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All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« August 2013 | Main | October 2013 »

Q&A What's the problem with weird?

Our series continues with We Are All Weird.

I'm still sort of amazed at how deeply ingrained our antipathy to this word is. It makes audiences a little nervous when I talk about the death of normal and the rise of weird. And it makes many people uncomfortable to describe their habits as a bit weird.

The thing is, though, that the only prospects you care about, the only people you have a shot of reaching, the only people who are going to use your service or join your tribe are weird. And everyone is weird, at least sometimes.

Twenty five percent of the population is a landslide in most modern elections. You don't need everyone to vote for you, just the weird people who care.

Thanks to Joe Mehnart for inspiring this riff.

Mr. Standard over there, precisely average height, average build, average job, average family... he's normal, except when it comes to fantasy football. And then he's off the charts. He subscribes to data services and scans magazines and even roots against the hometown team when his players are on some other team.

He shouldn't be ashamed of this passion--it's a passion, it makes his life interesting. And the marketers that seek him out shouldn't waste one minute on people who don't like fantasy football when there are so many people just like him.

And Ms. Normal over there, precisely fitting in on every measure, well, she's weird about Kiva. She is entranced by their model and loves the feeling she gets when she donates or finds a loan repaid. She gives her friends Kiva gift certificates and chats about them online...

Is it weird to find so much energy and connection over an online charity? Weird in the sense of not in the mainstream, sure. But there's no shame in finding your passion--in fact, it's those that seek to be normal at all times that have an issue as far as I can tell.

The thesis of my book is simple: in a world of mass production and mass advertising and mass conformance, the only smart strategy was to make average stuff for average people. But in a world of the long tail, of micro-tribes, of passions amplified, there are now more weird people than ever before.

Amazingly, despite the obvious proof that the weird are your potential market, we still spend most of our time talking about reaching and keeping the masses happy.

All that pressure from middle school (don't stand out!) combined with all that pressure from Wall Street (be like Walmart!) means that our instinct is to serve the disinterested masses by making something that's pretty average. The problem is that the disinterested masses are ever better at ignoring your ads, and they won't seek you out because, of course, normal people have no trouble satisfying their average needs.

The future increasingly belongs to those that care enough to make products and services for those that care.

PS here's the original cover of the book, which can be found inside the dust jacket of the hardcover (which now costs less than $6). I ended up having to flip it around because, ironically enough, my partner refused to put this image on the cover. I met the man in the photo and spent some time with him a few years ago. Even though I celebrate the yogi as a hero inside the book, they were worried that people would think it was too weird. Sigh.

Yogi2

'Category of one' is a choice

Fit in or stand out.

Do what works now or build what works later.

Avoid criticism or seek it out.

Follow the manual or write the manual.

When you define the category, when the category is you and you alone, your marketing issues tend to disappear. At least they do if the category is one that enough of the right people want to engage with.

Faced with the opportunity to become the category of one, we almost always hesitate, almost always compromise, almost always dumb it down to play it a little bit safer.

You may very well become a category of one in a market that's devoid of customers. But you will never become a category of one if you run with the pack.

The secret of the five top

The person who invented the banquet table, the round table for ten, wasn’t doing it to please those at the banquet or even the banquet organizer. He did it because this is the perfect size for the kitchen and the servers. The table for ten is a platonic ideal of the intersection of the geometry of bread baskets, flower arrangements and salad dressing. Bigger and you couldn’t reach, smaller and there’s no room.

But, here’s the thing: the table for ten isolates everyone at it. You can’t talk to your left without ignoring your right, and you can’t talk across the table without yelling. And so, the very thing you’ve set up to engage the audience actually does the opposite. This is even true if you're taking nine people out for dinner--ten at a table undermines what you set out to do.

Worse, if you’re brave enough to have a speaker or a presentation at your banquet, you’ve totally undermined your goals. Half the audience is looking in the wrong direction, and there are huge circles of empty white space that no microphone can overcome.

In my experience--I’m sharing a hugely valuable secret here--you score a big win when you put five people at tables for four instead. Five people, that magical prime number, pushes everyone to talk to everyone. The close proximity makes it more difficult to find a place for the bread basket, but far, far easier for people to actually do what they came to do, which is connect with one another.

