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My tooth doesn’t hurt

That’s not something you think about very often, is it? (Not my tooth, your tooth).

When you have a toothache, on the other hand, it’s all you think about.

This is a double-edged sword for dentists. On one hand, dentists have no trouble whatsoever getting business from people with toothaches. They hardly have to try. Just show up, I’ll find you. On the other hand, when my teeth don’t hurt, you’re invisible. No amount of signs, service and wonderful marketing is going to get me to pay you to drill my teeth when they don’t hurt.

There are two challenges for toothache marketers (dentists and non-dentists alike).

1. Figure out a cost-effective way to be there. A way to gently be in my face so that when my toothache shows up (in whatever form that takes) you’re the obvious choice.

2. Create new products and services that build engagement and possibly revenue among members of the population that aren’t in pain. That, of course, is why teeth whitening services are so smart. You can sell to people who didn’t know they had a problem until they met you.

The worst thing you can do is get frustrated when the population (which is very different from the market) ignores you. I’m not in your target market until my teeth hurt, right?

PS No, this isn’t a marketing post for dentists. There are toothache marketers in just about every industry. Realizing it is the first step to dealing with it.

The TV dividend

Where did Wikipedia come from?

All those hours, all that work. Where did the time and effort come from?

Clay Shirky points out that it comes from the TV we’re not watching.

Take a look at Netroidcomics, courtesy of Bert. Sure, some of these folks were at work, goofing off, but the real influx of time and energy we’re seeing online comes from TV. Three, four or even six hours a day not spent doing virtually nothing. Multiply it by 800 million people online and suddenly, there’s a huge influx of hours just waiting to be put to good use.

I don’t watch TV and I don’t go to meetings. You’d be amazed at the difference it makes.

While the last few years have been devoted to mostly trivial pursuits, I would imagine we’re going to see a rapid acceleration in the quality and meaning of things we manage to create with our new-found time. At least I hope so.

Are you in the tribe?

[LAST UPDATE: As of 9 am NY time on August 10th, invites are closed. Please don’t respond, because unfortunately, we’ll have to say no.].

I’d like to invite you to join a members-only tribe. A tribe for marketers, for leaders, for those focused on building communities or creating products or spreading ideas.

This online community will live on a site we’ve created that will feature blogs, forums, social networking, comments, photos, videos and a job board. And it’s by invitation only until October. Spots are limited and early members get privileges and bragging rights.

Members get a password and the privilege of meeting each other, posting thoughts, connecting to big ideas or projects and more. The site will include excerpts from the book as well as a chance to contribute to a new jointly-authored ebook, with full credit and links to the contributors. The contents of the tribe forum won’t be posted to the public until October, so it’s really the only way to participate until then.

I’m launching my new book in mid-October, and as usual, doing something different to take my own advice.

One of the ideas I talk about briefly in the book is that powerful tribes aren’t open to everyone. The exclusivity makes it work. In this case, the exclusivity comes from two things:

1. I’m only announcing the Tribe here on my blog. (Though it would be great with me if you want invite your friends to join, because your friends are my friends and they’ll probably appreciate an early invite).

2. You have to be committed enough to pre-order my book, sight unseen (in some places for less than $14), months in advance. It’s not about selling more books, of course, it’s about creating a small hurdle to get the right people in the door.

The mechanics:

  1. You can be anywhere in the world, and it’s fine if you’ve already ordered a book (you know who you are). All you need to do is forward a copy of your electronic receipt (see below).
  2. You can purchase the book here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CEO Read (great for overseas and bulk orders, too), Borders or any bookstore that will give you an electronic receipt. (Here’s the Amazon UK link).
  3. Forward the receipt no later than August 10 to jointhetribe@gmail.com. Be sure to include your snail mail address in the email because I’m hoping to send you something in the mail in October. This is an automated autoreply address, so please include only your receipt and your address. Don’t send your info directly to me, cause I’ll lose it. You know how to find me if you need anything else.
  4. We’ll be sending out the invites in batches. Membership is numbered, with low numbers getting prestige, first dibs on various assets and bragging rights. If we get too big a response, I’ll shut down the invite address and let you know here.
  5. After August 10th, it’s closed. We may decide to re-open the tribe a bit later, but I think that’s unlikely.

