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Self-delusion and self-loathing

Two shores of the same river, either can get you into a lot of trouble.

Self-delusion is lying to yourself about how good you are. You might think you're a world class designer or actor or chef or administrator or problem solver, but you might be merely well-intentioned, hard-working and pretty good. Which is fine, but pretty good is hardly remarkable. Telling yourself the truth about what you've got to market is the first step to marketing with success.


Self-loathing is lying to yourself about how bad you are. You might
think you've got nothing to add, that you're a lame designer or actor or chef or administrator or
problem solver, but you probably have the potential to be great. Awe-inspiringly great …if you're willing to do the work, make the sacrifices and stop undercutting yourself. Supporting yourself with the truth about what you could market is the second
step to marketing with success.

Free Prize Inside

Updated Road Trip book

The myth of preparation

There are three stages of preparation. (For a speech, a product, an interview, a sporting event…)

The first I'll call the beginner stage. This is where you make huge progress as a result of incremental effort.

The second is the novice stage. This is the stage in which incremental effort leads to not so much visible increase in quality.

And the third is the expert stage. Here's where races are won, conversations are started and sales are made. A huge amount of effort, off limits to most people, earns you just a tiny bit of quality. But it's enough to get through the Dip and be seen as the obvious winner.

Here's the myth: The novice stage is useful.

If all you're going to do is go through the novice stage before you ship, don't bother. If you're not prepared to put in the grinding work of the expert stage, just do the beginner stuff and stop screwing around. Make it good enough and ship it and move on.

We diddle around in the novice stage because we're afraid. We polish (but not too much) and go to meetings (plenty of them) and look for deniability, spending hours and hours instead of shipping. And the product, in the end, is not so much better.

I'm all for expertise. Experts, people who push through and make something stunning–we need more of them. But let's be honest, if you're not in the habit of being an expert, it's unlikely your current mode of operation is going to change that any time soon.

Go, give a speech. Go, start a blog. Go, ship that thing that you've been hiding. Begin, begin, begin and then improve. Being a novice is way overrated.

Shipit Workbook back in stock for a while

Two weeks ago, I told you about a workbook I published. I was amazed and a bit delighted to discover that less than 16 hours after announcing it, the entire warehouse was sold out. (It peaked at #8 on the Amazon list).

I apologize to those of you that weren't able to get a set. And I doubly apologize to my beloved Canadian readers who were shut out for no apparent reason that I've been able to discern.

We've gone back to press for more and I'm pleased to announce that the workbooks are now available, and there's a special option for Canadians. I can't promise that these will last much longer than the last batch, but I've already ordered some more.

Shipping atoms is difficult, and crossing borders is more difficult still. I'm going to adjust as I go and hope to make the supply more reliable. It's doubly disappointing that you can't order when they run out of stock. We're working on that. If you discover an out of stock, please check back after a week…

I'm investigating new ways to make this more efficient going forward. I apologize again, and thank you for your good humor.

Why jazz is more interesting than bowling

Bowling is all about one number: the final score. And great bowlers come whisker-close to hitting the perfect score regularly. Not enough dimensions for me to be fascinated by, and few people pay money to attend bowling matches.

Jazz is practiced over a thousand or perhaps a million dimensions. It's non-linear and non-predictable, and most of all, it's never perfect.

And yet…

when we get to work, most of us choose to bowl.

Pushing the spectrum

Marketers have long tried to turn happy events into shopping opportunities. Macy's and Gimbels and others pushed us to see Christmas as a chance to buy gifts. Shopping is right next to happiness on the spectrum of emotions, I guess, just as green is next to blue in the rainbow. They did it to Valentine's day and now, of course,  Halloween.

Lately, some marketers would like to push us to move from fear to hatred. It makes it easier for them. We honor and remember the heroes who gave everything, the innocent who were lost, the neighbors who narrowly escaped. A day to hate? I hope we can do better than that.

Interpreting criticism

Rdrejected Heartfelt criticism of your idea or your art is usually right (except when it isn't…)

Check out this letter from the publisher of a magazine you've never heard of to the founder of a little magazine called Readers Digest:

But, personally, I don't see how you will be able to get enough subscribers to support it. It is expensive for its size. It isn't illustrated… I have my doubts about the undertaking as a publishing venture.

