10 Resolutions for the Remarkable

(Photo: Luo Shaoyang)

I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I won’t commit to myself. Here are my resolutions for 2008.

(Incidentally, here as always, “customers” just means “people you want to persuade to take action.” When you read these, think of the folks you want to convince to pay for your service, donate to your nonprofit, volunteer for your project, attend your church, whatever.

  1. Quit spending so much energy trying to bullshit yourself and everyone else. Be what you are–glorious, dorky, embarrassed, proud, miraculous. The world’s wisest people agree on one thing: you are fundamentally good. Quit hiding and start celebrating.
  2. Put your customers ahead of yourself. Ask yourself every day what they need from you, how they benefit from you, what you can do for them that no one else can. Take a minute right now to calendar a regular appointment: on the 7th of every month, come up with a new way to create surprising value for your customers. Don’t just think about it, do it.
  3. Don’t be boring.
  4. Speak clearly. Write clearly. Think clearly.
  5. Ask for what you need.
  6. Decide what promise your brand makes. Then bring everything you do into alignment with that. How you answer the phone. (In fact, whether you answer the phone.) Your email address. Your Web site. Your haircut. Your reading habits. Your television habits. Live the promise that you make. Get rid of all the false distinctions between who you are and what you do.
  7. Commit to joy.
  8. You have a tremendous amount to be grateful for. Think about and express gratitude daily.
  9. Help someone much worse off than you are. I’m terribly grateful that in 2007, I was able to make donations that repaired cleft palates for 5 children. I also started sponsoring a five-year-old boy in Lesotho through World Vision. Next year, I commit to do the same again at least. You truly don’t have to give a lot. A little bit of latte money can turn a desperate, helpless life into a productive one–and it will bring you more pleasure than anything else you’re spending your dough on now, honest.
  10. Live by my friend Krissie’s motto: Fuck Doubt. Press On. Copy it out in your favorite pen and put it somewhere you can see it every day.

Made any resolutions this year? Have some ideas about how to become more remarkable, or how to communicate with other people in a more remarkable way? Leave a comment and let us know!

What to Get Me for Christmas

By Sonia Simone

I don’t mind that Christmas is over–I actually celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday instead, so you have plenty of time.

The fine folks at Archie McPhee have created a Seth Godin action figure. 100% irony-free for your inspiration and enjoyment. It even comes with a little booklet of pithy Seth wisdom. The human behind the plastic has an entertaining (brief) riff on it on his blog.

How you distinguish it from a Capt. Jean-Luc Picard or Professor Xavier action figure, I’m still not sure.

Squidoo has got to figure out how to get Archie McPhee as an affiliate option.

Be Happy, Make Money, Help Others

Maureen reminded me that it’s really hard for many nonprofit organizations to get over their unhelpful mindset around money. Nonprofit workers often have limited (or hostile) ideas about wealth that get in the way of their goals to mobilize a lot of resources and help a lot of people.

I’ve been working on some materials to try and help people get over what I’m calling "financial anorexia," or a damaging and unhealthy fear of financial success. (It’s not limited to nonprofits–plenty of small-business owners and hopeful entrepreneurs have the same problem.)

I’ll let you know how that project is coming along, but in the mean time, Boing Boing has pointed us to a terrific post about working for success in a nonprofit setting.

Here’s my favorite quote (because this is out of context, I added some italics for clarity or emphasis):

You have to get as passionate about talking to the people with as you are
talking to the people without. Because we need each other, and you’re the bridge
person. If you were just desperate and needing of services and help, you
wouldn’t be working at a not-for-profit. If you were a gazillionaire, you
probably also wouldn’t be working at a non-profit. So you are the person whose
job it is to bring the haves and the have-nots together. And you have to be
passionate about that.
Yeah, somebody will say "You self promote! You’re
self-promoting!" Fine, and proudly so! Get that out of your mind as a barrier,
and look at the service you can provide . . .

If you can overlook the really unfortunate term "she-roes" (feminine of heroes, oh dear), this is a kickass post about how to get over yourself and help more people.

The art of happiness
While I’m at it, in honor of Boxing Day and the other solstice-ish holidays we’re celebrating, I give you this link on happiness. I debated posting it, but the more I work with small businesses (and large ones, for that matter), the more I realize that getting smart about how to be happy makes everything else work better. The article is written from a Buddhist point of view, but the concept of Little Me is unbelievably useful no matter what your belief system.

