It might be that your audience isn't smart enough, caring enough, attentive enough, with-it enough or generous enough to understand and appreciate you.
Or it might be that you're not good enough (yet).
If you're in the habit of assuming one of these, try out the other one for a while.
The most effective marketing story isn't the one you tell to someone in your audience, it's the one the person tells himself.
Consider this no parking sign. Instead of stating the fine, the signmaker states the range of the fine. At this point, it's up to the observer to have a conversation with himself. "Well, maybe I'll just get a $50 fine. Hmmm, why would that happen? With my luck, it'll be the maximum… I'll just park somewhere else."
It's not an announcement, it's an invitation to a little internal drama.
Too often, we don't give people a chance to fill in the blanks.
It takes a bold and confident cook to serve a naked hot dog. No roll, no kraut, no mustard.
And a movie shown on a bare wall in an empty room is never going to be received as well as one seen in a crowded theater.
It might be bold to put your work into the world unadorned, but it's probably ineffective.
We know that a placebo works better if it's handed to you by a doctor in a lab coat, and that the little show the sommelier puts on improves the taste of wine.
The packaging, the service, the environment, the hours, the interactions, the way it feels to tell our friends–these are all the free prize.
This bonus, the extra free prize that doesn't seem to be the point of the item itself, is often more important than the thing you think you actually make. The single most effective way to improve your impact is to do a better job of providing it.
Sure, a better hot dog is always appreciated. But when you want to increase user satisfaction, don't forget to offer better mustard.
When you do important work, work that changes things and work that matters, it's inconceivable that the change you're trying to make will be met with complete approval.
Trying to please everyone will water down your efforts, frustrate your forward motion and ultimately fail.
The balancing act is to work to please precisely the right people, and just enough of them, to get your best work out the door.
Shun the non-believers.
Sui generis—one of a kind, the one that defines the genus.
That's the goal of the best kind of marketing. To be the best in the world, because the world is defined by what you do.
The impossible way to do that is to be unique because you're famous. There's only one Oprah, of course, because the thing she's famous for is being famous. There will never be another. Louis Vuitton is in this category, 50 Shades of Grey is, and so is the next hearthrob teen sensation. There is no substitute because the attraction is that this is the famous one, accept no substitutes.
The smart way to do it is to be unique before you get lucky and become famous. Take a listen to an old Talking Heads record or a house designed by Wright early in his career. They were unique before they were famous. This takes more patience, more guts and a lot more weirdness because the thing you're doing is actually interesting before it (if you're lucky) becomes popular. You might not end up as Oprah, but your uniqueness is yours, and it can pay off long before the masses choose you merely because you're the famous one.
The complement to the brilliant strategy is the thankless work of lower-leverage detail.
An organization with feet on the street and alert and regular attention to detail can build more trust and develop better relationships than one than hits and runs.
- Contact every user who stops using your service and find out why.
- Create a newsletter for every journalist who covers your space, and deliver it every three weeks, even when you're not asking for anything. Just to keep them in the loop.
- Eagerly pay attention to people who mention you online and engage with them in a way that they prefer to be engaged.
- Sponsor industry events and actually show up.
- Write a thank you note every single day, to someone who doesn't expect one.
- Build your permission asset by 1% every day. Every day, 1% more people are eager and happy to hear from you.
- Write a blog every day, not to sell, but to teach.
- Connect people in your industry, because you enjoy it.
- Host community meetings in your store.
- Put a lemonade stand in front of your business and let the local kids donate the money to whatever charity they like.
- Hand out free samples every chance you have.
- Keep in touch with people who used to work with you and continue to help them get great gigs and new business, even years later.
- Put together an honest buyer's guide, pointing out in which instances your competitor's products are a better choice.
- Run classes for your customers.
- Run classes for your competitors.
- Build a recruiting pipeline that is in place more than a year before you need to hire someone.
None of this is sufficient. Your product and your strategy have to be brilliant. But a lot of it is necessary. Hearts and minds…
Most amateurs and citizens believe that marketing is the outer circle.
Marketing = advertising, it seems. The job of marketing in this circle is to take what the factory/system/boss gives you and hype it, promote it and yell about it. This is what so many charities, politicians, insurance companies, financial advisors, computer makers and well, just about everyone does.
