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« July 2012 | Main | September 2012 »

Advertising's bumpy transition (and why it matters to you)

Advertising has been around so long, they measure the prices in Roman numerals.

CPM is a mark of how much it costs to run an ad that appears in front of 1000 people (M is for thousand). Until recently, a full page ad in a national magazine that reached two million people could easily cost $80,000 ($40 cpm times 2000 thousand). (Much of what I say below applies to TV ads as well).

I started my career buying ads for $50,000 a pop and then made the transition to selling expensive online promotions to big brands. The opportunity was clear: find an audience, make a significant profit selling ads.

When the web was young, marketers like Yahoo said to P&G and Ford, "buy our banner ads, they cost about the same as a magazine ad, but people can click on them as a bonus." And so banner ads at the beginning were incredibly lucrative--easy to make, sell them for a lot.

Today, banner ads might sell for a tenth that, or, if we count ads on Facebook and the like, as little as 1% of the cost of a magazine ad on a per person basis. But of course, it's not a fair comparison, for a bunch of reasons:

  1. Magazine ad pricing counts the entire circulation of a magazine, even though very few people read every single page of the magazine. Web ads, on the other hand, measure how many people look at that precise page.
  2. A web ad salesperson can say, "well, even if one in a thousand people click on a web ad, it's still better than how many people click on a magazine ad." The problem with this is that while clicks are proof that something happened, they're rare indeed. Magazines don't offer advertisers clicks, but they do offer them hope, something advertisers love to buy.
  3. Magazines have always embraced mass. Advertisers pay extra for big circulation magazines, even though that means less focus. Even a magazine that's focused on a given topic (surfing, say, or gardening) can't distinguish whether the ad is being seen by a man or a woman, or by someone who just bought a new car. The web offers all that and much more, but advertisers are radically undervaluing this focus, because they grew up in a world of mass. It's fine to have a very fine focus, but if you're selling to people with blurry vision, it doesn't help much.
  4. And lastly, magazine ads were largely sold, not bought. Conde Nast and other big companies happily wined and dined ad executives for years to earn the huge buys (more than 700 pages in the new Vogue) that appeared in their magazines. Web sites, on the other hand, are inherently digital, and would like to be bought, not sold, which gives advertisers an enormous amount of choice and leverage.

The short version is that magazine ads were expensive because they were scarce, they worked (maybe) and they were sold, hard. Web ads have long been dramatically undervalued as measured media by people who don't want to measure, as focused media by people who want mass.

Magazine ads were great, a perfect industry, one that's being replaced by something impossible, something that doesn't work for all parties yet.

The result is that tonnage, huge ad inventories, inventory in the billions of impressions, are at the heart of much of what is currently paying the bills in web advertising. Which pushes advertisers to show you more pages, interrupt you when they can and try to keep you inside their site, clicking around. Most people are never going to click on an ad, even an ad that they will ultimately remember.

Google's Adwords is one exception to the tonnage rule, and, if it's not pushed to scale too much, opens the door for advertisers to start measuring the value of what they get when they buy a direct response web ad. Buy an ad for a dollar a click, and if you make $2 in profit, buy more ads! But this only moves the measurement argument forward, as these ads are only attractive to advertisers who measure their results. Most ads don't work because we click on them, though. They work because we remember them, or because they change our perception or tell us a story.

Until advertisers start to value the focused, memorable, impactful opportunity they have in buying the right ads in the right place for the right audience, web users are going to be stuck seeing irrelevant ads on sites that don't respect their time and attention as much as they should. We have salespeople and investors and agencies and buyers that come from a world of mass and scarcity, and the opportunities of focus and connection and abundance are taking a while to sink in.

Since advertising is paying for a big portion of the consumer web, it's being built to please advertisers. Right now, though, what advertisers are used to buying isn't what the web is good at building.

There's huge progress being made in perceptions, but there's a ways to go. Which is why, "we're ad supported" isn't as obvious a strategy as it should be.

First, connect

In the connection economy, there's a dividing line between two kinds of projects: those that exist to create connections, and those that don't.

The internet is a connection machine. Virtually every single popular web project (eBay, Facebook, chat, email, forums, etc.) exists to create connections between humans that were difficult or impossible to do before the web.

