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Thinking about Danny Devito

George Clooney is a movie star. He looks like one. He makes tens of millions of dollars a year, hangs out at Cannes and has starlets falling at his feet.

Danny Devito is exactly five feet tall. He was perfectly cast as the Penguin.

Can you imagine the career advice Danny got? The well-meaning people who explained to him (as if he didn’t know) that he didn’t really look like George Clooney? That perhaps, maybe, he should consider a job as a personal trainer or short order cook…

The math, however, tells us something different.

(number of people resembling George Clooney)/(jobs for people resembling George Clooney) is a much bigger number than the ratio available to Danny. For the math challenged: Because everyone in Hollywood is trying to be George, there are a lot more opportunities for the few Dannys willing to show up.

Invest in Danny. The edges usually pay off.


Just wondering–do you deserve to be recognized by the businesses you patronize, the charities you support and the place you work? Would it feel good to have the barrista remember you? Or the sushi chef at that place you spend so much time and money? (Thanks to Fredd for the link).

Even better, do you think it would be motivating (or even satisfying) to have your boss recognize you for the hard work you did over Memorial Day weekend? Honest recognition, not just a mumbled thanks…

Last question: do you think your customers and co-workers feel the same way?

Links and subscriptions

An interview with Etsy about gender, shopping and stories.


A secret way to find archives and subscription options on my blog (just click on the head logo on the top left corner of my blog).


A longish interview with John Havens about new media.

Such a bargain. Thanks for reading, for listening and for subscribing.

Tide needs your help!

Never mind Darfur or the volcano in Chile or the earthquake in China or the cyclone in Myanmar.


Fortunately, as you can see, your answers to the survey will be (completely) confidential. Thanks for the example, Micah.

This isn’t nearly as over the top as the huge news coming out of the Chives Marketing Board today.

Let’s put on a show

That’s what professional marketers do. They put on a show, on purpose.

There are plenty of naive marketers who are quite (accidentally) successful. My friend Al Yeganeh ("no soup for you!") didn’t treat customers at his soup stand the way he did as a marketing ploy. It’s just who he was. He was a naive marketer, not a professional one. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Most artists are naive marketers).

The show can be overt (like Cirque de Soleil) or quite subtle (like the music of chirping birds played outdoors at Epcot). But professionals know that they’re putting on a show and do it on purpose. Big company CEOs put the show on for guests and investors and underlings. It usually involves lots of assistants and waiting around. Sometimes, as Andy Grove demonstrated, the show involves sitting in a cubicle just like everyone else. Hiring HR people put on the show too.

If I parodied your show, your brand show or your personal show, would people recognize it? Could I spoof you on Seinfeld or imitate you if I were Rich Little?

The buying department at WalMart is one big show, with tiny cubicles and all sorts of rules of engagement. And of course the TSA is nothing but security theatre.

If you had a budget for props, what would you buy? What about costumes?

Your resume might put on a show, and perhaps you put one on at work. Kevin at Digg puts on a show, and does Carly Fiorina and every successful politician you’ve ever met. Some people insist that they’re not putting on a show. That’s a show too, of course.

If you can live the role, really be in it, and be transparent about your motivations, putting on a show is productive and highly leveraged. If you work in customer service, marketing yourself as friendly (and being friendly!) is far more effective than just acting however you feel in any given moment, isn’t it? That’s because, if you’re good at it, you realize that becoming a friendly customer service marketer is exactly what you need to do. Not pretend to be friendly, actually be friendly.

On the other hand, even if you’re a professional marketer, if your show is cynical or manipulative, it’s going to fall apart on you. Even Marlon Brando couldn’t live the show all the time if he didn’t believe it.

The difference between a professional and a naive marketer is that the professional can put on a different show in her next job, or for her next brand. Al Yeganeh, on the other hand, can only sell soup.

The difference between a company that makes stuff and a company that markets is that the latter is conscious of the fact that the market demands a show. So they put one on, on purpose, the best they can.

The next time you build a trade show booth or answer the phone or write an email, take a moment to think a little bit about the show.

Angry people are different

AngrycurveAngry people are different from other people. They are not just an inch or two along some curve. Instead, there’s a gap in the curve, a vertical chasm, separating the angry from everyone else.

You may encounter angry prospects (angry before you even got there) or angry customers or angry regulators or even angry employees. They’re similar to each other but different from the rest of us.

It’s tempting to treat an angry person just like a typical person, just… angrier. This is probably a mistake, because anger brings its own reality along with it. An angry customer isn’t just a little less valuable than a non-angry customer. In fact, she’s on a curve all her own.

