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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« June 2013 | Main | August 2013 »

The fork in the road offers only two difficulties...

Seeing it

and

Taking it

Most organizations that stumble fail to do either one. The good news is that there are far more people than ever pointing out the forks that are open to us. The "this" or "that" alternatives that each lead to success if we're gutsy enough to take one or the other.

Alas, taking the fork is even more difficult than seeing it.

Next for the hip

The easiest quick opportunity remains the same: Yuppie Information.

What information can you offer the connected and the curious that they don't already have? This group is not only the most eager group of early adopters around, but they are so digitally connected that reaching them is easier than ever before.

No, it's not going to change the world, not right away anyway. But yes, if you're hoping to quickly work your way up the adoption curve, offering timely information to connected, educated, urban youth is in fact a great place to start.

On the other hand, the green fields and real wins will come from connections, mesh businesses and leadership for groups that aren't as peripatetic or spoiled as the digital yuppies.

Q&A: What works for websites today?

Approximately a million web years ago, I wrote a book about web design. The Big Red Fez was an exercise in shooting fish in a barrel. There was a vast and deep inventory of bad websites, sites that were not just unattractive, but ineffective as well.

The thesis of the book is that the web is a direct marketing medium, something that can be measured and a tool that works best when the person who builds the page has a point of view. Instead of a committee deciding everything that ought to be on the page and compromising at every step, an effective website is created by someone who knows what she wants the user to do.

Josh Davis and others wanted to know if, after more than a decade, my opinion has changed. After all, we now have video, social networks, high-speed connections, mobile devices...

If anything, the quantity of bad sites has increased, and the urgency of the problem has increased as well. As the web has become more important, there's ever more pressure to have meetings, to obey the committee and to avoid alienating any person who visits (at the expense of delighting the many, or at least, the people you care about).

Without a doubt, there are far more complex elements to be worked with, more virality, more leverage available to anyone brave enough to build something online. But I stand with a series of questions that will expose the challenges of any website (and the problems of the organization that built it):

  • Who is this site for?
  • How did they find out about it?
  • What does the design remind them of?
  • What do you want them to do when they get here?
  • How will they decide to do that, and what promises do you make to cause that action?

The only reason to build a website is to change someone. If you can't tell me the change and you can't tell me the someone, then you're wasting your time.

If you get all of this right, if you have a clear, concise point of view, then you get the chance to focus on virality, on social, on creating forward motion. But alas, virtually all organizational sites are narcissistic and (at the same time) afraid and incomplete.

Answer your visitor when he asks, "Why am I here?"

Gardens, not buildings

Great projects start out feeling like buildings. There are architects, materials, staff, rigid timelines, permits, engineers, a structure.

It works or it doesn't.

Build something that doesn't fall down. On time.

But in fact, great projects, like great careers and relationships that last, are gardens. They are tended, they shift, they grow. They endure over time, gaining a personality and reflecting their environment. When something dies or fades away, we prune, replant and grow again.

Perfection and polish aren't nearly as important as good light, good drainage and a passionate gardener.

By all means, build. But don't finish. Don't walk away.

Here we grow.

Perhaps you could just make something awesome instead

Mass marketers love the promise of big data, because it whispers the opportunity of once again making average stuff for average people, of sifting through all the weird to end up with that juicy audience that's just waiting to buy what they've made.

Big data is targeting taken to the highest level of granularity. It grabs your behavior across web sites, across loyalty cards, who knows, across your phone records... the promise of all this grabbing is that marketers will be able to find precisely the right person to reach at the right moment with the right offer.

[Worth noting that the flipside--the ability to reach the weird and offer them something that would never be practical otherwise--is a breakthrough just waiting to happen.]

And the rocket scientists are busy promising Hollywood that they can run the numbers on a script and figure out how to change it to make it more likely to sell. Add a sidekick to that superhero, perhaps, or have that demon be summoned instead of whatever it is that unsummoned demons do...

This rearview window analysis is anathema to the creative breakthrough that we call art. No amount of digital focus group research could figure out that we wanted Memento or the Matrix or Amour. Worse, it's based on the flawed assumption that the past is like the future, that correlation and causation are related. By that analysis, every Supreme Court chief justice, US president and New York City police chief is going to be a man. Forever more.

We are going to get ever better at giving committees ways to turn your work into banality. That opens up the market even more for the few that have the guts to put great work into the world instead.

Millions of words and only six emotions

The intellectual part of the human mind can spin delightful or frightening stories, can compare features and benefits, can create narratives that compel us to take action.

But all of these words are merely costumes for the six emotions built deep in our primordial soup:

Anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.

