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Marketer of the year, 2007

It’s a tie. Two marketers, same category.

My criteria:

  • focus on authentic storytelling
  • ability to not just use the web for marketing purposes, but to let the web drive the entire tone of marketing and product development
  • desire to push through the dip and to either quit or win
  • willingness to stand out and do things that people want to talk about
  • guts to avoid burning the permission asset of supporters by spamming them to senselessness

Both winners built world-famous brands in less than a year of effort. Both paid for their marketing largely through self-liquidating campaigns on the web itself. And neither one of them has a job you will ever likely have. Which makes it even easier to learn from their work as marketers.

In two days we find out if either one of them actually built a marketing campaign that worked. It really doesn’t matter, though. The fact that they’ve gotten this far (with diametrically opposed points of view, by the way) is proof that this marketing thing isn’t just a fad.

You’ve probably guessed my two winners: Ron Paul and Barack Obama. Who would have guessed two years ago that without much help at all from the establishment, either would be where they are today? That’s the power of the new marketing.

If you want to read more, in order, my books on this: All Marketers are Liars, Meatball Sundae, The Dip, Purple Cow, Permission Marketing.

If you have to drive tonight, don’t drink, okay? Happy New Year!

Nickel and diming

If you run a business that’s "all inclusive" (like a buffet, a resort, a membership organization or even a consulting practice) you really only have two ways to increase your profits.

The first way is to figure out how to get more money out of each customer. That means a surcharge on the special lobster appetizer or a small extra fee for better service. It means coming up with ways to not actually be "all inclusive", to give the customer less unless they pay you more.

The goal of this method is to come up with goods and services that have a low marginal cost (your cost of getting or delivering one more) and a high marginal value (what it’s worth to the customer). So, if you can charge the best members of your club a $500 fee for attending a networking event that only costs you $3 a person to host, you’re going to see a large increase in profit.

The second way is to figure out how to give your customers more. To be even more "all inclusive" than the competition. To find countless items of low marginal cost and just include them. Why? Because it creates return visits from your existing base, and even better, is a significant investment in word of mouth, the most effective marketing available to you.

The Beaches resort in Jamaica prides itself on great people (true) and on being totally all inclusive (not so true). I was there for a few days for a family reunion and it was pretty clear to me that an MBA on a mission was at work. The nickel and diming adds up. He had scoured the place to find ways to charge just a little (or a lot) more as often as possible.

Wifi is a great example. The marginal cost of hosting one more person on a wifi network is as close to zero as something can be. Charge people more than $10 a day and suddenly you’re making hundreds or thousands of dollars of extra profit. Or promise free scuba, but charge people $70 for a checkout course before you let them dive… low marginal cost, high incremental profit.

I have no doubt that this works in the short run. It might even work out to be a viable marketing strategy in some markets. However, the alternative is worth considering. Not only do everything you say you’re going to do, but do more.

Offering low marginal cost items for free is a shortcut to generating word of mouth, which is a lot cheaper than buying ads.

Do heavier packages pay?

We just measured a Poland Spring bottle (the new design) and discovered it weighs precisely half of an empty Gatorade bottle.

That’s a lot of shipping, hefting and plastic. Multiply half times a million trillion and that’s huge.

Does it increase sales? My guess is that beverage marketers are too smart to have not considered this, so the answer is probably yes.

Same way the fancy iPod box is a lot sexier than the one they use when you get a free replacement at the Genius bar.

Trivial stuff, certainly. Yet it makes a huge difference. Will it flip soon? Will smaller and lighter begin to equal sexier?

[Update: the facts behind the example are a lot clearer now, thanks to a friend who works in the water business. Before I share his take, though, it’s important to recognize that fashion often follows function… in other words, even though there are functional reasons for the example above, they may very well incite the fashion… He writes:

I thought I would give you a little context around the heavier bottle:

1) First off, …to be the lightest bottle in the marketplace, for two reasons:
    a) Given the environmental impact of water packaging, it’s the right thing to do
    b) It makes good business sense to reduce packaging…helps offset rising commodity costs

2) Gatorade (and most other bev manufacturers: Vitamin Water, etc.) HAVE to use the heavier bottle due to the process they use to fill their containers.  It’s called the "hot-fill" process (I’ll spare you the details, but you get the point).  This allows them to avoid using artificial ingredients and preservatives.

