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altmba

SETH'S BOOKS

Seth Godin has written 18 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

alt.mba

altMBA

An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.

ONLINE:

all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

linchpin

Linchpin

An instant bestseller, the book that brings all of Seth's ideas together.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

poke.the.box

Poke The Box

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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

The worldwide bestseller. Essential reading about remarkable products and services.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

All for charity. Includes original work from Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters and Promise Phelon.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

Top 5 Amazon ebestseller for a year. All about web sites that work.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.dip

The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

"Book of the year," a perennial bestseller about leading, connecting and creating movements.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

More than 3,000,000 copies downloaded, perhaps the most important book to read about creating ideas that spread.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

A short, illustrated, kids-like book that takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into something worth sharing.

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IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

The sequel to Small is the New Big. More than 600 pages of the best of Seth's blog.

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

Can you live in a shepherd's hut?

The best way to plan a house on a vacant piece of land is to move into a tiny shepherd's hut on a corner of the property. It's not fancy, and it's not comfortable, but you can probably stay there for a week or two.

And during that week, you'll understand more about the land than you ever could in an hour of walking around. You'll see how the rain falls and the sun shines and the puddles form.

As you've probably guessed, you can do that with the job you're thinking about taking or the project you're thinking about launching. Show up in the market and make some sales. Take a role as an intern and answer the customer service hotline for a day. Get as close as you can to the real thing, live it, taste it, and then decide how to build your career or your organization.

If the shepherd's hut feels too uncomfortable, it might not be the land you wanted in the first place.

Selling confusion

Over the last few decades, there's been a consistent campaign to sow confusion around evolution, vaccines and climate change.

In all three areas, we all have access to far more data, far more certainty and endless amounts of proof that the original theories have held up. The data is more accurate than it's ever been. Evolution is the best way to explain and predict the origin and change of species. Vaccines are not the cause of autism and save millions of kids' (and parents') lives. And the world is, in fact, getting dangerously warmer.

And yet...

Poll after poll in many parts of the world show that people are equivocating or outright denying all three. Unlike the increasingly asymptotic consistency in scientific explanations, the deniers have an endless list of reasons for their confusion, many of which contradict each other. Confusion doesn't need to be right to be confusing.

Worth noting that this response doesn't happen around things that are far more complicated or scientifically controversial (like gravity and dark matter). It's the combination of visceral impact and tribal cohesion that drives the desire to deny.

Cigarette companies were among the original denialists (they claimed that cigarettes were unrelated to lung cancer, but that didn't work out very well for them), and much of their confusion playbook is being used on these new topics..

To what end? Confusion might help some industries or causes in the short run, but where does it lead? Working to turn facts into political issues doesn't make them any less true.

If this growing cohort 'wins', what do they get? In a post-science world, where physics and testable facts are always open to the layman's opinion in the moment, how are things better? How does one develop a new antibiotic without an understanding of speciation and disease resistance? 

I know what the science p.o.v. gets us if it prevails, if evolution is taught in schools, if vaccines become ever safer and widespread, if governments and corporations begin to ameliorate and prepare for worldwide weather change.

What's a mystery is what the anti-science confusors get if they prevail. What happens when we don't raise the next generation of scientists, when vaccines become politically and economically untenable, when we close our eyes and simply rebuild houses on the floodplain again? Gravity doesn't care if you believe in it, neither does lung cancer.

Ask a confusor that the next time he offers a short term smoke screen. If this is a race to be the most uninformed, and the most passive, what if we win?

Beware of false averages

Some people like really spicy food. Some people like bland food. Building a restaurant around sorta spicy food doesn't make either group happy.

It's tempting to look at pop music, network TV and the latest hot fashion and come to the conclusion that the recipe for success is to focus group everyone, average it up and make something that pleases the big hump in the middle, while not offending most of the outliers.

But few things are up for a majority-rule vote. Instead, the tail keeps getting longer, and choice begets more choice. As a result, people don't need to abandon their hump to head to the non-existent middle.

Yes, there are true averages (like how high to mount a doorknob). But more often than not, trying to please everyone a little is a great way to please most people not at all.

Screenshot 2017-09-16 14.30.48

Selfish marketing doesn't last

If it helps you, not the customer, why should she care?

Sometimes there's an overlap between your selfish needs and hers, but you can save everyone a lot of time and hassle if you begin and end with a focus on being of service.

In the long run, your selfishness will catch up with you. Day by day, the long run keeps getting shorter.

Fitting in all the way

It seems like a fine way to earn trust. Merely fit in. In every way. Don't do anything to draw attention to yourself, to be left out, to challenge the status quo. Go along with the crowd to get ahead.

That doesn't build trust. It simply makes you easy to overlook.

We build trust when we make promises and then keep them.

And the majority recoils from the challenge of making a promise, because that requires caring and risk and the willingness to make change happen.

You can't fit all the way in, but you can definitely choose to stand out.

Appropriate collusion (organizing the weaker side)

Businesses with power are prohibited from colluding with one another to set prices or other policies. For good reason. Public officials and economists realize that it’s quite tempting for an oligopoly to work to artificially create scarcity or cooperate--it creates significant short term profits and hurts those without the power to do something about it.

(but that doesn’t mean that organizations don’t continually try anyway).

Organizations with power now use data mining and software licenses to gain ever more one-sided relationships with those they used to serve. They trade data about your credit and your surfing habits, among a thousand other things.

But what about the opposite? What about the power shift that could result from the disconnected masses working together to push organizations to make change or to limit their upsides? By banding together and coordinating information, they can prevent asymmetrical information and leverage from causing as much harm. What would happen if 10,000 Wells Fargo customers had found each other years ago?