Thousands of speeches later, I can tell you that the single worst thing an organizer can do to her event is sit people at tables for ten.

If you want to let the banquet manager run your next event, by all means, feel free. Just understand that his goals are different from yours.

When to speak up

"This plane is headed to Dallas. If Dallas isn't your destination, this would be a great time to deplane."

After a decision is taken and the organization is moving forward, it's fun and easy to be the critic, the rogue and the skeptic. Easy because the chances that you will have to actually take responsibility for your alternative view of the future are slim indeed--the plane is already headed somewhere, it can't go both places and you missed (or bungled) your chance to change the decision.

No, the time to speak up is before the decision is made, when not only do you have a chance to change where the organization is going, but you have the responsibility to deliver on your vision.

We don't have time to revisit every decision our organization makes. We merely have the time to do the best we can to execute on what we've already committed to do.

Rooting for your team to fail is as bad as it sounds. Even if you said early and often that this path was a stupid one, that this destination makes no sense--if you're on the plane, if you're in the meeting, if you decided to play the game--then once the journey starts, your job is to get us there, safe and sound.

And then come to the next meeting with a better plan about the next decision.

The merchants of average

They will push you to fit in, to dress alike, to use the same tools, to fit the format.

They are the high school English teacher in love with his rubric and the book editor who needs you to fit in with the program. "That's the way we do things around here." They are the well-meaning productivity guru who wants you to get faster, not better, and the social media consultant who is driving with his rear-view mirror.

The safest thing you can do, it seems, is to fit in. Total deniability. Hey, I’m just doing what the masses do.

The masses are average. And by definition, we have a surplus of average.

Don’t be different just to be different. Be different to be better.

Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Stories.

The most common style of public speaking, one that’s often used by politicians and is surprisingly common among investment pitches, is based on sentences. At the end of each sentence, the voice goes up a bit, the speaker pauses, as if waiting for an applause line.

I’ve even seen corporate CEOs be trained to do this, mostly because they lack the guts to trust themselves and their audience. It's my least favorite part of the Techstars pitch training, in fact.

The sentence is not a natural building block of public speaking, and it’s tiring, for both the speaker and the audience. It’s hard to maintain any sort of energy in either direction.

Building. A. Speech. Around. Words. Is. Even. More. Difficult.

The real opportunity is in speaking in paragraphs, or even better, in stories. The storyteller naturally engages our attention, and she matches her emphasis and cadence to the rhythm of the story.

Here’s how to know if you’re on the right track: if you stop a story in the middle, the audience will insist you finish it.

Isn’t that what you want?

Beyond geography

The original business was a lemonade stand. At least metaphorically.

Geographically based, this sort of business offers the following proposition: We are physically convenient to you, and you won't pass another business on the way here that offers you a transaction you will like more than ours.

Originally, of course, this meant on your block. Now, it means within a drive, with good parking. Or any choice that's based on scarce options due to proximity.

The geography-based business is real-estate driven. The right neighborhood with the right rent is a good thing, a natural disaster or the decay of your neighborhood, a bad omen indeed.

The local farm is all about geography, as is a pharmacy and a pizza joint. McDonald's was focused on geography as they grew, Ray Kroc knew that few people would drive past ten other hamburger places to get to a McDonald's.

A business to business organization can also be focused on geography, either because it's a provider to local businesses, or, to get just a little metaphorical, because it's built around just a few closely-tended customers. Those businesses stick with this supplier because it's easier than switching.

As information began to spread, a second kind of business came along. The commodity-based business says, "we sell what they sell, but cheaper." The commodity business requires that information be available and that you're able to actually produce a standard item cheap enough to win at this.

A commodity business always lives on the knife edge of cheaper. More information, bigger areas served and the combination of automation and cheap labor means that at any moment, you can be made obsolete. If a business is depending on winning the Google search sweepstakes and to win the price-shopping shopper, it's a commodity business.

And the third type, the modern type, the type that's the most difficult to build and the most stable once built is the community-based business.

This entity thrives because it's worth the drive, it's worth the cost and it delivers something hard to find just about anywhere--community, not convenience. The community-based business might very well serve a local (geographic) community, but it doesn't try to serve every person in the town, just those that have decided to eagerly join that community.

