What is New York's favorite way to eat oatmeal?
If you try to reverse engineer preferences from Yelp reviews, you're likely to make a common error. It turns out that bacon-as-a-topping comes up often in Yelp, which might lead you to believe that adding bacon to the menu is a surefire crowdpleaser.
In fact, what it tells you is that bacon lovers are more likely to post Yelp reviews.
There are now two crowds. There is the crowd of mass, of everyone, of what the average folks want. And there is the crowd of the loud, the interested and the connected.
If your goal is to get more reviews on Yelp, then, over-the-top and particularly edgy choices in food and service are a great idea. The thesis of We Are All Weird is that segments of the population are finding each other, challenging each other and getting weirder all the time.
You probably won't get great ratings in TripAdvisor with a perfectly pleasant hotel, or good food at a good price. This group, the group that's gaining in power, demands more from you.
By all means, then, get weird and amplify what the outliers want if your goal is to attract raving fans online. But at the same time, it's way too early to confuse acceptance by the critics with delight of the masses. Difficult to do both at the same time.
Launching today, my new course on Skillshare: The Modern Marketing Workshop. A course for marketers in every organization.
Click here to find out the details. I think you'll find that this course has the power to transform the way you and your organization spread your ideas, engage with customers and most of all, think about what you make and why.
This is the stuff I learned the hard way. You can be smarter: you have this course.
Marketing has changed more in the last 20 years than any other business discipline. Far more than accounting, manufacturing, or management. Why are we relying on the same-old traditional textbooks? Why are CMOs cornered into decisions that make no sense? Why do leaders still talk about marketing and advertising like they’re the same?
This is my second class. The first Skillshare course I launched a few months ago has gotten a terrific response (their most popular course ever) and people let me know that they wanted me to add a different course, one that would address marketing the way it's done today. It turns out that just about everything we learned in school, just about everything our boss, our board and our co-workers believe about marketing is out of date.
You can see some of the reviews for the first class here.
The new course includes videos, new ebooks, worksheets and more (more than 75 pages of brand-new material and many hours of discussions and projects for you and your team.) I hope you'll devote the time to really dive into it, and you'll challenge your peers to do it with you.
If you sign up before the 13th, you'll be invited to join me for a live kick-off chat room session. Hope to see you there.
PS discount code seth2014 will save you a few dollars. Thanks.
[Skillshare's motto is terrific: "the future belongs to the curious." My favorite part about this course, and the reason I called it a workshop, is that it connects curious people. The course gets better when more people are taking it. The interactions between and among the curious attendees can last for months or years, an ever-virtuous cycle of creation and connection and teaching and learning.]
Whales have to eat a lot of plankton. A whale needs an enormous number of these tiny creatures because, let's be honest, one plankton just doesn't make a meal.
It's unlikely the whale savors each plankton, relishing the value that it brings.
The fabled Oreo tweet and the now legendary Ellen selfie are examples of whale eating plankton. Each retweet is so worthless to these whales and the brands that come from the TV world that they need millions of them, constantly.
They're hooked on tonnage, and will dumb down whatever they do to get more of it. To get mass in the social media world, you need luck and you need to pander.
I think our attention is more precious than that.
For most modern marketers, quantity isn't the point. What matters is to matter. Lives changed. Work that made an actual difference. Connection.
You are not a plankton. Neither are your customers.
In fact, most people switch for better.
Without a doubt, there's a slot in every market for the cheap enough, good enough alternative.
But rapid growth and long-term loyalty come from being better instead.
When your product or your service doesn't measure up, the answer probably isn't to lower your price or offer a refund to the disappointed customer. Instead, the alternative is to invest in making it better. So much better that people can't help but talk about it—and so much better that they would truly miss it if it were gone.
Here are some laws rarely broken:
As an organization succeeds, it gets bigger.
As it gets bigger, the average amount of passion and initiative of the organization goes down (more people gets you closer to averge, which is another word for mediocre).
More people requires more formal communication, simple instructions to ensure consistent execution. It gets more and more difficult to say, "use your best judgment" and be able to count on the outcome.
Larger still means more bureaucracy, more people who manage and push for comformity, as opposed to do something new.
Success brings with it the fear of blowing it. With more to lose, there's more pressure not to lose it.
Mix all these things together and you discover that going forward, each decision pushes the organization toward do-ability, reliability, risk-proofing and safety.
And, worst of all, like a game of telephone, there will be transcription errors, mistakes in interpreting instructions and general random noise. And most of the time, these mutations don't make things wonderful, they lead to breakage.
Even really good people, really well-intentioned people, then, end up in organizations that plod toward mediocre, interrupted by random errors and dropped balls.
