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Your hall of fame

Baseball, sure, but also roller derby and other worthy endeavors have a Hall of Fame.

It says a lot about an industry when it cares enough about its work (and the people doing it) to go to the trouble of organizing this story. The music industry is particularly good at this–not only do they have a hall of fame, but they have gold records, Grammy awards and multiple ways to highlight and honor people doing the work.

Why doesn't your company have one? A wall honoring the driver who broke a stupid company policy and got the shipment there on time… A diorama highlighting a particularly generous middle manager who always managed to find the resources to make something happen… A little glass box holding the purchase order that an heroic salesperson brought back from her long trip…

I got a note a few weeks ago, letting me know I was being inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame. 101 people –Eddie Bauer, Lillian Vernon and of course, LL Bean–are there (real people, all of them). And also my friend Lester Wunderman, who pioneered the very idea of Direct Marketing and helped launch the American Express card. Three of us are joining this year–Don Peppers and Martha Rogers are the real highlights (if you haven't read their books, you should). Their first book (1996) completely upended my view of the world.

The thing about direct marketing is that it's always been a bootstrapped industry. Lillian famously started at her kitchen table, a few blocks from where I was born (she took her last name from "Mt. Vernon"). Buy some stamps, do some tests, repeat. That approach, the leverage that comes from having big-time media for low-budget money, is here for all of us. We are all direct marketers now.

That means you don't need a permit or permission to start your Hall or your walk of fame. The web makes it easier than ever to have a virtual institution, one that exists solely to find and highlight people that might be worth highlighting. You should start one.

Even better, in a world where we can chart our own course, you could figure out a path that gets you in to the Hall you care about. Not tomorrow perhaps, but, drip by drip, over a career.

The easiest way to disagree with someone

…is to assume that they are uninformed, and that once they know what you know, they will change their mind. (A marketing problem!)

The second easiest way to disagree is to assume that the other person is a dolt, a loon, a misguided zealot who refuses to see the truth. Their selfish desire to win interferes with their understanding of reality. (A political problem!)

The third easiest way to disagree with someone is to not actually hear what they are saying. (A filtering problem!)

The hardest way to disagree with someone is to come to understand that they see the world differently than we do, to acknowledge that they have a different worldview, something baked in long before they ever encountered this situation. (Another marketing problem, the biggest one).

There actually are countless uninformed people. There are certainly craven zealots. And yes, in fact, we usually hear what we want to hear, or hear what the TV tells us, or hear what we expect, instead of hearing what was said, and the intent behind it. Odds are, though, that we will make the change we seek by embracing the hard work of telling stories that resonate, as opposed to dismissing the other who appears not to get it.

The Show Me State (of the art)

I could ask you to bear with me through this urgent and important post, but I'm not optimistic that many people will.

The punchline matters more than it ever has before.

"Show me what this is about before I commit to it."

And the follow up: "Now that I know what it's about, I don't need to commit."

It started with the coming attractions for upcoming movies. By packing more and more of the punchline into the TV commercial or the theater preview, producers felt like they were satisfying the needs of the audience to know what they were going to see before they bought their ticket. Instead, they trained us to be satisfied by merely watching the attractions. No need to see the movie, you've already seen the best part.

SportsCenter piled on by showing fans a supercut of every great or heroic play of the weekend–a sports fix without investing the time or living through the drama of the game itself.

Record albums used to require not only listening to the entire side (no fast forward on an LP) but actually getting up and flipping it over. The radio wasn't going to play anything but the A side of the single, so if you liked an artist, you surrendered yourself to 45 minutes of her journey, the way she had it in mind.

A performance artist was on the local public radio station the other day. He didn't want to talk about the specifics of his show, because giving away the tactics was clearly going to lessen the impact of his work. No matter. The host revealed one surprise after another, outlining the entire show, because, after all, that's his job–to tell us what we're going to see so we don't have to see it ourselves.

We don't want to organize the course or go to the lecture or read the book until we know precisely what it's going to be about.

College wasn't like this. You committed to four years, you moved somewhere, and then you saw the curriculum. That's part of why it works. A huge part.