Years ago, twenty of AOL’s largest content providers got together (I think it was in a hot tub) at an event AOL was running. We exchanged information about our contracts, our advances and our royalty rates. As a result of the shared information, everyone who participated got a better deal the next time around. Coordination led to a shift in market power.

Kickstarter gives a small hint of this. A creator says to disconnected people--if enough of you get together and indicate an interest, we’ll do this thing. This is also in the spirit of Fred Wilson's Union 2.0. Organization creates market power.

But the internet can let us take this much further. It can create enforceable group dynamics and help people find one another. And once found, they can insist on policies and offerings that the powerful organization would never have proposed. And it turns out that this more equal engagement can help both sides in the long run.

This is particularly effective in high-value business to business settings, where a company might sell a very expensive service to 20 or 30 companies. Knowledge about the best deal and coordination of desired features can make a huge difference for all concerned. That's why computer user groups were so important back in the day.

What would happen if the 1,000 top high school football prospects all agreed not to play a few games unless colleges paid them for engaging in the health-endangering sport that makes these non-profits so much money they can afford to pay their coaches millions of dollars?

What would happen if the fifty cities in the running for Amazon’s second HQ established a binding agreement on what they wouldn’t do with taxpayer money? By creating a mutually shared line in the sand, they’ve ensured that the flow of capital won’t bankrupt any of them. The auction will still happen, but not in a destructive way.

They could make a similar deal about future sports stadiums or Olympic bids, a sucker bet in which the winner almost always loses.

Creating “I will if you will” contingent agreements is significantly easier once we use the blockchain and the real-time coordinating power of the net. A conceptual example (hard to do with four weeks notice, though): The fifty cities agree that if all fifty cities agree, any tax break from a city or state to Amazon must be matched by that city or state with a 5x amount invested in their public schools. If the mutual agreement doesn’t reach the critical number, no deal happens. If it does, then every mayor and every governor has a great reason to use other less costly incentives to win the ‘auction’ without violating the mutual agreement (or invest in schools, which is okay too).

The alternative is that we’ll continue to see large, powerful corporations and institutions peel away individual players (people or cities), one by one, without the famed free market there to ensure equity. You probably have more in common with your neighbors than you think. If only you could coordinate the discussion...

Impossible, unlikely or difficult?

Difficult tasks have a road map. With effort, we can get from here to there. It might surprise you to realize that difficult is easy once you have the resources and commitment. Paving a road is difficult, so is customer service and fixing software bugs.

But impossible and unlikely are where we get hung up.

On Tuesday, Apple launched a thousand dollar phone. The engineers and designers had unlimited time (ten years since the first one), unlimited resources, unlimited market power. It's possible that there hasn't been that much unlimited in one place in our entire lives. And, yet, all they could build was an animated emoji machine. A slightly better phone. A series of difficult tasks, mostly achieved.

It's not that another breakthrough is impossible. It's not that we've explored all the edges of human connectivity, of alternative currencies, of education, of personal transformation or generosity. It's not that we've already performed all the leaps in safety, in technology, in identity. Or even productivity. Of course not. It's not impossible to leap again with the magic computer we all have in our pocket.

What tripped up Apple, as it trips up many successful organizations or careers, is that the next leap isn't impossible... it's merely unlikely. It was unlikely that the original iPhone would have actually been transformative, but Steve took a huge leap and got lucky on the other side. It could easily have gone sideways. He tried for something that was unlikely to work, but it did.

That same sort of leap, the one into the unlikely, is available to all of us, at different scales. It's unlikely that our next brave novel, our next breakthrough speech, our next scary but generous project will succeed. Unlikely but worth it.

Unlikely never feels quite the same as difficult, and sometimes it appears impossible. It's neither. It's something risky, and something without a map or a guarantee. We hesitate to do it precisely because it might not work, precisely because it's more than difficult.

Working on an unlikely project takes guts and hubris. It requires us to have the insight to distinguish it from the impossible, and the desire to not merely do the difficult.

What percentage of your time are you spending on the unlikely?

Building on maximized systems

If you eat beef, you're probably using a maximized system. It's a commodity, and every part of the chain is under huge pressure to increase yield and cut corners. The animals are pushed to the brink, and so are the humans that work on them.

And if you keep your money in the bank, it's likely that the same thing is happening. Every investment is chosen for maximum short term benefit, because that's the only way for the bank to beat the other banks.

A race to the bottom.

The challenge gets worse when a maximized system is pushed just a little further. "Maximized" means that more demands and more inputs lead to degradation, lower output and eventual system failure.

{previously}

Optimized or maximized?

I once drove home from college at 100 miles an hour. It saved two hours. My old car barely made it, and I was hardly able to speak once I peeled myself out of the car.

That was maximum speed, but it wasn't optimum.

Systems have an optimum level of performance. It's the output that permits the elements (including the humans) to do their best work, to persist at it, to avoid disasters, bad decisions and burnout. 

One definition of maximization is: A short-term output level of high stress, where parts degrade but short-term performance is high.

Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I'll just replace the part...

That's not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.

As a valuable contributor seeking to build a career, you benefit when you develop a unique asset, because that asset gives you the leverage to choose a niche in a system that respects optimization instead. 

PS today's the last best day to sign up for the year's last session of The Marketing Seminar. We start the lessons today, Tuesday. If you've been considering it and wondering if it's for you or not, I'm hoping you'll take two minutes to read a few of the more than fifty reviews that people have contributed... 

Toward cooperation

It's tempting to be oppositional. To see the different as the other. To dominate, to win, to move up as others move down (because in the zero sum game that we've built around us, that's the only way).

But a networked world, one based on connection—one held together by the sheerest gossamer—can't tolerate the tension and pain that bullying and dominance require.

An alternative is with-ness.

