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Skeuomorphs = failure

For as long as I've been in digital media, skeuomorphs have annoyed me.

The original CD ROMs, for example, often had a home screen that started with a bookshelf, and you clicked on the 'book' you wanted to 'open' (excessive use of quotations intentional). Here's the thing: bookshelves are a great idea if you want to store actual books on an actual shelf. They're a silly way to index digital information, though.

If you haven't guessed, a skeuomorph is a design element from an old thing, added to a new one. I think that printing a cork-colored filter on a cigarette that no longer has cork involved is just fine. But when skeuomorphs get in the way of how we actually use something or build something, they demonstrate a lack of imagination or even cowardice on the part of the designer. (Sooner or later, just about everything, even the alphabet I am writing with, could be considered skeuomorphic… my point is that embracing the convenient at the expense of the effective is where the failure happens).

Craig Mod writes eloquently about this, which reminded me of some of what we did with the covers for the books from the Domino Project more than a year ago. We can take this thinking even further, though.

If a company is organizing to create music on MP3 or ebooks, it makes no sense to steal the organization of the past labels and publishers. High unit pricing, copy protection, significant advances, big launch parties and royalties all make much less sense when the fundamental rules of the product itself have changed. So do things like office buildings and layers of vice presidents.  

Yes, the brain is organized by analogy. Analogy is the key to understanding. But, no, the analogy doesn't have to hit us over the head. The more obvious the analogy, the less effort the creator has put into telling us his story.

When it's cheaper to ship, then risks are lower and you don't need to staff up to avoid mistakes. This means you can take more risks, be less obvious and abandon what feels safe for what is safe.

This consistency of structure is the single biggest reason that motivated market leaders (in any industry) fail to transition to new paradigms–they insist on skeuomorphic business models, bringing along the stuff that got them this far, even when it's unnecessary. This is why Conde Nast is doomed, even as the population spends more (not less) time consuming media.

Yes, it's far easier to get understanding or buy in quickly (from investors, in-laws and users) when you take the shortcut of making your digital thing look and work just like the trusted and proven non-digital thing. But over and over again, we see that the winner doesn't look at all like the old thing. eBay doesn't look like Sotheby's. Amazon doesn't look like a bookstore. The funding for AirBnB doesn't look like what it took to get Marriott off the ground…

The only reason to venture into the land of the new is to benefit from the leap that comes when you get it right. So leap. (Well, it's not actually a leap, that's an analogy.)

Frequency, repetition and the power of saying it more than once

"I'm only going to tell you this once…"

There's a lot to be said for conditioning your audience to listen carefully. If they know that valuable information is only going to come at them once, they'll be more alert for it.

Alas, as the nois-o-sphere gets noisier still, this approach is hard to justify. 

Repetition increases the chance that you get heard.

Repetition also increases (for a while) the authority and believability of what you have to say. Listeners go from awareness of the message to understanding to trust. Yes, the step after that is annoyance, which is the risk the marketer always faces.

Delivering your message in different ways, over time, not only increases retention and impact, but it gives you the chance to describe what you're doing from several angles.

In many ways, the mantra of permission conflicts with the mechanics of frequency. If people are loaning you their attention and you're delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages, your need for frequency goes way down. 

If you're using frequency as a tactic to make up for the fact that you're being ignored, you can certainly do better. 

For the rest of us though, saying it twice may in fact be twice as good as saying it once.

Majora Carter and Josh Hanagarne: leading underserved tribes

Big tribes, rich tribes, tribes that change elections or root for sports teams get a ton of press. It's easy to imagine that all the slots leading these glamorous groups are already taken. While we might aspire to be the next Steve Jobs or Jon Stewart, we can fall into the trap of believing that these are roles are reserved for other people. And we're probably right. Leading the masses isn't a gig that comes along very often.

Josh Hanagarne is standing up to lead a different tribe… His new book (out in May) chronicles his lifelong battle with Tourette's (and I use the word 'battle' carefully). This book is funny and poignant and brave, and it will inspire and connect millions of people who have previously felt uninspired and disconnected. It's fascinating to see that his fellow librarians (a different, but also underserved tribe), are lining up in droves to support his work. It's worth a read.

Majora Carter made a huge impact with her breakthrough TED Talk seven years ago, and since then has woven a tribe both inside and outside the South Bronx. Her passion is evident not just in her talk, but in the work she does every single day in pushing governments and corporations to recognize and work with previously ignored communities. The courage and audacity of the underserved can turn into a force for good, and more than that, can galvanize the tribe itself to achieve more than it thought it ever could.

Both Josh and Majora are in the business of shining a light and giving identity to tribes that many would prefer to remain invisible. They are outwardly focused, doing the work for the tribe they care about. The magic of the times we live in is that these opportunities are everywhere we choose to find them.

The key is understanding that while the general public can root for you and learn from you, the people you truly care about number in the thousands (or possibly millions) but they're not everyone. They're the people who matter to you. And you to them.

[Lots of free stuff and Tribes book info here.]

Where's your tribe? They need you.

Avoiding the custom bully

Here's the thing: no matter how much you paid for your ticket, you never bother to even try bullying the conductor or the gate agent to get your train or plane to leave a few minutes later.

It leaves when it leaves, that's the deal.

Part of the challenge of selling custom work is that it sometimes seems that everything is up for grabs. You should stay up all night for a week. You should rearrange the orchids in order of smell, because even though it's not in the spec, hey, that would be good service, and we are paying a lot…

Promising perfect is actually not nearly as useful as promising what the rules are.

Boundaries eliminate the temptation to bully. State them early and often and don't alter them and believe it or not, the client will be happier as well. They didn't sign up to ruin your life. They signed up to get the most they could from you and your team, and the limits are the limits.

