The Most Satisfying Marketing Position

permission marketing is like dating

In a comment conversation on Caroline Middlebrook’s blog, I remembered a great riff from Permission Marketing.

Godin talks about two ways to get married.

Traditional or “interruption” marketing has you conducting a bunch of demographic analysis to find the perfect singles bar. Then you buy a really flashy suit and shoes, and spend an evening marching up to every single person in the bar asking them to marry you.

“If the Interruption Marketer comes up empty-handed after spending the entire evening proposing, it is obvious that the blame should be placed on the suit and the shoes. The tailor is fired. The strategy expert who picked the bar is fired. And the Interruption Marketer tries again at a different singles bar.

“. . . The other way to get married is a lot more fun, a lot more rational, and a lot more successful. It’s called dating.”

The kind of marketing I talk about in this blog and on my newsletter, whether I call it relationship marketing or permission marketing or one of about 20 other names, is this kind of “dating” marketing. It’s about conversation and participation and relationship.

Even better, you can do it with as many people as you like and no one gets mad at you.

How to get the first date

If you’re getting a project (a business, a new product, whatever) off the ground, the last thing you can afford to do is sink most of your marketing budget into one ad, one mailing, one really gigantic sign for your storefront, or even one Web site. Especially now, when most advertising just fades into white noise. There’s too much of it and everyone has built amazing anti-advertising walls up to keep the noise from making us crazy.

Instead, put your time and resources into attracting potential customers into going on a date with you. Just a friendly, low-key, low-pressure date. Think coffee, not a weekend in Vegas.

The clichéd way to do this is to find or make something valuable that you can give away. Swap it for an email address and permission to send stuff. This is a cliché because it works very well, so don’t be shy about it.

Next steps

When you’re building that relationship, give about ten times as much as you ask for. Don’t deluge people with a firehose of email. Don’t pester them with are you ready to buy yet? messages. At every moment, ask yourself if your actions are supporting your relationships or harming them.

When you do present something to sell, offer that in the spirit of giving too. If your product doesn’t solve important problems for your customers, you need a new product.

If you want a refresher on the whole permission marketing thing, it so happens that Seth just wrote one. (I didn’t find it until after I started this post, actually. Spooky.) Better yet, read the book. Mark all the pages up and cram it full of post-its, like I have.

Most business books are 110 pages of fluff packed around one or two good ideas. Permission Marketing is something more interesting than that. It’s a manifesto for a completely different way for customers and businesses to relate to one another. It’s a call for something that’s cheaper, better and more fun than Interruption Marketing.

“If it sounds like you need humility and patience to do permission marketing, you’re right. That’s why so few companies do it properly. The best shortcut, in this case, is no shortcut at all.”

Related reading:

Relationship Marketing Series #4: Show Up

80% of life is showing upMy much-loved friend Jon once told me he lives by three rules: Show Up, Pay Attention, Don’t Lie. He says that even when things get pretty hairy, those three are simple enough to remember. Over the years, I’ve found them a handy combination, and they actually do cover about 98% of what you have to deal with.

They work just as well in the work world or the blogosphere as they do in your personal life. And breaking them will mess things up for you in those worlds as surely as they will at home. Today I’m going to spend a little time on the first of that trilogy, Showing Up.

80% of success is showing up

That’s a Woody Allen quote. His personal life notwithstanding (what do I know, I don’t know the guy), you’ve got to give him the showing up part.

Year in and year out he makes movies. Some of them are amazing and some of them stink. I love Sweet and Lowdown and hate Mighty Aphrodite. You may feel just the opposite. Doesn’t matter.

Woody Allen keeps showing up, decade after decade. Sometimes he comes up with works of genius that make the rest of it worthwhile. His movies are cheap to make, so they don’t lose money even if they mostly bomb. (This last point is a very useful lesson for marketers.)

He doesn’t know where his own creative imagination and the talents of his people will take him, and it’s not his business to know that before he gets there. He keeps showing up to find out.