When you tell us about your business or non-profit or public works project, tell us first how it's going to help us connect. The rest will take care of itself.

"Buyer beware"

Really? Is that really the attitude you want your audience to take? That they should be wary of what you say and what you offer and what you promise?

How about “buyer trust”?

How do you deal with customer disappointment or buyer remorse? It’s the difference between “tough luck, you should have read the fine print” and “oh no! How can we help?” If people know you will always make it right, they will beware less and trust more.

What do you have to do to create trust? How much would it cost and how often can you produce it?

Whatever it costs, it’s a bargain.

As if your life depended on it

Art is best done all in, as if everything is on the line. When the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you know you've commited to whatever it is you make.

Marketing strategy and communication, on the other hand, is best done with discernment, a strategic game to be understood and tested. The more you need to (must!) succeed at bringing the idea to market, the less success you'll encounter, because your fear will come through.

Patience, awareness and skill matter, and you are best at this if you are prepared to fail without dying.

So, go do your art and make a difference. But don't expect to be good at marketing if you have only this one and only moment to do it.

Most people

Most people don't care enough to make a difference.

Most people aren't going to buy that new thing you're selling.

Most people are afraid to take action.

Most people are too self-involved to do the generous work you're hoping for.

Most people think they can't afford it.

Most people won't talk about it.

Most people aren't going to read what you wrote.

Fortunately, you're not most people. Neither are your best customers.

[click pictures below to advance...]

Persistence and possibility

In order to use the slicing blade on my Cuisinart, I have to attach it to a little stalk first.

I used to have an old model and a newer one too, and of course, they had different blades and different stalks. If I was having trouble hooking the two pieces together (which was every time), after a few seconds I would come to the conclusion that I had the wrong stalk... and go back to the drawer and start over.

Ever since the old one broke, though, I find that I'm far more persistent in fitting the two pieces together. Obviously, I say to myself, they have to fit together. It's certainly possible, so I persist.

That's the benefit of having a hero, a case study, a role model for what came before. The fact that it's been done before makes just about any task more amenable to persistence.

And it also means that doing something that's never been done before is even more valuable than you'd guess, because your peers and competitors likely gave up long before you did.

Questions we ask before we trust your new idea

Who are you?

Do I trust you?

Am I afraid of it?

Will this work for me?

Who says it's important?

What will my peers think?

These are all variations of one complicated thread: how will this process make me feel?

Even though that's all we care about, marketers seem to think it's fine to spam, fine to focus on specs and important to talk mostly about price.

With an open heart and an open mind

It might not be warranted, but you won't get far without it. Don't bother going to that meeting or reading that book unless you can momentarily assume the message comes from a place of goodwill and generosity.

Skepticism doesn't help you hear.

#1 in a small market...

is way more interesting, more fruitful and more fun than being number three in a larger market.

When you're the market leader, you set the agenda, you attract the leading customers and you are the one who gets targeted, picked on and singled out. The stakes are higher and so is your impact.

The easiest way to become #1 is to redefine your focus and the way you serve your customers sufficiently that you redefine the market. Harley Davidson isn't #1 in the market for motorcycles, but they are certainly #1 in the market for the kind of motorcycle that they sell. The other bikes may have two wheels, but they're for different customers with different needs.

Mass ennui is defeated by focused passion every time.

Tattoo thinking

A tattoo is basically forever.

You should think pretty hard before you get one, because it's largely an irreversible decision.

Just about every choice you make with your project and your career, though, doesn't last forever. And the benefit of taking a risk is significantly higher than it is with a tattoo. A landing page, a pricing move, a bit of copy--they don't last much more than a day, never mind a lifetime. Higher benefits, lower risk, what are you waiting for?

So go ahead and act as if your decisions are temporary. Because they are. Be bold, make mistakes, learn a lesson and fix what doesn't work. No sweat, no need to hyperventilate.

Crash diets and good habits

Crash diets don't work.

They don't work for losing weight, they don't work for making sales quota and they don't work for getting and keeping a job.

The reason they don't work has nothing to do with what's on the list of things to be done (or consumed). No, the reason they don't work is that they don't change habits, and habits are where our lives and careers and bodies are made.

