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So, when did you last visit Hotbot?

Hotbot.com is a little-known search engine. Yet, according to Alexa, it is visited far more times each day than all the blogger blogs and all the typepad blogs PUT TOGETHER.

The wake up call from a little Alexa poking around was that the media whining is true–not a lot of people are reading blogs. I do and you do and our friends do, so we’ve persuaded ourselves that everybody does, but they don’t.

I wonder when this tips?

Everything I know about ideaviruses tells me it will. It’s going to be fun to watch, though. I bet the tipping point comes from a very unexpected place.

Maybe I’m biased…

Stephen Gillberg (Happy Hours)sends over this link. It’s a dinner party like no other… which was clearly worth talking about. Lodinews.com News

More blending

I just got spammed by Vogue magazine, with an ad that featured:
Lance Armstrong
David Yurman
Manolo Blahnik

Sheesh. The next thing you know, they’ll start trying to sell pharmaceuticals by email.

Oh, I guess they have.

Is there any chance that this sort of activity makes their brands more valuable? When they talk about grey goo, I think this is what they mean.

What is a Plog?

I don’t usually blog about blogging, because it’s circular and boring, but Amazon’s home page is dedicated to their riff on the technique and I couldn’t avoid it.

Amazon.com: What is a Plog?

Aside from being an awkward verbal construction, a “plog” is just boring. All good blogs are “personal” in that they are about the writer. (good blogs become great blogs when the stuff about the writer is interesting and universal and the reader wants to read it). The whole idea of corporate blogs is difficult for me to get excited about, because they quickly become yet another firewall between me (a real person) and someone at the company (who I hope is a real person). Corporate blogs get stiff and scared.

Example? at the bottom of my plog it says, “E-mail plog-feedback@amazon.com to share your thoughts and suggestions on this feature. We’ll read everything you send, although we cannot promise an individual response.”

Well, Amazon’s plog (the P is supposed to stand for personal) isn’t personal at all. It’s certainly not personal about Amazon, and it really isn’t personal about me. It contains details about when my books are going to ship.

We don’t need to start corrupting the blog idea in order for Amazon to present a list of when my books are going to ship, do we? Can you imagine saying, “I need to head over to Amazon and check my plog?”

if it were me, I’d just announce that Amazon now provides RSS alerts. RSS is going to happen, and it will be a boon to Amazon to be able to cut through the email clutter. But a plog isn’t the answer, imho…

Conference in November

My friends Julie and Tony will be speaking as well. It’s for senior brand people and those that love them.

If you’re interested, contact Len and his team at: Brand ManageCamp 2004 – Nov 9 & 10, 2004

Maybe you shouldn’t ask

Fast Company has a terrific cover piece this month about Jeff Bezos. My favorite part is when he talks about asking other people (experts, even) for their opinion about new projects.

Inevitably, people say no. Don’t do it. I don’t like it. It’ll fail. Don’t bother.

When I think about every successful project (whether it’s a book or a business or a website) the people I trust have always given me exceedingly bad advice. And more often than not, that advice is about being conservative. Or it involves focusing on things that will require a lot of work, rather than things that will make it remarkable.

The incentive plan here is pretty clear. If someone dissuades you from trying, you can hardly blame them for the failure that doesn’t happen, right? If, on the other hand, they egg you on and you crash, that really puts a crimp in the relationship…

I think the problem lies in the question. Instead of saying, “what do you think?” as in, “what do you think about Amazon offering 1,000,000 different titles even though some of them are really hard for us to get…” the question ought to be, “how can I make this project even MORE remarkable?”

More on Blended

(this continues the original post, scroll down below the irrelevant ketchup interruption. Whenever I post about ketchup or bananas, feel free to assume it’s irrelevant.)

When I was in college in Mass. years ago, we did a project with a low-level mafia kingpin (can you be both low-level and a kingpin? He was.) In gratitude for something or other, he offered my friend and me five-digit license plates.

“Why would we want a five digit license plate?” we asked. After all, it’s not like a plate that says GR8TGUY or something. It was just numbers. 43287, for example.

“It’s a prestige thing.”

He was right. Over the years, you always saw these plates on certain kinds of cars, driven by certain kinds of guys.

And the cars were another signal. Cadillacs meant one thing, little Cellicas meant another. So how do I explain the fact that just a few years later, I was hanging out with David Filo, multi-billionaire co-founder of Yahoo!, who was driving a Celica or some similarly non-descript econocar.

The people in first class are flying with frequent flyer miles, while the Senator is back in coach. The salesperson is busy pitching the president of the company in a meeting, while her purchasing agent, the little guy in the back, is the one with all the influence…

When the Internet caught on, the thing it changed the most was leverage. It gave speed and power and influence to people without a lot of other trappings. Blogs takes it even further… bloggers are entire media conglomerates in their pajamas.

