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One, a few, most or all

There are four kinds of marketing situations, and the approach to each is radically different. Yet most of the time, we lump them together as just plain ‘marketing’.

If you are trying to sell a house or fill a job, you only need to persuade one person.

If you want to make your book sell a bunch of copies, your restaurant to be filled on Saturday night or your coaching practice to have a full schedule, you need to sell a few people.

On the other hand, viral bestsellers, killer websites and essential conferences hit their stride when most people in a marketplace have been converted. You can’t get elected President (most years, anyway) without persuading most of the people who vote.

Lastly, when the market is defined right, there are situation in which you need to persuade all of the people involved. If you need 51 Senators to agree with you on a bill, or if you need the purchasing committee at a big company to buy your software, then you need a unanimous decision.

This four-way distinction is important for two reasons. First, because you often have a choice. You can choose which approach your venture will take on its way to accomplishing its goals. Gandhi didn’t need most of the people to change India, he instead relied on a smaller few, but with more passion than most politicians are able to generate.

You could, for example, plan a business that works once almost everyone adopts it (like eBay) or you could alter the business so it works just fine if a much smaller universe of people embrace it (like threadless). Worth noting that neither business would work if just a few people showed up. 37Signals has done a great job of designing web products that only need to be sold to a few people, and then those people do the hard work of getting everyone in their organization to use them.

Here’s a quick list of how the four differ:

ONE: You’re a needle, the market is a haystack. Make your needle as sharp as you can, put it in as many haystacks as you can afford. Alternatively, you’ve already decided on your one (the date for the prom or the perfect job). In that case, throw the haystack out and engage in a custom, one-on-one patient effort to tell your story to the person who needs to hear it.

A FEW: Being exceptional matters most. Stand out, don’t fit in. Shun the non-believers.

MOST: Amplify the excitement of the few and make it easy for them to spread the story to the caring majority.

ALL: Compromise. You need to be many things to many people, embraced by the passionate but not offensive to the masses. Sooner or later, the issue for the reluctant part of the buyer community is that it becomes more expensive/risky to stand in the way of the group than it is to go along.

Blogs, for now, are almost always about the few. Google and Starbucks and the iPod are exciting stories because they’ve moved from the few to the most. The most important industry trade shows make huge profits because they’ve transitioned to the all.

Choose wisely, and realize that as you succeed, the game will change.

The Dip

Eleven minute podcast for eBay sellers

About the dip and the haystack and getting found. Ina did it.

The Dip

Q&A: Brandweek

A short interview about the Dip and brands: Q&A: Seth Godin Says ‘Know When To Bail’.

The Dip

A personal take on the Dip

Pundits are (nearly) always wrong

Here’s why:

Because we measure the wrong thing.

Talk show bookers, business plan competitions, acquiring book editors, movie critics, tech entrepreneurs who run trade shows that try to predict the future, tech bloggers, marketing bloggers… when we’re trying to predict whether a new technology or web site or book or song is going to hit, we’re almost always wrong.

Take a look at some of the picks for past web2 shows, or see who got hyped on various morning TV programs or see which authors were turned down by five or ten or fifteen publishing houses… "surprise hits" they call them.

[Uncharacteristically, I’m leaving out the names of the clueless and the misinformed (other than me). I’m not sure why, I guess I just don’t want to have a fight with people, who, unlike me, are unwilling to admit they’re wrong all the time.]

The astonishing thing isn’t that we’re wrong so often (see below) but that given the amplifying power of our platforms, we’re unable to yell loud enough to make our predictions self-fulfilling prophecies. In English: You’d think that being featured by a big publisher or at a big conference would be enough in and of itself to make something undeserving a hit. Alas, only Oprah can do that.

So, why are we wrong? Why does your boss/in-law/friend/VC/editor/pundit always get it wrong?

Because they measure ‘presentation.’ Not just the PPT presentation, but the way an idea feels. How does it present. Is it catchy? Clever? Familiar? We measure whether or not it agrees with our worldview and our sense of the way the world is.

The problem is that hits change worldviews. Hits change our senses. Hits appeal to people other than the gatekeepers and then the word spreads.

How? Through persistence and hard work and constant revision. By getting through the Dip.

If I have a skill in developing stuff, it’s in ignoring these people. Purple Cow was turned down by my old publisher and a few others. Squidoo was dissed by some of the best in the business (the site is about to hit 8 mm monthly page views). The Dip was a hard sell to my agent and my publisher.

No one ‘pre-predicted’ the astonishing success of Flickr or Google or Twitter or Bill Clinton’s first run for President. Sure, it was easy to connect the dots after the fact, but that doesn’t count.

Of course, there are plenty of failures to go around (I know that I’ve got more than plenty). Just because everyone hates it doesn’t mean it’s good. Execution is everything. Execution and persistence and the ability to respond to the market far outweigh a pundit’s gut instinct. But, the thing to remember is this: if everyone loves it, it is almost certain to have troubles.

In fact, my rule of thumb is this: if the right people like it, I’m not trying hard enough.

The Dip

But are you really serious about it?

I did a gig in New York today about the Dip and it went really well. Afterward, someone asked me a question about his new business.

I asked back, "if you accomplish that, will you be seen by your audience as the best in the world, or will you be seen as doing your best?"

He didn’t have to answer. He got it.

If you’re doing your best, only your AYSO soccer coach cares. If you’re the best in the world, the market cares. The secret, if you have limited resources (don’t we all) is to make ‘world’ small enough that you can actually accomplish that.


Maybe the reason it seems that price is all your customers care about is…

… that you haven’t given them anything else to care about.

And your lucky number


Someone has created a business dynasty around machines that give you your weight (well, sort of, within a few pounds) and your lucky number. Questions:  Which Turnpike visitors use these machines? Which doctors recommend them? Is the number really lucky? 

The Dip

My favorite line from my favorite reviewer

Here’s what Richard Pachter wrote about the Dip today:

The one possible weakness of this otherwise terrific little volume is that it is aimed solely at people who are creative, intelligent and want to succeed. Those who are mediocre, unmotivated or just coasting through life will probably not get much from Godin. He is not an elitist, but his message is squarely aimed at those who want to succeed or at least achieve excellence.

Who should you hire?

Most fast-growing organizations are looking for people who can get stuff done.

There is a fundamental shift in rules from manual-based work (where you follow instructions and an increase in productivity means doing the steps faster) to project-based work (where the instructions are unknown, and visualizing outcomes and then getting things done is what counts.)

And yet, we’re still trying to hire people who have shown an ability to follow instructions.

I’m almost done with my (sold out) book tour,  and the biggest pleasure of the project was working with people who totally understand what it is to get things done.

Derek in Ann Arbor, Rajesh, Edith and Deepika in Silicon Valley, Matt in Tempe and Phil in Salt Lake each led huge teams of people (with no infrastructure.) They invented, described, networked, wheedled and most of all, organized. They didn’t do it because it was their job, and they didn’t have organizational authority. They just did it.

That’s who I would hire.