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Ordinary is cheaper than you

The folks who answer the phone at information and the airlines aren’t folks any more. They’re computers.

And the person taking your order at the drive-through isn’t in the same state as you. They might not even be in the same country.

It’s now clear to employers everywhere that they can hire ordinary, perfectly-acceptable staff for a fraction of what they have to pay you to do the job.

In other words, if all the best you can do is ‘good enough’, then why on earth should I pay you the benefits and wages that it costs to get you to do that work?

Sorting out

Gavin Potter says, “The 20th century was about sorting out supply, the 21st is going to be about sorting out demand.”

Think about that one for a second. Not about maximizing demand, but about sorting it out. When your messages reach the right people at the right time in the right way, magic happens. It’s not about forcing or pushing or attacking or targeting or closing.

This is a huge step forward in how you can think about your customers and how they act.

May I have your attention please

or perhaps


Of course, I can’t have your attention. I could borrow it or earn it or if I use all caps, offend you and demand it.

The most precious commodity on a momentary basis is attention. Each moment occurs only once, and if a marketer just takes it, we’re understandably annoyed. There is no refund window for misused attention…

Which leads to the idea of free. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Chris Anderson has just unveiled the outline of the key arguments in his brilliant new book about FREE.

This is well worth a read. I’ve written about free on this blog about 600 times, so I think it’s a pretty important topic.

One reason is the cost side, which Chris writes about so eloquently, but another reason has to do with attention. If you want someone’s attention, I’m afraid you’re going to have to earn it. To pay for it. To do something that makes the person who just gave you this attention feel like a fair bargain was struck.

You can do that by creating a remarkable service or product. You can do it by paying them with cash. Or you can do it with free. Free undermines the typical human’s proclivity to ignore every offer. Even if it’s a penny, we’ll ignore it. Free changes that. In other words, buying attention is a marketing expense, and one way to budget for that is to deduct it from the cost of your product. As Tim O’Reilly says, piracy is not the enemy, obscurity is.

The interesting thing about most products and services is that we won’t buy them until we know what they are and what they do. And often the best and only way to do that is to use them. For some products (like music) using them once and owning them are very close to the same thing. Hence, free. You can view that as a problem or you can see it as an opportunity. Up to you.

Marketing is not advertising, not any more. It is often found in the way you make something, talk about it and yes, price it.

Thinking about Dustin Hoffman

I’m sitting here on the plane watching The Graduate, a movie I’m surprised I’ve never seen before. There, on the big (little) screen up front is Mr. Magorium’s Emporium, a movie I’m glad I’ve never seen before. Same Dustin Hoffman, of course, separated by forty years or so.

It’s unusual to be able to watch someone’s career develop over that long a period of time.

But now, in the age of blogs and a million channels and the social graph, I wonder how unusual that really is. I had coffee at a party with Soledad O’Brien ten years ago and now I see her on TV announcing election results. I started reading Rich’s startup blog a few years ago, reading Tom Peters twenty five (!) years ago and emailing with some of my colleagues almost as long ago. (I think my first email with Guy Kawasaki was in 1987).

You’re going to be on people’s radar a lot longer than you think, longer than you’re going to be at your current job and longer than you might want. The web doesn’t forget.

That guy who saved my life

I was talking today in a teleconference about how ‘friends’ aren’t really friends, at least not in most social graphs. I’m not much inclined to do a heroic favor for a friend of a friend of a friend. As a result, because it feels icky to say ‘no’, I don’t hang out in the networking sites.

On the other hand, that guy who saved my life once, he can ask for just about anything and not only will I oblige, it will delight me to do so.

Two ends of the spectrum, with lots in between.

I don’t think a large volume at the easy end of the spectrum is a replacement for a few at the hard-earned end. Not at all.

Video presentation about the future of the music business

I’ve taken down the video, sorry. I’m just not happy with the way I was able to get it to look online.

I’ll try to do a transcript soon. My apologies.

The Boss

Here’s the thing: every single one of these policies is something that you’d be willing to do for a good customer anyway.