The practice of talking so we can be heard, and listening so we can understand.

We're weaving something every single day, but entropy and fear leads to a raveling that can undo all of it.

The musclebound baby

That's pretty unlikely.

When we see someone with well developed abs, we don't say, "oh sure, he was born that way." Instead, we realize that a lot of effort went into it.

The same thing ought to be true for people who understand science, or make good decisions, or are capable of emotional labor. You don't get to let yourself off the hook by pointing out that it doesn't come easy to you. That's beside the point.

We're all capable of huge leaps of insight and empathy if we're willing to go to work to learn how.

The power of community learning

It's easy to imagine that some things have to be the way they've always been. That music has to be delivered on a round platter. That an overnight stay needs to be in a hotel. And that learning is solely the result of top-down lectures plus tests for compliance.

The internet is a transformational technology, not merely a faster way to send an email. People all over the world are learning more deeply, transforming their expectations and changing their role and their contribution. It's time for your voice to be heard.

One of the surprising benefits of combining video with peer-to-peer learning is that you get to talk about your work, explore your specifics and work with others in discovering what can work for you, not just learn in the abstract. This is something we can deliver in a format that's almost impossible in a book or lecture alone.

The impact that the Marketing Seminar has had on the thousands of people who have enrolled is just stunning. It's a transformative three month experience that helps people see things differently and gives them the support and momentum to go make their ruckus.

Here's a note, unedited, from a recent graduate of The Marketing Seminar.

100 days is a long time.

Many have shared their challenges and victories and tagged fellow and sister students who illuminated our path.

Many more are still on the journey. They’re overcoming setbacks, distractions and competing priorities.

It’s now Day 107. In the past week, I’ve shifted gears from intense learning to intense doing. I’ve shipped more in the past week than I’d shipped in the previous several months. They weren’t all products going out the door. Some were decisions and turning points that clarified where Web Story Builder is headed and why. It’s saying “no” at a key moment when four months ago I would have said “yes,” believing that I could be everything to everyone.

It’s tempting to start tagging people that made an impact on me. I’m not doing that because it’s easy to tag those who have commented or posted the most. That would leave out an important group: Those who don’t talk as much. Those who read and liked. Or just read. All of them, every single one of you, made an impact on me.

The Discourse stats say that I have visited 98 days with a cumulative viewing time of four days, posted 58 topics and 392 replies (and counting), and clicked the “like” button almost 800 times. And there are currently 210 topics that I haven’t read and oodles more that need replies. A single comment can change my world. Or yours.

So it turns out that 100 days is just enough to create new habits and cement new ways of thinking. The world is different now. We are different.

... Godspeed!

Thanks for listening,

Anne

First aid matters

Without a doubt, it's long-term, consistent and persistent effort that makes real change happen. Systemic change is a process, not an event.

But as we watch Irma bear down on millions in Florida, it's worth remembering that first aid brings urgent help to people in need. I've just made a donation to the Red Cross... It scales, it's powerful and it's needed right now. (Also consider a food bank and other smaller organizations.)

I'm thinking of the families that are going to be disrupted (or worse) this weekend and I'm grateful for every volunteer and first responder brave enough to face the danger. Thank you.

Common traps, worth avoiding

Don't be trapped into accepting shame from someone who is trying to keep you from doing something you have every right to do.

Ignore the mob that would like you to feel badly for not fitting in. Categories are rarely permanent, and most important work is done by people who don't easily fit in.

Realize that no one is more aware of your minor flaws than you are. No one else is noticing the little nick in your tooth or the fact that your shoelaces don't match.

Someone else's fear doesn't have to be your fear unless you want it to be.

Don't use time and money to paper over insecurity.

...When in doubt, do the generous thing. It usually works out the best.

Airbrushing

When they began airbrushing the models in fashion magazines fifty years ago, no one complained much. Everyone knew, we thought, that it was some sort of make believe.

But then they started airbrushing our food.

And then vacations.

And family photos.

And brands.

And jobs.

Spend enough time looking through the glass on your tablet and you'll come to believe that you're the only one with a less-than-perfect situation. With the right filter, the grass really is greener...

Which may very well cause you to amplify the differences, to magnify the distance between you and the airbrushed person with the online life. It's gotten to the point where people even airbrush their difficulties, making them ever more dramatic in their drama.

"Compared to what?" is not always a great question. It might be better to merely say, "this is pretty good."

Everybody is a marketer

But most of us don't like to admit it.

That's because selfish marketers are pretty scummy. They steal our attention, they lie to us, they use shame and guilt and the short-term zinger to get us to buy something we don't want and don't need.

That's not you, of course. You're trying to bring your idea to the world, grow your freelance practice or do a great job for the company you work for. You're trying to make change happen, to influence the culture and help people find something that they'll be glad they discovered.

What's the best way to do that?

What's the best way to persuade your boss, your co-workers or your investors to move forward? What's the most powerful story to tell to the outside world, to get a business to stock your product or a person to fall in love with your art?

Answering these questions is the reason we built The Marketing Seminar.

More than 3,000 people have enrolled in the first two sessions, and we're running it just one more time this year.

It's a unique way of learning, a hybrid of more than 50 video lectures from me combined with an ongoing discussion board. Over the course of the 100 day seminar, we ask each other more than 200 different questions, questions that will shape your thinking and give you an opening to find a better way to make a difference.

It's tempting to hide your voice, to keep your work quiet, to shy away from speaking up about the contribution you want to make. We've been so bruised by marketing, by all the noise and hassle that comes with it, that sometimes it's easier to just sit back. But modern marketing is different. Modern marketing is based on humility, empathy and effectiveness. We can show you how to do this, to find your voice, to discover the niche where you can thrive.