Of course, he was right–given his assumptions. And that's the except part.

Criticism of your idea is usually based on assumptions about the world as it is. Jackson Pollock could never have made it as an painter in the world as it was. And Harry Potter was rejected by just about everyone because for it to succeed the way kids read would have to change.

The useful element of this sort of criticism isn't that the fact that people embracing the status quo don't like your idea. Of course they don't. The interesting question is: what about the world as it is would have to change for your idea to be important?

In the case of Readers Digest, the key thing that changed was the makeup of who was reading magazines. Most of the people (and it was a lot of people) who subscribed to the Digest didn't read other magazines. And so comparing to other magazines made no sense, except to say, "this is so different from other magazines, the only way you're going to succeed is by selling it to millions of people who don't read those magazines." And Starbucks had no chance if they were going to focus on the sort of person who bought coffee at Dunkin Donuts or a diner, and the iPad couldn't possibly succeed if people were content to use computers the way they were already using them.

Keep that in mind the next time a gatekeeper or successful tastemaker explains why you're going to fail.


Loyalty is what we call it when someone refuses a momentarily better option.

If your offering is always better, you don't have loyal customers, you have smart ones. Don't brag about how loyal your customers are when you're the cheapest or you have clearly dominated some key element of what the market demands. That's not loyalty. That's something else.

Loyal customers understand that there's almost always something better out there, but they're not so interested in looking.

Loyalty can be rewarded, but loyalty usually comes from within, from a story we like to tell ourselves. We're loyal to sports teams and products (and yes, to people) because being loyal makes us happy. Why else be a fan of the Cubs? Some customers like being loyal. Those are good customers to have.

Loyalty isn't forever. Sometimes, the world changes significantly and even though the loyal partner/customer likes that label, it gets so difficult to stick that he switches.

I think there's no doubt that some brands and teams and politicians and yes, people, attract a greater percentage of loyal fans than others. Not because they're bigger or better, but because they reinforce the good feeling some people get when they're being loyal. Hint: low price or supermodel good looks are not the tools of choice for attracting people who enjoy being loyal.

Rewarding loyalty for loyalty's sake–not by paying people for sticking it out so the offering ends up being more attractive–is not an obvious path, but it's a worthwhile one. Tell a story that appeals to loyalists. Treat different customers differently, and reserve your highest level of respect for those that stand by you.

Three uses for a free Kindle book

Charlie Huston used one of his books (no longer free) to get me hooked on the rest of the series. Get one free, buy three. Backwards but effective.

Another: To spread an idea you believe in (where money is not the object).

And: To create hoopla for a new book launch. Josh Bernoff is doing a freebie with his new book, just this week. (Sorry, US only–publishing rights are largely a pre-digital artifact).

When the marginal cost of the interaction is zero, the marketing opportunities of spreading an idea increase dramatically.

Marketing to the bottom of the pyramid

[this short essay (long blog post) is inspired by and related to this video. You can engage one without the other, but they go together.]

Part 1: The bottom is important.

Almost a third of the world's population earns $2.50 or less a day. The enormity of this disparity takes my breath away, but there's an interesting flip side to it: That's a market of more than five billion dollars a day. Add the next segment ($5 a day) and it's easy to see that every single day, the poorest people in the world spend more than ten billion dollars to live their lives.

Most of that money is spent on traditional items purchased in traditional ways. Kerosene. Rice. Basic medicines if you can afford them or if death is the only alternative. And almost all of these purchases are inefficient. There's lack of information, high costs because of a lack of choice, and most of all, a lack of innovation.

There are two significant impacts here: first, the inefficiency is a tax on the people who can least afford it. Second, the side effects of poor products are dangerous. Kerosene kills, and so does dirty water.

Part 2: The bottom is an opportunity (for both buyer or seller).

If a business can offer a better product, one that's more efficient, provides better information, increases productivity, is safer, cleaner, faster or otherwise improved, it has the ability to change the world.

Change the world? Sure. Because capitalism and markets scale. If you can make money selling someone a safer item, you'll make more. And more. Until you've sold all you can. At the same time, you've enriched the purchaser, who bought something of her own free will because it made things better.

