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Sorry to talk so long…

I was at a gala a few weeks ago (featuring no less than ten speakers). At least 80% of them began their talk by saying, "I know you’re hungry, but…" or "I know it’s late, but…" or "I know you want to go home, but…" and then apologized for giving a speech.

If your speech needs to be prefaced by an apology…

don’t give it.

That’s why they call it giving a speech. It’s a gift. If you have to apologize, it’s no longer a gift, is it?

Our collective fear of public speaking has created a host of awkward situations and events. It’s pretty simple: Be brief. Or don’t come at all. Don’t do anything you need to apologize for.

(and brief means sixty seconds, usually. That’s enough to say hi, to say thanks and to move on.)

FaceBook’s Hotmail problem

Real old-timers remember Hotmail. They came out of nowhere to become a massive ideavirus. growing exponentially and then selling to Microsoft for more than $400 million (in cash).

And yet Microsoft has never ever come close to making a profit on this. Why?

Because Hotmail trained users not to click on the ads. The last thing you want to do while checking your email is to stop doing that and read some ads, or to click away to another site.

The mistake Hotmail made? Not building a permission asset. What if registration gave you a choice of 5 or 10 or 1,000 different newsletters you could get for free every week. (Pick one for your free membership, or pick as many as you want). And what if every newsletter was filled with actual news and plenty of free samples, gift certificates and big time savings directly related to your topic?

Most people would look forward to the newsletter. The ads would be a bonus, not a penalty.

When someone goes to FaceBook, they’re not looking for stuff. They’re looking for people. But people don’t buy ads, stuff does.

That’s a problem.

Any platform that makes ads a distraction or a cost is always going to fail compared to a site where the ads are a welcome part of the deal.

[Many readers have pointed out that Hotmail has added newsletters. My point is that if the newsletters are the core of the offering, they work. If they’re just hype or a waste, there’s not so much point.]

Spam: They still don’t get it

Michael got a note from Dell today, shortly after buying a computer at work. It starts:

Thanks for doing business with Dell! As a gesture of our appreciation, you’re receiving a subscription to the weekly Dell Small Business E-mail Update. Every issue is loaded with great deals on the latest technology — from systems and servers to TVs and printers.

Just keep watching your inbox for exclusive promotions in the weeks to come.

A "gesture of appreciation"? "Watch your inbox"? Maybe on Planet Dell people fall for this, but most of the people I know just delete it and end up thinking less of a company that cares that little about their attention.

I got a call today from The Better Business Bureau. Jeannie wanted me to call her back–reason unspecified. I did. It turns out that her job is to voicemail spam a list of more than a hundred people every day, hoping they will join the BBB. When I pointed out that this bait and switch was surely injuring their good name and that spamming people to get them to buy a membership didn’t seem quite to their ethical standards, she got all "that’s my job" on me. She pointed out that my number wasn’t unlisted and it was legal for her to call me. I guess it is. Though I’m not sure it’s productive or helpful.

She pointed out that some people she called actually buy a membership. When I asked about the people who didn’t, the ones who felt as though they’d been tricked, she didn’t really have an answer. I think she deserves a better job.

Meatball Sundae VII: Election Day Edition

In the new transparent age, it’s really difficult to tell two stories simultaneously.

Why George Allen won’t be running for president:

It was a great
Web moment. George Allen was the Republican Party’s next star, anointed
as a potential candidate for president in 2008. But first he had to win
the Senate race in Virginia, considered by many to be a layup for him.

traditional way to run a political campaign is to control your message.
Control what you say and when you say it. Control who hears it.

Tell one story to your raving fans, and a more moderate story to people in the center.

voters have seen again and again, politicians are good at this. Some
people call it lying. But in general, politicians have gotten away with

The top-down, control-the-message strategy worked in the past for a few reasons:

  • Media companies were complicit in not embarrassing the people they
    counted on to appear on their shows and authorize their licenses.
  • Politicians could decide where and when to show up and could choose whether or not they wanted to engage.
  • Bad news didn’t spread far unless it was exceptionally juicy.

George Allen discovered that the rules have fundamentally changed.
Allen’s challenger asked S.R. Sidarth, a senior at the University of
Virginia, to trail Allen with a video camera. The idea was to document
Allen’s travels and speeches. During a speech in Breaks, Virginia,
Allen turned to Sidarth and said, “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca,
here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia,” said Allen.
As I write this, YouTube reports that Allen’s slur has been watched on
YouTube more than 318,000 times. Add to that the pickup from the
broadcast media (which picked it up because it was popular, not because
it was “important”), and you see why George Allen lost the election.

ironic part of the appearance is that the first words out of Allen’s
mouth on the tape are, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re going to run
positive campaign.” The story didn’t match the facts, and the facts
showed up on YouTube.

Summary for nor non-politicians: You can’t tell two stories at the same time. Not for long.

