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The making chasm

Great caption for a cartoon in this week’s New Yorker:

There’s a lot I want to experience, but not a lot I want to actually do.

In my exposure to companies big and small, this is probably the single biggest gulf. Lots of people there for the ride, not so many actually doing.

Doing appears risky, because it exposes you to criticism and perhaps failure. Experiencing is hot right now, being part of the social network, helping maintain that online tribe you belong to.

Getting your ducks in a row is not nearly as powerful as actually doing something with your duck.

The high cost of now

The closer you get to the source and moment of information, the more it costs.

If you wanted to be the first person to see Nokia’s new phone, you could have flown to Berlin, as Robert Scoble did. Or you could have been the second person by obsessively hitting refresh on his posts. Or you could have been the tenth person by having it show up in your feed later in the day. Or you could wait a week and see it everywhere. Or in a year, get one on eBay for $5…

If you want to know how the stock market did in 2006, you can spend ten seconds and find it in Wikipedia. If you want to know about today, you’ll need to invest a few clicks and you’ll get the delayed results. Or you could pay a lot of money for a stock market terminal and get the current prices. Or you could even risk prison and get some inside information about what’s going to happen before it happens.

More than ever, there’s a clear relationship between how new something is and how much it costs to discover that news.

You can check your email twice a day pretty easily. Once every fifteen minutes has a disruption cost. Pinging it with your pocketphone every sixty seconds is an extremely expensive lifestyle/productivity choice.

Sure, go ahead, stay hyper-current, but realize it’s not free.

Zara, the European clothing chain, deliberately invests more than the competition in getting close to the ‘now’ of unit sales by store. As a result of this investment, they are far more agile (and more profitable) than most other stores.

The interesting questions:

Are you getting what you’re paying for in your quest for now?

Is it worth it?

Sometimes, in our quest for the new, we overpay. Most of the time, moving down the curve will decrease your costs dramatically, without hurting your ability to make smart decisions. Alternatively, when you choose to spend the time (or money), leverage it like crazy.

I bet you are overspending on now. Not everywhere, just in the wrong areas. Worth an audit, probably.

Interviews (radio, irony and a bonus)

Mark and I talk about radio.

Archie and I pretend to talk about action figures.

And a church interview with Milan.

Making vs. Taking

Consider two cereals:

Honey Bunches of Oats, a category creator, a big brand with spin offs and profits and growth.

Fruit Harvest, a generically named cereal that leverages the marketing department’s ability to run coupons, grab shelf space and take share.

That’s the choice most of us make when we launch a product or service. We can make a market or we can take share from a market.

"This is just like the Gillette razor, but cheaper."

"This has a touch screen, too, but you can get it from Verizon."

"I’m a shiatsu massage therapist, the only one on this block."

Those are ‘taking’ statements. They break a larger market into smaller bits. Compare to:

"This is a sugared cereal for adults."

"Our software enables you to find data and trends that no one else can find."

"By combining protein and chocolate, we’ve developed a new food that’s both dessert and dinner."

These are ‘making’ statements. Riskier, sure, but they stand for something, they don’t just steal share. The Dummies guides made a market, the Idiot’s guides took from that market.

You need to be clear with yourself and your team about which one you’re after, because they bring different costs, different benefits and different time frames.

The seed, the pit and the cherry

Here’s a ten minute video presentation I did for Acumen. I hope you’ll discover that the idea of forming a nucleus applies to what you’re working on as well.

Gravity is just a theory

Are you marketing gravity or evolution?

Newton gets all kinds of credit. They call it the Law of Gravity. They put his picture on pages that profile geniuses. They say he discovered gravity. Nonsense. He just named it.

Everyone ‘believes’ in gravity. And yet, we know virtually nothing about it. We don’t know how gravity waves (if there are any) are transmitted. We can’t block them (anti gravity boots!) and we can’t amplify them and we have no idea how fast they travel. There are very few people doing serious gravity research and development, either. But it’s apparently a law.

Evolution (and one’s confidence or lack of belief thereof), on the other hand, is enough to sway a school board election or get you nominated for federal office. I’ve never met an informed person who doubted the general facts about evolution unless they had an alternative view of the origin of species that they felt emotionally connected to. There are evolution skeptics who would prefer a different story, but no gravity skeptics, even though there’s a lot less science there.

What’s up with that?

There are two reasons that gravity has had so much better marketing than evolution, and both may impact the way you market your product or service as well.

1. If the story of your marketing requires the prospect to abandon a previously believed story, you have a lot of work to do.

Nobody had a seriously described theory of gravity before Newton named it. No one walks around saying that they have a story about why we stick to the earth better than the gravity story. As a result, there was no existing story or worldview to overthrow. Naming something that people already believe in is very smart marketing.

