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« July 2011 | Main | September 2011 »

The inevitable outcome of marketing fear

Years ago, the authorities decided that a key weapon in the war on terror (sic) would be to make people more afraid.

Two reasons for this: if you make potential bad guys afraid, they might not move up and graduate to become actual bad guys, and second, if something does go wrong (and of course, things always go wrong), at least it looks like you were trying.

And so an infrastructure is built in which photographers are detained, in which expensive scanners that don't work are installed and in which people believe they are doing their job when they engage in the fear mongering part of the work without paying attention to the actual inspecting and crime fighting part.

At the airport on Thursday, a colleague of mine was detained by two armed police officers because he took a picture (out the observation window!) of a sunset. And when I politely declined to go through the magic scanner, I was put through the regular (inferior?) scanner, detained, carefully searched and basically encourged not to do it again.

Of course, the hard-working folks doing the detaining feel like they're doing their job. It's easy to measure. It's in the manual. It feels like progress. It's actually a cargo cult, though, the sort of thing an organization does to simulate progress when it's actually distracting itself from the mission at hand.

Fear can be used as a tactic, but it's almost never the end goal of marketing. The problem with using it as a tactic is that it's so easy to do, organizations almost always forget the real point of the exercise.

The filter hierarchy

There's more information, provocations, riffs, causes, meetings, opportunities, viral videos, technologies and policies coming at you than ever.

So, how do you rank the incoming? How do you decide what to expose yourself to next?

  • Email from your boss
  • Personal note from a good friend
  • Three or four recommendations from trusted colleagues, each with the same link
  • A trending topic on Twitter
  • The latest on Reddit
  • Phone call from your mom
  • File on the intranet you're supposed to read before the end of the week
  • Spam email from a stranger
  • Tenth note from Eddie Bauer, this one to an email address you haven't used in a year
  • Post on Google + from a friend of a friend
  • Facebook update from someone you haven't seen in ten years
  • Angry tweet from someone you've never met
  • Commercial on the radio that's playing softly in the background
  • Email from someone who had your back one day when it really and truly mattered
  • !!!urgent marked email from the HR department about the TPS reports
  • Text message on your phone from your husband
  • Phone message from the kid's principal
  • Tweet from the handler of a celebrity who is pretending to be the celebrity
  • Story that's repeated endlessly on cable news because a producer thought it would get good ratings
  • Handwritten love note from a current crush
  • New review in the Times of a restaurant you happen to be going to tonight
  • Obviously bulk snail mail from a charity you donated to three years ago
  • Latest volley in a flame war
  • Blank sheet of paper quietly waiting for your next big innovation
  • Comment on a blog post you wrote three days ago
  • New post by your favorite blogger, delivered via RSS
  • Book in the bookstore, next to the cash register
  • Newest negative review of your business on Yelp
  • Movie playing across town
  • TV commercial on a show you've got on your DVR
  • Book on the back shelf of a bookstore, newly put there yesterday by the manager, who doesn't know what you like
  • Tweet from someone who really, really wants you (and everyone else) to follow her
  • Rebecca Black's new video
  • Sales pitch on your voicemail

Which of these are required reading for a productive member of society or a good employee or an informed citizen? Which do you do out of habit? Are you assuming that your habits are the norm, and that others have an obligation to pay attention to what you pay attention to? Should there be symmetry--is it logical to only engage with people who prioritize their filters the same way you do?

Wasting time is not a waste

In fact, wasting time is a key part of our lives.

Wasting time poorly is a sin, because not only are you forgoing the productivity, generosity and art that comes from work, but you're also giving up the downtime, experimentation and joy that comes from wasting time.

If you're going to waste time (and I hope you will) the least you can do is do it well.

Herbie Hancock is not a Pip

I need to clarify this morning's post. In my glib attempt to make a point, I wasn't as clear as I wanted to be.

When Miles Davis made records with John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, they weren't easily replaceable, invisible sidemen. No one who went to hear them would have been satisfied if they had been subbed out. By my definition, then, they did in fact have a relationship with the customer... they did work that was unique, that was hard to replace.

Yes, we need teams, no doubt about. The MGs without Steve Cropper could never have been such an amazing house band, and we're all lucky that some people will take their craft that far. Marshall Grant didn't merely perform Johnny Cash's bass sound... he invented it.

