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The curse of frequency

The most indisputable truth of outbound marketing: Frequency improves compliance.

If you promote something twice to one hundred people it will lead to more sales than if you promote it once to two hundred people.

Frequency galvanizes attention and improves trust. (At least one kind of trust).

The curse, of course, is that the best members of your audience, the ones who are listening the most carefully, have to be bored/annoyed at the messages that show up after they take action. Some people pledge the first day of pledge week, or buy the book the day it comes out. Those folks don't want or need to hear the message again.

Worse, frequency creates a culture of less engagement. Since we know that just about every important issue, opportunity or warning is going to be repeated a few times, we don't engage as much. Why bother to listen, we say, they'll just repeat it.

The line between frequency and annoying is thin indeed. You believe in what you sell or you wouldn't make it, wouldn't devote yourself to it, wouldn't sell it. At some point, though, the frequency of repetition stops being helpful enthusiasm and starts being selfish. And, alas, there's no easy formula available. Jay Levinson likes to say that you should change your marketing not when the staff, your family or your agency tells you to–but when your accountant does.

I'll confess that I'm bad at this. I'm okay with gleefully saying, "I made this," but not so good at saying it two or three or yes, 19 more times.

I'd like to tell you that there's a magic solution to not repeating yourself as a marketer, to respecting the best and brightest of your tribe and being able to merely whisper about your new project. This approach works great if you focus on creating scarce goods (popular fine artists, jazz stars and small restaurants don't need to spend a lot of time reminding people about their soon to be sold out goods), but most of the time, as you work to reach the edges, frequency works.

Curse or not, the fact remains: frequency works. We're going to be stuck with it for a while, I fear.

Adopting the post-obedient mindset

It's not uncommon for teenagers to whine that there's nothing to do in this town.

Or for college students to talk about the limits of their institution, about the paucity of opportunities at the placement office or the lack of campus activities.

And of course, those that complain that the boss won't let me.

All three complaints are based on a view of the world that requires permission and easy access.

In the connection economy, the valuable asset is the ability to convene. When we are able to initiate, to make something happen and to be trusted, we not only create value, we create a life.

So in the post-obedience world, that means that the entire world is available, not just what's on campus or within a skateboard ride of your house. It means that the best jobs are off campus, and that the limits of any (every) institution are actually magical boundaries, because knowing where they are makes them easier to cross.

And crossing boundaries is where we thrive.

Quid pro quo (you can’t play ping pong by yourself)

The irony of "getting in return for giving" is that it doesn't work nearly as well as merely giving. Giving because you care, because you have something to say and because it feels right. No Tat.

Bloggers who measure the return on investment of every word, twitterers who view the platform as a self-promotional tool instead of a help-others tool, and those that won't contribute to Wikipedia and other projects because there's no upside… these folks are all missing the point.

It's not that difficult to figure out who's part of the online community for the right reasons. We can see it in your writing and in your actions. And those are the people we listen to and trust. Which, of course, paradoxically, means that these are the people we'll choose to do business with.

Sure, you'll contribute a lot. But in the long run, it's possible that you'll get more than you contribute.

The confrontation waiting to happen

It's not between you and your boss, your critics, your editor, your competition, your spouse or some other outsider.

The essential confrontation, of course, is with yourself.

You are your own biggest critic.

And your own biggest competitor.

Now that it's easier than ever to pick yourself, the question is, "why haven't you?"

And now that it's easier to ignore the competition and become a category of one, the question is the same.

Our instinct is to externalize the forces that are holding us back, but in fact, that's not the problem, is it?

The thermostat and the frying pan

If you want to cool your house to 68 degrees fahrenheit quickly, setting the thermostat to 62 degrees isn't going to get it temperate any faster than if you set it to 68. It blows full cold until it hits the number, then it stops. (For those down under where it is winter, the opposite is also true–extreme thermostat settings won't warm you up any faster).

Frying pans don't work that way. Turning the temperature on the burner all the way up will certainly heat up that pan faster.

Ah, an analogy!

There is significant pressure on marketers to get it done fast. And so the inclination to spend a lot, to race around, to turn the thermostat to its most extreme state. Yelling, basically.

But all the yelling doesn't build your brand faster. In fact, it might do quite the opposite. Trusted brands don't get there by spending their whole budget on one Super Bowl ad. Valuable marketing campaigns are the result of time and user experience, not media and more media. Tweeting more often doesn't make your tweets have more resonance.

On the other hand, product design and user interaction definitely benefit from the frying pan approach. Extraordinary products, remarkable stories, intense connection via user interaction–these things actually do scale quickly.

The movie business has seduced itself into believing that they can turn the thermostat to absolute zero and use a massive media push to make a moribund movie work. They can't. They'd be far better off putting the risk and the effort into making movies worth talking about instead.

Social media is a marathon, a gradual process in which you build a reputation. The best time to start was a while ago. The second best time to start is today. But turning it up to 11 isn't going to get you there faster.

“I get it”

No need to read the whole book, I can just glance over the Cliffs Notes… I get it.

I don't need to hear your whole pitch, just show me the summary slide… got it.

No, I already heard about your vacation… remember, I saw the Instagram feed.

Him, why would I go out with him? I read his match.com profile.

You're probably smart enough to 'get it' merely by reading the 140 character summary of just about anything. But of course, that doesn't mean you understand it, or that it changed you. All it means is that you were quickly able to sort it into an appropriate category, to make a decision about where it belongs in your mental filing cabinet.

The best experiences and the biggest ideas don't fit into a category. They change it. They don't get filed away, they transform us.

It's entirely possible that you can process and file more information than anyone who has come before you. And quite likely that this filing is preventing you from growing and changing and confronting the fear that's holding you back.

