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All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

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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The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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Poke The Box

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

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Small is the New Big

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Survival is Not Enough

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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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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Tribes

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

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

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V Is For Vulnerable

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

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We Are All Weird

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

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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« December 2010 | Main | February 2011 »

Misjudging risk (and bad decisions)

The perception of risk is skewed when bad outcomes are vivid, personal and immediate.

Given the choice between working on the important and the urgent, the urgent almost always wins.

Given the choice between avoiding the rare but grisly outcome or doing the hard work to avoid the equally nasty, more subtle but more common outcome, we usually go for the grisly.

We do this sort of miscalculation all the time at work. We avoid the hard work on the long-term project in order to panic and rush about to avoid the possible vivid, immediate and personal risk on the short-term project, even if it's far less important.

(Think about this the next time you're in the security line at the airport).

This is one reason why the media is so complicit in many of the issues of the day... they take concepts that were previously abstract and relentlessly make them vivid, personal and immediate. It amplifies the risks around us and easily sells us on a cycle of dissatisfaction.

If you want to create action on the important, figure out how to make it vivid, personal and immediate.

Timing rewards

We can agree that promising a three-year old a new car when he graduates from college is probably an ineffective way to get him to stop sucking his thumb.

As we mature, it gets easier to trade satisfaction now for a prize later. However, the more risk involved in getting the prize, the less we value it. Frequent flyer miles, for example, began with the promise that if you flew an airline regularly for months (or even years) you'd get a free flight. The airlines oversold the miles and undelivered on the free flights, though, so the reward started to lose its perceived value--too much risk that you wouldn't get the prize you wanted. Many of the frequent flyers I know have ceased to 'save up' and now use their miles for upgrades, moving the benefit closer in time.

One of the many things the web is changing is our focus on now. It's increasing. Offering a reward in three months just isn't going to cut it. If you want me to get out of bed or brush my teeth or click on your link, there better be something waiting for me on the other side.

Launch it like Google

About a year after they were founded, Google was first mentioned in the New York Times. As an aside, in a non-news column.

Today of course, it seems like everything they do is instantly news. It's easy to forget that just about every major online service (eBay, Amazon, Paypal, Twitter, Facebook) launched in obscurity. Same with classic books, pop musicians and political careers.

The big splash might feel good, but it's clearly not necessary.

One way to look at the internet, mobile, web and tablets

Nethierarchy

It might be about the size of the screen and whether or not you're standing up.

Start at the bottom. For the first five years of the Internet, the most used function was email. Email remains a bedrock of every device and system that's been built on top of the internet, though sometimes it looks like a text message or a mobile check in. This is the layer for asynchronous person to person connection, over time.

Moving from left to right, we see how the way we use the thing we call the internet has evolved over time. We also see how devices and technology and bandwidth have changed the uses of the net and, interestingly, how a growth in mass has led to a growth in self-motivated behavior.

Early online projects were things like Archie and Veronica and checking in changes to the Linux code base. You needed patience, a big screen and a sense of contribution.

Layer on top of this a practice that is getting ever more professional, which is creating content for others to consume. Sometimes in groups, sometimes using sophisticated software and talented cohorts.

As we move to the right (and through time) we see the birth of online shopping. Still to this day, most online shopping happens on traditional devices, often sitting down.

The sitting down part is not a silly aside. Ted Leonsis theorized twenty years ago that the giant difference between TV and the internet was how far you sat from the screen. TV was an 8 foot activity, and you were a consumer. The internet was a 16 inch activity, and you participated. I think the sitting down thing is similar. You're not going to buy an armoir while standing on the subway.

Moving over in time and device and intent, we see the idea of consuming content. While tablets get their share of shopping, this is where they really shine. I think 2011 is going to be the year of the tablet, from the Kindle to the iPad to the thing we used to call a phone.

It's in the last two categories that these other devices, things that don't involve sitting down, are superior, not just a mobile substitute. The social graph is a very low bandwidth, peripheral attention interaction, perfect for this audience and this medium. And the last category--tell me where I am, where to eat, who's near me, what's the weather, get me a cab right now--is all about me and now and here.

