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All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Why the internet works (and doesn't) for your business. And vice versa.

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The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.

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Seth's worst seller and personal favorite. Change. How it works (and doesn't).

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The Big Red Fez

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Tribes

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We Are All Weird

The end of mass and how you can succeed by delighting a niche.

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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« October 2013 | Main | December 2013 »

Is there a reason for the friction?

If you want to visit DisneyWorld, you'll need to buy a ticket and wait in line.

If you want to see the full moon, you can go outside and look up in the sky.

Often, we're tempted to create friction, barriers and turnstiles. We try to limit access, require a login, charge a fee... sometimes, that's because we want control, other times we believe we can accomplish more by collecting money. Clearly, people value the moments that they spend at Disney--with hundreds of dollars on the line and just a few hours to spend, there's an urgency and the feeling of an event occurring.

On the other hand, far more people look at the moon. Just about everyone, in fact.

If your goal is ubiquity, significant friction is probably not your finest tactic.

There used to be very few resources that were truly scalable at no cost, resources where we didn't need to use money or queues to limit who would use them. In the digital world, that number keeps skyrocketing. It doesn't cost a cent to allow more people to look at the moon, just as it's free for one more person to read this blog.

If you're going to add friction, if you're going to create urgency and scarcity, understand that it always comes at a cost. By all means, we need to figure out how to make a living from the work we do. But with scalable goods, particularly those that have substitutes, don't add friction unless there are enough benefits to make it worth our hassle.

Who's left?

The classified section of the Sunday New York Times used to be more than twenty or thirty pages long. Now it's down to one.

Part of this is due to the lack of new jobs in the post-industrial economy, but mostly it's due to job listings moving online. I was fascinated to see some of the jobs in last week's paper, and confess befuddlement at the thinking of those that ran them.

Here's one, from Amazon, for a level II programmer in their New York office. Just a mailing address, no online method for contacting or applying. They're using the newspaper to search for programmers unable to apply online, perhaps the best place to find this sort of programmer, but really, do they want them?

Or the ad from Paul, Weiss, a prestigious big law firm in New York. It's the biggest ad on the page, and goes into a long, long list of requirements for the job--Magna Cum Laude from a famous law school, more than three years with one of their competitors, etc. Which high-powered New York lawyers are reading the last single page of newspaper classifieds?

And my favorite, an equally long ad for Deloitte that instructs the applicant to go to a website and enter a 15-digit code, including several "1"s, some "I"s and a bunch of letters and numbers. Almost unreadable in the paper, and hard to transcribe. More than a billion combinations... why not just enter NYT1124?

Lots of time and money being spent chasing the wrong people with the wrong ads.

My point, and I do have one, is that if your HR department is run by policies that were established a decade ago, worth a new look. And if you are serious, truly serious, that talent is your competitive advantage, please understand that the way you look for and sort that talent is the highest-leverage way you've got to increase what you end up with.

[Update: sorry to let facts interfere with a good story. Further research seems to indicate that the paper ad was a freebie that came with running a month of online ads. My guess is that the advertiser didn't even care it was going to run in the paper. I'll leave this post up as a reminder to me that I should poke about a bit more before running with a riff sometimes.]

What do we get when we give to a good cause?

Why on earth would a rational person give money to charity--particularly a charity that supports strangers? What do they get?

A story.

In fact, every time someone donates to a good cause, they're buying a story, a story that's worth more than the amount they donated.

It might be the story of doing the right thing, or fitting in, or pleasing a friend or honoring a memory, but the story has value. It might be the story that you, and you alone are able to make this difference, or perhaps it's the story of using leverage to change the world. For many, it's the story of what it means to be part of a community.

The fundraiser, then, isn't taking, she's giving. She's giving someone the chance to buy a story that's worth far more than it costs.

Stories are the way we navigate our world, our chance to make sense of who we are and what we do.

Introducing tote bags or charity auctions muddies the waters, gets us thinking about the value of that thing we bought, not the story itself.

If people aren't donating to your cause, it's because you're not telling a story, or telling the wrong story to the wrong people (in the wrong way). Non-profits make change, and the way they do this is by letting us tell ourselves stories that nurture our best selves.

Culture and selfishness

One person selfishly drops a piece of litter on the ground, the other selfishly picks it up.

Everything we do is done because it's better than not doing it. "Better" is the complicated term. Better might mean, "gives me physical pleasure right now," for some people, while better might mean, "the story I tell myself about the contribution I just made gives me joy and satisfaction."

Society benefits when people selfishly choose the long view and the generous view. The heroes we look up to are those that sacrificed to build schools, to overcome evil, to connect and lead--even though it didn't necessarily help them in the short run.

