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The danger of repeating signals

Kevin shares this great quote from the Count of Monte Cristo:

"I have been told," said the count, "that you do not always yourselves understand the signals you repeat."

"That is true, sir, and that is what I like best," said the man, smiling.

"Why do you like that best?"

"Because then I have no responsibility. I am a machine then, and nothing else, and so long as I work, nothing more is required of me."

Ethical placebos (stunning, but not actually surprising)

A recent study found that placebos work even if the patient is told by the doctor that the drug they're taking has no 'real' medicine in it.


We've come to understand that the placebo effect is real. If we believe we're going to get better, perform better, make the sale, etc., it often occurs that we do. That's because the brain is the single best marketing agent when it comes to selling ourselves something. If we think we're going to get better, we're much more likely to actually get better.

So then why do clearly labeled placebos work?

Because of the process. The ritual. The steps we go through to remember to take them, to open the bottle, to get the water, to swallow. Over time, we don't remind ourselves so much about what's in the pill and remind ourselves a lot that we're taking significant action.

This is one reason Disney makes you wait on line for a ride even if the park is empty. Why a full restaurant is more fun than an empty one, even if you know the food is precisely the same.

Marketers ostensibly know this, but it seems as though most organizations still act as though they're selling pencils to accountants.

We're complicated. I hope that's okay with you, because like it or not, you're not going to make people simple.

What’s the use case?

Visit an architect. On the first visit, right after shaking your hand, she unrolls plans for a house. "Here are some sketches…"

Wait. That's backward.

Sketches for what? How do you know if I want a house or an office building? How am I to judge these plans? Is it a mind reading exercise?

The most effective way to sell the execution of an idea is to describe the use case first. And before you can do that, you need to have both the trust of your client and enough information to figure out what would delight them.

Then, describe what a great solution would do. "If we could use 10,000 square feet of space to profitably service 100 customers an hour…" or "If we built a website that could convert x percent of …" or "If we could blend a wine that would appeal to this type of diner…"

After the use case is agreed on, then feel free to share your sketches, brainstorms and mockups. At that point, the only question is, "does this execution support the use case we agreed on?"

Don't show me a project, a website, an ad buy or an essay without first telling me what it's supposed to do when it works properly. First, because I might not want that result. And second, how else am I supposed to judge if it's good or not without knowing what you're trying to do…

Too often, we're in such a hurry to show off what we'd like to build we forget to sell the notion of what we built it for.

You don’t need more time

…you just need to decide.

Autarky is dead

Self sufficiency appears to be a worthy goal, but it's now impossible if you want to actually get anything done.

All our productivity, leverage and insight comes from being part of a community, not apart from it.

The goal, I think, is to figure out how to become more dependent, not less.

The new craftsmanship

There's always been a bright line around the craftsperson, someone who takes real care and produces work for the ages. Everyone else might be a hack, or a factory guy or a suit or a drone, but a craftsperson was someone we could respect.

A craftsman might be a blacksmith or a carpenter, a visual artist or even a dedicated teacher. Someone to look up to.

Perhaps we're entering a new age of craftsmanship, one where we can see craft in the way a new business is devised, a sale is made or a website is coded. A craftsperson might be particularly talented and connected in the way she deals with clients, or be able to meet deadlines with alacrity.

Just because it's not in a crafts fair doesn't mean it didn't demand craft.

How should you treat your best customers?

Here's what most businesses do with their best customers: They take the money.

The biggest fan of that Broadway show, the one who comes a lot and sits up front? She's paying three times what the person just three rows back paid.

That loyal Verizon customer, the one who hasn't traded in his phone and has a contract for six years running? He's generating far more profit than the guy who switches every time a contract expires and a better offer comes along.

Or consider the loyal customer of a local business. The business chooses to offer new customers a coupon for half off—but makes him pay full price…

If you define "best customer" as the customer who pays you the most, then I guess it's not surprising that the reflex instinct is to charge them more. After all, they're happy to pay.

But what if you define "best customer" as the person who brings you new customers through frequent referrals, and who sticks with you through thick and thin? That customer, I think, is worth far more than what she might pay you in any one transaction. In fact, if you think of that customer as your best marketer instead, it might change everything.

Are $300 headphones worth it?

A friend wanted to buy Dr. Dre headphones. They list for about $300.

Any audiophile can tell you that they sound like $39 headphones. Instead, consider these. We can prove they sound better!

But of course, that's not the question. It's not what sounds better, it's what's worth it.

The Dre headphones come with admiring glances at no extra charge. They come with self-esteem built in. You can argue that this is a worthless feature in a device designed to reproduce sound accurately, but you'd be wrong. After all, the whole reason you're listening to music in the first place is to feel good. To be happy. If the Dre's make you happy, and your happiness is worth $300, then they're worth it, no?

For others (put me in that category) I get more happiness knowing that I didn't fall for a clever marketing ploy, and I buy the ones that I believe sound better. Of course, that's a clever marketing ploy too–persuading me that better sound is worth this much. But don't tell anyone. That would make me feel manipulated.

Protecting the work

In describing the role her brother played in producing one of her movies, Sofia Coppola said, "he protected the film."

As a producer, Roman saw his role as keeping the crew small, the project moving, the choices open so that Sofia could do her work. He protected the movie so that she could make it.

Too often, artists and marketers and designers forget to protect their work from those that might try to improve it.


A motto for those doing work that matters:

"We can't please everyone, in fact, we're not even going to try."

Or perhaps:

"Pleasing everyone with our work is impossible. It wastes the time of our best customers and annoys our staff. Forgive us for focusing on those we're trying to delight."

The math here is simple. As soon as you work hard to please everyone, you have no choice but to sand off the edges, pleasing some people less in order to please others a bit more. And it drives you crazy at the same time.