If you want to get in shape, don't sign up for fancy diet this or Crossthat the other thing. No, the way to get in shape is to go to the gym every single day, change your clothes and take a shower. If you can do that every single day for a month, pretty soon you'll start doing something while you're there...

If you want to make sales quota, get in the habit of making more sales calls, learning more about your market and generally showing up. If you show up, with right intent, you'll start making sales. The secret isn't a great new pitch or a new pair of shoes. The secret is showing up.

Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We're proud of you for having them. But it's possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that's really frightening you--the shift in daily habits that would mean a re-invention of how you see yourself.

Organizations can always benefit from better habits. Every day. Do that first.

The race to the bottom

Let's not race to the bottom.

We know that industrialists seek to squeeze every penny out of every market. We know that competitors want to drive their costs to zero so that they will be the obvious commodity choice. And we know that many that seek to unearth natural resources want all of it, fast and cheap and now.

We can eliminate rules protecting clean water or consumer safety. We can extort workers to show up and work harder for less, in order to underbid a competitor. We can take advantage of less sophisticated consumers and trick them into consuming items for short-term satisfaction and long-term pain. These might be painful outcomes, but they're an direct path to follow. We know how to do this.

In our connected world, commodity producers are under intense pressure. The price of anything that's made to a spec, or that responds to an RFP, is instantly known by all buyers. That means that there's an argument made by big corporations for each country to charge corporations the lowest possible tax rate, to loosen environmental regulations down to zero, and to eliminate employee protections. All so that a country's commodity producers can be the cheapest ones.

I know we can do that. There's always the opportunity to cut a corner, sacrifice lifestyle quality and suck it up as we race to grab a little more market share.

But the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.

You might make a few more bucks for now, but not for long and not with pride. Someone will always find a way to be cheaper or more brutal than you.

The race to the top makes more sense to me. The race to the top is focused on design and respect and dignity and guts and innovation and sustainability and yes, generosity when it might be easier to be selfish. It's also risky, filled with difficult technical and emotional hurdles, and requires patience and effort and insight. The race to the top is the long-term path with the desirable outcome.

Sign me up.

What if your slogan is true?

Slogans never change anything. They don't grow market share or find you a job or win you an election.

Underneath the slogan, perhaps, is a story. And the slogan well told is a symptom of that story, a shadow of what you're truly up to. A slogan might be evidence that you have a story, but it isn’t a story. A story is something you live and connect with and come back again and again and again.

If the story of your work is consistent, if it resonates with your audience and if you can defend it, then you're likely to succeed. And if your slogan reflects your story, good for you.

Apple has had various slogans through the years, but in every successful iteration of the company, the story has been remarkably consistent: Apple’s story is that they are idiosyncratic artisans producing beautiful products for smart people. That's not a slogan, but it's a useful tool for deciding if you're making something or doing something that you ought to be focusing on.

So sure, start with a slogan. But don't bother wasting any time on it if you're merely going for catchy. Aim for true instead.

How to run a problem-solving meeting

This is a special sort of get together, similar to the meeting where you organize people to figure out the best way to take advantage of an opportunity. In both cases, amateurs usually run the meetings, and the group often fails to do their best work.

Ignore these rules at your peril:

  1. Only the minimum number of people should participate. Don't invite anyone for political reasons. Don't invite anyone to socialize them on the solution because they were part of inventing it--people don't need to be in the kitchen to enjoy the meal at the restaurant.
  2. No one participating by conference call... it changes the tone of the proceedings.
  3. A very structured agenda to prevent conversation creep. You are only here to do one thing.
  4. All the needed data provided to all attendees, in advance, in writing.
  5. At least one person, perhaps the host, should have a point of view about what the best course is, but anyone who comes should only be invited if they are willing to change their position.
  6. Agree on the structure of a deliverable solution before you start.
  7. Deliver on that structure when you finish.

Corporations are not people

You may have read Matt Fisher's story about the tragic death of his sister and the response of her insurance company. My heart goes out to his family.

