Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

Looking for trouble

Every weekend there’s a line out front of the Avis rental car window on the upper west side of NYC. Every weekend, ostensibly computer-literate upper-middle-class yuppies waste hours trying to pick up a car when they could just use Zipcar.

For this person, in this moment, a message about zipcar is not only not spam, it’s a gift.

Worth wondering why the company doesn’t have someone standing out front with fliers.

Along the same lines, why doesn’t the local accountant sponsor the business section of the nearby independent bookstore? Slip a bookmark and business card into every personal finance book the store sells… it’s the right message at the right time.

Blogs, of course, ought to be the perfect place to find people in trouble. The challenge is in getting past the "I won’t click on an ad" mindset that 80% of those online carry around. Guerrilla marketing works best when it takes the form of a sponsorship or other unexpected combination of advertiser and content. Blogs let you go farther than that, though.

The most effective marketing use of blogs seems to be when the advertiser/marketer uses the blog as an opportunity not to sell a product, but to attract people who are in the right mindset. Joel Spolsky rarely writes about his product, but that’s fine. The people who read his writing are the very same people who need his product, and his proximity to the valuable ideas (and his reputation) makes it not such a leap to go ahead and buy what he has to sell.

Attract people in trouble–>Help solve their problems–>Build your reputation–>Sales happen.

For a nickel

The current Fast Company reports that when Ikea started charging a nickel for shopping bags, consumption went down by 50% (95% in the UK).

Clearly, it’s not the nickel.

The way you charge for something changes the way people perceive it. If the dinner special includes dessert, people get dessert because it’s ‘free’. Of course, it’s not free. You paid extra for the special, remember?

A la carte pricing focuses your consumer. It forces them to make a choice in a spot where they didn’t use to make a choice. It can highlight features that might have gone unnoticed (underbody salt removal treatment at the car wash, for example).

If you want people to notice a bit of consumption, charge for it. Even a penny.
If you want people to take something they had been leaving behind, give it away with purchase. Otherwise, they’re wasting.

Here’s one practical application. If you make something with low marginal cost like a CD, consider offering a second one (same title) for a nickel or a dollar. Why? Because if a customer buys a second as a gift, they’ve just helped you spread the word…

It (almost) always happens this way

I had breakfast today with a really smart person who works for a really big company (that’s just about all he’ll let me say). He’s frustrated because they’re fading, and fast. The ironic thing is that if they focused their energy and their guts on the new market that is gaining on them (fast), they’d demolish it. If they embraced the threat, the threat wouldn’t have a chance.

Instead, like a million organizations before them, defending the status quo is far more politically correct than change. So they stand back and let dinky startups with no natural advantages run like crazy.

The guys in the blue curve, the new guys, would dearly love the assets and reputation that the green curve guys have. They don’t have it, though, so they improvise. They lean into the market. They give customers what they want, and embrace technology and new ideas because they have no other choice. The green curve, on the other hand, is filled with people who feel helpless. They feel like the organization is aligned against them, aligned to fail, all because the status quo is so powerful.

And yes, most of the time, it is the blue curve, the new guys, the ones playing by new rules with nothing to lose, that wins.

But sometimes, just often enough to give the dinosaurs a shred of hope, someone (not often the CEO) stands up and says, "follow me!" And the organization does.


Three simple letters.

Sit down with your web team, pretend you know what you’re talking about (it worked for me) and say them with authority.

It’s not the next big thing. It’s the current big thing. Your site can’t help but get better if you start now. Inspiration: Unmatchedstyle.com. If you’re puzzled, try this site. Click on some of the examples in the right side bar.

The power of chunking

Aaron has posted a really powerful mindmap of what he knows about internet marketing (which is a lot). I found several sites I didn’t know about and you will too.

But the mindmap part just gave me a headache. There really is a rule of seven when it comes to putting ideas into your head (which is why phone numbers have 7 digits…). When you launch a new idea on the world, odds are you’ve thought it through and realized many permutations of it. When you want to teach Social Studies to 12 year olds, there’s lots to teach. When you want to sell something to a business, the richness of your offering demands a great deal of detail.

Obviously, Aaron isn’t trying to get us to remember or even grok all the roots and leaves of his tree. My guess is that you will soon be writing down a few things to take action on, as opposed to figuring out how all the pieces fit together. It’s a checklist, in practice, at least it was for me.

Even though Aaron wasn’t trying to sell a single idea with overkill, sometimes, marketers are doing just that. They’re going overboard with all the benefits and features and wonders of the product or service they’re launching. Politicians make this mistake every single day.


Seven is probably too many bullets. Three is more like it.

Three we can handle. Three is manageable and memorable and actionable. Give me three things and I can find a place for them in my brain. Each of those three things can probably have three subthings if you like. And then, at least for now, that’s it.

The ball bearing and the beach ball

Michael Brooke writes,

1.      I am not publishing a magazine – I am helping to document and foster change within skateboarding. The magazine is part of a greater movement within skateboarding. Concrete Wave exists to spread specific ideas. The more people we can spread these ideas too, the more success we achieve.

2.      I am not merely building readers or subscribers – I am building a cult of supporters, each of whom will further support the cause and bring in more readers and subscribers.