And thanks also to Senia for pointing me in the direction of a terrific book, Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar. It’s all about the serious research that’s been done on chasing the unicorn of happiness. I’ve been reading and re-reading it all month and I have a lot of new ideas for integrating the science of happiness with the art of business. Very cool stuff.

If You’re Going to Interrupt Me, Do It Intelligently

Annoyed gorilla
Do you hate this as much as I do? There is nothing worse than clicking on a Google listing (even worse, an AdSense listing) and getting a piece of dancing baloney flying in my face while I’m still trying to get my bearings and see where I am.

I’m talking about those little information screens (very often found on sites that are trying to sell you something) that pop up, fly over, zoom around, and generally land right in front of what I’m trying to read. It’s like the cat when you’re trying to read the newspaper, only not endearing.

The site’s owners did whatever work they needed to do to get a decent Google listing. They designed and delivered a message that created a desired action–I clicked through. And then in less than a second, that result was squandered and I’m frantically reaching for the back button.

What’s your ROI (Return on Irritation)?
If you’re going to use dynamic popups and pop-overs, you have to test and re-test. Any time you piss people off this badly, you need to know exactly what you’re getting in return.

You can’t just test the immediate result–the number of people who do whatever the popup asked them to do. You also need to analyze that result against the long-term value of customers who hate rude interruptions–the ones you lost a half second into their session.

If popups or pop-overs truly seem to be working for you, think about how you can add them where your user is going to want more information. Ideally you’ll give users a few moments to get acquainted and verify that they’re in the right spot. Then, when they’re at least somewhat comfortable, anticipate where they’re going to benefit from an additional message–more information, an additional offer, another resource, whatever.

There’s a reason users rush to block these irritating technological gnats. Popups and pop-overs are almost always permission-busters, as is forced audio or video. They take too much for granted. They deliver something that hasn’t been asked for.

These attention-grabbing techniques increase your customers’ feeling of risk, just at the point when you want to reduce it. They make your site feel unfriendly and rude at best, potentially dangerous at worst.

Finally, add some usability testing to your process. Get a few users in front of a video camera, and watch their reactions when this stuff starts flying around the screen. What you see may be instructive.

Related reading:
Beyond Google Page One: 10 Ways to Maximize Your Click-through
Trust Me, I’m a Marketer

StumbleUpon Friday: December 21, 2007

A jolly collection of silly, odd or interesting things to waste your Friday afternoon.

Squidoo vs. Knol

Squidoo versus Knol
Google has announced a new beta project called Knol, described by some (ok, me) as the mutant love child of Wikipedia and Seth Godin’s Squidoo. I’d explain more about how it works, but honestly, that just about covers it.

(Disclosure: I’m a moderator on Squidoo’s forum and I do some volunteer testing & such for them. Of course I have a bias. What could possibly be duller than a blog without a bias?)

I can’t figure out What problem Google is solving with this. What problem for customers and users, that is, not for Google itself. Knol isn’t baked yet, so maybe it’s going to get a lot more fabulous. At the moment it looks a little, well, underwhelming.

It’s not going to be easier to use than Squidoo, unless Google has a new technology that detects brain waves and translates them into code (I’m not writing that possibility off). And individual author creation means that it’s not likely to develop the authority (notwithstanding the None of Us Is as Dumb as All of Us factor) of Wikipedia.

So what does it do for us that we can’t get now?
It’s Google, which means they have unlimited resources, brainpower and capital. That puts it in contrast to Squidoo, which has a tiny staff and gets a little frayed around the edges. Once in awhile Squidoo has system outages and their staff tends to say stuff like "we can keep you informed or we can fix the problem, which do you want?"

(I am far from the most hardassed boss in the world, but that particular post would have resulted in a subsequent apology to my customers. Not important, moving on now. Still, if you aren’t Squidoo, don’t do that.)

Squidoo is little. It’s messy. Sometimes things don’t work in IE, or you can’t quite find out how a feature works. It’s really good, but it isn’t perfect.

It’s also got a passionate community of "lensmasters," a great look and feel, and six million unique visitors a month. People create their own Squid graphics. They build Squidoo chat and information sites and training videos. They ponder what they will wear to the first Squidoo conference. They make up silly names for themselves. They proudly identify as Giant Squids or Squidizens or Fresh Squids. Some of them even make folding money from it. (Like making a living on eBay, it takes time and work, but it’s possible.)

People who make Squidoo lenses have a relationship with Squidoo that matters to them. They care about it, not just because it’s a potential source of income.

Know anyone who makes up funny names for how they’re using AdSense? Me neither.

