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

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Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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

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

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The Big Red Fez

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The Dip

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

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The Icarus Deception

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

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« July 2010 | Main | September 2010 »

Just launched: Linchpin on the Vook on the iPad

The details are right here. Created by Vook, based on the hardcover.

Includes new video and interviews with some interesting folks...

The long tail challenge of the iPad store is getting more and more obvious to people. The ratio of "shelf space" to inventory is about the worst of any retail experience in the world. There are more than 24,000 apps listed in the iPad store, and yet the front window (equivalent to the window of a bookstore) shows the user six choices. The spotlight coverflow up top shows another sixteen, fairly randomly. Meaning there's a little worse than a one in a thousand chance that your app will appear in front of someone interacting with the store at the first level.

I have no doubt that as Apple sees revenue increase from this source, they'll do a much better job of crosslinks and browsing. But, once again, the lesson of the long tail is this: you can't count on the gatekeeper to do your promotion for you. Getting picked feels like a needle in a haystack, and the value of permission, of connecting directly to people who care instead of ceding control to a middle man, is at the heart of building an asset. Someone is going to be the gatekeeper, and it should be you.

The corporate conscience

There isn't one.

Corporations don't have a conscience, people do.

That means that every time you say, "It's just my job," or "My department has a policy," or "All I do is work here," what you've done is abdicated responsibility--to no one.

It's convenient and even comfortable to blame the anonymous actions of many working in concert on a evanescent brand or organization, but that starts you on an inevitable race to the bottom. Organizations have more power than ever before. They are better synchronized, faster, and possess more tools to change the economy and the people in it than ever before. And the only option available to the rest of us is for individuals to take responsibility (it's not given) for what they do and how they do it.

The very same tools that permit organizations to synchronize their efforts are now available to you and to me. I guess the question is: will we use that power to humanize the systems we've created?

PS It's not just about being a good citizen: when bad behavior comes back to hurt the company, it hurts you, too.

Professionals, amateurs and the great unwashed

If you want something done, perhaps you would ask a professional to do it. Someone who costs a lot but is worth more than they charge. Someone who shows up even when she doesn't feel like it. Someone who stands behind her work, gets better over time and is quite serious indeed about the transaction.

Or perhaps you could hire a passionate amateur. That's a forum leader doing it for love, not money. An obsessive in love with the craft. A talented person willing to trade income for the chance to do what he loves, with freedom.

Please, though, don't hire someone who just thinks it's a job. This category represents the majority of your options, and this category is what gives work a bad name.

Don't forget about color

Mspair The airport in Minneapolis is expensive and reasonably thoughtful in its design.

But the signs are monochromatic. As a result, the tired traveler wanders in circles, looking for her destination. Imagine how much easier it would be to find out where you were going if every sign with the word TAXI on it had it in yellow instead of white. Once you knew the color of where you were going, you'd just naturally scan for it.

Google and our text-based low-res online world seems to argue against color as a signal, but it's extraordinarily powerful. You don't need to make a big deal of of it, subtle is enough. Make the button you want pressed green on every page. Soon, your users will naturally gravitate to green buttons...

This works in Powerpoint presentations and even contracts. A little goes a long way.

A little out of sync

All those devices in your bag make it easier than ever to stay in sync.

You can reap what you sow in Farmville, keep up with your email, know what's going on on every important blog, be in the right room at the right time earning badges, etc. You can synchronized at all times.

And if you get a little out of sync, just a little, it's painful. One more reason you might want to stop reading this and check your feeds.

Building your success on being more in sync than everyone else is a sharp edge to walk on. You'll always be near the edge of perfect sync, but never there.

The alternative is to be a lot out of sync.

People who are way out of sync with the digital maelstrom of the moment aren't always bad followers. They might be great leaders.

The blizzard of noise (and the good news)

As the amount of inputs go up, as the number of people and ideas that clamor for attention continue to increase, we do what people always do: we rely on the familiar, the trusted and the personal.

The experience I have with you as a customer or a friend is far more important than a few random bits flying by on the screen. The incredible surplus of digital data means that human actions, generosity and sacrifice are more important than they ever were before.

Senior management

A newly-retired executive takes a job as an adjunct professor and really shakes things up. Both the school and the students are blown away by her fresh thinking and new approaches.

A forty-year old internet executive who has been running his company for decades misses one new trend after another, because he's still living in 1998.

One thing that happens to management when they get senior is that they get stuck. (As we saw with the new professor, senior isn't about old, it's about how long you've been there).

If you've been doing it forever, you discover (but may not realize) that the things that got you this power are no longer dependable.

Reliance on the tried and true can backfire (Rupert keeps missing one opportunity after another, and keeps misunderstanding the medium he works in) or it can (rarely) pay off (Steve Jobs keeps repeating the same business model again and again--it's not an accident that Apple has no real online or social media footprint. Steve believes in beautifully designed objects, closed systems and evangelizing to developers and creatives).

Worth quoting--one of Arthur C. Clarke's lesser known three laws:  "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong."

The paradox is that by the time you get to be senior, the decisions that matter the most are the ones that would be best made made by people who are junior...

Sell the problem

No business buys a solution for a problem they don't have.

And yet, most business to business marketers jump right into features and benefits, without taking the time to understand if the person on the other end of the conversation/call/letter believes they even have a problem.

My friend Marcia (we've advised each other on various projects) has a very cool idea for large professional firms. As an architect, she realized the firms were wasting time and money and efficiency in the way they use their space. Roomtag is her answer. 

