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Great job for the right marketer

Sasha at Acumen is hiring. (It's in NY, it's fundraising, it's social marketing and it's for an important cause working with stellar people.)

Someone should start a job board that only lists jobs as good as this one.

Sorry, you can’t be our customer

There are interactions marketers have with prospects where the prospect wants something and the marketer or organization just isn't interested in delivering it. These interactions almost always end badly.

I visited a Blockbuster store in London, hoping to rent an appropriately Royal-family focused DVD. After a bit of search, I found it. Would they sell it to me? No, it's rental only. Oh, can I rent it? (I asked with my full US accent). Sure, fill out this form.

Five minutes later, they said, "Oh, you're from the US. You can't rent here." What about if I pay as much money as it would cost if the DVD got lost? Nope. What if my hotel vouches for me? No.

Here's the thing: From the rational consumer's point of view, this is silly. They should take my money and we'll both be happy. From Blockbuster management's point of view, though, allowing clerks to start making up exceptions and prices is just too much trouble. And it probably is.

You can't (and shouldn't) please every single person who may or may not become a customer. But you should (and you must) figure out what to tell the folks you're going to turn away. Endless negotiations are like teaching a cat to swim… the cat never learns and you get frustrated.

"I'm sorry, I appreciate your interest, but you can't be our customer. We can't please everyone and we're focused on customers with different needs just now. Can I suggest you try the place down the street? I'll draw you a map."

The power of this outcome is that you have the freedom to figure out exactly what someone has to do in order to be a customer. You can qualify people by asking the right questions. You can take no for an answer.

If it turns out that you're getting too many 'no' responses, too many people walking out empty handed, it's probably time to reconsider what you need from someone in order for them to do business with you.

The rational marketer (and the irrational customer)

The most common frustration I see, and I see it daily, comes from marketers who can't figure out why more people won't buy their product. This particularly afflicts b2b marketers, who ostensibly have rational customers.

Let's say, for example, that you have a service that can deliver leads for five percent of what it costs to get them via a trade show. Why would any rational business, particularly one that says it wants qualified leads, spend that money on trade shows and not on you?

I mean, I mean, you can PROVE that your system works. You can guarantee it. You can provide testimonials and real-time evidence. And yet, the person you're calling on won't give you money and will spend it on the traditional system, which is a total waste.

You know that your car is more aerodynamic. You know that your insulation is more effective. You know that your insurance has a higher ROI.

You've thought about it a lot because it's your job to think about it. It's your job to make those charts and tables and graphs and brochures. So you know it.

The problem is that your prospect doesn't care about any of those things. He cares about his boss or the story you're telling or the risk or the hassle of making a change. He cares about who you know and what other people will think when he tells them what he's done after he buys from you.

The opportunity, then, is not to insist that your customers get more rational, but instead to embrace just how irrational they are. Give them what they need. Help them satisfy their needs at the same time they get the measurable, rational results your product can give them in the long run.

Authenticity

If it acts like a duck (all the time), it's a duck. Doesn't matter if the duck thinks it's a dog, it's still a duck as far as the rest of us are concerned.

Authenticity, for me, is doing what you promise, not "being who you are".

That's because 'being' is too amorphous and we are notoriously bad at
judging that. Internal vision is always blurry. Doing, on the other hand, is an act that can be seen by
all.

As the Internet and a connected culture places a higher premium on authenticity (because if you're inconsistent, you're going to get caught) it's easy to confuse authentic behavior with an existential crisis. Are you really good enough, kind enough, generous enough and brave enough to be authentically a hero or leader?

Mother Theresa was filled with self doubt. But she was an authentic saint, because she always acted like one.

You could spend your time wondering if what you say you are is really you. Or you could just act like that all the time. That's good enough, thanks. Save the angst for later.

Five tips for better online surveys

  1. Every question you ask is expensive. (Expensive in terms of loyalty and goodwill). Don't ask a question unless you truly care about the answer. This means that a vague question with vague answers (extremely satisfied…acceptable…extremely dissatisfied and no scale to compare them to) is a total waste of time. What action will you take based on that? It's smarter to ask, "how much would you say lunch was worth?"
  2. Every question you ask changes the way your users think. If you ask, "which did you hate more…" then you've planted a seed.
  3. Make it easy for the user to bail. If you have 20 questions (that's a lot!) make it easy to quit after five and have those answers still count. If you waste my time and then don't count my answers, see #2.
  4. Make the questions entertaining and not so serious, at least some of them. Boring surveys deserve the boring results they generate.
  5. Don't be afraid to shake up the format. Instead of saying, "Here are ten things, rank them all on a scale of one to five…" why not let people compare things? "We had two speakers, Bob and Ray. Who was better?"

