Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

Marketing HR

Yesterday’s post led to some good email about Human Resources.

Understand that in days of yore, factories consisted of people and machines. The goal was to use more machines, fewer people, and to design processes so that the people were interchangeable, low cost and easily replaced. The more leverage the factory-owner had, the better. Hence Personnel or the even more cruel term: HR. It views people as a natural resource, like lumber.

Like it or not, in most organizations HR has grown up with a forms/clerical/factory focus. Which was fine, I guess, unless your goal was to do something amazing, something that had nothing to do with a factory, something that required amazing programmers, remarkable marketers or insanely talented strategy people.

So, here’s my small suggestion, one that will make some uncomfortable.

Change the department name to Talent.

The reason this makes some people uncomfortable is that it seems like spin, like gratuitous double speak. And, if you don’t change what you do, that would be true.


What if you started acting like the VP of Talent? Understanding that talent is hard to find and not obvious to manage. The VP of Talent would have to reorganize the department and do things differently all day long (small example: talent shouldn’t have to fill out reams of forms and argue with the insurance company… talent is too busy for that… talent has people to help with that.)

Microsoft and Google both have a very healthy focus on finding and recruiting Talent. McDonald’s recently announced that they want to hire people who smile more. The first strategy works, the second won’t. Talent is too smart to stay long at a company that wants it to be a cog in a machine. Great companies want and need talent, but they have to work for it.

No user servicable parts inside

That’s what it says on countless electronic and mechanical devices. "Don’t touch this," it says, "you’re way too dumb to open it… you’ll get hurt"

The problem, of course, is that pretty soon you start looking at the entire world that way. Whether it’s web design or Google analytics or backing up your hard drive or just talking to the guys in the plant about your new ideas, it’s really easy to see the world as a black box.

Here’s a simple secret of success: ignore the sticker.

Figure out how to use the tools that the most successful people in your field understand innately.


What do you call the people that marketers interact with? The ones who aren’t customers yet…

I was talking with Dan Pink on a conference call earlier and we
realized that "prospect" or "target market" are very marketing-centric
terms. The person is defined by the marketer, not the other way around.

Isn’t it interesting that there isn’t even a name for someone who doesn’t yet have a relationship with the marketer?

We settled on citizen. (Jackie and Ben used a variant on this in their latest book.)

Citizen recognized the power of this individual. Citizens are no
longer the weak, isolated pre-consumers in front of a TV set in 1971,
with few options. Now, citizens appear to be holding all the cards. It
sounds a bit pretentious, but then, so do most terms marketers use.

When you stop calling people ‘targets’ or ‘prospects’ and start calling them ‘guests’ or ‘citizens’, you can’t help but become a little more humble and a little more respectful. Try it, it works.

The mp3 of the conversation is here.


Like most creatures, people are stressed out. Almost all the time. And when we’re not, we seek out adventures and interactions to make us stressed. We get stressed about money, reputation, safety, relationships and whether we have to move our seat on the plane after we get on.

Stress is an essential part of the human condition. It rises when we’re about to buy something or sell something or interact with someone. We spend money to avoid it and we spend money to embrace it. And we almost never talk about it.

That thing you’re marketing… Does it add to stress or take it away? Is it stressful to talk about it? Buy it? Get rid of it? Is it more stressful not to buy it than it is to go ahead and buy one? Does it promise to reduce stress, but end up causing more?

Worth thinking about.

The posture of a communicator

If you buy my product but don’t read the instructions, that’s not your fault, it’s mine.
If you read a blog post and misinterpret what I said, that’s my choice, not your error.
If you attend my presentation and you’re bored, that’s my failure.
If you are a student in my class and you don’t learn what I’m teaching, I’ve let you down.

It’s really easy to insist that people read the friggin manual. It’s really easy to blame the user/student/prospect/customer for not trying hard, for being too stupid to get it or for not caring enough to pay attention. Sometimes (often) that might even be a valid complaint. But it’s not helpful.

What’s helpful is to realize that you have a choice when you communicate. You can design your products to be easy to use. You can write so your audience hears you. You can present in a place and in a way that guarantees that the people you want to listen will hear you. Most of all, you get to choose who will understand (and who won’t).

You just know

Glenn sent me to the dieline blog.

Glenn’s site is filled with examples of work that a non-designer couldn’t say why it worked, but just knows that the hotel or product or whatever they’re looking at is professional and first rate and trustworthy. Great stuff.

The dieline blog is a wonderful collection of packaging insights. Once again, you might not have thought of it, but you’ll almost certainly get it, whatever ‘it’ is.