This can be fixed. It can be addressed, but only by a never-ending fight for greatness.
Greatness can't be a policy, and it's hard to delegate to bureaucrats. But yes, greatness is something that people can work for, create an insurgency around and once in a while, actually achieve. It's a commitment, not an event.
It's not easy, which is why it's rare, but it's worth it.
People don't care about privacy as much as they care about being surprised.
Most people have used credit cards for decades—giving the credit card company tons of intimate data about their habits. We go to doctors and therapists and tell them our detailed medical and emotional histories. That's all fine because we believe we know exactly what's going to happen to the information. When we're surprised and a promise is broken, we're (rightly) furious.
If people actually cared about privacy (no one knowing what they do) then we would have given up on most connected activities generations ago. No, we were fine with some people knowing, as long as we realized who those people were (and what those uses were) in advance.
The outrage over privacy leaks and snooping is largely because it comes as a surprise. It's not what we signed up for and not what we expected. As marketers and governments continue to intrude, though, less privacy will become the new normal. Ask any teenager... few of them are particularly surprised or upset that they're leaving a trail online, it's always been that way for them.
Now that we've been desensitized, expect a huge stampede of apps, services and technologies that monetize and quantitize things that we used to think of as off limits. They won't tiptoe, they will leap, because the race is on to create value from information that used to be invisible.
The thing about surprising people is that once you do it, you can't do it again and again. As surprise fades, people will come to tolerate and then (eventually) look forward to organizations using the data we used to believe would never be used.
[Here's one scenario to give you a sense of how big the shift will be. When just 1% of all cars have a networked dashboard camera in use, then virtually every car and every driver will be under constant surveillance. When you cut someone off or run a stop sign, the system will know. Good drivers will take advantage of the information that's created to get much better prices on their insurance (why shouldn't they?) which will completely transform both the insurance industry and the safety of driving. We've always been awash in data about how everyone drives, but until now, it's never been collected and turned into information, and that information has value. Like it or not, the Wild West mentality of 'eat my dust' will be replaced by a privacy-free world of connected driving. Multiply this by healthcare, white collar work productivity and retail behavior and you quickly see a brave, new world.]
Who cares about privacy is a little like the weather. You can care about it, but it's not clear there's much you can do once surprise goes away and the engines of commerce and power kick in.
Here's the local supermarket in a little town, way off the beaten path. And there, right next to the cash register, are Lindt chocolate bars--from Switzerland.
Here's the local radio station, thousands of miles from the epicenters of music culture. And the next song--it's the one that kids in every country in the world are watching right now on YouTube.
Monoculture doesn't always mean the status quo. They sell more salsa than ketchup now. It doesn't mean only the established brands win--you can find Kind bars and Teslas in more and more places.
What monoculture does mean is that the churn isn't local as much as it's national and worldwide now. It means the stakes are far higher, because the step from niche win to worldwide win is smaller than it's ever been before.
Your blog, your line of clothes, your song, your cause--there's more competition than ever before (by a lot) because you compete with the world now. And there's more upside, too.
The second leap is deciding how to take your project to an entirely new level. The way Zappos redefined how shoes were sold, Charity:water changed how fundraising was done, or Mission Chinese recreated their genre of restaurant. These leaps are what the market sits up and notices.
The first leap is deciding to be the kind of leader willing to make precisely that sort of leap.
Teaching young people to sell is a priceless gift. The confidence and clarity that comes from being able to engage and to cause a transaction is a trait that can pay off for a lifetime.
I thought I'd share a simple sales approach that in my experience consistently doubles the sales rate for Girl Scouts, at the same time it permits a more natural, humanistic engagement. Most Scouts are taught to memorize a fairly complicated spiel, one that involves introducing themselves, talking in detail about the good work that the Scouts do, and finishing with how the money raised goes for this and for that.
This is difficult work even for a professional, but for a kid talking to an adult, it's frightening and unlikely to lead to a positive experience. The alternative?
"What's your favorite kind of Girl Scout cookie?"
In less than ten words, all the Proustian memories of previous cookie experiences are summoned up. In one simple question, the power in the transaction shifts, with the Scout going from supplicant to valued supplier.
(And that's the universal lesson here: A question that avoids a 'no', a question that starts a conversation, a question that opens the door to emotion... those are the questions that build careers and create value.)
The cookie-buying experience isn't about making some sort of charitable contribution. Buying cookies is an incredibly inefficient way to support anything but a cookie company. No, the experience from the buyer's point of view is an emotional connection to something that's been in their life since they were a kid (there's a reason they don't change the flavors) as well as a positive interaction with a young person learning to speak up.
