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Finding the long tail

David Gardner at the Motley Fool was talking to me today about their CAPS feature.

Their users are currently ranking and analyzing more stocks than any firm, including all the big analyst houses, etc. And, you probably won’t be surprised to hear this, the highest-ranked stocks regularly outperform the lowest-ranked ones.

Give your audience enough choices, give the computer enough numbers to crunch and really useful data often appears. It works for movies, for wine, for stocks… the challenge is to find the next one.

Meatball Mondae (#1)

In about three months, my next book, Meatball Sundae, will be published. I know, I know, I just published a book. I’m breaking the biggest rule in publishing. I’m trying your patience by doing another book so soon, but it really couldn’t wait. The new book is on a totally different topic, and it’s a lot longer and filled with examples and stuff. It’s about the internet and new marketing and the fourteen trends that change everything.

Every Monday for the next few months I’m going to publish a thought piece from the book. We’ll start with the basic premise then move on to the fourteen trends in the book. Here goes:

What’s a meatball sundae?

Maybe this is familiar. It is to me, anyway:

You go to a marketing meeting. There’s a presentation from the new Internet marketing guy. He’s brought a fancy (and expensive) blogging consultant with him. She starts talking about how blogs and the “Web 2.0 social media infrastructure” are just waiting for your company to dive in. “Try this stuff,” she seems to be saying, “and the rest of your competitive/structural/profit issues will disappear.”

In the last ten years, the Internet and radical changes in media have provided marketers everywhere with a toolbox that allows them to capture attention with seemingly little effort, planning, or cash. Six years after the dot-com boom, there are more Web sites, more email users, and more viral ideas, online and offline, than ever before. There are hundreds of cable TV networks and thousands of online radio stations. Not to mention street marketing, email marketing, and MySpace.

Corporations, political parties, nonprofits, job-seekers, and yes, even people looking for love are all scrambling around, trying to exploit the power of these new tools. People treat the New Marketing like a kid with a twenty-dollar bill at an ice cream parlor. They keep wanting to add more stuff—more candy bits and sprinkles and cream and cherries. The dream is simple: “If we can just add enough of [today’s hot topping], everything will take care of itself.”

Most of the time, despite all the hype, organizations fail when they try to use this scattershot approach. They fail to get buzz or traffic or noise or sales. Organizations don’t fail because the Web and the New Marketing don’t work. They fail because the Web and the New Marketing work only when applied to the right organization. New Media makes a promise to the consumer. If the organization is unable to keep that promise, then it fails.

New Marketing—whipped cream and a cherry on top—isn’t magical. What’s magical is what happens when an organization uses the New Marketing to become something it didn’t used to be—it’s not just the marketing that’s transformed, but the entire organization. Just as technology propelled certain organizations through the Industrial Revolution, this new kind of marketing is driving the right organizations through the digital revolution.

You can become the right organization. You can align your organization from the bottom up to sync with New Marketing, and you can transform your organization into one that thrives on the new rules.

Marcel Marceau died

…and despite the void he’ll leave, it’s almost impossible not to make a small joke.

And that’s the point, at least from a marketing point of view. Marceau made it through the Dip. He entered a field that was obscure, suffering from disrespect and filled with poseurs and hacks (all at the same time). But he pushed and focused and broke through. One person = an entire form of expression.

Jackson Pollack did it, as well. So did Yo-Yo Ma.

When a promoter wanted to book someone or promote someone or feature someone, there was only one choice. When Mel Brooks wanted a mime to speak in "Silent Movie," there was only one choice. Only one choice is a good place to be.

The challenge is to find a field where the Dip is small enough to get through but big enough to matter.

(Was it an assassin? Did he use a silencer?)

Bought and sold

Residential real estate is sold. You decide to sell your house, hire a broker and advertise and have open houses. The buyer gets the message and responds if interested.

NCAA stars are bought. The high school kids play their best football and scouts come and find them, court them and ‘buy’ their services.

Venture Capitalists do a little of both, but it’s primarily a sell function. Entrepreneurs write business plans and pitch them.

The hottest properties in an MBA program are often bought. Big consulting firms come on campus to interview, looking for the masters of the universe.

I think it’s interesting to consider flopping the buying and the selling.

Companies can go out and find startups that aren’t for sale and offer to buy them. Real estate investors can write to people about buying their homes–if and when they decide to sell.

Of course, this already happens, but not so much. When I ran Yoyodyne, we sold advertising to big companies like MasterCard, Procter & Gamble and AOL. And the ads worked. We had hundreds of clients and made thousands of sales calls… and I can’t remember once that someone called us up and asked to buy an ad. If they had, you can bet we not only would have been receptive, we would have been discounting our prices as well.

More important than the price break is the idea of being in control, of not just waiting for the next big thing to find you. When a buyer and seller get together, sometimes the possibilities for both sides increase.

