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« August 2010 | Main | October 2010 »

Good stuff: 3 day free seminar plus LA and Atlanta

Fembalogo On November 1, 2 and 3, I'll be hosting 12 of you in my office for a free three-day seminar. It's by application only and it's only for women entrepreneurs. If you think you can benefit from and contribute to this intense roundtable experience, I hope you'll apply. Or tell someone who might benefit. And surprisingly, please follow the guidelines as closely as you can, because it's the only way we can consider your application.

ALSO: I'll be taking the road trip to Los Angeles on November 9th. It's my only public gig in LA for a while, and it's being done in conjunction with the Peter Drucker Business Forum. There are a very limited number of tickets for the entire 8-hour session (use the code sethsblog to save some money on the full day ticket), or if you only have an hour or two in the morning, you can buy a ticket just for breakfast ($20) and the on-stage interview I'm doing with journalist and author Lisa Napoli.

Before that, on Friday, October 8, I'll be in Atlanta. (We'll try to top Chicago, which was probably the best yet... here's a video with feedback from some attendees).

Getting better at seeing

A giant pitfall in the way small companies and individuals market themselves, particularly online or in presentations, is that they're often cheesy, ugly or unreadable.

I don't think people deliberately set out to be ugly, but they end up that way. And a quick look at your own buying behavior should tell you that you don't often buy from the sketchy-looking sites, ads and media that are often pitched at you.

No, I think the problem is that people don't realize that their work is ugly. They don't see it. Just like the close-talker down the hall from your cube doesn't realize that he's a close-talker. I'm not talking about skill or talent or even guts. I'm talking about learning to see what others see.

John McWade taught me how to see. I'm not great at it, I'm certainly guilty of designing my own not-so-ideal materials. But the gap between the one-eyed man and the blind is pretty big.

It might take a few weeks of hard work to start to notice what looks right in the world (and why). I think it's worth it.

(Easy to recommend books from Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds too)

Needs don't always lead to demand

One of the accepted holy grails of building an organization is that you should fill a need. Fill people's needs, they say, and the rest will take care of itself.

But... someone might know that they need to lose some weight, but what they demand is potato chips.

Someone might know that they need to be more concerned about the world, but what they demand is another fake reality show.

As my friend Tricia taught me, this is brought into sharp relief when doing social enterprise in the developing world. There are things that people vitally need... and yet providing it is no guarantee you'll find demand.

Please don't get confused by what the market needs. That's something you decided, not them.

If you want to help people lose weight, you need to sell them something they demand, like belonging or convenience, not lecture them about what they need.

Accounting for taste

Taste is the ability to select, combine and create experiences that the tribe likes--before they know that they like it.

John Waters, the filmmaker many accuse of having bad taste actually has great taste--according to a small tribe of people. He establishes a look and a feel and a story that (for this group) is then emulated.

Successful chefs like Thomas Keller invent restaurants and the dishes they offer--and are then rewarded for having the good taste to make precisely what we like. But of course, the 'we' isn't everyone.

Martha Stewart, according to a larger group, also has good taste. She's not merely copying what came before (that's not nearly as difficult or as valuable)... no, she's staying half a step ahead of her tribe, establishing the standard as she goes.

Great graphic designers have good taste. They understand how to use type and imagery to create objects and advertising that resonate with people likely to buy. Copying a book cover or a business card or a mayo label isn't good taste, it's copying. The difficult work is doing a new thing in a way that people who have never seen it before will 'get it'.

The other difficult work: understanding that your standards might not be the standards of the tribe you're seeking to connect with. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's in bad taste. If the market respects the creator, takes action and then adopts the work, it's in good taste.

Five rules for your About page

When someone comes to your site for the first time, they're likely to hit 'about' or 'bio'. Why? Because they want a human, a story and reassurance.

Here are some helpful guidelines (okay, they're actually imperatives):

1. Don't use meaningless jargon:

... is a recognized provider of result-based online and mobile advertising solutions. Dedicated to complete value chain optimization and maximization of ROI for its clients, ... is committed to the ongoing mastery of the latest online platforms - and to providing continuously enhanced aggregation and optimization options.

Handshakes2. Don't use a stock photo of someone who isn't you (if there is a stock photo of you, congratulations). The more photos of you and your team, the better. 

