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We’re all clueless. That’s the best word I can use to describe the state of the art of marketing.

Three examples:

I’m at the supermarket yesterday. I run into my friend John, not someone I often see at the Food Emporium. John has a list. Standard grocery list, "here honey, please go out and get this…" But John wants to show me something on the list. It says,
1 woman’s razor that matches our bathroom.

Wow. Gillette has been making razors for almost a hundred years, and you wonder how many hours and how much money they’ve spent trying to answer that want… probably .0001% of what they spend on blade technology.

Then, this morning, I head to the bank. Poor guy is arguing with the "customer service manager". The problem? He had $4 in his checking account as he was waiting to close it. The bank charged him a monthly $5 service fee. The fee bounced. Then they charged him $30 for bouncing the fee on an inactive account.

The manager was trying to explain the policy, but the bottom line is that all the real estate, all the ads, all the marble, all the computers… all wasted… because they were enraging the guy. Over $4.

And finally, leaving the bank, I saw the most amazing interaction (yes, this is true.) A woman is first in line. She’s withdrawing $1,000 from her account. The teller pushes away from the desk and goes and gets her signature card (this is a neighborhood bank) to match it against the woman’s signature on the withdrawal slip.

The customer tells me that:
1. the teller has been working there for twenty years.
2. the customer comes in at least once a week.
3. they always check her signature
and, ready for this…
4. she’s been a customer at this bank for seventy years. I am not making this up. She is very proud that she’s nearly (nearly!) their longest-serving customer. The account is more than seventy years old. And they check her signature.


Marketing is now officially about wants, not needs. That’s what Liars is about and what your entire day should be about. Your church, your company, your restaurant, your blog. Doesn’t matter. Give me what I want or I’m out of here.

Will you help us?

Moocoverlittle_1In eight weeks, my last traditional book project hits the street.

I have 32 co-authors this time and 100% of our royalties go to charity.

This time, we’re shooting for the big time. And we need your help.

The book is called: The Big Moo by The Group of 33. Our goal is to sell a million copies before the end of the year and to raise millions for three worthy charities. Our bigger goal is to transform thousands of organizations–corporations, non-profits, community groups, whatever.

Here’s where you come in.

I’ve found that most business books don’t get bought. Those that do, don’t get read. Those that do, make a difference, but only for those that read them. Every once in a while, a business book breaks through because organizations buy it by the truckoad. When a group buys 100 or 1,000 copies of a book, it gets talked about. It becomes a touchstone, something that people can refer to, use as a shorthand and take as a common foundation.

When I pitched Tom Peters, Malcolm Gladwell, Guy Kawasaki, April Armstrong, Julie Anixter, Marcia Hart and dozens of other big thinkers on contributing to a book that was designed to change the way organizations dealt with being remarkable, they all said yes. No hesitation, just yes.

Now it’s your turn to say, "yes."

For the first time that I’m aware of, we’re selling the galleys to a book. The galley is the very expensive pre-publication not-quite-paperback version of a hardcover book. The galley is created to give reviewers a chance to read the book before everyone else. I persuaded my publisher to print 10,000 galleys, a huge number. And we’re selling them at cost.

Here’s the catch: I only want to sell the galleys (50 at a time) to people who will give them to people who will buy a lot of the $15 hardcover. (Sell isn’t really accurate. The fine print is that we’re actually giving them away, but you need to spend $100 on postage and handling to get them… we promise to handle them very carefully.)

That’s complicated, so I’ll type it slowly:

I only want to give the 50 pack of galleys ($2 a copy s&h) to people who will turn around and give galleys to people in organizations with the will and the ability to pre-order a dozen or more copies of the final hardcover.

This means that if you buy a bunch of galleys and give them to people who don’t do anything, you’ve killed the project and turned me into a publishing pariah.

If, on the other hand, I’m right and every galley turns into 10 or a hundred pre-sales, we just hit a home run.

So, there’s only 100 or so sets of these galleys left (my co-authors bought most of them to distribute) so I apologize in advance if Jack at 800 CEO READ runs out. If he does, don’t despair… just pre-order the hardcover. Not for me, for you. For you and your organization and your friends and our charities.

Here’s that address again: The Big Moo by The Group of 33.* Please don’t order a set unless you know the right sneezers/connectors/influencers. And thanks.

*At the site above, you can order galleys, pre-order the hardcover
from various sites, see the bios of the authors and read about our
charities. (Did I mention that Hugh Macleod is doing the illustrations?)

The problem with lawyers (part of an ongoing series)

This site featuring cheesy furniture (FedexFurniture.Com) would have essentially no traffic–except for the fact that Fedex sent a cease and desist letter and claimed it violated the DCMA (that and Kinko’s refused to print cards for the site’s owner, because, of course, they’re owned by Fedex!)

No, it probably won’t hurt Fedex’s business, but it’s sure not worth the hassle, is it?

Let’s just say the unlikely happens

And Hollywood and the music guys manage to sue the users and organizers of online file sharing out of business. Let’s imagine that against all odds, you can’t find copyrighted stuff online any more.

If that happens, sites like ibiblio – Sights and Sounds begin to do better and better. Here’s hours and hours of stuff for free.

Now what you end up with paid online radio and free online radio. Paid online video and free online video.

At first, the paid stuff is good and the free stuff is less good.