I have two suggestions for dealing with angry folks:

  1. Sometimes, you can just avoid them. You can choose not to work with angry people. Just move on. There are plenty of non-angry people out there.
  2. You can acknowledge the anger and understand that until you make the anger go away, all responses are going to be off the charts and completely useless to you. The opportunity in working with an angry person is that you can somehow turn that angry person into a non-angry one… and from there, move them up the curve to a relationship you both value. The mistake marketers make all the time is that we believe that moving the person up the curve is the next step. It’s not. No one moves while they’re angry.

"I’m never coming back to this restaurant again!" is angry.
"Our special next week is lasagna…" isn’t going to do the trick as a response.

"I’m angry that my candidate didn’t win the primary,"
so, "Consider my health plan," isn’t going to work.

"You cancelled my flight!" is angry, thus…
"That’s our policy sir, read the ticket," is obviously a lousy marketing ploy.

Magically delicious

I was talking to a teenager this weekend about the attributes of Lucky Charms. It had never occurred to her that they were magically delicious. In fact, they’re a lot like most breakfast cereals, except for the marshmallows.

Some marketers are still relying on the idea that they can drill a catch phrase or benefit or USP or differentiation into our heads through ceaseless ads. It sure worked on me.

Is this the core strategy behind the growth of your business?

Not sure it’s going to work any more.

The spirit of the game

There are two ways to get ahead. You can work the system or you can beat the system.

Beating the system usually involves some sort of subterfuge. Once everyone knows how you beat the system, the system adjusts and changes the rules, making it difficult for you to repeat the feat again. When card counters beat the system in Las Vegas, they weren’t breaking the rules, but the system didn’t care. They just increased the number of decks in use so it would be more difficult and less lucrative. When athletes beat the system by doping, the system adjusts so it’s either a lot more difficult or less of an advantage.

Years ago, leading accounting firms were pitching wealthy prospects the idea of "perfectly legal" tax shelters that would lead to paying zero taxes on investments. You guessed it… the secret leaked out and they were busted.

Working the system is very different. Far from being secret, working the system is public and honored. When Malcolm Gladwell works the system to deliver two stunning bestsellers in a row, booksellers and publishers don’t quickly make it more difficult to write books that appeal to a large audience… instead, his competitors work to raise their game and everyone benefits. When Bill Boomer taught the US Olympic team to swim in a very different way, he had nothing to hide, because he was working within the spirit of the game.

The web is nothing but a system, a bunch of (largely unwritten) rules regarding search, linking, promotion, etc. It’s fascinating to watch as some people work hard to work the system, and succeed time and time again, while others waste countless hours with one scheme after another designed to beat the system. They invent cloaking devices and seo scams and pyramid schemes and lightly disguised spam pages, constantly struggling to stay ahead (and to stay quiet). Sure, you can beat the system (any system) for a while, but it’s a constant struggle.

In Ultimate Frisbee, there are no referees. The system insists that you make your own calls… players closest to the play call it, with no real appeals. The goal: play in the spirit of the game. If you keep working to beat the system, you’ll end up with no one to play with. Work the system, and you’ll win now and later.

Rough edges and attention

Most of the time, people notice the
If you want to get noticed, don’t be so polished.

This UPS truck has a haphazardly affixed SAFETY sign hanging from the back. Think that’s unintentional? UPS does it on purpose. You notice it because a human being did it.

Same with the seven-page-long menus at diners in New York City. With thousands of things to choose from on the laminated, typeset menu, it’s difficult for some people to make a choice. What to do? Well, there’s a stained 3×5 card paper clipped to the front page listing four special dishes. They’re not specials in the sense that they change every day, they’re just specials because they’re on the card. And yes, that’s what people order.

When in doubt, scrawl make it human.

A chance to be on the cover of my new book

It’s about you, after all.

If you’d like to be on the cover–at least in a teeny tiny little section of it– (no promises, none at all–the cutting room floor is bigger than the cover), send a photo of yourself (headshots are best) to me [sorry, you missed the deadline]. If you’re lucky, you’ll join a thousand other handsome folks immortalized in print.  It could even get you on the Dick Cavett show. Here’s your chance to be slightly famous.

It will only be read by a computer, so please don’t send me any details or notes (I’ll be looking at all of them, though, so rest assured that there’s a real person at the other end). Of course, your email address won’t be re-used in any way. The book is out in October and I’m not talking about it, not one bit, for months. But lead times are long, so here you go. Deadline is May 31. [We’ve reached the deadline. Thanks to all of you who responded! It really is an amazing collection. Sorry if you didn’t make the cut this time.]

I hope you’ll give it a shot. Have a great weekend.