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“If I were you…”

But of course, you're not.

And this is the most important component of strategic marketing: we're not our customer.

Empathy isn't dictated to us by a focus group or a statistical analysis. Empathy is the powerful (and rare) ability to imagine what motivates someone else to act.

When a politician or a pundit vilifies someone for her actions, he's missed the point, because all he can do is imagine what he would do in that situation, completely avoiding an opportunity to see the world through someone else's eyes, to try on a new worldview, to attempt to imagine the circumstances that would lead to any action other than the one he would take.

When a teacher can't see why a student is stuck, or when an interface designer dismisses the 12% of the users who can't find the 'off' switch… we're seeing a failure of empathy, not a flaw in the user base.

When we call a prospect stupid for not choosing us, when we resort to blunt promotional tactics to get attention we could have earned with a more graceful approach–these are the symptoms that we've forgotten how to be empathetic.

You don't have to wear panty hose to be a great brand manager at L'eggs, nor do you need to be unemployed to work on a task force on getting people back to work. What is required, though, is a persistent effort to understand how other people see the world, and to care about it.

Dancing on the edge of finished

Before, when your shift was done, you were finished. When the inbox was empty, when the forms were processed, you could stop.

Now, of course, there's always one more tweet to make, post to write, words with friends move to complete. There's one more bit of email, one more lens you can construct, one more comment you can respond to. If you want to, you can be never finished.

And that's the dance. Facing a sea of infinity, it's easy to despair, sure that you will never reach dry land, never have the sense of accomplishment of saying, "I'm done." At the same time, to be finished, done, complete–this is a bit like being dead. The silence and the feeling that maybe that's all.

For the marketer, the freelancer and the entrepreneur, the challenge is to level set, to be comfortable with the undone, with the cycle of never-ending. We were trained to finish our homework, our peas and our chores. Today, we're never finished, and that's okay.

It's a dance, not an endless grind.

Ranking for signal to noise ratio

A whisper in a quiet room is all you need. There's so little noise, so few distractions, that the energy of the whisper is enough to make a dent.

On the other hand, it's basically impossible to have a conversation (at any volume) in a nightclub.

Signal to noise ratio is a measurement of the relationship between the stuff you want to hear and the stuff you don't. And here's the thing: Twitter and email and Facebook all have a bad ratio, and it's getting worse.

The clickthrough rates on tweets is getting closer and closer to zero. Not because there aren't links worth clicking on, but because there's so much junk you don't have the attention or time to sort it all out.

Spam (and worse, spamlike messages from organizations and people that ought to treasure your attention and permission) are turning a medium (email) that used to be incredibly rich into one that's becoming very noisy as well.

And you really can't do much to fix these media and still use them the way you're used to using them.

The alternative, which is well worth it, is to find new channels you can trust. An RSS feed with only bloggers who respect your time. Relentless editing of who you follow and who you listen to and what gets on the top of the pile.

Until you remove the noise, you're going to miss a lot of signal.

The endless emergency of politics

Good governance is like great marketing–it takes the long view, and relentlessly focuses on delivering on agreed upon goals over time.

Politics, on the other hand, is more like a ping pong match, and, thanks to electronic media, it's getting faster when we'd be better off if it slowed down.

Those that work in politics are now addicted to today's emergency, whatever it is. It could be a world event, a faux scandal or merely something the other side said. They use it to fundraise, they use it to distribute talking points and they use it to get attention and score points on the opposition. And they use polls to keep score, daily.

It's practically impossible to get the attention or effort of people on a campaign unless you've got something urgent and imminent to discuss. This is no way to do serious marketing.

One side effect of the endless emergency is an insatiable need for cash. Clearly, money spent on campaigns is effective (particularly in depressing the vote for an opponent), but just as clearly, it doesn't scale. Twice as much money is not twice as effective. When the campaign falls in love with the combination of instant reaction plus unlimited fundraising, all strategy and leadership go out the window.

The problem with getting elected using emergency tactics is that it makes it harder than ever to govern for the long term.

[Here's my post about the endless emergency of poverty].

You will be judged (or you will be ignored)

Those are pretty much the only two choices.

Being judged is uncomfortable. Snap judgments, prejudices, misinformation… all of these, combined with not enough time (how could there be) to truly know you, means that you will inevitably be misjudged, underestimated (or overestimated) and unfairly rejected.

The alternative, of course, is much safer. To be ignored.

Up to you.

A true story

Of course, that's impossible.

There's no such thing as a true story. As soon as you start telling a story, making it relevant and interesting to me, hooking it into my worldviews and generating emotions and memories, it ceases to be true, at least if we define true as the whole truth, every possible fact, non-localized and regardless of culture.

Since you're going to tell a story, you might as well get good at it, focus on it and tell it in a way that you're proud of.

Where’s the heat?

Is that your goal? To find the next hot thing? Do you want to buy it, sell it, use it, eat it?

In every industry where there's fashion (which is every industry), people spend an enormous amount of time looking for heat. It defines the cutting edge, determines what's in or out, what's hot or not.

Two things worth considering:

a. the hot thing isn't always the thing that's aligned with your goals. Sure, sometimes the most profitable item is also the hot item of the moment, but for many companies, market share or profitability or utility has not a lot to do with being on the cutting edge of fashion. And as a user, the hot item of the moment isn't necessarily the thing that will create value or even identify you as truly hip.

b. The cycle of hot keeps getting shorter.

You can chase this, but it's not free, and it might not get you where you want to go.

Not everyone

If you're marketing a bass guitar or an orchid or an electric SUV, why are you concerned with what everyone thinks about it?

It seems to me that you should only care about the opinion of those that are actually open to buying one.

Shun the non-believers.

The quickest way to get things done and make change

Not the easiest, but the quickest:

Don't demand authority.

Eagerly take responsibility.

Relentlessly give credit.

Digital analogs are no longer sufficient

ParkingmeterThe parking meter was rebooting. I guess we're supposed to walk to the other end of the garage and find one that's working.

We're seeing digital awareness coming to just about everything. In this case, it was the parking meter near the library. Of course, it's not really a parking meter, it's a centralized fee collection system that saves the town a lot of money. It's easier to collect from, certainly, it doesn't waste the time of meter readers (who get alerted as to what spaces aren't paid for, as opposed to checking them all) plus it doesn't let a new parker enjoy a few minutes of the last person's payment.

I understand how the incremental sale of this device was easier to maket to the town and to the community. It's just like what we have now, but better.

The problem, of course, is that it's not as better as it could be. Just about every traditional non-digital solution is bounded by the limits of mechanics. Once we start connecting (and the connection revolution won't rest until it's all connected) then the problem can be reset–we can find the best solution, not a better way to solve it the old way.

Why do I have to guess how long I'm going to be parking? Why pay a penalty if I underguess, or waste community resources on patrolling for compliance?

Of course, I don't care much about parking meters. I care a lot about using digital shadows of real world devices because we don't have the imagination to reinvent them.

In this particular case: why bother have a meter at all? After all, the state knows my license plate, the state has a billing relationship with me, the state can (and does) collect money for my driving behaviors (like EZ Pass). So why not drive into the space and have the space just take care of all the paperwork and billing? No tickets, no meter readers. If you don't want local merchants to park in the good spaces, no need to spend a lot of time searching them out…

Instinctually, we want to maintain the hunter/prey relationship of the independent citizen who isn't being snooped on. But you know what? You're already being snooped on, ceaselessly. A parking meter isn't your problem.

Obviously, parking meters aren't the important device here. The connection revolution is going to upend the way we understand the where, who, how much and when of everything around us.