3. Make it easy to contact you. Don't give a contact address or number that doesn't work.

4. Be human. Write like you talk and put your name on it. Tell a story, a true one, one that resonates.

5. Use third party comments and testimonials to establish credibility. Use a lot of them. Make sure they're both interesting and true.

The problem with putting it all on the line...

is that it might not work out.

The problem with not putting it all on the line is that it will never (ever) change things for the better.

Not much of a choice, I think. No risk, no art. No art, no reward.

The market is not seduced by logic

People are moved by stories and drama and hints and clues and discovery.

Logic is a battering ram, one that might work if your case is overwhelming. Wal-Mart won by logic (cheap!), but you probably won't.

Cost reduction for high-end markets

If you sell at the top of the market (luxury travel, services to Fortune 500 companies, financial services for the wealthy...) you might be tempted to figure out ways to cut costs and become more efficient.

After all, if you save a dollar, you make a dollar, without even getting a new customer.

Resist.

The goal shouldn't be to reduce costs. It should be to increase them.

That voice mail service that saves you $30,000 a year in receptionist costs--it also makes you much more similar to a competitor that is more efficiently serving the middle of the market.

Go through all the ways you serve your customers and make them more expensive to execute, not less. Your loyalty and your market share will both grow. People who can afford to pay for service often choose to pay for service.

The Mesh is here (don't miss it)

My friend Lisa Gansky has a new book out today. You can read a bit about it here.

I hope you'll buy a copy right now. It's that important and that valuable.

Gansky has written the most insightful book about new economy business models since The Long Tail, and if you're not facile in understanding and working with the key concept behind this book, it's going to cost you time and trouble.

In short, the Mesh outlines how sharing resources and information creates an entirely new class of commerce. When you travel to another city, you don't buy a house. You stay in a hotel. A hotel, because it allows hundreds of people a year to share a single room, is a mesh business.

The thing is, the web has created thousands (probably more) of these businesses in areas you have never thought about. Zipcar, sure, and Netflix. But in all sorts of nooks and crannies as well. Lisa's online directory already lists thousands of these companies. Existing companies need to know about this, job seekers should be attracted to it, and for entrepreneurs, it really is a new frontier.

Go, hurry, the race is on. $16 well spent.

"I need you to see things my way"

And that's the frustration of the marketer or the artist who hasn't figured out how to navigate critics and the marketplace.

If you need the validation and acceptance and patronage of everyone you meet, you'll get stuck, and soon. Everyone isn't going to get it. Everyone isn't even going to get you, never mind what you sell.

Experienced marketers and artists and those that make change understand that the new is not for everyone. In fact, it's not even for most people. Pass them by. They can catch up later.

It's not a referendum, and you don't need a unanimous vote of acclamation. No, you merely need enough to stay in business, to keep moving, to make a dent. And then your idea can spread.

If the kids in the back of the bus/audience/store don't get it (or don't get you) it's their loss. Focus on those that want to celebrate the work you do instead.

Dissatisfaction guaranteed

Great brands are built on dissatisfaction. After all, if you are satisfied with your Revlon makeup or your Nike sneakers or your iPad, why would you buy another one? Satisfied means done, finished, I don't need any more.

In fact, most great commercial (and non-profit, and political) brands create a cycle of purchase based on ever-greater dissatisfaction with what we've got.

Do you actually care about privacy?

I'm not sure you do.

If you cared about privacy you wouldn't have a credit card, because, after all, they know everything you spend money on. And you wouldn't use the phone, because somewhere, there's a computer scanning what you say.

What most of us care about is being surprised. You don't want the credit card company to track where you're staying and whether you're buying flowers for someone you're not even married to--and then send you a free coupon for STD testing, right? Even if it was a good coupon, and even if they knew you needed it. No, you don't want this because you don't want to be surprised.

What many people miss about privacy and Facebook is that the company has always taken the position that privacy shouldn't be assumed. Sure, they've mishandled some of their user communications and feature rollouts, but basically, they offer the religion of no-privacy, and an entire generation or two is ready to grow up in public as a result. We're just not eager to be surprised along the way.

The forever recession

There are two recessions going on.

One is gradually ending. This is the cyclical recession, we have them all the time, they come and they go. Not fun, but not permanent.

The other one, I fear, is here forever. This is the recession of the industrial age, the receding wave of bounty that workers and businesses got as a result of rising productivity but imperfect market communication.