Sometimes you create an instant relationship with a customer–they find you right away and they’re a raving fan forever. Usually, though, it takes a lot of time. You have to keep showing up. You keep sending great content in your newsletters and email, you keep making strong offers, you keep your unique value proposition in front of them. Trust takes a long time to build and an instant to destroy. So put the time in.

(Having said all that, there’s a fine line between sticking a relationship out and sticking with something that doesn’t work. Spend some quality time figuring out your resources and what you think it’s going to take. Work out how long you’ll keep showing up before you call it a failed experiment. Then show up every single day until your deadline. Sometimes great things happen at the last minute.)

Show up where your customers hang out

While you’re doing all this showing up, you might want to give some thought to where you’re going to do that. A great place to show up is where your customers hang out.

Online forums, charity marathons, blogs, Facebook, coffee shops, subway stations, shopping malls, community gardens, Squidoo, MySpace, Hub, Gather, The Well. Every crowd has its favorite hangouts. The very best thing you can do, when you find the hangout, is to figure out how to create or participate in a conversation there. Become part of the community. Interact. Ask questions.

Don’t “market” or “message” or “pitch,” and for god’s sake don’t pontificate. Just show up, be trustworthy and make yourself useful.

Show up even when it’s hard

Yes, sometimes the conversation gets ugly. Yes, sometimes your customers throw bottles at you when you were just trying to do something nice. Yes, you will definitely lose control of your message. Yes, you’ll get nasty feedback. Yes, you’ll look like an ass sometimes. Yes, at least one person will call you an idiot. Yes, you’ll screw up. Yes, conversation is risk.

Retreating from the conversation when it gets scary is an excellent recipe for failure. Your tormenters will call you a coward and they’ll be right.

Stick it out. Keep showing up. Dodge the bottles, maybe even throw a couple back if you have to, but don’t run away. In social media (or anywhere), your presence will speak volumes.

The measure of any relationship is whether you keep showing up when things get really hard. When you do, your actions speak louder than any words you could come up with.

More Woody Allen quotes

Courtesy of IMDB.

I was thrown out of NYU for cheating on my Metaphysics final. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.

For me, being famous didn’t help me that much. It helped a little. Warren Beatty once said to me many years ago, being a star is like being in a whorehouse with a credit card, and I never found that. For me, it was like being in a whorehouse with a credit card that had expired.

Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.

To you, I’m an atheist; to God, I’m the Loyal Opposition.

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.

(and my personal favorite): I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.

The Relationship Marketing Series

Thriving in the Age of Conversation

It’s official: we’ve passed through the Information Age. Some of us made it, some of us didn’t. Ready or not, the new age is here: the Age of Conversation.

Conversation is the new secret sauce. (It actually has been the secret sauce for a long time, but now we get nifty new tools to engage in more of it, and to hold conversations with a community that includes the entire world.) It’s what creates traffic, connections, recurring visits, referrals, word of mouth. A high-quality conversation makes you a high-quality provider.

"Audience" in the sense of a passive group of people who absorb your message is disappearing. Community is taking its place. And community calls for a whole new set of skills and ways of looking at the world.

To that end, I’m going to be contributing a chapter to a new book on just that theme: The New Age of Conversation. If you click through, be sure and vote on which theme you think the new book should cover. (You don’t have to be a potential author to vote.)

I’ve also added a lot of stuff to my resume lens on Squidoo, morphing it into a discussion of why you need new marketing, what all this social media junk is good for, and how it applies to you if you don’t happen to have just sold your company to Google for $15 billion.

(And if you know of a company that wants a kickass social media marketer, the lens still works just fine as my resume, feel free to pass it along!)

Related reading:

Linky Wednesday: Resources for January 23, 2008

Here are some smart and useful posts I’ve found this week that I think you guys would enjoy. Drop a comment and let me know, should I do more link posts? I’ve avoided them in the past, but I’m coming to think that they can be pretty useful in themselves.