The challenge is this: if your big law firm or accounting firm doesn't think it has a space allocation/stuff tracking/office mapping problem, you won't be looking for a solution. You won't wake up in the morning dreaming about how to solve it, or go to bed wondering how much it's costing you to ignore it.

And so the marketing challenge is to sell the problem.

(Interesting paradox: a lot of people aren't willing to embrace that they have a problem unless they also believe that there's a solution... so part of selling a problem is hinting that there's a solution that others are using, or is right around the corner.)

Imagine, for example, getting the data and publishing a list of the top 50 firms, ranked by efficiency of space use. All of a sudden, the bottom half of the list realizes that yes, in fact, they have something that they need to work on. If you knew that your firm was paying twice as much per associate as the competition, you'd realize that there's a problem.

When a prospect comes to the table and says, "we have a problem," then you're both on the same side of the table when it comes time to solve it. On the other hand, if they're at the table because you're persistent or charming, the only problem they have is, "how do I get out of here."

Little lies and small promises

"I'll be out of bed in five minutes," is not a true statement because it's a promise not meant to be kept. It actually means, "go away, I'm sleeping, I'll say what I need to get rid of you."

"Your call is very important to us," is not a true statement either. The truth is self-evident.

"I promise I'll tell the manager about this," is of course not a real promise either. It might be uttered with good intent, or might be designed to get an annoying customer to go away, but still...

You can already guess the problem with little lies. They blur the line, and they lead (pretty quickly) to big lies. The worst kind of little lies are the ones you make to yourself. Once you're willing to lie to yourself, you're also willing to cheat at golf, and after that, it's all downhill.

Companies that refuse to break small promises have a much easier time keeping big promises. And they earn a reputation, one that makes their handshake worth more.

Given that expectation and trust are just about all we have left to sell, it seems to me that little lies and small promises are at the very heart of the matter. And they're a simple choice, nothing requiring an MBA or a spreadsheet.

It all depends on what you want to stand for.

The secret of the Roush effect

When Gerald Roush died in late May, he left behind the Ferrari Market Letter. This newsletter, which he started and ran, had nearly 5,000 subscribers, paying him $130 a year for a subscription. Do the math! It's a good living--even without a fancy website.

The newsletter, it appears, was not just lucrative, it was a bargain. It chronicled the pricing, whereabouts and details of just about every Ferrari ever made. If you were a buyer or a seller, you subscribed. If you wanted to run an ad, you were required to include the car's VIN, which added to Roush's voluminous database.

The Roush effect involves extraordinary domain knowledge, a market small enough to understand and diligently earning the role of data middleman. The players in the market want there to be one clearinghouse, one authority who can connect the data, see the trends and publish the conventional wisdom.

It might be a newsletter, a conference or an online database. The tactics don't matter, but the role is indispensable. If you need examples to persuade you to try this, they won't be hard to find. One of my favorites is my friend Michael's role in the book industry. He's bigger and more important than the famous (but failing) trade journal.

Just about every tribe needs a Gerald Roush. And in many markets, they can afford to pay someone like him very handsomely.

Moving on

Linchpin will be the last book I publish in a traditional way.

One of the poxes on an author's otherwise blessed life is people who ask, "what's your next book," even if some of them haven't read the last one. (Jeff did, of course). To answer your question, this book is my next book. I think the ideas in Linchpin are my life's work, and I'm going to figure out the best way to spread those ideas, in whatever form they take. I also have some new, smaller projects in the works, and no doubt some bigger ones around the corner. [PS the best analysis of this whole thing, particularly the punchline is by Mitch.]

A little background: For ten years or so, beginning in 1986, I was a book packager. Sort of like a movie producer, but for books. My team and I created 120 published books and pitched another 600 ideas, all of which were summarily rejected. Some of the published books were flops, others were huge bestsellers. It was a lot of fun. As a book packager, you wake up in the morning and say, "what sort of book can I invent/sell/organize/write/produce today?"

It took a year or so, but I finally figured out that my customer wasn't the reader or the book buyer, it was the publisher. If the editor didn't buy my book, it didn't get published. Here's the thing: I liked having editors as my customers. These are smart, motivated and really nice people who are happy to talk with you about what they want and what they believe. Good customers to have. (In all of those years, only one publisher stole any of my ideas, no check ever bounced, and no publisher ever broke a promise to me).

When I decided to become focused on being an author, the logical thing to do was to sell to that same group of people. And it worked. I've been lucky enough to work with some great editors, and my current publisher, Portfolio, has been patient, flexible and, did I mention, patient. Adrian Zackheim, who runs the imprint, is exactly what you'd hope for, even if the architecture of his industry is fundamentally broken.

Authors need publishers because they need a customer. Readers have been separated from authors by many levels--stores, distributors, media outlets, printers, publishers--there were lots of layers for many generations, and the editor with a checkbook made the process palatable to the writer. For ten years, I had a publisher as a client (with some fun self-published adventures along the way). Twelve bestsellers later, I've thought hard about what it means to have a traditional publisher.

Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system.

The thing is--now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn't help me or you. As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive.... I honestly can't think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade. The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, "how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?" To be succinct: I'm not sure that I serve my audience (you) by worrying about how a new approach is going to help or hurt Barnes & Noble.

My audience does things like buy five or ten copies at a time and distribute them to friends and co-workers. They (you) forward blog posts and PDFs. They join online discussion forums. None of these things are supported by the core of the current corporate publishing model.

