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The power of remarkable

When I first wrote about Little Miss Matched about five years ago, they were an obscure little sock company, selling funky socks to fashionable girls.

The idea was beyond clever. 3 to a box, 133 styles, none of them match. Instead of a strategy built around a consultant’s vision of ‘utility’ or a strategy built around cheap or a strategy built around excessive retail distribution and heavy advertising, they built their strategy around one girl saying to another girl, "wanna see my socks?"

I couldn’t have invented a better Purple Cow story if I had tried.

The company let me know today that they just did a huge deal with Macys and closed a $17 million funding with the folks who financed Build a Bear’s retail rollout. Money isn’t the only point, of course, but if that’s the way you keep score, that’s a long way for a little company to come in five years.

[full disclosure: My feet are sponsored by LMM and I wear their socks every day. I am compensated by the company–they give me 33 free socks a year (not pairs of socks, just 33 socks), worth about $110.]

Is it worthy?

Is this the best I can do?

I’ve paid for the rent and the furnishings and the menus and the staff and the insurance… is this plate of food worthy of what went before it?

I’ve flown across the country to visit this museum–a building that cost more than a billion dollars to create and fill and maintain. Is my attention focused enough?

We paid $300 in marketing costs just to get this phone to ring this one time. How shall we answer it?

I’ve had a great education, suffered and scraped and scrounged to get this point… is this diagnosis, this surgery, this prescription, this bedside manner the end that justifies that effort?

We live in a stable democracy, a place where people have lived and died to give us the freedom to speak out… is that talking head or this spinning pundit the best we can do? Or is he just trying to make a profit and air another commercial?

Is cutting corners to make a buck appropriate when you consider what you could have done? What would someone with a bigger vision have done instead?

Is being negative or bitter or selfish within reason in face of how extraordinarily lucky we were to have been been born here and born now?

I take so much for granted. Perhaps you do as well. To be here, in this moment, with these resources. To have not just our health but the knowledge and the tools and the infrastructure. What a waste.

If I hadn’t had those breaks, if there weren’t all those people who had sacrificed or helped or just stayed out of my way… what then? Would I even have had a shot at this?

What if this were my last post? Would this post be worthy?

The object isn’t to be perfect. The goal isn’t to hold back until you’ve created something beyond reproach. I believe the opposite is true. Our birthright is to fail and to fail often, but to fail in search of something bigger than we can imagine. To do anything else is to waste it all.


As part of a promotion we’re doing, I built a Squidoo page about my friend Jacqueline.

It got me thinking about what it takes to make change, particularly change in the way markets respond. Markets are big and slow and often sort of dumb, so a memo isn’t going to be enough to make change happen.

As far as I can tell, there’s no demographic formula for determining who will make a difference. It doesn’t seem to matter where you were born, how much money your parents made or where you went to college. Sure, a head start in those areas makes it more likely that you’ll end up in a position of leverage. But it seems as though that isn’t enough.

Superheroes don’t have a look, but they definitely have an attitude. They’re restless and impatient, but, here’s the cool paradox, they’re also calm and patient. Patient because they realize that change takes a while. Patient because they understand that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth getting through the Dip. Impatient and restless, though, because they refuse to accept the status quo. Most of the time, of course, these can’t co-exist. Most of the time, the impatient flit. They don’t stick it out. Acumen just celebrated their seventh anniversary and this is the year traction is really kicking in.

The more superheroes we can find, the better. If you know one, celebrate them!

What Dave just did

Dave Balter, an old friend and colleague, has written a new book. It costs $45 on Amazon. But, for my loyal readers…you can get a copy of the ebook (the entire book) for free here.

The way he is bringing his idea to the world is instructive.

First, he wrote a book. You should write a book, too. Publishing a book
is easier than it appears (in some ways, like the typing, typesetting,
printing, and distributing part) but more difficult in others (like the
writing something worth reading part.) Writing a book forces you to be
organized and passionate and persuasive. Isn’t that worth trying?

Second, he rejected the idea of having a ‘real’ publisher publish
it. A real publisher adds time (perhaps six months or a year or two)
and limits many of your options re: pricing, distribution, royalties
and promotion.

Third, he realized that the ideas in a book are different than the
book itself. The ideas are free. Dave made the ideas even easier to
share by putting them into a PDF. If you want the souvenir edition, the
one you can hand to a friend or read on the beach or store on your
shelf, that costs a lot of money, but you don’t mind, because you’ve
already decided you wanted one (no risk, cause you’ve read it!)

Fourth, he figured out a way to use scarcity to create promotion. On
the day a book is released, it’s scarce. Scarce because no one has read
it yet. That scarcity makes it more likely that someone will blog about
it, because it’s a scoop. News. Cooler still, he’s not offering a copy of the book. Instead, he let me and a few other people offer it exclusively.

No, this doesn’t work if you haven’t worked with the blogger for
years, haven’t earned a reputation and most especially, haven’t written
something worth reading. In other words, it takes about six years of
hard work to become an overnight success. So, if you’re going to write
a book in six years, please start now and focus on hard work, breaking
new ground and being a standup guy.

If you follow Dave’s tactics exactly, you’ll certainly fail (at least with me),
because it’s already been done before. But, I have no doubt that variations on this
method are going to get more and more powerful. (You can read my
original free ebook–it was seven (!) years ago–right here. That book was a total homerun for me and for my readers–it has been downloaded, emailed and purchased millions and millions of times. I’m surprised the tactic isn’t more popular.)

Find hundreds of other free ebooks at changethis. I started changethis with some talented interns a few summers ago, and because I’m not involved with it any longer, it’s cooler than ever.

Silence is a virtue

If the best thing you can think of is a bad pun, random capitalization and a weak photo (salt and pepper included!) it’s probably better to do nothing at all.