Being angry at a driver who cuts you off in traffic is chemically similar to being angry to a relative who cuts you out of his will. We tell ourselves different stories (the traffic story will probably not last nearly as long in the echoes of our consciousness as the bitterness of the bequest story, for example), but still, there are only six buttons being pressed.

Knowing that there are only a few keys on the keyboard doesn't make it easier to write a pop hit or a great novel, but it's a start. In the case of someone with an idea to spread or a product to sell, knowing that you've only got six buttons might help focus your energy.

"People like us do stuff like this"

There is no more powerful tribal marketing connection than this.

More than features, more than benefits, we are driven to become a member in good standing of the tribe. We want to be respected by those we aspire to connect with, we want to know what we ought to do to be part of that circle.

Not the norms of mass, but the norms of our chosen tribe.

Your permanent record

"I'm going to record this conversation, okay?"

How Nixonian! The idea of being on the record is a scary one. It's the hot button of, "This is added to your school transcript." Forever, it seems, you will be marked by what you did or said, a pristine record, besmirched.

Today, of course, the post-Nixon reality exists. So much is on your permanent record that we've all been besmirched. That video response you posted, that comment, that update. The fact that you didn't actually work on that team your resume claims you did. The customer who left your restaurant angry and posted a negative review on one site or another.

In a heartbeat we went from special, gap-free makeup for TV stars on HD to online candid photos of every celebrity, without makeup.

If you don't know how to speak with confidence on tape, you've now entered a culture where you will never be able to speak. Because it's all on tape, it's all online, it's all on your permanent record.

Everyone has failed, everyone has misspoken, everyone has meant well but done the wrong thing. Your favorite restaurants, cafes and books have all gotten a one-star review along the way. No brand is perfect, no individual can pretend to be either.

Perfect can't possibly be the goal, we're left with generous, important and human instead.

The future is messy...

and the past is neat.

It's always like that.

That's because the people who chronicle the past are busy connecting the dots, editing what we remember and presenting a neat, coherent arc. We can publish the history of Roman Empire in 500 pages, but we'd need ten times that to contain a narrative of the noise in your head over the last hour.

Even viral videos are easy to describe after they happen. But if these experts are so smart, how come they can never predict the next one?

Change the culture, change the world

Plenty of marketing, particularly the marketing of social-change groups, focuses on educating people and getting them to make different (and better) decisions.

But most actions aren't decisions at all.

In Reykjavik, shopkeepers keep their doors closed (it's cold!) and if they were aware that in Telluride most stores keep their doors propped open (even in the winter) they'd think it was nuts.

In China, the typical household saves three to five times as much of their income as a household in the US. This is not an active decision, it's a cultural component.

The list goes on and on. A practioner of Jainism doesn't have a daily discussion about being a vegetarian, and a female graduate of Johns Hopkins is likely pre-sold on the role of women in the workplace.

If you ask someone about a cultural practice, the answer almost always boils down to, "that's what people like me do."

Powerful organizations and great brands got there by aligning with and accelerating tectonic cultural shifts, not by tweaking sales one at a time.

There are two lessons here. The first is that the easiest thing to do is merely amplify what a culture is already embracing. The second is that real change is cultural change, and you must go about it with the intent to change the culture, not to merely make the easy change, the easy sale.

Q&A: The writing process

The third book, as our series continues, is: Survival is Not Enough.

Andy Levitt and others wrote in to ask about my writing process. Many authors have one. Erle Stanley Gardner, one of the most successful authors of all time, dictacted each Perry Mason book to his secretary, who wrote them out. It took 21 days for each book, and he didn't even need to edit them.

I confess to not having a process. Some books, like The Dip, were created Gardner-style (without the secretary part). I wrote Ideavirus in less than ten days. I might think about a topic for months or years, but then, whoosh, there's a book.

That's not what happened with this book. I grew up with science fiction, and one of the elements I like about the best novels is the way the author establishes a few assumptions about the way of the world and then explores the implications of those assumptions. Dune is a fine example of this, as are Asimov's Robot novels.

After writing Unleashing the Ideavirus, I was reading a lot of books about memetics, evolution and evolutionary biology. A few (like The Red Queen and Darwin's Dangerous Idea) were profound in their eloquence and implications. It seemed to me that combining memetics (the analysis of the evolution and spread of ideas) with modern thinking about evolution could give us new insight into how organizations work.

And so I headed down the rabbit hole. Eight hours a day for a year. I read hundreds of books, filled notebooks with ideas and wrote more than 600 pages, less than half of which I ended up using. The result is certainly the book I've worked hardest on, and perhaps not coincidentally, the book that sold the fewest copies. So few that my publisher took the unusual step of firing me, showing no interest whatever in my next book, Purple Cow.

