Fear is everywhere in the animal kingdom, because fear is a great way to stay alive. Fear is hard-wired into successful species... it doesn't need to be taught.

You guessed it, we're wild animals too, a lot of the time. Marketing that preys on fear (buy duct tape!) has the shortest path to follow to success, because the public can't wait to get scared. An entire portion of our brain (the same brain the lizard has) is dedicated to fear. And it can't wait to spring into action.

If your fear keeps you alive, embrace it. The rest of the time, the best strategy for success is figuring out how to ignore it, befriend it or use it as a compass to find what matters.


Perhaps the biggest change in your worklife is one that snuck up on you.

Every morning, before you even take off your slippers, there's a pile of incoming work. You might not think of it as work, because it doesn't involve stuffing envelopes or making sales calls, but it's part of your career and your job.

That email, Facebook and message queue is a lot longer than it used to be. For some people, it's now a hundred or even a thousand distinct social electronic interactions a day. It's as if a genie is whispering in your ear, "I have an envelope, and it might contain really good or really bad news. Want to open it?"

The relevant discussion here: are the incoming messages helping? After all, most of them aren't initiated by you, they have the power to change your mood or your energy or even how you spend your non-electronic time. And they're addictive. When, for some random reason, they ebb and you have a really light few hours--admit it, you check more often.

What's up? Is anyone out there?

It's like living near Niagara Falls and then one night it freezes. You miss the noise. Is it possible the noise is helping you hide from the stuff that scares you?

If you're actually going to do the work, the real work, the work of producing and shipping the things that matter, I'm afraid you're going to have to be brutally honest about whether this is merely a fun habit or actually a useful lever. Once the fun habit reaches a significant portion of your day (try tracking it today), it might be time to take charge instead of to be a willing victim.

Two years ago, I started taking a lot of flak for being choosy about which incoming media I was willing to embrace. What I've recently seen is that this is a choice that's gaining momentum.

It's your day, and you get to decide, not the cloud. I could go on and on about this, but I know you've got email to check...

When a stranger reads your blog

I had a surreal experience the other day. I was sitting in a coffee shop and watched someone (at the recommendation of a friend who didn't realize I was within earshot) open up my blog and start reading it. Right there, out of the corner of my eye, someone was experiencing me (well, digital me) for the first time.

Here it was, my first impression writ large. No fair running over and saying, "no, skip those two, those two aren't so good, go back a month or two and read the generous, thoughtful ones I wrote..."

It's like DNA. One cell carries the coding for all of them.

That meal you served at lunch yesterday might be the first impression, or that comment you left on someone's page or that customer service interaction with the new guy at your big client's office...

There's a riot of information racing by, and to survive, we snatch little bits and then magnify them into what we embrace as the full picture. Nuance? No time for nuance.

Every interaction might be the whole thing.

The inefficiency of the all call

Back when companies had offices, there was a button on the phone labeled "all call". It allowed you to page every speaker in the entire building at once.

"Tom P., you have a package at the front desk!"

It was a lot easier to hit all call than to just track down Tom. After a while, this group interruption gets tiresome because it's so wasteful. You interrupt 100 people to reach one, or you get ten offers of help (or someone to buy your hockey tickets) when one was all you needed.

Now, of course, the entire world hears your all call.

"I'm looking for this tool. Anyone know where to find it?" 300,000 people see it, 230 tell you the answer, but of course 229 of those contributions are wasted.

Marketers love the all call, as long as it's cheap to interrupt everyone. And we waste all that attention, every single day. As long the game theory rewards the waster, the one who corrupts the system and hurts everyone else, it'll continue.

[aside: This leads to spam filters and inefficiency and we all suffer. If you've been waiting to hear from me because you filled out the form about road trip or the nano MBA, please check your spam filters! I've already written back to everyone via the mailchimp email service, but they report only a 50% open rate on those notes (which is way higher than industry average, amazingly). So, please check and thanks for your patience.]

Cannibalism and spam

So, these two cannibals are eating a clown, and one says to the other, "does this taste funny to you?"

We don't often have conversations about cannibalism. We don't trade recipes or talk about health issues. That's because it's off the table, not permitted, inconceivable.

Marketers should feel the same way about spamming people. Spamming them by email, by text or yes, by calling their cell phones with a robot, repeatedly, just because it's cheap and because they can.



If anyone should know better, it's the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. And yet, not only did they spam thousands of people by phone, they want us to "keep the convo rolling". And when I spoke to their Executive Director, she had a hard time understanding that what they were doing was spam.

