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How marketers really think

Thanks, Corey (from that movie about Mary):

Hitchhiker: You heard of this thing, the 8-Minute Abs?

Ted Stroehmann: Yeah, sure, 8-Minute Abs. Yeah, the excercise video.

Hitchhiker: Yeah, this is going to blow that right out of the water. Listen to this: 7… Minute… Abs.

Ted Stroehmann: Right. Yes. OK, alright. I see where you’re going.

Hitchhiker: Think about it. You walk into a video store, you see 8-Minute Abs sittin’ there, there’s 7-Minute Abs right beside it. Which one are you gonna pick, man?

Ted Stroehmann:
I would go for the 7.

Hitchhiker: Bingo, man, bingo. 7-Minute Abs. And we guarantee just as good a workout as the 8-minute folk.

Ted Stroehmann: You guarantee it? That’s — how do you do that?

If you’re not happy with the first 7 minutes, we’re gonna send you the extra minute free. You see? That’s it. That’s our motto. That’s where we’re comin’ from. That’s from "A" to "B".

Ted Stroehmann
: That’s right. That’s — that’s good. That’s good. Unless, of course, somebody comes up with 6-Minute Abs. Then you’re in trouble, huh?

[Hitchhiker convulses]

No! No, no, not 6! I said 7. Nobody’s comin’ up with 6. Who works out in 6 minutes? You won’t even get your heart goin, not even a mouse on a wheel.

Ted Stroehmann
: That — good point.

7’s the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 doors. 7, man, that’s the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin’ on a branch, eatin’ lots of sunflowers on my uncle’s ranch. You know that old children’s tale from the sea. It’s like you’re dreamin’ about Gorgonzola cheese when it’s clearly Brie time, baby…

Polite fiction

Alan points us to: Polite fiction.

You already know the idea: the social lie, the fiction that is acknowledged by all as a fiction, but it enables the group to exist, persist or even thrive.

Marketers need to understand the difference between a polite fiction and an inauthentic fraud and not use the former to justify the latter. Challenging a polite fiction, "CEO salaries are unearned and out of control" is a very effective story, especially if it’s told by a CEO, for example. Or Ben & Jerry’s could lead the way in the fight against heart disease, combatting the polite fiction that if a food has been around a long time and has a lot of goodwill associated with it, it must not be really really bad for you…

Careful what you have for breakfast

David points us to Holiday Inn, home of the Cinnamon Supreme French Toast™.

If you went to Denny’s and put cinnamon on your french toast, you might get busted by the trademark police.

What was that meeting like? Who decided to spend the money to register the mark "Best-4-Breakfast®"? Did they decide that perhaps Motel 6 would steal business from them by offering Best-5-Breakfast?


I’ve been thinking about frequency.
I’ve been thinking about frequency.
I’ve been thinking about frequency.

Clearly, you didn’t need the repetition in order to get the point of that first sentence. In fact, the repetition probably made it less likely you read it.

So why does frequency work so well in marketing? Why did candidates spend more than two billion dollars on the last election… that’s about $10 a voter. Clearly, the information could have been transmitted a lot more cheaply than that.

It starts with the fact that ten percent (!) of voters polled acknowledged that they decided who to vote for on the day they voted. Wow. Why wait that long? Surely the voter had some sort of inkling long before that.

I think people are full. They have too much to do, too much on their plates, no room for new ideas, new tasks and new challenges (or at least they think they’re full). So when all those ads are hurled at them, they ignore them. They ignore them because they can, and because they don’t perceive that they have a problem that the ad will help them solve.

And then suddenly, election day arrives (or you run out of flour or need to hire a consultant or fly on a plane to Singapore or whatever). And now you have a problem. You don’t know how to choose. So you let some ideas in. You’re momentarily unfull, and then, when you’re full again, you go back to ignoring the world.

But who do you let in? Which ideas get a shot?

You’ve probably guessed already. It’s the ideas that were in line, patiently waiting. The ideas that earned their place in line because of those ads you say you ignored. You don’t consciously remember them, of course, but they were there all along, laying the groundwork, just waiting until you were unfull.

So, all marketing analyses that ignore time are wrong. There’s a big difference between a message that arrives when I’m full and when I’m unfull. And there is a big difference between a first impression and tenth one. Even if I can’t remember the first nine.

