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Lying to your customers

I found myself at Home Depot on Friday. I needed several pieces of wood, cut to size.

When I noticed this sign on the big saw, I took a picture, intending to write about how important it was to have key customer service features up and running. Then, a few minutes later, a guy in an orange smock walked over, took the sign down and asked what he could cut for us.

It turns out (at this Home Depot, anyway), that whenever they don’t feel like using the saw, they pretend it’s broken. (Yes, technically, they didn’t say ‘broken,’ they said ‘not working,’ which is sort of true. Except it was the saw operator who wasn’t working.)

Sort of like the gas station that won’t let you watch them in the garage because of "insurance regulations". It might be a great shortcut, but it can’t possibly help in the long run.

PS notice the tag line on the sign. "No one beats our prices, guaranteed…" When was the last time you heard someone complain about the prices at Home Depot? Would you pay 50 cents extra to save half an hour at the checkout? Or a dollar extra to have a trained person help you find something? You can be too thin and you can be too cheap.

The Netflix of…

I heard from a few readers about BookSwim which goes as far as using the term "Netflix-style" in the headline of their site to describe what they do. It joins sites that are the Netflix of watches and the Netflix of handbags. Apparently, inventing the wheel is hard, opening a wheel store is easy.

The thing about magical business models is that they are usually unique. A perfect storm, if you want a cliche. DVDs have the following attributes:

  • We’re already used to renting them
  • The renting process is fairly inefficient, sometimes horrible
  • We watch DVDs in a group and talk about them
  • They don’t weigh much
  • It only takes 2 hours to watch one
  • Many people have an insatiable desire (hundreds a year) for them
  • The sellers are an oligopoly and willing to dramatically discount wholesale pricing in exchange for volume
  • Investments in process can dramatically lower costs and prevent competition

So, while a few passionate people may wish for handbags or jewelry or books or watches to be available this way, none of them are even close to matching the dynamic of Netflix.

That doesn’t mean the entrepreneurs shouldn’t try. They should. A new business model offers way more room for a new company than an existing one. What it does mean is that they should accept the limited upside of their riff on the model and set their expectations and scale so that they thrive when they’re tiny, as opposed to waiting for a miracle to happen.

Follow through

Why do you need to follow through so much on a tennis or golf swing? After all, the ball is long gone.

Why do you have to honor a money back guarantee with a former customer who is never going to buy from you again (and it’s six years later)?

Why do you have to reinvest and retrain an existing employee who needs some guidance when it would just be quicker and easier to hire someone new?

I think the reason is the same in all three cases. It’s not because the thing you do at the end of your swing matters. It’s because it’s a slippery slope.

If you know that the last two inches of your follow through don’t matter, then you’ll start slowing down at three inches, or even four, and suddenly it does matter. If you draw the line on money back guarantees you’ll keep sliding backwards, bit by bit, until it does matter. If you’re quick to fire the employee who needs a lot of help, you’ll be quicker with those that need just a little, and then, pretty soon, it’s a very different place to work, isn’t it?

Obsessing about the last inch of follow through ensures that the important parts of what you do get just as much (if not more) commitment.


Eugene Kates died yesterday. I knew him for more than thirty years, and he was a giant.

Eugene helped invent the idea of summer camp in North America. He stood up to the government, to rangers, to staff and even to his customers, the parents. He had a clear view of the way he wanted the world to be, and he stuck with it, regardless of what the world thought.

In an age of ‘the customer is king’, Eugene was an anachronism. He never said things to make people happy, didn’t sugar coat his point of view and he didn’t compromise.
He once made my parents sit on a mosquito-infested dock for an hour because they had the temerity to come visit without buying lunch at his hotel. And he fired employees (any employee) who put their own needs before safety or the environment. There was one way, and it was his way.

In an age where few people stand for anything, Eugene stood for something. He wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought, and it didn’t take long to guess what he expected.

I often encourage you to be like this person or be like that person. I’m not sure anyone could be like Eugene, or even want to be. It’s a hard road to be that authentic, that driven, that certain. For fifty years, he made things happen. He didn’t sell every slot, didn’t make every possible fan, but he made things happen.

For a lot of people, it was easy not to like him. For everyone, it was impossible not to respect him.

I miss him already.

Google book search

Flexing their traffic muscle, Google today started including book search results at the top of search (at least on my computer.) Here’s three samples: 1, 2, 3.

Two things to notice:

1. if you were an author or publisher and it was easy to ignore them before, it isn’t now. Google is going to do stuff like this often… being the front door to the web has its privileges. If you’re an author or publisher, time to play ball.

2. the search results are terrible. They don’t seem to be in any order whatsoever. Not sales, not links, not relevance or date of publication. Sort of like someone threw all the books on the ground and mixed em up. I expect that this will improve, but I’m not sure when.

