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Here’s the #1 most overlooked secret of marketing, of growing your organization, of building trust and creating for the long haul. Actually, it has two parts:

Show up on time. It doesn’t cost anything to keep your promises when it comes to time. Show up for the meeting when the meeting starts. Have the dry cleaning ready when you promise. Ship on time. Return that phone call. Finish the renovation ahead of schedule.

Boy that’s simple. Apparently, it’s incredibly difficult.

If you want to build trust, you need to be trustworthy. The simplest test of trustworthiness for most people is whether or not you keep your promises, and the first promises you make are about time.

Cherish my time. The second part is closely related. It has to do with respect. You respect my time when you don’t waste it. When you don’t spam me. When you worry about the 100 cars backed up on the road and figure out how to get us moving more quickly. You respect me when you value my time more highly than your own.

If you want someone to think you’re selfish, just ask for a minute of their time and then waste it or use it for your own ends. Or automate the process so three minutes of your time wastes three minutes of the 1,000 or one million people on your list.

In a society where so many people have enough, few people have time to spare. When you waste it (by breaking a promise and being late) or abuse it (by viewing your time as worth more than mine), we respond by distrusting you, ignoring you and eventually moving on.

Getting used to infinity

I have a new thing to collect.

I collect pictures of crowds stunned by a baseball bat heading their way. I don’t collect photos where anyone is injured, just the ones where people are all weirded out.

This, of course, is a crazy thing to collect, but the fascinating thing is that it’s possible at all. All of us grew up in a world of content scarcity, and now we live in a world of content infinity.

That means, for example, that finding a rare song is essentially banal. There are no rare songs (except on LP). It means that finding a photo of what you’re looking for isn’t the hard part, it’s deciding what to look for in the first place.

Of course, it’s not just photos or music. It’s service providers, freelancers, employees, charitable tools, places to live, vacation spots, dogs to adopt, people to date.

If you find a great baseball bat flying in the stands photo, I’m hoping you’ll send me one. In the meantime, don’t be afraid of infinity. There’s a lot of it going around.

Drip, Drip, Drip

Every day, day in and day out, Tim Manners drips a new marketing idea. He finds something in the news and explains it. And now he has a new book out.

Tim will make you think twice about what you thought you knew.

Getting reporters to call you

Peter R. points us to this innovative free service run by Peter Shankman.

You tell him your name and email address, and a few times a day, he forwards you a list of reporters looking for experts to quote for various articles in various media. Sort of like Daily Candy for publicity hounds.

It doesn’t work if you answer all the queries. So be honest with yourself, save your time and the reporter’s. Just speak up when it’s helpful.

Fixing the one big thing

Joe Biden is long winded. His voters say so, so does the press. And now his new boss does as well.

The feedback couldn’t be more clear. So why not fix it?

Verizon has mind-numbingly bad customer service. People hate to call them. People switch providers just to avoid this problem. So why not fix it?

DiFara’s makes the best pizza in New York. But it takes 90 minutes or so to get a pizza. Everyone complains, so why not fix it?

In the case of DiFara’s, the answer is easy: because fixing it would make it normal. It would take away what makes the place special. People wouldn’t complain any more, but people wouldn’t go, either.

If your ‘one big thing’ is a key part of what makes you successful, how dare you change it.

On the other hand, if momentum or laziness or lack of will (or focus) is the thing holding you back, it’s time to get serious. When you remove the one big thing from people’s list of objections, your career and organization will take off.

Joe Biden can carry a timer in his pocket. He can become reticent in public. He can, in just one day of hard work, solve his problem. Verizon can invest focus and and money and solve their problem. AT&T can invest and fix their wireless network. It just takes commitment, not a miracle.

The myth of launch PR

New startups can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars racing after a dream: a giant splash on launch.

Just imagine… a big spread in Time Magazine, a feature on all the relevant blogs, a glowing review in the Book Review. Get this part right and everything else takes care of itself.

And yet.

Here are some brands that had no launch at all: Starbucks, Apple, Nike, Harry Potter, Google, William Morris, The DaVinci Code, Wikipedia, Snapple, Geico, Linux, Firefox and yes, Microsoft. (All got plenty of PR, but after the launch, sometimes a lot later).

I’m as guilty as the next entrepreneur. Great publicity is a treasured gift. But it’s hardly necessary, and the search for it is often a significant distraction.

It works for movies, in fact, it’s essentially required for movies. But for just about every product, service or company, the relentless quest for media validation doesn’t really pay. If you get it, congratulations. If you don’t, that’s just fine. But don’t break the bank or your timetable in the quest.

Your competitive advantage

People are fickle, but we’re generally rational. When someone makes a choice (hiring, firing, choosing a vendor, buying a soda) they’re using some sort of internal logic and reasoning to support that choice.

As a marketer, you win when they choose you.

So, why choose you?

The answer to that question is your competitive advantage. What makes it likely that more than a few rational people will consider their options and choose you or your company or your organization?

Truth: It’s rarely a computerized cost/benefit analysis. Instead, it’s a human choice.

When the factors that matter to me are processed through my worldview and compared against the options I’m aware of, I will choose you when your advantages are greater than the competition, provided I believe that you’re worth the cost of switching.

Key points:

Matter to me: Not matter to you or to the next guy, but matter to me. That’s all I care about. (Example: it might mean more to me that my friends use your product than it does that you’re cheaper).

Worldview: Based on the way I see the world, the assumptions I make, the truth that I believe in. (Example: If I don’t trust young people as a matter of course, I’m not likely to choose you if you’re young, all other things being close).