There were probably two reasons that Survival didn't do very well. The first is that it came out right after 9/11, when much of the nation was grieving. The second: science fiction novels lend themselves to complexity, new vocabulary and flights of theory. Popular business books, not so much.

At one level, every author writes for himself. I'm proud of my process here, of how hard I was able to push on this book and how much I learned doing it. On the other hand, we write for our readers, and my readers told me that more concrete examples and fewer footnotes were the way to go if I was intent on starting conversations and fostering positive change.

The goal in blogging/business/inspiring non-fiction is to share a truth, or at least a truth as the writer sees it. To not just share it, but to spread it and to cause change to happen. You can do that in at least three ways: with research (your own or reporting on others), by building and describing conceptual structures, or with stories that resonate.

Both Linchpin and Icarus found me returning to a more heavily-researched approach to writing. It's exhausting, but the work is its own reward. The process is a choice, though. You can write without becoming a monk, by bringing your voice to those that want to hear it.

The biggest takeaway for anyone seeking to write is this: don't go looking for the way other authors do their work. You won't find many who are consistent enough to copy, and there are enough variations in approach that it's obvious that it's not like hitting home runs or swinging a golf club. There isn't a standard approach, there's only what works for you (and what doesn't).

In the words my late friend Isaac Asimov shared with Carl Sagan, "You are my idea of a good writer because you have an unmannered style, and when I read what you write, I hear you talking."

The process advice that makes sense to me is to write. Constantly. At length. Often. Don't publish everything you write, but the more you write, the more you have to choose from.

Fake is a fairly new idea (and a not very good one)

When you look people in the eye, you own the results. You're not wearing a mask, you can't easily leave town, this is your store, your house, your car, your place at the front of the classroom. When you can look people in the eye, you're doing something a million years old.

When our ancestors moved around exclusively on foot, it was unlikely that they ever traveled more than a few dozen miles from home. People were wary of strangers, and that was okay, because there weren't many. Reputation was truly a matter of life and death.

On the shiny, perfect, digital landscape of CGI movies and the internet, it's different. No one really died in the Matrix movies. The comics came to life (for a while, anyway). We don't mourn for the make-believe actors demolished by make-believe machines. Because it's not real. And on the internet, it's so easy to perceive that customer or that partner or that icon as the 'other', certainly not someone we need to look in the eye. We can leave a trail of wreckage without much thought, especially if we're anonymous.

So, when the conversation gets tough, we stop checking back on it. When we want to hide behind an alias or the asynchronous nature of email, we do. We check out.

Worse, when we want to deceive or lash out, it's easy to do. Hey, there's always someone else we can start over with, relationships and even reputations are disposable. We don't have to look you in the eye, it's dark in here, and we're wearing a mask.

Our experiment in fake has some really significant consequences. It turns strangers into actors on a screen, and sometimes we help them, but often, we become inured to their reality, and treat them with a callousness and indifference we'd never use in our village.

One philosophy is caveat emptor. Assume the worst. Assume you will be ignored or ripped off or disappointed. Your mileage may vary.

Another is carpe diem. Seize the moment to connect, to keep promises and most of all, to figure out how to look people in the eye or not promise you will.

Do we really need to add another layer of fake?

Principles for responsible media moguls

If you run a media company (and you do--you publish regularly on all sorts of social media, don't you?) then it's worth two minutes to consider some basic groundrules, listed here for you to embrace or reject:

  1. Establish your standard for truth, and don't vary it. Are you okay reporting rumor or innuendo in order to get attention? How about rushing to judgment so you can beat everyone else to the punch? People will put up with a lot as long as you don't become inconsistent.
  2. What's your content to noise ratio? Will you choose to fill 'air time' by vamping, interviewing irrelevant passers by and generally wasting minutes merely because you have minutes or paper or bits to spare? (I heard a podcast last week that took 14 minutes to get a fifteen-second point across).
  3. How will you honor, protect or expose those that give you money? Do your bosses, advertisers and customers benefit or suffer because of their relationship with you?
  4. Will you amplify fear? If your readers eat it up, will you make more of it?
  5. How often are you comfortable saying, "ditto"?
  6. Will you raise the bar or lower it? If a crank yells "fire" in the crowded moviehouse, will you loudly report that there might just be a fire, will you ignore the troll or will you call him out and push us back to some standard of normalcy?
  7. Is it more important to you to have ever more readers/watchers, or would you prefer to have a deeper interaction with those you've already got? Hard to do both at the same time.
  8. Is your work designed to stand the test of time, or is it only for right here and right now?
  9. Who, precisely, are you trying to please? They don't offer a Pulitzer for most of what we do, so if not the judges, then who?
  10. When you get to the point where you're merely saying it because it's your job or because it's expected, will you stop?