You get it? No you don't. Not yet. Because all you've gotten is a tweet.

Read the book. The whole thing. Use the product. A few times. More than a few times.

Immersed. It can change you.

Angry is a habit

It's easy to imagine habits like a scotch after dinner, biting your nails or saying, "you know" after every sentence. An event or a time of day triggers us, and we go with the habit. It's easier than exploring new territory–it's merely a thoughtless response to an incoming trigger.

But emotions can become habits as well.

Distrustful is a habit.

Lonely is a habit.

Generous is a habit.

When that stranger doesn't do what you expect, is your response to assume that she's out to get you, trying to make an extra buck, looking for a shortcut? Or do you default to the habit of giving that new person a chance to explain herself?

Habits are great when they help us get what we want. Bad habits, on the other hand, are bad because the shortcut that satisfies us in the moment gets in the way of our long term goals.

Once you can see that your emotions are as much as a habit as cracking your knuckles, they're a lot easier to work with.

Ping me when it’s broken

Here's how a storekeeper makes sure the store is working: She sits at the register and watches.

If the line is twenty people long and folks start walking out, she hires another cashier.

If too many people pick up a new product and then put it back on the shelf, she asks for new packaging, or drops it from the inventory.

If there's a line outside in the morning, she opens earlier.

Alas, the same feedback cycle doesn't happen automatically online. You have to build it into your website–if you don't, the silence may confuse you. If you have no idea if people are walking away in frustration, you can't possibly fix it.

This gap is surprising, because the web is a direct marketing medium, and direct marketing is obsessed with measurement. When a direct marketer comes back from the post office, she knows precisely how much she spent, and how many orders ended up in the PO box as a result. The web can work that way (but only if you let it).

Consider the poor airline business, now generating almost all their revenue via online sales through websites that confound, frustrate and perhaps drive people away.

How much does it cost when someone can't figure out how to print the boarding pass that may or may not have been generated? Or is forced to re-enter a form several times because the airline tried to upsell insurance without defaulting to 'no'? Or has to do it all over again because the autoform feature is broken and the site isn't smart enough to understand a zip code? Or my most/least favorite: because the buttons are the wrong size and the wrong shape and color?

It's usually not the designer's fault. It's politics, committees and compromises made in the absence of daily, real world feedback.

What would happen if an audible bell on the desk of the CEO rang every time one of these things caused a ticket to not be sold, or a form to be needlessly reloaded?

What's not working for you–that you're not measuring?

We're good at fixing things once we know they're broken.

A handful of tools

Here are some online tools I've been using with a lot of satisfaction. Of course, your mileage may vary:

Feedblitz is a reliable, handmade alternative to Feedburner and other corporate solutions. They handle the email and RSS feeds to this blog, and Phil is just a pleasure to work with.

Ziggeo is the tool I used to preview thousands of applications for my summer internship. Used correctly, this is an extraordinary way to get insight on a large number of people in a very short period of time. I could see it being a great screening device for anyone running ads on Craigslist, for example.

Typepad hosts this blog, and always has. People ask me why I don't switch, and my simple answer: it's not broken. I like having a service I can pay for, because when you buy something, you're the customer, not the product.

duckduckgo.com is a smart, fast, private search engine with a silly name. What more could you hope for in a search engine?

compfight is a secret weapon in the search for useful cc-licensed photos. Don't forget to donate if you use it.

Eventbrite is a surprisingly robust and reliable way to sell tickets. I use it for seminars, but there's a whole host of ways you could use it to sell slices of a limited digital resource.

If you like reading blogs, you really should consider reading them via RSS, which is still the most efficient way to do it.

How do you want to die?

Let's assert that you're almost certainly not going to be the very first person to live forever.

Also worth noting that you're probably going to die of natural causes.

The expectations we have for medical care are derived directly from marketing and popular culture. Marcus Welby and a host of medical shows taught us about the heroic doctor, and more than that, about the power of technology and intervention to reliably deliver a cure.

It's not a conspiracy–it's just the result of many industries that all profit from the herculean effort and expense designed to extend human life, sometimes at great personal cost.

Hence the question: Do you want to choose whether or not you will be a profit center in the ever scaling medical-industrial complex? One percent of the population accounts for 30% of all health care expenditures, and half of those people are elderly.

Most of that care is designed to prolong life, regardless of the cost, the pain or the impact on the family. A lot of doctors are uncomfortable with this, but they need you to speak up and make a choice (in advance) about what you'd like. Some people want the full treatment, intervention at all costs.

If that's your choice, go for it. But be clear, in writing, that you'd like to spare no expense and invest in every procedure, even if it's pointless and painful. Don't be selfish and let someone else have to guess.

On the other hand, you have the right to speak up and stand up and clearly state if you'd prefer the alternative. Many people prefer a quiet dignity that spares them and their family pain and trauma. But you have to do it now, because later is too late.

The web makes it easy to generate and sign a simple generic form. Or even better, go find the forms state by state. (If those pages are down, try a search on "health care proxy" and the name of your state.) [A reader also suggests MyDirectives.]  [And consider the Five Wishes.]

There are two critical components: assigning an individual to be your health care proxy, and then telling that proxy, in writing, what you'd like done (and not done) to you when the time comes.

If you've ever shared a post of mine, I hope you'll share this one. If every person who reads this sits down with her family and talks this through (and then tells a few friends), we'll make a magnificent dent in the cultural expectation of what happens last.

It's free, its not difficult, it takes five minutes. Do it today if you can, whatever your wishes are. Don't make the people you love guess and then live with the memory of that guessing.

Some things are more likely to happen if you plan for them. In this case, the end comes whether you plan for it or not. Planning merely makes it better.