Since February, I've shared my thoughts about the future of publishing in both public forums and in private brainstorming sessions with various friends in top jobs in the publishing industry. Other than one or two insightful mavericks, most of them looked at me like I was nuts for being an optimist. One CEO worked as hard as she could to restrain herself, but failed and almost threw me out of her office by the end. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't heartbroken at the fear I saw.

All a long way of saying that as the methods for spreading ideas and engaging with people keep changing, I can't think of a good reason to be on the defensive. It's been years since I woke up in the morning saying, "I need to write a book, I wonder what it should be about." Instead, my mission is to figure out who the audience is, and take them where they want and need to go, in whatever format works, even if it's not a traditionally published book.

If you're among the majority reading this that has never bought one of my books in a bookstore, not much will change. But I thought I'd share with you this fork in the road. Thanks for reading, in whatever form you choose.

Monitoring your internal monologue

One of the best ways we have to intuit the way others decide is to understand how we decide. We have a voice in our heads and we assume others do too. We don't like rancid cheese and we assume others don't either.

I've met two kinds of successful intuitive marketers. The first kind has absolutely no ability to describe why people do what they do. They just know. I talked with a famous fashion designer for two hours and came away believing that she has no idea whatsoever how or why purchasing decisions are made. She has no words for it.

The other kind is an honest witness of the decision-making that goes on every day inside. "Why did I just choose that?" "Why do I believe this? Is it because of something my dad said when I was three?" "Why did I give $100 to that charity? Why not zero? A thousand?" This self-insight is difficult and valuable. It means that you can't take things at face value, even things that you might be more comfortable leaving unexamined, as truths. Theologians wrestle with this dilemma all the time. How can you study an idea or a trend or a belief system if you also accept it as a universal, unquestionable fact?

And so the smart marketer throws away bias and stops cheering for one outcome over another and instead quietly takes notes on herself. Notes start shallow, but if you push, you can get deeper, stripping away layers of previously unexamined instinct. You can test those notes, see if they occur in other people when you vary the inputs. And it's this series of notes and tests that give you insight on how to share your next idea.

Drop everything, we need you to perform in our circus

Critics and fans, passersby and the media crave a battle, a scandal and heroic stories of winning and losing.

Want to get written up on a tech blog? Just post a really angry rant about your competition.

Want to sell tickets to the hockey game? Just put a few brawlers on the team.

The media demands that a politician "get angry" in the face of a conflict or problem that anger won't have any effect on--but it will make a good story. Your customers demand that you stop doing what's always worked and race to follow a trend or launch a risky sideline...

When you stumble or fall, they won't say, "sorry, we were wrong." They'll say, "what were you thinking!" and talk about it even more. And then the cycle continues.

Finding inspiration instead of it finding you

One approach to innovation and brainstorming is to wait for the muse to appear, to hope that it alights on your shoulder, to be ready to write down whatever comes to you.

The other is to seek it out, will it to appear, train it to arrive on time and on command.

The first method plays into our fears. After all, if you're not inspired, it's not your fault if you don't ship, it's not your fault if you don't do anything remarkable--hey, I don't have any good ideas, you can't expect me to speak up if I don't have any good ideas...

The second method challenges the fear and announces that you've abandoned the resistance and instead prepared to ship. Your first idea might not be good, or even your second or your tenth, but once you dedicate yourself to this cycle, yes, in fact, you will ship and make a difference.

Simple example: start a blog and post once a day on how your favorite company can improve its products or its service. Do it every day for a month, one new, actionable idea each and every day. Within a few weeks, you'll notice the change in the way you find, process and ship ideas.

Splitting wood

When using an axe to split logs, it's awfully tempting to aim at the top of the log.

After all, if you miss the log entirely, it's dangerous or at the very least, ineffective. One can argue that if you don't split the top, it's pointless—nothing else will happen.

The problem with aiming at the top is that the axe loses momentum before its work is done and you end up with a stuck axe and half a split log.

No, the best approach is to focus on splitting the bottom of the log. Split the bottom and the top takes care of itself.

Amplification: some of my smartest and fastest-reading readers (and some with experience in log splitting) missed the point of the post above. I'm not Gary Larson, so I guess I should clarify.

I'm not talking about turning the log upside down or some other semantic trick. I'm pointing out that if you aim at the top (at getting started), then you don't split the wood. If you aim at the bottom (by way of the top) then you do. Hitting the top of the log isn't, the point, it's merely the beginning of the stroke. In other words, don't focus so much on starting something. It's the follow through that will get you there, so the beginning must be with the end in mind. And yes, this actually makes wood chopping far easier.

Subtlety, deconstructed

Subtle is a cousin of beautiful.

Subtle design and messaging challenge the user to make her own connections instead of spelling out every detail. Connections we make are more powerful than connections made for us. If Amazon and Zappos had been called "reallybigbookstore.com" and "tonsofshoes.com" it might have made some early investors happy, but they would have built little of value.

Subtle details demonstrate power. Instead of being in an urgent hurry to yell about every feature or benefit, you demonstrate confidence by taking your time and allowing people to explore. They don't put huge banners on the Hermes store, announcing how good the silk is and how many famous people shop there...

And subtle messaging communicates insider status. I don't have to say, "Hey I was in Skull and Bones too! You should hire me!" Instead, a subtle (secret) handshake does all the talking that's needed.

It's tempting to turn the dial all the way to 11, the make everything just a bit louder. The opposite is precisely what you might need.

I'm aware of the oxymoronic nature of spelling out details about subtlety. At least I didn't explicitly point out the Spinal Tap reference.