In short: if you're local, we need to buy from you. If you work in town, we need to hire you. If you can do a craft, we can't replace you with a machine.

No longer.

The lowest price for any good worth pricing is now available to anyone, anywhere. Which makes the market for boring stuff a lot more perfect than it used to be.

Since the 'factory' work we did is now being mechanized, outsourced or eliminated, it's hard to pay extra for it. And since buyers have so many choices (and much more perfect information about pricing and availability) it's hard to charge extra.

Thus, middle class jobs that existed because companies had no choice are now gone.

Protectionism isn't going to fix this problem. Neither is stimulus of old factories or yelling in frustration and anger. No, the only useful response is to view this as an opportunity. To poorly paraphrase Clay Shirky, every revolution destroys the last thing before it turns a profit on a new thing.

The networked revolution is creating huge profits, significant opportunities and a lot of change. What it's not doing is providing millions of brain-dead, corner office, follow-the-manual middle class jobs. And it's not going to.

Fast, smart and flexible are embraced by the network. Linchpin behavior. People and companies we can't live without (because if I can live without you, I'm sure going to try if the alternative is to save money).

The sad irony is that everything we do to prop up the last economy (more obedience, more compliance, cheaper yet average) gets in the way of profiting from this one.

Questions or answers

You can add value in two ways:

  • You can know the answers.
  • You can offer the questions.

Relentlessly asking the right questions is a long term career, mostly because no one ever knows the right answer on a regular basis.

Are you responsible for what you market?

Let's assert that marketing works.

The money and time and effort we put into marketing goods and services actually works. It gets people to change their minds. It cajoles some people into buying and using and voting for things that they otherwise wouldn't have chosen. (If it doesn't work, save your money).

If it works, then, are you responsible for what happens after that?

If you market cigarettes aggressively, are you responsible for people dying of lung cancer?

I think there are two ways to go here:

1. You're not responsible. The marketer is like a lawyer representing the obviously guilty client. Everyone is entitled to a lawyer, and it's up to the jury to decide. The lawyer's job is to do the best she can, not to decide on the outcome. Market the best you can and let buyers take responsibility.

2. You are responsible. Your insight and effort cause people to change, and without you, that change would never happen.

I'm not sure there's a middle ground. Either we should applaud the folks lobbying on behalf of causes we despise, the pornographers selling products that degrade our society and the politicians spinning and lying to get elected (because all these people are doing is giving us a choice for which we're responsible) or we should take responsibility for stuff we sell.

My take: if you're not proud of it, don't sell it.

The power of buttons and being normal

Taxi drivers in New York were worried about adding credit cards to their cabs. The fee (5% or so) would cost them too much, they said.

It turns out that tips are up, way up. They're actually making far more money now.

Why? Because most of the machines offer a shortcut for the tip: $2, $3 or $4.

You can decide to be a cheapskate and hit the $2 button. Except...

Except that if you had paid cash, you probably would have tipped 75 cents for that $4.25 ride. It takes a few more clicks to type in 75 cents, and hey, $2 is the lowest and it's a more 'normal' amount.

It's a three second decision that happens over and over. People really like cues.

Turning the tables on critical trolls

How to deal with the colleague/board member/voter who is quick to criticize whatever you're proposing?

It can't work/it's been done before/it's never been done before/you can't do it/we don't have the time/money/skills...

So easy to be right when everyone else is wrong, so easy to be confident when someone else is putting themselves on the line.

I start with this: do we agree that there's a problem? An opportunity?

Do we agree that we need to take action, that something needs to be done, that there's an opportunity here?

If we don't agree on that, then don't waste time listening to my solution. Before we do that, let's spend more time deciding if there's a problem or opportunity here.

Once we agree on that, then the response seems simple: "What do you think we should do?"

"Be specific."

"Thanks."

Beyond crowdsourcing

Crowd accelerated innovation is the latest TED talk. It's from TED boss Chris Anderson.

The idea is one of those big ones, a simple one that will stick with you for a long time... Online video radically changes the reach and speed of the improvement cycle. Things like dance, snowboarding and TED talks keep getting better, and faster, because artists see the best and improve on it. Even more than that, it requires you to top what's out there, or you'll be ignored.