She had Progressive insurance and they refused to pay. Instead, the company paid to send a lawyer to coordinate a defense with the other driver--in other words, they paid their lawyers to go to court to prove that Matt's deceased sister, their client, was at fault. They went to court against their client even though there was significant evidence to the contrary and even though the other driver's insurance company (Nationwide) had already paid her family $25,000. The amount at stake: just $75,000.

Progressive's weasely first response is here.

You can read Progressive's more nuanced, but still doublespeak update here. They could have done the right thing from the start, or almost anywhere along the way, but never did, and they used fancy language to disguise that fact. Of course it's not against state law for them to settle a case. And of course losing a jury trial is not the same as settling with the family.

If Progressive is proud of their tactics, they should say so. "We fight against claims to keep our costs low, saving you money." But if they're not proud, they should tell the truth, learn from it and apologize.

Like many people, I'm disgusted by their strategy, but my point here is this: if someone in your neighborhood used this approach, treating others this way, if a human with a face and a house and a reputation did it, they'd have to move away in shame. If a local businessperson did this, no one in town would ever do business there again.

Corporations (even though it's possible that individuals working there might mean well) play a different game all too often. They bet on short memories and the healing power of marketing dollars, commercials and discounts. Employees are pushed to focus on bureaucratic policies and quarterly numbers, not a realization that individuals, not corporations, are responsible for what they do.

I hope all smart marketers realize just how dumb Progressive's marketing has been. But what I really hope is that all smart humans will realize how misguided Progressive's systems and lack of understanding are. And of course, it's not just this one corporation, it's the mindset.

Corporations don't have to act like this. It's people who can make them stop. Corporations aren't people, people are people.

Stuck?

It might not be because you can't find the right answer.

It's almost certainly because you're asking the wrong question.

The more aggressively you redefine the problem, the more likely it is you're going to solve it.

The most successful people I know got that way by ignoring the race to find the elusive, there's-only-one-and-no-one-has-found-it right answer and instead had the guts to look at the infinite landscape of choices and pick a better problem instead.

A figment

It seems like the only thing you can be a figment of is someone's imagination.

Andy Warhol wanted the word FIGMENT etched on his tombstone. He understood that the only place he actually existed (and will exist forever) is in the imagination of other people.

No, the falling tree in the empty forest makes no noise, and your project or your brand doesn't exist except as a figment in someone else's imagination. The challenge, then, isn't to worry so much about what's happening in the real world, outside, but to work overtime to be sure you exist in the figment world, inside.

You don't need proof. You need belief. (HT to Rick Hyman).

Who decided to add the noise?

Five or ten years ago, did people start saying, "I don't go to Yankees games any more--the stadium isn't noisy enough, and there aren't enough ads on the big screen TV?"

The new arena in Newark is purpose-designed to pump as much distortion-free sound into the seats as possible—and they're not afraid to use it at any opportunity.

Noise/music/distraction is as much a marketing choice as your logo or the coupons you use. When the harried clerk at the Delta counter starts yelling into the PA system, that's marketing as well.

The calculation (if it gets made at all) is a complex one. How will this investment in speakers and amps translate into increased attendance? (or sausage sales?)

When you turn the stadium into a real-life video game, when the audience can't hear the players or the skates on the ice, you will no doubt attract an audience—but they will be the drive-by masses, not the lifetime fans. The choice to delight the masses at the expense of the diehards seems easy in the short run, but it's ultimately crippling to the future of the brand.

There's no doubt that louder concerts make rock concert goers believe that the performance was better. But beyond that, have they done the math? [And yes, this series of questions probably applies to your project too, noise or no noise].

You won't benefit from anonymous criticism

I recently heard from a TED speaker who was able to quote, verbatim, truly nasty comments people had posted about her talk.

And yet, I've never once met an author who said, "Well, my writing wasn't resonating, but then I read all the 1 star reviews on Amazon, took their criticism to heart and now I'm doing great..."

There are plenty of ways to get useful and constructive feedback. It starts with looking someone in the eye, with having a direct one on one conversation or email correspondence with a customer who cares. Forms, surveys, mass emails, tweets--none of this is going to do anything but depress you, confuse you (hey, half the audience wants one thing, the other half wants the opposite!) or paralyze you.