Does the world need anonymous, replaceable cogs, people who work for the front man and put in a day's work but that's all? Sure, but it doesn't have to be you. The goal, I think, is to find out how to do your work in a way that makes the team and the product in a way that matters.

PS a fun video from Todd makes my point...

Avoiding the pips (and the MGs)

What would have happened if Gladys Knight had fired one of the Pips? Or if Booker had had a falling out with one of the MGs?

I think Gladys would have found another way to get to Georgia.

The problem with being a sideman is that you make it (or not) at the whim of the front man. In exchange for the intellectual comfort of being handed a chart, you give up control and your ability to lead.

Most of all, instead of having a relationship with the audience, you merely have a relationship with the front man.

Can and should

Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.

The end of the industrial era is opening countless doors. So many doors, in fact, that it's easy to become paralyzed. Without a clear understanding of what you want, it's harder than ever to get it.

Most of the time, we treat our careers like a buffet. "Show me what's available and then I'll decide..."

With the revolution going on all around us, there's so much on the buffet you're likely to just grab something convenient. Better, I think, to decide what matters first, and go do that.

R&D in public

Companies do research and development, particularly large ones. This is an investment, one that fails often but is essential to future growth.

The web is R&D in public. So are apps. Not just for tech companies. For any company that is trying to figure out how its customers think and what they want.

We shouldn't be so quick to excoriate those companies that launch interactive tools that fail. In fact, we should be critical of those that don't.

Consumers and creators

Fifty years ago, the ratio was a million to one.

For every person on the news or on primetime, there were a million viewers.

The explosion of magazines brought the ratio to 100,000:1. If you wrote for a major magazine, you were going to impact a lot of people. Most of us were consumers, not creators.

Cable TV and zines made it 10,000 to one. You could have a show about underwater spearfishing or you could teach people to make hamburgers on donuts. The little star is born.

And now of course, when it's easy to have a blog, or an Youtube account or to push your ideas to the world through social media, the ratio might be 100:1. For every person who sells on Etsy, there are a hundred buyers. For every person who actively tweets, there are a hundred people who mostly consume those tweets. For every hundred visitors to Squidoo, there is one new person building pages.

What does the world look like when we get to the next zero?

Selling the benefits of charity

Everything we do, we do because somehow it benefits us.

We go to work for the satisfaction (I hope) and because we get paid. We smile at a stranger because it feels good to be nice (and perhaps we'll get a smile in return). We pick up litter when no one is looking because telling ourselves a story about being a good person is worth the effort.

Some people have figured out that charity is an incredible bargain. For the time and money it costs, the benefits exceed what could be attained in almost any other way. A bargain compared to chocolate, or an amusement park visit or buying a shiny new car you probably don't need.

For some, the benefit is in the way society respects the donor. Hence buildings named after Andrew Carnegie or Bill Gates. For many, though, hidden charity is worth far more, because the incentives are purer. A donation earns you peace of mind.

I'm fascinated by people who see no benefit in donating to charity, who, in fact, see a negative. My hunch is that for these people, the worldview is: if charity is important, I better give more. If that's true, the thinking goes, then whatever I give isn't going to make me feel good, it's going to make me feel worse... for not giving enough. Easier to just avoid the issue altogether.

I think marketers of causes that do good have a long way to go in selling the public on the core reason to give... don't give because you get a tote bag, or a prize at the charity auction or even a plaque. The scalable unique selling proposition is that being part of the community is worth more than it costs.

Bypassing the leap

Every now and then, a creative act comes out of nowhere, a giant leap, a new way of thinking apparently woven out of a brand new material.

Most of the the time, though, creativity is the act of reassembling many elements that are already known. That's why domain knowledge is so critical.

The screenwriter who understands how to take the build that went into the classic Greg Morris episode of the Dick Van Dyke show and integrate it with the Maurce Chevalier riff from the Marx Bros... Or the way Moby took his encyclopedic knowledge of music and turned into a record that sold millions... if you don't have awareness and an analytical understanding of what worked before, you can't build on it.

That's one of the reasons that the recent incarnation of the Palm failed. The fact that the president of the company had never used an iPhone left them only one out: to make a magical leap.

It's not enough to be aware of the domain you're working in, you need to understand it. Noticing things and being curious about how they work is the single most common trait I see in creative people. Once you can break the components down, you can put them back together into something brand new.

« July 2011 | Main | September 2011 »