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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




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).

The GIGO buffer

Computer wonks like to talk about garbage in/garbage out. A simple example: if there's a mistake in the way a blog post is encoded, many XML/RSS readers will choke on it, preventing all future posts from showing up.

The IT guys put up their hands and say, "well, if you hadn't had a lousy character, it wouldn't have broken... GIGO."

That's not resilient.

The work of the middleman is to inspect and recover. If your restaurant gets lousy fish from the boat, you don't get to serve it and proclaim garbage in garbage out. No, your job is to inspect what you get, and if necessary, change it.

If the school board gives the teacher lousy instructions, the teacher can easily put up his hands and say, "I'm just doing my job." The great teacher doesn't do that, of course. He provides a buffer between the administrators and the his real customers, the students.

There will always be garbage in. It's up to you as to whether or not there will be garbage out.

Three questions to ask your marketing team

(or your business development team, your fundraising team or your pr folks)...

Who are you trying to reach?

If you say you are trying to reach everyone, I'll know you're likely to reach no one. How specifically can you identify the psychographics, worldview and needs of the people we seek to change?

Why do they decide to support us?

In order to earn the donation, make the sale, generate the buzz, we need to change people somehow. When we change them, what happens? What story do they tell themselves?

What do you need in order to make this happen more often?

What resources, tools or facts need to be present for this to work for you? What do we have to change about our products, our services or our people? How do you know?

Unreasonable clients

Who gets your best work?

If you reserve your best effort for the irritable boss, the never-pleased client and the bully of a customer, then you've bought into a system that rewards the very people who are driving you nuts. It's no wonder you have clients like that--they get your best work.

On the other hand, when you make it clear (and then deliver) on the promise that your best work goes to those that are clear, respectful and patient, you become a specialist in having customers just like that.

One of the largest turning points of my career was firing the client who accounted for a third of my company's work. We were becoming really good at tolerating the stress that came from this engagement, and it became clear to me that we were about to sign up for a lifetime of clients like that.

Set free to work for those that we believed deserved our best work, we replaced the lost business in less than six months.

Years ago, I heard the story of a large retail financial services company that did the math and discovered that fewer than 5% of their customers were accounting for more than 80% of their customer service calls--and less than 1% of their profit. They sent these customers a nice note, let them know that they wouldn't be able to service them properly going forward, and offered to help them transfer their accounts to a competitor. With the time freed up, they could then have their customer service people double down on the customers that actually mattered to them... grease, but without the squeaky wheel part.

No, you can't always fire those that are imperious or bullies. But yes, you can figure out how to dig even deeper for those that aren't. That means you won't take advantage of their good nature, or settle for giving them merely what they will accept. Instead, you treat the good guys with even more effort and care and grace than you ever would have exerted for the tyrants.

The word will spread.

[The other alternative is a fine one, if you're up for it... specialize in the worst possible clients and bosses, the least gratifying assignments. You'll stand out in an uncrowded field! The mistake is thinking you're doing one and actually doing neither by doing both.]

The failure of the second ask

Asking the first time might be brave. Asking again (more forcefully) after you get a no is selfish and dumb.

I think it's the artlessness of it that so offends me.

Someone pitches an idea, tries to make a sale, invites a prospect to participate... and the prospect takes the time to politely decline.

The response of the pushy amateur? Either to deny that the objection is true (or important) or to merely repeat the offer, this time with more volume or urgency.

"I can't afford it."

    "Yes you can!"

"It's too far for me to travel."

    "Vietnam isn't that far away!"

"No, I won't be able to."

    "But it's really important!"

The thing is, gainsaying an objection never works. Perhaps someone will make a new decision based on new information. But the only new information you're presenting with your pushiness is information about how selfish you are.

Alternative: "Sometimes, people feel that way. I totally understand. But when they learn . . . they make a different decision."

The truth about the war for talent

It's more of a skirmish, actually.

Plenty of recruiters and those in HR like to talk about engaging in a war for talent, but to be truthful, most of it is about finding good enough people at an acceptable rate of pay. Filling slots.

More relevant and urgent, though, is that it's not really a search for talent. It's a search for attitude.