I'm arguing that it's a positive habit to deliberately insulate yourself from this feedback. Don't ask for it and don't look for it.

Yes, change what you make to enhance delight. No, don't punish yourself by listening to the mob.

Buying the thing your project truly needs

In our commercial culture, it's easy to buy just about anything—except the things you really need.

Like a decision. (And the confidence to execute on it.)

Grace.

Persistence.

And one hundred other things that are valuable precisely because they can't be bought, can't be outsourced and don't appear precisely when needed.

Converting viral traffic

Getting stuff to go viral is sexy. It's a miracle when it works. It makes you famous.

Everyone wants to get tweeted, liked, mentioned on a blog, spread by email and watch the numbers go up and up and up.

The thing is, drive-by viral traffic doesn't convert. 50,000 visitors might end up buying just 23 items.

Ultimately, if you want to get elected, make a sale or even change minds, you can't survive on viral traffic, no matter how big the tsunami is.

After I started talking about permission marketing, the question readers wanted answered was, "how do I get permission in the first place?" The answer was to create an ideavirus, an idea that spreads. And then, as it spreads, don't try to make a sale, merely work to earn the privilege of a follow up, the opportunity to reconnect over time. By email, sure, but phone or reputation are fine too.

Ten years later and the ego pendulum has clearly swung in the direction of the virus. That's what we brag about and what is too often measured.

How many eyeballs are passing by is a useless measure. All that matters is, "how many people want to hear from you tomorrow?"

Don't try to convert strangers into customers. It's ineffective and wasteful. Instead, focus on turning those momentary strangers into people eager to hear from you again and again.

Yes to spreading ideas. Two yesses to using those ideas to earn permission going forward.

Conservation of anxiety

Events scale. The magnitude of our impact and the impact of our decisions can vary wildly, depending on the stakes. You can decide which chocolate bar to buy or you can decide whether or not to take a job.

Our fear, though, can't scale. It doesn't work that way.

The screaming fear in your stomach before you give a speech to 12 kids in the fifth grade is precisely the same fear a presidential candidate feels before the final debate. The fight-or-flight reflex that speeds up your heart when you're about to get a speeding ticket you don't deserve isn't very different than the chemical reaction in the brain of an accused (but innocent) murder suspect when the jury walks in.

Bigger stakes can't lead to more fear.

And, in an interesting glitch, more fear often tricks us into thinking we're dealing with bigger stakes.

Not only that, but we have trouble overlapping our fearful moments. If that sales call is right down the street, you will probably put more anxiousness into the preparation for the meeting than if it's two plane rides and ferry away, because you'll be reserving some of your available agita for the transport.

Fear has very few gradations and it has a ceiling. We evolved to have an alert system that kept us alive, but while it's powerful, it's crude.

This is why we're able to teach ourselves to confidently give a speech to 10,000 or make life or death decisions in the battlefield. Fear is fear, and once we learn to work with it, we can scale the stakes.

All of which is a way to remind yourself that emotions kick in and then we start telling ourselves a story about how important/make-or-break/high stakes this next event is. Fear floods our brain with chemicals, we go on high alert and then rationalize that fear by describing just how vital this thing we're anxious about is.

No need to fool yourself. We all have a limited fear vocabulary, and it tends to yell.

The best way to be missed when you're gone

Is to stand for something when you're here. Works for people, works for brands.

[When I say "missed when you're gone," I'm not talking about having a lot of people come to your funeral. I'm talking about creating a reputation where you get asked back, where people seek out your product, where a store or a conference or an agenda isn't complete without you.]

Impresarios

At the seminar I did in July for college students, we talked a lot about impresarios. (You can read one student’s take on it here).

Weave together resources and opportunities and put on a show. That’s what impresarios have always done. You rent the opera hall, find the singers and sell tickets. You see an opportunity, connect people who can benefit from it and make something happen.

I challenged the group, 20 strangers who had just met, to orchestrate an ebook of brainstorms and opportunities for their fellow students (and to finish it in just 80 minutes). Here’s a copy of their short ebook. School

The magic of the impresario opportunity is that it can start on the tiniest of scales. You can organize a lunch outing at work. You can start a bowling league. Over time, you can work up to a Kickstarter or a small association of fellow industry professionals. It’s not strategically difficult to imagine fifty ways you can use the resources you have right now to start something.