Chris Brogan’s Social Media Tool Kit. Ever wonder what tools to use to actually do all the social media stuff? What readers, what blog platform, etc.? This is a great basic tool kit that describes what the different tools do and gives you a good option (or two) for each function.

Confidence: The Networking Strategy that Works Every Time. A nice and genuinely useful post about how to muster up the courage to make a connection with someone.

Savile Row, Three Years On. If you want to know how new social media can combine beautifully with small and emphatically old school business, read this post carefully. This is the flip side of the Meatball Sundae–if you combine the pieces thoughtfully and retain some agility, old and new can complement each other beautifully.

AdAge’s Power 150. If you want to make a study of professional marketing, advertising and PR, these are the 150 most important blogs to be reading. Time to make friends with your RSS reader.

Why People Subscribe to a Blog. The always smart Dosh Dosh sums it up this way: "Readers subscribe to blogs when they provide an informational or entertainment value so great that it would be a loss to not subscribe to it." Maki then goes on to unpack how he got to 10,000 subscribers (hint: it was all about beneficial content). If blogging or social media are part of your communication strategy, Dosh Dosh is always worth reading.

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”

Today is the official U.S. celebration of Martin Luther King day. Every child in the States older than four can hear Dr. King’s "I have a dream" speech ring in their ears when his name comes up, so this might be a good day to look at Dr. King’s message–not only its content, which virtually every civilized person today agrees with, but how it was delivered.

"I have a dream" was a tipping point. King and thousands of others in the civil rights movement had been working tirelessly for years to fight for a federal civil rights act, and for legal equality and social dignity for all people, without regard to the color of their skin. But as a Kennedy administration official mentioned in a radio interview today, this August, 1963 speech was the moment when Martin Luther King took his place not as a black leader but as a world leader.

It’s very hard to remember now that they didn’t know they were going to win. For years, civil rights and the defeat of Jim Crow looked like impossible dreams. To say that changing entrenched thinking, replacing an ugly false story with the true one, was an uphill battle is like saying that Everest is a damn steep hill.

Breaking down the dream
"I have a dream" is the work of one of the most powerful and effective communicators of his generation. Read the speech yourself and see if it doesn’t give you chills. (Copyblogger posted a long exerpt today without comment, a classy move that I should have had the sense to emulate.)

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

The speech is, of course, the work of a dedicated, talented and inspired writer, and there’s no simple technique that can be copied. But for a communicator, it’s still worth studying. As a writer, you can’t replicate the beautiful cadence (although you can try to be aware of the rhythms of your own writing, and make them more lovely), but there are things that you can learn from.

The word that makes that sentence remarkable is probably "red." That concrete, simple descriptor puts the scene in the mind of the audience. Those who have been to Georgia will say, "yes, the hills are red." The picture becomes real. And even for people from Singapore or Paris or Australia who have never been to Georgia, there is a second echo–the sense of a red, bloody battleground today contrasted with the simple, peaceful table of brotherhood tomorrow.

There is a nice sense, too, of ordinariness about the "table of brotherhood." Most of us sit down every day at tables with intimates and friends. It is not extraordinary. We give little thought to the grandparents or great-grandparents of who sits at that table. This simple sentence takes something that was at the time difficult to picture and makes it easy, normal and natural.

A few sentences later, Dr. King says:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. . . . one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

After he has introduced this quiet, simple idea to you–black and white sitting down in brotherhood–he raises the stakes by bringing children into the equation. The most rigid stereotypes usually soften a little when we think about small children. However tightly we define our own tribe, however fiercely we hate the other side, there’s usually a tiny bit of room in our thinking to adopt a child from the other. Dr. King sends his own small children as emissaries to the hearts of his audience.