PS If you're busy selling your kid's cookies at work in a misguided attempt to raise money for the troop, please don't! It undermines the very point of the exercise, and you'd probably raise more money if you did some freelance work instead. Access to cookies isn't the point, teaching the Scouts to be confident salespeople is.
Nineteen years ago, shortly after I hired Mark Hurst to join the team at my internet startup Yoyodyne, I turned to him and said, "I don't think the web makes sense." This was the most expensive mistake I ever made.
At the time, we were working with AOL, CompuServe and other online services. The web was in its infancy, and I notoriously said, "It's just like Prodigy, but slower and with no business model."
It took me eighteen months to change my mind. Actually, that's not true. It took me about five minutes to change my mind, after eighteen months of being wrong. I still remember how it felt to feel that flip switch in my head.
This is one of the assets of youth, and something that's worth seeking out and maintaining. That flip, the ability, when confronted with a world that doesn't match the world in your head, to say, "wait, maybe I was wrong." We're not good at that. Science brings us overwhelming data about the truth of washing hands before surgery, of the age and origin of species, about the efficacy of placebos, and the natural instinct is push those facts away, rather than find that moment where were can shift our thinking.
If you needed to, could you argue passionately for that thing you don't believe in today? Could you imagine walking over to the other side of the new argument, to once again hear that sound?
That's the essential skill of thriving in a world that's changing fast.
Without a doubt, the single highest point of leverage in any campaign is getting out the vote. If the people who agree with you or believe in you actually show up and vote, you win.
This, of course, is true for everything, not just retail politics. Your non-profit, retail store or b2b services firm probably doesn't need as many new prospects as you think you do--you will generate more impact if you reconnect with the people who already know and trust you.
or sleep near a train station.
Don't ask a cab driver for theater tips.
Never buy bread from the supermarket bakery...
and don't ask your spouse for honest feedback about how you look.
Don't do business with a stranger who calls you at home during dinner.
Think twice before you ask your ad agency how many ads you should run.
And never eat the macadamia nuts in the mini bar.
Proximity is not a stand in for expertise.
It's not that hard to have a misstep. In fact, if you interact with enough people, it's certain that you will.
Sometimes, if we're quite lucky, when we get it wrong, the person we wronged will politely point it out to us.
At this point, we have a choice. We can elegantly (and with gratitude) make things right, which often builds a better bridge than we could ever hope for...
Or, in frustration, embarassment and a bit of pique, we can choose to make things worse.
Here are some of the magic words that might help build that bridge:
- "I" (not "we" or some magical use of the third person)
- "thank you"
When someone gives you gentle feedback, it's because they want to connect, not because they want to help you finish burning down the bridge you ignited in the first place. They don't want an excuse, a clever comeback or a recitation that you're just doing your job.
It's there if you want it.
Most companies (and non-profits) fear competition. American Airlines, our worst possible domestic airline, always does best in routes where travelers don't have a choice. When customers don't have a choice, you can raise profits and lower quality and people just have to deal with it. You can happily be the profitable choice of last resort, the place for people with nowhere else to go.
Some organizations, though, work to find competition instead of fleeing from it. If you have a system, a point of view and a process for growth, then a market that already exists is your friend, the next place you can grow. And so, for example, small chains like Five Guys and Shake Shack are happy to set up shop right next to fast food places that might represent competition.
This is one reason Amazon's efficiencies are so fearsome--they prefer to start in a market with competition.
On the other hand, if you're depending on being alone in your field, then your charitable cause, your brokerage business or your industrial entity is going to have a hard time finding the next place to grow.
(Semi-related trivia: In high school and college, I was so bad at school elections—losing every single one—I finally decided I would only run for slots where I was unopposed. Amazingly, I lost that one too, and wisely stopped competing for votes—sometimes, competition is a choice.)
Money's pretty new. Before that, we traded. My corn for your milk. The trade enriches both of us, and it's simple.
Money, of course, makes a whole bunch of other transactions possible. Maybe I don't need your milk, but I can take your money and use it to buy something I do need, from someone else. Very efficient, but also very abstract.
As we ceased to trade, we moved all of our transactions to the abstract world of money. And the thing about an abstract trade is that it happens over time, not all at once. So I trade you this tuition money today in exchange for degree in four years which might get me a better job in nine years. Not only is there risk involved, but who knows what the value of anything nine years from now is?
Because of the abstraction and time shift, we're constantly re-evaluating what money is worth. Five dollars to buy a snack box on an airplane is worth something very different than five dollars to buy a cup of coffee after a fancy meal, which is worth something different than five dollars in the grocery store. That's because we get to pretend that the five dollars in each situation is worth a different amount--because it's been shifted.
Most of the time, when we're buying non-commodity items, we're asking ourselves questions like:
- How much pain am I in right now?
