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Outsiders and the group

Political activist Paul Weyrich on NPR yesterday:
It has been known for many years that Congressman Foley
was a homosexual. Homosexuals tend to be preoccupied with sex – the
idea that he should be continued, or should have been continued as
chairman on the Committee for Missing and Exploited Children, given their knowledge of that is just outrageous.

What’s the point of such outrageous homophobia? Even if he believes what he’s saying, why say it? Why go out of your way to demonize 10% of the population?

Not just in politics but in other forms of marketing, there’s a frequent need to identify and demonize the outsider. If there are outsiders, after all, then you’re an insider. Apple Computer worked hard to make IBM PC users into outsiders.

At the same time, there’s a similar but opposite impulse: to do what everyone else is doing. That’s part of the reason the iPod is so successful… because it’s so successful. The Times reported on Wednesday about teenagers who are buying other, lesser MP3 players just so they can avoid being part of the masses.

Playing insider/outsider games is dangerous indeed. But it’s been part of marketing for thousands of years–tribes and religions have used it forever. The game of inclusion is, in fact, more effective, more powerful and more profitable. It’s just harder. The challenge is to define your niche so that you actually have a chance to be everyone’s brand…

The really critical stuff

It’s easy to riff and agitate and brainstorm about the marketing message, about authenticity, about treating people the way you want to be treated… but if your building burns down, it doesn’t really matter so much.

Amazon’s shopping cart has been broken, off and on, for days now. I can’t find a status blog for them, so it might just be me and a few colleagues, or it might be everyone in the world.

That’s like every single Walmart in the country unable to open their doors because the locks are jammed. Suddenly, having good locksmiths on staff is really important.

As the bar keeps getting raised for what people expect from an online experience, the collection of things that you MUST get right keeps going up. It’s expensive, but so is rent. It’s part of the deal.

It seemed important at the time

Last week, I was running from one meeting to another in the city when I passed an old friend on the street. "No time to talk, sorry!" I said as I hustled off.

When we connected by email a bit later, he said he hoped I had a good meeting, and that it was worth the hustle.

I couldn’t remember where I had been headed.

It seemed important at the time.

I’ve got two takeaways for you:

  • the first is that a lot of our day is spent doing stuff that seems urgent but really isn’t.
  • and the second is that most people buy most things in a state of urgency, not relaxation. We pay what we pay when we buy what we buy because right then, in that moment, it’s not just important, it’s vital.


Dean Johnson shares this riff:

The most under-utilized word in the English language is ‘so’. It’s liberal use would signal tolerance and the grasping of opposing ideas. While I don’t have to agree with it, I should understand it. As in "Dean, I think you are the dumbest sumbitch on the planet!". One proper response is "so?". It’s not as if the person’s opinion is likely to matter to any great extent. I’m pretty sure that I am not the dumbest person on the planet, as those people were driving on the street in front of me this afternoon…

Andy Warhol, outdated

Bill Seaver points out that the idea of everybody being famous for fifteen minutes is no longer. With multiple, infinite channels, now everyone has 15 megs of fame instead.

Giving and getting at Volvo

Nathan points out that Volvo’s much-promoted campaign ("Who would you give a Volvo to?") has a surprising flaw.

The brilliant part of the campaign is that by challenging people to think about a car as a generous act (as opposed to a selfish one), they subconsciously get us thinking about safety at the same time we associate being selfless with their brand of car.

The surprising part? They’re not actually giving away a car.

Is that selfless?

You can go to their site and enter your story, etc., all very web2-ish, but at the end, that’s it.

No one actually gets a car.

It can’t be that they can’t afford it. It must be on purpose. I just don’t see it…

Listen to this…

What’s the point of talking to a group?

I’m serious. We spend a lot of time in presentations, or at the United Nations, or sending our kids to school. We have orientation sessions and keynote speeches and long-winded oratory on the floor the Senate. Why?

One reason: to incite. To share emotion. To sell. And that’s never going to go out of fashion, as far as I can tell.

But most of the speeches I’m talking about don’t incite. I heard an excerpt on the radio the other day… someone at the EU going on at length about admitting Romania and Bulgaria to the EU. There was even a mention of food safety issues. Thousands of people listening to one person drone on about food safety. This wasn’t an emotional speech designed to sell us on an idea. Instead, it was designed to teach us.

To teach us the way a schoolteacher I heard recently teaches: by reading a text. She stands up at the front of the room, and along with a few web images, reads a text to the class.

Here’s my point: In our scan and skip world, in a world where technology makes it obvious that we can treat different people differently, how can we possibly justify teaching via a speech?

Speech is both linear and unpaceable. You can’t skip around and you can’t speed it up. When the speaker covers something you know, you are bored. When he quickly covers something you don’t understand, you are lost.

If marketing is the art of spreading ideas, then teaching is a kind of marketing. And teaching to groups verbally is broken, perhaps beyond repair. Consumers of information won’t stand for it. We’re learning less every time we are confronted with this technique, because we’ve been spoiled by the remote control and the web.

If you teach–teach anything–I think you need to start by acknowledging that there’s a need to sell your ideas emotionally. So you need to use whatever tools are available to you–an evocative powerpoint image, say, or a truly impassioned speech.

Then, and this is the hard part, if you’re teaching to a group of more than three people, you need to find a way to engage that is non-linear. Q&A doesn’t work for a large group, because only the questioner is engaged at any given moment (if you’re lucky, the questioner represents more than a few, but she rarely represents all).

If it’s worth teaching, it’s worth teaching well. If it’s worth investing the time of 30 or 230 or 3330 people, then it’s worth investing the effort to actually figure out how to get the message across. School is broken. Legislative politics are broken. Linear is broken. YouTube and Bloglines, on the other hand, are new platforms, platforms that enable the education of millions of people every day, quickly and for free.

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