Be sure to check out page 120

Check out SkyMaul. Funny stuff, thanks to Jesse for the link.


A few more riffs on trademarks:

a. a word in a foreign language makes a poor trademark in terms of defense (see Halushka noodle). So do superlatives. Ridiculous attempts to trademark ordinary language, as Uri points us to, are silly as well. The best trademarks have nothing at all to do with what you’re attempting to describe.

b. a neologism (a brand-new word that describes something that always needed a word to describe it) is a great trademark, in the short run anyway, and it comes with a lot of google juice. Words like ‘warez’ and ‘ideavirus’ are worth a great deal once they spread. Though you may have trouble defending it later (‘Xerox’).

c. remember, there are no official trademark police. A trademark is a license to sue, not a license to win. It all depends on how you want to spend your time and money.

Change the brand, change the band

Tomorrow is election day in the USA, and Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee is quite likely to lose in his run for the Senate. Not because his constituency doesn’t like him–they do. No, he’s likely to lose because they don’t like his brand. They don’t like the accessories he comes with. They’ve changed their mind, and they don’t understand why he hasn’t. He’s busy running away from something instead of toward it.

Fleetwood Mac (what a segue) was one of the hottest selling blues bands in Europe in the late 1960s. Then they lost their lead guitarist (Peter Green) and wandered aimlessly for more than five years until they added two lead singers and became a very different sounding group. The result was Rumours, one of the best selling albums in the history of music.

The distinction is really interesting (at least to me). If Chafee had swallowed his pride and switched parties (brands), he would have won in a landslide. Same candidate, different trappings. Fleetwood Mac kept the name, changed the sound and reinvented themselves for a different decade.

It’s easy to fall in love with every aspect of your brand and your story, even when your future customers wish you were something else. While it’s often better to ‘stay the course’, it’s never a good idea to do so just because you can’t consider the alternatives.

There’s almost no writing out there about changing your brand. About giving up on some things that you think are important that your constituents hate. Probably because it’s a rare occurence indeed.  A dramatic shift in the way you  tell your story is almost certainly more effective than little changes around the edges.

PS Don’t forget to vote… even if you want to vote for someone I don’t like. We can do better, and we will if more people get involved. (For my non-USA readers: please email your friends in the States and ask them to get on the stick tomorrow.)

Small is…

Publishers Weekly has recently published its list of the 100 best books of 2006. They only picked one book that might be considered a ‘business’ book. I’m sort of thrilled by this.

Thanks, guys. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

If you’re thinking of buying in bulk for the upcoming business-book gift-giving frenzy, here are some links:
Amazon     B&N     8CR    Samples   Manifesto   Site

Thanks for reading… if you didn’t, I’d probably stop writing. I’m delighted that the book is off to such a good start.

That magic moment

Halloween costumes are 70% off today.

Last week, some of them were worth a crazed drive through traffic and a possible parking ticket.

The costumes didn’t change, of course–the moment did.

In the right moment, something goes from ordinary to precious. From everyday to essential.

Godin on Trademark*

*What every entrepreneur, geek, brand manager and marketer needs to know about trademarks…

If you Google “generic trademarks”, you’ll find a list on Wikipedia that includes, “aspirin, bikini, brassiere, cola, crock pot, dry ice, escalator, granola, heroin, hula hoop, jungle gym, kiwi fruit, pilates exercise system, trampoline, videotape, Webster’s dictionary, yo-yo, and zipper”. Each of these trademarks was worth many millions of dollars, and then, poof, it belonged to everyone.

Some people are worried about this. Jeroen send me a note and asked me to riff about it… it even has a name: genericide.

In 1999, I invented a trademark and wrote a book about it. Yahoo still owns the trademark in Permission Marketing®, but a quick search will show you more than a million matches for the expression. What’s going on?

I had to make a decision. I could have pushed the world to call the ideas I wrote about, “Permission-based Marketing”. Or, I could have been really flexible and encouraged people to call the approach the same thing I did. I figured it was better to be the coiner of a phrase used by millions than to have a little corner of the world all to myself.

And that’s part of the paradox of a trademark.

