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What’s it like? (The sad story of the hot pepper)

Can you imagine how difficult it was to sell the jalapeño when it came over from the new world?

"What's it like?" you'd be asked.

Well, it's like a pepper (of course, it wasn't. Black pepper is dried and tastes very different).

Well, it's hot (no, it's not. Hot is a temperature, spicy is a taste).

It's not like anything, actually. Capsicum is an experience unto itself, and forcing me to tell you what it's like does neither of us much of a service.

"What's it like," is actually shorthand for, "I don't trust you enough to just try it, so you better explain in detail what category this item fits into so I can decide in advance how to understand it."

"What's it like?" is a huge impediment to growth and to the spread of new ideas, because forcing a marketer to pigeonhole an idea naturally limits it.

"What's it like?" leads to sequels and high concepts and crossovers, but it doesn't get us 1966 Bob Dylan or even yoga class.

Great marketers take advantage of categories every day. Great marketers understand how to create books or services or products or technologies that are very much like something else, but better. You should do that whenever you can.

If you want a fast start and good sales, be ready to answer the question.

When you have something that's a breakthrough, though, perhaps you need to say instead, "It's not like anything. You need to trust me and just taste it."

The first transaction

Do you really expect that the first time we transact, it will involve me giving you money in exchange for a product or service?

Perhaps this is a good strategy for a pretzel vendor on the street, but is that the best you can hope for?

Digital transactions are essentially free for you to provide. I can give you permission to teach me something. I can watch a video. I can engage in a conversation. We can connect, transfer knowledge, engage in a way that builds trust… all of these things make it more likely that I'll trust you enough to send you some money one day. I can contribute to a project you're building, ask you a difficult question, discover what others have already learned.

But send you money on the first date? No way.

The question then, is how much time and effort does your non-profit/consulting firm/widget factory spend on pre-purchase transactions and how much do you spend on trying to simply close the sale?

Over the top

You never cease to amaze me.

Just 48 hours after launching a review copy fundraiser for Acumen Fund, we have crossed the goal of raising $100,000.

People gave far more than the minimum, which delighted but didn't surprise me.

I'm afraid the site is now closed. If you'd like to donate directly to Acumen without getting a book, have at it. The site is here.

Thanks to everyone who participated. I'll email you in early January when the books ship. Thank you for everything.

Within reason

Often, someone will riff on a concept or approach that characterizes the revolution that we're living through online, and heads will nod. "Sure, that sounds great [insert idea here… like Free, or social media or permission or ideaviruses or empowered consumers or treating people with respect, etc.] within reason."

It's the last two words that make it a lie.

The last two words allow you to weasel your way into failure. Within reason means, "without bothering the boss, without taking a big risk, without taking the blame if we fail, without alienating our current retailers… be reasonable!"

And so you do it half-heartedly and you fail.

And who beats you?

The people who did it without reason.

Is it too late to catch up?

What if your organization or your client has done nothing?

What if they've just watched the last fourteen years go by? No real website, no social media, no permission assets. What if now they're ready and they ask your advice? And, by the way, they have no real cash to spend…

Here's a list of my top ten things to consider doing:

  • Use gmail to give every person in the organization that can read English an email address.
  • Use a free website creating tool or even Squidoo to build a page about your company. Nothing fancy, but list your locations, your people (with addresses) and make it clear you want to hear from people.
  • Start an email newsletter using Mad Mimi or Mail Chimp. Give the responsibility for the newsletter's creation and performance to one person and offer them a bonus if they exceed metrics in sign ups and in reducing churn.
  • Start a book group for your top executives and every person who answers the phone, designs a product or interacts with customers. Read a great online media book a week and discuss. It'll take you about a year to catch up.
  • Offer a small bonus to anyone in the company who starts and runs a blog on any topic. Have them link to your company site, with an explanation that while they work there, they don't speak for you.
  • Have the president post her (real) email address in every invoice and other communication the company sends out, asking people to write to her with comments or questions.
  • Start a newsletter for your vendors. Email them regular updates about what you're doing, what's selling and what problems are going on internally that they might be able to help you with.
  • Do not approve any project that isn't run on Basecamp.
  • Get a white board and put it in the break room. On it, have someone update: how many people subscribe to the newsletter, how many people visit the website, how many inbound requests come in by phone, how long it takes customer service to answer an email and how often your brand names are showing up on Twitter every day.
  • Don't have any meetings about your web strategy. Just do stuff. First you have to fail, then you can improve.
  • Refuse to cede the work to consultants. You don't outsource your drill press or your bookkeeping or your product design. If you're going to catch up, you must (all of you) get good at this, and you only accomplish that by doing it.

The problem is no longer budget. The problem is no longer access to tools.

The problem is the will to get good at it.

Get a review copy of my new book

[UPDATE: Our goal was reached and exceeded in just 48 hours! The site is no longer accepting donations, but you can visit Acumen's site and donate without getting a book.]

