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There isn’t one bestseller list

Corey showed me the list of the most popular Wikipedia articles.

It's insane. It makes no sense. It has rock stars, dead dictators and body parts on it.

Huh? If you look at the top music of December, 1971, they're all songs you probably like. Pop music appeals to the masses, and the bestseller list was a fairly accurate indicator of what we were humming. All of us.

The way to understand lists that aren't vintage pop music is this: it isn't one list. It's four or five, mushed together. You have the list of rock acts, overlaid with the list of comic book heroes, etc. There isn't one person (at least I hope not) who's interested in all of these articles.

Seen like that, you can understand it. Sure, Batman gets seen more than the Green Lantern. Sure, Michael Jackson got seen more than ? and the Mysterians. And when you combine the lists, you get a mash.

Brands fall into the trap of combining market desires all the time. They forget that perhaps, just perhaps, the people buying diapers are different from the people buying hats, and putting diapers and hats into one combo pack isn't necessarily smart, even if both are bestsellers in their own right.

Seminar for good causes

I haven't done a live public seminar in a while, and I hope to announce two before the end of the year. Stay tuned.

I also haven't done my favorite kind, though, which is a seminar for organizations that are good causes. If you work for (or run) a 501 3(c) organization, I hope you'll consider applying to come to a free session I'm going to run in New York on October 22nd.

If I can help you think through issues related to the new marketing, fundraising, earning permission and building ideas that spread, it will be an afternoon well spent for both of us. I don't do any consulting, so this is as close as I can come to working directly with your organization and helping you leverage the good work you're already doing.

There are limited seats, so please be sure to fill out the entire application. Deadline to apply is Monday, October 5. We'll send out invitations the next day.

PS an inspiring new book came out today. Worth a look.

If Craigslist cost $1

Some things are better when they're not free.

If Craigslist charged a dollar for every listing, what would happen?

Well, the number of bogus listings and repetitive listings would plummet, making the site far easier to use.

The number of scam artists using the site would go down, because it's more difficult to be anonymous when money changes hands.

The revenue of the site would soar, which means that the people running the site could get (far) richer, or fund digital journalism or change the economy of an emerging nation.

Money creates a sort of friction. In the digital economy, magical things can happen when there is no friction. You can scale to infinity. On the other hand, sometimes you want friction.

If you lead a group that allows anyone to join, for free, your group might be large, but it's not tight, it's not organized to make important change. Commitment slows things down in the short run, but ultimately aligns interests.

The future is just like the past (but shinier)

Of course, it's not true.

The record business, for example, is fundamentally altered by easily sharable, zero-incremental-cost digital files. It's not just vinyl but shiny.

Your industry has been completely and permanently altered by the connections offered by the internet. Your non-profit, your political campaign, your service business. Not a little different, not just email enabled or website marketed, but overhauled.

Unfortunately, that's hard to embrace. But it's still true. What are you going to do about it? If you were starting your business today, knowing what you know now, how would you do things (very) differently?

The problem with the transom

It's not difficult to throw something over the transom. That's not the problem.

The problem is it's a waste.

The internet has made it so easy to wrap your idea/proposal around a brick and throw it that we forget sometimes that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

What sort of proposal should you write to be sure that someone who gets it over the transom will read it? You shouldn't.

Instead, spend the time earning the right to make the proposal. Spend the time building a presence that gets you an invitation, or, at the very least, earns you the credibility to walk in the front door. If you want to pitch a great business development idea to a big company you don't already work with, allocate three to six months of focused, patient effort to earn the right to make the presentation in the first place.

AND! If you are an organization that has a transom, how can you make it easier for great ideas to arrive? How about publishing your org chart so people can find the right person to contact? How about publishing a list of others you've worked with and what you've done with them so others can see what you're interested in? How about appointing someone (an agency? a bureau? an individual?) to act as a filter for you so you're not randomly fishing through the slush pile now and then?