Bottom line: before you let the survey guys run a survey of your loyal customer base, make them pay you with resources you can use to reinvigorate those users you just bothered.

Citizen Reviewer

It's quite possible that the era of the professional reviewer is over. No longer can a single individual (except maybe Oprah) make a movie, a restaurant or a book into a hit or a dud.

Not only can an influential blogger sell thousands of books, she can spread an idea that reaches others, influencing not just the reader, but the people who read that person's blog or tweets. And so it spreads.

I'd like you to help me spread the good word about my friend Jacqueline's important (essential) new book, The Blue Sweater. I'll be reviewing it here in two weeks, but there's a great opportunity now if you have an influential platform and are inclined to pitch in.

Visit this form and describe your platform if you'd like a copy. I'm buying books for a few bloggers interested in doing a review of the book and then giving it away to one of their readers or friends. (I'm not picking the winners, so don't blame me). Apologies in advance that only a few people will get a free one (they will email the lucky recipients, so if you don't hear, you know you need to buy your own copy).

PS as a public service, a reminder that today is the king of all Hallmark holidays. Pretend you didn't forget.

Music vs. the music industry

Some excerpts from an interview on the future of the music industry. I was being specific about one industry, but I think it applies to just about everything:

The music industry is really focused on the
‘industry’ part and not so much on the ‘music’ part. This is the
greatest moment in the history of music if your dream is to distribute
as much music as possible to as many people as possible, or if your
goal is to make it as easy as possible to become heard as a musician.
There’s never been a time like this before. So if your focus is on
music, it’s great. If your focus is on the industry part and the limos,
the advances, the lawyers, polycarbonate and vinyl, it’s horrible. The
shift that is happening right now is that the people who insist on
keeping the world as it was are going to get more and more frustrated
until they lose their jobs. People who want to invent a whole new set
of rules, a new paradigm, can’t believe their good fortune and how
lucky they are that the people in the industry aren’t noticing an
opportunity…

I define a tribe as a group of people sharing a common culture, a
goal, a mission, probably a leader. There are tribes of people – like
the ones who go to South by Southwest – who are connected because they
want to remake the music industry. There is the tribe of people who
follow Bruce Springsteen and will pay unreasonable amounts of money to
hear him live and compare playlists. The important distinction here is
that music labels used to be in the business of grabbing shelf space,
on the radio and in the record store. Now, the music industry needs to
realign and be in the business of finding and connecting and leading
groups of people who want to follow a musician and connect with the
other people who want to do the same…

In the ‘70s or ‘80s you listened to a song because “everyone else” was
also listening to it. That’s the definition of pop music. In those days
we defined “everyone else” as people in our high school or people who
listened to WPLJ. Now, “everyone
else” is not defined by where you live or what radio station you listen
to. It’s defined by which horizontal or vertical slice of the world you
connect yourself with. I might listen to Keller Williams
because everyone else in my world includes frustrated Deadheads. We
don’t have new Grateful Dead to listen to, so everyone else in my
circle is listening to Keller Williams, so he is pop to us. He’s not
pop to the kids at the middle school who have never heard of him,
right? So you end up with all these silos and niches and lots and lots
of ways to look at the world…

Digital is about to surpass the CD, and once
it starts to happen it’s going to happen faster and faster and faster.
The more interesting thing to me is who is going to control the
playlist. If there is an infinite amount of music available – and I
would argue that as soon as the amount of music available exceeds the
amount of time you have in your life, that’s infinite – somebody will
have the leverageable spot of deciding what to listen to next. And it’s
unclear whether someone will charge to tell me that or will pay to tell
me that. It’s still up for grabs in every one of these vertical silos.
Who are the tastemakers and how do these ideas spread? The analogy I
like to give is if you’re an author and Oprah Winfrey calls, you don’t
say, “How much are you going to pay me to go on your show and give away
all the ideas in my book?” In fact, if you could you would pay to be on
Oprah. For a really long time the music industry has had two minds: On
the one hand, they would pay money to be on Clear Channel or MTV; on
the other hand, they would charge you money to hear their music in
concert or out of your stereo. Those days are all getting intermingled
now. “I am the program director of my radio station, so where’s my
payola?”