Spam is unanticipated, impersonal, irrelevant junk I don't want to get. Not only that, it costs them less to send it than it takes me to figure out what it is and deal with it. That doesn't scale. In fact, it destroys the medium.

Why would anyone join, pay their dues, go to their meetings or want to engage with an organization that's willing to cross a line like this? Even once? (and then brag about it!) Maybe I'm getting cranky, but the relentless march of marketers into our lives is really getting to me. [They've since apologized to those they spammed, which I appreciate.]

In case you missed the first part of our show, the future of marketing is based on permission. It's based on sending messages to people who want to get them, who choose to get them, who would miss you if you didn't send them. It's not easy and it's not cheap to earn permission, but so what? This is my attention, not yours, and if you want to use it for a while, please earn the privilege.

PS If I ran Twitter, I'd build my new ad service about a socially acceptable way for corporate users to build large lists of followers, people who would give permission to get news and discounts and insights from advertisers. Twitter knows who likes what and they have permission from users to be a bridge between the user and those that might want to talk to them. That's a powerful place to be.

Using cheap technology to spam people is not.

Expose yourself...

With so many options in media, interaction and venues, you now get to choose what you expose yourself to.

Expose yourself to art, and you'll come to appreciate it and aspire to make it.

Expose yourself to anonymous scathing critics and you will begin to believe them (or flinch in anticipation of their next appearance.)

Expose yourself to get-rich-quick stories and you'll want to become one.

Expose yourself to fast food ads and you'll crave french fries.

Expose yourself to angry mobs of uninformed, easily manipulated protesters and you'll want to join a mob.

Expose yourself to metrics about your brand or business or performance and you'll work to improve them.

Expose yourself to anger and you might get angry too.

Expose yourself to people making smart decisions and you'll probably learn how to do it as well.

Expose yourself to eager long-term investors (of every kind) and you'll likely to start making what they want to support.

It's a choice if you want it to be.

Have you thought about your margin?

Gross margin is an often confused concept but a powerful tool in figuring out how to market your business (and decide what to make, who to hire and how to fund it). Few people understand it, while others use a definition I don't find very useful.

I like to think of margin as the money left over after you've paid the direct costs for making an item, the last one of the day.

If you run a pizza place and a large pie costs $10, your gross margin is $10 minus the cost of flour, water, yeast, tomatoes and cheese. And maybe salt. That's it.

If you're not operating at capacity, the key word here is margin. The marginal profit of one more pizza is high. You've already paid for the rent, the oven, the sign, the ad in the Yellow Pages, the hourly wage, the uniforms, all of it. Whether you sell that last pizza of the day or not, all those costs are fixed. So, if your ingredients cost $2, your gross margin is $8.

This is vital to understand, because it tells you how flexible you can be with a promotional strategy. Some people (like me) prefer businesses with high gross margins, even if we're less busy. Others make billions on companies that run on the tiniest of margins.

If someone offers to run a coupon in the Welcome Wagon envelope that goes to new residents, and the rules are, "one per customer, new customers only", and the coupon offers a large pizza for $2, is it worth it for you to run it? That's 80% off! Surely, this is too expensive. You can't afford 80% off.

On the margin, of course you can. You got a new customer for free. Unless your store is at capacity, with people waiting in line, one more pizza sold at cost is a great way to build your business (unless there are too many coupons and unless it changes your positioning as a high-end place, but that's a story for a different day).

You probably already guessed this part: for digital goods, the gross margin is 100%. Cell phone calls? The same.

One more customer costs you nothing. That doesn't mean you should price accordingly, but it surely means you should understand how high your margins are.

There is no tribe of normal

People don't coalesce into active and committed tribes around the status quo.

The only vibrant tribes in our communities are the ones closer the edges, or those trying to make change. The center is large, but it's not connected.

If you're trying to build a tribe, a community or a movement, and you want it to be safe and beyond reproach at the same time, you will fail.

Heretical thoughts, delivered in a way that capture the attention of the minority--that's the path that works.

When in doubt, disaggregate

The typical American buys precisely one book a year.


Of course, this isn't true, because when it comes to books, there is no typical American. There are a lot of Americans who buy zero books for pleasure each year. And then there are people like me who buy 400. The average is irrelevant.

When you can't figure out the best way to treat all your customers, the best way to price things, the best thing to offer, realize that the problem is almost always this: you're trying to treat everyone the same. Don't. Break them into groups with similar attributes, and suddenly the path becomes a lot more clear.

Breaking news

I don't know if you've noticed, but there seems to be a lot more breaking news than there used to be.

The thing is, there's no more news, just more breaking.