Squidoo is, for lack of a better term, loveable
As my bias and I look at this new Knol creature, I see the potential for something that’s perfect but not very good. I’m sure the software is flawless, or at least that it will become flawless in short order. But looking at the page, I don’t see what will make a Knol loveable.

Since I have no objectivity whatsoever, how about you? I’d love to hear what you think of the two side to side.

Insomnia screen shot of a Knol
Insomnia Squidoo lens created by Seth, repurposing the same Creative Commons content

So it’s scrappy, smart little Squidoo vs. the new Borg, Google having officially taken that title from Microsoft some time this summer. There are a couple of competitors–HubPages comes to mind–but this is the first serious one. Who’s going to win the insanely-easy-to-create focused knowledge Web page war?

Not sure, but it’s bound to be an interesting game to watch.

Related reading: Seth’s classy post

(P.S. The "Knol" name has given some of us some problems. It looks a little too much like LOL, maybe. I think this is a real opportunity to improve Knol’s loveability, though: Knolcats. Remember, you saw it here first.)

Why You Need a Professional Copyeditor

Found in an email from my son’s preschool. Should I be alarmed?

Deadline for re-enrollment is January 14th, after the 14th we open the reaming spot up to Waitlist and the public.

StumbleUpon Friday: December 14, 2007

Is it just me, or the great:crap ratio getting less favorable on Stumble lately?

Here’s a hint if you’re considering advertising on StumbleUpon*. Offer a page that someone might actually linger on for five seconds. I can only attribute the vast and annoying number of boring home pages, particularly for proxy sites, to SU advertising that’s entirely wasted.

Either that, or maybe I gave a thumbs-up to something lame and they’re punishing me. Always possible.

* (In case you’re not familiar, you can advertise a site on StumbleUpon and they’ll deliver your page as if it had been organically Stumbled, for a price per delivery. If someone actually likes it and votes it up, you can get a free ride, with real Stumbles generating traffic beyond the original paid ones. Might be worth doing in some cases, although I think you’re better off building stuff that people will Stumble for real.)

If I Ever Turn into Gene Simmons, Shoot Me

washed-up circus barker

It looks like Chaim Witz, more popularly known as Gene Simmons, will be the keynote speaker at a certain direct marketing conference this year. Good news for me, since there’s a couple thousand bucks I won’t have to spend. Maybe I’ll hold my own mini-conference at home and spring for a set of Seth’s DVDs.

After a day or two of gratitude that I hadn’t prepaid for this thing, it began to occur to me that I could derive a real communication benefit from Simmons.

I’m working on positioning documents for a new product I’m launching early next year, and Gene Simmons is the living embodiment of everything this product is not. If you’re having a hard time coming up a coherent marketing message, one tactic is to think of someone who embodies what you are. Another is to find your own personal Gene Simmons.

First, I’ll define the Simmons brand as I see it. I’m sure this misrepresents the living human being behind his persona. But since he makes his living by turning that intentionally obnoxious persona into a product, I call it fair game.

What is the Gene Simmons brand?

  • He talks more than he listens.
  • Therefore, he is markedly less intelligent than he could be.
  • He treats smart women like bimbos. (This could be expanded to: He trashes people who see the world differently than he does.)
  • Money is more important to him than anything.
  • He considers his customers slack-jawed rubes.

What is the Greater Good Marketing brand?
(That’s the name I’m tossing around for this product. What do you think? An intriguing paradox you want to know more about, or a big pile of overly-good-for-you spinach? I was also thinking Good Karma Marketing, but that might be too crunchy even for me.)

So I’ll take those couple of bullet points and see if they can be turned on their heads in an interesting way.

  • We listen more than we talk.
  • That lets us take the time to understand who you are, which lets us make smart decisions about the right solution for your company.
  • We make a point of learning from every viewpoint, not just the ones we happen to agree with. (OK, my entire post reveals that to be completely untrue. Might want to scrap this one.)
  • Your success is more important to us than anything, including our bottom line.
  • We know that our customers are intelligent, thoughtful people and we promise to treat you accordingly.

This isn’t a finished message by any means, but this ten-minute exercise gives me some interesting riffs to explore.

In general, it’s better to know what you are, not what you aren’t. But sometimes this kind of exercise can shake up your thinking and give you some ideas to build on. You could do this exercise with your least appealing competitor, too. Or Microsoft–everybody hates Microsoft. (Except me, but I’m notoriously weird.) Or the IRS.