Sort & search

Search is powerful, essential and lucrative. Google demonstrated just how much value can be created when you let people easily find what they want.

Sort, on the other hand, is easily overlooked and something that most of us can work with.

For example, the way a restaurant sorts the wines on the wine list at will have a dramatic impact on what people order. If you list the cheap wines first, people will probably end up spending less. And when your wine list migrates to an iPad and you let the diner sort by price, popularity and other indicators, consumption patterns will instantly change.

Hotels.com, Zagats, Kayak and hundreds of other sites let you sort by quality, ranking and price. Not only does this change the way we choose, it also changes the behavior of the those being ranked! Once a metric for ranking becomes popular (or the default) then those being ranked will work to make their ranking go up. No surprise. Then how come Airbnb.com doesn't let users rank places by the quality of their reviews? It would cost them close to nothing, but it would dramatically change how hard a location works to earn good ratings.

When someone encounters what you make, you must make a choice about the order of what's on offer, and you also make the choice as to whether or not you'll let the user sort by other attributes. Typepad doesn't provide me with a way to let you sort the posts on this blog by popularity, but it would certainly change how you consumed it if they did.

Alphabetical, numerical and first-come sorts by default are primarily a copout. They imply that a simple search is what the user is after, but that's almost never the case. Users want you to build information into the order of things. When we have the guts (and tech) to provide relevant sorting, we present a point of view and train our users as well as our providers.

When we rank people, or the products we create, we have the opportunity to not only change the way people select, we can also change what we make.

The sweet smell of success

No one talks about what color the success is, just how it smells.

When Amanda Palmer was busking on the streets of Harvard Square, she made enough to pay her rent. She supported herself, she made it work. She didn't plan on busking, think about busking or get ready to busk. She did it and she succeeded. One person, ten people in the crowd... Didn't matter, she was working, she was a pro.

I sold my first book project (I owned half of it) for $5,000. I didn't worry about how big the advance was, I celebrated that I had a publisher. I followed that up a (very long) year later with another book (I owned half of that one, too) which I sold for even less. But now I had TWO publishers, and stories to go with each.

You will be labeled, like it or not. If you earn the label of, "person who builds things, ships them and sells them to someone who values them..." you're way ahead of the pack. You're going to be doing this for a long time. When you have the chance, engage with the market, declare victory, make the sale.

More chocolate chip cookies don't smell that much better than just a few.

More people are doing marketing badly...

than any other profession I can imagine. What an opportunity...

If we were building bridges this badly, the safety of our nation would be in doubt.

The local sub shop makes a fine sub, but has a dumb name, a typo in its sign, no attention paid to customer service and on and on. Same for the big hospital down the street and the politician you wish would get a clue.

There are three reasons for this:

1. Everyone is a marketer, so there's a lot more of it being done.

2. Most people who do marketing are actually good at doing something else (like making subs) and they're merely making this up as they go along.

3. There's no standards manual, no easy way to check your work. Without a rule book, it's hard to follow the rules. (For the innovators and creators out there, this is great news, of course.)

The cure? Noticing. Notice what is working in the real world and try to figure out why. Apply it to your work. Repeat.

Learn to see, to discern the difference between good and bad, between useful and merely comfortable.

And after you learn, speak up. Noticing doesn't work if you don't care and if you don't take action.

Summer novels

I've posted five that will make you think and get you all the way to September.

If you want to understand how the NSA thinks, be sure to dig out a copy of Dunn's Conundrum. Funny and probably true.

PS today only, Derek's classic bestseller is on a huge Kindle daily sale.

Not even once?

It's so easy to have a black and white list of the things you're not capable of doing. A hard limit, a boundary that says you just don't have the genes to make art, speak up, write, give a speech, be funny, be charming, be memorable, come through in the clutch, survive an ordeal like this one... it's easy to give up.

In response, we ask, "not even once?" Never once have you been funny or inspired or connected? Not even once have you been trusted, eager or original? Not even once have you written a sentence that someone else was happy to read, or asked a question that needed to be asked?

Now that we know it's possible, the real question is, "how often can you do it again?"

Simple steps for successful partnerships

The connection economy is built on ecosystems, and they depend on partnerships.

  1. Don't change the rules.
  2. If you have to change the rules, tell your partners in advance.
  3. And even if you can't do #2, at least tell them the new rules.