I'm delighted to announce that the new seminar begins September 12 (see all the details here). There are new videos every other day until mid-December, and you can watch them and respond at your own pace.

You've already decided to be a marketer, because you've already decided that you want your ideas to be heard. Now, the only question is: will you decide to be really good at it?

PS look for the purple circle at the bottom of the home page. We have a secret discount there, but it gets a little smaller every day, an advantage for people ready to leap.

Compulsory Education is an oxymoron (back-to-school rant)

Effective education is rarely done TO people. It's done with them.

I had my first professional teaching gig forty years ago this summer. Since then, I've taught at institutions like NYU and Tufts, at community colleges, from the stage, one on one and most of all, on the vanguard of digital media.

As our hemisphere goes back to school this week, I hope you'll spend a few minutes thinking about who school is for, what it's for, how it works and how it doesn't. We're wasting a huge amount of time and money, bankrupting our children, hindering progress and stultifying growth, all at the same time. Even worse, we're not even seeing all the things we're not learning, not engaging with, not creating, because we're so busy learning like it's 1904.

Here's my free book-length manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams. It's been shared (in PDF and video form) more than 4,000,000 times. I hope you'll forward it to parents or learners or people you care about.

Consider the radical shifts being pursued by Acton, by Harlem Village Academy, by Big Picture Learning. Or experiences like Global Citizen Year. Before you go a quarter of a million dollars in debt, it's worth reading Hackiversity, a new book about re-examining what gets learned in college. 

I've written a popular Medium post, "Will This be on the Test?," in which I outline how the altMBA and The Marketing Seminar are pioneering changes in adult education. Digital learning isn't merely a version of in-person learning, (online).

It's an entirely different experience, one that can transform people faster and with more impact. The exchanges, the experience and the outputs are all dramatically different.

When you're in it, it might not feel like a revolution. But it is. One by choice. One that's urgent. One that's happening right now.

Irresistible is rarely easy or rational

There's often a line out the door.

It's not surprising. The ice cream is really good, the portions are enormous, and a waffle cone costs less than three Canadian dollars. And it's served with a smile, almost a grin.

It's irresistible.

Of course, once you finish the cone, you'll stroll around, hang out by the water and maybe start to make plans about where to spend a week on next year's vacation.

The Opinicon, a lovely little resort near Ottawa, could charge a lot more for an ice cream cone. A team of MBAs doing a market analysis and a P&L would probably pin the value at about $8. That's where the ROI would be at its peak.

But they're not in the business of selling ice cream cones. The ice cream cones are a symbol, a beacon, a chance to engage.

If you run everything through a spreadsheet, you might end up with a rational plan, but the rational plan isn't what creates energy or magic or memories.

Stew Leonard's was a small supermarket with a big footprint. They were profiled by Tom Peters and had the highest sales per square foot of any store of its kind. As they grew to a few more stores, a new generation took over, one that seems more intent on ROI and less focused on magic. As a result, profits went up. For a while. But now, year after year, it's a bit less crowded, a bit less energetic, a bit less interesting. So when new store options open nearby, they lose a few more customers, then a few more, and finally, people begin to wonder, "why do I even bother coming here?"

It might not be about being cheaper. It's tricky to define better. But without a doubt, the heart and soul of a thriving enterprise is the irrational pursuit of becoming irresistible.

Getting serious about remarkable

It's not sizzle or hype or a fad, not when you're serious about it.

Consider FCP Euro, for example. They sell high-performance auto parts. Things like brake pads, oil, oil filters, etc.

People always whine about the fact that they can't possibly make their boring stuff remarkable. That's silly.

FCP has the following policy: Everything is guaranteed for life. Everything. For as long as you own your car. Send it back, they replace it.

Even the oil.

Even the oil.

Think about that.

And yes, it works. Do the math and you'll see why.

If someone can make used motor oil remarkable, what can you do?

One step at a time

If you want to teach, to change minds or to cause action, a consistent curriculum is always better than a single event.

Drip by drip, with enrollment.

"Nothing matters more than results"

Except for:

Community, contribution and what our friends think

Trust

The perception of quality

How much we like doing business with you

Side effects

and self-esteem.

Also... doing work that matters, with people we care about.

It seems like almost everything important matters more than results.

Resilience and the high end

The high end is brittle, unstable and thus, expensive.

The car that wins a race, the wine that costs $300, the stereo that sounds like the real thing... The restaurant that serves perfect fruit, the artisan who uses rare tools and years of training...

If there was a reliable, easy, repeatable way to produce these outputs, we'd all do it and the high end would be normal.

What makes something pure enough, optimized enough and fast enough to defeat the other 99.9% is that it doesn't always work. It is far more sensitive to inputs. It's dangerous...

Maybe you don't need carbon fiber wheels. Maybe you merely need a reliable way to get from here to there at a reasonable price. 

The high end is magic, but magic isn't reliable. On purpose. That's what makes it magic.

Fear of escalation

In any organization of more than two people, there's the opportunity to escalate a problem.

When the software doesn't work, or the customer is in a jam or something's going sideways, you can hand the problem up the chain. Escalation not only brings more horsepower to the problem, but it spreads the word within the organization. And, even better, it keeps you from losing the customer.

Here's the thing: at some point, organizations start training their people not to escalate. They fear staff will cry wolf, or they get tired of pitching in. 

The moment this happens is the moment you begin to give up on your customers.

Either give your front line the power to fix things, on the spot, or encourage them to call for help when it's needed.

"I got it!"

The secret of the fly ball is that you don't shout, "you've got it."

It's not up to us to assign who will catch it. If you can catch it, you call it. 

The thing about responsibility is that it's most effectively taken, not given.

