Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

Who are your customers?

Answering, "anyone who pays us money," is a cop out.

Almost as bad is describing your customers by demographics. It's only a little interesting to know that they are, on average, 32 year old, white, male, lacrosse fans.

No, what we need to know is:

What do they believe?

Who do they trust?

What are they afraid of and who do they love?

What are they seeking?

Who are their friends?

What do they talk about?

Less vs. more, give vs. take

You could build a company dedicated to paying your employees ever more. Or you could build a company based on the strategy of paying them ever less.

You could create a business based on the idea of charging your customers the lowest possible prices, or you could set out to figure out how to charge them as much as possible.

Your organization could depend on ever increasing the amount of choice and privacy you give your users–or you could work daily to reduce them.

You could protect your users from interruption or you could decide to profit from interruption.

You could fight daily to tell those that are listening the truth, or you could fight daily to spin your story to have it seen as the truth.

It's tempting to view each of these extremes as merely an alternative to compromise, but compromise isn't a goal, it's a temporary tactic. Where are you headed?

We move the center when we become extremists in our goals.

Every day, we push against the status quo and make difficult choices. Every day, we seek to increase one metric at the expense of the other. The architecture of the successful organization depends on choosing and embracing these extremes.

The feedback you’ve been waiting for

"You did a great job. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I wouldn't change a thing. You completely nailed it, it's fabulous."

Of course, that's not feedback, really. It's applause.

Applause is great. We all need more of it.

But if you want to improve, you should actively seek feedback. And that feedback, if it's more than just carping, will be constructive. It will clearly and generously lay out ways you can more effectively delight your customers and create a remarkable experience that leads to ever more customers.

If you're afraid of that feedback, it's probably not going to arrive as often as you'd like it to. On the other hand, if you embrace it as the gift it can be, you may decide to go looking for it.

Empty criticism and snark does no one any good. But genuine, useful, insightful feedback is a priceless gift.

Applause is good too.

Understanding sponsorship

The answer to the question, "how are you going to pay for this project?" is turning out to be sponsorship more and more often. If you don't know why organizations want to sponsor things, though, it's likely a long, hard road to find the sponsorship you seek.

As the number of media options continue to explode (blogs, books, conferences, tattoos, speaking engagements, film festivals, stadiums, entire websites…) it's worth thinking a little bit about why organizations buy sponsorships.

1. It might be a substitute for advertising. How many people see it? How much does it cost per person? (this is the cpm, but instead of cost per thousand page views or magazine readers, it's cost per thousand impressions, which come in a myriad of ways). I think this is the film festival/book fair model. It's a reasonable way to reach a hard to reach, high value group.

2. It might be a bragging rights thing. This means that the sponsor isn't focused on tonnage, but instead wants the affiliation that they can mention to others. Sort of a reverse endorsement. The thing being sponsored isn't a media outlet, then, but a license by affiliation. An example of this might be sponsoring a speaker coming to town. Clearly, the 500 people in the audience don't constitute a useful CPM, but the fact that you did it gains you authority with those that notice what you did.

3. It might be a chance to influence the organization being sponsored. This would explain why big corporations are willing to sponsor political conventions.

4. It might be a useful way to inspire and focus your internal organization. When the people who work for you see you sponsoring a worthy charity or a thoughtful opinion leader, it changes how they do their job or how they focus their efforts.

5. It makes the CEO happy and earns the organization a seat at certain sorts of tables. I think this is the model for sponsoring a sports stadium, an act that has never been shown to have any value at all as a mass media choice.

Because there are so many ways to come at this, valuing a sponsorship is difficult indeed. If you're a bank sponsoring a bike sharing service, how do you compare that to five-hundred full page newspaper ads (about the same price over a certain period of time). Of course, you don't. You can't. Instead, you must be really clear internally about what it's for.

In general, if you're clear about which of these five things you're shooting for, most sponsorships are a screaming bargain compared to traditional media buys, particularly if you're trying to reach an elite or elusive demographic.

How much does it cost you to avoid the feeling of risk?

Not actual risk, but the feeling that you're at risk?

How many experiences are you missing out on because the (very unlikely) downsides are too frightening to contemplate?

Are you avoiding leading, connecting or creating because to do so feels risky?

Feeling risk is very different than actually putting yourself at risk. Over time, we've created a cultural taboo about feeling certain kinds of risk, and all that insulation from what the real world requires is getting quite expensive.

It's easy to pretend that indulging in the avoidance of the feeling of risk is free and unavoidable. It's neither.