There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. Perhaps in the first violinist in a string quartet. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn't talent, it's attitude.

And yes, we ought to be having a war for attitude.

An organization filled with honest, motivated, connected, eager, learning, experimenting, ethical and driven people will always defeat the one that merely has talent. Every time.

The best news is that attitude is a choice, and it's available to all. You can probably win the war for attitude with the people you've already got. And if you're looking for a gig, you'll discover that honing and sharing your attitude goes a lot farther than practicing the violin all day.

The conservation of drama

Everyone has a set point, a need/tolerance for a certain amount of drama in a life. I'm not talking about important work, I'm highlighting the excitment and tension that surrounds the things that happen to us (or might happen).

The newspaper is always just about the same length, regardless of what's happening in the world.

Politicians seem to have the capacity to deal with a given amount of tough stuff. When the urgent wanes, they make up something new. When there's too much, they decrease their perception of its urgency.

Last example: a restaurant kitchen has a very narrow range indeed. The amount of terror or urgency in a particular kitchen doesn't actually vary that much between a reasonably slow night and one where there are two or three VIPs out front or if its a banquet for a thousand people. We adapt and adjust and most of all, we shift our perception of precisely how important that particular emergency actually is.

It's easy to persuade yourself that this time it's different, that this time the drama is real, and that, in fact, it's all (truly) going to fall apart. In fact, though, it's all imagined. Drama isn't the work, it's our take on the work. Drama doesn't have to exist, certainly not in the way we're living it, not right now. A few days or weeks or years from now, this work will be so commonplace to you, you won't blink.

If drama was an actual external force, how could emergency room doctors, dictators and short order cooks ever survive? They're dealing with so much incoming, they'd melt.

If the drama is helping you and your organization do your work and enjoy it, then by all means, have fun. But understand that drama is a choice.

Q&A: Linchpin: Will they miss you?

Our series this week revolves around the book that has resonated more than any book I have ever published... Linchpin.

My innate optimism is amplified every time I hear of someone who received this book from a friend or colleague and trusted the process enough to actually read it. We're at a fork in the road as a culture and an economy, and the choice to race to the bottom frightens me.

Do we want to work with people that are better, or merely cheaper?

The question for this week's riff is, for the first time, rhetorical. Will they miss you?

That's what the book is about. In a post-industrial age, when jobs get commoditized as fast as possible, the only good ones left are the ones that must be done by a person, not a machine, must be done by someone figuring things out, must be done by an individual willing to put herself on the line.

In the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review, a neo-Taylorist academic waxes rhapsodic about new wearable monitors being used at Tesco warehouses:

At a distribution center in Ireland, Tesco workers move among 87 aisles of three-story shelves. Many wear armbands that track the goods they’re gathering, freeing up time they would otherwise spend marking clipboards. A band also allots tasks to the wearer, forecasts his completion time, and quantifies his precise movements among the facility’s 9.6 miles of shelving and 111 loading bays. A 2.8-inch display provides analytical feedback, verifying the correct fulfillment of an order, for instance, or nudging a worker whose order is short.

... The efficiency gains it hoped for have been realized: From 2007 to 2012, the number of full-time employees needed to run a 40,000-square-foot store dropped by 18%. That pleases managers and shareholders—but not all workers, some of whom have complained about the surveillance and charged that the system measures only speed, not quality of work.

In this case, of course, the speed of work is the quality of the work. And another no-win job is created, because if someone leaves, another person fills that slot, instantly, and the departed worker is only missed if he often brought in pie for his co-workers at lunch.

In order to create real value going forward, we're going to have to ask harder questions, challenge the status quo and do work that can't possibly be measured or dictated by an armband.

We have to become the linchpin in the system, not a cog.

What works?

We are capable of abandoning, bullying, raping, murdering, belittling, undermining, objectifying, cheating, stealing, ignoring, maligning, spamming, excoriating and arguing.

And the very same people can support, trust, connect, lead, inspire, invent, illuminate and wait patiently.