A few years ago, Joi Ito used to use his tribe to review business plans. You posted your plan, they (the motivated volunteers) would mark it up and Joi would look at the best ones.  It's not clear to me that opening the transom wider brings you more crackpots. In fact, it may very well shed light on great opportunities you've been missing.

Do marketers have assets?

I gave a talk the other day, and at the end a woman sheepishly asked, "when you talk about an asset, what do you mean?"

It's a fair question.

For a marketer, an asset is a tool or a platform, something you can use over and over without using it up. In fact, it's something that gets better the more you invest.

Running an ad is an expense. Building a brand people trust is an asset.

Buying a trade show booth is an expense. Having a permission marketing list of people who want to get anticipated, personal and relevant emails from you is an asset.

What are Amazon's assets? Well, they have a few warehouses and some fancy software, but they primarily have two: a brand that people trust, and a one-click shopping relationship with 50 million people. On top of that, they have an archive of information about those people, what they like and what they don't, that makes it hard for someone to switch to another store easily. All those assets together comprise most of what Amazon has built over the last decade or two.

If you're an unknown freelancer, you don't have much in the way of marketing assets. If you're Harley Davidson, you've got plenty.

The challenge in growing a business is in building assets daily, and doing it for less money than those assets end up being worth. Your expenses should generate assets.

Adjusting as we go

Two days ago, I posted about Brands in Public.

The response from the brands we've shared it with has been terrific, but other people didn't like elements of it. And they were direct in letting me know.

The goal of the program is to invite brands into the conversation that's already going on around the web, to make it easy for them to do it on their terms. I talked with a brand manager yesterday who explained that this is exactly what he's been trying to do for his company, but the corporate website systems make that difficult for him. We want to open the door and to permit large brands a way to get started without having to roll their own solution.

One way we tried to encourage that was to build 200 sample pages, pages brands could adopt. Alas, some people felt that this was inappropriate, so we've recalibrated and we'll take those pages down before the end of the day.

When a brand wants a page, we'll build it, they'll run it and we'll both have achieved our goals.

Part of the magic of the web is that you can adjust as you go, particularly if you're willing to listen.

I apologize if anyone was confused by my original post, and we're looking forward to having major brands and non-profits using this tool the way we intended–to join in to the conversation that's already happening all around us. Thanks as always for reading.

Cultural Wisdom

It's very easy to underrate the value of cultural wisdom, otherwise known as sophistication.

Walk into a doctor's office and the paneling is wrong, the carpeting is wrong and it feels dated. Instant lack of trust.

Meet a salesperson in your office. She doesn't shake hands, she's fumbling with an old Filofax, she mispronounces Steve Jobs' name and doesn't make eye contact.

Visit a website for a vendor and it looks like one of those long-letter opportunity seeker type sites.

In each case, the reason you wrote someone off had nothing to do with their product and everything to do with their lack of cultural wisdom.

We place a high value on sophistication, because we've been trained to seek it out as a cue for what lies ahead. We figure that if someone is too clueless to understand our norms, they probably don't understand how to make us a product or service that we'll like.

This is even more interesting because different cultures have different norms, so there isn't one right answer. It's an ever changing, complex task. Cultural wisdom is important precisely because it's difficult.

And yet…

Who's in charge of cultural norms at your organization? Does someone hire or train or review to make sure you and your people are getting it right? At Vogue magazine, of course, that's all they do. If they lost it, even for a minute, they'd be toast.

It's funny that we assume that all sorts of complex but ultimately unimportant elements need experts and committees and review, but the most important element of marketing–demonstrating cultural wisdom–shouldn't even be discussed.

The platform vs. the eyeballs

This might be the most subtle yet important shift that marketers face as they deal with the reality of new media. Marketers aren't renters, now they own.

For generations, marketers were trained to buy (actually rent) eyeballs.

