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The next battlefield

So, online video is now free. With YouTube or Googlevideo, it costs you nothing to spread your idea… IF the idea spreads.

People aren’t going to be in a great hurry to share "Ring around the collar commercials." But it’s pretty clear that politics and religion are the next big thing. Like this one about the banana, or The Human Eye is NOT Irreducibly Complex!.

I think we’re moments away from a deluge of advocacy shorts.

Thinking about Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is not a real holiday, in that it was invented one day out of whole cloth. (side note: it’s a day for pacifists–originally a political holiday invented by someone who today would be considered almost unpatriotic by some).

But the current story is close to perfect. It matches the worldview of moms (who rightfully believe that they deserve a little credit) and of families (who feel at least a little guilty.) It was a story that was easy to share, easy to spread and completely viral in nature.

Hallmark, restaurants and others have managed to tell this story over and over again, building a multi-billion industry around a simple idea.

This is an important lesson because it shows how the right story, a story that fits an archetype, can run and grow so fast. The Mother’s Day story was a story most of our grandparents already "knew" and "believed" even though they hadn’t heard it before.

My mom, who I miss every single day, didn’t like Mother’s Day at all. She was in the minority, but she felt manipulated by the commercial system and the expectations of everyone who benefitted from the holiday. I bet, though, that she would have liked these mugs:  davistudio: Modern Table Art.

Nintendo forgot to read my post

…on naming: Seth’s Blog: The new rules of naming.

Their new multi-billion dollar entry into the hyper-competitive gaming market is called Wii.

Pronounced "we."


I’m sure there are ten good reasons to choose this name. I can’t think of one of them.

The thing about picking a name for a product, a building or even a kid is that it’s free. The single most important piece of free and fast marketing you’ll ever do. You wouldn’t name your daughter Elvis and you shouldn’t name a device for male teenagers Wii.

PS there are more than a million google matches for "wii". None of them, as far as I can tell, are about video games.

PPS in talking with Fred today, he pointed out that a lot of people confuse "remarkable" with "different." Wii is a very different name. But it’s not worth talking about, except in a negative way. Hopefully for Nintendo, the games will be worth talking about. The question: does the name of the device make it easier to talk about the games?

The Customer is Always Right

Greg writes in and wants to know if that’s really true. What if the customer is an amnesiac, a jerk, a difficult blowhard badmouther? What if the customer is the sort that wears his LL Bean khakis for a year and then sends them back?

In our ultracompetitive markets, how can you possibly have a chance in the face of enormous consumer power?

The answer might surprise you. It’s the unwritten rule 3 on Stew Leonard’s famous granite rock:

If the customer is wrong, they’re not your customer any more.

In other words, if it’s not worth making the customer right, fire her.

Successful organizations (and I include churches and political parties on the list) fire the 1% of their constituents that cause 95% of the pain.

Fire them?

Fire them. Politely decline to do business with them. Refer them to your arch competitors. Take them off the mailing list. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t be rude, just move on.

If you’ve got something worth paying for, you gain power when you refuse to offer it to every single person who is willing to pay you.

In 1988, my book packaging company had about six weeks worth of payroll in the bank. Yet we fired our biggest customer, someone who accounted for more than half our revenue. I still believe it was the right thing to do. We ended up happier and more successful, making up the business in a few months time.

If you treat a customer like he’s wrong, he’s going to leave, and probably tell a bunch of other people. Before you take that route, be direct, straightforward, polite and firm, and decline to sell to them.

So yes, the customer is always right. And if they’re not, then one way or the other, they’re not your customer any more.

Ode: How to tell a great story

Chris Fralic reminded me of this piece I wrote for Ode.

Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences.

A great story is true. Not necessarily because it’s factual, but because it’s consistent and authentic. Consumers are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies for a marketer to get away with a story that’s just slapped on.

Great stories make a promise. They promise fun, safety or a shortcut. The promise needs to be bold and audacious. It’s either exceptional or it’s not worth listening to.

Great stories are trusted. Trust is the scarcest resource we’ve got left. No one trusts anyone. People don’t trust the beautiful women ordering vodka at the corner bar (they’re getting paid by the liquor company). People don’t trust the spokespeople on commercials (who exactly is Rula Lenska?). And they certainly don’t trust the companies that make pharmaceuticals (Vioxx, apparently, can kill you). As a result, no marketer succeeds in telling a story unless he has earned the credibility to tell that story.

Great stories are subtle. Surprisingly, the fewer details a marketer spells out, the more powerful the story becomes. Talented marketers understand that allowing people to draw their own conclusions is far more effective than announcing the punch line.

