When you show me a business plan, a wireframe, a features list... whatever you're building, it's not enough to talk about what's there.
Tell us what's not there.
Tell us what you're choosing not to do, what you're not supporting, who you're not interested in working with.
If the there + the not there doesn't add up to the universe of choices, you've missed something.
The batter has already hit two home runs. When he gets up to bat for the third time, his confidence is running high...
It's easy to feel confident when we're on a roll, when the cards are going our way, or we're closing sales right and left. This symptomatic confidence, one built on a recent series of successes, isn't particularly difficult to accomplish or useful.
Effective confidence comes from within, it's not the result of external events. The confident salesperson is likely to close more sales. The confident violinist expresses more of the music. The confident leader points us to the places we want (and need) to go.
You succeed because you've chosen to be confident. It's not really useful to require yourself to be successful before you're able to become confident.
So is most pizza.
But people don't drive across town for "pretty good." They don't make lists of "most convenient to your dorm room" or "works fine if you're around the corner."
If you want us to travel, you have to choose to go beyond pretty good. If you want us to click, you need to give us a reason to leave the usual page and go to yours. And most of all, if you want us to talk about you, pretty good isn't going to get you there.
Pretty good is a choice. It works, often. But it doesn't change anything.
[PS If you are better than pretty good at marketing: Acumen is looking for a world-class marketer.]
Without a doubt, free enables an idea to spread, it creates opportunity for sampling, it can open the door to engagement.
But when you buy something, you're paying for something that you can never get when it's handed to you.
Buying requires emotional commitment. Even a small payment has been shown to change the way people set expectations, not just for what they receive but how much energy and effort they're willing to contribute. It begins with confirmation bias, because if you paid for it, it must be worthwhile. But in the constantly-free world of digital media, I think it goes beyond this.
In my new Skillshare course on modern marketing, I see this every day. Instead of clicking away and giving up, people devote more energy and effort to pushing through the hard stuff. That energy and effort, of course, opens ever more doors, which creates a virtuous cycle of learning.
One way to play in the digital age is to appeal to those that browse, the window shoppers, the mass audience that can't and won't commit. The alternative is to focus on impact, not numbers, and impact comes from commitment.
Price is more than an exchange of coins. Price is a story, a powerful tool for changing minds and one way we persuade ourselves to make a change. Lowering your price (all the way to free) isn't the only way (or even the best way) to move your market.
Commitment is a benefit.
Dave's team has booked the beautiful Rose Theatre at Lincoln Center for a day-long event with the three of us on October 2, 2014. I've known Dave and Gary for years, and it promises to be a really special day.
Find out more here. Apologies if it's already sold out. For the next twenty-four hours, get first dibs on seats and save $100 with code sethsblog.
Most of the time, people don't want a refund or a bonus. What they really want is for you to hear them and to do the right thing. What if every manager and every customer contact in your organization bought into that?
Here are some things you can do that don't cost any money (but they certainly require effort):
Treat your employees with care and respect
Be consistent in your actions
Keep your promises
Grant others their dignity
When wrong, offer a heartfelt apology
Don't be a jerk
Take the time to actually listen to people
Volunteer to handle the issue
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.)