There used to be one hundred people who mattered.

That's true in a lot of industries, but particularly in books.

One hundred people who could make a book a hit. These were key buyers at bookstores, reviewers and editors at newspapers, the person who booked time at Oprah or the Today Show.

So publishers courted these people. If the one hundred loved it, the book launched as a hit. Of course the 100 all get free copies. Lots of free copies.

Today, of course, those one hundred people matter a lot less. And who matters more? You.

You, because you have a network. You blog. You tweet. You talk things up at meetings or recommend things to friends.

And there are a lot more than a hundred of you.

One solution is to give everyone a free copy. Publishers and authors could do this and try to make money doing something else. Another solution is to let the best of this group, the most committed, the most interested… let them stand up and identify themselves.

So, that's what we're experimenting with on Linchpin. For a select group of motivated readers, I want to send you a copy of Linchpin (at my expense) three weeks before anyone else can buy one. My US publisher is not sending free review copies to magazines (the few that are left), newspaper editors, TV shows, any of the usual media suspects. Instead, we're allowing people like you to raise their hands and, if they like the book, asking them to tell the world about it in January.

How to choose? I can't afford to buy a book for everyone, so I needed to come up with a filter. Here it is: The first 3,000 people who make a donation to the Acumen Fund (at least $30) get one at my expense. The money you pay goes directly to Acumen, you get the fun of making a donation and get a tax deduction before the end of the year, and I figure out which of my readers most want a copy of my book.

If you're excited about getting a first look, I hope you'll [link removed]. And thanks for your support, every day. It means a lot to me.

Please hurry, since once they're gone, I probably won't be able to offer any more.

[UPDATE: After 9 hours we've sold half of the reserved books and raised more than $70,000 for Acumen. Thanks guys. UPDATE 2: After 49 hours, we raised over $108,000. Wow.]

How to be a great client

As a client, your job isn’t to be innovative. Your job is to foster innovation. Big difference.

Fostering innovation is a discipline, a profession in fact. It involves making difficult choices and causing important things to get shipped out the door. Here are a few thoughts to get you started.

  • Before engaging with the innovator, foster discipline among yourself and your team. Be honest about what success looks like and what your resources actually are.
  • If you can't write down clear ground rules about which rules are firm and which can be broken on the path to a creative solution, how can you expect the innovator to figure it out?
  • Simplify the problem relentlessly, and be prepared to accept an elegant solution that satisfies the simplest problem you can describe.
  • After you write down the ground rules, revise them to eliminate constraints that are only on the list because they've always been on the list.
  • Hire the right person. Don't ask a mason to paint your house. Part of your job is to find someone who is already in the sweet spot you're looking for, or someone who is eager and able to get there.
  • Demand thrashing early in the process. Force innovations and decisions to be made near the beginning of the project, not in a crazy charrette at the end.
  • Be honest about resources. While false resource constraints may help you once or twice, the people you're working with demand your respect, which includes telling them the truth.
  • Pay as much as you need to solve the problem, which might be more than you want to. If you pay less than that, you'll end up wasting all your money. Why would a great innovator work cheap?
  • Cede all issues of irrelevant personal taste to the innovator. I don't care if you hate the curves on the new logo. Just because you write the check doesn't mean your personal aesthetic sense is relevant.
  • Run interference. While innovation sometimes never arrives, more often it's there but someone in your office killed it.
  • Raise the bar. Over and over again, raise the bar. Impossible a week ago is not good enough. You want stuff that is impossible today, because as they say at Yoyodyne, the future begins tomorrow.
  • When you find a faux innovator, run. Don't stick with someone who doesn't deserve the hard work you're doing to clear a path.
  • Celebrate the innovator. Sure, you deserve a ton of credit. But you'll attract more innovators and do even better work next time if innovators understand how much they benefit from working with you.

Shocking Tiger Woods video (exclusive)

You should be careful about headlines.

It's pretty easy to write a headline that will get someone to forgive your spam, and perhaps even to open your note (CyberMonday! 85% off…). It's pretty easy to write a headline that will get someone to click through on their RSS reader. It's even easy to write a tweet that will get a click through.

But is it better to get a click and then annoy someone, or better to only reach the people who care?

The mindset of the brazen copywriter is, "Well, even if only 1% of the people I trick are actually interested in the content, that's worthwhile. After all, there are a lot of people out there, and offending 99 to get one subscriber or one sale is good math."

The word I use for people like this is 'spammer'.

The mindset of the modern marketer is, "I can build a reputation in everything I do. If I teach people to trust me, then over time, I'll conserve their attention and build permission. That's priceless, particularly in a world that's getting more skeptical by the minute."

Of course, the best thing of all is to have content that deserves a great headline. If you can't do that, though, I think you should forgo the headline.