Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

What does better mean?

Are zippers better?

For years, I always wore jeans with a zipper. After all, zippers are better. They're faster and easier and they do what they're told. What an amazing invention! How did we survive without zippers?

Last year, just for kicks, I bought a pair of jeans with a button fly. Middle age crisis, I guess.

Now, that's all I wear. Buttons are better.

How can buttons be better? They're archaic. They take a long time. They're difficult.

Except that I like the way they look. And since I like them better, they are better.

This is a hard lesson for marketers, particularly technical marketers, to learn. You don't get to decide what's better. I do.

If you look at the decisions you've made about features, benefits, pricing, timing, hiring, etc., how many of them are obviously 'better' from your point of view, and how many people might disagree? There are very few markets where majority rule is the best way to grow.

The power of a tiny picture (how to improve your social network brand)

If it's important enough for you to spend your time finding and
connecting with new people online, it's important enough to get the
first impression right.

If you use any online social network tool, the single most important first impression you make is with the 3600 to 5000 pixels you get for your tiny picture.

In the social group I run, part of my job is to pick the featured members. As a result, I spend a lot of time looking at little pictures. Here's one person's take on the things you can do to avoid wrecking that first impression:

  1. Have a professional or a dedicated amateur take your picture.
  2. Use a white background, or at least a neutral one. No trees! No snowstorms!
  3. The idea of having your significant other in the picture is a good one, at least in terms of maintaining peace in the presence of a jealous or nervous spouse. But the thing is, I'm not friending your girlfriend, I'm friending you. I'd vote for the picture to be solo.
  4. If you are wearing a hat, you better have both a good reason and a good hat.
  5. I totally understand that you are shy, modest and self-effacing. But sabotaging your photo is not a good way to communicate that. We just assume you're a dork.
  6. Conceptual photos (your foot, a monkey wearing glasses) may give us insight into the real you, but perhaps you could save that insight for the second impression.
  7. How beautiful you are is a distant second to how happy you are. In my experience, photos that communicate openness and enthusiasm are far more appealing than photos that make you look like a supermodel.
  8. Cropping is so important. I should have put this one first. A well cropped photo sends a huge, subliminal message to other people. If you don't know how to do this, browse through the work of professionals and see how they do it. It matters.
  9. Some people have started adding words or signs to their images. If your goal is to communicate that you are the website or you are the company, then this is very smart. If not, then remember the cocktail party rule: if you wouldn't wear it there, don't wear it here.
  10. If, after reading this list, you don't like your picture, go change it. No reason not to.

Sugar-coated corporate speak

There's a new class of internet companies that collect cookie data across websites and sell compiled personal data to advertisers. This means, for example, that Mazda can run banner ads on site X only to people who were looking at new cars on site Y.

In order for this to work, of course, the companies need to get site Y to secretly sell them huge bundles of personal surfing data. You can think that this is okay or not okay, that's not the point of my post.

Check out some of the language BlueKai uses on the page of their site addressed to consumers [I notice that the company has since changed the wording, which is certainly a good thing. Here's the original text]:

It's all about choice, reward, and privacy…

In return, you, the consumer, are rewarded with the 3C's: control, charity, and content…

Charity—It gets better! When marketers pay to access anonymous data from BlueKai, you will be rewarded with a credit to donate to the charity of your choice…

BlueKai's mission is to build the world's most comprehensive registry of online preferences that is dedicated to ensuring your anonymity and privacy.

Give me a break. Is this really BlueKai's mission? I doubt it. When marketers talk to consumers like this, it's no wonder consumers hate us and distrust us. Wouldn't it be refreshing if we just told consumers the truth? They could (but don't) say:

BlueKai makes money by help advertisers show you ads relevant to your behavior and interests. We harvest the information we need by paying sites for your cookie information… this money makes it more likely that the sites you visit have enough income to survive, without having to resort to even more intrusive ads. It also keeps companies from showing you totally irrelevant ads. Most people we talk to think this is a great deal all around.

If you don't want the ads you see online to be relevant, if you don't want us to keep your cookie information on file, all you have to do is click here and we'll banish you from our database. No, you shouldn't have to opt out of us using your personal data to make money, but hey, that's life.

The direct marketing industry has a long, troubled history of sneaking around, assuming permission they don't have and making it difficult for people to opt out. This has been shown again and again to be foolish and short-sighted.

It is not just an issue for direct marketers, of course. It turns out that being direct and honest is a scalable communications strategy.

Poisoning the well

Judith comments on her frustration in joining a new website, "Sorry I do not provide passwords or birthdate.  I would have like to have joined otherwise." Obviously, there's a trust problem here.

Frank won't read the instructions that come in an email from a trusted company, because there's always so much noise and clutter and legal garbage in the text that it doesn't pay to read it anyway.

Tim is in a bad mood the moment he arrives at the airport, because every other time he's been there, a marketer tries to rip him off, a security guard treats him like a criminal or an airline doesn't keep its promises.

Sarah won't give money to charity because the last two times she discovered that it was a false front for a high-overhead scam operation.

Emily got the three thousandth automated call giving her a second notice that her factory warranty had just expired… and she doesn't have a car.

Marketers have spammed, lied, deceived, cluttered and ripped us off for so long, we're sick of it.

Which means that even if you have a really good reason, no, you can't call me on the phone. Which means that even if it's really important, no, I'm not going to read the instructions. Which means that god forbid you try to email me something I didn't ask for… you're trashed. It's so fashionable to be skeptical now that no one believes you if you attempt to do something for the right reasons.

Selfish short-sighted marketers ruined it for all of us. The only way out, I think, is for a few marketers to so overwhelm the market with long-term, generous marketing that we have no choice but to start paying attention again.

First, ten

This, in two words, is the secret of the new marketing.

Find ten people. Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you…

Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they’ll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat.

If they don’t love it, you need a new product. Start over.

Your idea spreads. Your business grows. Not as fast as you want, but faster than you could ever imagine.

This approach changes the posture and timing of everything you do.

You can no longer market to the anonymous masses. They’re not anonymous and they’re not masses. You can only market to people who are willing participants. Like this group of ten.

The timing means that the idea of a ‘launch’ and press releases and the big unveiling is nuts. Instead, plan on the gradual build that turns into a tidal wave. Organize for it and spend money appropriately. The fact is, the curve of money spent (big hump, then it tails off) is precisely backwards to what you actually need.

Three years from now, this advice will be so common as to be boring. Today, it’s almost certainly the opposite of what you’re doing.

Exceeding expectations (or don’t bother)

Today, as you've no doubt discovered, is April Fools, the official holiday of the web.

I had, as I do every year, a fools post written and queued up. (It was about JD Salinger and the Dalai Lama as twitter users.) It was good, not great.

So I posted nothing.

I couldn't exceed my (or your) expectations, so I posted nothing.

That's a brave thing to do and a good feeling as well. Next time all you have is 'good', try nothing on for size.