Trust is precious and easily wasted, and guessing is a lousy foundation for future progress.

Q&A: Controlling the Ideavirus

Our series continues...

Dennis O. Smith wrote in with this question about Unleashing the Ideavirus: "I understand the concept of spreading the idea, but how can you control or direct that growth? 'Going viral' is great for fast growth and sharing of your idea, but are there mechanisms to steer it, trim it, shape it, etc."

The reason that so many people catch a cold every year is that no one is trying to control where it goes. The reason that Wikipedia is so robust is that control is decentralized. The reason that there's a huge disconnect between corporate marketing and ideas that spread is that the culture of contagious ideas is anethema to the command, control and responsibility mindset of the industrial marketer.

There's a huge difference between, "I want people to talk about this," and "I want to control what people say."

But, and it's a huge but, the marketer decides where the virus starts. She decides who the first sneezers will be. She decides on what easy-to-use tools may be made available to the group that she's identified. These decisions go a very long way to determining what happens next.

Napster and Facebook were both optimized for college students and were intentionally seeded there. Sure, the founders could have picked nursing homes or military academies, but the character and culture of the college campus ensured that not only would these ideas  spread, but that they would spread in the desired direction.

If you want to spread an idea among policy wonks, don't involve People-magazine style celebrities, or aim for big numbers. Instead, find the hive that matches the group you'd like to be discussing your idea, and (this is the big and) create an idea that not only interests this group, but is easy and fun to spread precisely among this group.

[When I launched this book, I knew which group I wanted to read it. So I wrote in a tone that appealed to this group, placed a long excerpt in Fast Company, which was sort of patient zero for this group, and then gave the book away for free (it's still free online) with explicit instructions to share and email it to people who might become engaged with it.

No, I couldn't control what would happen, or where it would go, or what the impact might be, but by picking the 3,000 people who got it first, and then making it easy for this group to share it, it quickly got to over a million readers. This wasn't the fastest way to get to a big number, but it was the best way to get to the right number and kind of people.

The temptation is to be big, when the real goal ought to be effective.]

PS last time I checked, you can get a used copy of the 13-year old edition of the book for a penny. You may notice that I've chosen not to update past blog posts, past books or past websites. That's because each is a testament to when it was written, as opposed to being a constantly updating resource. Even so, I hope these older books can add value and give you perspective.

PPS Fritz Lieber wrote about the out of control ideavirus in his short story "Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee" published more than fifty years ago.

Clients vs. customers

You need to choose.

Customers hear you say, "here, I made this," and they buy or they don't buy.

Clients say to you, "I need this," and if you want to get paid, you make it.

The customer, ironically, doesn't get something custom. The key distinction is who goes first, who gets to decide when it's done.

The provider is rarely better than the clients he is able to attract. On the other hand, the creator often gets the customers she deserves.

The ludicrousness of embarrassed

I understand why we may have evolved to have the automatic, out-of-control feeling of embarrassed in some situations.

But is it useful?

Has being embarrassed ever helped you accomplish anything useful? We can (and should) work to eliminate it from our emotional vocabulary. If it's worth doing, it's worth not being embarrassed about. And if it's not worth doing, don't do it.

One reason to avoid doing something is because it leads to embarrasment. A better reason is because it's not the right thing.

Basting the turkey

The Lone Ranger turned out to be one of the biggest movie flops in history. The movie (before marketing) cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars to make.

Here's the thing: thousands of people touched this project. From the dozens of well-paid and ostensibly talented executives to the marketing and the make up and the foley folks—this wasn't a random accident, it was the output of a deliberate effort.

Each of these people got handed a turkey, and some money, along with instructions on how to somehow improve it, promote it or otherwise dress it up. Alas, no one had the guts and the leverage to say, "stop."

Basting the turkey might sound like your job description, but ultimately, we're known by the projects we get involved in. Saying "no" or even "stop" is the hallmark of the professional you want on your team.

All hyperbole is totally useless

Sure, it gets people's attention, but does it change minds?

Hyperbole needs to be hooked up to a story in order for it to make a difference. A story that resonates, that matches our worldview, that holds up to scrutiny.

Hyperbole can open the door, but it doesn't change behavior. Persistent stories that are true, amplified by the tribe... that's what changes behavior.

But it only works sometimes

A glimpse is often more compelling than a certainty. For a minute or two, the drum solo on Monk's Dream is totally and completely alive. It even makes the neighbor's dog turn his head and stare at the speakers.

If all recorded music sounded this good all the time, it would lose its magic for me. I certainly wouldn't spend hours trying to get my stereo just right (one more time).