Marketing about power and with power

Often overlooked is the decision every marketer makes about how they will treat the issue of power (asymmetrical or not) in their marketing.

Consider insurance. Companies like Allstate don't market themselves as the dominant force in the relationship. They don't say, "you give us money every month for a very long time, and one day, if we think it's a good idea, we'll give you some money back." Instead, they say, "you're in good hands." Insurance is here to take care of you.

That's pretty different from the power dynamic we see implicit in the marketing of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Buying one makes you James Dean. They give you power over others. Luxury brands promise a similar result in certain social situations.

Horror movies don't promise an equitable experience. You sit there, they scare you.

There's some part of our culture that wants to be told what to do by a powerful autocrat.

Microsoft made a lot of enemies (and friends) when they had monopoly power. The message to users and even to partners was, "We're in charge and you have no choice... here's what's next." A large portion of the market responds well to that message. It takes the pressure off decision making and eases responsibility (it can't be your fault if you had no options). Apple is starting to adopt that power mantra with their approach to upgrades and new models.

The new Microsoft, of course, puts the user's power first. Different strategy for a different audience.

Every brand gets to make this choice, pick one of three:

  • We have the power over you
  • You have the power over your choices and your competitors
  • Our products and services give everyone power

Famous colleges market with straight-up power. We have the power to choose you, to grade you, to give you a magic diploma. And in response, millions of kids send in their applications. In fact, they often avoid the alternative (less famous) schools that instead of power, ask, "how can we help you?"

Many businesses prefer to buy things when they have no choice. They not only respect the power of the big auditing firms or the race to serve a search engine or a social network, they actually seek it out. It focuses the attention of the bureaucracy and offers the promise of rapid forward motion with little responsibility on the part of the client.

A lot of freelancers, on the other hand, have been beaten down so often that they can't imagine projecting power, instead only offering to serve those that do.

Danny Meyer has built a restaurant empire around the idea that customers ought to be powerful. Instead of bullying his patrons, he trains his people to serve. No velvet rope, just a smile.

Each of us gets to choose what sort of marketing we respond to. Those that use bully tactics to gain power over us only get away with it because it works (on some people, some of the time). And often, when power is put into our hands (sometimes known as freedom... the freedom to create, to speak up, to lead, to challenge), we blink and walk away.

Some people persist in thinking that marketing is about ads or low prices. It's not. It's about human nature and promises and who we see when we look in the mirror.

When you see confusion, look for fear, and look for the dynamics of power.

The toxic antidote to goodwill

Anyone who has done the math will tell you that word of mouth is the most efficient way to gain trust, spread the word and grow.

And yet...

It only takes a moment to destroy. Only a few sentences, a heartless broken promise, a lack of empathy, and it's gone. Not only that, but the lost connection can easily lead to lawsuits.

Doctor, the surgery seems to have gone wrong!

It's not my fault. I did a perfect job. Tough luck.

Architect, the floor is sagging, the beams were put in the wrong direction!

I don't care. There's a three-year statute of limitations, and even then, it wasn't my job to ensure that the work met the plans. 

Airline, my two-year-old can't sit in a row by herself, and the agent on the phone said you'd work it so we could sit together!

It's not my fault. If you don't want to get on the plane, don't get on the plane.

In all three cases, there are significant operational barriers to magically fixing the problem. But that's not where the breakdown happened. It happened because a human being decided to not care. Not care and not express anything that felt like caring.

A human being, perhaps intimidated by lawyers, or tired after a hard day, or the victim of a bureaucracy (all valid reasons) then made the stupid decision to not care.

By not caring, by not expressing any empathy, this individual denied themselves their own humanity. By putting up a brick wall, they isolate themselves. Not only do they destroy any hope for word of mouth, they heap disrespect on someone else. By working so hard to not engage (in the vain hope that this will somehow keep them clean), they end up in the mud, never again to receive the benefit of the doubt.

What kind of day or week or career is that? To live in a lucite bubble, keeping track only of individuals defeated and revenue generated?

It turns out that while people like to have their problems fixed, what they most want is to be seen and to be cared about.

Of course you should use these fraught moments to reinforce connections and build word of mouth. Of course you should realize that in fact people like us get asked to recommend airlines and doctors and architects all the time, but now, we will never ever recommend you to anyone, in fact, we'll go out of our way to keep people from choosing you.

But the real reason you should extend yourself in these moments when it all falls apart is that this is how you will measure yourself over time. What did you do when you had a chance to connect and to care?

What you know vs. what you do

In 1995, my book packaging company published one of its last titles, an anachronism called, Presenting Digital Cash. It was the first book on digital cash ever aimed at a mass audience. And it was ahead of its time, selling (fortunately) very few copies. The examples in the book were current, but it was soon outdated. (The foreword was written by Neal Stephenson—someone who is ahead of his time for a living).

Thirteen long years later, Bitcoin was introduced to the world. I didn't invent it, even though I'd written about digital cash more than a decade before. I'd created an entire book about digital cash, and thought about it deeply for months.

Except I didn't buy 1,000 dollars worth of Bitcoin in 2008. If I had, I'd have more than $40,000,000 today.

It's not that I didn't know.

It's that I didn't act.

Two different things.

I knew, but I didn't know for sure. Not enough to act.

All the good stuff happens when we act even if we don't know for sure.

Did you publish?

They (whoever 'they' is) made it easy for you to raise your hand. They made it easy for you to put your words online, your song in the cloud, your building designs, business plans and videos out in the world. They made it easy for you to be generous, to connect, and to lead.

Did you?

Maybe today's the day.

Don't forget the second step

The first step is learning how to do it. Finding and obtaining the insight and the tools and the techniques you need. Understanding how it works.