The extraordinary thing is that we've built a society where the second category pays off more than it ever has before. The media would prefer the former, of course. It's more fun to cover a fight than it is to report on progress. And the fast-twitch world prefers the caveman stuff as well. Tweet your first impression, better hurry. That's what our lizard brain evolved to do, it's our first instinct.

In the connection economy, though, the thoughtful, patient, mature and modern approach wins out.

Because connection is built on trust and generosity, not on snark and short-term wins.

Day trading isn't nearly as valuable as building something that lasts.

When your inner caveman shows up, the question you might ask him is, "will this juicy, satisfying, visceral action in the moment build my connection and weave a platform for my future, or is the price I'm paying for pleasing the crowd the fact that I'm tearing my platform down?"

What if surfing was your job?

Same waves, different day.

The risk of skin cancer. The falling. Sand in your socks. The people hassling you for your spot on the wave. The pressure to do more sets. The other guys at the beach who don't appreciate your style. The drudgery of doing it again tomorrow, when the weather sucks. And then every day, from now on, never ceasing.

Where would you go on vacation?

Your drudgery is another person's delight. It's only a job if you treat it that way. The privilege to do our work, to be in control of the promises we make and the things we build, is something worth cherishing.

The magic of a spec

“If I build this, will it delight you?”

Time spent building a spec that gets a ‘yes’ to this question is always time well spent. The spec describes what victory feels like, not necessarily every element of what's to be built.

A spec is an agreement before the agreement, it moves the difficult job of getting in sync with your client from the end of the process to the beginning.

Creatives of every stripe are so happy to get the assignment, so eager to get to work that we often forget to agree on what we’re setting out to do in the first place. It's fun to nod your head and say, "I understand," but even something as simple as cooking dinner deserves a few more moments of interaction before the knives are sharpened and the oven is turned on.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” is reserved for crown princes, government agencies and well-funded startups. People who can afford to do it twice. Everyone else should use a spec.

I’m not suggesting that there’s no room for exploratory work. Of course there is. But even exploratory work deserves a spec. Don’t tell me the answers in advance, but I certainly want to know the questions.

Writing a spec is a kind of mind reading, which is why it’s so difficult. One half of the partnership has to take the time to not only specifically and precisely write down what’s expected and what the measurements and boundaries are, but then must do the challenging and risky work of engaging with the other half of the team to agree on that spec. Disagreements here are cheap, disagreements later cost a fortune.

The fear, of course, is that the spec will end the project, that without a lot of sunk costs on the table, a spec alone is too easy to renege on. In my experience, the most successful freelancers are also the most successful spec writers. Yes, there's some risk in clearly and vividly making your promises while the client/partner/boss still has time to back out. But professionals take that risk every day.

I have no doubt that one could have boiled down the spec for the Taj Mahal to, “a big white marble house” but somehow, I don’t think it would have ended as well.

Your alphabet

The only reason that typesetting works is that a small collection of letters can be re-used again and again to print millions of different words. This seems obvious, but it was actually the conceptual breakthrough that led to the long path that brought us to Gutenberg etc.

Your work is based on a similar insight.

Our skills, resources and assets are like letters in the alphabet and we can re-use and recombine them in many different ways. It might be the real estate you own, the skills you've learned, the permission base you've built over time, but all of those assets can be leveraged in different ways.

To grow, then, we only need to address two questions:

  • Do I need more letters?
  • How do I recombine the letters I've already got to create new value?

Chasing new letters is expensive. For most of us, a better first resort is to cherish the letters we've already got and be brave enough to recombine them into new forms, new approaches, new ways to add value. But yes, by all means, now that you've extracted maximum value, go get some new letters.

Edgecraft instead of brainstorming

One of the challenges of brainstorming a new idea is that there's too much freedom. With too many possibilities, we can seize up, unable to think of much of anything.

In established organizations, this is particularly difficult, because the first thing the lizard brain says to you is, “don't say that, because if they like it, you're going to be the one who has to build it.”

Instead, consider the notion of edgecraft:

1. Find an edge… a free prize that has been shown to make a product or service remarkable.
2. Go all the way to that edge—as far from the center as the consumers you are trying to reach dare you to go.