So, when all the cues are gone, the way we make decisions about who to work with, what to buy and who to believe and trust comes down to this: it’s in the interactions.

It’s not the surface flash, the five digit license plate, the brand of car, the cut of the suit or the seat at the table. It’s in how we follow through. It’s in the actions we take and the way we listen. It’s in keeping our promises and doing exactly what we say we’re going to do.

Our prospects, though, are scared. They can’t afford to spend time or money with every single person that walks in. So the challenge is to be cheap and easy. If it’s cheap and easy (or quick) to interact with you once, people are more likely to do it. If the first interaction goes well, you get a second shot. You build a relationship, not a sale.

No, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Far more important today, though, is this: you don’t get a third chance to make a second impression. And it’s the second impression that builds your brand.

But is it a vegetable?


All the cues we use to figure out who’s real and who’s not appear to be fading away.

Years ago, there were “real” books and self-published books. The real books were worth buying and reading, the self-published were from vanity presses. Today, of course, some of the best stuff is self-published, whether as a book or a blog.

The Republican Party just announced that it’s paying a 30% commission to anyone with a website who collects money on their behalf. That sort of tactic used to be reserved for fledgling startups or small grassroots organizations.

Multi Level Marketing used to feel just a little creepy. Vitamins or cosmetics got sold by MLM. Today, of course, it’s not surprising to hear about car companies or even doctors rewarding people with cash or services for referrals.

Wearing a fine suit that fits you right was a great cue to others that you were successful and powerful and about to make something happen. Today, it’s just as likely that your potential partner is going to show up in a turtleneck and jeans.

Hotmail accounts used to indicate anonymity and a little fly-by-night aura about someone. You wanted the email addresses of people you interacted with to have permanence… stuff like ford.com. Today, of course, gmail is the flavor du jour.

Having your headquarters in Manhattan used to be a sign of real success. People even made a business out of selling PO boxes at the Empire State Building. Today, you’re more likely to find aggressive, responsible companies sprouting up in Colorado, Dubai and Singapore.

The best websites (belonging to the best organizations) used to be designed by Razorfish or Organic or Scient. They were big and fancy and expensive and complex. Today, it’s not surprising to find a successful business with a one-page site that cost $300 to build. Even more surprising are the sites filled with direct marketing copy that aren’t scams… just effective tools to make sales.

Advertising used to be about expensive spreads in the New York Times magazine. Today, text-only Adwords ads on Google are the most likely to be paying for themselves.

Used to be that being public and traded on the NYSE was a sign of permanence and ethics. Today, after Enron and United and Xerox, it’s the previously unknown (and private) companies that just might be the best to do business with.

So, how do we tell the good from the bad? In a connected world where people don’t have letterhead, don’t wear suits (don’t even own suits) work out of tiny rented office suites (or their living room) have a simple website and buy only Adwords, have an answering machine not a PBX, don’t have a receptionist or a sculpture out front… in that world, how do we tell?

As we’ve stripped away a lot of the extraneous expenses and signaling mechanisms, are we in a race to the bottom (if “bottom” means raw, not bad)? I can no longer count on the best books coming from a major publisher, on the best articles being in the biggest magazines (in fact, I can assume that if it’s the cover story of a major magazine, it’s insipid). I can no longer assume that someone with a sketchy resume or a simple website isn’t serious about what they’re up to…

Ten years ago, there was a neat and orderly line for companies that wanted to go public and cash out. It started at Stanford and included lunch with the right venture capital guys. There was also a line for authors and salespeople and non-profit administrators and teachers and just about everyone else. Today, cutting the line appears to be the best way to get what you want.

[at this point in my riff, I’m supposed to insert a breathtaking insight, something that will turn your head around and make it all make sense. I’m not sure I can. I think maybe the insight is that puzzling times lie ahead].

Welcome to the blended times. The moment when the big and small, the impermanent and the permanent, the accepted and the ‘scammy’ meet. For a while, it’s going to be awfully confusing. We’ll get ripped off, waste time, become even more skeptical than ever before.

But soon, I think, we’ll walk out to the other side.

I have no certainty as to what the other side looks like, but I’m pretty sure the winners are those that treated their customers and their constituents with respect and did it with honesty. Trust and respect are the two things we haven’t figured out a shortcut for.

Thank You.

Thanks to the ecstatic enthusiasm and over-the-top interest from readers of this blog, Free Prize Inside (my new book) hit the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Business Week bestseller lists. And it only came out in May.

I just found out the publisher has gone back to press for more copies. We’re not making any more cereal boxes, though, so you’ll need to get one from the first printing if you want the collector’s edition (some online and traditional stores still have cereal boxes left.)

Thanks again for your support and your kind reviews (Free Prize reviews). I hope you enjoy the book.