The purpose of a trademark is to help consumers by allowing them to be certain of the source of a good or service. When you go to the store and buy some Mentos, you know you’re getting real Mentos, the kind that fizz really well with Coke, not some sort of inferior of kind mento with a small ‘m’. The trademark doesn’t just help the Perfetti Van Melle company in Kentucky, it helps you too.

If everyone knows your trademark, it means that your idea has spread. It means that people are interested in what you sell and may very well decide to buy it from you.

In order to make it a trademark, most lawyers agree you need to follow a few superstitions (superstitions because there’s no official manual with definitive answers). The first is that you ought to make it clear to the world that you know it’s a trademark, that it indicates your product comes from a specific source. So, putting ™ after your mark helps… and once per page/interaction is generally considered to be enough. So you don’t have to repeat the ™ over and over and over again in your copy or brochure. It’s tacky.

Adding (c) after your name is just dumb. It doesn’t mean a thing.

You can trademark just about any word or phrase, but that doesn’t mean it will hold up. The best trademarks are ‘fanciful’, words like Yahoo! or Verizon. Next down the list are words that are a bit descriptive, like Whoopie Cushion, Wikipedia or JetBlue. The worst kind of trademark words are descriptive. Yes, you can trademark the brand American Motors, but don’t expect it to be particularly valuable or long-lasting.

Some lawyers will get all excited and encourage (demand!) that you register your trademark. This involves paying a bunch of money, filing a bunch of forms and earning an ® after your name instead of the ™. While the ® does give you some benefits by the time you get to court, it doesn’t actually increase the value of your trademark. And you can wait. So, when you come up with a great name, just ™ it.

One thing that has changed dramatically about trademarks is the world of domains. If you own heroin.com, the brand becoming generic doesn’t hurt you so much, because you’re the only one who gets the traffic from the domain.

But now we get to the juicy part. Let’s say you’ve invented a trademark and you fear it will become generic. What now?

My first advice is not to worry. By the time aspirin became generic, the guys who developed it were super rich. If actively protecting your trademark is going to get in the way of making your idea spread, the choice is obvious–spread the idea.

Every trademark that turns generic does so for the same reason: because it’s the easiest way to describe something. People didn’t say, “That’s a sexy Bikini® brand bathing suit.” Because the idea itself was bigger (or smaller) than a bathing suit, the new thing needed a name. And the name we picked was bikini.

An iPod is an iPod, not an iPod brand mp3 player. This is a long-term problem for Apple, and suing people who use the word ‘pod’ to describe other devices isn’t really going to help them. The challenge they have is that they invented a brand name for an item that needed a word. Of course, it’s not just a problem, it’s a huge advantage.

If you had the chance to work at Apple five years ago, knowing what you know now, what would you do? Pick a name like “The Deluxe Apple Brand MP3 player?” Would you hassle the folks who coined the term “podcast”? Not me. Yes, it’s a great idea to think big, to ensure that you don’t make mistakes early on that haunt you later. But no, I don’t think you should spend a lot of time imagining the bad things that will happen if you succeed and your idea and your name become intertwined.

You can Digg this article if you click here. Notice that Digg is a verb, because there’s really no easy way to say, “You can recommend this article in a branded social news service like Digg™ by clicking here.” So Digg gets the power of spreading their idea. Nobody says, “Reddit this article by clicking here.”  

[previous paragraph is officially outdated, 2023 reports]

Back to the paradox. Would you rather be Digg or Reddit? Is it better to have Google’s problem (notice I used “Google” as a verb in the second paragraph?) or to be ask.com and never get talked about?

The best thing you can invent, as far as I can tell, is an idea that needs a name. When they invented the Jeep®, there was no such thing as the SUV. The Jeep became the name for that idea. The lawyers at Chrysler worked superhard to keep the brand from becoming generic. When the engineers cooked up the Xerox®, they had the same problem. Now, people are happy to call it a copier.

You can recover from impending genericide. What you can’t recover from is a clumsy name, or hindering your idea so it doesn’t spread or coming up with a slightly better idea for something that already has a quite good enough name and idea.

Disclaimers: I’m not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on TV. If you rely on my legal advice, you’re getting exactly what you paid for. I called this post “Godin on Trademark” as a riff on Nimmer on Copyright. The irony, of course, is that “Nimmer” became the almost generic phrase for expertise on the topic… you can look it up in Nimmer.