- Do I deserve this?
- What will happen to the price in an hour or a week? If it changes, will I feel smart or dumb?
- What will my neighbors think?
- Does it feel fair?
- and, What sort of risks (positive and negative) are involved? (This is why eBay auctions don't work for the masses).
Pricing based on cost, then, makes no sense whatsoever. Cost isn't abstract, but value is.
Questions are good. A legitimate, "why?" is enough to change the world.
But stalling, stalling is the last thing you need. And why is often an escape hatch for people who know what they should do, but fear doing it. It's easier to ponder, to question the meaning of this or our role in where we go next.
The best answer for the stalling why is: Go.
[and of course, the best response to the impetuous, status-quo driven 'Go' is to ask, "why?"]
The framer asks the original question, roughs out the starting designs, provokes the new thing.
The polisher finds typos, smooths out the rough edges and helps avoid the silly or expensive error.
Both are important. Unpolished work is hardly worth doing.
Polishing is relentlessly reinforced in school and feels safe. Framing is fraught with risk and thus avoided by many. Too often, we spend our time on a little more polish, instead of investing in the breakthrough that a framer can bring.
Innovations often succeed by creating obsolence.
There's functional obsolence which is powerful but rare. If I own a word processor so I can create documents and edit them with others, a new version of the software (with a new file format) makes my software obsolete. When my colleagues send over a document, I have no choice but to upgrade.
Functional obsolescence is almost always caused by interactivity--when files or cables or parts or languages don't connect any longer, they become obsolete.
Far more common is emotional obsolescence. The rage you feel when an improved laptop is announced a week after you bought a new one is an example of this. Your old laptop does everything it used to do, of course, but one reason you bought it was to have the 'best laptop' and the launch of a newer model undoes that for you.
Modern architecture has made many existing office buildings emotionally obsolete, because they are no longer the trophies they used to be. A newfangled digital device for audiophiles doesn't do anything to make old CD players functionally obsolete, but it certainly can shatter the illusion of sound perfection that a stereo lover who doesn't own one may be experiencing.
Start by realizing that most people who buy a new innovation are not brand new to the market. They buy the new thing as a step up from an old thing. Most hockey equipment is sold to people who already play hockey.
It's tempting to argue, logically and step by step, why your new product or service is better than the one that's already on the market. It's far more likely, though, that your story will resonate most with people who aren't seeking functionality but instead were happy with the thing they had, but now, thanks to you, believe it has become obsolete. Our neophilia is a powerful desire, and buyer's remorse is its flipside.
Is my price low enough?
Is it reliable enough?
Do I offer enough features?
Am I on the right social media channels?
Is the website cool enough?
Am I promising enough?
No, the most important question in marketing something to someone who hasn't purchased it before is,
"Do they trust me enough to believe my promises?"
Without that, you have nothing.
If you have awareness but people haven't bought from you before, it's likely they don't trust you as much as you would hope. If you are extending from one business to another, it's also likely. In fact, if your value proposition is solid but sales aren't being made, look for trust issues.
Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.
A long time ago, I was a "book packager." I didn't actually make the package that books came in... I was a producer of books, the way someone might produce a movie. Sometimes I wrote them, too.
What a confusion this name causes. When people asked what I did, my job title gave them too much (too little) information. I should have just told non-industry people I was an author.
Innovation involves making something that hasn't been made before, and one way to signal that you're doing something new is to give it a new name. But often, the new name gets in the way of people experiencing what you have to offer.
The iPhone isn't really a phone, it's actually not a very good phone at all, but calling it a phone made it easy for people to put it into a category. The category was expanded by the behavior of the iPhone, and now "phone" means something far more than it used to. "What do you mean your phone can't tell me how far away the diner is?" Of course, this was an absurd thing to expect from a phone not very long ago.
Mario Batali calls himself a chef, but of course he rarely if ever sets up in a kitchen and cooks meals for strangers at minimum wage. But chef is a lot easier and simpler than a whole bunch of hyphens.
Your job might be like no other one like it in the world, but that doesn't mean you need a new job title. The short version: if you can happily succeed while filling an existing niche, it's far easier than insisting that people invent a new category for you. On the other hand, if you need (and can earn) a new category, that's a shortcut to becoming a category of one.
Choose a new name when it helps you achieve your goals, not because you're worried about some truth-in-taxonomy commission giving you a hassle.
(One more example: Tweet is a new word, a risk because it might have been rejected. In the opposite direction, Facebook took a big risk with the words, 'like' and 'friend' because they redefined them to mean something new, something a bit different. It paid off, certainly, but not without some thin ice. It doesn't matter if you're right, it matters if you are understood.)