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Easiest cheap way to dramatically increase sales

Call your customers. Or write to them.

"I know that times might be tough for you. Is there anything I can do to pitch in and help?"

You'll end up doing a lot for your customers. Which is a wonderful privilege. Even for those that don't reciprocate.

The London Session

I'll be doing a rare public event in London, UK in February.

All the details and tickets from the sponsor have just been posted. Hope to see you there.

The five pillars of success

  1. See (really see) what’s possible
  2. Know specifically what you want to achieve
  3. Make good decisions
  4. Understand the tactics to get things done and to change minds
  5. Earn the trust and respect of the people around you

It sure seems like we spend all our time on #4.

That’s a special case

The reason it’s so difficult for people in traditional industries to embrace new models online is that the transition isn’t structured in an orderly way.

The new business isn’t the same as the old business, just with computers.

People look at PCWorld magazine and they say, "that will never work online." And they’re right, it won’t, because the business is organized around print and monthly or weekly editions and display ads and a sales force and …

"Our business will never work online."

And they’re right.

But Mashable works just great online. And so does Lifehacker.

"But that’s a special case!"

Exactly. But the New Yorker was a special case too. There are plenty of topics that couldn’t support a magazine the way the magical mix of this magazine could.

Real estate online is a special case. Classifieds. Coaching. Commerce. Directories. In fact, everything online is a special case, different rules, different economics, different expectations.

What marketers actually sell

Not powder or chemicals or rubber or steel or silicon or talk or installations or even sugary water.

What marketers sell is hope.

The reason is simple: people need more. We run out. We need it replenished. Hope is almost always in short supply.

The magical thing about selling hope is that it makes everything else work better, every day get better, every project work better, every relationship feel better. If you can actually deliver on the hope you sell, there will be a line out the door.

Hope cures cynicism. Hope increases productivity. Hope needs no justification.

The best middle name ever

It’s not Warren or Susan or Otis or Samuel or Tricia.

It’s "The."

As in Attila The Hun or Alexander The Great or Zorba The Greek.

When your middle name is ‘The’, it means you’re it. The only one. The one that defines the category. I think that focus is a choice, and that the result of appropriate focus is you earn the middle name.

Jordan’s Furniture in Waltham was the place to go for that sort of thing. Bocce Pizza and the Anchor Bar were the places in Buffalo when I was growing up. Google is more appropriately called Google the search engine.

Seek the.

Of course, Winnie the Pooh is the exception that proves the rule.


I hate rubberneckers. Or at least I despise the human nature that creates that behavior.

Someone is in a horrible car wreck, so what happens? People slow down to look.

Leaving aside the time tax they place on the people behind them (once I was in a three hour jam due to rubber necking of a death on the other side of the road, across the median), what are these people doing? People who wouldn’t dream of paying money to watch a snuff film are indulging their curiosity to see carnage on the side of the road and paying with their time and attention.

You know the punchline: the Net is suddenly filled with rubberneckers. People who spend their time at work watching flame wars or indulging their desire to act like trolls, just to get a response. They race to post about plane crashes or server crashes, and they have no trouble investing an hour in debating something that just makes them feel sick.

Move on folks. There’s nothing to see here. Important stuff to do over there…

I know it’s hopeless. I’ll never persuade everyone not to rubberneck. But maybe I can persuade you.

Love (and annoying)

The goal is to create a product that people love. If people love it, they’ll forgive a lot. They’ll talk about it. They’ll promote it. They’ll come back. They’ll be less price sensitive. They’ll bring their friends. They’ll work with you to make it better.

If you can’t do that, though, perhaps you can make your service or product less annoying.

I understand that "love" and "annoying" are rarely two ends of the spectrum, but in this case, I think they are.

I think smart marketers at Apple work to make products that people love. Smart marketers at American Airlines ought to work at making an airline that isn’t annoying.

Firefox used to be a product that people loved. Compared to the alternatives, it was magical. You could go on a quest to promote it and improve it.

At that point, a few years ago, the Firefox movement had a choice. Either continue to make it ever more quirky and lovable (engaging a small audience, but with more passion), or work to make it less annoying (and allow it reach more people). Today, people like (not love) Firefox, they continue to use it, the idea spreads, but slowly. The goal has been chosen by the Firefox folks: to continue to make it less annoying. That’s disappointing to the passionate, but it’s a strategy.

Another example: I use iCal to keep track of my schedule. It defaults new appointments to 9 am, and if the appointment isn’t at 9 am, I have to manually change it. Makes sense. Problem: If the appointment is at 4 pm, and I change the 9 to a 4, iCal sets the alarm to go off at 4 am. Hey, wait a minute. I have never, ever had an appointment at 4 am. Doesn’t iCal know this? Why is it so annoying! No one is ever going to love iCal as it stands, or even with some simple improvements, so why don’t the engineers spend time making it less annoying instead?

What could iCal do to make the product something you would love? Really love? Clearly, that would require an overhaul. What could they do to make it less annoying? 100 little things, easy to do.