But step two is easily overlooked. Step two is turning it into a habit. Committing to the practice. Showing up and doing it again and again until you're good at it, and until it's part of who you are and what you do.

Most education, most hardware stores, most technology purchases, most doctor visits, most textbooks are about the first step. What a shame that we don't invest just a little more to turn the work into a habit.

Rejection (and the four paths)

If you seek to make change or do something important, your work will be rejected along the way. This is not in dispute.

What will you do after that?

  1. Determine that what actually happened was that you were rejected, not your proposal, and that you have no right, no standing and no hope. Decide to back off, keep your head low and do what you're told from now on.
  2. Realize that what might have happened is that you asked the wrong person, who wants something other than what you want. Resolve to do a better job of seeing where your work will be needed and recognized.
  3. Understand that you didn't tell a story that resonated, that your homework, your details, your promise--something didn't resonate. Figure out what it was, and learn to do better next time.
  4. Assume that whoever turns you down, ignores you or disagrees with you is a dolt. Learn nothing and persist.

In my experience, paths two and three are the most likely to get you where you're going. It takes grit and resilience to avoid the first path, and the fourth path is reserved for megalomaniacs, bullies and the terminally frustrated.

The market for used eclipse sunglasses

It doesn't matter how many you have.

It doesn't matter how much you paid for them.

It doesn't matter how long the line was yesterday...

The market is gone. It's a sunk cost. Falling in love with what you have and reminding yourself of what it cost you is no help at all.

The same goes for the value of the assets we invested in, the rare skills we used to possess, the position in the marketplace we worked so hard to get.

New days require new decisions.

Valuing hygiene factors

A hygiene factor is something you miss when it's gone, but barely notice when it's there.

Clean sheets at a hotel, for example. The base salary at a job. Your title.

Every time you add one of these factors to consumer or employee expectation, you've signed up for a lifetime of providing that benefit. You've made it more difficult for the competition to keep up. And you've raised the standards for everyone.

They're important, but their presence doesn't motivate people. It's only when they disappear that we think about them.

Preparing (for the test of time)

We have a word for the fruitless search for perfect: perfectionism.

And we have a word for what we do when we dumb something down to get approval: the committee.

But what do we call it when we work to make something important?

Something that will last? And be worth the effort?

It's tempting to treat things as disposable, to call it a temporary fix, to do it cheap and fast and apologize as we do.

But maybe this next thing we're going to do--maybe it will last. Maybe it will be like that novel from 60 years ago or the record album from 1962 or even the Flatiron building, 100 years later. Still around.

Not more polish, but more guts.

It might be worth the effort to confront the status quo, to own it, to leap.

The problem with direct experience

"I'll know it when I see it," or perhaps, "I'll see it when I know it..."

We're hardwired to believe and understand the things we can actually experience. That's why no one argues about Newton's laws, but most people panic or shrug when confronted with dark matter, Heisenberg or quarks.

We're often good at accepting what's in front of us, but bad at things that are very far away or very very close. We have trouble with things that are too big and too small, with numbers with lots of zeroes or too many decimal places. And most of all, we fail when trying to predict things that are too far in the future.

Almost nothing in our civilization is merely the result of direct experience. We rely on scouts and technologists and journalists to tell us what it's like over there, to give us a hint about what to expect next, and most of all, to bring the insights and experiences of the larger world to bear on our particular situation.

The peril of roll-your-own science, in which you pick and choose which outcomes of the scientific method to believe is that you're almost certainly going to endanger yourself and others. Anecdotal evidence about placebos, vaccines and the weather outside is fun to talk about, but it's not relevant to what's actually going to pay off in the long run.

78.45% of humans tend to hate statistics because we have no direct experience with the larger picture. It's easier to make things up based on direct experience instead.

The solar eclipse is going to happen whether or not you believe it will, whether or not you have direct experience with previous eclipses.

When we reserve direct experience for the places where it matters—how we feel about the people in our lives, or the music we're listening to or the painting we're seeing, we have the priceless opportunity to become a better version of ourselves.

The rest of the time, standing on a higher ladder and seeing a bit farther is precisely what we ought to seek out.

Faux intimacy

True connection is a frightening prospect.

When you are seen by someone else, really seen, it hurts even more if you're ultimately rejected. When we connect, we make promises, buy into a different future, engage with another, someone who might let us down (or we might let them down).

Far easier, of course, to do something more shallow.

A friend on social media is not like a friend in real life.

And so, we sit at dinner, browsing on our phone instead of connecting with the person across from us. Because the phone promises instant gratification, an exciting dopamine hit, and plenty of faux intimacy.

Which is great as far as it goes, but no, it's not the same.

"I have fear"

There's a common mistranslation that causes us trouble.

We say, "I am afraid," as if the fear is us, forever. We don't say, "I am a fever" or "I am a sore foot." No, in those cases, we acknowledge that it's a temporary condition, something we have, at least for now, but won't have forever.

"Right now, I have fear about launching this project," is quite different from, "I'm afraid."

On being discovered

Wouldn't that be great?

Great if you could share all your wisdom on a popular podcast, or be featured on Shark Tank? Great if you had a powerful agent or bureau or publisher? Great if you could get admitted to an internship program that would lead to a well-attended gig on the main stage? Great if the CEO figured out just how committed you are and invited you to her office?

The thing about being discovered is that in addition to being fabulous, it's incredibly rare. Because few people have the time or energy to go hunting for something that might not be there.

The alternative?

To be sought out.

Instead of hoping that people will find you, the alternative is to become the sort of person these people will go looking for.

This is difficult, of course, because it means you have to create work that might not work. That you have to lean out of the boat and invest in making something that's remarkable. That you have to be generous when you feel like being selfish.

Difficult because there's no red carpet, no due dates and no manual.