The same thing has been done with scientific journals for two hundred years. Now, though, instead of a long cycle and a few readers, we have a nearly instant cycle and millions of 'readers'. Video scales, now. And to quote the other Chris Anderson, there's going to be a long tail of these video cycles.

Also worth thinking on: Chris is using the medium itself to do something that would have required a traditionally published book five years ago. His video will be seen by more than a million people by the end of the week--something he could never have achieved with a traditional method.

Rehearsing is for cowards

Jackson Browne gave us that advice. He would rather have you explore.

Exploring helps you figure out what you can do the next time you present or perform or interact. Rehearsing, on the hand, means figuring out exactly what you're going to do so you can protect against the downside, the unpredictable and the embarrassing.

I'm not dismissing study, learning, experimenting or getting great at what you do. In fact, I'm arguing in favor of this sort of hard work. No, I'm talking about the repetition of doing it before you do it, again and again. Just drilling it in so you can regurgitate later. Better, I think,as they say, "...let's do it live."

A well-rehearsed performance will go without a hitch. An explorer seeks the hitches, because hitches are the fissures and chasms that help us leap forward.

What shape is your funnel?

Put random folks in at the top and loyal customers come out at the bottom...

A billboard leads people to a website, which gets some people to subscribe via email which drives some folks to respond to a promotion which leads a few to come back for the stuff that isn't onsale, which leads to someone who can't live without you.

That's the obvious path of outbound marketing. Most people you pour into the funnel hop out long before they become loyal customers.

The thing is, some funnels are more efficient than others. Expose your idea to ten of the right people and it catches on with three of them. Other ideas or offers need to be exposed to far more people (and go through more steps) before they're likely to convert someone.

The mistake we often make: thinking that the problem is that there's not enough people starting the process, not enough people being exposed to your offer. In fact, it's almost always a problem with how efficient the funnel is and how likely it is that loyal customers tell their friends. If you take care of those two elements, you have a lot more to invest in promotion, and delightfully, the promotion is more effective as well.

Google advertising puts the funnel shape under stress. If you can make your funnel more efficient, then you can afford to spend more money on each person you put into the top of the funnel via a paid ad. If your competitor can convert twice as many people as you can, she can spend twice as much per person, no? And thus the smart competitor will buy up as much of the market as possible. The only response: shape a more efficient funnel.

Self-delusion and self-loathing

Two shores of the same river, either can get you into a lot of trouble.

Self-delusion is lying to yourself about how good you are. You might think you're a world class designer or actor or chef or administrator or problem solver, but you might be merely well-intentioned, hard-working and pretty good. Which is fine, but pretty good is hardly remarkable. Telling yourself the truth about what you've got to market is the first step to marketing with success.

and...

Self-loathing is lying to yourself about how bad you are. You might think you've got nothing to add, that you're a lame designer or actor or chef or administrator or problem solver, but you probably have the potential to be great. Awe-inspiringly great ...if you're willing to do the work, make the sacrifices and stop undercutting yourself. Supporting yourself with the truth about what you could market is the second step to marketing with success.

The myth of preparation

Beginner.001-001
There are three stages of preparation. (For a speech, a product, an interview, a sporting event...)

The first I'll call the beginner stage. This is where you make huge progress as a result of incremental effort.

The second is the novice stage. This is the stage in which incremental effort leads to not so much visible increase in quality.

And the third is the expert stage. Here's where races are won, conversations are started and sales are made. A huge amount of effort, off limits to most people, earns you just a tiny bit of quality. But it's enough to get through the Dip and be seen as the obvious winner.

Here's the myth: The novice stage is useful.

If all you're going to do is go through the novice stage before you ship, don't bother. If you're not prepared to put in the grinding work of the expert stage, just do the beginner stuff and stop screwing around. Make it good enough and ship it and move on.

We diddle around in the novice stage because we're afraid. We polish (but not too much) and go to meetings (plenty of them) and look for deniability, spending hours and hours instead of shipping. And the product, in the end, is not so much better.

I'm all for expertise. Experts, people who push through and make something stunning--we need more of them. But let's be honest, if you're not in the habit of being an expert, it's unlikely your current mode of operation is going to change that any time soon.

Go, give a speech. Go, start a blog. Go, ship that thing that you've been hiding. Begin, begin, begin and then improve. Being a novice is way overrated.

