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The check is in the mail

This is a great riff from Artie. Thanks to Ed for the link. I’ll reprint it here. I think it’s a fascinating marketing strategy because it causes half the people he engages with to take action, and I also think it’s a compelling commentary on how incredibly difficult it is to get the richest people in the world to become philanthropic:


Of all the direct mail we create at Young Isaac, our own holiday cards are my favorite.

Once again, our holiday checks are in the mail to hundreds of our
favorite clients and friends. Each check is signed and ready to cash for $8. But there’s work to be done by
the recipient. Each of our friends has to forward the check to a
favorite charity. (And some of our friends add their own checks because
$8 isn’t much.)

We get three questions every year. Here are the questions and the answers:

Why do you do this? Back in the 1990s, we
received a lot of holiday cards that said, "Happy holidays. We donated
to a charity in your name." We wondered, tactlessly: "Oh, yeah? Exactly
how much did you donate in our name? Did you spend more
telling me than you did donating?" (We’re not proud to have thought
this way, but that was the thought.) So we decided to send money rather
than self-congratulatory cards about some mysterious gift we made.
Problem was, we couldn’t afford more than $8 (it was $5 the first year)
per person. True, $8 isn’t much, but we send a bushel of these, so it
puts a dent in our net revenue.

How many get cashed?
In all our years, our record is 53% cashed. That seems sad, because so
much money doesn’t reach a charity. On the other hand, most direct mail
doesn’t enjoy even 2% conversion. On the third hand, since we forecast
that half gets trashed, we send out twice as many as we would if 100%
were cashed. This year, we’ve tried a few new things to increase the
yield. We’re testing an additional envelope to help get the check
forwarded, and we added a list of charities with their addresses on our

What’s been the best story? The first
year, a young woman called to say thank you: "It was interesting. I
first thought, ‘I like the zoo, so I’ll send it to the zoo.’ Then, I
sat back and thought about being a single mother. And I decided to send
it to Planned Parenthood and I added a check for $100. You know, this
was the first time that I had ever made such a conscious charitable
decision." It thrilled us to think that our check made this person a

Happy new year!

Always a new way to interrupt

Blake sends us this story:

I signed up for the 14 day trial of rhapsody.com … As I’m enjoying Roxanne by Sting I hear Feliz Navidad playing over the track.  I instantly assume that something is wrong with the stream and try to replay the song.  It happens again.  I then go back to the song list page trying to figure out what the heck is doing that.  Then I realize it.  It’s the Cingular Banner at the top of the page!!!   How horrible.  I was enjoying rhapsody.com.  Now I’m done.

I don’t think the game is to find new ways to interrupt people in annoying ways, is it?

Brand as mythology

Just under the wire, L. Frank Baum’s heirs have no copyright protection on The Wizard of Oz. As a result, there are Broadway musicals, concordances, prequels, sequels and more. All of which creates a rich, emotional universe (and makes the copyrighted movie even more valuable).

Most of us remember the mythology stories they taught us in school (Zeus and Thor and the rest of the comic-like heroes.) Myths allow us to project ourselves into their stories, to imagine interactions that never took place, to take what’s important to us and live it out through the myth.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of entertainment mythological brands. James Bond and Barbie, for example.

But it goes far behond that.

There’s clearly a Google mythology and a Starbucks one was well. We feel differently about brands like these than we do about, say Maxwell House or Random House.

Why do Santa and Ronald McDonald have a mythology but not Dave at Wendy’s or the Burger King?

Let’s try the Wikipedia: Myths are narratives about divine or heroic beings, arranged in a coherent system, passed down traditionally, and linked to the spiritual or religious life of a community, endorsed by rulers or priests.

So, if I were trying to invent a mythic brand, I’d want to be sure that there was a story, not just a product or a pile of facts. That story would promise (and deliver) an heroic outcome. And there needs to be growth and mystery as well, so the user can fill in her own blanks. Endorsement by a respected ruler or priest helps as well.

The key word, I think, is spiritual. Mythological brands make a spiritual connection with the user, delivering something that we can’t find on our own… or, at the very least, giving us a slate we can use to write our own spirituality on.

People use a Dell. They are an Apple.

This can happen accidentally, but it often occurs on purpose. A brand can be deliberately mythological, created to intentionally deliver the benefits of myth. Casinos in Las Vegas have been trying to do this for decades (and usually failing). But talk to a Vegas cab driver about Steve Wynn and you can see that it’s been done at least once.

There’s a mythology about Digg and about Wikipedia, but not about about.com. The mysterious nature of rankings and scores and community ensures that, combined with the fact that the first two have public figures at the helm… heroes.

It’s easy to confuse publicity with mythology, but it doesn’t work that way… there’s no Zune mythology, for example. It’s also easy to assume that mythology will guarantee financial success, but it didn’t work for General Magic, a company which successfully leveraged the heroic reputations of its founders, created a very hot IPO but failed to match the needs of the larger market.