Great stories happen fast. First impressions are far more powerful than we give them credit for.

Great stories don’t always need eight-page color brochures or a face-to-face meeting. Either you are ready to listen or you aren’t.

Great stories don’t appeal to logic, but they often appeal to our senses. Pheromones aren’t a myth. People decide if they like someone after just a sniff.

Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone. Average people are good at ignoring you. Average people have too many different points of view about life and average people are by and large satisfied. If you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one. The most effective stories match the world view of a tiny audience—and then that tiny audience spreads the story.

Great stories don’t contradict themselves. If your restaurant is in the right location but had the wrong menu, you lose. If your art gallery carries the right artists but your staff is made up of rejects from a used car lot, you lose. Consumers are clever and they’ll see through your deceit at once.

Most of all, great stories agree with our world view. The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.


Inspired by All Marketers are Liars.

Marketing that matters

From Tim: LeaderNotes: How to Raise $500,000 from Middle Class White Kids (and Why the Red Cross Never Will).

The coming health crisis

A long line at the American Airlines counter. Finally, a particularly well-dressed man gets to the front, loudly announcing that he wants to check in for first class.

The harried agent does her best, but there’s no room. He starts getting louder and more angry. He’s blathering about his power and authority.

She tries to placate him, but to no avail.

Finally, he yells, "Do you know who I am?"

Without missing a beat, the gate agent grabs the microphone. "Attention in the gate area. We have a medical emergency. The man at gate 11 has just suffered a serious bout of amnesia. If anyone recognizes him, can they please come forward and help him?"

All as a way of telling you that an epidemic of amnesia is sweeping our land. Armed with a blog and a following (I have 2,000 [or 2 million] daily readers… wait till they hear about this!), or with a frequent purchaser card or even just a credit card, millions of customers are now your most powerful customers. And as powerful customers, they want you to know, to recognize and to reward them for their power. If you don’t know ‘who they are’, they’re going to hit the road. Angrily.

Watch out for amnesia. It’s spreading fast.

Smart marketers are already treating each customer as even more important than she thinks she is (Or aggressively treating all customers the same… well).


What happens when your inbox is empty?

What happens when all the agenda items and all the incoming emails are cleared?

Time to go home.

A job well done. Congratulations, you earned your paycheck.

This is the factory mindset that has been drilled into us since kindergarten. You get assignments, you do your best, and you finish them.

It is at this point that we draw the line between workers and entrepreneurs, between people who work in marketing and marketers.

The challenge is NOT to empty your inbox. The challenge is not to get your boss to tell you what to do.

The challenge is to ask a two part question:

What next? What now?

Asking is the hard part.

Why are you afraid of process?

Is it because it gets in the way of intuition?

I spend a lot of time railing against organizations and teams that fall in love with process at the expense of innovation. This is not a post about that.

It’s about the opposite.

Our culture embraces the intuitive craftsman. We don’t talk about Harlequin Romances or artists who paint by number. Heroism is about writing a novel or making a sale based on what’s deep inside of you… not by following a prescribed pattern.

The plant manager who is proud of his seat-of-the-pants inventory management system, the bizdev guy who cherishes his network, the physician who relies on her diagnostic skills–these are all examples of intuitive craftspeople. Intuition, the sum total of our skill and our training, is the mark of someone to be reckoned with.

Process, on the other hand, appears to be for Dummies.

So we bristle when we’re asked for our weekly goals sheets, or when the boss wants us to use a database or when the insurance company requires docs to follow data-driven guidelines. We pass up the tenth novel by a successful author… because the process has become too transparent.

And yet, in many cases, process is underrated.

Process is your ace in the hole when your intuition stops working.

Process is the system that doubles a plant’s efficiency when you’ve done everything you can think of.

Take your web page (please). The intuitive marketer does her very best, and then conversion and traffic levels are established. That’s all.

Replace that with a process that measures and tests and improves and repeats and changes elements hourly. Replace it with a process that’s all about split testing and funnels and what works. Will a process like that invent MySpace or Flickr? Of course not. But it might very well turn your metrics from negative to positive. It might reinvent all the dynamics of your business.

What happens when a star salesperson starts tracking her calls, her time spent, her rolodex and her results? Her day isn’t intuitive any longer… just the act of selling is. The result: dramatic improvements. Measuring, and measuring in public, is a piece of process that can’t help but organize and leverage your intuition.

If process makes you nervous, it’s probably because it threatens your reliance on intuition. Get over it. The best processes leverage your intuition and give it room to thrive.

How KitKat became Number 1

Bob explains a subtle, patient, effective marketing campaign: AlphaMale: How KitKat became Number 1.