But soon, producers seeking an audience start to make their stuff free. Because when they do, the audience goes up 100x.

And then, in order to compete, others do the same thing. Wouldn’t you if you had a touring band? Wouldn’t you if you had already exhausted your DVD sales and wanted a big enough audience for your sequel?

And then, of course, we end up where we sort of are today.


The voice on the answering machine at the big fancy "customer-centric" company said (italics are theirs, not mine),

We guarantee a member of senior management will call you back as soon as possible.

and the spokesperson for the huge corporate lobbying organization assured us that, "we have very strict guidelines for members."

and of course, the box in the supermarket said FREE with purchase.

Naturally, none of these sentences mean what they appear to mean. And I think that people have finally figured that out. Nobody really guarantees the weather will be good… what are they going to do, give you your day back?

It may very well be that the tried and true weasel technique of joining a powerful assurance with a weak, hard-to-define modifier is finally reaching the end of the road.

I can unequivocally assure you that there’s a 100% certainty that weasel words are pretty close to dead.

Pseudofeatures and the Purple Cow

Abhijit Nandy points us to Guest Commentary – Killer Features vs. Pseudo Features : Gizmodo. It turns out that one reason we ignore what marketers say is that they tout stuff that’s nonsense. What makes something purple is that a fellow human touts something that happens to be really and truly great.

Two kinds of writing

If you’re writing for strangers, make it shorter.

Use images and tone and design and interface to make your point. Teach people gradually.

If you’re writing for colleagues, make it more robust.

Be specific. Be clear. Be intellectually rigorous and leave no wiggle room.

Takeaway: the stuff you’re putting online or in your blog or in your brochures or in your business letters is too long. Too much inside baseball. Too many unasked questions getting answered too soon.

Takeaway: the stuff you’re sending out in your email and your memos is too vague.

Figure out which category before you put finger to keyboard!

What would Jerry do?

Articles about the Grateful Dead have the inevitable snarky headline (Jerry Garcia: The Man, the Myth, the Area Rug – New York Times) and often try to trivialize what the band accomplished, or make the case that it was a unique occurence, something that will never happen again.

Of course, this is nonsense.

More than Campbell’s Soup or American Airlines or CAA or Cisco or McKinsey, the Grateful Dead is the template for how organizations are going to grow and succeed moving forward.

No, not every element of who they were and what they did, but the idea of conversations and open source, the idea of souvenirs and emotion and live events and of remarkability. The Dead sells through permission marketing, spread their music through an ideavirus and yes, as long as we’re slinging buzzwords, profits from the long tail.

The most important takeaway is this: They repeatedly did things that felt like huge risks, that challenged the status quo and that seemed, on their face, to give too much power to their audience. And in those moments, the Grateful Dead were at their most successful.

Tiny cuts

The portobello mushrooms in the shrinkwrapped container seemed like a great idea. Until I got them home, unwrapped them and discovered that the bottom layer was rotten. I’m sure some produce mailer is smiling because he got rid of those mushrooms. But was it a smart decision?

Salt_1The Napa Style catalog arrived at my house today. On the cover is some overpriced artisanal salt. And the amount of salt pictured couldn’t possibly fit into the container you’ll receive. Of course they may be able to claim that they were just touting, but is the disappointment worth it?

Starbucks wouldn’t sell me a cappucino over ice today. Instead of answering, "I don’t know," to my question of why, the barrista said, "we’re not allowed to because pouring the cappucino over ice causes bacteria to grow."

I love the fact Toyota is fighting with the EPA over the mileage reported on the Prius. It turns out that the way the EPA computes mileage means that the typical Prius driver will rarely or ever achieve the mileage posted. Toyota has realized that big mileage on the sticker isn’t nearly as good as big word of mouth in the parking lot.

Fine print is everywhere I look. Fine print means that a lawyer has made sure that you probably won’t win a lawsuit, but is the lawsuit really the point?

When did marketers fall in love with the idea of overselling and then hiding, instead of doing precisely the opposite?

The wrong question

For the last six years, people in big media have been asking me one question: "How will new media work for the big advertisers?" This is paraphrased over at:  gapingvoid: the multi-billion dollar suicide pact between clients and television.

While it’s human nature to be selfishly focused on your issues, there is a bias implicit in the question that’s fatal to the entire discussion. The question shouldn’t be, "How do we use this different media to replace the media* that’s broken?" (*"media for big advertisers".)

The right question is, "How does this new media change the game for all the players?" How does it move upstream and influence everything from what gets made to who makes it to how much is charged…

Can the world of blogs etc. help Budweiser? Only on the margins. The world of new media is not the place to launch the next one-size-fits-all mega brand, nor is it the place to shore a flagging brand like that up.

Instead of using new media to promote the next megafilm from Disney or Julia Roberts, it permits movies like WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price to get made at all.

Instead of using new media to promote brands like Budweiser, it permits that very same megabrewer to launch brands that tell a much more vertical, more focused, more powerful story to a smaller group of people.

Instead of promoting mainstream political parties and mainstream political ideas, it provides donations and vocal support to the fringes.

I don’t think new media leads us to products that are better or more healthful or honest, necessarily. I think it clearly leads us to products (and the stories about them) that are far more focused. Not only isn’t there a cost to specialization, there’s now a benefit to it. Focus is no longer expensive. Mass is.

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