We hesitate to surrender our commitment so easily today. It's easier to read the 140 character summary or see the highlights or read the live blog, so we can check the box and then move on.

But move on to where?

To another box to be checked? We become like the tester in the ice cream factory, surrounded by thousands of flavors, but savoring none of them.

We each have a fixed amount of time. One thing you can do is invest it in knowing the summary of what 23 people said. The other thing you can do is to commit to living and breathing and learning from one of those people. Perhaps you will get more by being exposed more deeply to fewer.

One reason an audiobook can change your life is that you can't skip ahead. And the other reason is that you might listen to it five or six times, at the pace of the reader, not at your pace.

My full-day live seminars have impact on people partly because I don't announce the specific agenda or the talking points in advance. It's live and it's alive. I have no certainty what's about to happen, and neither do the others in the room. A morphing, changing commitment by all involved, one that grows over time.

Yes, I get that there's never again going to be a need to buy an album or to listen to all the songs in order, that you can get the quick summary of any book you're expected to have read, that your time is so valuable that perhaps the only economic choice is to live a Cliffs Notes version of your life.

[Oh, that's right, Cliffs Notes' sales are way down because they're too long.]

In fact, you could do that, but when you do, you've surrendered to efficiency and lost some life, some surprise and a lot of growth.

Looking a gift card in the mouth

"You qualified."

I'd just purchased $102 worth of stuff at the sporting goods store, and the clerk happily handed me my ten dollar gift card. What a nice surprise. I turned around to the stuff next to the checkout, searching for a $6 item I could now purchase, for free.

"Oh, sorry, you can't use it today. It becomes valid tomorrow."

Not only that, but I noted that it expires in four months.

Not so much of a gift. A manipulation. I better hurry back, the thinking goes, or that thing of value in my wallet will disappear.

Just as insightful is the recent promotion that they did at Staples. Pay $15 to buy the ability to save 10% on most things in the store (not online) for the next sixty days. It turns out that most people spend about $50 on a visit, which means that part of the card pays for itself in that first visit. But, and it's a big but, you've now purchased something that feels like a debt, one that you can only profit from if you head back, and soon.

These, of course, are not gift cards at all. They are motivational cards. And they work.

People are not machines, and purchasing just about anything is as much about emotion and the story we tell ourselves as it is about economic calculation. Charging you for the chance to save money one day is one more step in a dance about feelings.

Understanding marginal cost

How much does it cost Wikipedia to have one more person read an article? How much does it cost Chanel to produce one more bottle of perfume? How about one more digital copy of a Grateful Dead concert?

The cost of the next item produced is called 'marginal cost'. It doesn't include set-up fees, rent, years of training, insurance or all the other huge costs an organization might pay. It's merely the cost of one more unit.

In a competitive, undifferentiated market, the price will generally be lowered by competitors until it is just above marginal cost. Think about that… If it costs a dollar to make something, and your competitor is selling for $1.10, then in an efficient market, you have every incentive to sell your item for a penny less than that. It's better than not selling it.

There are many implications of this, the first being the explanation of why so much stuff online is free. Free is a magical concept, the place where trial and virality live. If the marginal cost of a new user is virtually zero (and in an ad supported business, a new user is actually profitable, not a cost) then it's no surprise that it's hard to charge for your app when there are other apps that do precisely what yours does.

Big, established companies have traditionally had a difficult time understanding this concept. The market for ebooks, for example, ended up in Federal court because otherwise smart people in book publishing couldn't get their arms around the idea that their marginal cost of an ebook delivered by Amazon was precisely zero. No paper, no shipping, no ink.

Their response was to talk about all of their fixed costs (which are real, and which are important). Things like typesetting and advances and editing and promotion…

But none of those things are marginal costs. That means that someone entering the market, someone with nothing to lose, is happy to wipe out as many fixed costs as he can and then price as close to zero as he can get away with. It's not nice nor does it feel fair, but it's true and it works.

The only defense against this race to marginal cost is to have a product that is differentiated, that has no substitute, that is worth asking for by name.

If your product has a low marginal cost and a traditionally high price, particularly if it's one of a kind in its market, then you're in a great position to benefit from sampling. Which is why vodka companies are happy to sponsor parties and why cell phone companies will do almost anything to get you in the door.