The road trip continues (announcing Atlanta)

Over the summer, I've done full day road trip gigs in Boston and DC. Each was different, both were amazing. (Here are some comments from DC and Boston attendees).

Coming up: I'll be in Minneapolis next Thursday, the 26th. There's a free meetup planned a few days before for those who are going.

Chicago is completely sold out (full day) but there are a few half-day tickets left.

And today we're announcing Atlanta on Friday, October 8th. Full day tickets for Atlanta are discounted $300 if for readers of this blog... just enter the discount code Sethsblog. (Half day attendees save $125, your code is Ireadsethsblog). If you're in Atlanta, I hope you can come or perhaps spread the word.

Hope to see you there.

Avoiding momentum

Some days, even the best dentist doesn't feel like being a dentist.

And a lifeguard might not feel like being a lifeguard.

Fortunately, they have appointments, commitments and jobs. They have to show up. They have to start doing the work. And most of the time, this jump start is sufficient to get them over the hump, and then they go back to being in the zone and doing their best work.

Momentum is incredibly useful to someone who has to overcome fear, dig in deep and ship. Momentum gives you a reason to overcome your fear and do your art, because there are outside forces and obligations that keep you moving. Without them, you'd probably stumble and fall.

And yet...

And yet many of us fear too much momentum. We look at a project launch or a job or another new commitment as something that might get out of control. It's one thing to be a folk singer playing to a hundred people a night in a coffeehouse, but what if the momentum builds and you become a star? A rock star? With an entourage and appearances and higher than high expectations for your next work. That's a lot of momentum, no?

Deep down, this potential for an overwhelming response alerts the lizard brain and we hold back. We're afraid of being part of something that feels like it might be too big for us.

Hint: it probably isn't.

The fear tax

Here's what happens as a result of security theater at the Orlando airport:

  • You wait in line at least twenty minutes
  • There's a scrum of pushing and shoving
  • The staff are unhappy and not afraid to share it
  • An unreasonable workload leads to fatigue and errors
  • People miss their flights

Here's what doesn't happen:

  • Security is not increased
  • Peace of mind is not enhanced

In other words, we're paying a significant tax (time and money) and getting nothing in return. In fact, we get worse than nothing. We could call it an anxiety program, instead of a tax. (After all, when you pay a luxury tax, you get some hard-won luxury as part of the deal).

The reason the TSA keeps changing the rules is not because the rules work, but because changing the rules creates more anxiety (for bad guys, they say, but for us too).

Another example: the MBA. A lot of entrepreneurs get an MBA because they are afraid to go out into world without one. They are seeking the reassurance a credential will bring them, even though the cost is huge and there's no data to indicate that they'll be more successful as an entrepreneur as a result.

We pay the fear tax every time we spend time or money seeking reassurance. We pay it twice when the act of seeking that reassurance actually makes us more anxious, not less.

We pay the tax when we cover our butt instead of doing the right thing, and we pay the tax when we take away someone's dignity because we're afraid.

We should quantify the tax. The government should publish how much of our money they're spending to create fear and then spending to (apparently) address fear. Corporations should add to their annual reports how much they spent just-in-case. Once we know how much it costs, we can figure out if it's worth it.

Instead of seeking out gatekeepers and critics and others that demand we get the broom of the wicked witch, perhaps we should just publish our work. The tax is too high.

Instead of forgetting about the wasted anxiety after the fact, perhaps we ought to keep a log of how often we needlessly pay the fear tax.

Instead of over-staffing, over-planning, over-meeting and over-analyzing, perhaps organizations should take lower-cost steps and actually ship.

Think about how much you could get done if you didn't have to pay a tax to amplify or mollify your fear...

How long before you run out of talking points?

Here's how you know if someone is living the brand, is emotionally connected to the story and is literate and informed--or if they're just emotionally connected in the moment:

Ask a lot of questions.

Cornel West can talk for hours about race, the Bible or Marx. He knows it cold.

Dan Dennett can write for three hundred pages about the philosophy of free will and consciousness and he's just getting started. There's depth there.

I've talked to brand stewards from JetBlue and Starbucks that could go deep or wide or detailed for hours.

Then compare these passionate leaders to a pundit, spin doctor or troll (for just about any cause du jour) being interviewed on TV. After three sentences, they run out of assertions, facts or interesting things to say.

There's a lot to be said for being deep, scientific and informed.

(bonus: Via Xeni at Boingboing, consider this take on how we brainwash our kids. More talking points.)

How big is your red zone?

Redzone Every activity worth doing has a learning curve. Riding a bike, learning to read, using Facebook... the early days are rarely nothing but fun.

Take a look at this three part chart. The first shows how much joy someone gets out of an activity. Over time, as we discover new things and get better at it, our satisfaction increases. At some point, there's a bump when we get quite good at it, and then, in most activities, it fades because we get bored. (In the top graph I've also added the Dip, showing the extra joy from being an expert, but that's irrelevant to this discussion).

The second graph shows the hassle of that same activity. Riding a bike, for example, is horrible at first. Skinned knees, bruised egos. Twitter is really easy to use the first few times, so not so much red ink there.

The third graph is just the two overlaid. That zone on the left, the red zone, is the gap between the initial hassle and the initial joy. My contention is that the only reason we ever get through that gap is that someone on the other side (the little green circle) is rooting us on, or telling us stories of how great it is on the other side.

The bigger your red zone, the louder your green dot needs to be. Every successful product or passion is either easy to get started on or comes with a built-in motivator to keep you moving until you're in. This is so easy to overlook, because of course you're already in...

The right price the first time

The way you price expensive transactions is going to train your partners and customers in how to behave.