Having built this strong foundation on the personal, King takes the argument to the divine:

. . . one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

Just a few moments later the speech climbs to its climax, one of the best uses of repetition in the history of public discourse, the "freedom ring" sequence.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

If this doesn’t make all the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you might be dead. Supported by Dr. King’s tremendous speaking voice, the repetition and clarity of this message transported the audience of 250,000–including the presidential administration–to readiness for the final, triumphant conclusion:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

The dream today
We seem very far from Dr. King’s dream today, but that is because we forget how impossible that dream looked when he spoke those words. Even Martin Luther King, with his vast optimism and clarity of purpose, could not have imagined how quickly we would make important strides.

Like the old carpenter’s joke about building a house, the first 90% takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time. Today is a good day to celebrate how far we have come, and to give some serious reflection to how we can complete the work. We all know this is not just an American problem or an American dream. You can work for justice from anywhere.

And pencil in some time tomorrow to think about your own dream. Maybe you’re ignited by a great and noble dream like Dr. King’s, or maybe yours is a little smaller. Either way is ok. Think about what you can create to share that dream, to make it real for someone else, to give the dream a life of its own that can survive you.

If you happen to use his construction of comfortable abstraction to personalization to a stirring global vision, you’ll be honoring his memory in a small way. Not a bad thing at all.

Recommended reading

StumbleUpon Friday: January 18, 2008

A little box of StumbleUpon treats for you.

Why Gene Simmons Got Fired

Gene Simmons got fired Gene Simmons got fired from The Apprentice tonight. (Ah, will I ever get tired of seeing those lovely words?) In addition to the deep personal satisfaction it gives me to watch Gene Simmons get fired, there are some things to learn.

Gene Simmons Got Fired Because He Didn’t Know His Customer
(My sincere apologies to those who don’t watch the show, I know there is nothing more tedious than listening to someone talking about some asinine TV program you don’t watch. I solemnly promise that television references will remain very, very rare on this blog.)

Winning and losing on The Apprentice always boils down to three things, either singly or in combination. To win, you have to 1) know what your real product is, 2) know who your real customer is, and 3) not overcomplicate your story.

The customer tonight was Kodak’s executive team. They were the ones who gave the thumbs up or thumbs down, so that’s who the winning team needed to listen to.

But since Kodak is not run by dummies, the real customer is a consumer who gets pissed off every time he calculates how much a gallon of printer ink would cost.

I was not at all surprised that Simmons considered himself too important to go to the client meeting and find out what they needed. I was a little surprised that Simmons, who is unquestionably an effective marketer, would make the rookie error of falling in love with a bland, meaningless tag line ("It’s a Kodak World. Welcome.") instead of a message that conveyed a tangible benefit to the consumer (our ink is half the price).

If you don’t get into the head of your customer, you lose
Simmons had a big win in the season’s first episode, where the teams were vying to sell hot dogs for charity.

You won’t raise much selling hot dogs for anything like what they’re worth. Simmons uncovered the real product underneath the distraction, and if the editing can be trusted, he did it admirably quickly.

The real product in that competition was feeling like a bigshot. (The product was not celebrity, and celebrity in itself isn’t a product. Yes, many people like to identify with celebrities or have their photo taken with one, but that’s because they want to feel like bigshots.)

Simmons understood this instantly and he took it to a higher level. He knew exactly what to say to the consumers of that product. And he knew where to find his customers–people who would spend, say, $50,000 on a hot dog.

(The fact that the hot dog buyers didn’t know which charity the money would go to is telling. It’s not about the charity, it’s about the feeling of glorious excess in your bigshotedness.)

Where to find your customers and what to say once you find them are the name of the game, no matter what (tangible or otherwise) you’re selling. And Simmons nailed it for that particular customer.

Did I mention Gene Simmons got fired?
I know it’s wrong of me to gloat, but I just can’t help myself.

While you may not take the personal glee that I do, you can still take something good out of the outcome. Simmons has a lot of marketing expertise. He runs a large, complex and highly profitable brand. (Apparently all by himself, since he doesn’t seem to be able to hear.) He’s energetic and driven. And he is certainly smart and well-connected.

