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Clients vs. customers

You need to choose.

Customers hear you say, "here, I made this," and they buy or they don't buy.

Clients say to you, "I need this," and if you want to get paid, you make it.

The customer, ironically, doesn't get something custom. The key distinction is who goes first, who gets to decide when it's done.

The provider is rarely better than the clients he is able to attract. On the other hand, the creator often gets the customers she deserves.

The ludicrousness of embarrassed

I understand why we may have evolved to have the automatic, out-of-control feeling of embarrassed in some situations.

But is it useful?

Has being embarrassed ever helped you accomplish anything useful? We can (and should) work to eliminate it from our emotional vocabulary. If it's worth doing, it's worth not being embarrassed about. And if it's not worth doing, don't do it.

One reason to avoid doing something is because it leads to embarrasment. A better reason is because it's not the right thing.

Basting the turkey

The Lone Ranger turned out to be one of the biggest movie flops in history. The movie (before marketing) cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars to make.

Here's the thing: thousands of people touched this project. From the dozens of well-paid and ostensibly talented executives to the marketing and the make up and the foley folks—this wasn't a random accident, it was the output of a deliberate effort.

Each of these people got handed a turkey, and some money, along with instructions on how to somehow improve it, promote it or otherwise dress it up. Alas, no one had the guts and the leverage to say, "stop."

Basting the turkey might sound like your job description, but ultimately, we're known by the projects we get involved in. Saying "no" or even "stop" is the hallmark of the professional you want on your team.

All hyperbole is totally useless

Sure, it gets people's attention, but does it change minds?

Hyperbole needs to be hooked up to a story in order for it to make a difference. A story that resonates, that matches our worldview, that holds up to scrutiny.

Hyperbole can open the door, but it doesn't change behavior. Persistent stories that are true, amplified by the tribe… that's what changes behavior.

But it only works sometimes

A glimpse is often more compelling than a certainty.
For a minute or two, the drum solo on Monk's Dream is totally and completely alive. It even makes the neighbor's dog turn his head and stare at the speakers.

If all recorded music sounded this good all the time, it would lose its magic for me. I certainly wouldn't spend hours trying to get my stereo just right (one more time).

Word of mouth comes from intermittent delight. Things that work all the time are harder to talk about.

Random reinforcement drives people to focus their attention and effort, because it's worth sifting through many to find the one that's worth it.

Sure, there are places where six sigma reliability is essential (like pacemakers). But in most markets, your audience is likely to talk about your flashes of brilliance.

Sometimes, we're so focused on being consistent that we also lower the bar on amazing. After all, the thinking goes, if we can't be amazing all the time, better to reset the expectation to merely good. Which robs us of the ability to (sometimes) be amazing.

But amazing is what spreads.

In markets where some people expend unreasonable energy, we get uneven results, and those results are things we seek out, again and again.

Proving the skeptics wrong

"It'll never last…"

"Someone with her background will never make a go of this…"

"Are you kidding me?" "Pathetic! Delusional!"

"Social media is a fad, the iPad is a toy, you're never going to amount to anything…"

Here's the thing about proving skeptics wrong: They don't care. They won't learn. They will stay skeptics. The ones who said the airplane would never fly ignored the success of the Wright Bros. and went on to become skeptical of something else. And when they got onto an airplane, they didn't apologize to the engineers on their way in.

I used to have a list, and I kept it in my head, the list of people who rejected, who were skeptical, who stood in the way. What I discovered was that this wasn't the point of the work, and my goal wasn't actually to prove these folks wrong, it was only to do the work that was worth doing. So long ago I stopped keeping track. It's not about the skeptics. It's about the people who care about, support and enable.

Instead of working so hard to prove the skeptics wrong, it makes a lot more sense to delight the true believers. They deserve it, after all, and they're the ones that are going to spread the word for you.

Nature and nurture (professional edition)

The boss, conference organizer, co-worker, interviewer, parent or client who wants your best work, your art and your genuine enthusiasm:

…can demand that you bring your best possible work the first time, can point out that they are paying you well, that they're busy, that they're powerful, and that they accept nothing short of high performance or you're out.

…or they can nurture you, encourage you, set a high bar and then support you on your way. They can teach you, cajole you and introduce you to others that will do the same.