Trapped by tl;dr

TL;DR is internet talk for "too long; didn't read". It's also a sad, dangerous symptom of the malfunctions caused by the internet tsunami. (Here's a most ironic example of this paradox…)

The triathlete doesn't look for the coldest bottle of water as she jogs by… she wants it fast and now. That mindset, of focusing merely on what's fast, is now a common reaction to many online options. I think it works great for runners, not so well for learners.

There's a checklist, punchline mentality that's dangerous and easy to adopt. Enough with the build up, wrap this up, let me check it off, categorize it and quickly get to the next thing… c'mon, c'mon, too late, TL;DR…

Let's agree on two things:

1. There are thousands of times as many things available to read as there were a decade ago. It's possible that in fact there are millions as many.

2. Now that everyone can write, publish, email you stuff and generally make noise, everyone might and many people already are.

As a result, there's too much noise, too much poorly written, overly written, defensively written and generally useless stuff cluttering your life.

When we had trusted curators it was easy. We read what we were supposed to read, we read what we trusted, regardless of how long it was, because the curator was taking a risk and promising us it was worth it. No longer. Now, it's up to us.

One option is to read incisively, curate, edit, choose your sources carefully. Limit the inbound to what's important, not what's shiny or urgent or silly.

The other option is to assume that you already know what you need to know, and refuse to read anything deeply. Hide behind clever acronyms, flit from viral topic to flame war, never actually diving in. It appears that this is far more common than ever before.

Here's what I've found: When I read in checklist mode, I learn almost nothing. It's easy to cherry pick the amusing or the merely short, but it's a quick thrill with very little to show for it.

Judging by length is foolish. TL;DR shows self-contempt, because you're ignoring the useful in exchange for the short or the amusing. The media has responded to our demand by giving us a rising tide of ever shorter, ever more amusing wastes of time. Short lowers the bar, but it also makes it hard to deliver much.

Please, give me something long (but make it worth my time.)

Perhaps a new acronym: NW;DR (not worthwhile; didn't read) makes more sense. We've got plenty to choose from, but what we need is content that's worth the effort.

Krypton Community College

Krypton Course 004: Sonia Simone and the modern art of copywriting

This course is practical and, for many of you, a stretch.

It's based on Copyblogger's free subscription materials, an overlooked gem online. Sonia has been writing for Copyblogger for a while, and her approach is insightful, generous and powerful.

The short version: If you do anything online, you're an online marketer, and online marketing is largely about the copy you write and how it resonates (and spreads).

As you get the materials for this course, you'll also be signed up for Copyblogger's materials, but they are good folks and you probably won't mind getting it–and it's easy to unsubscribe once you have the materials, if you choose.

CLICK HERE to download the latest version of the course, updated on January 7, 2014.

If this is the first thing you've read here, please subscribe to this blog! There's a button up top that says "subscribe". Or you can click here to do so. You might also want to read past posts to catch up with what this is all about.

How to draw an owl

The problem with most business and leadership advice is that it's a little like this:

How to draw an owl

The two circles aren't the point. Getting the two circles right is a good idea, but lots of people manage that part. No, the difficult part is learning to see what an owl looks like. Drawing an owl involves thousands of small decisions, each based on the answer to just one question, "what does the owl look like?" If you can't see it (in your mind, not with your eyes), you can't draw it.

There are hundreds of thousands of bullet points and rules of thumb about how to lead people, how to start and run a company, how to market, how to sell and how to do work that matters. Most of them involve drawing two circles. (HT to Stefano for the owl).

Before any of these step by step approaches work, it helps a lot to learn to see. When someone does this job well, what does it look like? When you've created a relationship that works, what does it feel like?

Incubator programs and coaching work their best not when they teach people which circles to draw, but when they engage in interactive learning after you've gone ahead and drawn your circle. The iterative process of drawing and erasing and drawing some more is how we learn to see the world.

“But what if I fail?”

You will.

The answer to the what if question is, you will.

A better question might be, "after I fail, what then?"

Well, if you've chosen well, after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding, you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly will be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try.

Delight the weird

Everyone who eats at your restaurant expects a good cup of coffee, and it's difficult to wow them, because, of course, your competition is working to do the same thing.

But of course, it's not everyone who wants a cup of coffee. Some want a cup of tea, or a cup of herbal tea, and those folks are used to being ignored, or handed an old Lipton tea bag, or something boring.

What if you had thirty varieties for them to choose from?

Everyone who stays at your hotel expects the same sort of service, and it's difficult to wow them, because, of course, your competition is working to do the same thing.

But of course, it's not everyone. Some people travel with their dogs, and they're used to being disrespected. What if you gave those people a choice of a dozen dog toys, three dog beds and a special dog run out back?

When you delight the weird, the overlooked and the outliers, they are significantly more likely to talk about you and recommend you.