But he didn’t speak to the heart of the customer, in the language of the customer about what matters to the customer. The team with crappy signs printed by Kinko’s did, and they handed his ass to him.

There, doesn’t that feel nice?

(P.S., one more lesson from last night. Never, ever go without a remote backup of your work. Get a cheap/free service like Backpack, or just email files to your gmail account, but back up your hard work like you expect the building to burst into flames at any moment. Sometimes it does.)

Related reading:

If I Ever Turn into Gene Simmons, Shoot Me

Is Your Tactic Remarkable, or Just a Gimmick?

identical easter eggsPutting a dollar bill in your direct mail advertising was a great gimmick when people started doing it. There’s a lot of energy in physical money, and for awhile it was a terrific way to attract attention. Some marketers even used $20 bills for certain highly targeted campaigns. One high roller is reputed to have used $100 bills, sent via FedEx, in a mailing to CEOs.

$100 bills probably still work. (And if you have the perfect message for the perfect list, it might be worth it.) But at this point, $1 bills tell your prospects "this is junk mail." They pry the bill loose and the rest of your piece goes into the recycling bin. $1 isn’t enough to make a piece of mail remarkable any more. On to the next gimmick.

Are gimmicks intrinsically wrong? I don’t think they are. Gimmicks are used to get our attention, and in the world of information superclutter, a good gimmick is not to be despised.

Seth Godin has a nice quick post about the difference between something remarkable and something that’s just a gimmick. Godin says that "if a product or service adds value for the consumer, it’s not a gimmick," although I might have edited that to say "it’s not only a gimmick."

Cool stuff vs. cheap tricks
I was at a copywriting workshop last night (I realize I have a weird idea of fun) and the presenter was going through a stack of large-format postcards he’s received from real estate agents. I don’t know who the vendor is who provided them, but they all looked pretty well exactly the same. Front of the card, large format stock image with some kind of an attention-grabbing point. Back of card, photo of agent with contact info and maybe a tag line.

The presenter ran through the stack, evaluating whether the front was interesting enough to cause you to turn the card over, and then whether there was anything on the back that conveyed benefits to the reader. Fair enough.

But the larger point is, when you see one or two of the same postcard every day, it turns into wallpaper pretty quickly. It barely matters how good the gimmick is on the front of the card. If you use the identical tactic everyone else does (because the vendor did a marathon telemarketing campaign to you and your competitors last month, or bought your name on a list with 50,000 other people in your line of work), there’s no talk value.

A purple cow isn’t remarkable if it’s in a purple herd
If marketing sin #1 is "don’t be boring" (I’d probably put it at #2 or #3, but it’s right up there), then a boring gimmick must be the greatest sin of all. Cheap tricks need to be interesting or they’re just cheap.

A remarkable gimmick, if there can be such a thing, is relevant, useful, and interesting. If you’re spending dollars on materials that don’t live up to that standard, Quit.

Ready to Start a Blog? Check out this Handy Resource

I downloaded this free ebook by Caroline Middlebrook, and it’s a wonderfully helpful resource if you want to create a blog. It walks you through creating a WordPress blog on your own hosted server (which I would have done myself if I had known it was this cheap and easy). You don’t need to have an actual physical machine, or a geeky nephew who understands computers, or really anything at all other than the $7 a month for the service she recommends.

The ebook is aimed at creating static sites for niche affiliate marketing, but it will work just fine for a blog, or for a simple informational site for your business or project. If you want the absolute quickest and easiest way to create a new blog or simple Web site (other than Squidoo, which is even easier but doesn’t have as much flexibility), this is a great way to go.

Thanks to Caroline for putting such a useful resource together. She doesn’t even ask for your email in exchange. (Which she should, but that’s another story.)

