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The $400 model car

greencarYou can get a perfectly good cell phone for free. So why are people paying $400 or more for fancy bluetooth phones?

For the free car.

Of course, it’s not really free.

People (yes, even rational adults) buy things because of the way they make us feel, not because of what they do. Think about that the next time you try to add a new product feature or choose a vice presidential candidate.

Very Pressurising

If you still believe that tomorrow will be just like yesterday, but with cooler cars, think again:

Ananova – Student smashes SMS record


Last week, the family went to see a Broadway musical.

As occasionally happens, the star didn’t show up. An understudy took his place, and there was a slip of paper in the Playbill informing the audience that the second string star would be appearing.

The lights went down, the orchestra started, the curtain went up. A few extras wandered onto the stage. Then the main character appeared.

The audience applauded.


Why was the audience applauding for the understudy? Virtually everyone in the audience knew that the big star wasn’t there.

I’m sure that in the old days, when Gene Kelly or Audrey Hepburn appeared on stage, there was the gasp of recognition and the gratitude the audience felt that a big star had chosen to spend his or her valuable time with us, the audience. So the applause is a natural byproduct of that emotion.

Here, though, was an actor we hadn’t paid to see, an actor who was sure to do his best, but he hadn’t done a thing for us.

So why applaud?


There are too many choices in our lives. Too many brands of soft drink, too many kinds of cell phones, too many ways to fly from New York to LA. There are too many social choices as well–when to clap, how to say hello, what sort of message to leave on your cell phone.

As a result, more often than not, we resort to tradition. We do what we’ve always done because it’s safer and easier.

You should care about this.

You should care if you’re marketing an idea or a product that requires people to upset an existing tradition. Changing the way we do things (whether it’s the design of a bicycle or the structure of the Electoral College) is hard indeed. Realizing that being better is not NEARLY enough helps you understand the magnitude of your marketing challenge. In fact, traditions rarely change quickly just because the alternatives are better. (true story: Walking down Newbury Street in Boston on Friday, less than a block from no less than 20 great and cheap restaurants, I heard one tourist say to another tourist: “Well, we could have lunch at Burger King.” Why? Tradition!)

You should also care if you’re trying to build something big and important. Because big and important things often come from changing the tradition. And if you can invent a new tradition, a new tradition around your innovation, that’s when you win big time.


The Provincetown Helmet Insight

Yesterday, I had a minor epiphany. More of an insight, actually.

Biking in Provincetown (a beautiful day, capping a Yoyodyne wedding weekend, which is more than you wanted to know), I mentioned to my wife that every couple we passed (straight, gay, lesbian, didn’t matter) had synchronized their helmet habits.

Either both wore helmets or neither did.

At first, I attributed the PHI to some sort of subtle evolutionary cue. People must be attracted to people with a similar sensibility about helmets. If you were a foolish daredevil, perhaps you could sense that in a potential mate. When you both got to the bike store, voila, you’d see that you both made the same choice regarding a helmet.

Further research at the store (including some surveillance and an interview with the manager) demonstrated that this was a bogus theory.

It turns out that what actually happens is this: a couple stands at the rental desk and the counter-person says, “do you want helmets… they’re a dollar each.” One person starts to answer, but glances at the other. Then a subtle form of bullying starts.

Usually, one person says, “no, I don’t think so,” and the other, who was about to say yes is intimidated enough to say, “me neither.” Sometimes, it works the other way, “Oh, we’d never ride without helmets,” says one, and the other agrees.


So this is actually what happens to your product and to your service every single day. THIS is the moment of truth whether you sell securities or consulting or yoyos or motel rooms. One person hesitates, the other leads and the decision is made. In a nanosecond, all your marketing and all your advertising and all your sales work is over.

What can you do about it?

Well, for a cheap and simple product like bike helmets, the answer is pretty simple. I’d create a momentum of peer pressure. Salesman: “Here are two helmets,” he says, as he hands the helmets to the two renters. “They only cost a dollar each and almost everyone wears them. It’s the smart thing to do.”

Now, since BOTH riders are holding the helmets, it’s easy for the helmet-inclined to take the lead. All she has to do is try it on (a natural thing to do) and the discussion is over. The salesperson is using the PHI to his advantage.

I think the same thinking works when selling a two million dollar consulting contract, though. The idea of working with individuals on the buying committee before the meeting, of getting each one to give you the benefit of the doubt, of discovering their favorite features or tesimonials, person by person, and then organizing that information for the committee is just like handing over the helmets. If it’s easier for each person to say, “sure, why not” than it is to say, “I don’t think so,” then you’ve got the PHI on your side. Just one little tiny push at this very high leverage moment can have a huge impact.

Cheaters (part 2)

So, I’ve gotten three letters (from three different continents) in the last week about Really Bad Powerpoint (see below).

They all say the same thing,

“I really enjoyed your ebook Really Bad Powerpoint, and I understand how the advice could be effective for [insert your own profession here, but something soft, like politics or the arts]. However, my work is quite technical. My peers [in the medical profession, at the university, at the VC firm] would laugh me out of the room if I tried to make my presentations have less than six words per slide.”