Word of mouth comes from intermittent delight. Things that work all the time are harder to talk about.

Random reinforcement drives people to focus their attention and effort, because it's worth sifting through many to find the one that's worth it.

Sure, there are places where six sigma reliability is essential (like pacemakers). But in most markets, your audience is likely to talk about your flashes of brilliance.

Sometimes, we're so focused on being consistent that we also lower the bar on amazing. After all, the thinking goes, if we can't be amazing all the time, better to reset the expectation to merely good. Which robs us of the ability to (sometimes) be amazing.

But amazing is what spreads.

In markets where some people expend unreasonable energy, we get uneven results, and those results are things we seek out, again and again.

Proving the skeptics wrong

"It'll never last..."

"Someone with her background will never make a go of this..."

"Are you kidding me?" "Pathetic! Delusional!"

"Social media is a fad, the iPad is a toy, you're never going to amount to anything..."

Here's the thing about proving skeptics wrong: They don't care. They won't learn. They will stay skeptics. The ones who said the airplane would never fly ignored the success of the Wright Bros. and went on to become skeptical of something else. And when they got onto an airplane, they didn't apologize to the engineers on their way in.

I used to have a list, and I kept it in my head, the list of people who rejected, who were skeptical, who stood in the way. What I discovered was that this wasn't the point of the work, and my goal wasn't actually to prove these folks wrong, it was only to do the work that was worth doing. So long ago I stopped keeping track. It's not about the skeptics. It's about the people who care about, support and enable.

Instead of working so hard to prove the skeptics wrong, it makes a lot more sense to delight the true believers. They deserve it, after all, and they're the ones that are going to spread the word for you.

Nature and nurture (professional edition)

The boss, conference organizer, co-worker, interviewer, parent or client who wants your best work, your art and your genuine enthusiasm:

...can demand that you bring your best possible work the first time, can point out that they are paying you well, that they're busy, that they're powerful, and that they accept nothing short of high performance or you're out.

...or they can nurture you, encourage you, set a high bar and then support you on your way. They can teach you, cajole you and introduce you to others that will do the same.

The first strategy is the factory mindset, of interchangeable parts and interchangeable people. It is the strategy of ensuring six sigma perfection, on demand, and the strategy of someone in power, who can demand what he wants, when he wants it.

You don't make art this way, or emotional connections, or things that haven't been made before. You may get the job done, but it's not clear if you'll make a difference.

Q&A: The resiliency of Permission Marketing

Here's my first Monday Afternoon book Q&A. Thanks to everyone who responded...

The first book is Permission Marketing and virtually all the questions were the same, best summarized by Brandon Carroll, "How do you feel like Permission Marketing has changed since the 90s when you wrote it? How can it be applied in today's fast changing world?"

If you haven't read it yet, here is some context. I wrote it in 1998, before YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Psy, the iPhone or the bankruptcy of Hostess.

I felt confident writing the book because there were two key shifts that hadn't drawn enough attention:

1. For the first time in fifty years, paid advertising was no longer growing as an effective, dependable way to buy attention from the people you wanted to reach. Instead, there was an explosion of cheap and even free ways to make noise. And...

2. For the first time in history, it was possible to directly reach people you wanted to reach, presuming that they wanted you to reach them. And you could do it for free.

If anything, both of these trends have accelerated. Most big companies now spend far more time than they ever spent before on advertising engaging in its free alternative. They tweet and post and ping and poke and generally put on an ever-noisier show, all based on the self-delusion that they can actually get back to 1968 and the ability to reach everyone, whenever they want. This is obviously a futile endeavor, but it's not stopping people who should know better from trying.

At the same time, a very rare and precious communications channel is being understood and refined. The ability to whisper. The opportunity to be missed. Replacing hype with permission, with an audience of believers who will go ahead and spread the word for you, because they want to, not because you pay them to.

And so, banner ads went from $50 cpm to less than 1% of that, because they're not, in fact, as effective as TV ads used to be. I was being hyperbolic 13 years ago when I said that they would disappear, but they've certainly vanished as the next-big-thing, either for marketers or for media companies. The movement of money spent on mass advertising to mass banners online isn't a smooth one, because it's a shift from mass to micro, from brand advertising to direct response.

No big brand has ever been built using banners. And so, the biggest brands built in the last decade (make any list you want, from Red Bull to Google) did not get that way using marketing that Don Draper would have recognized...