When selling a book to a major publisher, it’s common for the publisher to offer an advance against royalties. In fact, the advance is the most significant tool that publishers use to get a coveted author to pick one house over another--royalties and most everything else are fixed.

It turns out that if an agent offers a hot book to multiple publishers at the same time, the advance offered goes up, often dramatically. Obviously, the publisher was capable of offering the higher advance without the auction, but it was the risk of losing the book that got them to pony up more money.

This trains agents and authors to be disloyal, to shop around and to create an artificial game to raise the price.

Or consider the real estate developer who calls up an electrician to re-wire a building. She uses this electrician often, and the estimate comes back at $18,000. The developer shops around and finds a similarly talented electrician for $14,000. Loyalty is great, but that’s a huge difference. She switches to the higher value choice. Indignant, the original electrician says, “why didn’t you tell me! I could have beaten that price.”

The answer, of course, is, “well, why didn’t you quote me that price in the first place?”

You might leave money on the table if you reward people for being loyal (and don’t make them shop around each time). I think it’s money well spent, because loyalty is worth more than a little more margin. If you train your partners to shop around, expect them to shop around.

Resilience and the incredible power of slow change

Most existing systems (organizations, cities, careers, governments) are resilient to external shocks. If they weren't, they wouldn't still be here. Earthquakes, edicts and emergencies come and they go, but the systems remain.

And yet, it's the emergencies we pay attention to.

No single event demolished the music business. It was a series of slow changes over the course of two decades, all the way back to the CD.

Smoking killed far more people than terrorists ever did. It's just not as dramatic.

No single technology destroyed the business model for newspapers. Sure, Craigslist hastened their demise, but the writing has been on the wall for a decade or more.

Your career won't be made or broken on the back of one interview, one meeting, one sales call. Sure, it might help (or hurt), but the sudden impact of one event isn't sufficient to change everything forever.

The slow changes in the media landscape are accelerating and virtually every pre-digital system is in danger. The slow changes in the marketing landscape are in their second decade and these changes will have their effects on every business and cause as well.

Cultural shifts create long terms evolutionary changes. Cultural shifts, changes in habits, technologies that slowly obsolete a product or a system are the ones that change our lives. Watch for shifts in systems and processes and expectations. That's what makes change, not big events.

Don't worry about what happened yesterday (or five minutes ago). Focus on what happened ten years ago and think about what you can do that will make a huge impact in six months. The breaking news mindset isn't just annoying, it may be distracting you from what really matters. As the world gets faster, it turns out that the glacial changes of years and decades are become more important, not less.

Foundation elements for modern businesses

When you sit down to dream up a new business, you can imagine a world without constraints. Or you can choose to build in fundamental pieces that will make it more likely your idea will pay off.

Here are some fundamental pieces of most new successful businesses. The goal is to build these elements into the very nature of the business itself, not just to tack them on. For example, the Scotch tape people at 3M can't do #5, because of the structure of retail distribution and the way they mass produce and can't track who is buying what.

You can live without some of these, but go in with your eyes open if you do:

  1. Build in virality. Consider: Groupon.
  2. Don't sell a product that can be purchased cheaper at Amazon.
  3. Subscriptions beat one-off sales.
  4. Try to create an environment where your customers are happier when there are other customers doing business with you (see #1).
  5. Treat different customers differently.
  6. Generate joy, don't just satisfy a need for a commodity.
  7. Rely on unique individuals, not an easily copyable system.
  8. Plan on remarkable experiences, not remarkable ads.
  9. Don't build a fortress of secrets, bet on open.
  10. Unless there's a differentiating business reason, use off the shelf software and cheap cloud storage.
  11. The asset of the future is the embrace of a tribe, not a cheaper widget.
  12. Match expenses to cash flow--don't run out of money, because it's no longer 1999.
  13. Create scarcity but act with abundance. Free samples create demand for the valuable (but not unlimited) tier you offer.
  14. Tell a story, erect a mythology, walk the walk.
  15. Plan on obsolescence (of your products, not your customers).

Notes:

3. The cost of selling a subscription to your product or service is not a lot higher than the cost of selling just one, but you benefit by having sales you can count on at low cost. Your customers benefit because you depend on them more and they save time.

5. Everyone has different needs and expectations and resources. The internet lets you tell people apart and give them what they need.

7. AKA as Linchpins.

9. If you're building a business on trade secrets or lack of information among your customers, you're trying to fill a leaky bucket. Far easier to bet on the more people know, the better you do.

10. Because cheap software and the cloud are going to continue to get cheaper, and custom work that's worth anything is going to continue to get more expensive.

12. The best people to fund your growth are your customers.

13. When the marginal cost of an interaction approaches zero, you benefit by creating plenty of them.

14. We can tell.

Exploration and the risk of failure

People seem to be in one of two categories:

  • Those who seek stability, affiliation, work worth doing and the assurance it (whatever it is) will be okay.
  • Those who explore, need to know that failure is an option and quest to make a dent in the universe.

You can be in either category, the world needs and rewards both. But pick a brand and a job and a posture that matches your category, or you'll fail, and be miserable until you do.

Hint: there is no category of: "does risky exploration, never fails."

When technology and tradition diverge

What be the effect on voting patterns if we used digital technology to announce the current vote tally every hour (or every hundred votes).

People would see the direction an election was going and be more likely to be pulled in. Voter attention and ultimately voter involvement would go up, and fraud would be more difficult. [I'm well aware this is a fairly lame variation, there's actually a million interesting alternatives, I just picked a simple one.]