It did, on the other hand, work for Andersen’s, an ice cream stand in Buffalo (!?) that has a line every single day, even in January.

Hard to explain, difficult to bottle, probably worth the effort to pursue.

Me me me

Alex Pooley reminds us that people really enjoy seeing their name (and hearing it as well).

Your name is the simplest, shortest way to be involved. Spammers have figured this out, but it still hasn’t diminished the pleasure people get in hearing their name. I even smile when I get email from someone else named Seth

Infinitely customizable short run printing makes it possible to create color images like this one. No doubt that this tactic, like all others before it, will be abused and eventually lose its luster. Until then, people love seeing their name in lights, especially if the message that goes with it is authentic.

PS check out this one from Dan.

Badmouthing the competition

A great post from the always great tompeters!

I’d be a lousy pilot

Sitting behind the pilot on a tiny plane today, I was reminded how important, difficult and tedious this job is.

Pilots have to get it right every time. They have to follow a myriad of procedures. They must be calm and focused and consistent, and yes, boring. No one wants to notice the pilot.

Good pilots probably do very well in job interviews–and not just for pilot jobs. They have many of the traits that hiring managers look for. They follow instructions with an eye on detail. They don’t fail (if they did, they probably wouldn’t be at the interview). They show up on time.

I’m grateful there are pilots. I’m also glad I’m not one.

Here’s the thing: I think (outside of the airline business, of course) that our need for pilots is diminishing, and rapidly. I think the value add of a person who carefully follows instructions and procedures keeps going down. I think the fact that pilots would do well in a job interview at your organization means your organization probably should change the way interviews get done.

We don’t need pilots. We need instigators and navigators, rabble rousers and innovators. People who can’t follow a checklist to save their life, but invent the future every day.

Free one-pager for non profits (org2.0)

Courtesy of Npower New York and Squidoo. Download pdf 
Feel free to share.

The Tipping Point

Sanj sends us this quote:

Last weekend our family had a get together for my aunt and uncle’s 40th anniversary. Anyway, I brought my 360 with to play some games with my nephews. Turns out both of my nephews that showed up already had 360s, and one of them even brought theirs with, too. So we went downstairs to hook them up, when my uncle said "don’t bother, I already got my 360 hooked up to the big screen". I was floored. My uncle is 62 years old! Just then my other uncle (the 62 year olds brother) said "What? I didn’t know you had a 360! We could have been playing Gears of War coop!" Now I couldn’t believe my ears. Just then our family priest showed up at the door, he normally stops by for big events like this. Well, under his arm he had a 360. He had just bought it and didn’t want to leave it out in the cold. All of us who were just talking about 360 were shocked and we all just started laughing, including our priest.

While we were laughing we heard a big sound, like boxes falling over. My aunt had opened a closet where no fewer than two dozen Xbox 360s tumbled out all over the floor. She looked embarrased, then explained she had bought them for all the memebers of her bridge club. They were tired of playing bridge and heard about how you could play Uno online with 360. She was worried my uncle would be mad for spending so much money. Luckily he wasn’t mad at all, he said ‘No way, I love Xbox 360!’. Then we all laughed for a good half hour.

Yeah, I’d say 360 is really picking up some steam.

The 360 buying spree has begun… – Page 3 – Xbox 360 & Xbox Forums.

[PS, added a few hours later for my irony-disabled readers: the above is an over-the-top bit of hyperbole, a fake, a scam, a joke, a riff on florid marketing prose.]

Whale Season

The web hates channel conflict.

Actually, it’s consumers who hate it.

Channel conflict is what happens when a producer doesn’t want to favor one retailer over another, or gets stuck because the terms at the effective retail channel conflict with the terms at the channel they would like to have succeed.

Too confusing. Let me try again.

I visited a blog this morning. There was a clever ad for a new paperback book called Whale Season. I clicked, intending to buy, partly to support the blog, partly because I needed a trashy book for vacation.

Oh. It’s the Random House site. See, Random House, the publisher, doesn’t want to send me to Amazon, because then all the other bookstores would be angry with them. So they offer to sell me the book at full retail, and I have to pay for shipping and I have to enter all my data. Nope. Bye.

See, it’s the "nope, bye" part that producers have to worry about. I have a million ways to spend my time and my money, and Random House’s channel conflict problems are irrelevant to me. So I leave. The ad is wasted. The author is bitter.

If you are getting in the way of the path between your customers and your products, your customers are just going to go away. Clear the path, don’t clutter it.

You can’t say you can’t play

Lenny Levine died yesterday at 67.

He was the greatest kindergarten teacher ever.

Lenny taught kids two things:

He taught them how to learn. He understood that kindergarten wasn’t third grade for little kids. It was an important step in beginning the process of becoming someone who could learn without stress, forever.

And he taught them this motto, "You can’t say you can’t play." It was a mantra about inclusion and openness and it let kids understand that what you thought about someone yesterday didn’t really matter if they had something to contribute today.

I’ll miss Lenny. But the world (all of us) will benefit from what he taught for a long time to come.