Conservation of energy in conversation

If you escalate (cut off in traffic, angry at the gate agent, frustrated at your boss), you've just added (negative) energy to a conversation.

If you escalate (high-pitched enthusiasm, a hug, encouraging words), you've just added (positive) energy to a conversation.

Once the energy is added, it has to go somewhere. Often, the person you're engaging with throws it right back, or even increases it. A talented, mature person might take your negative energy and de-escalate it, or even swallow it and permit the conversation to calm down or end. But don't count on it.

Sure, you can 'win' a conversation by overwhelming your opponent with energy they can't handle. But of course, they're not your opponent and you don't really win. Being aware of the energy you add or take from interactions is a sophisticated technique that radically changes the outcomes of the conversations that fill your day. Add the good stuff, absorb the bad stuff and focus on the outcomes, not the bravado.

The easy trap

The prospects that are the easiest to engage with online–the ones that believe big promises, simple come-ons and garish interfaces–are often the very people who will become your lowest-value customers.

The person who's the easiest to get a first date with might not be the person you want to marry. When I was selling new media promotions in 1994 (!), many big companies had someone in charge of buying new stuff. They were easy to meet with, easy to make a small sale to–but ultimately a waste of time. That's because they were charged with buying things that were new, not what worked. Once we weren't new, we couldn't get repeat business from them. No, it was the other guy, the guy who bought what worked, the one in charge of the real budget–he wasn't easy, but he was worth it…

If it's easy to get a meeting or make a first sale, consider that the very ease that enabled that sale might be a sign that the long-term value of this customer is pretty low. It's easy to get the door answered if you're selling vacuum cleaners house to house, not so easy to get a meeting with the head of merchandising at Wal-Mart. It's easy to get the tech-savvy hordes to sign up for your new whiz-bang free beta, hard to visualize how these easily bored window shoppers are going to become your tribe.

But if all you're doing is measuring the response rate of your initial pitches, you're going to ring more doorbells, not do the long-term trust-building work of earning a reputation.

The brand is a story. But it’s a story about you, not about the brand.

Why prefer Coke over Pepsi or GE over Samsung or Ford over Chevy?

In markets that aren't natural monopolies or where there are clear, agreed-upon metrics, how do we decide?

Yes, every brand has a story—that's how it goes from being a logo and a name to a brand. The story includes expectations and history and promises and social cues and emotions. The story makes us say we "love Google" or "love Harley"… but what do we really love?

We love ourselves.

We love the memory we have of how that brand made us feel once. We love that it reminds us of our mom, or growing up, or our first kiss. We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.

We can't easily explain this, even to ourselves. We can't easily acknowledge the narcissism and the nostalgia that drives so many of the apparently rational decisions we make every day. But that doesn't mean that they're not at work.

More than ever, we express ourselves with what we buy and how we use what we buy. Extensions of our personality, totems of our selves, reminders of who we are or would like to be.

Great marketers don't make stuff. They make meaning.

Paying attention (to someone else’s agenda)

The person who sets your media/incoming queue owns your best work.

There goes another an hour. An hour of responding to incoming from people I can't help, looking at stats that don't matter, thinking about problems that aren't the ones I set out to solve, and waiting for a response when I should be creating instead.

Choose wisely. It's perhaps the most important decision we make, every day.

100 days later

I've been around literally thousands of book publishing projects, and in one respect, they're mostly the same.

They're the same in that the focus is on the launch, on the first week, or two weeks, or maybe a month.

How do we get shelf space and reviews and hoopla? How do we pile up the pre-sales and endorsements and wonderful recommendations? You even hear of authors tweaking the number of words per page or publicists trading people off against one another just to guarantee an early pop.

While this makes sense for the movies, where week 1 determines how many screens you get for week 2, it makes a lot less sense in the land of infinite shelf space that is the online bookstore. Movies get kicked out of first run theater release (and then end up in all-you-can-eatville, Netflix), but a book (and the project you're about to launch, as well) have a halflife measured in years or decades, not days.

The problem with a great launch strategy is it just might sabotage your real goal, which is a project that lasts. The risk of changing your product or service so that it launches well is that you may end up changing it into something that doesn't hold up.

Let's be clear–the product is more than ever the marketing. The danger kicks in when the marketing focus is so weighted toward the launch that we end up changing the product to serve that goal.

Not just books, of course. Google launched slow. So did just about every successful web service. And universities. And political movements…

Every day, I get letters from people who found The Icarus Deception at just the right moment in their careers. It has opened doors for people or given them the confidence to keep going in the face of external (and internal resistance). It's a book for the long haul. I didn't put a brand new secret inside, holding back for the sensational launch. Instead, I tried to create a foundation for people willing to do a better (and scarier) sort of work. 

It doesn't happen on launch day… it happens after people hear an interview or read your book or try your product. One day. Eventually. When you plan for 100 days instead of one, that graceful spread is more likely to happen.

“One of us is wrong…

and it's not me."

That's the way every single conflict begins. Of course it does, because if it didn't, it wouldn't be a conflict, would it?

So, given that the other person is sure you're wrong, what are you going to do about it? Pointing out that they're wrong doesn't help, because now you've said the second thing in a row that your partner/customer/prospect/adversary doesn't believe is true.

The thing that's worth addressing has nothing much to do with the matter at hand, and everything to do with building credibility, attention and respect. Only then do you have a chance to educate and eventually persuade.

We cure disagreements by building a bridge of mutual respect first, a bridge that permits education or dialogue or learning. When you burn that bridge, you've ensured nothing but conflict.