So why don't we do it?

When the secret ballot was introduced, it just wasn't possible to count the votes in less than a few days. So a tradition was established, driven by the technology, not because it was the best way. Now, of course, the technology doesn't need that tradition any longer, but it's still here.

One by one, traditions that supported technology are falling as the technology changes. The simple thank you note, for example, is a long tradition based on the technology of couriers and then the postal service. Of course it arrives three days later, because that's how long it takes. At first, the email thank you note seems too impersonal, too easy, too digital. Then, we begin to appreciate the speed and it become ubiquitous and then expected.

There are huge opportunities for marketers seeking to upend traditions that have outlived their usefulness. Just don't expect it to happen overnight.

The places you go

Over the weekend I visited one of my favorite places. It didn't matter that I hadn't been there in a while, or didn't know most of the people I encountered. The second I walked in, heard the noise, saw the walls... even the way it smelled... I was transported.

It’s incredible to think about--a room could magically change the way I felt. A physical room with the right memories can do this in just a heartbeat. So can a metaphorical one, even a brand.

The states of your emotions (your moods and passions) are like rooms in a house.

Anxiety, flow, joy, fear, exhaustion, connection, contemplation, emotional labor... each one can be visited at will if we choose. Sometimes by entering a real room, but more often in metaphor...

Do you have a friend you can have an intimate, tearful conversation with anytime you pick up the phone? Is there a topic that if you bring it up with your boss, it will quickly lead to contention? Is there a place or a memory that never fails to bring melancholy along with it?

Occasionally we encounter emotions at random. More often, we have no choice, because there’s something that needs to be done, or an event that impinges itself on us. But most often, we seek emotions out, find refuge in them, just as we walk into the living room or the den.

Stop for a second and reread that sentence, because it’s certainly controversial. I’m arguing that more often than not, we encounter fear or aggravation or delight because we seek it out, not because it’s thrust on us.

Why check your email every twenty minutes? It’s not because it needs checking. It’s because the checking puts us into a state we seek out. Why yell at the parking attendant with such gusto? Teaching him a lesson isn’t the point--no, in that moment, it’s what we want to do, it’s a room we choose to hang out in. It could be something as prosaic as getting involved in a flame war online every day, or checking your feeds at midnight or taking a shot or two before dinner. It’s not something you have to do, it’s something you choose to do, because going there takes your emotions to a place you’ve gotten used to, a place where you feel comfortable, even if it makes you unhappy.

There’s a metaphorical room I can go to where I’m likely to experience flow--a sense of being in the moment and getting an enormous amount done. Down the hall is the room where there’s a lot of anxiety about something I can’t change. I can visit that room if I choose, but I don’t. And yes, it’s a choice.

Great brands figure out how to supply a ‘room’ to anyone who chooses to visit. Soap opera fans, for example, can count on being put into a certain state anytime they tune in. The Apple store is carefully calibrated as an architectural and retail room that will change how you feel when you enter it. Chiat Day built offices in New York and LA that triggered huge waves of creativity. And there's nothing like the face of a kid eating a Hershey's bar...

YouTube isn't just video. It's a room. Not everyone uses it the same way, but most people use it the same way every time they use it. If it's the site people go to see stupid pet tricks and write stupider comments, then they know why they're going and it's going to be hard for it to become something else...

Is your brand providing the right room to the right people at the right time? Most products, most services--they provide a thing, a list of features, but not a room for my emotions.

This insight about our moods and your brand is all well and good, but it becomes essential once you realize that there are some rooms you’re spending way too much time in, that these choices are taking away from your productivity or your happiness.

Why are you going there again?

Every time you go to that room, you get unhappy, and so do we. Every time you go that room, you spend more time than you expected, and it stresses out the rest of your day. Every time you go to that room you short-circuit the gifts you give to the rest of the team.

Once your habit becomes an addiction, it’s time to question why you get up from a room that was productive and happy, a place you were engaged, and walk down the hall to a room that does no one any good (least of all, you). Tracking your day and your emotions is a first step, but it takes more than that. It takes the guts to break some ingrained habits, ones that the people around you might even be depending on.

Competition

The number one reason people give me for giving up on something great is, "someone else is already doing that."

Or, parsed another way, "my idea is not brand new." Or even, "Oh no, now we'll have competition."

Two big pieces of news for you:

1. Competition validates you. It creates a category. It permits the sale to be this or that, not yes or no. And this or that is a much easier sale to make. It also makes decisions about pricing easier, because you have someone to compare against and lean on.

2. There are six billion people in the world. Even if your market is hand-made spoke shaves for left-handed woodworkers, there are more people in your market than you can ever hope to track down.

There are lots of good reasons to abandon a project. Having a little competition is not one of them. Even if it's Google you're up against.

The decision before the decision

This is the one that was made before you even showed up. This is the one that sets the agenda, determines the goal and establishes the frame.

The decision before the decision is the box.

When you think outside the box, what you're actually doing is questioning the decision before the decision.

That decision is far more important and much more difficult to change than the decision you actually believe you're about to make.

Sleeping funny

It's not a joke. Sometimes you sleep funny, wake up tired and feel cranky all day. No comic timing required.

Do you ever work funny?

Ever have a day when none of the things you need to focus on materialize, when the emotional labor doesn't come naturally?

Most of us have come up with a strategy for days we're working funny--we do the busy work, we reply, react and occasionally respond. We show up at the meetings and we answer our email, and we go home feeling as though we accomplished at least a little something (though we didn't.)

