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“Do you have” vs. “Do you want”

John Moore talks about Borders Reducing its Borders.

It turns out that cutting inventory by 10% and facing books out (instead of just showing spines) increased their sales by 9%. This is counter to Long Tail thinking, which says that more choices and more inventory tend to increase sales.

The distinction is worth noting, because there are two valid strategies.

You can stock everything, so that the answer to the question, "do you have" is yes.

Or, you can market and sell, not just take orders, so instead of answering that question, you’re asking, "do you want?"

Do you want this cool new cookbook about Spain? It’s right next to that amazing new novel about food in Spain…

Bookstores that follow this strategy need to be pickier about what they carry, organized differently (alphabetical order again!) and staffed differently as well. Don’t put all the cookbooks in a little corner. Instead, put books for me (whether they are cookbooks or computer books) together and make me delighted I found you.

This kind of bookstore needs to sell and merchandise and promote and tickle and promise and tantalize and thrill.

Hey, that might work for your business, too.

The next seminar (a fundraiser)

I hope you can join me for my next seminar in New York. This is the first in eight months or so, a fundraiser for the Acumen Fund. Every penny paid goes directly to them. My goal is for us to raise $100,000.

The date is April 30th and the fee is $2,000 a seat, paid directly to Acumen. All the details are right here. The first 35 enrolled get a free copy of my DVD boxed set.

I can’t see another one happening for a while, so if you’re interested, I hope you can make it.

Alphabetical order is obsolete

I love the alphabet and the fact that it has an order. There’s no reason for the order of the letters, but there you go.

With computers, though, alphabetical order is almost always a bad idea, even chronological order doesn’t work perfectly.

Example: When I look through my spam folder, I shouldn’t see the notes in chrono order or alphabetical by sender (with AAAA’ going first…). No, I should see the notes in order of least likely to be spam to most likely. Right? (book tip: Everything is Miscellaneous).

Example: When I do a search in Google images, I want them sorted by relevance and then, within that, by size. Bigger is better.

Bookstores really don’t have much choice. They need to alphabetize the books so you’ll know that you’ll find me in the Gs, near Malcolm Gladwell. But Amazon has no business using the alphabet, because almost any other ordering technique makes more sense.

Going to alpha by default is lazy and ineffective and expensive.

Why does my Sonos make me start browsing my music collection with Abba? (Phew, I don’t have any Abba, but you get the idea). Wouldn’t it make more sense to show me, "music you haven’t heard lately that’s similar to music you’ve been listening to" first?

Your address book is in alphabetical order, right? Why? If you want to look someone up, type the name in. Alpha is least useful way to browse 4,000 names in an address book. I want them sorted by recency of contact, or in tickler-file order.

If I knew that lists of blogs in blog readers would be in alpha, I would have changed my name.

Your data files, your product catalog… none of it should be in alphabetical order.

The one exception is the name of ski slopes. Ski slopes should go from A to Z, left to right, as you look at the mountain. If someone says, "I’ll meet you at the top of Montego Bay," you know where that is without looking at a map. And, by the way, the difficulty of each slope could be coded into the name. Cities could be easiest, animals could be blues, and the most difficult slopes could be named after disgraced politicians….

Don’t get me started.

The thing about ‘free’

I posted an internship yesterday. The idea was to combine the "you pay to come" model of summer camp with the "we pay you to do low level work" of an internship to create a learning experience for students that was, split the difference, free. I felt like a free program would represent a combination of our effort and the interns.

Free, though, is not the average of paid and paid for. Free is something entirely different.

My friend Joel dropped me a note and asked why I was asking people to post a deposit (to be returned at the end of the summer). It felt wrong to him. I wrote back,

When I do a non profit seminar (they’re always free), the number of people who say, "yes I’m coming" and the number of people who come is not the same.

So, if I have room for ten, do I do a seminar for eight, or do I book 12 seats and play airline seat manager for the day?

I have no doubt, none, that if it were free, at least one person wouldn’t show.

That got me thinking about free music, free samples and other free interactions. They’re different. Paying a dollar for a song isn’t expensive to anyone who pays $3 for a cup of coffee. The dollar isn’t about expense, it’s about selection and choice and commitment.

There is no commitment, one way or the other, for free. If applying to college were free, the number of schools people would apply to would approach infinity–yet the cost of the application is trivial compared to the cost of tuition.

At the TED conference, which costs plenty of money, they had baskets of cool free snacks. Expensive little bags of nuts and stuff, all free. And what you noticed was lots of half-eaten bags of stuff. If the snacks had cost just a quarter, consumption would have been lower and my guess is that satisfaction would have been higher.

The interaction you seek as a marketer often disappears when something is free. The fascinating thing is that it often doesn’t matter if you’re paying or being paid… it’s the transaction either way that changes the posture of the person you’re working with.

So, if I want to be taken seriously, I could charge for the internship or I could pay. We’re going to pay.

As you think about your web service or your newsletter or the sales calls you go on, consider this: could you charge for it? What would happen if you paid for it? Time share folks have been paying people to endure a sales call for years. My guess is that this is because it works. And trade shows charge people to attend what is essentially a large loud sales call show floor. (Important note: ‘charging’ doesn’t always mean cash money. Giving you large amounts of attention or privacy or data counts too).

