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Entering sync markets

How does a painting end up selling for $5 million?

Why do some songs end up being listened to by legions of teenagers?

Which companies end up with investors swarming all over them, eager to put in cash?

Hint: in each case, it has little to do with the verifiable, rational analysis of the product. In some markets, things are popular merely because they are popular. John Legend's version of Compared to What is a pale imitation of the original, but don't tell the local teenager that. Jeff Koons is no longer a visionary, but he's a safe bet for gallery owners, investors and people looking for bragging rights…

Whining about what's good is a silly way to do business with people who seek to be in sync. What sync markets care about is, "who else is into this?" Markets like textbooks, surgical devices and nightclubs are all sync markets.

In every one of these markets are people who spot trends, who go first, who set the pace. This group (which doesn't have a defined membership… there's a lot of churn) cares a lot about being seen as right, about going first and being followed. The early trendsetters are not the mass market, but they are acutely aware of what the mass market is going to be willing to do next. (Sadly for marketers in search of a reliable shortcut, these trendsetters are often wrong. That doesn't mean that they don't matter).

Marketing to those that want to be in sync is a fundamentally different project than treating your audience as a horizontal mass of isolated people, all to be approached with the same story at the same time, all making independent decisions. The connections between people are always important, but in sync markets, they're the primary driver.

Superman, Batman and worldviews

Everyone sees the world differently, but our worldviews vary in clumps. Some people are focused on today, some on tomorrow. Some people see an innovation as an opportunity, others see a risk. Some people want strength while others seek obedience. Some want facts, others prefer fables.

Smart marketers understand that these biases and expectations are shared across particular groups (sometimes connected groups–tribes). When speaking to the market, you will always do better if your story resonates with the worldview of the collective you're trying to reach. Yes, this grouping is a gross generalization, perhaps one that will lead to errors. On the other hand, it's far more effective than assuming that everyone sees and hears the same (or different).

Consider two common worldviews: Superman's and Batman's.

Batman comes to the world angry. His origin story is filled with vengeance and revenge, and in his iconic (non Adam West) backstory, he is the merciless enforcer of right and wrong. Batman-types see the world as a zero sum game, and battles are either won or lost.

Superman, on the other hand, comes to our world with his gifts and sees his life as an opportunity and an obligation, one that he embraces. Superman could easily kill all the bad guys in a heartbeat, but he never does. For him, every challenge is an opportunity for healing. He believes in redemption and finds pleasure in using his gifts to help others.

Imagine giving a talk to a conference full of Batman types. It's going to be very different than one filled with people who share Superman's privileged and generous worldview, no?

There are dozens of other worldview-types out there. Consider the nerd (who prides himself on knowing the details), the jester (who seeks to cause mischief) and the too-busy monkey, who just wants to know what to do next (and his cousin, the parrot, who wants to do what he's told).

It's virtually impossible to sell a product or an idea or a vote to all of these groups at once. One story just isn't going to do it, which is why there are many kinds of cars, political persuasions and vacation spots. Instead of trying to delight everyone in Gotham City, it pays to find people who already resonate with the story you want to tell.

Usually, a lot is insufficient

People don't care how much you offer them.

They care about whether you exceeded their expectations.

If you want to delight, if you want to create a remarkable experience, if you want people to talk about you or buy your stock, the secret is simple: give them more than they expected.

If I walk into your store and it looks and feels like stores I've been into before, my expectations are locked in. Now what? But if I walk into your showroom and it's like nothing I've ever experienced before, you get a chance to set my expectations, right? Marketing isn't merely bragging. Marketing creates a culture, tells a story and puts on a show.

In our rush to get picked or get noticed or build buzz, the instinct is to promise more. Perhaps it pays to promise less instead, to radically change expectations and to reset what it means to deliver on the promise of delight.

Patina vs. shine

Shine is fresh and new and it sparkles. Shiny catches the eye and it appeals to the neophiliac, to the person in search of polish.

Patina, on the other hand, can only be earned. Patina communicates trust (because the untrusted don't last long enough to earn a patina) and it appeals to a very different audience.

The old guy at the gym in spandex, taking steroids and brutalizing himself on the big machine–he's trying to be both and accomplishing neither.

Brands and organizations face the same choice. A book like Permission Marketing could be updated weekly, in a vain attempt on my part to keep it shiny. But that makes no sense, as the ideas in it are important because they've been right for a decade, not because they're new. That's what a new title is for.

The challenge, then, is to let your classics thrive precisely because they've earned the right, because they have a patina of quality–but not to rest on those laurels, but to get busy inventing the new shiny thing for those that demand it.

“All we need is 250 votes…”

This is cruel marketing.

If you're like me, you've gotten dozens of emails over the last week about a promotion that Chase and Living Social are running in which they're promising local businesses that work within their community a chance to win a grant for $250,000. The emails almost always have the line,

All we need is a vote from 250 kind friends and supporters like you.

Here's why it's doubly dangerous. First, clearly the organization doesn't actually get a grant in exchange for only getting 250 online votes. Hey, 250 online votes won't even get you a pack of chewing gum these days. No, all the votes do is make you eligible to apply for the grant. And yet the organization, perhaps a worthy one, is now spamming thousands of people offering this sliver of hope, all in rush to get 250 votes, even though the chances that anything will happen are perilously close to zero. There are only 12 grants available in total. That's pitiful. Hopes raised, hopes dashed.

And then, for the small businesses, the ones who get through this hurdle and then get through the hurdle of the application, once again, hopes raised, hopes dashed.

There's nothing wrong with competitions and difficult to achieve goals. Nothing wrong with making it hard to get into Brown or get a Gates Foundation grant. The dangerous mistake is making the organizations (and then their core supporters) think it's likely, or easy. You end up not only burning the brand of Living Social and Chase (who probably had good intentions) but by extension, hurting the brand and permission relationships of the very organizations you're trying to help. Peter and the wolf… the villagers aren't going to come next time.

Pepsi did the same thing with charities last year, and my concern is the same: when you activate your supporters, you need a clear path to victory, not a wild goose chase.

One significant way around this: have the outbound messages of the tribe be about more than the grant. Figure out how putting in the effort to help your local organization actually strengthens ties, instead of weakening them. The pursuit could be even better than the prize if you establish the right groundwork.

To be really clear: it's harder to cut through the clutter than ever before, but just because a gimmick is going to cut through the clutter doesn't mean you should use it. It doesn't pay to make a lot of noise if that noise ends up hurting you in the long run.

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