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Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« January 2013 | Main | March 2013 »

You can't change everything or everyone, but you can change the people who matter

Marketing is about change--changing people's actions, perceptions or the conversation. Successful change is almost always specific, not general. You don't have a chance to make mass change, but you can make focused change.

The challenge of mass media was how to run ads that would be seen by just about everyone and have those ads pay off. That problem is gone, because you can no longer run an ad that reaches everyone. What a blessing. Now, instead of yelling at the masses, the marketer has no choice but to choose her audience. Perhaps not even with an ad, but with a letter, or a website or with a product that speaks for itself. And yet, our temptation is to put on a show for everyone, to dream of bestseller lists and the big PR win.

So the first, most important question is, "who do we want to change?"

If you can't answer this specifically, do not proceed to the rest. By who, I mean, "give me a name." Or, if you can't give me a name, then a persona, a tribe, a spot in the hierarchy, a set of people who share particular worldviews. People outside this group should think you're crazy, or at the very least, ignore you.

Then, be really clear about:

What does he already believe?

What is he afraid of?

What does he think he wants?

What does he actually want?

What stories have resonated with him in the past?

Who does he follow and emulate and look up to?

What is his relationship with money?

What channel has his permission? Where do messages that resonate with him come from? Who does he trust and who does he pay attention to?

What is the source of his urgency—why will he change now rather than later?

After he has changed, what will he tell his friends?

Now that you know these things, go make a product and a service and a story that works. No fair changing the answers to the questions to match the thing you've already made (you can change the desired audience, but you can't change the truth of what they want and believe).

With a sure hand

The charisma of a great speech, a powerful graphic design or a well-designed tool (and yes, a well-designed tool can have charisma) comes from certainty.

Not the arrogance of, "I am right and you are not," but from the confidence/certainty of, "I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it."

Graphic design that fades into the background, that recycles the safe or is merely banal does nothing for us. But the sure hand of someone who understands what she says and what she wants to communicate can't help but touch us.

This is the difference between the mediocre abstract painting at the local crafts fair and the powerful piece at MOMA. This is the difference between 8 bullet points on a slide and a picture that moves us. 

Confidence usually implies that you know it's going to work. I'm not talking about that, because only a fool is confident all the time. No, the sure hand can be open and vulnerable and connected, but above all, at least right this moment, it is sure enough to speak up, without hiding.

Signals vs. causes

It turns out that people who use Firefox are more likely to engage in certain online activities than those that use IE.

And it turns out that people who eat before bed are believed to gain more weight than those that don't.

Perhaps using Firefox makes you a different sort of surfer, or the timing of the calories has something to do with your metabilism.

More likely: The sort of person who takes the time to install a new browser is precisely the kind of person willing to use a new web service. The kind of person who makes a habit out of eating when bored (just before bed) might very well be the kind of person that has to wrestle with weight.

We see the same thing in outbound marketing. Spammers in Nigeria continue to use poorly written, ridiculous pitches. Not because they cause people to give up their senses and send tens of thousands of dollars, but because the kind of person that falls for something so dumb is probably the kind of person who is also going to be easily scammed.

TED often attracts interesting people, but going to TED (love this hashtag) doesn't make  you interesting.

People who order wine with dinner might be bigger tippers, but persuading someone to order a bottle probably won't change the way he tips.

A fever might be the symptom of a disease, but artificially lowering the fever (ice bath, anyone?) isn't going to do anything at all to change the illness.

Before changing the signal and thus assuming that this will change the outlook, it probably makes sense to understand what will change the causes of someone's perception and habits, and use the signal as a way of figuring out who needs to be taught.

Rehearsing failure, rehearsing success

The active imagination has no trouble imagining the negative outcomes of your new plan, your next speech or that meeting you have coming up.

It's easy to visualize and even rehearse all the things that can go wrong.

The thing is: clear visualization, repeated again and again, doesn't actually decrease the chances you're going to fail. In fact, it probably increases the odds.

When you choose to visualize the path that works, you're more likely to shore it up and create an environment where it can take place.

Rehearsing failure is simply a bad habit, not a productive use of your time.

Will you choose to do it live?

The answer isn't obvious, and it's certainly not for every career or every brand. I spend a lot of time wrestling with this very question.

Let's start with live music, the most familiar example of 'live':

  • The live performance isn't guaranteed: it might not work, the performance might be sub-par
  • It costs more, often a lot more, to attend
  • It only happens when the creator decides to make it available
  • The audience is part of the process, in many ways co-creating the work
  • Amplified live music always lower fidelity than the album
Pre-recorded music is perhaps 500 times more popular than live music, for these and other reasons. Five hundred!

The Grateful Dead made live music. Steely Dan didn't. The Beatles started very much with live but ended up exclusively with polished, packaged perfection. 

Of course, live music is more likely to create something that we talk about, years later. Because it's scarce and risky.

The questions that are asked and the decisions you make to produce a fabulous live interaction have very little to do with the quality concerns and allocations you'll make to produce something that scales and lasts. Confusing the two just frustrates all involved.

When you buy an HP printer, you're buying a product, an industrialized artifact. Visit the Apple Store, and suddenly there's a live element—one bad genius can ruin your entire experience. Zappos figured out how to turn online shoe-buying into a live performance by encouraging people to call and interact. Twitter is live, an online PDF is not. Every day this blog flies without a net, typos and all.