The next circle in has so much more leverage. This is the circle of telling a story that resonates with a tribe. This is the act of creating alignment, of understanding worldviews, of embracing and elevating the weird. Smart marketers in this circle acknowledge that their product or service isn’t for everyone, but bend over backwards to be sure that some people will be able to fall in love with it.
The next circle in is easily overlooked. This is the act of changing what surrounds the actual product or service, adding enough usability and support and atmosphere that the perception of the product itself changes. Zappos did this for shoes. Ikea almost willfully goes in the other direction with its furniture assembly and delivery approach. When you go to an expensive restaurant, you’re buying far more than what the chef cooked. Products and services are only commodities if you treat them that way.
And the innermost circle is the product or service itself. When the thing you sell has communication built in, when it is remarkable and worth talking about, when it changes the game–marketing seems a lot easier. Of course, that’s because you did the marketing when you invented the thing, saving you the expense and trouble of yelling about it.
When in doubt, when your marketing isn’t working, the answer is easy: go one circle in.
Jeff sent over this much slicker PDF version: Download Circles of Mktg
They're not the same.
Risk is all around us. When we encounter potential points of failure, we're face to face with risk. And nothing courts risk more than art, the desire to do something for the first time–to make a difference.
Fear is a natural reaction to risk. While risk is real and external, fear exists only in our imagination. Fear is the workout we give ourselves imagining what will happen if things don't work out.
And worry? Worry is the hard work of actively (and mentally) working against the fear. Worry is our effort to imagine every possible way to avoid the outcome that is causing us fear, and failing that, to survive the thing that we fear if it comes to fruition.
If you've persuaded yourself that risk is sufficient cause for fear, and that fear is sufficient cause for worry, you're in for some long nights and soon you'll abandon your art out of exhaustion. On the other hand, you can choose to see the three as completely separate phenomena, and realize that it's possible to have risk (a good thing) without debilitating fear or its best friend, obsessive worry.
Separate first, eliminate false causation, then go ahead and do your best work.
I love startups. Not only do they bring the promise of rapid growth and real change, but everything is up for grabs. Organizations that start with a clean sheet of paper have the difficult task of paying the bills, but they also have the luxury of ignoring yesterday in order to focus exclusively on tomorrow.
Through the years, I've started a bunch of companies and enjoyed brainstorming with the people who have launched companies big and small, from AOL when they only had a dozen employees to some of the very cool organizations that come through the doors of NY Techstars.
Next month, I'm going to be running a small school–a few days for a few dozen startup founders. You can find details and tickets right here.
If you know someone who might benefit from this, I hope you'll tell them about it.
For those that won't be able to make it, I'll be recording the session and editing it down into something I can share here on the blog for free a few months later.
Coming up: a larger, less expensive session over a weekend this fall (for all sorts of organizations) as well as a no-cost session for non-profit leaders later in the year. Watch this blog for updates. Thanks.
PS coincidentally just saw this new school for coders.
When everyone is playing the same game, your execution is critical. Your store is like their store, your bread is like their bread, so we care very much about the care and skill you put into your product or service.
Of course, that still matters, but the revolution of the web means that the way you go to market, the structure of your offering, the model of your business–these are sufficient to cause you to lose, regardless of how you play the game. (And able to give you a huge post if you plan right).
Sam Walton was a huge success, largely because he developed a new retail strategy, not because he was better at running a store than anyone else. Local bookstores are in trouble, not because they don't work hard or care a lot, but because they are saddled with expenses that used to be smart (rent for a local storefront) in a world where they are merely ballast.
Running a business with the wrong strategy in the wrong place at the wrong time is possible, but it's an uphill battle. The alternative is to think very hard about your model, your costs and the benefits you offer to the people you'd like to serve.
You could change from a product to a service offering, from free to expensive, from low service to high service, from storefront to web, from large to small, from spam to permission, from acquiring new customers to delighting old ones, from wide open to invitiation only, from dirty to green, from secret to transparent, from troll to benefactor, from custom to mass, or for any of these, vice versa.
Not changing your strategy merely because you're used to the one you have now is a lousy strategy.