But actually becoming an impresario is far more difficult than it looks. Not because the systems aren’t in place, not because it’s not straightforward, but because it is fraught with risk. The risk that you’ll be called out for going against the grain and the risk that it might not work. We’ve spent so much time worrying about how hard things are that sometimes we overlook how easy today’s tools make it to actually create something.

PS I’ll be talking about this and more advanced tactics with an entrepreneurial focus at my upcoming seminar on the 20th. There are just a few seats left. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re in the midst of starting a significant venture, I think it will be worth your time.

A tacky mess: the masses vs. great design

Designers prune.

Left to its own devices, the mob will augment, accessorize, spam, degrade and noisify whatever they have access to, until it loses beauty and function and becomes something else.

The tragedy of the design commons.

A farmer's market with no entry requirements turns into a bazaar and then into a souvenir stand and finally into a flea market.

A bulletin board with no moderator or hierarchy becomes a random mess of affiliate posts and noise, where only a smart search engine is helpful.

An Apple product designed with user feedback would have thousands of extra features, multiple input methods and weigh 18 pounds.

(The best exception to this rule are some--not all--places where people live, including parts of Manhattan and Kibera, Kenya. But even in the best instances, as soon as commercial interests are served, it starts to fail).

It seems democratic and non-elitist to set it and forget it and let the users take over. But the tools we use (Wikipedia) and the brands we covet (Nike or Ducati) resolutely refuse to become democracies.

What's your average speed?

My car informs me that I've been averaging 26 mph over the last month. Much lower than I would have guessed.

It's low not because we don't drive on the highway, it's low because there's also a lot of time spent sitting still in traffic and at lights.

When we remember our journey and our work, the highlights are the fast parts, the thrilling moments, the peaks (and the valleys). It seems, though, that we spend most of our time in preparation, or circling, or considering. Probably worth investing some effort into our performance there, and enjoying those parts as well.

Analogies, metaphors and your problem

Innovation is often the act of taking something that worked over there and using it over here.

Your problem, whatever it might be, probably has a solution somewhere in the world. And your organization is probably stuck because they don't know what to do, and more important, don't have the guts to do it.

An example in the real world that's precisely about your particular problem, then, is fabulous because it not only shows you what to do, it gives you the confidence to do it.

Louis CK had the same problem of many comedians--too much time, not enough money. His pay-on-the-honor-system internet special was a huge success, and of course, dozens of comedians (ostensibly creative risk takers) rushed to follow in his precise footsteps.

What were they waiting for? After all, Radiohead did a similar thing years before Louis did. Of course, they make music and he makes comedy.

"Oh, that's a fine example of how a company in the hockey stick industry grew, but we make lacrosse sticks. Do you have any case studies of how a lacrosse stick company has succeeded?"

If you're waiting for a proven case study, directly on point, you're going to wait too long.

The skill, it seems, is having the desire and the guts to seek out examples by analogy instead of insisting on being a follower of someone with guts.

Long-term manipulation is extremely difficult

In the short run, it's easy.

It's easy to fool someone or lie to them or give them what they think they want. It's easy to write a great block of copy, to sell on credit, to grab the attention of the mob.

Not so easy: to build mutually profitable long-term relationships that lead to satisfaction, trust and work worth doing.

Lincoln was right about fooling people, but along the way we often forget that while trickery is easy, the longer path of keeping your promises is far more satisfying and stable.

There isn't one shark

Happy Days is famous for jumping the shark. In an episode near the end of their run, the writers ran out of ideas and went so far to please the masses that they wrote a script in which Fonzie, wearing a leather jacket, rode water skis up a ramp and over a shark.

Since then, the kind of people who like to say, "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded," are happy to point out when a popular organization jumps the shark.

The thing is, there isn't one shark. There's your shark, my shark and their shark. The masses have a different shark than the early adopters do.

For some, Apple has already jumped the shark. A new upgrade or a new TV commercial might be a step too far, and they walk away, sad that yet another cutting edge organization has succumbed to mass mediocrity. For others, they're just feeling safe enough to take a shot, and the shark is nowhere in sight.