The biggest mis-fire from my original book, the thing I didn't understand well enough, is how nuanced the pursuit of permission would become. Online games and loyalty programs haven't disappeared, but they're not even close to the most important foundation of this asset. No, it comes down to our need to be included, to be respected and to be connected. Over and over, marketers that have touched this asset have raced to push it too hard and too fast, and along the way, lost the very permission they worked so hard to get.

The other mistake I made was underestimating how much fun it is to act like a big advertiser or a big media company, and how profitable it is to keep that industry moving forward. As a result, there are ever more techniques and ever more tools to act as if you're doing brand advertising in the new media space, when of course, the results are a mere shadow of what you used to be able to do with TV.

For the individual or small organization, all the social networks provide you with a fork in the road. Either you can work around the edges, spamming your way to more followers and more noise, figuring out how to make some sort of make-believe metric increase as a result of your efforts. Or, you can use these networks as a new form of 1:1 interaction, making promises and keeping them. This second path means that your followers are actually followers and that your friends are closer than ever to becoming friends.

Going forward, the organizations to bet on are the ones with a tribe, with a direct connection. If it's easy to get your Kickstarter funded, if it's easier to get your email opened, then you've built something, something that lasts.

Canaries and coal mines

Years ago, I went on a grueling trip, four cities in four days doing speaking gigs. That meant I was in a lot of airports. At every airport bookstore, there wasn't a single copy of any of my books, including one that had recently came out.

I whined to the team at my book publisher. What sort of distribution was this?

Someone wrote back, "Seth, if you tell us which airports you'll be visiting, our salesforce says they will do their best to have your book in a place you can see it."

My own little Potemkin Village. I'm afraid he didn't really get the point I was after.

Don't save the canary. Fix the coal mine.

Polishing junk

The first rule of social media is that it powers the spread of remarkable ideas.

The second rule is that all the social media in the world can't make a lousy project work in the long run.

The time you're spending polishing might be better spent building.

How long between leaps?

Kids have to change grades every year. You hit 18 and the system says it's time to move out and go to a whole new place. Four years later, another cycle...

And then?

How often do we say, "three months from today, I will be doing something totally different than I'm doing now?" How often do we look at an asset (an organization, a source of income, a technology) and acknowledge that it's our past, not our future?

A generation ago, you might be able to go forty years without being forced into a leap like this. In many industries, though, it might even be forty weeks (or forty days).

Not something to be avoided. Something to initiate.

People don't like changing their rhythm. If you adopt the rhythm of stability, then change is a threat. Adopt the rhythm of change, though, and you'll get restless right on schedule.

Freedom of information, act

Traditionally, many car dealerships are based on a simple idea: they know more about cars and pricing and profit than the customer does.

By leveraging the information advantage, they can sell cars at a higher markup, upsell add ons, etc.

But what happens when the customers know more than they do, when potential customers know about every option, the inventory at every dealer, etc?

This is going to happen to every business, every sector, every level. When information is set free, does it help you or hurt you?

If it's not helping you, this is a good time to change your model.

Magic beans (three steps to a successful marketing promise)

You know the story: Jack traded the family cow for some worthless beans that turned out to be magical.

How did that deal go down?

1. The individual has to be open to hearing the offer at all. Jack was bored, disillusioned and aimlessly walking to market. Sure, it was a shady guy on the street, but Jack's standards were low. If you want to do business with people with more resources than Jack, it helps to have the trust that comes from previous engagements, and the permission to deliver your message.

Most of all, Jack was in the mood to buy. Creating a mood is far more difficult than finding one.

2. The person hearing your story has to want to believe it. This is more subtle than it sounds. Uber, for example, offers a newfangled way to call for transport in big cities. Many people haven't heard of it or used it, largely because they don't think they need it, aren't open to something new, or are unwilling to go through all the steps necessary to get the app, etc. So, even if it works as promised, there's no urgent need felt by some, so they don't care. 

In Jack's case, the prospect of escaping his dreary life (and getting rid of the pesky cow) were both welcome offers. He hoped they'd be true.

3.  It has to be true. You must be able to keep the promise. If not, you're ripping people off and shortcircuiting any chance you have to build something of value. If the beans hadn't grown, end of story. Future sales will come when Jack tells his friends...

Marketing failure occurs because at least one of these three elements isn't present.

The sea of strangers

Is there anything more frightening than showing up (really showing up) in the place where you are unknown and alone?

All our warning systems are on high alert. From an evolutionary perspective, strangers represent danger. They are not only a direct threat, but carry the risk of rejection and all the insecurity that comes with it.

But the opposite can be true: Strangers can represent opportunity. The opportunity to learn, to make new connections, to build bridges that benefit everyone.