Options I’m aware of: If I don’t know about you, you don’t exist.

Switching cost: The incumbent gets a huge advantage, especially in high cost/high risk/network effect instances.

Some of the ways you might build or maintain a competitive advantage:

  • Access to hard-to-replicate Talent
  • Hard-earned skills
  • Higher productivity due to insight or organization allowing you to be cheaper
  • Low cost of living for you and your staff allowing you to be cheaper
  • Protected or secret technology or trade secrets
  • Existing relationships (switching costs working in your favor)
  • Virally organized product and organization
  • Large network of users already and a network effect to support you
  • Focus on speed
  • Monopoly power and the willingness to use it
  • Unique story that resonates with the worldview of your target audience
  • Shelf space due to incumbency
  • Large media budget
  • Insight into worldview of prospects–making what they care about
  • Emotional intelligence of your salesforce or customer service people
  • Access to capital and willingness to lose money to build share
  • Connection to community

Not on this list, at least not prominently, are "we are #1!", "we are better!" and "we try harder." Cheerleading skills are not a competitive advantage in most settings. And, with few exceptions, neither is "we are new." Also, "we are better and I can prove it," is rarely a successful argument.

Here’s what your board wants to know:

  • What’s your competitive advantage?
  • Is it really, or are you dreaming it up?
  • How long will it last?
  • Can your competition copy it?
  • Does it resonate with the part of the market that is looking to buy?
  • Is the advantage big enough to overcome the switching cost?

Learning from a summer intern program

Twenty-five years ago today (boy that was a long time) I finished the internship that changed my life. My bosses at Spinnaker Software gave me a lot of room and I ran with it.

Last March, I posted about an intern program I was starting.

I was overwhelmed by the quality of what I got back. (The quantity was expected… interesting internships are hard to find). I heard from students on most continents, with a huge variety of backgrounds and life experiences. And these people were smart.

Unable to just pick a PDF or two, I invited the applicants to join a Facebook group I had set up. Then I let them meet each other and hang out online.

It was absolutely fascinating. Within a day, the group had divided into four camps:

  • The game-show contestants, quick on the trigger, who were searching for a quick yes or no. Most of them left.
  • The lurkers. They were there, but we couldn’t tell.
  • The followers. They waited for someone to tell them what to do.
  • The leaders. A few started conversations, directed initiatives and got to work.

Want to guess who I hired? (It was a paid gig and five ended up spending time with me in NY on a somewhat rolling basis). If you’re hiring for people to work online, I can’t imagine not screening people in this way. This is the work, and you can watch people do it for real before you hire them.

As I went to send a note to the 150 or so who didn’t make the cut, it felt like a waste. A waste for me, surely, because here were a large number of over-talented, under-employed students facing a boring summer. And for them, too, because I thought some might want a chance to continue the virtual experience.

So I started a group on Basecamp and invited the rest of the interns to try an unpaid virtual experience. The idea was that I’d provide a platform and some projects, and they could (if they thought it might be interesting) participate online. No grunt work, just interesting stuff to try. To my amazement, more than sixty took me up on it. The conversations ebbed and flowed, the work got done (or didn’t) but I think everyone learned a lot.

Part of the deal was that active participants would get a shout out here on the blog. So we’ve put together a PDF of handmade bios of some of the coolest interns in the program. A shortcut for anyone looking for smart folks from around the world.

If I did it again, I’d definitely do it again. I think that smaller, more closely managed projects would probably lead to more productivity, but I also know that when faced with opportunity and freedom, amazing people get stuff done.

If you gave this a try, I think it would be a brilliant move, for you and for the people you work with. It’s clear that formal education is failing the smart kids entering our field (not certain what ‘our field’ is, but you know what I mean). We need to create pathways for students to discover that there’s absolutely nothing holding them back.

The new meaning of Labor Day

Karim points us to this update on Kiva.org.

Kiva doesn’t fund factory workers on an assembly line. They fund entrepreneurs who are changing a tiny portion of the world. It scales.

Reaching the right people

Here’s a great idea.

What if your new rock group appeals to fans of the B52s? Or if your new book is just perfect for people who like Brad Meltzer? If you have a CD or a book or an idea that will appeal to a certain psychographic, it might not be so easy to reach just those people.

Dave came up with a super idea: go buy a bunch of B52s CDs. Then list them (brand new!) for sale on Amazon and eBay. Price them ridiculously low, like a dollar. The only people who are going to buy a copy are focused fans. Then, when you ship out the CD, include your new CD in the box as well. You’ve reached exactly the right people (purchasers! who spent money! who are fans!) at exactly the right moment. Why not include two or three in the box? Fans know fans, and they like spreading the good stuff around.

What a shame that Amazon hasn’t figured out how to provide this as a useful service. Amazon knows who buys a lot, they know who reviews a lot… why not ask those people if they want a free prize now and then? An influential person would earn the right to a huge number of free samples. Radio DJs used to get them… but now, of course, it’s us that are the DJs…

(It doesn’t work so well for used cars, of course.)

This works for other fields as well. If you have a massage service that is the perfect complement to customers of a personal training service down the street, why not give that trainer a dozen intro gift certificates she can use to thank her best customers?

MJ points out that the few mainstream publishers that promote their books spend $10,000 or more on ads that don’t work. Putting a book into the hands of 1,000 perfect fans may be a far smarter investment.

Thinking small, again. It tends to work. Along those lines, Rich has a neat promo going on.