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Be careful of who you work for

The single most important marketing decision most people make is also the one we spend precious little time on: where you work.

Think about this for a second. Your boss and your job determine not only what you do all day, but what you learn and who you interact with. Where you work is what you market. Work in a high stress place and you’re likely to become a highly stressed person, and your interactions will display that. Work for a narcissist and you’ll develop into someone who’s good at shining a light on someone else, not into someone who can lead. Work for someone who plays the fads and you’ll discover that instead of building a steadily improving brand, you’re jumping from one thing to another, enduring layoffs in-between gold rushes. Work for a bully and be prepared to be bullied.

And yet, there are plenty of books about getting a job, but no books I know of about choosing a job. There are hundreds of sites where job seekers can go to find a new job, and virtually none where you can find reviews of bosses or companies or jobs.

Ted Zoromski really needed a job, so he took one doing human spam (outbound telemarketing). That’s his first mistake. This isn’t a stepping stone to something better, it doesn’t teach you much, it grinds you down and it doesn’t make you more marketable. When he found he was also making calls he found offensive, he quit.

Years ago, when I had ten people working for me at my book packaging company, one client accounted for about half our revenue. They were difficult, constantly threatening litigation, sending lawyers to otherwise productive meetings, questioning our ethics and more. It was clearly the culture of their organization to be at war. So I fired them. I gave them the rights and walked away, even though it meant a huge hit to our organization. Why do it? Because if we had stuck with them, it would have changed who we were, who we hired and how we marketed ourselves going forward. We would have had a lifetime of this.

How many job offers with good pay have you turned down in your lifetime? How many clients? Compare that to how many times you’ve been rejected. That’s totally out of whack. Great marketing involves having a great product, and not every job (or every client) is worth your time or attention or love.

If you want to become the kind of person that any company would kill to have as an employee, you need to be the kind of employee that’s really picky about who you align with.

No one cares about you

Some brand new  juicy videos from American Express. Special incredible bonus: Tom Peters, too.

["No one cares about you" refers to a riff in the video. Radio, TV and magazines care about you the marketer. They care because you the marketer pay the bills. Mass media exists to sell ads. Period. (as Tom would say). Period. But the internet doesn’t care about you, and the users of the internet don’t care about you either.] PS lots more free stuff–the latest Tribes audio speech and slides–right here.

The sad truth about marketing shortcuts

Here’s the thing: 4 ounces of plutonium are dangerous and expensive, but they won’t build an atomic bomb. And even if you get 400 ounces, you can’t build 100 bombs.

Critical mass is what happens when you have enough and do enough that you connect to a tribe, one that matters. Critical mass is the pay off from focused, consistent effort. Critical mass is what you don’t get if you are constantly working the angles and looking for a shortcut.

Open a small chain of restaurants before you’ve connected enough people to make your first restaurant standing room only won’t work. And online, the results are even more obvious.

After Squidoo gave away $80,000, we heard from many of the charities that sent a lot of their supporters over to vote. Do you know what they wanted to to know? "When was the next time we can rally a lot of people to get more votes and donations?" Do you know what not one of them asked? "How can we get our supporters to actually lay some groundwork so we can make this sort of money every week?"

It made me sad that so many non-profits have precisely the same mantra. Rush to the easy money, then look for more and rush after that.

Every day at Squidoo, thousands of people build pages. And most of them lose interest and fade away. But a few stick it out and many earn $2,000 or more a month in their spare time (for themselves or for charity). The difference is clear but sad. The shortcut didn’t work right away, so they’re off to the next thing.

If you have a presence on twitter, squidoo, blogs, facebook, myspace, linkedin and 20 other sites, the chances of finding critical mass at any of them is close to zero. But if you dominate, if you’re the goto person, the king of your hill, magical things happen. One follower in each of twenty places is worthless. Twenty connected followers in one place is a tribe. It’s the foundation for building something that matters.

This is why I don’t have a podcast, a video channel, any activity to speak of on Facebook. It’s why I don’t use Twitter or travel the country visiting bookstores. There are many places to be, and it’s tempting to act like those non-profits and race after the next one. But it doesn’t work.

Signaling strategies

It’s impossible to see everyone. You can’t handle the input of what every consumer is buying or thinking or looking at. So, we resort to signaling strategies.