The funny thing is that design on the web is almost the opposite. Winning sites on the web almost always have terrible design and terrible logos. Unless I define terrible as ‘not working’. In which case the design is not terrible. In fact, it works so well it now seems to be clear that clunky, engineering-built design might just be the secret to success online.

Color matters

Especially online, where there are so few cues and so few choices.

This page of color choices will change your life. A lot. For the better.

[PS Michael recommends this page from Adobe. And finally, this and this came in as well… who knew?]


When I walked into my hotel room the other night, I was amazed to discover that no less than 18 lights were on (all traditional bulbs) and that the heat was set on three different thermostats to a toasty 75 degrees in honor of winter.

Then, when I got home, the $125 watch I had ordered from Amazon was waiting for me. The box for the watch contained four pamphlets, a small velvet bag, a cleaning cloth and was more than 10 inches by 3 inches by 3 inches in size. It weighed well over a pound–just the presentation box, not the watch.

In both cases, I don’t think I would have noticed or cared just a few years ago. Today, both feel wrong. Not all of your customers will feel this way. Many will embrace willful waste as a sign of confidence or luxury. But as more customers change their worldview about waste, you need to consider who you’re talking to and what you’re saying.

Obvious hotel tip

The other night I stayed on the 67th floor of the very tall Westin hotel in Atlanta.

At 5 a.m., the power went out. With a speech to give, I did the only thing a dedicated speaker could do: I put on my coat, grabbed my suitcase and walked down 67 flights of stairs. (The power was still out at 8 a.m. No one got stuck in the one working elevator, but I still made the right choice).

Next time, I’ll sleep closer to the ground. Trading the view for safety and convenience is now a no-brainer.

The Placebo Affect*

[*spelled wrong on purpose. This post is from three years ago, and I thought it was worth another look:]

Everybody already knows how powerful the brain is. Take a sugar pill
that’s supposed to be a powerful medicine and watch your symptoms
disappear. Have a surgeon not perform bypass surgery on your heart (link.) and discover that the angina that has been crippling you vanishes.

The placebo effect is not just for sick people anymore.

Why do some ideas have more currency than others? Because we believe
they should. When Chris Anderson or Malcolm Gladwell writes about
something, it’s a better idea because they wrote about it.

Even as your culture of ideas and marketing enters its longtail,
open-source, low-barrier, everyone-has-a-blog era of mass publication,
we still need filters. Would your iPod sound as sweet if everyone else
had a Rio? Would your Manolo Blahniks be as cool if everyone else were
wearing Keds?

Arthur Anderson audited thousands of companies, and those audits gave us confidence in those companies, made them appear more solid, which, not surprisingly, made
them more solid. Then, post Enron, the placebo effect disappeared. Same
companies, same auditors, but suddenly those companies appeared LESS
solid, which made them less solid.

The magic of the placebo effect lies in the fact that you can’t do
it to yourself. You need an accomplice. Someone in authority who will
voluntarily tell you a story.

That’s what marketers do. We have the  “placebo affect.”
(* The knack for creating placebos.) Of course, we need to persuade
ourselves that it’s morally and ethically and financially okay to
participate in something as unmeasurable as the placebo effect. The
effect is controversial and it goes largely unspoken. Very rarely do we
come to meetings and say, “well, here’s our cool new PBX for Fortune
1000 companies. It’s exactly the same as the last model, except the
phones are designed by frog design so they’re cooler and more
approachable and people are more likely to invest a few minutes in
learning how to use them, so customer satisfaction will go up and we’ll
sell more, even though it’s precisely the same technology we were
selling yesterday.”

Very rarely do vodka marketers tell the truth and say, “here’s our
new vodka, which we buy in bulk from the same distillery that produces
vodka for $8 a bottle. Ours is going to cost $35 a bottle and come in a
really, really nice bottle and our ads will persuade laddies that this
will help them in the dating department… nudge, nudge, know what I
mean, nudge, nudge…”

It would be surprising to meet a monk or a talmudic scholar or a
minister who would say, “yes, we burn the incense or turn down the
lights or ring these bells or light these candles as a way of creating
a room where people are more likely to believe in their prayers,” but
of course that’s exactly what they’re doing. (and you know what?
there’s nothing wrong with that.)

It’s easier to get people to come to a meeting about clock speed and
warranty failure analysis than it is to have a session about

We don’t like to admit that we tell stories, that we’re in the
placebo business. Instead, we tell ourselves about features and
benefits as a way to rationalize our desire to to help our customers by
allowing them to lie to themselves.

The design of your blog or your package or your outfit is nothing
but an affect designed to create the placebo effect. The sound Dasani
water makes when you open the bottle is more of the same. It’s all
storytelling. It’s all lies.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, your marketplace insists on it.