This, of course, is nonsense. In the paleolithic era–before PowerPoint–of course, there were NO slides. So if we start from the beginning and realize that whatever is on your slide is a BONUS, something that complements your words and your handouts, it gets a lot easier to see how this might help you.

The bigger issue, the one I can’t let go of, is this: If what you are doing isn’t working, why is it so easy to reject alternative advice? If a peer or a writer or a competitor can show you something that is working for others in different circumstances, why does human nature make it so easy to say, “sure, that’ll work for YOU, but my situation is totally different…”

The number of times you’ll find yourself in a completely unique situation at work is pretty limited. Unless you work on a nuclear submarine, it’s pretty easy to imagine that there are more commonalities than differences when it comes to communication, marketing and management. Time to loosen up a bit, say I, and give the alternative way of thinking a try.

PS I challenged one of the writers to send me a few slides. It was pretty easy to show him how straightforward it would be to rip out the bullets and most of the text… but you’re on your own, please don’t send me any more powerpoints!

Cheaters (part 1)

My site Seth Godin :: Free Prize Inside offers a free copy of my bestselling mini-e-book, “Really Bad Powerpoint” to anyone who buys a copy of my new book.

This may shock you, but a large number of people are downloading the ebook without keeping their end of the bargain. Of course, I expected there would be a fair amount of leakage, but there’s quite a lot.

This is especially sad because all the proceeds from the sale of the ebook on Amazon go to charity. The optimist in me believes that people who download it without buying are going ahead and making their own donation.

But that’s not what astonishes me.

What astonishes me is that several of the folks who took a copy then had the chutzpah to email me with with follow up questions about the book! (see above).

Not the kind of purple cow I meant.

cowadsCarson McComas sends this great tidbit:

local6.com – News – Cows Painted With Ads, Become Moving Billboards

My site is busted

No, it’s not a secret plot. Sethgodin.com and the others has a glitch.

Hope to fix it soon. Stand by!

Thanks for your patience.

ps NOW FIXED! Phew.

Brand Journalism?

Stephanie Howard (Leo Alliance, Inc.) sends me this clip from AdAge:

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — Declaring that mass marketing no longer works and that “no single ad tells the whole story,” Larry Light, McDonald Corp.’s chief marketing officer, said McDonald’s has adopted a new marketing technique that he dubbed “brand journalism.”

Speaking at the AdWatch: Outlook 2004 conference at the New York Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Mr. Light described the concept as one marking “the end of brand positioning as we know it.” He went on to say that effective marketing should use many stories rather than employing one message to reach everyone. In effect, he declared that McDonald’s was abandoning the universal message concept.

“Any single ad, commercial or promotion is not a summary of our strategy. It’s not representative of the brand message,” he said. “We don’t need one big execution of a big idea. We need one big idea that can be used in a multidimensional, multilayered and multifaceted way.”

He went on to define brand journalism, which he also referred to as a brand narrative or brand chronicle, as a way to record “what happens to a brand in the world,” and create ad communications that, over time, can tell a whole story of a brand.

# # #

My take? Yay for Larry for realizing that monthilic marketing is broken.

I worry, though, about two things:

1. changing the marketing without changing the underpinnings of the business is almost always a bad strategy. If all the people, the systems, the real estate, the factories and the menus are organized around monolithic marketing, slapping a little brand journalism on top isn’t going to work awfully well.


2. The marketer doesn’t get to run the conversation. It’s not really brand journalism that’s happening, you see. It’s brand cocktail party! You get to set the table and invite the first batch of guests, but after that the conversation is going to happen with or without you.

I have four irreverent ideas for McDonalds:

1. Start your own brand of lightly sweetened caffeine free iced tea. 10% the sugar of Coke. 4 times the profit. A brand you can own. A way to significantly impact the health of the world. Phase out Coke. Completely.

2. Offer a free DVD of the award-winning SuperSize Me! documentary with every iced tea sold.
[no, I’m not kidding].

3. Challenge every store to offer something new and real and local and remarkable on the menu. Diversify times 100.

4. Bend over backwards to host meetups in your stores. Keep up with the free wifi. Sponsor soccer teams and girl guides and the astronomy club. Put chess tables on the placemats. Use the real estate advantage to create a place where people meet.

In the end, copy wins

“My Life” by Bill Clinton: Exclusive Extract!!!. Even with all the technology at our disposal, great writing wins out every time. This post is breathtakingly viral.

AFTER you read the link above, feel free to read the riff below.

I posted that paragraph this morning. This then, I’ve gotten a lot of mail from folks who wanted to know why I was shilling for Clinton and to let me know how bad his book is.

Folks! It’s a parody! It’s subtle, but truly funny.

My lessons?

1. viral stuff is often obvious, isn’t it? In other words, if you’re too clever, some people don’t get it and it doesn’t spread well. On the other hand, be too obvious and it’ll just sit there. It’s the fine line (sort of like the Tom Bihn launder tag) that makes something go. Obviously, I misoverestimated some readers.

2. brands don’t guarantee a virus, but they sure can get in the way. Clinton’s brand is so tarnished for a portion of the population that they’d likely refuse a cash gift from him. They certainly didn’t bother to read the post until the end… they just decided they hated him, it, and by extension, me. Worth thinking about when you decide to trade in a little brand equity to move people to, say, an opt out spam program…