Catch up on the last six installments of this series here.

Some recent posts on other blogs:

Seth Godin Dishes Out Meatball Sundaes, megaphone or magnet, Seth Godin: Meatball Sundae Webcast, Fraser Mcculloch, 60 Minutes with Seth Godin and a Meatball Sundae, You So Can Do This | iScatterlings, myblogharvester.com, myblogharvester.com, Seth Godin Likes Meatball Sundaes?, Pre-SES Chicago Seth Godin Webinar, Pre-SES Seth Godin Webinar, Bruceclay.com – Pre-SES Seth Godin Webinar, Notes from a Seth Godin Webinar, david dalka, » Seth Godin Dishes Out Meatball Sundaes, Seth Godin Asks: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync?, Blogging? Consider this advice, www.tmesolutions.co.uk, Seth Godin and a Meatball Sundae and BL Ochman.

What you can learn from the primaries

This year, the presidential candidates in the US are going to spend a fortune (or perhaps two or three fortunes) marketing themselves in the primaries. Any product or service that is being launched has to deal with its own ‘primary.’ Here are a few universal lessons any marketer can take away:

  • Primary voters pay attention. They need far less yelling than the typical consumer, and many of them will go out of their way to poke around. Go where they are, and they’ll listen.
  • Primary voters are not everyone. They have different needs and beliefs than the mass market.
  • Primary voters want a candidate that will offend other primary voters.
  • Primary voters want authentic, direct communication.
  • Primary voters are still people. They are often fooled by great haircuts, well presented speeches or the paint job on the tour bus. (Not for long, though–it wears off).
  • Primary voters don’t care a bit about how your candidate is doing in another state.
  • Primary voters establish the stories that last long after the primaries are over. When Hillary Clinton has to deal with accusations of triangulation, she knows that they will stick with her for a while.
  • Primary voters are far more likely to talk to each other about candidates than other people are.
  • Primary voters are far less likely to need to know who is going to win before they ‘waste’ a vote. Witness Ron Paul’s legions.
  • Primary voters, like all human beings, have a limit. They are not insatiable. They can be spammed to excess.
  • Primary voters want to be heard, not just led.
  • Primary voters make unreasonable demands.
  • Primary voters want to be treated with respect.

Change your clocks

Here’s why.

What is the ‘live web’?

You didn’t realize it, but just about everything you do online is asynchronous.

Craigslist ads run on Thursday and you see them on Friday and get the job on Monday.
Email gets sent at 2 and you read it at 3 and write back at 4.
eBay listings run for a week.
You’re reading this post later than I wrote it (for your sake, I hope that’s true).

There are a few reasons for this. The biggest one is this: TV works as a live medium because millions watch just a few channels. The web needs to be asynchronous because there are too many channels! If you had to be ‘tuned in’ to see a blog post or read an email (the way you need to be tuned in to catch a live phone call or hear something on a police scanner) you’d miss too much.

Technology in the form of fast enough bandwidth is combining with a bigger audience to create live pockets online now. This blog feed, for example. This post was on it at 7:36 EST, but you missed it.

Watch for more live stuff. It’ll probably happen in places where there are clearly defined and very motivated audiences, and in pockets where there is so much value to be gained by monitoring the live feed on the web or your phone (like stock news or leftover tickets) that it’s worth your attention.

States rights

If you own a web page, you really owe it to yourself and to your users to pay attention to state.

Don’t treat everyone the same. First time visitors want something different than repeaters. Loyal customers want to see something different from the masses.

Get your IT person to show you how to divide the world into states. Then start from scratch and make a different experience for everyone.

[PS years ago, at Yoyodyne, we had a wannabe competitor who kept stealing our ideas. We programmed the site to recognize traffic from their site and put up all sorts of fake announcements and stuff, just to throw them off. You can get really specific if you want!]

Changing the game

Google announced an open interchange that allows users to take their social graph with them from one site to another. MySpace just joined in. This changes the rules for FaceBook, because now users have a choice of picking from dozens, soon to be hundreds of open sites… or just one closed one.

How can you change your game?

Consider the plight of Mike Huckabee and John Edwards. Both are making strong runs for the nominations of their parties, but both  suffer because they’re not seen as front runners. So why not change the game? Instead of waiting for a TV network to invite them to a debate, why not make your own TV show? Debate each other, in public, in Iowa. Broadcast the whole thing on YouTube. When you’re done, challenge others in the opposite party to debate you, one on one. On your channel. What are they, chicken?

Consider the sandwich/burger shop/deli on a street crowded with choices. What to do? Why not get rid of all the meat and become a vegetarian/kosher sandwich/burger shop/deli? Now, it’s five competitors and you. Anyone with a friend who eats carefully will bring her to your shop, the one and only one of its kind.

Usually, when you destroy the barriers in an existing industry, everyone loses… except you.