3) Soda bottles also use heavier bottles due to the integrity needed to avoid exploding bottles (carbonation).  You’ll notice that both Aquafina (Pepsi) and Dasani (Coke) water bottles also use the same heavy bottles…they are purely leveraging existing soda bottles…you will also see that this is quickly changing as they too are lightweighting their bottles.

So that’s it.  Not sure I answered the question of whether heavier packaging increases sales (in our experience, functionality trumps weight)…but I do know that our industry, and CPG companies in general are under tremendous pressure from retailers to lighten their environmental footprints.  While today’s consumers are slow in adopting the same concerns, we believe that ultimately "greener packaging" (and products) will begin to make inroads into purchase decisions. ]

Hey kids! It’s finally here…

Seth_godin_action_figure_6"I’m not kidding," says Mitch.

"It sounds too fantastic to be true," wrote Mark.

Yes, the Seth Godin Action Figure, with built-in Brandomatic® and PurplePower® is finally ready and you can be the first on your block to have one.

IMPRESS the Harvard MBA down the hall!
VANQUISH low-cost imports and cost-cutting impostors!
DOMINATE emerging markets!
FLOOD your site with web traffic!
DEMONSTRATE a sense of humor!

Not only that, it makes a great paperweight.

The new SGAF comes with mostly articulated joints and is guaranteed to improve market share for all respectable brands (mileage may vary in certain EU countries.) When used as directed, the SGAF can get you better freelance assignments too!

Apple Computer, Starbucks, Nike, JetBlue and 37Signals had nothing to do with the creation of this product and are not mentioned in any of the marketing materials. Guaranteed.

Here are five ways leading marketers are putting the action figure to work in companies just like yours:

  1. Leave one on the desk of that guy who’s always trying to spam your mailing list.
  2. Wave one in a budget meeting and watch your allocation soar.
  3. Hang one from your rear-view mirror and watch traffic tickets become a thing of the past.
  4. Hand them out as favors at your next convention or trade show booth and people will line up, at least until the guy across the aisle restocks his post its.
  5. Put one under your pillow and overcome writer’s block.
  6. (bonus) Include one in your next job application.

Of course, the Seth Godin™ Action Figure isn’t for everyone. One noted tech blogger said, "What a total waste of non-recyclable plastic. Godin has finally jumped the shark. This one is certainly headed for the dead pool."

Is that all you get?

Of course not.

Every ActionFigure™ comes with a tiny book, maybe even a booklet, filled with pithy sayings that will be familiar to readers of this blog but perhaps inform the uninformed. And yes, there’s a money-back guarantee! If you discover that the SGAF™ doesn’t get you a significantly better job with 18 months, mail it back to me for a complete 100% non-questions-asked refund.

Need an idea? Rub my head.

And here’s the best thing: It only costs $9. Which is like 30 cents for people with euros.

And an even better thing! All my proceeds, every penny, go to the Acumen Fund. Not suitable for children under three or for cynics.

Full disclosure: They only did me because David Sedaris turned them down and Steve Jobs, who occasionally has better judgment than me, wouldn’t even consider the idea. Who’s next? Michael Crichton is too tall (plastic costs too much), so I’m hoping for Malcolm Gladwell.

PowerPoint slides sold separately. Batteries not included, or required. Will not melt under ordinary use. Not safe for use in the microwave. Void where prohibited. Woodie the wonder dog sold separately. Not responsible for typographical errors.