If news is stuff I need to know, want to know, stuff that will help me make better decisions or generally keep me informed, then, no, I'm not noticing more of it.

If breaking is stuff that interrupts a TV interview, flashes across a website, breaks into a radio show or just shows up on Twitter, then yep, there's a lot more breaking going on.

You can turn your reddit posts or your press releases or your Facebook updates or blog posts into urgent announcements that demand attention. And in the short run, it might work. But then you'll exhaust your readers. We don't want any more urgent emails from you.

... like the boy who cried wolf, the villagers aren't going to come.

Does knowing about something ten seconds or ten minutes faster really matter? Is it worth the adrenalin?

Sorry, wake me up in the morning, not in the middle of the night. Unless it's actually news.

Rights and responsibilities

Robert Bookman from the restaurant industry was quoted as saying that it would violate the free speech rights of restaurant owners if they had to post a health department grade of their cleanliness in the window.

More and more, businesses and businesspeople talk about their rights.

It seems, though, that organizations and individuals that focus more on their responsibilities and less on their rights tend to outperform.

You're responsible to your community, to your customers, to your employees and to your art. Serve them and the rights thing tends to take care of itself.

Another thought: If I worked at Pepsi, I'd be actively lobbying for the obesity sweet soda tax (a penny an ounce) being proposed in New York. Instead, in a no-surprise knee jerk reaction, almost everyone in the industry is lobbying like crazy to stop it. This is dumb marketing.

The benefit of a tax is that it affects you and your competitors at the same time, so you all benefit from doing the right thing, as opposed to having to compete against someone who doesn't care as much as you do.

Once people realize that excessive use of your product makes them sick and then die a long and painful death, it's probably time to stop lobbying and time to start doing something about it. This industry should stop thinking it is in the corn syrup delivery business (which brings nasty side effects along with it) and start focusing on delivering joy in a bottle. Lots of interesting ways to do that without giving up profits.

If your success depends on sickening the poorest and least educated portion of your customer base (and the ones that buy the most from you), it's time to redefine success.

The Levy flight

Clay Shirky taught me this very cool mathematical concept that shows up in nature, and now in marketing and social media.

Levy-flight-100000 An animal that forages will hang out in a small area, looking for nuts or berries, then will realize it has used up all the likely sources in this spot. It will then head off in a random direction, walk many paces, and start foraging again. When you plot the Levy flight, it looks like this:

Someone discovers your site. They poke and prod and join and return and return again. Then they feel as though there's no more benefit and they move on, surfing until they find another place to forage.

Someone finds your restaurant. They love it. They return with friends. They hang out and become regulars for a while. Then they get bored and start browsing again.

Adding the Levy flight to your understanding is a much more nuanced representation of consumer behavior than solely thinking about the ideas of brand loyalty or random web surfing.

Secrets of the biggest selling launch ever

Apple reports that on the first day they sold more than $150,000,000 worth of iPads. I can't think of a product or movie or any other launch that has ever come close to generating that much direct revenue.

Are their tactics reserved for giant consumer fads? I don't think so. In fact, they work even better for smaller gigs and more focused markets.

  1. Earn a permission asset. Over 25 years, Apple has earned the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to their tribe. They can get the word out about a new product without a lot of money because one by one, they've signed people up. They didn't sell 300,000 iPads in one day, they sold them over a few decades.
  2. Don't try to please everyone. There are countless people who don't want one, haven't heard of one or actively hate it. So what? (Please don't gloss over this one just because it's short. In fact, it's the biggest challenge on this list).
  3. Make a product worth talking about. Sounds obvious. If it's so obvious, then why don't the other big companies ship stuff like this? Most of them are paralyzed going to meetings where they sand off the rough edges.
  4. Make it easy for people to talk about you. Steve doesn't have a blog. He doesn't tweet and you can't friend him on Facebook. That's okay. The tribe loves to talk, and the iPad gave them something to talk about.
  5. Build a platform for others to play in. Not just your users, but for people who want to reach your users.
  6. Create a culture of wonder. Microsoft certainly has the engineers, the developers and the money to launch this. So why did they do the Zune instead? Because they never did the hard cultural work of creating the internal expectation that shipping products like this is possible and important.
  7. Be willing to fail. Bold bets succeed--and sometimes they don't. Is that okay with you? Launching the iPad had to be even more frightening than launching a book...
  8. Give the tribe a badge. The cool thing about marketing the iPad is that it's a visible symbol, a uniform. If you have one in the office on Monday, you were announcing your membership. And if it says, "sent from my iPad" on the bottom of your emails...
  9. Don't give up so easy. Apple clearly a faced a technical dip in creating this product... they worked on it for more than a dozen years. Most people would have given up long ago.
  10. Don't worry so much about conventional wisdom. The iPad is a closed system (not like the web) because so many Apple users like closed systems.