Shipit Workbook back in stock for a while

Two weeks ago, I told you about a workbook I published. I was amazed and a bit delighted to discover that less than 16 hours after announcing it, the entire warehouse was sold out. (It peaked at #8 on the Amazon list).

I apologize to those of you that weren't able to get a set. And I doubly apologize to my beloved Canadian readers who were shut out for no apparent reason that I've been able to discern.

We've gone back to press for more and I'm pleased to announce that the workbooks are now available, and there's a special option for Canadians. I can't promise that these will last much longer than the last batch, but I've already ordered some more.

Shipping atoms is difficult, and crossing borders is more difficult still. I'm going to adjust as I go and hope to make the supply more reliable. It's doubly disappointing that you can't order when they run out of stock. We're working on that. If you discover an out of stock, please check back after a week...

I'm investigating new ways to make this more efficient going forward. I apologize again, and thank you for your good humor.

Why jazz is more interesting than bowling

Bowling is all about one number: the final score. And great bowlers come whisker-close to hitting the perfect score regularly. Not enough dimensions for me to be fascinated by, and few people pay money to attend bowling matches.

Jazz is practiced over a thousand or perhaps a million dimensions. It's non-linear and non-predictable, and most of all, it's never perfect.

And yet...

when we get to work, most of us choose to bowl.

Pushing the spectrum

Marketers have long tried to turn happy events into shopping opportunities. Macy's and Gimbels and others pushed us to see Christmas as a chance to buy gifts. Shopping is right next to happiness on the spectrum of emotions, I guess, just as green is next to blue in the rainbow. They did it to Valentine's day and now, of course,  Halloween.

Lately, some marketers would like to push us to move from fear to hatred. It makes it easier for them. We honor and remember the heroes who gave everything, the innocent who were lost, the neighbors who narrowly escaped. A day to hate? I hope we can do better than that.

Interpreting criticism

Rdrejected Heartfelt criticism of your idea or your art is usually right (except when it isn't...)

Check out this letter from the publisher of a magazine you've never heard of to the founder of a little magazine called Readers Digest:

But, personally, I don't see how you will be able to get enough subscribers to support it. It is expensive for its size. It isn't illustrated... I have my doubts about the undertaking as a publishing venture.

Of course, he was right--given his assumptions. And that's the except part.

Criticism of your idea is usually based on assumptions about the world as it is. Jackson Pollock could never have made it as an painter in the world as it was. And Harry Potter was rejected by just about everyone because for it to succeed the way kids read would have to change.

The useful element of this sort of criticism isn't that the fact that people embracing the status quo don't like your idea. Of course they don't. The interesting question is: what about the world as it is would have to change for your idea to be important?

In the case of Readers Digest, the key thing that changed was the makeup of who was reading magazines. Most of the people (and it was a lot of people) who subscribed to the Digest didn't read other magazines. And so comparing to other magazines made no sense, except to say, "this is so different from other magazines, the only way you're going to succeed is by selling it to millions of people who don't read those magazines." And Starbucks had no chance if they were going to focus on the sort of person who bought coffee at Dunkin Donuts or a diner, and the iPad couldn't possibly succeed if people were content to use computers the way they were already using them.

Keep that in mind the next time a gatekeeper or successful tastemaker explains why you're going to fail.

Loyalty

Loyalty is what we call it when someone refuses a momentarily better option.

If your offering is always better, you don't have loyal customers, you have smart ones. Don't brag about how loyal your customers are when you're the cheapest or you have clearly dominated some key element of what the market demands. That's not loyalty. That's something else.

Loyal customers understand that there's almost always something better out there, but they're not so interested in looking.

Loyalty can be rewarded, but loyalty usually comes from within, from a story we like to tell ourselves. We're loyal to sports teams and products (and yes, to people) because being loyal makes us happy. Why else be a fan of the Cubs? Some customers like being loyal. Those are good customers to have.

Loyalty isn't forever. Sometimes, the world changes significantly and even though the loyal partner/customer likes that label, it gets so difficult to stick that he switches.

I think there's no doubt that some brands and teams and politicians and yes, people, attract a greater percentage of loyal fans than others. Not because they're bigger or better, but because they reinforce the good feeling some people get when they're being loyal. Hint: low price or supermodel good looks are not the tools of choice for attracting people who enjoy being loyal.