Just remember to keep translating it back to benefits. Slagging people we don’t like is fun, but it takes some work to turn it into remarkable communication.

Relationship Marketing Series #2: Don’t Be a Bad Boyfriend


Most businesses spend most of their marketing budget finding new customers. That’s because finding new customers is expensive.

Prospective customers tend to spend a lot of time viewing you with fear and suspicion. They know you’re trying to sell them something, and they don’t trust anything you say. After all, you just might turn out to be Hannibal Lecter.

So you do the work (which fails most of the time) of establishing rapport, developing a low-risk offer, building trust, repeating contact, guiding them through a purchasing funnel and basically coddling the holy hell out of them until they become trusting, happy customers.

All that is fine. It’s good, in fact. Over the long haul, you need to bring in happy new customers to stay healthy.

Here’s the other thing you need to stay healthy . . . and you need it every day.

You need happy existing customers

Your existing customers really want to like you. They’ve spent money on you already, so if they don’t like you, they feel like idiots–and feeling like an idiot is painful.

You’re familiar. The last time they did business with you, you didn’t eat their liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. You represent a low risk, which means if you’re reasonably good, you’re probably good enough for them to use again next time.

So out of the customers who end their relationship with businesses, on average, what’s the reason about 2/3 of them go?

They don’t feel appreciated.

You can’t say ‘I love you’ just once

There are boyfriends out there who think that if they’ve admitted to loving you once, that ought to do it pretty much forever. (If this is you, repent immediately.) Your customer, like the object of your romantic affections, wants to hear it all the time.

The magic words are actually amazingly similar. “We love our customers. Thank you for [describe specific thing you love about them].”

Just like in a romantic relationship, you have to use the words and you have to show you mean it. Send your best customers little gifts, just because you love them. They don’t have to be expensive, but they should be memorable and they should be relevant to your relationship. Be careful about falling for pointless widgets that are mostly remarkable in a “WTF?” way.

Some great gifts include small trial-size versions of your product (this isn’t just for shampoo–put some creativity into this one), buy one/get one offers just for longtime customers, customer appreciation sales that are closed to the general public. You get the idea.

Don’t only give a present when you want some lovin’. Referral gifts or premiums with big orders are great, but you also want to give a little gift sometimes just to say “thanks for being with me, I love you.” Give a gift without asking for anything in return.

(How often? Slightly more often than you think is necessary.)

Don’t treat the waitress better than you treat your date

I have a friend who has his milk delivered by a dairy. The milk is really good–it’s much fresher than you can get at the supermarket, and the price is similar. On the other hand, it’s a slight extra hassle–writing another check every month, remembering to bring in the milk on delivery days, etc.

He went on vacation recently and his delivery didn’t start up again when he had expected it to.

He called the nice customer service lady. She gave him a probably overly long explanation (excuse) about why it hadn’t worked the way he thought it should. That was ok.

He asked if she would be able to send him some milk in the next day or two.

“Sorry, we aren’t set up to do that.”

“OK, but I see your sales van here twice a week with free milk samples for people who haven’t signed up yet–could he just bring a half gallon by?”

“Oh, no sir. That milk is just for new customers. We can’t let him deliver milk to existing customers, it’s against the rules.”

My friend dumped the dairy.

Never treat strangers better than the nice, loyal folks who fund your payroll month in and month out. (And if you are dumb enough to do that, don’t get caught.) Understand that it costs you five or ten or twenty times more to find a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

If for some strange reason you have to piss off a prospect to take care of a customer, that’s the smart thing to do every time. (And if you tell your prospect why you’re doing it, she’ll remember the kind of company you are.)

Understand, too, that crazy-in-love customers will jump at the chance to act as your unpaid sales force. They’ll bring new customers to your door for a tiny fraction of what it would cost a formal marketing campaign to entice a stranger.

And that referral business tends to be an overall far more pleasant experience for you and your employees. Referred customers are less sensitive to price. They whine less. They’re less likely to ask you to jump through hoops to prove yourself. They’re less high-maintenance, in other words. More June Carter Cash, less Alanis Morissette.

(This is getting a little too far into Big Love territory, sorry about that.)

The rules are easy to learn and easy to forget. You won’t rememember it unless you make a point of it. So sit down with your calendar and work out when you’re going to give your customers a great big sloppy, sincere “I love you.” Don’t just calendar one occasion–calendar a series to cover all of 2008.

It’s either that or risk spending mega marketing dollars on the equivalent of dial-a-date. Up to you.

The Relationship Marketing Series