A few celebrities wearing Uggs in the middle of the summer sends a signal to fashion wannabees everywhere: these are hot. It doesn’t matter too much if they actually are hot, all that matters (to these wannabees and the retailers that serve them) is that in the past, when beautiful people in Santa Monica did something, it was an effective signal to the market.

There are all sorts of signaling strategies consumers look for. Political endorsements, end cap displays at stores, large scale ad campaigns, The New York Times bestseller list–each is seen as a bellwether for what our friends and those we admire are about to do.

Marketers may be selfish, but we’re not stupid. Once a signaling strategy is seen to be effective, we seek to game it. 25 years ago, driving cross country to go to my first day of work at Spinnaker Software (I was the 30th employee) I drove through Chicago. And I passed a Spinnaker billboard. Wow! This company was going somewhere if they had billboards all over the country. When I got to work in Boston two days later, I discovered that this was the one and only billboard they had in the country, strategically erected on the road to the big CES trade show. They were signaling the buyers of the big stores.

Various bestseller lists, because of their unwillingness to be transparent, is easily and often gamed by publishers and musicians and websites that focus their efforts on the sort of places that report to the list.

There are three reasons you need to care about the increasing amount of effort spent gaming the signals:
1. As a consumer, don’t be fooled. The more important a signal is, the more likely it is that marketers are gaming it.
2. As a signaler, be careful. As you sell out and permit yourself to be gamed, you make it more and more likely that consumers won’t be influenced by you.
3. As a marketer, beware. The effort you expend gaming one signal or another is almost never worth the distortion that gaming produces. Instead of spending your time delighting authentic voices, you’re corrupting a signal. Which means that you end up being really good at signal corrupting but not so good at winning in your market. For every Uggs, there are 100 companies that spent too much money and time influencing a few, only to discover the market didn’t care.

This is not the time to ask for money

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting plenty of emails asking for more money for various political campaigns.

That’s because the systems in place are good at asking for money, and that’s what they measure. They’re willing to burn out permission, person by person, just to squeeze out the last few bucks.

What a shame. What a waste.

Businesses do this all the time. So do non-profits. They get in a habit of doing one thing (pay, pay, pay!) and they forget that this has a real cost. Ask enough times and people will shut you out. And once they shut you out, you’re out forever.

My local radio station is once again drilling us with their pledge drive. Hey, if five days are good, why not twenty or fifty? Sooner or later, you just move on.

If I ran a campaign, I would immediately stop asking for money. I’d ask for ideas for what to do if I got elected. I’d ask for a house party to listen in on a conference call. I’d ask for names of possible voters or I’d look for volunteers to drive to the polls. I’d get petitions signed or ask people to prioritize six ideas for the rest of the campaign or for things to work on after I got elected.

Attention can be worth more than money. Enthusiasm is priceless.

Too small to fail

One secret of being a large financial institution is that you can take huge risks because you’re too big to fail. If you hit craps and lose it all, don’t worry, because you’ll get bailed out.

One secret of ‘small is the new big‘ thinking is that you won’t fail and you can’t fail and you don’t need to worry about a bailout. Not because you’re small in headcount or assets, but because you act small.

A small acting bank would never have invested in tens of thousands of loans that they hadn’t looked at. And a small acting startup wouldn’t hire dozens of people before they had a business model… and then have to lay off a third of them just because their VC firm showed them a scary PowerPoint.

I’ve always been frightened by big-firm accounting. The sort of financial legerdemain in which skilled accountants work hard to make the numbers look the way the CEO wants, instead of making them clear. Cash accounting run on a simple bookkeeping system is the small way to do it… even if your company is huge. That’s because sooner or later, management has to know what’s actually happening as opposed to what they can pretend is happening.

Big-thinking companies lose customers all the time because big-thinking companies isolate the decision makers from the outside world. Angry customers who are leaving don’t get heard… that news is heard by the poor shlub reading a script at the call center. 90% of the angry customer mail that people forward to me (I have enough for a lifetime, thanks) is angry because the (former) customer is tired of being ignored.

If you act small and think big, you are too small to fail. You won’t need a bailout because your business makes sense each and every day. You won’t need a bailout because your flat organization (no matter how large it is) knows about problems long before they’re too big to deal with.