You must go all the way to the edge… accepting compromise doesn’t make sense. Running a restaurant where the free prize is your slightly attractive waitstaff won’t work--they’ve got to be supermodels or weightlifters or identical twins. You only create a free prize when you go all the way to the edge and create something remarkable.

The cheapest, easiest, best designed, funniest, most expensive, most productive, most respected, cleanest, loudest...

Before you begin to do edgecraft, you must accept the fact that the edges of the problem aren’t always obvious. Because the edge you’re seeking is not the primary reason for being, you’ve got to see it out of the corner of your eye. It’s not always clear exactly what would make your product or service significantly more remarkable, until you embrace the fact that the problem you’re trying to solve isn’t the problem you think you have. It's also quite possible that your edge will merely be stupid, not effective.

Sometimes you don’t discover the problem you’re solving until after you’ve solved it--it’s not always a top-down process. Someone creates something weird or neat or quirky or fun and the marketplace embraces it. You don’t often create a more popular restaurant by serving better food. You can do it by serving remarkable food, or having a remarkable location or a remarkably famous chef. You don’t often build a better car by building a faster car. You do it by building the most beautiful car, or the least polluting car, or the biggest car. At least for a while.

Instead of slogging your way through incremental improvements in the core element of your offering, then, the edgecrafter seeks out another element and pushes it so far it becomes remarkable.

Cell phone cameras repel UFOs

We've relentlessly outfitted just about everyone with a pocket-sized video camera.

And as we've done that, the UFOs have stopped visiting us.

Experience is real. It is our memory and perception of what happened to us, and it's influenced by our self-told story of the world around us. Experience, though, doesn't spread nearly as well as the digital record does.

That doesn't diminish our need to experience wonder or fear or tribal connection. Digital proof doesn't decrease a human being's need to be an outlier (or an insider) or to flee to safety in the face of things that scare us. It doesn't diminish our need to invent conspiracy theories or recognize heroism.

So the emotional experience moves. It moves from making up sea dragons and UFOs and the other "un-true" things others could never prove were merely made up. Instead, those emotions drive how we interpret what you sell, or what you say when you run for office, or how we interpret what happened on TV screens around the world. It changes the way we think about the things we can look up or get in our email box. Even when we can see something for ourselves, we'd often rather get a talking head or tribal leader to understand it for us. To tell us what people like us think about something like that.

Emotion isn't going to go away when the 'false' legends and fables do. It's too resilient for that.  Instead, it's going to influence the story we tell ourselves, as it always has.

We don't need your proof. We need your story, and what it means to us.

Actually, they're not yours

When you say, "my customers," or, "my readers," you're using a shorthand, but you're also making a mistake.

We're not yours.

We're ours.

Your readers aren't going to spread an idea merely because you ask them to.

Your customers aren't going to buy an upgrade just because you issue one.

In the short run, sure, momentum may keep things going. But in the long run (and all the important stuff is in the long run) those individuals, that tribe, is going to care about what they always care about--itself. If you play a part in their version and vision of the future, then sure, go along for that ride. But no, you don't own an audience.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you rent one.

Q&A: All Marketers... and the challenge of telling the right story

Our series continues with All Marketers are Liars, a prime example of what happens when you tell a story wrong. I've done some pretty poor book titling over seventeen books, but this one was too clever by half.

Most people, of course, have never read any of my books, and even most of my blog readers haven't read any given Seth Godin book. So a book is judged by its cover, just as you and your brand and your product are judged by your (conceptual) cover.

People saw this cover (with the original ridiculous photo) and immediately assumed that they knew what it was about (how to lie) and that the title offended them ("hey, I'm a marketer and I'm not a liar").

But, of course, the book isn't about how to lie, it's about the imperative to tell the truth, a truth that resonates, a truth you can live with. The title messes with our perceptions, but in a way that instead of welcoming in my very busy, very picky potential reader, pushes her away. One newspaper reviewer slammed the book without even reading it, deciding that the title alone was sufficient cause for dismissing it.

So, to answer David Meerman Scott's (and others') questions: I changed the title for future editions to All Marketers Tell Stories because, even though it's less artistic, it takes my own advice (at least a little). An even better title would have been: TRUE STORIES (and the Smart Marketers That Tell Them).