But that's okay, because your work is worth it.

 

[Upcoming speaking gigs, many in Boston, all different: Philadelphia August 24, Boston September 14 with Zoominfo, then the Business of Software Conference on September 18th, then with Marketo in Boston on October 3rd. Moving on with Marketo to Chicago on October 4 and then with Brandemonium in Cincinnati on October 12. Finishing in NY on November 1.]

PS Adam Price has a new book out this month. He's Not Lazy is the kind of book that can dramatically transform a relationship for the better, changing lives for the long run. If you have teenagers, I hope you'll get a copy. 

Sloppy science

We can measure it.

For decades, every single year, scientists have visited the Galapagos and measured the beaks of a particular species of finch.

And year after year, with each generation, the beaks change, exactly as we'd expect from the weather patterns of the year before. Evolutionary biology works, and rigorous data collection backs it up.

For hundreds of years, though, science has gotten it wrong about gender, race and ethnicity. Eugenics and its brethren sound simple, but often lead to tragic outcomes.

The sloppy scientist says, "on average, across populations, left to its own devices, this group is [not as skilled] [neurotic] [hard to work with] [not as smart] [not as strong] [slower]" etc. They make assumptions without sufficient data, and the rigor is missing.

The first problem is that human beings aren't averages, they're individuals. And the bigger problem is that we're never left to our own devices. We are creatures of culture.

The math that we can do on populations of hedgehogs or pigeons doesn't apply to people, because people build and change and experience culture differently than any other species.

Your DNA is virtually identical to that of the hordes that accompanied Ghengis Khan, as well as most Cro-Magnon cavemen--pass one on the street and you wouldn't be able to tell that he's different from you. The reason you don't act the way they did is completely the result of culture, not genes.

It's culture that pushes us to level up, to dig deeper, to do things that we might not otherwise do. It's culture that finds and encourages and pushes people to become better versions of themselves than anyone else expected to find.

So it was sloppy/lazy/fearful science that said that women couldn't handle being doctors. And it was sloppy science that worked to limit the number of Asian or Jewish students at various institutions. And it's sloppy science that's been used against black people for hundreds of years.

And sloppy science said that a 4 minute mile was impossible and that a woman could never finish a marathon.

Sloppy because it doesn't include all the relevant factors. There's nothing wrong with the scientific method, but everything is wrong with using it poorly (and often intentionally).

What we need are caring human beings who will choose to change the culture for the better.

Not all of it, of course. Merely the culture they can touch. The people they can engage with. The human beings they can look in the eye, offer to help, offer encouragement and offer a hand up.

Once we reset the standard, it becomes the new normal, and suddenly, the sloppy science seems like phrenology. Because culture is up to us.

Sloppy science isn't science at all. It's the lazy or wrongheaded use of the scientific method part of the time, mixing in fear for good measure. Ignoring culture ignores the part that truly matters.

It's tempting to judge people by their DNA. It makes a lot more sense, though, to see people based on what they can contribute instead.

"But we needed the eggs"

Addiction to substances has been around ever since someone fermented grapes a million years ago. The opioid epidemic is the latest addiction tragedy, brought on by greed and disinformation.

It took longer for behavioral addictions to arrive, but they're just as real.

The ASAM defines it: Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. 

The thing is that we treat behavioral addictions differently because sometimes they're seen as a useful, profitable contribution.

We've gotten better, much better, at creating interactions and substances that are addictive. They get built and marketed because they're profitable, but the creators of these systems don't want to take responsibility for the impact they have on people. Behavior addiction is real, it's chronic and you might be suffering from it.

Get addicted to the rush at work, or to the endless flow of the online world, and your life changes. Attention spans go down, patience decreases, essential tasks are left undone, and most of all, our humanity starts to fade away.

Just because it appears productive, just because you bought it in a store or got promoted for it at work doesn't mean it's not addictive and worth managing. Even if you need the eggs.

Questions for the underinformed

For the jingoistic sign carrier, the impatient shareholder, the late-night goofball and the nascent entrepreneur in search of cash...

We've heard your rants, your threats, your plans. We understand that you are in a hurry for a simple, dramatic, obvious solution to whatever problem you face. 

"And then what happens?"

"Has this ever worked before?"

"How is this different (or the same) from those times?"

"What will you do when it doesn't work the way you hoped?"

Innovation is essential, but innovation isn't lazy. It takes insight and patience and experience to bring a new solution to an old problem.

Impatience is not a strategy.

Experience isn't free, but it's valuable.

And history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Waves are free

When someone lets you into the flow of traffic, or holds a door, or takes a second to acknowledge you, it's possible to smile and offer a wave in response.

This, of course, costs you nothing.

It creates a feeling of connection, which is valuable.

It makes it more likely that people will treat someone else well in the future.

And it might just brighten your day.

The simplest antidote to a tough day is generosity. Waves are free, and smiles are an irresistible bonus.

An audience of one

More than ever, people, lots of people, hordes of anonymous people, can watch what you do.

They can see your photos, like your posts, friend your digital avatar.

An essentially infinite collection of strangers are in the audience, scoring you, ranking you, deciding whether or not you're succeeding.

If you let them.

The alternative is to focus on the audience you care about, interacting with the person who matters to you. Your audience, your choice. One person, ten people, the people who need you.

Everyone else is merely a bystander. 

Seeing and believing

It turns out that the more you watch TV, the more you believe that the world is dangerous. It turns out TV watchers believe that an astonishing 5% (!) of the population works in law enforcement. And it turns out that the more you watch TV the less optimistic you become. Cultivation theory helps us understand the enormous power that TV immersion has.

Given the overwhelming power of interaction, I'm confident that we'll discover that internet exposure, particularly to linkbait headlines, comments and invective, will also change what people believe about the world around them.