The media and the tech blogs glamorize businesses that act big. They write about the big checks VCs hand out and they lionize the organizations that make a splash. The untold story is in the organizations that are close to the customer, close to the product and close to each other. Acting small always pays off.

(Thanks to Howard for the phrase that inspired this post)

Is that it?

  • How long after getting a big promotion does it take for an executive to get antsy?
  • Why does a powerful senator take small bribes and risk his entire career?
  • Why do Amazon customers, with a choice of every book, delivered overnight, for free, whine about their customer service going downhill?
  • Why do customers at a truly great 4 star restaurants often feel a little bit of a let down after the last course is served?
  • Why do Facebook users (a free service that they used to love) complain so vehemently about a change in layout?
  • Why do the very same Apple lovers who waited in line for days now scoff at incremental (free) improvements in their iPhone?

"Is that it?"

This state of ennui explains why we’ll never run out of remarkable, why consumers are restless, why successful people keep working and taking risks. It explains the self-centered, whiny attitude of some bloggers who can never get enough from the world, and it explains why a rich country like the US could almost bankrupt itself in search of ever more.

I’m not saying that consumers don’t deserve respect and quality in exchange for their attention. I’m pointing out that we make ourselves unhappy just for the sport of it.

Marketers have played into this attitude and certainly amplified it. It helps them to gain share, of course, but also raises the bar on what they’re going to have to do next.

As a marketer or a leader, you have two choices:

The first is to realize that people will never ever be satisfied with you, they’ll even whine when you give away something for free. Embrace the whining and realize that this attitude gives you an opportunity to answer the question with, "no! Wait, there’s more!"

The second is to understand that a hug and a smile from a true friend is it. Along the way, marketers of stuff have tried to offer that stuff as a replacement to the thing that children/consumers/employees/customers/spouses really seek, which is connection and meaning and belonging and love.

Do you have 16 boxes?

Your career is not a boat. Neither is your business.

A boat with even a small leak is going to sink. You, on the other hand, don’t need to be perfect to succeed. Imagine that you have a 4 x 4 grid to fill with assets. If it’s a business, it might be location, reputation, staff, offerings that are in high demand and a sector that’s robust… if you’re doing it for yourself, it might include your resume, your network, your skill set, etc.

When someone chooses you or your products, they’re considering everything you have to offer. Whether you’re looking for a job or trying to make a sale, there is rarely only one thing that makes the difference.4x4grid2

That’s why human nature is so enraging. When something is going wrong, when the economy is out of sync, we panic. We obsess about just one of the sixteen boxes and ignore the others. We talk ourselves into hysteria about how, "none of our customers have any money," or, "in this bleak economy, we’ll never make a sale." Instead of using the relative downtime to build up the other 15 boxes, we just sit in the corner, keening, worrying about that one box that’s out of whack.

By focusing on the red box, the sore one, and ignoring the other elements of what makes our product or career worth marketing, we cause two problems. First, our attention does no good at all on the problem at hand, and second, the other boxes suffer.

The problem with whining is this: human beings like to be right. If you persuade yourself and your friends that times are really tough and that you’re bound to fail, you’ll probably do the things you need to do to make that true in the long run.

A dollar or less…

My reading of Tribes is now available on iTunes as a three hour audio book for less than a dollar. (update: now the bestselling audio book in the world. Price matters, apparently). [You missed it! It seems as though it’s now $6. Still a bargain…]

Or, if that’s too much, Audible is using the audio book as a freebie promotion, but I think you need to register.

The souvenir, dead tree, printed hardcover edition is easier to take to the beach (B&N). A Kindle edition just launched. More versions than one could ever hope for.

Best of one world

As always, the truth lies in the cliches.

"Having the best of both worlds" is something that marketers shoot for all the time. They want the traffic that a community site will give them, but they also want the control they get by only having authorized employees participating. They shoot for their favorite parts, and get nothing. Always nothing.

Instead, perhaps it’s worth hoping for the best of one world.

Compromise, by its nature, means giving up part of one thing to get part of something else. So you end up with a little of this and a little of that. The low fat of prunes and the shelf appeal of a cupcake. Sounds good on paper, but when given the choice, the diet conscious will pick a real prune and the gluttons will pick a real cupcake. And you’re left with an overstock situation.

When in doubt, maximize.