Rewarding loyalty for loyalty's sake--not by paying people for sticking it out so the offering ends up being more attractive--is not an obvious path, but it's a worthwhile one. Tell a story that appeals to loyalists. Treat different customers differently, and reserve your highest level of respect for those that stand by you.

Three uses for a free Kindle book

Charlie Huston used one of his books (no longer free) to get me hooked on the rest of the series. Get one free, buy three. Backwards but effective.

Another: To spread an idea you believe in (where money is not the object).

And: To create hoopla for a new book launch. Josh Bernoff is doing a freebie with his new book, just this week. (Sorry, US only--publishing rights are largely a pre-digital artifact).

When the marginal cost of the interaction is zero, the marketing opportunities of spreading an idea increase dramatically.

Marketing to the bottom of the pyramid

[this short essay (long blog post) is inspired by and related to this video. You can engage one without the other, but they go together.]

Part 1: The bottom is important.

Almost a third of the world's population earns $2.50 or less a day. The enormity of this disparity takes my breath away, but there's an interesting flip side to it: That's a market of more than five billion dollars a day. Add the next segment ($5 a day) and it's easy to see that every single day, the poorest people in the world spend more than ten billion dollars to live their lives.

Most of that money is spent on traditional items purchased in traditional ways. Kerosene. Rice. Basic medicines if you can afford them or if death is the only alternative. And almost all of these purchases are inefficient. There's lack of information, high costs because of a lack of choice, and most of all, a lack of innovation.

There are two significant impacts here: first, the inefficiency is a tax on the people who can least afford it. Second, the side effects of poor products are dangerous. Kerosene kills, and so does dirty water.

Part 2: The bottom is an opportunity (for both buyer or seller).

If a business can offer a better product, one that's more efficient, provides better information, increases productivity, is safer, cleaner, faster or otherwise improved, it has the ability to change the world.

Change the world? Sure. Because capitalism and markets scale. If you can make money selling someone a safer item, you'll make more. And more. Until you've sold all you can. At the same time, you've enriched the purchaser, who bought something of her own free will because it made things better.

Not only that, but engaging in the marketplace empowers the purchaser. If you've got a wagon full of rice as food aid, you can just dump it in the town square and drive away. You have all the power. But if you have to sell something in order to succeed, it moves the power from the seller to buyer. Quality and service and engagement have to continually improve or the buyer moves on.

The cell phone, for example, has revolutionized the life of billions in the developing world. If you have a cell phone, you can determine the best price for the wheat you want to sell. You can find out if the part for your tractor has come in without spending two days to walk to town to find out. And you can be alerted to weather... etc. Productivity booms. There's no way the cell phone could have taken off as quickly or efficently as a form of aid, but once someone started engaging with this market, the volume was so huge it just scaled. And the market now competes to be ever more efficient.

Part 3: It's not as easy as it looks

And here's the kicker: If you're a tenth-generation subsistence farmer, your point of view is different from someone working in an R&D lab in Palo Alto. The Moral Economy of the Peasant makes this argument quite clearly. Imagine standing in water up to your chin. The only thing you're prepared to focus on is whether or not the water is going to rise four more inches. Your penchant for risk is close to zero. One mistake and the game is over.

As a result, it's extremely difficult to sell innovation to this consumer. The line around the block to get into the Apple store is just an insane concept in this community. A promise from a marketer is meaningless, because the marketer isn't part of the town, the marketer will move away, the marketer is, of course, a liar.

Let me add one more easily overlooked point: Western-style consumers have been taught from birth the power of the package. We see the new nano or the new Porsche or the new convertible note on a venture deal and we can easily do the math: [new thing] + [me] = [happier]. We've been taught that an object can make our lives better, that a purchase can make us happier, that the color of the Tiffany's box or the ringing of a phone might/will bring us joy.

That's just not true for someone who hasn't bought a new kind consumer good in a year or two or three or maybe ever. As a result, stores in the developing world tend to be stocked with the classic, the tried and true, because people buy refills of previous purchases, not the new.

No substistence farmer walks to a store or stall saying, "I wonder what's new today? I wonder if there's a new way for me to solve my problems?" Every day, people in the West say that very thing as they engage in shopping as a hobby.

You can't simply put something new in front of a person in this market and expect them to buy it, no matter how great, no matter how well packaged, no matter how well sold.