Members of the tribe will get a chance to win free tickets to my launch event/presentation in New York as well as a few other goodies.

Even with just a few people in the pre-beta tribe we’ve built, I can already see how powerful it can be to have a safe, well-lit place on line where like-minded people can connect. I hope you can join us.

(Find a FAQ about this right here).

Marilyn Monroe, the Mona Lisa and Jackson Pollock

Markets love icons. We seek them out. Placeholders, shorthand for a bigger idea or a shortcut to a good enough solution.

Marilyn Monroe is an icon. You can use her image and say a lot, instantly. Same with the Mona Lisa.

Is it possible to be more of a blonde bombshell than Monroe? Of course you can be better looking or more blonde or more married to intellectual celebrities or dour sports stars. Is it possible to paint a better painting than the Mona Lisa? Definitely.

It doesn’t matter.

Once there’s an icon in place, it’s there because it’s working. It serves a purpose, it carries useful information and performs a valuable function. There will never (or not for a generation, anyway) be the next Marilyn Monroe because this Marilyn Monroe isn’t broken. Countless artists have seen themselves as the next Jackson Pollock, but as far as the lay public is concerned, we don’t really need one, thanks very much.

Google, of course, is the Marilyn Monroe of search. I have no doubt that someone will develop a useful tool one day that takes time and attention away from Google, but it won’t be a search engine. Google, after all, isn’t broken, not in terms of solving the iconic "how do I find something online using my web browser" question.

The challenge for organizations is this: the easiest projects to start and fund are those that go after existing icons. The search for the "next" is easy to explain and exciting to join because we can visualize the benefits. But success keeps going to people who build new icons, not to those that seek to replace the most successful existing ones.

Promoting the promotion

Rounding a corner, I saw a billboard for baseball’s Home Run Derby, a sideshow attraction at the All Star Game.

Turns out that the billboard was paid for by State Farm Insurance, also the sponsor of the Derby itself.

This is how far we’ve come, how low we’ve sunk.

An insurance company is sponsoring a baseball stunt to push its brand name out there. And then, with nothing whatsoever to say about itself, or about us, or about how it can help us achieve our goals, the company spends more money to promote the promotion.

Promotions work when they’re seen as generous or unique or tied into our needs and dreams. They also work as brand builders when they’re so ubiquitous we associate the brand with the event itself. But if I had written "Allstate" instead of "State Farm," would you have realized the error? Doubtful.

Here’s my number one fiduciary rule for big brand marketers: The executives involved in approving a sports or entertainment promotion should not be permitted to attend the event.

Weekend reading and viewing

Steve sends us this video, way too true. [Ouch, it seems to have been deleted] [Torley found a copy here]

And Your Business Brickyard, now as a free download to entice you to buy the book.

I need to build a house, what kind of hammer should I buy?

I want to write a novel. What word processor do you recommend?

Yesterday on the radio, Jimmy Wales was talking about the Wikipedia movement. A caller who identified himself as a strategist at Amnesty International asked: We’re going to build a website to promote freedom and democracy and human rights. What software should we use?


If you want to do something worth doing, you’ll need two things: passion and architecture. The tools will take care of themselves. (Knowledge of tools matters, of course, but it pales in comparison to the other two.)

Sure, picking the wrong tools will really cripple your launch. Picking the wrong software (or the wrong hammer) is a hassle. But nothing great gets built just because you have the right tools.

My approach is to make an assertion about tools early in the process, and then move on to a solid draft of the good stuff. "Given: that we can make a computer do what xyz.com makes it do. Or, given: we can make a piece of titanium do what Frank Gehry makes it do." Then, go design something, imagine it, spec it, flesh it out and fall in love with it. Now you can ask Jimmy Wales what sort of software to use.

Bait and switch

I feel bad for the airline industry. They are caught in a never-ending price war due to online websites and their own commodification. Pick the cheapest flight to get from here to there…

The natural short-term solution is bait and switch. Advertise the lowest price you can imagine and then require add on fees so you can actually make a profit.