New Media Workshop: What Do You Do When the Conversation Gets Ugly?

angry crocodile

There’s a lot of inspiring rhetoric out there about “the conversation” that new media allows. Your customers will be able to extoll your purple cow to one another and make you disgustingly rich. The media will find you and enter into deep, soul searching conversation about your product or project. Other bloggers will link to you and bring you fame and fortune.

You don’t hear as much talk about what happens when some gasbag comes into your forum and starts throwing around a lot of unfair or just plain rude posts, or whether you should respond when a top Stumbler calls you something unrepeatable. So let’s talk about that. Here are some survival tips for when the conversation in a forum, blog or other social network takes an unpleasant turn.

Stay dispassionate

The first one to get angry loses. Reason and self-control are essential to your social capital in new media–don’t squander them. You may be hitting the ceiling at unfair, inaccurate or just nasty posts, but you won’t be able to communicate your point effectively if you’re sputtering with anger.

Do anything you need to do to get control of your emotions, and realize that at least some of the emotional heat is being created right there in your own head. (You know you’re in trouble when you find yourself in a lengthy imaginary argument with some online jerk, with you playing both roles. Not that I have ever done that.)

Never respond to a social media conversation when you’re out of control emotionally. One of the better ways to regain control is to . . .

Get up and take a walk

This is not hypothetical advice. Physically get up, take your body away from the keyboard, and go outside where you can experience people and dogs and sky and buildings. You need perspective, and a little deep breathing wouldn’t kill you either.

If you’ve taken a walk, done some deep breathing and practiced a couple of scathing retorts on your cat, and you find that you need to post a timely response but you’re still angry, acknowledge it. Something like “Normally I have a rule about not posting when I’m this angry, but I feel like I need to set the record straight on a couple of things.”

State your position

There’s a balance between not feeding the troll and letting the troll walk all over you. Don’t be afraid to state your position.

Don’t retreat behind corporate language

If you’re defending an organization, especially if you have a professional communications background, the temptation is to come back with a crafted message. Be extremely careful. A precise response is good, but over-crafted, meaningless double-speak is worse than no response at all (and no response at all can be pretty bad). Replies have to be conversational, human and take a clear point of view. If you wouldn’t say it to your most cynical relative (maybe the father-in-law who wonders audibly when you’ll finally find a real job), don’t say it online.

Along those lines, understand that the social media crowd is usually much less amenable to changing the subject than a reporter would be (especially a broadcast reporter). You need to stay reasonably relevant to the discussion at hand, not abrubtly shift over to what you’d rather be talking about. (Adroit shifting, on the other hand, is a nice trick when you can pull it off.)

Be succinct

A social media spat isn’t the place to lay out mountains of evidence on your behalf. Point to your supporting evidence elsewhere on the Web, or create a special report if you have to. Keep your actual posts pithy.

Don’t have two conversations

If you respond one way in public and another in email, your email will get published, often with a point-by-point commentary on how it differs from your public comments. I’ve seen this happen more than once, and it is not pretty. Consider every email or private message you send as part of your public defense, and follow the same rules in private conversations that you do in public ones.

Expect some four-letter language

The Web 2.0 community is just plain potty-mouthed compared with, say, corporate or nonprofit norms. Some of the names thrown at Caroline Middlebrook for having the audacity to thank Stumblers would curl your hair. If profanity bugs you and you want to make use of social media, there’s really no cure except to get over it. Letting yourself overreact because of a person’s choice of a four-letter word will make you nuts.

It’s important to understand that using rough language doesn’t necessarily imply stronger feeling with this crowd. Pretend you’re in the Merchant Marine, or conversing with someone with Tourette’s. Accept that profanity is accepted in this subculture and move on.

This, too shall pass

Even the most colossal flame wars do pass eventually. Present yourself as a level-headed, reasonable and rational person, and that will be what participants remember.

In the long run, you’ll find that smart, reasonable people are more remarkable than the gasbags who verbally break wind all over the public conversation.

Related reading

  • Transparency and the Meatball Sundae