3.      I build marketing INTO the product and distribution. By limiting the kinds of advertisers I allow, by keeping the editorial strictly focused and by carefully distributing the magazine, my readers and advertisers trust the magazine to deliver on its promise of 100% skateboarding. I will never betray that trust.

4.      Concrete Wave wishes to remain a ball bearing – small, hard to find and continually in the state of being polished. Our goal is to provide readers with a deep impression when they get hit with it. Conversely, we do not aim to be a beach ball – big, seen all over the place, colorful and yet leaving very little impression when it hits. A beach ball is very fragile indeed and must avoid challenging environments, because it requires so much air to keep it afloat. A weighty ball bearing can withstand both challenging environments along with the pin pricks of adversity.

Who is Philip Roth?

There are more than 100,000 published authors in the US. Most of them have publishing houses (and at least a tenuous connection to a publicist). What a great marketing problem. The long tail of authors meets the long tail of public interest. How do they intersect?

This is a challenge to authors. Since I know a lot of them (and since many I don’t know read this blog) I thought I’d do it here.

Authors like to read.

They also like to write.

Authors hate to promote themselves. And lots of authors don’t like the web so much, at least when it comes to promotion. It’s not like traveling to an independent bookstore and having tea with the owner while you sign books, or being interviewed for the book section of the Times. Your favorite author probably doesn’t have a blog, probably doesn’t spend all her time online.

So, instead of a significant web presence that’s author-driven, we end up with publishers building their own promo sites (this one has just 40 (!) authors and cost a fortune to build) or we get publishers insisting that all their authors build MySpace pages (just last week, in fact).

There are a few problems with this publisher-first approach. The first is that few readers know which authors are published by which publishers, so there’s no way they’re going to visit a particular site. The second is that authors aren’t going to spend the time to build (and maintain) fancy pages. The third is that because publishers have (legal/sales) trouble picking one bookseller over another, it’s really hard to close the sale and sell the book.

I think at the heart of this is the declining value of silos.

Publishers, like many organizations, want to control the conversation, want to own the web page, want to be sure that people come to them, as opposed to going where people are. The irony here is that bookstores are precisely the opposite of this. There’s no Knopf bookstore, no Random House store. Bookstores, unlike the current conception of car dealers, work best when they are agnostic about what’s for sale.

Authors are brands. Some are billion-dollar brands, some are tiny ones. The web is custom made for authors, but so far, it’s largely going unused.

Which brings us to Squidwho. Since we launched it a month ago, people have added more than 7,000 biographies. And most of them, alas, aren’t authors. We’ve got movie stars and politicians and yes, JK Rowling. I wish I had been surprised and had discovered scores of my fellow authors there, but alas, no.

Books aren’t the universal medium they used to be, but the industry still ought to be selling more books than we are today. I’m afraid that publishers and authors have embraced a broken system, even though there are tools out there ready to help.

When I set out to build my page on Philip Roth, I discovered some very cool interviews, videos and entries about him. But no one had pulled it all together. No one made it easy to figure out what to buy and why. Forgive me for promoting my own project, but Squidwho just feels right to me. Useful and profitable and easy.

So, here’s the challenge. If you’re an editor, an agent, a publisher, an author or a fan, go build a page about an author you like. Or yourself. The worst thing that will happen is you’ll sell a ton of books and raise some money for charity.

When you are ready to stand up to speak

Perhaps you should consider sitting down.

When you are asked to give a short talk at the big company gathering, or contribute a few minutes in a large group discussion, and you’re ready to stand up and have all eyes on you, sometimes, perhaps, it makes sense to sit down instead.

If you’re a bit nervous and you’ve written everything out and your main goal is to say nothing controversial, nothing memorable, nothing that might get you in trouble… well, why say it?

If your job is to act as filler, to say a small not-so-funny joke and then stall for a minute or two, or your job is to put in an appearance, or perhaps to make sure that senior management knows you exist, I bet there are far better ways to pull that off.

The traffic engineers in New York think nothing of wasting two minutes of each person’s time as they approach a gated toll booth. Multiply that two minutes times 12,000 people and it’s a lot of hours every day, isn’t it? If you’re speaking to a thousand people for just a minute or two or three and you don’t have anything in particular to communicate, you’ve just wasted many hours of the most expensive time your organization has purchased this year.

Big groups are perfect places for the efficient communication of emotion. They are terrific for the impact that comes from watching your peers shake their heads in agreement simultaneously. The power of groupthink doesn’t happen in an electronic memo, but it can sure be powerful in a big room.

The flipside is obvious: if all you want to do is recite a fact or a policy or worst of all, not really be noticed, then it’s probably better to just sit down.

Great minds…


Push and pull

I can’t use internal wikis. "It’s on the wiki" is a dumb thing to say to me.

TV networks know how to put on one show at a time, in order, and broadcast it to whomever is tuning in.

These are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes we push information (like spam email, to pick a horrendous example, or the typical vapid fill-in-the-blank PR pitch to bloggers) and sometimes we wait for it to get pulled (like a blog or a wiki).

RSS transforms blogs from pull to push. The web transforms TV from push to pull.

[RSS is push because once you sign up for my blog, for example, each post is pushed to you. It starts as pull–you have to sign up–but then it no longer requires you to go hunt for it each day].

This isn’t trivial. It changes everything about the way you market what you market. I’d spend some time thinking about whether you push or pull, about whether you can flip that, and about whether your posture matches your message.