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That doesn’t make sense

Ben has a post about a beer made by an order of monks in Belgium. These monks, who have taken vows of silence, only sell the beer by appointment, don’t label the bottles, and severely limit the supply they create. As you can imagine for a beer that some call the best in the world, it has quite a cult following.

There are two ingredients to this remarkability. The first, as Ben points out, is the idea of ritual. By changing the way the product is created and distributed, they add a religious and spiritual element to the process (even if they weren’t monks). Second, they’re not trying to sell the most. That’s critical.

When you try to maximize anything, you work to be efficient, to fit in, to appeal to the average person, since that’s where the numbers are. Every time Budweiser makes a decision, it seems to make sense, since they’re trying to sell the most beer. Most embraces systems and policies that make sense. But most rarely succeeds.

(Are you) Getting in your way?

So, as a percentage of the time you spend at work, what percent would you say qualifies as "marketing"? I’m going to count educating yourself, networking, creating products, creating media, spending money, building networks of sneezers, inventing great stuff, executing great stuff, motivating front-line people and telling stories.

The other two choices are:
selling your ideas internally/waiting for approval
dealing with the chaff of responding to inbound junk and wasted time in meetings…

I know some well-paid people who used to be world-class marketers who are now down in the single digits (less than 10%).


Always on (everybody markets)

I walked past a private dinner being given at a restaurant in New York last night. Perhaps forty people, listening to an after-dinner speaker.

The room was dead. People were sprawled over the chairs. One guy had his head down. Others were facing away from the speaker or checking their iPhones.

They didn’t think of themselves as marketers in that moment, but of course, they were. They were marketing themselves to the speaker as uninterested, tired and hard to reach. They probably got very little back in the way of increased energy or enthusiasm from the person they ostensibly came to hear.

Every time you walk into a meeting, agree to sit in on a sales call, do a job interview or have a conversation with a consultant, you’re marketing. You’re either selling the story of your enthusiasm and attention, or you’re not. And more often than not, you get what you put in.

Christmas shopping

A few unrelated ideas:

Brett at Google dropped me a line to let me know that CyberMonday (the Black Monday of online selling) is actually NOT the biggest shopping day of the online year. That comes in 10 days or so. What fascinates me is that online-only retailers do better closer to Xmas, but the online outposts of brick and mortar stores (like JC Penney) do better earlier. Translation: the Penney’s and Target customers don’t ‘get’ the whole fast-shipping thing, because when they think of traditional stores, they think slow. The Amazon customer has been spoiled, and in addition to one-click, is now trained to wait until the last minute.

The funny thing is that this is precisely backward what it was just five or ten years ago. Mail order was slow, last minute was for local.

Chris has put together a page about gifts for marketers. He invites you to add your suggestions. And for those in a hurry, focused on stuff in a box and looking for something likely to delight, I put together this one-click quick list.

Even better:

Fred has become one of more than 7000 people that have taken the handmade pledge.

And you can buy a school. Room to Read works with local villages to change lives forever. Or you can build lives in the rainforest. Check out Dos Margaritas.

The caricature of your brand

Cory has a post that points out research demonstrating that police have better luck finding suspects using caricatures than boring sketches.

A caricature falsely highlights various anomalies while diminishing the boring parts. So Jay Leno gets a ridiculous chin, or Jimmy Durante gets an even bigger nose (okay, he had a pretty big nose).

The same is true for your brand, but even more so. The best brands are caricatures of their true selves. Yes, they must have exceptional ‘features’ (a step that’s easy to skip, but without which leads to failure) but then, over time, those features become a caricature. During the formative days of Fedex, the caricature was that their drivers would even rent a helicopter to get just one package delivered on time. It’s easy to turn Starbucks’ variety and focus on your needs into a caricature as well, "half-caf, extra hot, short macchiato, extra foam, with soy, in a ceramic mug…."

