The high end is brittle, unstable and thus, expensive.
The car that wins a race, the wine that costs $300, the stereo that sounds like the real thing… The restaurant that serves perfect fruit, the artisan who uses rare tools and years of training…
If there was a reliable, easy, repeatable way to produce these outputs, we'd all do it and the high end would be normal.
What makes something pure enough, optimized enough and fast enough to defeat the other 99.9% is that it doesn't always work. It is far more sensitive to inputs. It's dangerous…
Maybe you don't need carbon fiber wheels. Maybe you merely need a reliable way to get from here to there at a reasonable price.
The high end is magic, but magic isn't reliable. On purpose. That's what makes it magic.
In any organization of more than two people, there's the opportunity to escalate a problem.
When the software doesn't work, or the customer is in a jam or something's going sideways, you can hand the problem up the chain. Escalation not only brings more horsepower to the problem, but it spreads the word within the organization. And, even better, it keeps you from losing the customer.
Here's the thing: at some point, organizations start training their people not to escalate. They fear staff will cry wolf, or they get tired of pitching in.
The moment this happens is the moment you begin to give up on your customers.
Either give your front line the power to fix things, on the spot, or encourage them to call for help when it's needed.
The secret of the fly ball is that you don't shout, "you've got it."
It's not up to us to assign who will catch it. If you can catch it, you call it.
The thing about responsibility is that it's most effectively taken, not given.
Often overlooked is the decision every marketer makes about how they will treat the issue of power (asymmetrical or not) in their marketing.
Consider insurance. Companies like Allstate don't market themselves as the dominant force in the relationship. They don't say, "you give us money every month for a very long time, and one day, if we think it's a good idea, we'll give you some money back." Instead, they say, "you're in good hands." Insurance is here to take care of you.
That's pretty different from the power dynamic we see implicit in the marketing of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Buying one makes you James Dean. They give you power over others. Luxury brands promise a similar result in certain social situations.
Horror movies don't promise an equitable experience. You sit there, they scare you.
There's some part of our culture that wants to be told what to do by a powerful autocrat.
Microsoft made a lot of enemies (and friends) when they had monopoly power. The message to users and even to partners was, "We're in charge and you have no choice… here's what's next." A large portion of the market responds well to that message. It takes the pressure off decision making and eases responsibility (it can't be your fault if you had no options). Apple is starting to adopt that power mantra with their approach to upgrades and new models.
The new Microsoft, of course, puts the user's power first. Different strategy for a different audience.
Every brand gets to make this choice, pick one of three:
- We have the power over you
- You have the power over your choices and your competitors
- Our products and services give everyone power
Famous colleges market with straight-up power. We have the power to choose you, to grade you, to give you a magic diploma. And in response, millions of kids send in their applications. In fact, they often avoid the alternative (less famous) schools that instead of power, ask, "how can we help you?"
Many businesses prefer to buy things when they have no choice. They not only respect the power of the big auditing firms or the race to serve a search engine or a social network, they actually seek it out. It focuses the attention of the bureaucracy and offers the promise of rapid forward motion with little responsibility on the part of the client.
A lot of freelancers, on the other hand, have been beaten down so often that they can't imagine projecting power, instead only offering to serve those that do.
Danny Meyer has built a restaurant empire around the idea that customers ought to be powerful. Instead of bullying his patrons, he trains his people to serve. No velvet rope, just a smile.
Each of us gets to choose what sort of marketing we respond to. Those that use bully tactics to gain power over us only get away with it because it works (on some people, some of the time). And often, when power is put into our hands (sometimes known as freedom… the freedom to create, to speak up, to lead, to challenge), we blink and walk away.
Some people persist in thinking that marketing is about ads or low prices. It's not. It's about human nature and promises and who we see when we look in the mirror.
When you see confusion, look for fear, and look for the dynamics of power.
Anyone who has done the math will tell you that word of mouth is the most efficient way to gain trust, spread the word and grow.
It only takes a moment to destroy. Only a few sentences, a heartless broken promise, a lack of empathy, and it's gone. Not only that, but the lost connection can easily lead to lawsuits.
Doctor, the surgery seems to have gone wrong!
It's not my fault. I did a perfect job. Tough luck.