[Yes, it’s funny. Yes it’s real. I love Archie McPhee and this one is a dream come true for me. It’s also an interesting take on the ‘brand as souvenir’ riff we’ve been talking about. Do you think it will outsell Freud? Or the Librarian action figure? Surely I can beat the librarian…]

Only two years left

This is my last post until next week. I want to thank you for reading this year… I'm sure I get more out of this than you do, and I appreciate your attention.

In the meantime, here's a post from four years ago. There's only two years left in the decade, so time's a wasting… Happy new year.


Here's a question that you should clip out and tape to your bathroom mirror. It might save you some angst 15 years from now. The question is, What did you do back when interest rates were at their lowest in 50 years, crime was close to zero, great employees were looking for good jobs, computers made product development and marketing easier than ever, and there was almost no competition for good news about great ideas?

Many people will have to answer that question by saying, "I spent my time waiting, whining, worrying, and wishing." Because that's what seems to be going around these days. Fortunately, though, not everyone will have to confess to having made such a bad choice.

While your company has been waiting for the economy to rebound, Reebok has launched Travel Trainers, a very cool-looking lightweight sneaker for travelers. They are selling out in Japan — from vending machines in airports!

While Detroit's car companies have been whining about gas prices and bad publicity for SUVs (SUVs are among their most profitable products), Honda has been busy building cars that look like SUVs but get twice the gas mileage. The Honda Pilot was so popular, it had a waiting list.

While Africa's economic plight gets a fair amount of worry, a little startup called Kickstart is actually doing something about it. The new income that its products generate accounts for 0.5% of the entire GDP of Kenya. How? It manufactures a $75 device that looks a lot like a StairMaster. But it's not for exercise. Instead, Kickstart sells the machine to subsistence farmers, who use its stair-stepping feature to irrigate their land. People who buy it can move from subsistence farming to selling the additional produce that their land yields — and triple their annual income in the first year of using the product.

While you've been wishing for the inspiration to start something great, thousands of entrepreneurs have used the prevailing sense of uncertainty to start truly remarkable companies. Lucrative Web businesses, successful tool catalogs, fast-growing PR firms — all have started on a shoestring, and all have been profitable ahead of schedule. The Web is dead, right? Well, try telling that to Meetup.com, a new Web site that helps organize meetings anywhere and on any topic. It has 200,000 registered users — and counting.

Maybe you already have a clipping on your mirror that asks you what you did during the 1990s. What's your biggest regret about that decade? Do you wish that you had started, joined, invested in, or built something? Are you left wishing that you'd at least had the courage to try? In hindsight, the 1990s were the good old days. Yet so many people missed out. Why? Because it's always possible to find a reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. And yet, in retrospect, it's hard to remember why we said no and easy to wish that we had said yes.

The thing is, we still live in a world that's filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.

Are these crazy times? You bet they are. But so were the days when we were doing duck-and-cover air-raid drills in school, or going through the scares of Three Mile Island and Love Canal. There will always be crazy times.

So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That's why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.

You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It's never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment — just one second — to decide.

Before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that's to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great?

What’s the point of this interaction?

Every time you interact with a customer, you’re engaging in marketing. Doesn’t matter if you’re instituting a policy, gaining some data, delivering an invoice… it’s a marketing interaction.


When you bother 100 customers to get useful data from 2, you just paid a marketing cost.

When you yell at a classroom full of kids because one kid misbehaved, that’s a marketing decision.

When you make 5,000 non-smugglers wait in a steaming customs hall at a resort destination, you may think you’re doing your job and collecting those little white forms, but what you’re really doing is marketing (negatively).


When you bring a little candy (which wasn’t required) with the check (which was) you’re using the transaction as an opportunity to do positive marketing.

Here’s a little thought experiment that will show how your managers are misjudging these interactions: Go ask your front line people what they’re doing when they’re doing what they think is their jobs. Like when they’re ripping tickets or answering the phone or filling out a form with a customer. How many say, "I’m using this as an excuse to market to our best customers"?


When I was in college, the Dean tried to put together an advisory group of students. Nobody he invited joined–it wasn’t worth the time. Then he named it, "The Group of 100" and in just a few days, it was filled. The easiest way to have insiders is to have outsiders.