Loss vs. Gain

I was hunting around at nameboy yesterday and found an amazing domain that was perfect for a new project we’re working on. I grabbed it. When I got to the checkout, nameboy apologized and told me that in fact, the domain was already taken. (This is because nameboy does its magic on a cached database of available names… they’d never be able to make it work in real time).


My name was gone. MY name. It was mine! And now it wasn’t.

I immediately tracked down the dastardly organization that had stolen my name and offered them $600 for it. (I would never have paid $100 for this name before it was ‘mine.’) They turned me down. Not because they were doing anything with it (they weren’t, at least not yet) but because they had, in a few short days, grown accustomed to owning it, to dreaming about it, and my guess is that they wouldn’t have let it go for thousands of dollars, even though they, like me, would not have paid $100 for it at first.

People will go to great lengths to keep what they think they already have. Just watch how slow people are to volunteer to be bumped from an airplane… Same thing happened when Google recently cancelled videos that people had purchased.

Marketers spend too much time trying to get people to leap over the hurdle of "buy this, right now" and not enough on "it’s yours, here’s how you keep it."

Pecha Kucha

My ebook Really Bad Powerpoint has generated plenty of mail and comment in the years since I wrote it. I just wish everyone would read it. Now, though, Rick points us to Pecha Kucha Night. [and Dan Pink wrote about it this month in Wired.]

I love this idea to pieces. I also love the translation on the site (Japanese for "the sound of conversation.")

If you are really and truly having a meeting to discuss something, then the Pecha Kucha approach is brilliant. 20 slides, 20 seconds each. Then the PPT gets turned off.

Tell me a problem that can’t be outlined in six minutes and I’ll show you a problem it’s probably not worth having a meeting about.

Business card mistakes

Business cards are almost quaint. After all, I can get your info into my computer a lot quicker if you’ll just email it to me.

Precisely because they are an anachronism, they serve a vitally important function. In an era where no one dresses up anymore, they give you a chance to position yourself, to represent who you are and what you do in a three cent piece of paper. And yet… almost all business cards are terrible. They are the leisure suits of the marketing the world, the place where bad design not just lives, but thrives. (Wanna guess which one of these ten cards I don’t hate?)

I think the point of your card should not be to demonstrate that you are creative. The point should be to demonstrate that you have good taste.

Here’s my checklist of common mistakes (and a few suggestions). It’s $30 well spent, I think.

  • Don’t print your own cards. Just because Avery and others make those little perforated sheets of paper doesn’t mean you should use them.
  • Don’t use big type for the address and contact info. The #1 way we can tell if a business card is cheesy is with a glance at the type size. Really.
  • Don’t buy those color business cards with your face on them. You’re not an ordinary real estate agent, so there’s no sense in acting like one.
  • Don’t go with metal business cards. It might work for Steve Wozniak, but everyone else wants to bring your cards on an airplane.
  • You might think it’s a great idea to do a full color card with a big (lousy) picture on it. It’s not.
  • I like rounded edges. But only if you leave plenty of margin. (as below)
  • Margins matter. Anytime your type gets anywhere near the margin, you’ve blown it.

My favorite sources are Moo (for non-traditional but totally remarkable cards) and overnightprints.com for classy cards with rounded edges. (The only card of the eight above that I like is the bottom left).

The Argument

The web is about tactics, at least most of the time. Most of the meetings and most of the effort goes into honing our tactics.

One of my concerns about the misuse of SEO by marketers is that it’s largely about tactics. It’s easy to get hooked on constant cycling of this approach or that tactic, all to incrementalize your improvements.

Big successes, on the other hand, come from arguments. Arguments about what you stand for. Arguments about big strategic shifts. Google wasn’t a tactic, it was a game-changing strategy. eBay’s tactics are often poor or slow, but their strategy has been consistently brilliant.

And brilliant strategies lead to arguments. Go have one.

(Inspired by: The Argument).

Cheap media, cheap ads

Listening to AM radio at 7 am on a Sunday is a real chore.

Even in a city like NY, the ads are virtually free. Mysteriously, when the ads are cheap (think banners, or cable or AM radio), the content is lousy.

A SuperBowl ad costs a few million dollars to run… so the beer companies and the dot com companies spend millions creating the ad, even if it runs only once. A banner ad that you can buy for $200, on the other hand, appears to be created by a small chipmunk in the secretarial pool.

There’s no economic reason for this. You can run that banner ad in a thousand places. You can run that radio ad in 200 cities. If the media is cheap, it might just be a good value. And if you can run an effective ad, you can run it far and wide and turn a profit.

Or you could just run a cheap ad.

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