R&G: When a band brands itself, there is a credibility issue with their fan base; they run the risk of being perceived as a sellout.

Seth: I think the first thing I’d ask is, “perceived as a sellout by whom?” Some people say Patricia Barber
is a sellout because she’s a popular jazz musician as opposed to a
starving jazz musician. But the people in the crowd don’t think that. I
think selling out is largely about expectation, about being transparent
and telling the truth to your audience. When Talking Heads went
from being unsuccessful at CBGB to being really successful on MTV and
making a movie with Jonathan Demme, some people said they sold out.
Other people said they wished they were more pop-like. I’m not sure
that’s something that needs to be at the beginning of the conversation.
I think that what you have to do is make it clear to your tribe and to
yourself what you stand for, and do that.

Calling your bluff

Billionaire raconteur Mark Cuban just posted a fascinating challenge. Post a business plan that meets certain criteria and he'll consider funding it, right here, right now.

Here's what's neat:
1. As soon as you see enough plans, you realize that in fact there are tons of ways to create a viable business in just a few months. There's no shortage of ideas worth stealing.

2. Mark asks that you describe how much money you need and how much equity you'll give up for it. My guess is that for most of these businesses, that causes the entrepreneur to whittle down the money that's actually necessary (hey, that money is expensive!) until the point that they don't need Mark's money at all. They can just start.

The comments on his thread are typical of what happens when you call someone's bluff. There are plenty of skeptics, critics, trolls and naysayers. What a shame. Shun the non-believers.

PS! If you think you don't have a good enough idea, nine superpowered friends of mine came up with a list that might just help.

The power of an algorithm

An algorithm is a set of instructions that allows you to solve a problem.

Each instruction is simple and repeatable. It's important to understand that the instructions work on all similar problems, not just one.

Here's an algorithm for sorting any set of numbers, to get them into order. Start with 4,3,5,6,2 for example.

The bubble sort algorithm is simple. Compare two numbers. If the first number is higher than the second, switch them. So now it's 3,4,5,6,2. Next step is to compare positions two and three. If the second is higher than the third (it's not) switch them. Repeat for the whole string. Then start over. Do it over and over again until you can go the whole way with no switching. Done.

Same trick works for alphabetizing words or sorting kids in order by height.

Of course, there are algorithms that are far more complex, far more intuitive or far more useful.

Algorithms don't care a bit if you believe in them or not. They either work or they don't.

Algorithms in business appear to be magical, because they allow you to be smart about problems you haven't seen before. The 'angry customer' algorithm or the 'promote a book' algorithm don't always work, but they are approaches that work on a huge range of problems.

All of which is a long way to wish Charles Darwin a happy birthday. The simple algorithm he described is often misunderstood but is robust and flexible and powerful, and it works for ideas and businesses as well as fruit flies and turtles.

Ideas that spread, win. Sometimes ideas get changed in transmission, and sometimes those changed ideas spread even farther and with more impact than the ideas that came before them.

In business, if you lock down ideas, make them difficult to change and spread and have impact, you fail. If you accept the fact that change is real, that there is competition for your ideas and that amplifying the good stuff works, you can grow and thrive.

Seeing the algorithm in action (which the Net makes easy) helps you understand the notion of failing fast, of exposing ideas to the real world with a posture of perpetual beta. The clothing store Zara doesn't have clothes for a particular season, they launch clothes for a particular fortnight. They watch and measure and adjust and then repeat.

Your organization (and your career) either embraces change and turmoil and sudden shifts in the rules or you fear it. In times of rapid change (that would be now), embracing the algorithm of the evolution of ideas and systems is a significant competitive advantage.

Make the world smaller

The secret to being the best in the world is to make the 'world' smaller.

Alan Scott was the best community-focused artisan pizza oven builder in the world. A niche that didn't exist before he got there, but one that spread, that engaged people, that created a tribe and that supported him.

Alan was passionate about his craft and wasn't shy about sharing it. He trained others, turned it into a movement.

It's entirely possible that you will choose a niche that's too small. It's much more likely you'll shoot for something too big and become overwhelmed. When in doubt, overwhelm a small niche.

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