The danger is this: this working funny habit leaks into the days when we're on our game. When you're on a roll, you still find yourself going to meetings, answering email and working through someone else's to-do list. That's a waste.

Don't toss and turn if you don't have to.

Choosing your customers

Yes, you get to choose them, not the other way around. You choose them with your pricing, your content, your promotion, your outreach and your product line.

When choosing, consider:

How much does this type of customer need you

How difficult is this sort of person to find...

and how difficult to reach

How valuable is a customer like this one...

and how demanding?

It's not a matter of who can benefit from what you sell. It's about choosing the customers you'd like to have.

Are you a bullfrog in a china shop?

They make a lot of noise but don't break anything.

They're annoying but not dangerous.

They create a swirl but no impact.

They don't ship.

Train your customers

Yes, you can train them. By rewarding some behaviors over others, by keeping some promises not others, by having some expectations instead of others, you get the audience you deserve. Some things you can train customers to do:

  • Be respectful
  • Be patient
  • Keep their satisfaction to themselves
  • Be selfish
  • Be focused on a superstar
  • Demand personal service
  • Be calm
  • Never settle for the current iteration
  • Be cheap
  • Embrace acceptance
  • Spread the word
  • Expect pampering
  • Demand free
  • Be eager to switch brands to save a buck
  • Value and honor long-term loyalty
  • Be skeptical
The customers you fire and those you pay attention to all send signals to the rest of the group.

Accept all substitutes

Commerce is about pricing, and pricing is about scarcity. Scarcity, of course, demands no easy substitutes.

Some news websites are foolishly putting up paywalls, requiring readers to pay by the day or the year to see what's there. This is foolish because substitutes are so easy to find. If I can't get to the Times of London or Time magazine, no problem, I'll find the same news (or almost the same news) somewhere else.

This is the mistake that book publishers are making on the Kindle. I was mildly interested in the new biography of Henry Luce. But it's $19 on the Kindle. That's outrageous in a world where there are plenty (more than I can ever read) of great biographies for less than $10 on this very same device. (In fact, I can buy the biography of his forgotten partner, the actual founder of Time, for $4 in paperback or $10 on the kindle.) Is a biography about someone else a perfect substitute? Not if you're writing your dissertation about Luce, no, it's not. But the publishers seek a broader audience than that, don't they?

The internet has dramatically widened the number of available substitutes. You don't have to like it, but it's true. That means you have to work far harder to create work that can't easily be replaced.

A post-industrial A to Z digital battledore

New times demand new words, because the old words don't help us see the world differently.

Along the way, I've invented a few, and it occurs to me that sometimes I use them as if you know what I'm talking about. Here, with plenty of links, are 26 of my favorite neologisms (the longest post of the year, probably):

A is for Artist: An artist is someone who brings humanity to a problem, who changes someone else for the better, who does work that can't be written down in a manual. Art is not about oil painting, it's about bringing creativity and insight to work, instead of choosing to be a compliant cog. (from Linchpin).

B is for Bootstrapper: A bootstrapper is someone who starts a business with no money and funds growth through growth. The internet has made bootstrapping much easier than ever, because the costs of creating and marketing remarkable things are cheaper than ever. It's really important not to act like you're well-funded if you're intent on bootstrapping (and vice versa). You can read the Bootstrapper's Bible for free.

C is for Choice: I didn't coin the term the Long Tail, but I wish I had. It describes a simple law: given the choice, people will take the choice. That means that digital commerce enables niches. Aggregating and enabling the long tail accounts for the success of eBay, iTunes, Amazon, Craigslist, Google and even match.com.

D is for Darwin: Things evolve. But evolution is speeding up (and yes, evolving). While it used to take a hundred thousand years for significant changes to happen to our physical culture, the nature of information and a connected society means that 'everything' might change in just a few months. Ideas that spread, win and organizations that learn from their mistakes lead the rest of us. (from Survival is Not Enough)

E is for Edgecraft: Brainstorming doesn't work so well, because most people are bad at it. They're bad at it because their lizard brain takes over moments before a big idea is uttered. "Oh no!" it says, "I better not say that because if I do, then I'll have to do it." And so brainstorming quickly becomes clever stalling and timewasting. Far better is to practice edgegraft. Someone announces a direction ("we'll be really convenient, we'll offer our menu by fax,") and then the next person goes closer to that edge, topping it, ("we'll offer it by email!") and so on, each topping the other in any particular direction. (from the book Free Prize Inside)

F is for the Free Prize: People often don't buy the obvious or measured solution to their problem, they buy the extra, the bonus, the feeling and the story. The free prize is the layout of Google--the search results are the same, but the way the search feels is why you choose to search there. If engineers thought more about the free prize, we'd need fewer marketers.

G is for Go go go™: I just trademarked this one, but you have my permission to use it all you like. Go go go is the mantra of someone who has committed to defeating their anxiety and ignoring their lizard brain. Not a good strategy for airline pilots, but for the rest of us, a little Go go go might be just the ticket.

H is for broken: Isn't it just like a marketer to compromise when he should have organized better in the first place? There's a lot in our consumer society that's broken, but try to avoid getting obsessed with it. Far better to ship your own stuff that's not broken instead.

I is for Ideavirus: A decade ago a wrote a book that was free. It still is. It argues that ideas that spread win, and you can architect and arrange and manipulate your ideas to make them more likely to spread. Note that I'm not saying you can add gimmicks and spam and networking to spread your idea. I'm saying the idea itself is more or less likely to spread based on how you design it.