The advice: find the worldview and the bias and the cultural preconceptions that your audience carries with them and then place your story (you do have a story, whether you want to or not) as a hook that leverages those biases.

In the internet era, your story is going to be inspected, held up to scrutiny and scoured for half-truths. But if your story is true, if it not only resonates with the worldview we insist on but actually delivers, then you've created something of lasting value.

The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.

Krulak’s law is simple: Soldiers in the field interacting with local people are the most important element of nation building and counter insurgency. It has wide applicability to any organization that interacts with the public.

One errant minimum-wage cog in the machine can cripple an entire brand, or at the very least, wreck the lifetime value of a customer. The two kids at Domino’s who made a YouTube sensation out of cruelty to pizza did more damage to the Domino’s brand than any vice president ever could.

The instinct, then, is to tightly control that last step, to be sure no one has any leeway or can take initiative when dealing with customers, because, after all, you can't trust them.

This is a self-defeating precaution. As soon as you elminate humanity from the interactions you have with customers, you've guaranteed that your (now sterile) brand will mean less than it could.

Hire better people. Trust them more. And be prepared to make it right when they don't.

Being found vs. being sought

There are proven strategies that generic products can use so that they're more likely to be stumbled upon by someone searching. Name your new book with all sorts of keywords in the title, for example, so it organically ranks higher for those very keywords...

The alternative is to create a product that earns a reputation sufficient that people choose to talk about it, choose to argue about it, choose to look for it. Not something like it, but it.

Nice to be found. Essential to be sought.

This was always a good idea, but in a post-search era of mobile and social, it's now the best idea.

The trust brand

Dave Ramsey was telling a small business person how he'd built his media empire. The guy interrupted, "well, sure, that's fine for you, because you have a trust brand."

A trust brand?

What other kinds of brands are there?

Perhaps your brand stands for cheap or convenient. Sure, you can win with that for a while, at least until someone gets a little cheaper or the internet gets a little closer. For the rest of us, though, there's only one option, isn't there?

When you have a choice in what to buy, you will first and foremost (and second and third in fact) base your choice on a simple question, "who do I trust to keep the promise that the marketers are making?"

The fact is, people will soon forget if they overpaid for something. They will probably never (ever!) forget if you violated their trust.

The fascinating thing: even though most everyone shakes their head in agreement on this topic, they get stuck answering the question, "how have you regularly overinvested and prioritized being the most trustworthy organization/individual in your industry?" Being just like the others and doing your job doesn't get you to this level.

It doesn't matter if you work for a search engine, run a plumbing service or organize a conference. If I've come to know you and trust you and then you turn your back on me, abandon me and make me feel like a fool for trusting you, I won't be back any time soon.

What does the fox say?

The viral music video of the moment is right here.

It's probably going to be compared to Numa Numa (but not break any records--Gangnam has 1.7 billion views).

The question for the marketer, music or otherwise, isn't, "what are the hooks and tricks I use to go viral?" No, the question is, "is it worth it?"

What does the fox say has the hooks and tricks in abundance. It has Archie McPhee animal costumes, nonsense words, just the right sort of production values, superfluous subtitles, appropriate silliness. It would probably help the cause to add spurious nudity, but give them points for getting the rest of it right.

To what end?

If your work goes viral, if it gets seen by tens of millions of people, sure you can profit from that. But most of the time, it won't. Most of the time, you'll aim to delight the masses and you'll fail.

I'm glad that some people are busy trying to entertain us in a silly way now and then. But it doesn't have to be you doing the entertaining--the odds are stacked against you.

So much easier to aim for the smallest possible audience, not the largest, to build long-term value among a trusted, delighted tribe, to create work that matters and stands the test of time.

"Baby bump bump bay dum."

This isn't going to work

AT&T has a new film out about the stupidity, selfishness and yes, death, associated with texting while driving. It's directed by Werner Herzog and it's quite moving.

It's not going to work.

Hundreds of thousands of people are going to die or be maimed because it's physically impossible for us to deal with the cultural imperative to stay in touch on our phones--and drive at the same time.