As Nixon discovered, when the caricature becomes negative, it’s almost impossible to escape (glad I’m not Bob Nardelli or a shareholder at Topps hamburgers). Worse than avoiding the negative, though, is the tendency for most organizations to resist creating a brand that can be caricatured. It doesn’t feel safe or responsible or prudent. Coloring inside the lines and pleasing most of your customers most of the time almost guarantees you’ll be bland.

It’s a lot cheaper and faster and more effective to have a big nose.

False choices that work

Just finished buying some checks online. Got to the page with the ridiculous charges for shipping and handling. They were:

Slow…$14 (Expected delivery, December 15th)
Fast…$18 (Expected delivery, December 10th)
Expedited…$18 (Expected delivery, December 5th)

"Wow!" I said to myself, "I’ll show them… I’ll get the expedited shipping without paying a penny more than fast."

Perhaps I’m the only customer who had the insight, intelligence and flair to both realize it and take advantage of it. Perhaps some employee is quaking in his boots, fearful for his job because of the millions in losses his employers are going to take because he mispriced expedited shipping.

Or perhaps, perhaps, everybody chooses Expedited.

Nine times out of ten, especially online, people focus on comparisons, not absolutes.

Black, not meatball, mondae

Black Monday was ‘invented’ by my former colleague Jerry Shereshewsky in 1997. His idea was that since people did so much shopping at work, the real shopping day for Christmas was today.

The important takeaway for most marketers is this: an ever-increasing share of consumer spending is being done during the day, at work. In a place and at a time where you don’t have a lot of reach or impact.

Bosses are already rabid about how much web-wasting goes on at work. Loud pop-ups and display ads aren’t particularly efficient or effective as a strategy. On the other hand, promotions like this one at Amazon seem custom made for Black Monday.

PS not to disappoint, here’s an interview about Meatball Sundae.

SEO for bloggers

A lot of useful insight (and a great example in itself of how to acquire traffic!) right here from Aaron.

When lies/spin become (too) easy

After you’ve spent a career saying things just to make people go away, I wonder if you lose track of the texture of what you’re saying.

They’re tearing down a classic diner in New Rochelle, NY and putting up a Walgreen’s drugstore, right next to an existing CVS. The diner’s fans are up in arms. Not to worry, the NY Times reports. Here’s the key quote, unedited:

"Joel Sachs, a lawyer for the developers, said that Walgreens has realized from the beginning that the diner was an icon in the community and would be a sensitive tenant."

Sensitive? Does that meant that the Walgreens is going to serve bacon? Or does it mean nothing whatsoever?

It would certainly be more truthful to say, "hey, it’s our right to put up a Walgreens. If you don’t like it, you should rent the space instead." But that would be inflammatory, so it’s easier to just spin, I guess.

[Two people have pointed out that my ‘quote’ is a paraphrase. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Sachs didn’t say anything about being a sensitive tenant. If that’s the case, I’m just plain wrong. But (in this case, anyway) I don’t think I am.]

Cowboy Junkies Paradox

Twenty years ago, the Cowboy Junkies released close to a perfect breakthrough album. It sold a bazillion copies.

Every since, they’ve been touring, making a living on the road as they’ve released almost twenty records, none of them monster hits in the US. The paradox occurs at their concerts… when they play one of the old hits, the crowd goes wild. The people most likely to come to their concerts are the ones most likely to encourage them to become an oldies act. Of course, once the group does that, people are going to stop showing up.

Marketers of all stripes face the same challenge. Your current customers want nothing but the old stuff, but the new customers don’t know you exist, so they can’t speak up.

[Clarification! I love the Junkies. I saw them last night. They were spectacular… I own more than half their twenty CDs and you should too… my point, which was defeated by brevity, is that the fans create the paradox. The fans, the ones that should be cheering on the hits and the misses, the ones that should  be demanding the next thing, they are the ones that create the paradox, because they’re the ones that cheer loudest for the old songs.]