So, rather than taking the posture of "I hate you and I don’t trust you," why not start with this one?

LL Bean has been doing it for a hundred years. It works.

Just down the street, the proprietor yelled at us for taking a photo. At a t-shirt store. Sheesh. Wanna guess where we bought our overpriced souvenirs?

Marketing in a recession

When times are good, buying things is a sport. It’s a reward. The story we tell ourselves is that we deserve it, that we want it and why not?

When the mass psychology changes and times are seen as not so good, the story we tell ourselves changes as well. Now, we buy out of defense, to avoid trouble. Or we buy because something will never be as cheap again. Or we buy smaller items for the same sense of reward.

Of course, the two different extremes can lead you to buy the very same thing. It’s not the thing so much as it’s the story.

Starbucks was the indulgence of a confident person happy to blow $4 on a cup of coffee. Starbucks can become the small indulgence for the person who just traded down to a small rented apartment.

The challenge for marketers is to figure out how to change the story they are living so that their customers can change the story they tell themselves. What you make, where you make it, who makes it, how it’s priced and sold and … it all adds up to a perception. If you change these elements the story will change too.

Advice for real estate agents (quit now!)

I had the good fortune to speak to a large gathering of real estate agents last week. Here’s my best advice (everyone knows an agent or two, so feel free to forward this along).

Plan A: You should quit selling real estate.

I’m serious.

Quit being an agent. Get a job doing something else.

Some of you have been waiting to hear that. My pleasure.

Now, if you’re still with me, you’ll be glad to know that the competition for attention just got smaller. The agents who built their business on low interest rates, easy money and speculation (the order takers) have left the building.

The ones that are left, that’s you, can consider Plan B:

If you’re not going to be able to make a living by taking orders, by selling houses the way everyone else does, by using the never-ending rise in real estate prices to make sales, then what are you going to do? Whining is not an option.

In fact, I think this is an extraordinary opportunity for you.

Without a frenzy, without short-term competition, you can actually build assets that will pay off for the long run. I have two in mind:

The first is to become the expert in what you do. Which means micro-specialization. Who is the single-best agent for condos in your zip code? Or for single family homes for large families? Who is the one and the only best person to turn to if you’re looking for investment property in this part of town?

As I wrote in The Dip, you’re either the best in the world (where ‘world’ can be a tiny slice of the environment) or you’re invisible.

This means being Draconian in your choices. No, you can’t also do a little of this or a little of that. Best in your world means burning your other bridges and obsessing.

"I have no time!"

Of course you have that time available. Remember nine months ago when you were three times as busy with incoming calls as you are now? Invest that time in building up your expertise and becoming the person people who don’t even like you turn to for insight.

Or, consider this: Take half your office (the half made vacant by the people following Plan A) and turn it over to local groups. Let the active (and nascent) clubs and organizations meet in your office. Not once in a while. Regularly. All the time. Become the hub. Because, after all, you’re the mayor.

The second asset to build is permission. It turns out (according to the NAR) that 91% of all Realtors never contact the buyer or the seller of a home after the closing. Not once. Wow. Someone just spent a million dollars with you and you don’t bother to call or write?

The opportunity during the current pause (and yes, it’s a pause) is to find, one by one, the people who would benefit from hearing from you and then earn the right to talk to them. Earn the right to send them a newsletter or a regular update or a subscription to your blog. NOT to talk about what matters to you, but to give them information (real information, not just data) that matters to them. Visit dailycandy.com to see an example of what people like to hear.

The opportunity is to reinvent the way you interact with citizens, with prospects, with the mildly interested and with your past clients. The opportunity, in other words, is to stop waiting around for the phone to ring and instead figure out how to do what you do best… connect buyers and sellers in a way that makes them both confident.

Some of you will stick with the standard business card with the standard photo, the standard office and the standard ad strategy and the standard approach to making the phone ring. It’s going to be a long haul if that’s your route.

I’m betting, though, that the best of you will end up with a business model that will survive, thrive and prosper. Best time to start is right now.

It’s too easy to criticize hope

And in the end, cynicism is a lousy strategy.