The reason a movie isn't going to solve the problem is that it is competing against several cornerstones of our culture:

  • The culture of the car as a haven, a roving office, and a place where you do what you like
  • The culture of the Marlboro man, no speed limiters in cars, 'optional' speed limits on roads
  • The culture of connection and our fear of being left out
  • The culture of technology, and our bias to permit it first and ask questions later

If you get a marketing assignment where you're out to change even one of these deeply held beliefs, consider finding a new client. All four? There's no marketing lever long enough to do this work.

There's a technical solution, one that might work. The are two solutions I can think of actually, both cheap and fast and effective.

The first is to require the phone to automatically alert every person you're texting or emailing at the moment you use your phone while moving. As we've seen, knowingly interacting with someone who is driving is a crime in many locales, and yes, you should go to jail for it. We need to change the cultural imperative, and we can't do that with laws alone and we can't do that with movies. Technology, though, can fix what it broke.

The second solution is even simpler: when a phone is moving, don't permit it to accomplish certain tasks.

People won't die as a result.

It won't cost the companies a penny in profit.

And defenders of the status quo will scream about freedom and access and rights and how it used to be. They will worry about people on trains or passengers in carpools.

But you know what? It's better than being dead. Better than being the victim of the one out of three drivers I see who couldn't wait...

I have no illusions that we will find the will as a society to insist that a technology be used to alter our culture. But we could.

/rant

The Red Lantern

At the grueling Iditarod, there's a prize for the musher who finishes last: The Red Lantern.

Failing to finish earns you nothing, of course. But for the one who sticks it out, who arrives hours late, there's the respect that comes from finding the strength to make it, even when all seems helpless.

Most parents (and most bosses) agree that this sort of dedication is a huge asset in life. And yet, as we head back for another year of school, I can't help but notice that schools do nothing at all to encourage it.

The coach of the soccer team doesn't reward the players who try the hardest, push themselves or put in the hours. He rewards the best players, by playing them.

The director of the school play puts the same kids in leading roles year after year. After all, the reasoning goes, we need to have tryouts and reward the best performers, just like they do in real life.

But school isn't real life. School is about learning how to succeed in real life.

Natural talent is rewarded early and often. As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, most of the players in the NHL have birthdays in a three month window, because when you're 8 years old, being six months older is a huge advantage. Those kids, the skaters with good astrological signs, or possibly those performers with the genetic singing advantage--those are the kids that get the coaching and the applause and the playing time. Unearned advantages, multiplied.

If we're serious about building the habits of success, tracking is precisely the wrong approach. Talent (born with or born without) is not your fault, is not a choice, is not something we ought to give you much credit or blame for.

How do we celebrate the Red Lantern winners instead?

The timing of El Greco

The man who invented modern art lived two hundred years too early.

Look at some of his work. It's incredibly fresh and relevant. At the time (1600!), El Greco was a radical outlier, and his most impressionistic paintings didn't resonate... not with most of the market, nor with his peers. As a result, it wasn't until the 19th century that impressionistic paintings like his became the new 'ism'.

It's entirely possible that you're too soon. That your riffs, your book, your blog, your invention, your product are just so far ahead of the sync that you will not find the market acceptance you seek.

It's your fault, of course, because the market is the market. You can lead it, but you cannot force it to change.

Given the market you've got, are you just far enough ahead?

No one can doubt the genius of El Greco. But if you want impact, you need to go beyond genius and work on your timing.

Real change happens when we're in sync. Just a little bit ahead. Trusted and connected and leading. Too far ahead is a form of hiding.

[Please don't confuse "too far ahead" with bold, or daring. The real lesson of El Greco's timing is that for every person with the guts to be too far ahead, there are 10,000 who are too far behind. The worst thing you can do is decide that the lesson of El Greco is to back off and not be bold. Please don't!]

Learn together

I'd like to invite you to find out about a new project, launching in beta soon.

4H, Toastmasters, AA, book groups, Meetup, midnight basketball, community college, jazz bands, ...

There's a pattern here.

We learn best when we learn together.

It's not merely the logistic efficiency of putting people together in a room. Now that the internet replaces that efficiency, we see that 'more for less' is the least of it. Learning together serves a crucial function... it makes learning happen.