Consultants do most of their best work live (asking questions, innovating answers) while novelists virtually never do their work live.

For the creator, live carries more than a whiff of danger. For the perfectionist, the luxury of editing and polishing is magical. And for the consumer, the reliability and sheen of the pre-tested product provides a solace that she just can't get from the dangerous, risky business of consuming it live.

Some non-profits spend their time seeking out the tested, perfect scalable solution--not live. Others do their work in the moment, in the field, live.

The fork in the road is right here. Taking your work live is energizing, invigorating and insanely risky. You give up the legacy of the backlist, the scalability of inventory and the assurance of editing. It's an entirely different way of being in the world. Scale and impact can certainly come from creating your best work and sharing it in a reliable way. On the other hand, if you're going to be live, then yes, do it live. 

Understanding internet genius

The media has changed, forever, and of course that means that what it takes to be labeled a genius has changed as well.

Here's a page I built about Joni Mitchell and three people who have made an impact in the post-LP, interactive, connection economy.

Real-time news is neither

The closer you get to the event itself, the more it costs to find out what's going on. A week or a month or a year after the fact, the truth (or as close as we can get) is nearly free. Finding out that same truth mere seconds after it happens is costly indeed.

Want to know what the crime rate in Scarsdale was like on January 1? You can look that up instantly. Want to know what it was three seconds ago? A lot more difficult.

Mike Bloomberg became the richest man in New York by selling traders just fifteen seconds head start on the data they needed. Fifteen seconds costs thousands of dollars a month per trader. But in most cases, what we get online is not actually in real-time and it's not news, either.

Getting ever closer to the first moment is expensive in other ways. It might cost you in boredom, because watching an entire event just to see the good parts takes time, particularly if there's no guarantee that there will even be good parts.

It might cost you in filtering, because the less you're willing to wait, the more likely it is that you'll see news that's incorrect, out of context or not nearly as valuable as it appears.

When journalists, analysts and pundits are all racing to bring you the 'news' first, you get less actual news and more reflexive noise. Go watch an hour of cable news from a year ago... what were they yelling about that we actually care about today?

And, it turns out, the five minute head start you got from watching that news live has no real value to make up for all the costs that go with it.

On the other hand, if you can figure out how to bring actual, interesting, useful breaking 'news' to those that will pay for it, you can provide quite a profitable and beloved service.

In the last ten years we've redefined breaking news from "happened yesterday" to "happened less than fifteen seconds ago." The next order of magnitude will be prohibitively expensive and (most of the time) not particularly useful. Better, I think, to hustle in the other direction and figure out how to benefit from well-understood truth instead of fast and fresh rumor.

Hooked on hacking life

Perhaps you can quote the GTD literature chapter and verse, understand lean and MVP and the modern meeting standard. Maybe you now delete your emails with a swipe. It's possible you've read not just this blog but fifty others, every day, and understand go to market strategies and even have a virtual assistant to dramatically increase your productivity.

That's great. But the question remains, "what have you shipped?"

You're saving a ton of time, freeing yourself up to... do what, precisely?

The productivity industry doesn't do this work to entertain us. They're trying hard to help you get more done better. Emphasis on done.

Striving to get smarter, better and faster helps us create our future. The risk is that merely collecting, trading and discussing the tools turns into the point.

It's possible that your next frontier isn't to get more efficient, it's to get more brave.

Actually, it goes the other way

Wouldn't it be great to be gifted? In fact...

It turns out that choices lead to habits.

Habits become talents.

Talents are labeled gifts.

You're not born this way, you get this way.

Dripping and syncing the buzz

In launching an entire seasion of House of Cards at once, Netflix made a mistake (fwiw, I haven't seen it):

Buzz is a function of both interest and timing. If 100 people talk about something over the course of a week, it pales in comparison to 100 people talking about something right now. Conversations beget conversations. The next big thing, the it girl, the one of the moment--most buzz is meta-buzz, talk about the talk. Think about it... Superbowl buzz is almost entirely about the buzz, not about the game. It's the sync that matters.

HBO understands this, and used shows like the Sopranos to build subscriptions. The day after each episode, people at work would talk about what happened the night before. Not two days later, or four days later, but the very next day. If you didn't watch or didn't have HBO, you felt left out. So what they were selling a decade ago was the feeling of not being left out. (It works in Norway too).

Today, of course, we don't wait for work the next day. We talk about it now. And the mistake Netflix made was that they didn't drip. They didn't queue it up for their viewers, didn't coordinate and sync the buzz. In short: they didn't tell you WHEN to talk about it. If "spoiler alert" comes up too often, then we're afraid to speak and afraid to listen (depending on where we are in the viewing cycle).

Participating in buzz is fun. While mass marketers often try to manipulate their customers into buzzing in a way that benefits them, most of the time, we're glad to be doing it, glad to be part of something with excitement and energy. The Kony video spread largely because it was already spreading. The buzz led to more buzz, and we didn't want to be left out.

It takes guts and discipline to patiently coordinate the buzz, to avoid blurting out everything you have to say all at once. But that's what your audience wants from you. When trust and awareness build over time (it rarely happens magically, just when you need it), you have the ability to put new ideas and new discussions in front of the people waiting to not just hear them, but tweak them and spread them and make them their own.

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