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Did you believe?

GilletteAndrew Tonkin, via Boing Boing, points us to Transsexual Shaving Cream.Gillete2

Admit it. You believed. It is fun to believe. Believing makes you feel good.

Now, it’s not as easy to believe anything, is it? That’s a bummer.

The magic word

No, it’s not "please."

It’s "ego."

I meet a lot of confused marketers, and the primary cause of their confusion is that they believe that money equals motivation.

They believe that people will choose the best value.

That people will buy what they need.

That the best products and services will spread because they deserve to be talked about.

That employees can be persuaded to do things by paying them more and that consumers will buzz something if you reward them with cash.

This is true. Every once in a while.

It’s true for people who deep down equate money to ego. This tiny subset of the population really and truly keep score via cash. They are rare indeed.

We’re constantly on the lookout for someone’s real motivation. We don’t understand why someone would volunteer at a charity or take a lower-paying job or recommend a cool new CD or post something on their blog. "What’s in it for them," we wonder. Here in the world capital of capitalism (yes, I just made that up…) Americans have fallen in love with the idea that money can feed the ego.

Almost all the time, that’s wrong.

Since this is a post about ego, let’s talk about… me. I smiled the other day when I read a review of my blog. It said
(paraphrasing) "Like many authors, Godin blogs to sell more books."
Wrong. Actually, I write books so that more people will read my blog!

I don’t blog to make money. I don’t run ads on my site. I don’t even blog to win awards. I blog because it pleases me to see my ideas spread. I like it when I see people talking about one of my ideas–without even mentioning where the idea came from. That means it’s the idea that spread, not my brand. Which is the whole point.

For me, anyway. Not for you or for her or for him.

And that’s the tricky part about marketing to ego. Everybody feeds their ego in a different way. The art is in telling a story that matches the ego-outlook (what I’ve called a worldview) of your target audience.

The next time you’re in a meeting and someone pulls out a spreadsheet, realize that you’re about to hear about money/value = ego. That’s fine. But what about everyone else? Ignore the rest and they’ll feed their ego somewhere else.

But it’s only a commodity…

Unnamedimage1715774Michael Cirrito shares this picture from his local gas station. Do you need fresh flowers when you buy gas? Of course not. But you might want them.

The fluid, the gasoline itself, might be the same everywhere you go, and no one is going to pay extra for that. What they are buying is the experience and the attitude and the little things that they might not even consciously notice.

The important thing about this picture isn’t that flowers = success. The lesson is that trying to be different, trying to create an experience that counts… the effort is what matters.


I first met John Scharffen Berger six years ago. A great guy.

Ever since then, I’ve been talking about how purple is chocolate is. I even made people in my seminars try some.

Now I see  Hershey to buy Scharffen Berger – Yahoo! News. Thanks to Howard Mann for the ping.

It’s time for John to milk this cow. Good for him.

Now, the big question is this: does Hershey have the guts to not make it better (better means more efficient, cheaper, faster, less likely to melt, flashier packaged, etc.)

Average is often the goal. Average rarely leads to growth.

Where do you get your advice?

According to todays Times, Al Gore turned to Johnny Carson for advice on his image and, yes, his jokes (Heeeeere’s Al, Thanks to Carson – New York Times.) Imagine how the world would be a different place if he had gotten (and used) better advice. Talk about leverage.

I’m stunned by how often corporations, organizations and individuals turn to celebrities for advice. We embrace diet books and tv shows and movie stars and well-known consulting firms and on and on, hoping for the glimmer of wisdom that will make a difference.

When I appear on the Motley Fool radio show, they ask me for my stock picks. Hey! I don’t own any stocks. And even if I did, what could I possibly have to say that would matter?

The thing about advice is that you need two things to make it work:
1. it has to be good
2. it has to motivate you to actually do something

The reason that people turn to celebrities and big organizations is that the patina of fame and authority makes it easier to sell yourself and your colleagues on taking action–on actually doing something with the advice.

If McKinsey said to close the plant, then it’s a lot easier to sell your board. If you had gotten precisely the same advice from precisely the same 26-year-old Harvard MBA but she’d been in your strategy group instead of at McKinsey, they’d ignore her.

The thing is, famous advice isn’t always better (it’s often not better, as we’ll see in a moment) and it’s more expensive and it allows you to beg off actually understanding what’s going on.

It’s not better because in order for the famous person to get to the point where she could give you advice, she had to fit through a number of filters. Johnny Carson was famous largely because he was consistent and inoffensive. You might believe that those are good characteristics in a politician, but George W. demonstrated that taking advice from an unknown Texan pre-felon named Karl Rove was far more effective at reaching his goals than relying on some tips from a comedian. That’s because Rove’s advice was better. Because Rove understood the dynamic of the political marketplace without compromise.

I think most organizations don’t buy nearly enough advice. They go 97% of the way, do 97% of the work, make all the investments… but then they get too tired and too stuck to actually do the high leverage stuff that works. So yes, buy advice. Buy a lot of it. But most important, understand why the advice is good advice, really understand the dynamic behind it–then you won’t have any trouble selling the idea, because it’s not the advice giver that matters… it’s the advice.