And the one thing I'd caution you about:

  1. Don't worry so much about having a big launch day. It looks good in the newspaper, but almost every successful brand or product (Nike, JetBlue, Starbucks, IBM...) didn't start that way.

A few things that will make it work even better going forward:

  1. Create a product that works better when your friends have one too. Some things (like a Costco membership or even email) fit into that category, because if more people join, the prices will go down or access will go up. Others (like the unlisted number to a great hot restaurant) don't.
  2. Make it cheap enough or powerful enough that organizations buy a lot at a time. To give away. To use as a tool.
  3. Change the home screen so I can see more than twenty apps at a time (sorry, that was just me.)

As promised, the folks at Vook made their deadline and were ready on launch day. It's early days, but it's pretty clear to me that the way authors with ideas will share them is going to change pretty radically, just as the iPad demonstrates that the way people interact with the web is going to keep changing as well.

[It turns out that Modern Warfare 2 did far better in its launch than the iPad. Thanks Jon, for the update].

The Linchpin index is now available (free)

Josh Bernoff is a generous guy with an unusual hobby... he likes to make book indices.

Safer than juggling knives, that's for sure.

Josh just posted the missing index for my book Linchpin. Usually, the publisher does the index, and I'm embarrassed to admit I hadn't realized it was missing. Now I'm glad it's here.

Two asides about the book: The full-length audio (itunes, audible) is probably the best reading of one of my books. Audio books work (for me) when you can listen to them more than once. I listened to my Zig Ziglar tapes more than a hundred times each--and I'm glad I did. And the hardcover, (bn) I'm told, is selling twice as fast as any book I've ever published. Thanks for that.

Enjoy the index! Special thanks to Josh for making it happen.

Revisiting conspicuous consumption

The reason you have a front lawn? It's a tradition. Lawns were invented as a way for the landed gentry to demonstrate that they could afford to waste land. By taking the land away from the grazing sheep, they were sending a message to their neighbors. We're rich, we can happily waste the opportunity to make a few bucks from our front lawn.

Conspicuous consumption has a long history. Wasting millions of dollars on a shark in a tank, or on $50,000 platinum stereo cables that sound an awful lot like $2000 stereo cables (which sound a lot like $200 stereo cables). And on and on.

In fact, the origins of the luxury goods industry lie in this desire to waste, in public. 350 years ago in France, Jean-Baptiste Colbert dreamed up the idea of bespoke, rare goods as a way of improving France's balance of trade.  LVMH and other huge corporations collect brands that telegraph scarcity above all else. Not that they're better at performing the task at hand, merely that they are expensive and rare.

(Interesting note: it's estimated that 20% of all the women in Japan in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton bag... scarce?)

In every city there are expensive hotels that are noisy, with $56 breakfasts, no parking, blinds that don't make the room dark and rooms that don't have enough closets. But the very waste of paying extra to stay there ensures that you'll be surrounded by others just as wealthy and just as interested in proving it.

Rich people will always indulge the desire to stand out, but I wonder if there's a new version:

Spending on and investing in time, not stuff.

And it's not so wasteful, this focus on craftsmen.

The new trend in spending money is to buy things that are painstakingly hand built instead of efficiently mass produced. It might not be a better price than what you could buy at Target, but the very fact that you can pay for an artisan to create it, an artist to design it, a talented worker to bring it to life--that act makes a powerful statement about what you can afford and what's important to you. Instead of a bigger house, it's a house that's built from scratch by craftsmen. Instead of a bigger steak, it's a handmade dish of local poached vegetables...

All marketers tell a story. The "this is the best price and value" story is just one of those available, and in fact, it's rarely the most effective for the audience you may be trying to reach.

Accepting limits

It's absurd to look at a three year old toddler and say, "this kid can't read or do math or even string together a coherent paragraph. He's a dolt and he's never going to amount to anything." No, we don't say that because we know we can teach and motivate and cajole the typical kid to be able to do all of these things.

Why is it okay, then, to look at a teenager and say, "this kid will never be a leader, never run a significant organization, never save a life, never inspire or create..."

Just because it's difficult to grade doesn't mean it shouldn't be taught. 

Never mind a teenager. I think it's wrong to say that about someone who's fifty.

Isn't it absurd to focus so much energy on 'practical' skills that prep someone for a life of following instructions but relentlessly avoid the difficult work necessary to push someone to reinvent themselves into becoming someone who makes a difference?

