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A flurry of unsolicited questions came in on Friday, including two "please review my blog" letters, and a "please review my book" package. (For the record, I’m totally useless at reviewing your blog, sorry.)
One person was very honest and asked, "Is my blog boring?"
If you need to ask, you probably know the answer.
The mistake most blogs and books make: they are about the writer, not the reader.
Years ago, a friend (a former judge) wrote a thriller. It was based on a true story that actually happened to him. It was terrible. Why? The fact that it had actually happened was interesting to him, but the typical reader didn’t care at all. That’s because the typical reader didn’t know him.
The things that fascinate you about your life are almost always banal to strangers. Strangers want to read about their lives, not yours. And guess what? The same thing is true about prospects and customers and just about anything you can imagine marketing.
Today, in Brooklyn, I passed a woman wearing a large red t-shirt. It said, in full, "Celebrate Life with Ketchup." [Mystery solved! it’s a reference to Prairie Home Companion. Thanks, guys].
And last week, in the middle of a crosswalk (18th and 8th Ave., I think) I passed this item, embedded in the asphalt in the middle of the street. [Piet points us to the answer].
I’m as mystified as you.
The last marketing mystery is a bonus more than a mystery. The iconic Pinkberry yogurt chain is racing across America as fast as it can, open places hither and yon. The front of the store features a variety of almost illegible bits of marketing froth, accompanied by exactly one image that is clear. So clear, you can read it across the street. Of course I ignored it, but the question is, why? Is it a deliberate attempt to attract interest by forbidding people to share what they see? Or is it some security-theatre minded person run amok?
I stopped by a garage sale today. The guy had thousands of CDs, most of them in their wrappers. $3 each. I was excited.
Two boxes in, I felt like I was in a different universe. Every single artist was someone I had never heard of. After 25 years of buying CDs (a lot of CDs) I had come face to face with a huge Dip. It’s almost impossible to buy music with no frame of reference. There were no hits, no recommendations, no "if you like x, you’ll like y". I realized that the time it would take to decide if I liked an album was probably worth more than the $3 it would cost to buy one–in other words, not even worth it for ‘free.’
Musicians, bloggers, writers–if you’re toiling in the long tail, getting stuck at zero is now a real possibility. Being just like the other guys but trying harder is less of an effective strategy than ever before.
By now, the Harry Potter hype machine has told you all about the pre-shipped copies, the scanned book and the spoilers. No doubt it’ll sell a few copies, and no doubt the reported $20 million on security (not to mention fedex expense) was both useful and ineffective.
The interesting thing for me is how the Net changes what it means for something to be a secret. Five hundred year old technology (books) is just too slow for the Net. The act of printing, storing and shipping millions of books takes too long for a secret to ever be in a book again.
My solution? A hybrid. Publish the first edition of the book without the last three chapters. Take your time, save the $20 million. Every purchaser then gets access (hey, everyone gets access) to the last three chapters on launch day.
Books are souvenirs. No one is going to read Potter online, even if it’s free. Holding and owning the book, remembering when and how you got it… that’s what you’re paying for. Books are great at holding memories. They’re lousy at keeping secrets.
If you want to hire a union organizer, you probably know what to look for. Someone with resilience, passion, persistence and excellent interpersonal skills.
What if you want to hire someone to build an online community? Somebody to create and maintain a virtual world in which all the players in an industry feel like they need to be part of it? Like being the head of a big trade association, but without the bureaucracy and tedium…
It would help if that person understood technology, at least well enough to know what it could do. They would need to be able to write. But they also have to be able to seduce stragglers into joining the group in the first place, so they have to be able to understand a marketplace, do outbound selling and non-electronic communications. They have to be able to balance huge amounts of inbound correspondence without making people feel left out, and they have to be able to walk the fine line between rejecting trolls and alienating the good guys.
Since there’s no rule book, it would help to be willing to try new things, to be self-starting and obsessed with measurement as well.
If you were great at this, I’d imagine you’d never ever have trouble finding good work.
Well, most of us anyway.
This terrific article about a study of eBay buyers and sellers proves it. In some categories, more than 40% of the auctions went for more than the Buy it Now price. Hmmmm. Two tips from the end:
- Set low opening prices. When choosing between identical items, buyers
seem to favor whichever auction has the most bids. The best way to grab
early bids: Start with a cheap price. By the time a $1 DVD auction
reaches $10, it will probably attract more newcomers than a DVD that
started at $10.
- Don’t use secret reserves. A study of online auctions with and without
hidden minimum prices showed that many buyers steer clear of items with
a secret opening price. It’s like that old shopping joke, "If you have
to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it."
If you’ve ever written a direct mail letter, you’ve probably agonized. "One more sentence," you wonder, "this might just be the one." After all, direct mail has a job to do… you send the letter and you get the sale (or you don’t.) Making it longer and more powerful and more complete are all essential tasks.
Brochures are a bit different. Brochures rarely lead to a sale. They lead to a sales call. So a brochure has to be engaging and hopefully viral. But its only job is to keep you in the running, not end in a transaction.
Email (sent with permission) has a different function. Its job is to get a response. To move a conversation forward, to help you learn a little bit about the person you’re engaging with.
If your emails read like direct mail letters or look like brochures, you’re wasting time and effort.
If you send out an email newsletter, you may have experienced the hassle of being blacklisted from an ISP or web service. The asymmetrical nature of spam makes this particularly painful–professional spammers don’t mind being blacklisted, because they regularly switch identities. It’s the good guys (and the amateur spammers) who get hassled.
Here’s a lens that can help good guys navigate their way through the issue.
Everybody knows that the big winner during the 1849 gold rush was a guy named Strauss, who made jeans (he changed his first name along the way). He figured that he might not find gold, but everybody needed pants. Win or lose, he won.
If you want to really understand what’s going on with copyright and digital rights and all the fights about YouTube and radio, etc., it helps to think about Levi. It’s not personal. It’s just about billable hours.
Fred points out that the music industry is working to cripple internet radio without thinking the strategy through. Many others have reported getting notes from various lawyers that seem more like fishing expeditions than serious efforts to patrol copyrights. I even got a letter from Abbot and Costello’s lawyer.
Watch the money.
In most of these cases, the lawyers get paid by the hour. A copyright holder pays a retainer and the associates just churn and churn and churn. They’ve got a form letter and a whois lookup and they send out another letter. That’s their job. Not to win, but to keep the cycle moving. It’s a bit like selling jeans.
Nine times out of ten, regardless of the industry, strategy is a byproduct of a series of tactics.