This is an internal debate, not something that comes from outside. When we look for rejection and reasons to hold back, that’s exactly what we will find. On the other hand, if we seek possibility and look for people that need us as much as we need them, there they are.

Everyone is, at some level, shy. Everyone has the instinct to hold back, because that instinct is baked in. Those that overcome it aren’t born gregarious, they are people who realize the self-fulfilling truth of finding what they’re looking for.

The connected person is no different from you, they've merely made a generous choice, confronting their innate fear instead of hiding from it. The reward for overcoming this inertia belongs to the connector and to everyone she connects.

It’s easier than ever to convene, to organize, to create spaces where strangers will cease to be strangers and turn into allies and friends. Those that convene overcome their resistance just one time, and then benefit from the generosity they’ve delivered to the group. The only difference between a group of strangers and a group of friends is that the friends benefitted from someone willing to go first.

When we weave together strangers and turn them into a tribe, we create real value, value that lasts.

The cycle of media attention (fans to feeders)

Fanstofeeders

Most of the time, the work is only seen by fans. The new record, or the public hearing that's being held, or the presentation for the committee. It's going to reach people who already know what's in store.

But, in the connected media world, sometimes an idea starts to blow up. The views on the music video start to trend, the book starts to get talked about. Who notices? People who notice things that are trending. If you're in this group, you may have fooled yourself into thinking that everyone cares about what's trending, but in fact, not so many do.

The buzz hunters don't care so much about the content or the artist--they won't be back for the next piece from this person. What they care about, though, is the trend, the buzz and the heat.

When enough buzz hunters are buzzing, then the masses show up. They want something else, of course. They want what the masses are watching.

Finally, if someone has really screwed up, if there's a trial or a scandal or something catastrophic in politics, the creeps on cable will descend. They'll camp out, spin and look for sound bites. Every time they do, they turn the story into the very same story, they embrace the arc of tragedy, they look for two-dimensional and the black and white.

The audience for online gossip, cable sensationalism and the stuff at the newspaper checkout sees the same thing day after day. They have a very different view of the world because of the circle of media they've chosen to live in.

What's extraordinary about the media attention curve is that each group brings its own truth, its own lens to see what's going on. The fan sees the world one way, the buzz hunter very differently.

The actual work doesn't change so much as the way we talk about it.

You get two choices here: the first is to decide which circle you'll live in when you consume media. And the second is to decide which circle you'd like those that you seek to reach are living in.

Can an audiobook change your life?

There's no doubt that a well-read recording of a novel can make a long car ride pass much more quickly. We're eager to find out what happens next, and sometimes, it's even worth sitting in the driveway just to find out.

I'm more interested, though, in non-fiction audio, particularly the kind you listen to ten or fifteen or a hundred times in a row.

When I was starting out on my own, success was not around the corner or even in sight. For years, I was flirting on the edge of failure. I was thrown out of salescalls, rejected by just about every organization I approached and was pretty stuck. More than once I considered giving up the entire entrepreneur thing.

One of the key factors in both surviving this time and figuring out how to shift gears was my exposure to (as we called them then) books on tape, particularly the work of Zig Ziglar. I listened for sometimes hours every day. I've been grateful to Zig every day since, and I still listen regularly.

This is a fairly modern tool, one that rewires our brains with consistent results. Of course, you need a car or some other sort of mindless commute, an mp3 player and the right material--a perfect storm of just the right sort of distraction and repetition.

I'm hard pressed to think of another form of modern media that has such consistently successful results.

People who haven't tried it don't want to. It feels a bit off-putting or mesmeresque to intentionally brainwash yourself with content designed to change your outlook. Here's the simple opportunity: try it. Twenty minutes a day, every day for a month. It's cheap and you can do it in private!

I put together a list of a few titles to get you started.

One listen isn't going to do you any good, but if you make it a habit, you might be surprised. One thing I've noticed is that on a per units-sold basis, I hear from audiobook readers about five times as often as those that read my books in print. I hope it works for you.

Monday afternoon book Q&A

As a fun summer diversion, I'll be answering a question every week about one of my books. Go ahead and ask...

The question form is right here. There's a prize every week for submitting the question I end up using.

Going straight and taking on water--the boat is slowly sinking

If that's your path, there are three options:

  • Work on keeping the boat going straight
  • Bail water ever faster
  • Find a new boat before it's too late

We call the first one persistence and diligence.

The second one—urgency.

And the third one, the one that's often the best strategy: quitting.

Go ahead and change your tactics when the situation demands. Your goals are real, your intent stays the same--but the way you get there needs to change.

Sometimes having the vision to see what's ahead is more productive than trying to get there faster.

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