It's hopeful to imagine that we can change these outcomes by changing the inputs. Of course, the hard part is choosing to do so.

Every time I see a toddler in a stroller with an internet device in hand, I shudder.

If we want a better future, it helps to be able to see the world as it is.

Appearing to care

We know that your customers will put up with imperfect, but one thing that they'd like in return is for you to care.

Marketers keep making big promises, and organizations struggle to keep those promises. Sooner or later, it leads to a situation where the broken promise arrives on the customer's lap.

In that moment, what the customer wants most is someone to care.

Almost as good: an organization that consistently acts like it cares.

It's a mistake to believe that you actually have to care the way the customer cares, and that anything less means you shouldn't even try. In fact, professionals do emotional labor all the time. They present the best version of their professional self they are capable of.

When Bette Midler shows up on stage in Hello Dolly, the audience would like to believe that she's as engaged and excited as she was on opening night. And she might be. Or not. What matters is that we can't tell.

If you care, that's great. If you don't, at least right now, well, it's your job. That's the hard part.

Acting as if, doing it with effort and consistency, is what your customers need from you.

Bought

How much does it cost you in tolls to drive across town? In most cities, the answer is nothing.

How much does it cost you to take a bus or subway across town? In most cities, if it's available at all, quite a bit.

How did that come to be?

Mass transit is safer, cleaner and more efficient. It gives more people more access to work and amenities. A city with great mass transit works better for more people. Even those that don't use it. It's at least a useful public good as the streets are.

It's technically easy to put tolls all over a city, wastes no time, and it's economically efficient to make it incrementally free to hop on a bus and expensive to drive a car.

So why haven't we? Why, in fact, are we going the other direction?

Because left to our own devices, we go for the short-term cost savings at the expense of the long-term investment.

Because we like the status quo.

Because there's familiar profit in the car-industrial complex. The extraction industries, the manufacturers, the dealers, etc. It's an ongoing, widespread income stream. This generates cash to pay lobbyists and others to create a cultural dynamic in favor of the status quo.

It turns out that it's pretty cheap to buy outcomes that benefit a minority. And business loves a bargain.

On beating yourself up

Almost everyone does it. I'm not sure why.

After the fact (or even during it) all the blame, second-guessing and paralysis. We say things to ourselves that we'd never permit anyone else to say. Why?

  1. It leaves us bruised and battered, unlikely to do our best work while we're recovering.
  2. It hurts our knuckles.
  3. It distracts us from the work at hand.

Perhaps there's a more humane and productive way to instill positive forward motion. I'm sure there is.

At the very least, this is a dumb hobby.

When in doubt, connect

That's what fast-growing, important organizations do.

Making stuff is great.

Making connections is even better.

The taxi or the cruise ship?

The successful cab owner knows this:

Every ride is custom

People choose a cab precisely because they can ride alone, on their own terms

Empty trips are part of the job, and it's okay, because the next ride will pay for it.

On the other hand, the person who chooses to run a cruise line knows:

Every cruise is designed by me, and people sign up precisely because I chose well

People choose a cruise ship to be with other people, to benefit from economies of scale and to be part of something

Empty trips (or worse, half-empty trips) can put the line out of business

It's pretty easy to get into the cab business. Do a few rides for friends, then list online, or join Lyft, then go full-time.

On the other hand, it's much more difficult to get into the cruise business. There's a critical mass, and the minimum number is a lot more than one customer.

Each business can be a good one if you do it at the appropriate scale.

The warning, and the purpose of the metaphor, is to realize that it's not a matter of gradually going from one to the other. Remember that running a taxi is a fine sort of business, but don't expect to turn it into a cruise ship. And vice versa.

The money maximization distraction

The Rolling Stones have grossed more than a billion dollars in ticket sales and endorsements. Does that mean that they're better than Beethoven, John Adams and Zoe Keating, put together? Were the Bay City Rollers better than Patti Smith?

There are CEOs who make more in a year than 1,000 of their workers. Does that mean that they're 1,000 times more important or productive or worthwhile?

Money is a simple metric, and one that captures a certain sort of information about value and scarcity. But it's wildly inaccurate when it comes to measuring many of the things that actually matter to us. It can mask the emotions and moments and contributions that we work so hard on, the people that we seek to become, the contributions that we seek to make.

Profitable is not the same as important

Popular is the not the same as worthwhile

Expensive is not the same as well-done

And yet, because it's easy to rank and compare and change, we can get seduced into believing that money is the metric that matters the most, that matters all the time. If we only use money to make our decisions about worth, we're going to get it wrong almost every time.

Until we get significantly better at matching money to contribution, we need to embrace the difficult to measure. I'll trade you a great fourth grade teacher for a foreign exchange desk currency trader any day.

The Peter Possibility

Dr. Laurence Peter understood the promise and peril of bureaucracy better than most. Fifty years ago, he wrote, "managers rise to the level of their incompetence." The Peter Principle states that if you do a good job, you get promoted, until you reach a job where you're incompetent, and there you stay... meaning that sooner or later, the entire organization is filled with incompetent people stuck in their slot.

Bureaucracy promises us a safe spot, and it also offers the upside that if you do a good job, you'll get chosen, picked, promoted and will move up. So, keep your head down, do what you're told and you win.

We don't live in that world any more.

And the upside is definitely more positive and a lot more scary:

You (and you alone) get to decide if you want to move "up". If you want to be promoted, have more influence, more leverage and more responsibility.

Fearful that we'll expose our incompetence, we hide. Remembering the lessons of childhood, we wait to get picked. 

But the Peter Possibility points out that we're far more competent than we imagine.

That once we pick ourselves, we have precisely what we need to do generous work.