Credit card companies have made billions by selling a card that others can’t get.

Politicians stand up and talk about their (exclusive) religion, or pit one special interest group against another.

And of course, the best nightclubs have the biggest velvet ropes and the pickiest doormen.

Limiting the supply of your service, or the quantity of your product, or being aggressive in who you sell to (and who you don’t) are all time-tested ways to build a killer brand. Humans like being insiders, and will work hard to create their own imaginary demarcations to demonstrate that they’ve made it inside.

Populism is almost always a hard sell, it seems.

When Tiffany’s lowered prices and quality and tried to reach out to the masses, they almost went bankrupt.

The Net seems to be turning some of this upside down. Twitter and Yahoo mail and eBay are completely populist. Hotornot, flickr and other websites have embraced this idea as well. (Worth noting that gmail started as a totally insider service, with a limited number of invites, shared person to person).

It’s interesting to take a second to look at wikipedia. It started with the most populist, inclusionary point of view of all, but over time, people being people, a hierarchy and inner circle has been created. The exclusion is based on effort and skill, not race or income, but it’s still exclusionary. And at its best, it makes the site work. When it fails, it limits discussion, reinforces small thinking and enrages the outsiders.

The first thing I’d ask myself before launching a product, a service, or a candidate is, "who are we leaving out?" If the answer is no one, be prepared for uncharted waters. The future of marketing (at least the big successes) is going to be fueled by those with the guts to embrace the masses. The profits, at least in the short run, may well be found by those that embrace exclusion.

One last thing: while people are delighted to be included (and seem to enjoy excluding others), the benefits they feel are dwarfed by the anger and disappointment of those excluded. It’s something that people remember for their entire lives.

What does Santa look like?

Coke didn’t invent Santa. The astonishing thing is that for a moment we might even believe that they did. If you think about it, our conception of just about every distant historical or mythical figure is just an artifact of the stories that marketers have told us. Sometimes they’re marketing for profit, other times they’re just spinning a tale (Washington and his cherry tree).

It all comes down to two simple things:

  • Most people want to believe.
  • And we’re most comfortable believing what everyone else believes.

Frequency, Frequency, Frequency and the paradox of the Net

The #1 contributor to success in advertising, without any question whatsoever, is frequency. "Repeat yourself until everyone is annoyed but your accountant," says my friend Jay Levinson.

Most of the time, creative entrepreneurs lose interest long before their marketing message loses its power.

The challenge online is this: smart people are bored by frequency. The people you’re trying hardest to reach won’t sit still for repetitive messages. I used to read a certain blog religiously, but after the 300th irrelevant post about his new book, I had to flee. I haven’t been back since.

So this is the dilemma. If the most powerful asset online is permission, the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to the people who want to get them… and the most powerful tool of advertising is repetition and frequency, which the majority of prospects cringe at (but which works) what to do?

I think there are two strategies that are shaping up online.

The first: burn your permission. Every time you have something to sell, either buy enough ads on popular sites to achieve frequency, or just burn out your core base by repeating your message over and over again. At least you’ll make enough money to be able to rebuild your audience later.

The second: go easy on the frequency and embrace your audience. Give them what they want (interesting, new stuff) instead of what you need (frequency). Play for the long run.

I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong. But I do think actions have consequences, and you should be aware of them when you make your choice.

Learning from flirting

When you get a chance, go take a look at I’m in Like With You.

Not a great name, but a very neat site. Here’s what I learned:
a. there’s a generation that has absolutely no patience for the interfaces you and I love.
b. the opportunities in creating engagement online are far bigger than most people anticipated.
c. this is just the beginning.
d. there’s no way, none, that tradtional online ad models will generate revenue for sites like this.
e. more than almost anything, people like looking at pictures of themselves (and those that admire them).

Given the choice, that teenager you’re trying to market to is ignoring you and she’s on this site instead. Take it or leave it.