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Toxic employees

Toxic employees are the ones that have difficulty with their co-workers, or worse, far worse, with your customers.

They make two big confusions:
1. They confuse "How can I help this prospect/customer?" with "How can I get rid of this person and get back to work?"

2. They confuse, "How can I have a better day by treating this person with a great deal of respect?" with "Why isn’t this person treating me with the respect I deserve?"

Toxic employees are usually afraid, poorly managed and underappreciated. They can rarely be bullied into changing their behavior, often because they themselves are bullies. Managers can hire the non-toxic, re-assign the toxic and be really clear with themselves that they’re willing to pay almost any price to keep toxic employees away from everyone else. And if toxic employees appears to be a pattern, my bet is that it’s your fault, not the employees.

The marine iguana

Marine iguanas swim. They eat stuff in shallow water, which is surprising behavior for an iguana.

How is it possible for there to be marine iguanas?

Ordinary iguanas washed onshore of some of the Galapagos Islands a few millenia ago and quickly
discovered that eating the way they were used to wasn’t going to work, because there wasn’t anything to eat. Most of them starved to death. A few, though, were lucky enough that they could tolerate foraging around on the edge of the ocean. Over generations, iguanas with this trait thrived, while those that were born without it died out. A new species evolved.

The interesting lesson for marketers is this: if iguanas had had predators and competition while this was going on, they never would have survived. The barren nature of their marketplace gave them the time they needed to evolve (or as marketers with egos would say, "figure out") a strategy that worked.

Too often, marketers are drawn to the hot market. The problem with the hot market is that if you don’t get it right quickly, you get crushed. Really big ideas tend to get perfected in the Siberian outposts, the little niches that get ignored (until they get really big). It takes a lot of confidence to walk into a hyper-competitive market with something new. Quieter markets may just give you the cover you need to work out what it’s going to take to make those marketers grow.

Benefit of the doubt

You’ve probably seen it. The customer who’s just waiting for you to screw up. The tour passenger who is itching for one thing to go wrong, the legal client who has a whole list of complaints just waiting for the first bill that comes in higher than it should, the boss who hovers, glee in his eye as you work to make a deadline.

In fact, if you’re human, it’s probably been you once or twice.

As a marketer, one of the most beneficial things you can do is get people to give you the benefit of the doubt before you start delivering a service or a product. Here are five brainstorms to get you started:

  • Be the underdog. Nextel or AT&T? Nextel often got the benefit of the doubt.
  • Underpromise.
  • Build up expectations of difficulty. Magicians are really good at this. If people think what you’re doing is really difficult, they root for you.
  • Underhype. If others are building you up day after day, it’s easy to root against you. The Germans have a word for everything and they have a word for this: schadenfreude.
  • Call them on it. If you think people are being perfectionists and not giving you a chance, ask for one. It’s easier to ask for a chance to excel than it is to ask forgiveness if you fail.

My favorite way to get a chance is to give one. Organizations that are a little more flexible with their customers (and grateful to them) often get a lot more flexibility in return.

Bobcasting (and Google Reader)

I’ve been a fan of RSS for a long time, and I’ve been just waiting for it to reach its potential. Most of the readers of this blog read it via RSS, (if you don’t, click here–more confusing than it needs to be, isn’t it?)

Here’s what’s I think has been holding back RSS: the name (initials!) and the lack of a standard way to read a feed and to add a feed. We need one button, not twenty or thirty. I think both problems have been solved by RSS inside of Google Reader. (Click the link for a lens on an any easy way to get started). As the acceptance of Google Reader approaches ubiquity, marketers and managers now have the chance to take this technology to a totally new place.

Dave Winer, the pioneer of RSS, had a brilliancy about seven years ago that led to podcasting. Podcasting is just an RSS feed of music, with an easy interface (iTunes). Podcasting took off because it had the good parts of RSS without the hassles. But that’s music, not text.

I want to suggest something that takes no new technology but could have a big impact on the way you do business: Bobcasting.

I call it that because instead of reaching the masses, it’s just about reaching Bob. Or Tiasha. Or any individual or small group.

The future of online communication is micro-pockets of people getting RSS feeds in their Google Reader or on their Google home page. Amazon updates? Bobcast em to me. Fogbugz summaries for the customer service manager? Bobcast her three times a day.

Yes, Twitter is just an example of Bobcasting, but with a different interface. You only twit the people who want to hear from you, and you do it without spam filters or other noise.