Culture, then, provides the bridge between childish, naive instincts to only do what feels good now, to only help ourselves and maybe our kids. Culture makes it too socially expensive to brag about not giving money to charity or, to pick an absurd example, to kill the infirm and the less fortunate. We reduce sociopathic behavior by establishing norms and rewarding those that contribute while shunning and punishing those that don't.

Marketers have a huge role in this, because we are the amplified culture creators. When we sell people on quick satisfaction now, is it any wonder that people buy it?

In the US, today some people will give thanks for what they personally have. Others will focus more on what has gone right for family and friends. And others will dig deeper and think hard about what they can do to take an even longer view, and to create a platform where even more people will be thankful a year or a decade from now.

Sure, we're all selfish, but our culture rewards those who take their selfishness to the long-term, to the narrative of leader and caretaker and gardener, not merely self-interested consumer.

One of the greatest things to be thankful for is the fact that we live in a culture that pushes each of us to be thankful and generous. It didn't have to turn out that way, and I'm glad it did.

Resting smiley face

When no one is looking and you're not trying, what shows on your face?

We have a default setting, an arrangement of muscles that gives our mouth and eyes a look. Some have, as a friend of mine says, "resting bitchy face." People rely so much on reading faces that even though you might not intend it, people are making an assumption about your mood and your approachability.

Interesting question: What's the 'resting face' of your brand, your business, your website? In the ordinary course of business, when no one is really focused on trying, what do your emails, signage and word choices telegraph about you?

Over time, many businesses devolve into an efficient yet foreboding default. It takes effort to move uphill, to put a smile into your voice and your typical interactions.

What could be worth more effort than that, though?

Perfection or exploration

In an organization built around perfection, you need to push people to say, "Bad news, I made a mistake." Only by surfacing mistakes can the organization stamp them out.

In an organization built around exploration, on the other hand, people need to say, "Good news, I made a mistake." Only by seeking things that don't work will the group end up exploring.

In both situations, people don't want to speak up, because we've been taught that mistakes should be hidden. In both situations, though, hiding them is the very worst option.

Authority as an excuse for complacency

"I thought you knew what you were doing..."

One of the principles of being on the bus, in the class or in your seat is that you are along for the ride. The teacher/boss/driver knows what he's doing, just shut up and sit still.

Apparently, we have come to embrace this. It's safer, and easier too. With this worldview, all blame clearly goes to the people in charge, and powerlessness is a seductive habit.

What a shame.

In an industrial setting, giving up our independence in exchange for eager compliance can lead to productivity and thus success. As that age fades, though, our habit of surrender might not pay off.

The internet is an organizing tool, a connection to billions of others. We've been given a keyboard and a megaphone, a way to change the story or the election or the policy. The authority that comes from asset ownership or experience is worth less than ever before, but we are often eager to defer to it, even when we know that the authority is wrong.

No one can force you to stand up, speak up and make a difference. But if you back off and play along, please understand that whatever happens happened, at least in part, because you acquiesced.

Big promises can lead to better experiences

A $75 bottle of wine tastes better than a $14 bottle of wine. Even if you switch the wines. The promise implied in the price actually changes the way we experience the product.

Two things to keep in mind:

a. Giant promises lead to poor experiences. When you strain credulity and then fail to deliver on the miracle, we won't enjoy it, nor will we trust you again any time soon.

b. The reason we hesitate to make big promises is that we are afraid. Afraid to own it, afraid to be vulnerable in the face of possible disappointment.

Once you make a big promise, you have to work harder to keep it. Easier, it seems, to merely make tiny promises instead.

But the fact remains: Human beings have better experiences when they expect to have a better experience. To hold back on your promise is to deprive your customer of something valuable.

A promise doesn't have to be a grandiose statement, with or without fine print. It can be something as subtle as the music you hear when you walk into a restaurant or the respect a salesperson offers you when you first interact...

[I'm going to disagree with myself about a different sort of case--it is the promise that starts an ongoing experience. A promise just big enough to get me started on something that gets better all the time is the best way to engage, because that ever-improving experience will continue to delight and surprise, increasing my word of mouth and satisfaction. Alas, these sorts of experiences are hard to build and hard to find.]

Almost everything I don't know about social media...

I just finished Gary Vaynerchuk's new book. It comes out next week, and I recommend you spend some time with it.

Also! Here's a list of my most popular blog posts of 2012, together with a link to a bound collection of the best of my blog and ebooks from the last seven years...

The sound of confidence

It's a blend of two things. "I'd really like to help you," and, "If this isn't for you, that's okay, there are others it might be a better match for."

Generosity, not arrogance. Problem-solving, not desperation. Helpfulness, not selfishness.

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