So you see the paradox. A new product and approach and innovation could dramatically improve the life and income of a billion people, but those people have been conditioned to ignore the very tools that are a reflex of marketers that might sell it to them. Fear of loss is greater than fear of gain. Advertising is inefficient and ineffective. And the worldview of the shopper is that they're not a shopper. They're in search of refills.

The answer, it turns out, is in connecting and leading Tribes. It lies in engaging directly and experientially with individuals, not getting distribution in front of markets. Figure out how to use direct selling in just one village, and then do it in ten, and then in a hundred. The broad, mass market approach of a Western marketer is foolish because there is no mass market in places where villages are the market.

The (eventual) power of the early adopter

Swami This gentleman is a swami, a leader in his village. He owns a d.light lantern. Why? He could fit all his worldly positions into a rollaboard, and yet he owns a solar lantern, the first man in his village to buy one.

For him, at least this one time, he liked the way it felt to be seen as a leader, to go first, to do an experiment. Perhaps his followers contributed enough that the purchase didn't feel risky. Perhaps the person he bought it from was a friend or was somehow trusted. It doesn't really matter, other than understanding that he's rare.

After he got the lantern, he set it up in front of his house. Every night for six months, his followers would meet on his front yard to talk, to connect and yes, to wonder how long it would be before the lantern would burn out. Six months later, the jury is still out.

One day, months or years from now, the lantern will be seen as obvious and trusted and a safe purchase. But it won't happen as fast as it would happen in Buffalo or Paris. The imperative is simple: find the early adopters, embrace them, adore them, support them, don't go away, don't let them down. And then be patient yet persistent. Mass market acceptance is rare. Viral connections based on experience are the only reliable way to spread new ideas in communities that aren't traditionally focused on the cult of the new.

This raises the bar for customer service and exceptional longevity, value and design. It means that the only way to successfully engage this market is with relentless focus on the conversations that tribe leaders and early adopters choose to have with their peers. All the tools of the Western mass market are useless here.

Just because it is going to take longer than it should doesn't mean we should walk away. There are big opportunities here, for all of us. It's going to take some time, but it's worth it. [More info: Acumen]

If you want to learn to do marketing...

then do marketing.

You can learn finance and accounting and media buying from a book. But the best way to truly learn how to do marketing is to market.

You don't have to quit your job and you don't need your boss's permission. There are plenty of ways to get started.

If you see a band you like coming to town, figure out how to promote them and sell some tickets (posters? google ads? PR?). Don't ask, just do it.

If you find a book you truly love, buy 30 and figure out how to sell them all (to strangers).

If you're 12, go door to door selling fresh fruit--and figure out what stories work and which don't.

Set up an online business. Get a candidate you believe in elected to the school board.

The best way to learn marketing is to do it.

[And Chris Guillebeau's new book turns this simple idea into a plan for life--Kindle link for outside the US].

Design with intent

Designwithintent

Neat idea, free PDF... will differently (definitely) make you think. HT to Lucas.

Whatever happened to labor?

Not Labor with a capital L, as in organized labor unions. I mean labor as in skilled workers solving interesting problems. I mean craftspeople who use their hands, their backs and their heads to do important work.

Labor was a key part of the manufacturing revolution. Industrialists needed smart, dedicated, trained laborers to solve interesting problems. Putting things together took more than pressing a few buttons, it took initiative and skill and care. Labor improvised.

It took thirteen years to build the Brooklyn Bridge and more than twenty-five laborers died during its construction. There was not a systematic manual to follow. The people who built it largely figured it out as they went.

The Singer sewing machine, one of the most complex devices of its century, had each piece fitted by hand by skilled laborers.

Sometime after this, once Henry Ford ironed out that whole assembly line thing, things changed. Factories got far more complex and there was less room for improvisation as things scaled.

The boss said, "do what I say. Exactly what I say."

Amazingly, labor said something similar. They said to the boss, "tell us exactly what to do." In many cases, work rules were instituted, flexibility went away and labor insisted on doing exactly what they had agreed to do, no more, no less. At the time, this probably felt like power. Now we know what a mistake it was.

In a world where labor does exactly what it's told to do, it will be devalued. Obedience is easily replaced, and thus one worker is as good as another. And devalued labor will be replaced by machines or cheaper alternatives. We say we want insightful and brilliant teachers, but then we insist they do their labor precisely according to a manual invented by a committee...