Architect, the floor is sagging, the beams were put in the wrong direction!
I don't care. There's a three-year statute of limitations, and even then, it wasn't my job to ensure that the work met the plans.
Airline, my two-year-old can't sit in a row by herself, and the agent on the phone said you'd work it so we could sit together!
It's not my fault. If you don't want to get on the plane, don't get on the plane.
In all three cases, there are significant operational barriers to magically fixing the problem. But that's not where the breakdown happened. It happened because a human being decided to not care. Not care and not express anything that felt like caring.
A human being, perhaps intimidated by lawyers, or tired after a hard day, or the victim of a bureaucracy (all valid reasons) then made the stupid decision to not care.
By not caring, by not expressing any empathy, this individual denied themselves their own humanity. By putting up a brick wall, they isolate themselves. Not only do they destroy any hope for word of mouth, they heap disrespect on someone else. By working so hard to not engage (in the vain hope that this will somehow keep them clean), they end up in the mud, never again to receive the benefit of the doubt.
What kind of day or week or career is that? To live in a lucite bubble, keeping track only of individuals defeated and revenue generated?
It turns out that while people like to have their problems fixed, what they most want is to be seen and to be cared about.
Of course you should use these fraught moments to reinforce connections and build word of mouth. Of course you should realize that in fact people like us get asked to recommend airlines and doctors and architects all the time, but now, we will never ever recommend you to anyone, in fact, we'll go out of our way to keep people from choosing you.
But the real reason you should extend yourself in these moments when it all falls apart is that this is how you will measure yourself over time. What did you do when you had a chance to connect and to care?
In 1995, my book packaging company published one of its last titles, an anachronism called, Presenting Digital Cash. It was the first book on digital cash ever aimed at a mass audience. And it was ahead of its time, selling (fortunately) very few copies. The examples in the book were current, but it was soon outdated. (The foreword was written by Neal Stephenson—someone who is ahead of his time for a living).
Thirteen long years later, Bitcoin was introduced to the world. I didn't invent it, even though I'd written about digital cash more than a decade before. I'd created an entire book about digital cash, and thought about it deeply for months.
Except I didn't buy 1,000 dollars worth of Bitcoin in 2008. If I had, I'd have more than $40,000,000 today.
It's not that I didn't know.
It's that I didn't act.
Two different things.
I knew, but I didn't know for sure. Not enough to act.
All the good stuff happens when we act even if we don't know for sure.
They (whoever 'they' is) made it easy for you to raise your hand. They made it easy for you to put your words online, your song in the cloud, your building designs, business plans and videos out in the world. They made it easy for you to be generous, to connect, and to lead.
Maybe today's the day.
The first step is learning how to do it. Finding and obtaining the insight and the tools and the techniques you need. Understanding how it works.
But step two is easily overlooked. Step two is turning it into a habit. Committing to the practice. Showing up and doing it again and again until you're good at it, and until it's part of who you are and what you do.
Most education, most hardware stores, most technology purchases, most doctor visits, most textbooks are about the first step. What a shame that we don't invest just a little more to turn the work into a habit.
If you seek to make change or do something important, your work will be rejected along the way. This is not in dispute.
What will you do after that?
- Determine that what actually happened was that you were rejected, not your proposal, and that you have no right, no standing and no hope. Decide to back off, keep your head low and do what you're told from now on.
- Realize that what might have happened is that you asked the wrong person, who wants something other than what you want. Resolve to do a better job of seeing where your work will be needed and recognized.
- Understand that you didn't tell a story that resonated, that your homework, your details, your promise–something didn't resonate. Figure out what it was, and learn to do better next time.
- Assume that whoever turns you down, ignores you or disagrees with you is a dolt. Learn nothing and persist.
In my experience, paths two and three are the most likely to get you where you're going. It takes grit and resilience to avoid the first path, and the fourth path is reserved for megalomaniacs, bullies and the terminally frustrated.
It doesn't matter how many you have.
It doesn't matter how much you paid for them.
It doesn't matter how long the line was yesterday…
The market is gone. It's a sunk cost. Falling in love with what you have and reminding yourself of what it cost you is no help at all.
The same goes for the value of the assets we invested in, the rare skills we used to possess, the position in the marketplace we worked so hard to get.
New days require new decisions.