Nothing at all is actually the biggest difference between professional and amateur marketers. The pros are better at being quiet.

Even if there’s room left on the page, or in the display window or in the blog post…

Authenticity and reality and intention

Take a listen to this montage of three songs.

Listen to mp3

Any guesses as to what you just heard? Go ahead, I'll wait.

That's right, it's the Silver Beats, a group of four young men from Japan that have a serious Beatles Otaku. (One of John Lennon's original name for his group was the Silver Beetles.) They mimic each note, each cable, each instrument. I saw them in concert and it was uncanny.

Here's the thing: As far as I know, they don't speak English. 

Does that change things? Does it make the song different when you know the singer has no idea what, "I want to hold your hand," means? If every original Beatles song was replaced by an indistinguishable Silver Beats cover, would it matter? What about when a rich guy sings the blues? Or when a heartbreaker song is sung by a happily married man?

The popcorn videos I posted the other day have been seen around the web millions of times. It's now generally assumed that they are fake. Does that make them resonate differently for you?

What about the difference between Jerry Seinfeld (who writes his own material) and someone like David Letterman (who doesn't). Does it change your experience to know that?

How much marketing fakery do you willingly accept, and how much do you want to know about? Does the vegetarian really want to know that they didn't wash the pot at the restaurant and a few molecules of chicken broth are in that soup? How many molecules before it matters? Is it different if it's an accident? Why?

Marketers like to talk about transparency and authenticity. I think for most people, most of the time, we care a lot more about the effect and use of a product or service and less about who made it and why. We chose Converse because they get us a date, and we don't change brands just cause Nike owns them now.

Except for when we do. When we feel deceived or tricked, the game can change, and rapidly.

It's easier than ever to mount ornate hoaxes and fancy subterfuges. And you can get away with it for a while. But often, and at the worst possible moment, the market might change its mind. It might stop enjoying the fakery and switch to scorn and anger instead. I have no clue how to predict when this will happen. How much risk are you willing to take?

All customers are smarter than average

In study after study, respondents rate themselves as less racist than average, smarter than average, more generous than average.

And though they are never asked, I’m pretty certain that your customers also believe that they are righter than average as well.

At the airport yesterday, a woman at security said to the TSA official, "I’m a regular traveler, a frequent flyer and I know the rules. I want the fast line." A moment later, it was determined that the woman had two huge bottles of shampoo in her very large carry on. "No one told me that there was a restriction on liquids! Where does it say that?" she snarled, as she stood in front of the sign that said that…

Any time you ask customers to self-segregate, they will put themselves in the best line.

And just about any time you ask a customer to acknowledge that they were wrong, you will fail.

Thanks for your mail!

We answered all three, at least pretty much. You can move on, now. Nothing to see here…

Unanswered (random) questions

Now answered:

1. How did Economics get to be its own academic department? Surely, before Marx, it was part of the philosophy department, right? There are lots of fields that are subfields of something else (SEO, for instance, is part of ‘marketing’ and probably will be forever). Being your own department (in a company or a university) is a big deal. So, how exactly did it happen?

[Alan comes through with this article about Alfred Marshall. His life’s work appeared to be creating Economics as a department-worthy science.]

2. What’s the deal with brown rice? How do people become so attached to the social implications of food that they are willing to starve or suffer from malnutrition rather than take a step backward? The price of rice has soared, yet it seems like people are still demanding white rice, instead of the more nutritious (and almost certainly cheaper) brown rice. How high does the price have to go before people make a different choice?

[Dustin writes in with a great thought piece which concludes: "I don’t know where the breaking point is. At some point in the starvation chain, of course, people will eat whatever’s put in front of them. Bugs, live rodents, even, yes, human flesh. But war, famine, environmental disaster, and other cataclysmic events have rarely been enough to cause anything more than a short, non-systemic turn to substitutes, even when a long-term switch might be better in dozens of ways. After all, we humans eat so that we can make meaning, not the other way around."

To which I add: If people near starvation are willing to make choices based on self-esteem, I wonder what that says about those customers you think are focused only on the lowest price?]

3. Is there a web based service that permits the following: dozens or hundreds of people can participate in a live chat Q&A, probably with a moderator, along with a Skype-like audio function? Imagine how much cheaper and more effective large group conference calls could be. Skype limits conference calls to about 15, and it’s flaky at that size. This seems like an easy problem to solve extraordinarily well and even charge for…

[We’ve got Yackpack and dimdim. Thanks to Ross and Jayson. Two should be enough for now.]

Easter eggs and the Rick Roll

Perhaps you haven’t heard of either term, but there’s no doubt you’ve seen or heard of both.

An easter egg is a hidden treasure, usually inside of a video game. For example, in an old version of the Mac, pressing certain keys brought up a picture of the Mac development team. In various games, you might find special levels, the names of various contributors or logos.

The magic of the easter egg is that it gives your most devoted users something to talk about. Hey, they say, try this… It demonstrates their insider status as well as making them feel generous when they share the knowledge.

Tom Bihn put one on a piece of luggage, which became so popular it turned into a fundraising t-shirt.

You should think about rewarding your obsessed users with an easter egg.

And the Rick Roll? You visit a YouTube video promising some sort of insight or riches or scandal, but instead, quite suddenly, you are confronted with an old music video instead.

The Rick Roll is perfect because two things happen:
1. It shocks, at least a little bit. Not painful, but fun.
2. You feel compelled to Rick Roll someone else. So it spreads.

For two days in a row, I’ve talked about outbound marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing. That’s because I want you to more broadly define what you need to do all day. If it touches the user, if it involves a story, if it’s part of the product, it’s marketing.