McKinsey is a community-based consulting firm. Their community is the boardroom of the Fortune 1000, and they can charge a huge premium over 'geographic' providers because the product is not merely the advice they dispense. Choose McKinsey because it says something about who you are and which group you are part of.

Community-based businesses tell stories. They create remarkable products. They sync up their tribe. They happily surrender market share to the commodity seller--if it's a lower price you want, good luck to you! The community business says, "people like us shop at a place like this." This is where brands live, and where work that matters gets done.

The geography-based surf shop sells surfboards and supplies to the grommets who come to this beach this weekend. The commodity surf shop sells the cheapest boards and wetsuits, online. And the community-based surf shop runs swap meets, has a newsletter, organizes competitions, commissions original artwork on boards, and yes, along the way, sells some surf wax.

All three structures can work, for schools, for non-profits, for companies big and small. But each is its own style, with its own structures and measurements and strategies. Choose!

Deleting 'must have' features

One way to invent a new category is to delete the must have features that others insist a product or feature or design has to have in order to be worth something.

Another way is to build in features that others say can't possibly appeal to more than just a few.

Q&A Poke the Box vs. meh

Our series continues with a question about one of my shortest books, a manifesto about starting (and art): Poke the Box.

Ben Nesvig asks, "I find myself getting uninterested/unmotivated on projects that I start. The emotion of deciding to start has faded and the results are slow to keep me motivated.  Is this the resistance/lizard brain that is keeping me from pushing forward? Or is this a signal that I am not passionate about what I am doing and I should look somewhere else for what I am truly passionate about because there I will find endless motivation?"

Variations of this question, some more honest and self-aware than others, come up more than just about anything else. Now that the world has handed us a microphone, a media platform and a productive way to create a ruckus, why do we hesitate? And why does it get more difficult as we get closer to the reality of shipping the work out the door?

The question is as important as the answer. Starting is fun, of course, because it's fresh, it might work, it breaks the rhythm, it is filled with possibility. The starting overcomes what Steve Pressfield calls the Resistance, the heckler, the lizard brain, the primeval desire to hide and find safety. Neophilia and our desire for shiny objects is enough to at least temporarily get us going. Alas, there's another word for this desire to start but not finish: daydreaming.

The real work comes after the novelty wears off. This work creates value, because given control over our actions, most of us stall, float sideways or sabotage the work. Because it's unsafe. How could it be any other way? Change is always risky, because change moves us from what we know to what we don't.

So we say, "meh." We talk ourselves out of shipping, because, hey, it's easier to just stay here, where at least it is safe and warm. There's no building on fire, no layoffs today. At least for now. So we don't jump, we wait until we're pushed, when, of course, it's too late.

Yes, the answer is yes. Yes we're stuck, and yes we're stuck because we're afraid of a different path than the one we signed up for.

And no, no you must not go try to find "motivation," because if you can't be motivated by this opportunity, this one, right now, the odds are that you're unlikely to find a better sort of Oz, where there is no fear. Our desire to shop around for a place to jump is driven by the lizard brain, not by the actual knowledge that there's a better opportunity around the corner.

Compared to what: Marketing and relativity

What tastes better, a $30 bottle of wine that's the cheapest the restaurant offers...

or the very same bottle at the restaurant next door, where it's the most expensive?

When asked about our experience, the essential question is always, compared to what?

What offers a better education: four years at your first choice selective college like Purdue or Williams?

or four years at the same place, but it's your last resort safe school, after you've been rejected by more famous (and thus selective) schools like Yale and Harvard?

What represents a better performance: a three hour marathon when you come in first in the small-town meet, or a three hour marathon when you come in last at the elite one?

We often need a frame before we're comfortable evaluating value. Marketers regularly exploit this glitch by creating the illusion of value (or non-value) by highlighting comparisons, when in fact, those comparisons really don't have to matter.

Without a doubt, there are competitive items and experiences where extrinsic status matters, and where understanding the context of what is created is part of the point. Winning may in fact be the goal. For most of what we experience, though, it's our own interpretation of the experience itself that matters, not what a marketer tells us about how this ranks against that.

Good enough, is.

(Bonus: jazz).

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