What happens to your team when you have an RSS feed that can put a message or update in front of them without noise? And because the Reader separates the inputs by source, I can queue up my messages from you and read them in sequence. Compare that to the noisy disaster we call an inbox.

Facebook feels seductive, until you realize that the messages from those hundreds of friends are all sort of BlendTecked together. Yes, the spam is missing, but so is control.

With Bobcasting, I can have a feed for my Fedex packages, a feed updating me on the status of my frequent flyer miles at American, a feed from the project manager on the construction of my treehouse… anything that is primarily a one way piece of communication, anything where status updates instead of dialog are the goal.

If we are really living in a one to one future, then Bob (and our interactions with him) represent the asset we need to obsess over. Using RSS and Google Reader (and yes, there will be other, better readers to come) to do Bobcasting feels like a smart asset to build.

The promiscuity paradox

Marketers of all stripes are discovering that acquiring a reputation and permission to market to people isn’t as expandable as they might hope.

A PR firm, for example, might have some terrific clients. These clients give them credibility to talk to the media. Over time, the firm gains a reputation with bloggers and other media outlets. Emails get answered, press releases get read. The clients get ink, new clients show up.

The temptation is to grow the business. To take on new clients. To do the PR magic for an ever larger group of people.

Here’s the problem: the people who most want to be your clients are the people you should least want to represent. As you promote the unpromotable, the permission you have to talk to the media doesn’t go up, it goes down. Better to be the agency that only represents bestselling authors than to be the biggest agency.

In the long run, the pickier you are, the better you do. Same thing goes for online merchants, brokers, church groups and just about anyone else who markets with permission.

Last chance for September 6 seminar

The seminar on 9/6 in New York City is 85% sold out. Details are here. Thanks.

Community Organizer Jobs

As promised, I’ve posted almost a dozen Community Organizer Jobs. If you missed the deadline and want to add one, feel free. There’s even a job at Squidoo available.


A study out today shows that obesity is contagious. If your best friend gets fat, your chances of gaining weight more than double.

Malcolm Gladwell fans will recall his reporting that suicide among teenagers can be contagious as well.

So is terrorism, of course. And spamming. And graffiti. [And becoming a millionaire, getting your company funded, not dropping out of high school and learning how to shop for bargains, too.]

The most important thing you can do is choose who you’re hanging out with. The second high-leverage thing is to put dynamics in place that reinforce the ideas you’d like to see spread. Celebrate the heroes. Make it easy for those ideas to spread…

Role models

Fifteen years ago, I used to frequent a movie theater in Yonkers, NY. It puzzled me that all the teenage girls hanging out front seemed to look alike. Similar hair, similar clothes. Who, I wondered, was their role model? If they were all going to look the same, they needed some central figure to look to for inspiration. I finally figured it out–Barbie. They were dressing like Barbie dolls.

Those same girls now dress like Paris. For now. Then it will be someone else.

You may have noticed that websites do the same thing. Here’s an optimization ‘expert’. I have no idea if the data is any good, no idea if the results are as promised–I haven’t used them. But I can tell in a heartbeat what the role model for the site designer was. The look and feel of the page don’t just influence the way I think about the offer, they completely change the way I think about it. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means that it’s not for me. This sort of graphic approach, like the layout of the spam I get all too often, is the Barbie of the Internet. For now.

Next time you put on a suit or choose a conference room or design a page, realize that you’re modeling your behavior after someone. Who? Why?

Permission, Junk and Spam

Since I wrote Permission Marketing in 1999, marketing has changed more than any of us could imagine. One of the biggest changes is the ubiquity of search.

The idea that people would seek out marketing, ads and content the same way they sought out books is radical. The bookstore is filled with hundreds of thousands of titles, most of which I have no interest in. That’s okay, though, because books mind their own business, just waiting for someone to find them. Finding what I want isn’t particularly difficult, and if you want to write a junky book, it’s fine with me, as long as you’re willing to be responsible for what you say.

That same dynamic now drives everything from radio shows to web sites to scuba tanks. Go ahead and make what you want, as long as you stand behind it and don’t bother me. If you want to sell magnetic bracelets or put risque pictures on your website, it’s your responsibility, your choice. Want to find a website featuring donkeys, naked jugglers and various illicit acts? It’s junk, sure, but it’s out there. You just have to go find it. Junk turns into spam when you show up at my doorstep, when your noise intercepts my quiet.

The result of Google and the prevalence of search means that people are far more forgiving of things that need to be sought out, and less patient than ever with selfish marketers that insist on showing up in your face.