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Not my job! Thanks Aerin for the picture.

Getting stuck at What’s My Line

Consider this quote from a brilliant book (only $999 on Amazon) by Gil Fates, original producer of What’s My Line:

"The show became so important that the offbeat began to seem untoward… Any attempt to break out of the mold became heresy… The power of a program’s creative management to make decisions rises and falls in inverse ratio to the importance of the talent to that program… While we were not willing to admit that he was indispensable, the more the show prospered the less we, the creative producers, were willing to make him unhappy."

Hey, it’s not just TV shows.

Until it becomes routine

I got a lot of mail about my post about followup.

Isn’t it just a survey?
This is hardly permission marketing!
I feel used.

Of course you do. Because the people calling you are doing it because they have to. Because it’s their job. A calculated effort to get more business out of you.

That’s the opposite of what I meant.

I meant a call from someone who actually cared, who had the power to change things, to offer more. A call about you, not them.

If you can’t do that, then I agree, don’t bother.

This must be hard

The reason it must be hard is that so few people do it.

"How was your dinner last night?"

Follow up. Not follow up to sell something, just to know. Just to ask. Just to set things right if they were wrong.

The fancy restaurant knows my phone number. Why not have the owner call me the next day just to ask?

The doctor knows my number. Why not call a week later to see how that broken arm is mending?

The accountant knows my number. Why not check in to see if the taxes went out the door okay?

If you really want to generate those referrals, don’t ask for a referral, ask if everything was great. Offer to help. Do it in a gentle way, with no strings, no additional addons, no sales pitch. If you really and truly care, why not ask? Not a form, not a survey. Just one caring person, asking. Not that hard, actually.

When symbols become invisible

Vincent sends us this image courtesy of the American Diabetes Association. Huh? A candy cane?

Logos, holidays, street warning signs… they’re all a blur when you’ve seen them often enough.

Life in a startup

Neat riff from Andy about creating value: You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know.

Warts and all

She doesn’t really look like this. Especially in the morning or after a long plane flight. And yet we’re bombarded by photos of one perfect celebrity after another… enough to buy into the fantasy that they’re all perfect.

Businesses are the same way. If you read enough stories, it’s easy to believe that Starbucks and Apple and the rest of the all-star list somehow manage to effortlessly create remarkable products and happy customers.

One thread that has become clear to me from reading my email is that there are no perfect companies, no ideal places to work, no marketers who always manage to please their customers.

The danger in celebrity worship is that it can persuade you not to bother trying. After all, the thinking goes, our organization is so thoroughly screwed up that we’ve never got a chance to be like them, so why bother? In fact, organizations like Apple struggled for years, and continue to struggle… it’s just that the facade matches our need to believe, so we ignore that part.

Go ahead, be like Kelly. But cut yourself some slack along the way.

Don’t know what you’ve got…

Pitching in on homework today, we’re researching: Extatosoma tiaratum. Otherwise known as macleay’s spectre. It’s like a praying mantis, but bigger and scarier.

It’s a real bug. You can buy them and breed them. You can find them in Australia. But, amazingly enough, you can’t find them on wikipedia. Not found. Not by latin name, not by common name. Nothing.

This has never happened to me before. Maybe an obscure concept or semi-famous celebrity was missing, but a real bug?

The fact that I was aghast when I discovered this reinforces how amazing wikipedia is. How much it has changed not just homework, but everything.

When everything (except macleay’s spectre) is a click away, it changes the way we think about information.

(Wanna bet how long it takes for this omission to be corrected? I say 22 hours.)

[PS Florian Gross points us to the German edition where the article lives quite happily!]

How to get referrals

There’s been thousands of pages written about this topic, but still, no luck. It’s too hard.

Yes, we know that referrals are the very best way to grow your business.

And we know that asking for a referral is both scary but apparently the most effective technique.

And we know that excellent service is a great place to start.

But still, not enough referrals. How come?

First, marketers often forget to look at this from the consumer’s point of view. Why on earth should I give you a referral? Yes, I know it’s important to you, but why is it important to me?

And second, I have a lot to lose if I refer a friend to you. You might screw up, in which case she’ll hate me. Or you might somehow do something that, through no fault of your own, disappoints. If I recommend a greek restaurant and my friend goes and they don’t have skordalia, and she loves skordalia… oops.

And third, the act of recommending you isn’t easy. It’s not easy to recommend a tailor to make your co-worker look a little less shabby. It’s not easy to bring up the fact that you have a great psychiatrist or even a particularly wonderful (but very expensive) shoe store.

Given the no-win nature of most referrals, you need to reset your expectations and consider a few ideas:

  • Make it easy for someone to bring up what you do (by changing the nature of the service or product).
  • Give your best customers something of real value to offer to their friends (a secret menu, a significant gift certificate). Once you do that, not giving that gift to a friend feels selfish.
  • Paying me to refer you rarely works, because you’re not just asking for a minute of my time, you’re asking me to put my credibility on the line.
  • Understand that low-risk referrals happen more often than high-risk ones, and either figure out how to become a low-risk referral or embrace the fact that you have to be truly amazing in order to earn one.


  • Be worthy. Not just in the work you do, but in your status in the marketplace. I’m far more likely to refer someone with a back story, someone who’s an underdog, or relatively unknown. That’s why saying "thank you" in deeds (not so much in words) goes such a long way.

Try to speak clearly

I know it’s hard sometimes, especially when you need to please your boss, but if someone is going to see your writing, make it shorter, simpler and easier. Here’s a query from Amazon next to their new "comment on a review feature."

My question is, does "yes" mean "yes it doesn’t add to the conversation" or does "yes" mean "yes it adds to the conversation"?

There are dozens of easy solutions, starting with longer buttons ("Yes, it adds" vs. "No, take it down").

We would never settle for mechanical devices that work as poorly as our language does.