[Kevin just riffed on a similar but different aspect of this.]

What was the person who made the sandwich thinking?

Could it be, "This is just my job"?

At least there was one layer of meat on the non-display part of the sandwich…

At some point, sooner or later, people take responsibility for what they do. Either that or they’re doomed to do mediocre work for shady people. Thanks, Rob, for the link.

David Sedaris meets Woody Allen

Now, if he only resists the temptation to become an SNL hack after college…

This book is a reminder of how rare simple funny writing is.

Seven tips to build for meaning

What happens after I click on your Google ad?

I was thinking about great Squidoo pages (lenses) yesterday, and realized that many of them, along with many blogs, have the same goal: give someone a handle, a sense of meaning–context–so they can go ahead and take action.

You have a blog to turn a browser into a raging fan for your candidate or your product.
You have a lens designed to teach people what they need to know to confidently sign up for your tour.
You have a landing page to convert Google AdWords clickers into buyers.

With that in mind, here are a few tactical tips that might help if that’s what you’re trying to do online:

  1. Use numbers and bullets. People don’t read online, they scan.
  2. Give people a place to go. The web is incredibly efficient when it’s a road, much less so when it’s a dead end. The best meaning-building delivers the reader to a new place, in context.
  3. Use pictures. Back to the scanning thing. Pictures, properly chosen, communicate quality as well as large amounts of information. I’m not talking about product shots (which are important) as much as pictures that tell a story. (thanks, Benji)
  4. Have an opinion. Guides that bend over backwards to be fair rarely impart information. Context is built more quickly if people know where you stand and can plug that into their previous point of view. If you’re giving meaning, you’re also making an argument… one in favor of your point of view.
  5. Don’t be afraid to compare. Saying this is better than that helps me understand if I already have an understanding of that.
  6. It’s a brick wall, not a balloon. This is a hard one for many people. We try to build something quickly and get it totally complete all in one go. If we can’t, we get frustrated and give up. But great blogs and lenses are built brick by brick, a little at a time. You learn what works and do it more. Here’s a fine example.
  7. It’s okay to be long, if you’re chunky. The great lesson of direct mail was that long letters always do better than short ones. That’s because once you’ve sold me, I’ll stop reading. But if I’m not sold and I get to the end, you lose. The web is infinitely expandable. So go ahead and tell your story.

The reunion problem

Here’s what’s hard: you’re running a 75th reunion for an organization and you want to invite as many past members as possible.

The internet should make this easy. Six degrees of separation, social networks, online profiles and Google should all make it automatic.

It’s not, for a few reasons. First, people rarely surface all of the details of their life online (or even in Facebook). Most of my readers, for example, have no clue about the undefeated hockey team I was on in 1973 (of course, the only goal I scored was on my own team, but that’s a story for another day). The second reason is that spammers would be all over this information if it were easy to find. If one could email every single Facebook user who came from Cleveland, the thing would fall apart. For good reason, permission to contact the right people isn’t easy to get.

While shouting about a reunion from a blog might work, it’s not particularly efficient, is it?

So, what would I build? It seems to me that the two steps are enumeration and contact. First, you need to list everyone you’re trying to reach, and then you need to figure out how to contact them. If there were a simple piece of web software available (basically a smarter wiki), you could reach out to the 20 or 50 or 500 alumni you already know, point them to that and get them busy enumerating the list. How many people can you list from cabin 7? Who’s missing?

Once you’ve got the list, put the six degrees thing to work. As each person on the list gets contacted, you can put a mark next to their name. As the list of the uncontacted gets smaller, it’s easier for people on the fringes to focus on who they know that might know the person that needs to get reached.

My guess is that the solution already exists, but a bit of googling failed to find it.

And, if you’re a Camp Arowhon alum (or you know one) and want to hear about the 75th reunion, drop a note to Marnie asap.

[Scott has a solution, but it’s not quite as bare bones as I described.]

Customer of the month

Do you have one? With a special parking space and their picture on the wall?

What a great idea. The hardest part is getting over the fear that you’ll alienate all your other great customers. Give it a try, it’s probably worth the risk.

Blue jeans

When I was in college, a local human rights group posted up signs around campus one Monday. They read:

On Wednesday
Wear Blue Jeans
If You Are Gay

This is brilliant marketing. On Wednesday morning, you needed to have a discussion with yourself. "Should I wear jeans?… if I’m in the closet… or if I’m supportive of the quest for rights… or if I don’t want to stand out… what will it mean if I don’t wear jeans? Or if I wear jeans and didn’t know about the sign…"

This, of course, was precisely the point. It started internal debate which led, all day, to spoken discussion. Which raised the issue.

A huge amount of marketing is about "in" or ignore. This is about "in" or "out." By forcing people to make a choice, they created a conversation.

Check out what happened in Nova Scotia last week.