2. If the timeframe of the message of your marketing is longer than the attention span (or lifetime) of the person you are marketing to, you have your work cut out for you as well.

Evolution is really slow. Hard to demonstrate it in real time during a school board meeting. Gravity is instantaneous. Baseball players use it every day.

Five years ago, if you wanted to persuade people to buy real estate as an investment it was pretty easy.

1. The existing worldview was that real estate was a pretty good investment.
2. You could see, in the course of weeks or months, the price of homes going up.

Magic. Who’s in? Bid, bid, bid.

In 2002, persuading a newspaper to go all in and invest big in online media was a problem.

1. The existing worldview disagreed with this. The web could support a paper, but not replace it. "Didn’t you see what happened during the bubble?"
2. Not only couldn’t you watch the web replace existing media in real time, but it was actually retreating (according to Wall Street.)

Tough story, bad timing.

The iPhone is gravity marketing. New name and brand for something so many people had already decided they wanted. And you could see it work from across the room, you didn’t have to wait months for the joy to happen.

Persuading someone to start a blog is evolution marketing. Lots of people have been brainwashed that they have nothing to say, or can’t say it, or aren’t allowed to say it. And you rarely see someone become an overnight blogging success.

Real estate, of course, has a long row to hoe now. While there may be a long-term story to sell, it’s in conflict to a painfully learned new worldview, and it’s happening slowly. Perhaps there’s a better story to tell.

The Atkins Diet countered the prevailing story (it said that steak and butter were good diet choices) but it burned off weight so quickly the diet was able to overcome the resistance that was due to inertia. Getting people to quit smoking, on the other hand, is a multi-generational problem because the story (spread by ads and movies) is really powerful and the results of quitting take decades to measure.

Acupuncture is an interesting case. It’s possible to market acupuncture as, "Western medicine is wrong, this works." The problem, of course, is that any time you market a product with, "You were wrong," you have a lot of work to do. It can also be marketed as "This is a great way to supplement your ordinary medical treatments."

Tactic 1: Try to tell a story that complements an existing story rather than calling it out as false.

Tactic 2: Try to make the ‘proof’ as vivid and immediate as possible. Like an apple falling on your head.

Big ideas often demand a marketing strategy that is a lot more difficult than marketing gravity. Sometimes results do take a long time. Sometimes the consumer has been wrong all along. Sometimes you do need to replace an existing story. I hope you will. But this takes time and patience and resources.

When in doubt, market gravity.

If you could change your life

…would you?

Getting into Stanford Business School changed my life. In college, I trained to be a mediocre engineer (I didn’t set out to be mediocre at it, but I sure was). I was on track to become Dilbert.

Getting into Stanford meant jumping the track. Going from one path to another in one fell swoop.

I didn’t learn much of substance at business school, but that’s fine, because the school allowed me to make a graceful transition. I had permission to reinvent and a platform to do it.

Which leads to this post, this track and this opportunity. (Please read all the details at this link before jumping up and down).

I’m offering an apprenticeship/not-internship/graduate school/charm school track-changing opportunity to a few people this winter. It’s free, it’s fairly audacious and I hope you’ll check it out. It might not be for you (in fact, it probably isn’t) but I have no doubt that you know people who might be interested.

I’m convinced that there are people out there who–given the right teaching, encouragement and opportunity–can change the world. I’m hoping you can prove me right. You don’t have much time and there are only a few slots, so if you’re even flirting with this idea, check out the lens here.

Two years at business school is a lot of time (and money) to spend to change paths these days. Most people over 20 can’t afford either. I think six months might be a lot more do-able.

The beautiful conceit of Stanford during its heyday was that they recruited people who were really quite good at something, even though it might not be business. Or people who were at one level in an organization but strived to jump ahead several notches. I had a pro golfer and a teacher in my section, for example. As far as I can tell, most MBA programs have become finishing schools for commercial bankers hoping to become consultants and investment bankers (at least until recent events occurred). The creative achievers need a new, faster way to jump the track. For a few, this might be it.

This is a huge commitment for the people who sign up, of course, and a big shift for me as well. So, I’m leaving myself this escape hatch: if I can’t find enough truly amazing people to take advantage of the opportunity, I’ll quietly move on and won’t do it (this time). I’m not prepared to settle, and you shouldn’t either. But, if I’m right about the caliber of restless people reading this, I’m figuring that there will be plenty of amazing people out there passionate enough to take a leap.

So, if you think you’d like to find a new track, here’s your chance. If you think you might be able to turbocharge your impact on the world, let me know. Sort of my way of repaying the admissions officer at Stanford who was crazy enough to let me in all those years ago.