The first strategy is the factory mindset, of interchangeable parts and interchangeable people. It is the strategy of ensuring six sigma perfection, on demand, and the strategy of someone in power, who can demand what he wants, when he wants it.

You don't make art this way, or emotional connections, or things that haven't been made before. You may get the job done, but it's not clear if you'll make a difference.

Q&A: The resiliency of Permission Marketing

Here's my first Monday Afternoon book Q&A. Thanks to everyone who responded

The first book is Permission Marketing and virtually all the questions were the same, best summarized by Brandon Carroll, "How do you feel like Permission Marketing has changed since the 90s when you wrote it? How can it be applied in today's fast changing world?"

If you haven't read it yet, here is some context. I wrote it in 1998, before YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Psy, the iPhone or the bankruptcy of Hostess.

I felt confident writing the book because there were two key shifts that hadn't drawn enough attention:

1. For the first time in fifty years, paid advertising was no longer growing as an effective, dependable way to buy attention from the people you wanted to reach. Instead, there was an explosion of cheap and even free ways to make noise. And…

2. For the first time in history, it was possible to directly reach people you wanted to reach, presuming that they wanted you to reach them. And you could do it for free.

If anything, both of these trends have accelerated. Most big companies now spend far more time than they ever spent before on advertising engaging in its free alternative. They tweet and post and ping and poke and generally put on an ever-noisier show, all based on the self-delusion that they can actually get back to 1968 and the ability to reach everyone, whenever they want. This is obviously a futile endeavor, but it's not stopping people who should know better from trying.

At the same time, a very rare and precious communications channel is being understood and refined. The ability to whisper. The opportunity to be missed. Replacing hype with permission, with an audience of believers who will go ahead and spread the word for you, because they want to, not because you pay them to.

And so, banner ads went from $50 cpm to less than 1% of that, because they're not, in fact, as effective as TV ads used to be. I was being hyperbolic 13 years ago when I said that they would disappear, but they've certainly vanished as the next-big-thing, either for marketers or for media companies. The movement of money spent on mass advertising to mass banners online isn't a smooth one, because it's a shift from mass to micro, from brand advertising to direct response.

No big brand has ever been built using banners. And so, the biggest brands built in the last decade (make any list you want, from Red Bull to Google) did not get that way using marketing that Don Draper would have recognized…

The biggest mis-fire from my original book, the thing I didn't understand well enough, is how nuanced the pursuit of permission would become. Online games and loyalty programs haven't disappeared, but they're not even close to the most important foundation of this asset. No, it comes down to our need to be included, to be respected and to be connected. Over and over, marketers that have touched this asset have raced to push it too hard and too fast, and along the way, lost the very permission they worked so hard to get.

The other mistake I made was underestimating how much fun it is to act like a big advertiser or a big media company, and how profitable it is to keep that industry moving forward. As a result, there are ever more techniques and ever more tools to act as if you're doing brand advertising in the new media space, when of course, the results are a mere shadow of what you used to be able to do with TV.

For the individual or small organization, all the social networks provide you with a fork in the road. Either you can work around the edges, spamming your way to more followers and more noise, figuring out how to make some sort of make-believe metric increase as a result of your efforts. Or, you can use these networks as a new form of 1:1 interaction, making promises and keeping them. This second path means that your followers are actually followers and that your friends are closer than ever to becoming friends.

Going forward, the organizations to bet on are the ones with a tribe, with a direct connection. If it's easy to get your Kickstarter funded, if it's easier to get your email opened, then you've built something, something that lasts.

Canaries and coal mines

Years ago, I went on a grueling trip, four cities in four days doing speaking gigs. That meant I was in a lot of airports. At every airport bookstore, there wasn't a single copy of any of my books, including one that had recently came out.

I whined to the team at my book publisher. What sort of distribution was this?

Someone wrote back, "Seth, if you tell us which airports you'll be visiting, our salesforce says they will do their best to have your book in a place you can see it."

My own little Potemkin Village. I'm afraid he didn't really get the point I was after.

Don't save the canary. Fix the coal mine.

Polishing junk

The first rule of social media is that it powers the spread of remarkable ideas.

The second rule is that all the social media in the world can't make a lousy project work in the long run.

The time you're spending polishing might be better spent building.