The dropout rate of massive online courses is higher than 97%. It's easy to be exposed to education, but actually quite a challenge to learn. Access to education isn't sufficient... something else is going on.

I think it's important for many of us to step up and lead and organize and teach. I led a project this summer designed to explore how that might work.

If you'd like to know more about what I've been working on, sign up for the Krypton newsletter/blog with the box below today (or click here to sign up if the form doesn't work on your device). I'll share the details of this experiment with those that sign up over the next three weeks.

The first project launches October 1. I hope you can be part of it. (It's free and I'll never share your contact info).

Shortcut to form

Q&A: Tribes and the reality of worldview

Our series continues with my book Tribes. It's nice that we're featuring it on Labor Day, a holiday in the US that celebrates some of the most impactful tribal behavior in recent history.

It's easy to gloss over the key points of the book, because for some, it's frightening to realize that each of us has the ability to find and lead like-minded people to make real and powerful change that matters. Lead, not manage. Like-minded, as opposed to converting those who have no connection to us, to each other or to our goals.

As we shift from an economy dominated by mass marketing of the mass produced, this ability to lead is fundamentally transformative.

The selfish nature of the industrialist (hey, I made this, how do I get people to buy it?) hasn't gone away. Whether it's a small coaching service, a non-profit, a local window cleaning business or a big company, the most misguided assertion is, "I have a tribe, how do I make it bigger?" In fact, you might very well have customers, but it's unlikely you have a tribe, not if you haven't intentionally worked to engage at this level.

So, the question... "One of my favourite passages from Tribes is:   

People don’t believe what you tell them.  They rarely believe what you show them.  They often believe what their friends tell them.  They always believe what they tell themselves.   

My question - what is the best way to join the conversation that is already taking place in the minds and hearts of your tribe?  What is the best way to seek out members of your tribe that have the same beliefs as you?" Thanks to Giovanni Marsico for the question.

We just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, and understanding how the organizers that led that singular event succeeded can help us understand how tribes work. They didn't create this movement by merely organizing people who already believed in the urgency of the civil rights movement and were ready to march. No, they organized people who already believed in their community, who already cared very much about what their neighbors (not everyone, just the circle of people from their church, their town, their community) did and thought. Only after they organized were they able to embrace their shared understanding of the enormity of racial segregation and respond to the leaders who made the urgency of the moment so clear.

So they began with the bravest early adopters, the few who held the worldview that it was not only their responsibility to take action, but that taking action now was urgent. Early adopters have a worldview different from their neighbors. They ask themselves, "what's vitally important and how soon can we start?" They gave these folks a path, coordinating and reinforcing their actions.

The next step, so critical, is that they amplified the social connections and media cues that would spread the idea of urgency to neighbors, to people less inclined to take action. "People like us do things like that." It's not an accident that the civil rights movement was lead by a pastor, and that much of it was based in churches. Those churches were a natural nexus, a place where people were already coming to see what people like them were going to do next.

Worldview isn't sufficient, and worldview isn't impossible to change. But what worldview does is give you the bridge, the ability to engage people in the tribe, and then, and only then, do you have the privilege to change the conversation.

The goal isn't to find people who have already decided that they urgently want to go where you are going. The goal is to find a community of people that desire to be in sync and who have a bias in favor of the action you want them to take.

A long blog post, but worth it I hope: You don't build a tribe about the thing you want to sell. You don't even build a tribe about the thing you want to accomplish. You build it around the community and experience that the tribe members already want to have.

Scuff-proof shoes

There are two ways to make your shoes scuff-proof:

1. You can invest in a chemical process that involves an impermeable shine and be on high alert to avoid anything that might be damaging to that shine

or

2. You can wear well-worn, authentic shoes that are already scuffed

When we know and understand you and your brand, warts and all, it's really unlikely that a new scuff is going to change our opinion of who you are and what you do.

New for now

That's the only kind of new there is.

Unlike used, old, established, tested, discarded or broken, new is always temporary.

Tomorrow, we start over and you get another opportunity to do something new if you choose to.

Is there any other market that open?

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