J is for just looking: When there's plenty of choice and everything is a click away, I'm very unlikely to take action, certainly unlikely to actually buy something from you. I'll do it tomorrow. Or the day after. Which means the only way you create action is to produce an emergency. Why now? Why not later...

K is for kindle: No, not the ebook reader. Kindle as in patiently starting a fire. The TV era demanded blockbuster launches of blockbuster products aimed at the masses. The internet responds better to bonfires that are kindled over time, to ideas that spread because the idea itself is the engine, not the hype or the promotion. First, ten.

L is for Lizard Brain: This is a huge impediment to getting what you want, finding your calling and satisfying your customers. The lizard brain is near your brain stem, including your amygdala. It's the part of your brain responsible for anger, revenge, fear, anxiety and reproduction. It's the original brain, the one that wild animals possess. Steve Pressfield has named the voice of the lizard: it's the resistance. The resistance rationalizes, hides and sabotages your best work.

M is for Meatball Sundae: This is the unfortunate combination of traditional products and services (designed for low price and good quality) with the high-growth nature of the idea-driven internet. When your boss tells you to build a viral campaign about some lame product gathering dust in the warehouse, she's asking you to build a meatball sundae and you should flee.

N is for NOBS: Otherwise known as the new order business school. My rant about this points out that for most people, a traditional MBA is a waste of both time and money. The two biggest benefits--the selection process of getting in, and the social process of networking--could be accomplished, in a Swiftian fashion, without any classes at all.

O is for Orangutan: I could have used the word 'monkey', but I already had an M listing, plus I love the way you spell Orangutan. Anyway, the primate is the best way to think about how people interact with websites. They're like monkeys in a psychology experiment, looking for the banana. Where's the banana, they ask? Of course, I don't know the monkey word for banana, so I'm paraphrasing. If your website offers a banana, people are going to click on it. If they don't, they'll leave. My argument for banana design is in The Big Red Fez.

P is for Permission: Anticipated, personal and relevant messages will always outperform spam. Obvious, but true. So then why do you persist in spamming people? Billboards, TV ads, phone calls--they all are defeated soundly by delivering your offers with permission. In fact, the biggest asset a company can build online is this privilege, the list of people who would miss you if you didn't show up. Here's the original interview (12 years ago!) in Fast Company.

Q is for Quitting: Sticking things out is overrated, particularly if you stick out the wrong things. In fact, I think you'd be much better off quitting most of what you do so you have the resources to get through the hard slog I call the Dip... The challenge, then is to not quit in the Dip, but instead to quit everything else so you have the focus to get through the slog of what matters.

R is for Remarkable: A purple cow is remarkable, because it's worth talking about. Not because you, the marketer said it was, but because I the consumer did. And in a world without effective, scalable advertising, remarkable products and services are the single best way to succeed. Here's a long essay from seven years ago.

S is for Sneezer: What do we call someone who spreads an idea the way some people spread a virus? Seek them out, cater to them, organize them.

T is for Tribe: Human beings evolved to be attracted to tribes. Groups of like-minded people who share a culture, a connection and perhaps a goal. And each of these tribes seeks leadership. The opportunity for marketers today isn't to sell more average stuff to more average people. The opportunity is to find and connect and lead tribes of people, taking them somewhere they want to go.

U is for Ululate: Not because it's relevant, just because it's the single best word in the English language. Can I sneak an extra C? The cliff business.

V is for Very good: No one cares about very good. I can get very good from just about anyone, and certainly cheaper than I can get it from you. We don't have a competence shortage, not any more. No, I'm only going to pay extra for the personal, the magical, the artistic and the work of the linchpin.

W is for Worldview: I first encountered this term via George Lakoff. Your worldview is the set of expectations and biases you bring to a situation before any new data appears. Some people hear a politician say something and hate it, while others are thrilled by it. Is it the thing that was said or the person who said it? Some people hear that Apple is about to launch a new product and they get out their wallets, others flee--before they even know what it is. If you don't understand the worldview of the people you're selling to, you will fail.

X is for Xebec: I hate it when A-to-Z listmakers cheap out on the X. Hey, a xebec is a three-masted schooner. And they're obsolete. Just like CDs, newspapers and a whole host of interesting but dated business models. Sorry. Imagine someone saying: "He's a nice guy, but that company he works for is a xebec."

Y is for You. You the artist. You the one who makes a difference. You the one who stands for something and now has the leverage (and access to the market) to actually ship. Go go go.™

Z is for Zoometry: Originally a term from zoology (pronounced zo-ology, in case you were curious), zoometry is the science of instigating and learning from change. This is the revolution of our time, the biggest one in history, and it's not just about silly videos on Youtube. One by one, industry by industry, the world is being remade again and again, and the agents of change are the winners.

Intolerance and xenophobia as a (short-term) marketing strategy

Possibly the oldest human worldview is fear of strangers. And right next to that is anger as a byproduct of fear.

If a candidate wants to gain attention and possibly votes, then, it makes short-term sense to stir up fear of strangers and turn it into anger. It might even work (once). But it makes it virtually impossible to govern. It's a short-term strategy that eats itself, because sooner or later, everyone is a stranger, and fear is no foundation for work that matters.

It seems as though we're entering a season in which it's easy to ostracize or become righteously indignant over someone's national origin, skin color, religion or sexual orientation.

If this is the best a politician can do to organize and lead, then we all lose.

"I thought you'd be taller"

The chances that you and your brand will first be encountered digitally grow every day.

The only question is what sort of reputation and anticipation you create before they actually encounter you in real life. I think it's a conscious choice.

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