And isn't it even worse to write off a person or an organization merely because of what they are instead of what they might become?

High praise indeed

The best thing to say to an artist of any kind might be, "someday, people will think what you did is really important."

If it's popular with everyone right away, it might not be art, it might just be good marketing. But if it earns attention and respect over time, if it wins over the skeptical, then you've really created something.

One in a million

The chances of a high school student eventually becoming first violin for the Boston Philharmonic: one in a million.

The chances of a high school student eventually playing basketball in the NBA? About the same.

In fact, the chances of someone growing up and getting a job precisely like yours, whatever it is, are similarly slim. (Head of development at an ad agency, director of admissions for a great college... you get the idea). Every good gig is a long shot, but in the end, a lot of talented people get good gigs. The odds of being happy and productive and well compensated aren't one in a million at all, because there are many good gigs down the road. The odds are only slim if you pick precisely one job.

Here's the lesson: the ardent or insane pursuit of a particular goal is a good idea if the steps you take along the way also prep you for other outcomes, each almost as good (or better). If pushing through the Dip and bending the market to your will and shipping on time and doing important and scary work are all things you need to develop along the way, then it doesn't really matter so much if you don't make the goal you set out to reach.

On the other hand, if you live a life of privation and spend serious time and money on a dead end path with only one outcome, you've described a path likely to leave you broken and bitter. Does spending your teenage years (and your twenties) in a room practicing the violin teach you anything about being a violin teacher or a concert promoter or some other job associated with music? If your happiness depends on your draft pick or a single audition, that's giving way too much power to someone else.

Road Trip!

Digital interactions are highly leveraged and widespread, but there's nothing like face to face time to hammer home an idea. To that end I'm noodling with the idea of doing a series of day-long talks and seminars around the US this year (probably every three weeks). I often am hired to do private talks for groups, but it occurs to me that it might be more efficient and open to organize my own public talks as well.

Rather than just dreaming up the entire plan, I thought I'd ask for your feedback, connections, and suggestions, as well as see if anyone wants to help out. No promises, none at all, but if you have something to add to this, let me know. As always, thanks.

Failure, success and neither

The math is magical: you can pile up lots of failures and still keep rolling, but you only need one juicy success to build a career.

The killer is the category called 'neither'. If you spend your days avoiding failure by doing not much worth criticizing, you'll never have a shot at success. Avoiding the thing that's easy to survive keeps you from encountering the very thing you're after.

And yet we market and work and connect and create as if just one failure might be the end of us.

Are you rational?

Before you make any more decisions you need to answer that question.

A rational decision is based on testing and data and an understanding of the mechanics underneath the system you're working on. The more you know, the better you decide.

An irrational decision is based on gut instincts, conviction and faith.

No one is rational all the time. In fact, somewhere along the way we made 'irrational' into a bad word, but it shouldn't be.

There are card counters in Las Vegas who are rational about blackjack. And they make a decent living. The more they play, the better they will do. In the same casino, there are craps players who blow on the dice, wiggle their hips and wear lucky shoes. Inevitably, if they play long enough, they will be broke.

If you're running Adwords on Google, I hope you're making rational decisions based on clickthrough and conversion.

On the other hand, were you rational when you fell in love? Did you do the math? Medical analysis?

What about the last time you fell for an April Fools joke?

The very nature of faith is that you don't (and shouldn't be) rational about it. In fact, you're entitled to be aghast when anyone confronts you with proof. Proof and rationality aren't the point.

Same with fine art. If your taste in paintings or music or wine is based on some sort of rational analysis or Zagats-type survey, I feel quite badly for you. Deeper and more detailed information is not better information when you're making irrational decisions. If you need to hate on Copernicus in order to have more faith, something is seriously wrong.

When Chris Blackwell introduced reggae to the rest of the world (Bob Marley!), it was irrational. That moment in time was the best time to be working with Bonnie Raitt or Jackson Browne, not some unknown spleef-smoking guys from a tiny island in the Caribbean. No amount of rational analysis would have led an investor to back Chris. 

Irrational passion is the key change agent of our economy. Faith and beauty and a desire to change things can't be easily quantified, and we can't live without them.

Steve Jobs is irrational about product design. As a result, focus groups make no sense. Who cares what other people think? He has faith in his gut. Your website: is it rationally designed? Should it be? What about the process you use to create new products or ads? Or the way you pick the focus of your startup? There's room for both rational and irrational decision making, and I think we do best when we choose our path in advance instead of pretending to do one when we're actually doing the other. The worst thing we can do is force one when we actually need the other.

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