A media company assembled a large amount of attention. A TV network or a magazine or even a billboard company found a place you can put an ad, and they sold you a shot at reaching their audience.

You, the marketer, don't care about the long-term value of this audience. It's like a rental car. You want it to be clean and shiny when you get it, you want to avoid getting in trouble when you return it, but hey, it's a rental.

And so when we buy ads, we ask, "how big an audience" and then we design an ad with our brand in mind, not with the well-being of the media company or its audience in mind. And if we get a .1% or even a 1% response rate, we celebrate.

A trade show booth is an example of eyeball thinking. The trade show organizer assembles attendees and your job at the booth is to grab as many as you can.

Old media was not the same as old branding. Media companies built audiences and then brands rented those audiences.

Suddenly the new media comes along and the rules are different. You're not renting an audience, you're building one. You're not exhibiting at a trade show, you're starting your own trade show.

If you still ask, "how much traffic is there," or "what's the CPM?" you're not getting it. Are you buying momentary attention or are you investing in a long term asset?

Now, when you buy something (that thing you used to call 'media'), you're not paying for eyeballs, you're paying for a platform. A platform you can use to build your own audience, one that you can nurture, educate and ultimately convert. You'll take care of this audience differently, measure them differently and have a different sales cycle. This isn't natural, but it works.

Two steps: buy a platform and then fill it with people. Some examples:

Authors have traditionally relied on publishers to bring them readers. The author gives up the majority of the income and the publisher brings them the readers. But then you see someone like Frank at Post Secret who builds his own audience for his (sometimes nsfw) content. He owns a platform, it's not something he rents. Now, using a publisher is a choice, not a necessity. Just about every successful author going forward (except for the lucky exceptions like Dan Brown) will own her own media channel. Not just authors, of course…

Consider the local real estate agent. She can spend to run ads every week in the local paper, or she can use the same money to start a legitimate media channel, a digital magazine, say, one that cheers on the school and gives the local paper a run for its money. And oh yes, the only houses listed for sale are hers. It might take a lot of work and even some money. But what does she get? A platform forever.

Traditionally, a clothing brand has to give up income and control to a retailer, since the retailer has the eyeballs. The web allows a brand like Little Miss Matched to build their own platform, their own audience and thus bypass all those gatekeepers. They invested in a product that told a story instead of investing in giving Walmart a cut. Boring products can't do this.

Or consider the local chiropractor. He can spend money on a yellow pages ad or he can invest in a platform, creating a local running club and doing coaching for its members.

(Compare these examples with McDonald's, a company that continues to rent eyeballs for a high price and has no real platform to speak of.)

Or consider the acquisition of Omniture by Adobe. What did Adobe pay for? I'd argue it was direct access to the right people at the leading advertisers and websites around the world. Technology isn't so hard to copy. Permission to connect is almost impossible to achieve.

Compared to the cost of renting eyeballs, buying a platform is cheap. Filling it with people eager to hear from you… that's the expensive part. But if you don't invest in the platform, you'll be at a disadvantage, now and forever. The smart way to build a brand today is to invest in the elements of the platform… the product, the technology, the websites (plural) and the systems you need to make it easy for people to show up at your very own trade show. And then embrace these people and shoot for 90% conversion, not .5%.

Like most good investments, it's expensive and worth more than it costs.

Everyone gets paid on commission

The Washington Post recently laid off a columnist because his blog posts didn't get enough web traffic.

Of course, in the old days, the newspaper had no real way to tell which columns got read and which ones didn't. So journalists were lulled into the sense that it didn't really matter. The Times quotes Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU,  “It’s an unusual public rationale for serious newspaper people, that’s for sure.”

Wrong tense. It's not going to be unusual for long.

In fact, in a digital world where everything can be measured, we all work on commission. And why not? If you do great work and it works, you should get rewarded. And if you don't, it's hard to see why a rational organization would keep you on.

You don't have to like the coming era of hyper-measurement, but that doesn't mean it's not here.