When you bring money into the equation, everything changes (ask the governor of New York). Chris Anderson is right when he writes about the power of free in marketing… it dramatically increases sampling and earns you the right to attention, at least for a while. I think Google is the exception that proves the rule: the most powerful brands are the ones that earn the right to a transaction.

The summer intern program

Announcing a summer camp for marketers in high school and college.

The details are here.

I’m looking for a few brilliant/charismatic/motivated/charming and curious interns/students for the summer. Spread the word if you can. Pass the smores, please.

That noise inside my head

  • Why do [some] people struggling for an income end up using an expensive check cashing service when the bank right next door will let them have a checking account for free?
  • Why do [some] students spend an hour fighting about their homework instead of ten minutes just doing it?
  • Why do customers fall for slick come ons or fancy financing instead of buying what’s best for them?
  • Why is it so easy to fool voters with patently false accusations?
  • Why do some people turn a routine traffic stop into a life-endangering argument with the cop?
  • Why can’t worthy charities (with dreary stories) raise more money than they do?

I think in every case the answer is the same: Internal noise. [I got a few notes about check cashing services, by the way. In many cities, there are banks that have sensible policies for low income customers, and most jobs that use a payroll service like ADP offer direct deposit. The combination would save a large number of people a lot of time and money, and my point isn’t that there are enough financial services available to the less fortunate (there aren’t) but that if it weren’t for a fear of banks, plenty more people would take advantage of the services that are available. $5 a week for check cashing might account for 30% of someone’s disposal income, which is a sin.]

My friend Lisa was on a plane once and her seatmate kept looking at her. She finally said, "Is the noise inside my head bothering you?"

Just about everyone has noise inside their head. It’s a noise that keeps them from being rational, that forces them to avoid the simple truths sometimes, that makes them unable to take a shortcut when a long (more emotional one) is available.

Emotional intelligence
(EQ) gives us a way to talk about how people navigate the world. Far more important than IQ in most settings, emotional intelligence can be learned, but it rarely is. My take is that not only is it important for dealing with work and personal situations, it also makes you a better consumer of marketing.

If you as a marketer(/fundraiser/teacher/blogger/salesperson/parent) are assuming that all the citizens in your audience have genius level EQ, you’re almost certainly making a mistake and you’re paying for it every day.

Sunk costs, quitting and the value of your brand

One of the most important lessons they teach in business school is to ‘ignore sunk costs’. It doesn’t matter how much time or money or effort you’ve invested in something, if that project no longer makes economic sense, you should stop.

And in The Dip, I talk about the powerful benefits of quitting.

Which leads to an interesting marketing question that doesn’t have a lot to do with your political views and a lot to do with your take on sunk costs and brand quality: Should Hillary Clinton quit?

Certainly, there are a lot of sunk costs. Years of effort, dues paid, heartaches endured. This might be her best window of opportunity, after all. And yet, all of these sunk costs should be completely irrelevant to the decision. For every brand and for every person, yesterday is irretrievably gone and tomorrow is worth a great deal.

Last week, my company switched providers of an expensive commodity. The company we had been with realized we were moving on and moved into high gear to keep the account. At one point, it was clear that they could have gone into war room-mode, denigrating our decision, criticizing the new company and scorching the earth. I watched the gears turn, though, and saw them take a different path.

Here’s the math as I see it for brand Hillary: The only chance she has to win is to burn down other brands, violate protocol, push harder than many think appropriate. She has to change her brand to achieve her goal. Not only that, but she has to risk the entire Party at the same time. If she does manage to win the nomination, she will be pilloried by the right (the very same Rush that endorsed her in Texas). They’re just waiting for the chance.

The new brand, the one that it would take to succeed at this stage, almost guarantees she doesn’t succeed at the next.

And the alternative?

The alternative is to quit. To become a statesman. A respected power broker.

The alternative is to be the trusted advisor, the person who gave up one dream to realize a bigger one, and to build a brand and a lifestyle with long-term leverage.

That company we switched from last week? Instead of ruining our relationship and criticizing our judgment, they kept the door open. They congratulated us on our growth and earned the right to work with us again one day.

For a long time, we’ve created a myth in our culture that it’s worth any price to reach your goal, especially if your ego tells you that you’re the best solution. We’ve created legends of people and organizations that pursued transformative long shots to achieve great results.

I need to be really clear: pushing through the Dip and becoming the best in the world at what you do is in fact the key to success. But (and it’s a big but), if you’re required to become someone you’re not, or required to mutate your brand into one that’s ultimately a failure in order to do so, you’re way better off quitting instead.

Change your clocks

Weird dreams

Years ago, when I saw the first Will It Blend video, I thought it was a hoot. And I dreamed of one day, perhaps, just maybe, appearing in one.

Well, that day has come. Thanks, George. Nice work, Kels.

The dreaded asterisk

From a recent ad from DWR:

"It’s our Semiannual Sale, which means big savings on our entire assortment, even classics like the Swan Chair (1959) by Arne Jacobsen.*"

Entire. Even.

And then the asterisk.

Which says, "*Exclusions apply."

Whoa. Now what else don’t I trust about you?