The insight is to have the empathy not to confuse your shark with the shark of the kind of person you're hoping to delight. Choose your customers, choose their shark.

Time frames

The giant multinational can start a project knowing that it will take years to pay off.

The struggling freelancer might be willing to invest a few days.

Venture capital, particularly for web companies, mostly changes the time horizon. It means that the bootstrapping entrepreneur can make longer term investments, building assets that scale instead of cashing them in daily.

Goverments do some of their best work when they take on projects with time horizons that would frighten away even large companies. You're going to wait how long for that bridge to pay off?

One interesting side effect of going public is that companies that use venture capital to lengthen their time horizon suddenly (in just one day) have to switch gears to a time horizon that's measured in days or quarters.

And one useful note: if you're having trouble selling/working with or for an organization, it might be because you don't understand each other's time frame.

The difficult challenge of media alignment

Viewers are not the customer of the TV networks—advertisers are.

For a long time, those two groups had similar goals, though. Advertisers wanted lots of viewers and viewers wanted shows that lots of them wanted to watch. So the TV networks used ratings as a proxy for advertiser happiness and there wasn't much of a problem.

The same thing was true for newspapers. More local readers meant local advertisers were happy.

Both newspapers and TV networks suffer when mass starts to disappear. Viewers seek out what they want to watch, as opposed to what the masses want, and advertisers are left to scramble for eyeballs.

HBO turns this upside down. The viewers ARE the customer. HBO can program with confidence, because there's no question about who they are working for.

Search engine advertising works because the search engine knows the searcher is going to leave the site no matter what. They don't care if you leave to click on an organic link or a paid one, as long as you come back often. And the advertiser is paying by the click, so he cares about having the right people click, not everyone. Fairly aligned goals among all three parties.

Which leads to the conundrum faced by Twitter as they try to monetize sufficiently to justify the expectations of their investors.

If they relentlessly sell the attention of their users, they will have a misalignment as they maximize profit. The advertisers will want ever more attention, and the users will want to avoid those interruptions the advertisers are paying for. Tension will keep rising as users feel trapped by a medium with few substitutes that begins to charge an ever higher tax in the form of attention wasted.

My suggestion: Twitter has the opportunity to become extraordinarily aligned with their best users. Offer the top users the opportunity to pay $10 a month. For that fee, they can get an ever-growing list of features, including analytics, verification, 160 characters, who knows...

10,000,000 users choosing to pay $10 a month means that the service turns a profit (!) of more than a billion dollars a year. And because the company is in alignment with their most powerful and evangelical users, that number grows over time. Every decision proposed will have to answer just one question: what makes our users happier?

Free is a great idea, until free leads to a conflict between those contributing attention and those contributing cash.

This or that?

Don’t follow, lead.
Don’t copy, create.
Don’t start, finish.

or even,

Don't sit still, move.
Don't fit in, stand out.
Don't sit quietly, speak up.

Not all the time, sure, but more often.

"But first I'll try to make you feel really bad"

Here's one strategy for handling returns from unhappy customers:

Let them know you don't accept returns. Explain that it must be a user error. Explain that the customer must have lacked care or intelligence or ethics. Explain that you're willing to accept a return, but just this one time. And finally, explain that you're now going to put the person on a list, and you'll never sell to him ever again.

Do all this in one continuous statement, without pausing for a response.

This has happened to me more than once.

What puzzles me is this: if you're going to give the customer a refund, why not make them delighted by the process? Why not create an aura of goodwill? At the very least, both of you will have a better day. Even better, perhaps one day someone will mention your company to this former customer--I wonder what he'll say?

One tip: if you say your meta-goal out loud (or jot it down) before you start an interaction, you're more likely to consistently create the outcome you seek, not the one you hyperventilate yourself into.

It's a long story

Isn't it always?

Actually, the long stories are the good ones. About how you found that great job, or discovered this amazing partner or managed to get that innovation approved.

If long stories are so great, how come we spend all our lives working for the short ones? The very act of seeking out the shortcut and the quick win might very well be the reason you don't have enough successful long stories to share.

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