Not only that, but engaging in the marketplace empowers the purchaser. If you've got a wagon full of rice as food aid, you can just dump it in the town square and drive away. You have all the power. But if you have to sell something in order to succeed, it moves the power from the seller to buyer. Quality and service and engagement have to continually improve or the buyer moves on.

The cell phone, for example, has revolutionized the life of billions in the developing world. If you have a cell phone, you can determine the best price for the wheat you want to sell. You can find out if the part for your tractor has come in without spending two days to walk to town to find out. And you can be alerted to weather… etc. Productivity booms. There's no way the cell phone could have taken off as quickly or efficently as a form of aid, but once someone started engaging with this market, the volume was so huge it just scaled. And the market now competes to be ever more efficient.

Part 3: It's not as easy as it looks

And here's the kicker: If you're a tenth-generation subsistence farmer, your point of view is different from someone working in an R&D lab in Palo Alto. The Moral Economy of the Peasant makes this argument quite clearly. Imagine standing in water up to your chin. The only thing you're prepared to focus on is whether or not the water is going to rise four more inches. Your penchant for risk is close to zero. One mistake and the game is over.

As a result, it's extremely difficult to sell innovation to this consumer. The line around the block to get into the Apple store is just an insane concept in this community. A promise from a marketer is meaningless, because the marketer isn't part of the town, the marketer will move away, the marketer is, of course, a liar.

Let me add one more easily overlooked point: Western-style consumers have been taught from birth the power of the package. We see the new nano or the new Porsche or the new convertible note on a venture deal and we can easily do the math: [new thing] + [me] = [happier]. We've been taught that an object can make our lives better, that a purchase can make us happier, that the color of the Tiffany's box or the ringing of a phone might/will bring us joy.

That's just not true for someone who hasn't bought a new kind consumer good in a year or two or three or maybe ever. As a result, stores in the developing world tend to be stocked with the classic, the tried and true, because people buy refills of previous purchases, not the new.

No substistence farmer walks to a store or stall saying, "I wonder what's new today? I wonder if there's a new way for me to solve my problems?" Every day, people in the West say that very thing as they engage in shopping as a hobby.

You can't simply put something new in front of a person in this market and expect them to buy it, no matter how great, no matter how well packaged, no matter how well sold.

So you see the paradox. A new product and approach and innovation could dramatically improve the life and income of a billion people, but those people have been conditioned to ignore the very tools that are a reflex of marketers that might sell it to them. Fear of loss is greater than fear of gain. Advertising is inefficient and ineffective. And the worldview of the shopper is that they're not a shopper. They're in search of refills.

The answer, it turns out, is in connecting and leading Tribes. It lies in engaging directly and experientially with individuals, not getting distribution in front of markets. Figure out how to use direct selling in just one village, and then do it in ten, and then in a hundred. The broad, mass market approach of a Western marketer is foolish because there is no mass market in places where villages are the market.

The (eventual) power of the early adopter

Swami This gentleman is a swami, a leader in his village. He owns a d.light lantern. Why? He could fit all his worldly positions into a rollaboard, and yet he owns a solar lantern, the first man in his village to buy one.

For him, at least this one time, he liked the way it felt to be seen as a leader, to go first, to do an experiment. Perhaps his followers contributed enough that the purchase didn't feel risky. Perhaps the person he bought it from was a friend or was somehow trusted. It doesn't really matter, other than understanding that he's rare.

After he got the lantern, he set it up in front of his house. Every night for six months, his followers would meet on his front yard to talk, to connect and yes, to wonder how long it would be before the lantern would burn out. Six months later, the jury is still out.

One day, months or years from now, the lantern will be seen as obvious and trusted and a safe purchase. But it won't happen as fast as it would happen in Buffalo or Paris. The imperative is simple: find the early adopters, embrace them, adore them, support them, don't go away, don't let them down. And then be patient yet persistent. Mass market acceptance is rare. Viral connections based on experience are the only reliable way to spread new ideas in communities that aren't traditionally focused on the cult of the new.

This raises the bar for customer service and exceptional longevity, value and design. It means that the only way to successfully engage this market is with relentless focus on the conversations that tribe leaders and early adopters choose to have with their peers. All the tools of the Western mass market are useless here.

Just because it is going to take longer than it should doesn't mean we should walk away. There are big opportunities here, for all of us. It's going to take some time, but it's worth it. [More info: Acumen]