Until you understand the true marginal cost of your products or services, you can't make smart decisions about pricing or customer acquisition.

Industries with zero marginal-cost products and services are inherently unstable until someone figures out how to become the king of the hill, the leader, the one worth picking because everyone else is. When that happens, the truth above about efficient markets goes away… because a market with one dominant leader isn't efficient any more.

Learning from those that went first

A month ago, I invited my blog readers to join in a new online/offline school. More than 12,000 people signed up for the rollout, and the first groups started meeting a few days ago.

The initial feedback has been absolutely fabulous. At first, people hesitated to invite others to join them in this process, but once they pushed themselves forward, many discovered the magic that comes from engaging face to face around learning.

If you were hesitating (or just busy), it's not too late to join in.

1. Click here and find out about what this is about.

2. Subscribe to the Krypton/blog newsletter and get the updates going forward.

3. Go ahead and organize a group and start, as soon as you can. Now is better than later. There will be new free courses released every month going forward.

You can catch up on the posts to date (and find the current free course) by reading the Krypton blog, from the bottom up.

Learn together.

On going over your time

There’s never enough time to get your message across. Even Fidel Castro, famous for giving six-hour speeches, had plenty more to add.

If you’re given 8 minutes, take 8 minutes minus 7 seconds, not 9 minutes. The extra minute is selfish. The extra minute doesn’t actually make that much of a difference in how much you are able to communicate.

In fact, it’s the non-verbal communication we remember, and if you are rushing, apologizing and stepping on the toes of the person after you, that’s what the audience will take away.

Coordinate and amplify

If you've got an idea or you're working in marketing, the temptation is to seek out and evangelize those that 'don't get it,' to find and sell to the skeptics.

In fact, real change comes from finding and embracing and connecting and amplifying those that are inclined to like you and believe in you.

Ideas spread from person to person, not so much from you to them. So find your biggest fans and give them a story to tell.

Decoding “art”

Of course, it started with craft. The craft of making a bowl or a tool or anything that created function.

As humans became wealthier, we could seek out the artisan, the craftsperson who would add an element of panache and style to the tools we used.

It's not much of a leap from the beautiful functional object to one that has no function other than to be beautiful.

Art was born.

When art collided with royalty, religion and wealth, a match was made. Those in power could use art as a way to display their resources and to insist that they also were deserving of respect for their taste and their patronage of the artistic class.

And that would be the end of it, except the camera and commercial printing changed the very nature of art on canvas (and mass production changed sculpture). When anyone could have a print, or a vase, or a photo, art's position as a signifier and a cultural force was threatened.

Fountain1Hence the beginning of our modern definition of art, one that so many people are resistant to. Art doesn't mean painting, art doesn't mean realistic and art doesn't mean beautiful.

Marcel Duchamp created a ruckus with 'Fountain', which appeared in an art exhibit in 1917.  An upside-down urinal, Duchamp was saying quite a bit by displaying it. The second person to put a urinal into a museum, though, was merely a plumber.

About forty years later, Yves Klein created 'Leap Into the Void.' Long before Photoshop, he was playing with our expectations and our sense of reality.

Between Duchamp and Klein there were two generations of a redefinition of art. Art doesn't mean craft. And art isn't reserved for a few.

Art is the work of a human, an individual seeking to make a statement, to cause a reaction, to connect. Art is something new, every time, and art might not work, precisely because it's new, because it's human and because it seeks to connect.

Once art is freed from the canvas and the dealer and the gallery, it gains enormous power. Politicians and science fiction authors can do a sort of art. Anyone liberated from the assembly line and given a job where at least part of the time they decide, "what's next," has been given a charter to do art, to explore and discover and to create an impact.

LeapintothevoidWhen I write about making 'art', many people look at me quizzically. They don't understand how to make the conceptual leap from a job where we are told what to do to a life where we decide what to do–and seek to do something that connects, that makes an impact, and that yes, might not work.

Five hundred years ago, no painter would talk to you about ideas, or even impact. Painters merely painted. Today, you don't need a brush to be an artist, but you do need to want to make change.