Example: Momofuku was a New York restaurant beloved by many people. People loved it because (not in spite of) how annoying they could be. They were annoyingly inflexible. They didn’t have particularly comfortable seating, or great waiters. And the flagship restaurant makes getting a reservation almost impossible. The quirkiness was part of the deal. Something to talk about when you brought a friend…

If all they did was think of ways to be less annoying, the restaurant wouldn’t get better for the people who loved it, it would get worse. Unfortunately, they got really popular, forgot what made them lovable and crossed a line. The annoying parts got really annoying, and they forgot to dream up new ways to be beloved. I gave up. It flipped and I hate it now. It’s unloved and annoying. Boy are customers like me fickle.

Think of the pretty ordinary things you do or places you go. Could they be less annoying? What if the marketers there spent time and money to eliminate annoying? No, it’s not the sort of big time stuff that leads to love, but they’re probably not going to get to love anyway. I’m not going to love my dry cleaner or the post office. But if they made them less annoying, I’d spend more money and go more often. Face it, you use Fedex because it’s less annoying than the post office, not because you love them.

I think there’s a chasm here. You don’t go for love and end up with less annoying. You need to do one or the other. There are products and services I love that are annoying, but that’s okay, because that’s part of being in love. And there are products and services that are annoyance-free, but I don’t love them. That’s okay too. I like them just fine.

Put a sign on your office door, or send a memo to the team. It should say either, "Everything we do needs to make our product less annoying" or "Everything we do should be idiosyncratic and engage people and invite them to fall in love with us. That’s not easy, which is why it’s worth it." Can’t have both. Must do one.

Who you are and what you do

The neat thing about the online world is that you are judged almost entirely by your actions, usually based on just your fingers.

If you do generous things, people think you are a generous person.
If you bully people, people assume you are a bully.
If you ask dumb questions, people figure you’re dumb.
Answer questions well and people assume you’re smart and generous.
… you get the idea.

This leads to a few interesting insights.

1. If people criticize you, they are actually criticizing your behavior, not you.
2. If you’re not happy with the perception you generate, change the words you type and the messages you send.
3. When you hear from someone, consider the source. Trolls are almost always trolls through and through, which means that you have no obligation to listen, to respond or to placate. On the other hand, if you can find a germ of truth, can’t hurt to consider it.

The biggest takeaway for me is this: online interactions are largely expected to be intentional. On purpose. Planned. People assume you did stuff for a reason.

Be clear, be generous, be kind. Can’t hurt.

National Day of Service

Monday, January 19 is Martin Luther King Day. And wonderfully, instead of adding yet another shopping day to the calendar, it’s being transformed to a day of service.

If every person in the US spent an hour doing something selfless, useful and leveraged, what would happen? What if you and your circle committed to doing it an hour a day for a year? 300 million hours is a lot of hours for just one day, a year of that would change everything.

While I applaud stopgap contributions like helping out in a soup kitchen (where labor and supplies are really needed), I wonder how those that are lucky enough to be web savvy can create work that really adds leverage. What if you did one of these things every day?

Here are some ideas that you can do online or in your community, with time, not so much with money.

  1. Read a copy of the Lorax to a child that’s never heard it.
  2. Teach someone how to sell their services on Craigslist, or how to use the web to find a job.
  3. Build a Squidoo lens every day for a year about a favorite author or musician and dedicate the proceeds to charity. 300 a year could earn tens of thousands of dollars for a cause you care about. That adds up to serious money.
  4. Start a blog and profile one worthy non-profit every single day.
  5. Go through your house and find beloved books that you’re glad you read… and give them to the library.
  6. Find an artisan and redesign their website or help them figure out how to promote their work.
  7. Create and promote an online petition for a cause you care about.
  8. Make a video that teaches people how to do better in a job interview or balance a checkbook or spot consumer fraud.
  9. Start a Facebook group for like-minded people who support the same non-profit you do. Commit to spending time to promote it, organize the people there and actually create outcomes of value.
  10. Seek out a religion that isn’t yours and volunteer to help build a bridge between your circle and theirs.
  11. Write ten letters a day to corporations seeking donations for a local homeless shelter.
  12. Find a tool that non-profits need online, and then organize some brilliant people to build it as an opensource utility.
  13. Find a cause that supports soldiers or diplomats or other public servants that are on the road, and make it easier for them to connect with people back home.
  14. Use Copilot to diagnose and fix computer problems for people or causes that can’t afford fancy IT support. It’s free on weekends.
  15. Find an entrepreneur in the developing world and become her email penpal. Daily advice and encouragement might save hundreds of lives.
  16. Lobby Congress with letters and blog posts to make a change to a law that doesn’t benefit you at all, but helps the community in the long run.
  17. Write a great wikipedia article every day about a person who is changing the world for the better.
  18. Find video and remix it into an insanely viral video that promotes a cause that you believe in.

If you want to add some brainstorms to the list, here’s a plexo just waiting for your ideas.