If Gallagher or Will Ferrell show up, tell them you’re busy.

the other side of the seatbelt story

Advice for authors

Always beware free advice. It is worth what it costs!

That said, I get a fair number of notes from well respected, intelligent people who are embarking on their first non-fiction book project. They tend to ask very similar questions, so I thought I'd go ahead and put down my five big ideas in one place to make it easier for everyone.

I guarantee you that you won't agree with all of them, but, as they say, your mileage my vary.

1. Please understand that book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business.
The return on equity and return on time for authors and for publishers is horrendous. If you're doing it for the money, you're going to be disappointed.

On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There's a worldview that's quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority.

2. The timeframe for the launch of books has gone from silly to unrealistic.
When the world moved more slowly, waiting more than a year for a book to come out was not great, but tolerable. Today, even though all other media has accelerated rapidly, books still take a year or more. You need to consider what the shelf life of your idea is.

3. There is no such thing as effective book promotion by a book publisher.
This isn't true, of course. Harry Potter gets promoted. So did Freakonomics. But out of the 75,000 titles published last year in the US alone, I figure 100 were effectively promoted by the publishers. This leaves a pretty big gap.

This gap is either unfilled, in which case the book fails, or it is filled by the author. Here's the thing: publishing a book is really nothing but a socially acceptable opportunity to promote yourself and your ideas far and wide and often.

If you don't promote it, no one will. If you don't have a better strategy than, "Let's get on Oprah" you should stop now. If you don't have an asset already–a permission base of thousands or tens of thousands of people, a popular blog, thousands of employees, a personal relationship with Willard Scott… then it's too late to start building that asset once you start working on a book.

By the way, blurbs don't sell books. Not really. You can get all the blurbs in the world for your book and it won't help if you haven't done everything else (quick aside: the guy who invented the word "blurb" also wrote the poem Purple Cow).

4. Books cost money and require the user to read them for the idea to spread.
Obvious, sure, but real problems. Real problems because the cost of a book introduces friction to your idea. It makes the idea spread much much more slowly than an online meme because in order for it to spread, someone has to buy it. Add to that the growing (and sad) fact that people hate to read. Too often, people have told me, with pride, that they read three chapters of my book. Just three.

5. Publishing is like venture capital, not like printing.
Printing your own book is very very easy and not particularly expensive. You can hire professional copyeditors and designers and end up with a book that looks just like one from Random House. That's easy stuff.

What Random House and others do is invest. They invest cash in an advance. They invest time in creating the book itself and selling it in and they invest more cash in printing books. Like all VCs, they want a big return.

If you need the advance to live on, then publishers serve an essential function. If, on the other hand, you're like most non-fiction authors and spreading the idea is worth more than the advance, you may not.

So, what's my best advice?

Build an asset. Large numbers of influential people who read your blog or read your emails or watch your TV show or love your restaurant or or or…

Then, put your idea into a format where it will spread fast. That could be an ebook (a free one) or a pamphlet (a cheap one–the Joy of Jello sold millions and millions of copies at a dollar or less).

Then, if your idea catches on, you can sell the souvenir edition. The book. The thing people keep on their shelf or lend out or get from the library. Books are wonderful (I own too many!) but they're not necessarily the best vessel for spreading your idea.

And the punchline, of course, is that if you do all these things, you won't need a publisher. And that's exactly when a publisher will want you! That's the sort of author publishers do the best with.

Here's the sequel.

Simple permission marketing

In the spirit of Woot. Shawn Gross sent over: dotprodomains.com: creative domain name resellers.

It’s so obvious, it’s almost brilliant.

But it’s not that hard!

Mark Hurst sent me over to: tangentialism: Shake Shack, Beyond The Call Of Duty.

This is the inspiring story of how one restauranteur (in a notoriously difficult business) has figured out how to:
1. offer purple cow service
2. by people who like what they’re doing

As in my Starbucks story below, these hardworking, zen-infused line cooks are actually enjoying their jobs more than the folks whining across the street.

It’s about management. It’s about managers who don’t blame employees, but who empower them and push them instead. And yes, that’s marketing.

The good news is that while it’s almost impossible to blow people away with an ad campaign or a coupon or even a product, the bar is set so astonishingly low for managers that it’s pretty easy to blow people away by enabling your staff to be amazing, honest and happy at the same time.

Even if you run a law firm. Or a church. Or, heaven forfend, a political party.

Old media collides with the new (an ongoing series)

WiredpromoWired magazine is owned by Conde Nast, the magazine giant.

Wired has a priceless double opt in permission email list. It’s a great list of forward thinking people who actually WANT to hear from Wired.

If you wanted to make some short term cash, maybe to hit your budget numbers, you could sell/rent that list. You could probably articulate some sort of rationalization, point out the terms of service or the privacy policy, but no matter what, you’d be doing something short-term and stupid. Sending a car ad to this list serves only one purpose: to benefit the sender, not the recipient.

1. you’ve trained people not to open your mail
2. you’ve used up priceless attention
3. you wasted an asset instead of building one.

Thanks, Andy, for the heads up.

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