I don't believe this is a winner take all situation, any more than one bestselling book makes all other books obsolete. I think different pillars work for different devices, and there will continue to be winners in all of them.

Cashing the check

A check in your wallet does you very little good. It represents opportunity, sure, but not action.

Most of us are carrying around a check, an opportunity to make an impact, to do the work we're capable of, to ship the art that would make a difference.

No, the world isn't fair, and most people don't get all the chances they deserve. There are barriers due to income, to race, to social standing and to education, and they are inexcusable and must fall. But the check remains, now more than ever. The opportunity to step up and to fail (and then to fail again, and to fail again) and to continue failing until we succeed is greater now than it has ever been.

As Martin Luther King Junior spoke about a half a lifetime ago,

"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late."

Self-destructive instructions

If you ever have to say 'lighten up' to someone, you've failed twice. The first time, when you misjudged an interaction and the other person reacted in a way you're unhappy with, and the second time, when you issue this instruction, one that is guaranteed to evoke precisely the opposite reaction you're intending.

I'll add "I was joking," to this list, because it's an incredibly lame excuse for a failed interaction.

One more: Raising your voice while you say, "You're just going to have to calm down!" (And I'll add librarians yelling at kids to be quiet...)

It's completely valid to come to the conclusion that someone else can't be a worthy audience, conversation partner or otherwise interact with you. You can quietly say to yourself, "this guy is a stiff, I'm never going to be able to please him." But the minute you throw back instructions designed to 'cure' the other person, I fear you're going to get precisely the opposite of what you were hoping for.

(Generally speaking, the word "oh" is so neutral, it's a helpful go to pause while you wait for things to calm down.)

The certainty premium

How much would you pay for an envelope that had a 50% chance of containing $10 and a 50% chance of being empty?

Over time and in bulk, probably $4.99. But certainly not more than $5.

Here's where it gets interesting: how much extra would you pay for a plane that was guaranteed to be always on time, or a surgery that was always guaranteed to work? Suddenly, the same math that helped us value the envelope doesn't work so well. That's because we're often willing to pay a significant premium to avoid risk.

"Works every time" is a great promise to make to your boss. And it's the secret to Fedex's original success. Plenty of people send things by Fedex that don't need to get there superfast. They just need to get there for sure.

Doesn't work if you have to slip in the word 'almost' though.

A culture of testing

Netflix tests everything. They're very proud that they A/B test interactions, offerings, pricing, everything. It's almost enough to get you to believe that rigorous testing is the key to success.

Except they didn't test the model of renting DVDs by mail for a monthly fee.

And they didn't test the model of having an innovative corporate culture.

And they didn't test the idea of betting the company on a switch to online delivery.

The three biggest assets of the company weren't tested, because they couldn't be.

Sure, go ahead and test what's testable. But the real victories come when you have the guts to launch the untestable.

Raising expectations (and then dashing them)

Have you noticed how upbeat the ads for airlines and banks are?

Judging from the billboards and the newspaper ads, you might be led to believe that Delta is actually a better airline, one that cares. Or that your bank has flexible people eager to bend the rules to help you succeed.

At one level, this is good advertising, because it tells a story that resonates. We want Delta to be the airline it says it is, and so we give them a try.

The problem is this: ads like this actually decrease user satisfaction. If the ad leads to expect one thing and we don't get it, we're more disappointed than if we had gone in with no real expectations at all. Why this matters: if word of mouth is the real advertising, then what you've done is use old-school ad techniques to actually undercut any chance you have to generate new-school results.

So much better to invest that same money in delighting and embracing the customers you already have.

Obedience and the GPS

My Garmin gave me a route to the airport, but I had a hunch it was mistaken. So I went my way.

As I turned left instead of right, I heard her voice hectoring me, beseeching me to go right.

And I confess, I felt terrible. I was disobeying. Not following instructions.

If it's gotten to the point where we are uncomfortable disobeying a 3 inch by 4 inch touchscreen, then you know we've been brainwashed. It's actually okay (in fact, quite possibly productive) to call out the Garmins, the bosses and the influencers in your life, and ignore them all you like.

« December 2010 | Main | February 2011 »