Companies that race to the bottom in terms of the skill or cost of their labor end up with nothing but low margins. The few companies that are able to race to the top, that can challenge workers to bring their whole selves--their human selves--to work, on the other hand, can earn stability and growth and margins. Improvisation still matters if you set out to solve interesting problems.

The future of labor isn't in less education, less OSHA and more power to the boss. The future of labor belongs to enlightened, passionate people on both sides of the plant, people who want to do work that matters.

That's what Labor Day is about, not the end of a month on the beach.

Your smile didn't matter

If you worked on the line, we cared about your productivity, not your smile or approach to the work. You could walk in downcast, walk out defeated and get a raise if your productivity was good.

No longer.

Your attitude is now what's on offer, it's what you sell. When you pass by those big office buildings and watch the young junior executives sneaking into work with a grimace on their face, it's tempting to tell them to save everyone time and just go home.

The emotional labor of engaging with the work and increasing the energy in the room is precisely what you sell. So sell it.

Sometimes, price is an attitude

Passed a store the other day. The sign read 99 CENTS! And the subtitle was, "Everything $1 and up".

The 99 cent store was never popular because there's some magical power about the price that is a penny less than a dollar. No, it's because it represents an attitude, that this stuff is CHEAP. Not absolute cheap, just relatively cheap. Not even a good value, just cheap. Cheap compared to its non-cheap competition.

At the other end of the spectrum, the prices at the Hermes store appear to be missing a decimal point or two. The attitude is, "wow, this stuff is expensive." It's not about what you get, it's about how it feels to pay that much.

Check-in, Chicken

One way to start every morning with your team is to have them check in. Go around in a circle and let people update and contribute. It's not a silly exercise, in that it helps people speak up and it communicates forward motion.

Another way, probably a better one, is to have each member of the team announce what they're afraid of. Two kinds of afraid, actually. Things that might fail and things that might work.

What are you, chicken?

Yes, we're chicken. We're afraid. The lizard has us by the claws.

So, tell us. What are you afraid might happen that would destroy, disintegrate, or dissuade--that would take us down? And what are you afraid of that might work, thus changing everything and opening up entirely new areas of scariness?

Better than nothing (is harder than you think)

Most of the time, particulary in b2b and luxury sales, the competition is nothing.

"I will buy this treat or I will buy nothing, because I don't really need anything."

"I will buy your consulting services, or I'll continue doing what I'm doing now on that front, which is nothing."

None of the above.

"I will vote for you or I'll do what I usually do, which is not vote."

"I'll hire you or I'll hire no one."

While you think your competition is that woman across town, it's probably apathy, sitting still, ignoring the problem... nothing.

Stop worrying so much about comparing yourself to every other possible competitor you can imagine and start comparing yourself to nothing. Are you really worth the hassle, the risk, the time, the money? Or can't the prospect just wait until tomorrow?

Launching the ShipIt Workbook

Six months ago, I put together a workbook that would help Linchpin readers ship.

After testing it out on hundreds of people, it's now ready for retail sale. [Back in stock... hope to be able to keep up now.]

You can find details here, or jump right to the buy page (special page for Canadians). The goal? To make you uncomfortable at the beginning of a project (and successful at the end).

Here's the core idea: it's weird to write in a book. When you do, you're making a commitment. You're combining the open-mindedness that reading brings with the physical action of writing. If you do that at every step in a project--and if your co-workers do too--the seemingly slippery decisions that get made appear a lot more solid.

The ShipIt workbook is designed to be worked on in groups (hence the five pack) and it delivers. If you can confront the mechanics or the fear that's slowing down (or even killing) your project, it's easy to fix it now, before it's too late.

There's no digital version, because without writing things down, it can't work. But there is an mp3 interview that will help you get your arms around how each page works. I'm pricing this first batch at $3.20 each in a pack of five just for the launch. [PS Amazon is having trouble shipping to Canadians right now. It may take a while to figure this out, and all I can do is apologize...]

I hope you'll give it a try.

Responsibility and authority

Many people struggle at work because they want more authority.

It turns out you can get a lot done if you just take more responsibility instead. It's often offered, rarely taken.

(And you can get even more done if you give away credit, relentlessly).

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