Air Canada, which my readers generally concur is the single worst major airline in North America, has a fascinating policy. No oversized duffel bags, regardless of weight, unless they contain hockey gear. No shin guards, you pay $80 a bag.

Of course, you can have whatever rules you want, even if they’re only designed to help defensemen. The problems with bait and switch are:

  1. You have to be very careful to apply them equally, because people hate being treated worse than everyone else.
  2. You have to be prepared for anger, resentment and brand disintegration.

As I said, this is a short-term strategy. Yesterday, they charged me $160 for two bags that had successfully gone through their system uncharged just three weeks earlier. And they did it only three minutes before four of my fellow travelers (and friends) checked virtually identical bags for free.

But the purpose of this rant isn’t to hassle Air Canada. The purpose is to learn a key lesson from Disney:
When there is both pain and pleasure associated with your service, work extremely hard to separate them by time and geography.

Disney charges a fortune for the theme park, but they do it a week before you get there, or at a booth far far away from the rides. By the time you get to the rides, you’re over it. The pain isn’t associated with the fun part.

Airlines, on the other hand, surround the very thing they sell (getting you home) with armed guards, untrained TSA agents, long lines and sneering gate agents eager to take your money when you have absolutely no expectation or choice and when your stress is at its highest. This is a problem in the long run.

Little bits

Aaron decided that the best way to tell his story was to turn his web site into exactly one (non-scrolling) page. I think that boundaries sharpen the mind. And if you have a one page web site, why not try turning it into ten pages to see what happens.

Draw anything for $2?
I think it’s a brilliant way to turn the pricing model of art on its head, to gain a following and to practice your drawing. On a similar tangent, Elizabeth points us to an art site that sells limited editions and slightly less limited editions at standard prices. What’s the ‘correct’ price for a piece of art? Is it only art if it costs a lot of money?

Ted Matthews has an interesting thought. Branding is too important to be left to the marketing team. If branding is everything a company does, and the marketing folks persist in acting like advertising people, then put the CEO or her surrogate directly and totally in charge of what a brand means.

It turns out that a lot of searches online are for things that are pretty simple. Like how to boil an egg or how to count cards. Just because you already know something doesn’t mean everyone does. Think even simpler than you would expect and you’re on to something. (For a very long time, one of the top 100 searches into the search box at Yahoo was: "Yahoo").

Here’s a beta test you might be interested in: Faceblurb. (I know there are still some bugs). The guy who wrote the "Purple Cow" poem that has inspired so many of us also invented the word "blurb" to describe that ego-satisfying quote on the back of a book from another author, telling the world how great the book is. The idea of Faceblurb is that you can use Facebook to blurb your favorite books or sites or whatever, and then spread those positive vibes to your friends, who will return the favor.

Alvo Stockman is one of a number of magicians who is building a following, one person at a time, online, and making it pay by selling them a series of manuals or devices. The secret for many magicians, it turns out, is video. Showing is far more effective than telling. In Alvo’s case, it’s about finding a tiny niche and creating enough innovation that the word spreads among the community.

How (not to) pick a company spokesman

39 years ago, Neil Armstrong became the most famous person in the world.

He was an astronaut, of course, but there were dozens of people who could have done the technical work that Armstrong did. What Armstrong became was a spokesperson for an organization, a nation and a movement.

NASA did what many organizations do when picking someone to act as company spokesperson. They avoided risk, played it safe and chose someone who wouldn’t make a ruckus.

What a shame.

Armstrong could have taught the world about science. He could have done work that would have won him a Nobel Peace Prize. He could have had a huge impact on his country and the world. Instead, he mostly disappeared.

Many organizations worry that if they put their clout behind an individual, he or she will gain notoriety and power and eventually double-cross the organization. So, instead, they go for bland.

As marketers, you already see the problem. It’s like putting a tennis ball on the end of your sword. Sooner or later, people communicate with people. Sooner or later, your organization needs a voice. You take lots of risks when you market a product, and this one–the risk of an engaging and motivated spokesperson–is smarter than most.