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Post #3 from Seth Godin’s blog this week.

No, I am not on Seth’s payroll. Stop asking me.

Here it goes:

The first rule of b2b selling:

If it gets to the RFP stage, you lost.

Great business to business marketers (and profitable ones) make the sale long before that happens.

The RFP is an organizational punt, it’s a way of saying, “it’s all a commodity, we can’t decide, cheap guy wins.”

The cheap guy, of course, never wins.

Yes, yes, and yes. If you don’t already know this, learn it now and remember it always.

And by the way, the best agencies/contractors/consultants/whatever will ALWAYS turn down RFPs. Here’s why: If we have to audition for you, a) you don’t know what you want, b) you don’t care enough about it to know who the best man/woman for the job is, and c) a and b together = you wasting our time. End of story.

Seth scores again.

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So… in a perfect world, I would occasionally bring you a bit of insight or two from Seth Godin’s blog every few months or so, but the world is far from perfect. Hence, here we are: Two pieces from Seth’s blog in as many days. Sue me for wanting to share. Here it is:

Just got some work back from a new copyeditor hired by my publisher. She did a flawless job. She also wrecked my work. Totally wrecked it.

By sanding off every edge, removing every idiom, making each and every fact literally correct, she made it boring and dry and mechanical.

If they have licenses for copyeditors, she should have hers revoked.

I need to be really clear. She’s not at fault. She did exactly what she was supposed to do. The fault lies in the job description, not the job. If the job description of your lawyer or boss or editor or client is to make sure everything is pure and perfect and proven and beyond reproach, they are making things worse, not better. (Unless you’re in the vaccine business).

Almost everything you do has some sort of copyediting filter. It might be the legal eagle or the graphic supervisor or the customer service police. They’re excellent at making round things fit perfectly through round holes.

Boring and ignored is fine with them, because no one complains.

Fortunately, copy editors have a remedy. It’s a word called STET. Which means, “leave it alone, it was fine.” Time to teach that to your editors, wherever they may be. Maybe there should be a t-shirt.

If all you want is safe, have baby food for dinner. Just leave me out of it.

Seen it happen. I’ve never had to punch anyone in the eyeball for sanding off any of my work’s edges, but I’ve spent many a sleepless night re-writing pieces or reworking images or layouts that a subordinate or contractor completely stripped of any semblance of an edge… or style… or voice. It always sucks. And you always end up feeling sorry for the poor kid who screwed the pooch, because ultimately, maybe it wasn’t entirely their fault. (How the hell are they supposed to know how to write like me or edit images the way I envisioned it when I shot them?) Design is a very personal thing. Designers are usually control freaks for a reason.

And workaholics.

And compulsive perfectionists.

I feel your pain, Seth.

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John Moore – whom I ran into yesterday – posted these very cool little Seth Godin vignettes on his blog. At first glance, I thought “Cool! This is a really sweet idea.” I set out to check each one out… and… quickly realized that although the action figure and quote montage thing was indeed very nifty, the selection of Seth quotes was… well, surprisingly bad.

At first glance,it looks and sounds great… and it comes from Seth, so you put on your Seth filter and expect it all to be very wise and true and insightful… but not this time.

Frankly, having been a big fan of Seth’s work over the last decade, going back to his days penning killer editorials for Fast Company, this was a huge surprise.

Feeling like maybe I had stepped into some weird Twilight Zone episode where everything is backwards, or stepped through an alternate opposite dimension like in that Star Trek Episode where Spock sported a goatee and Captain Kirk was shagging all the female members of his crew, I quickly turned on the TV and flipped to Fox News to see if their version of the news made sense. (A true litmus test for alternate realities if you ask me).

Alternatively, if you happen to have more “conservative” propensities, getting your hands on a copy of “It Takes a Village” would certainly do the trick.

Anyway. Long story short: The Fox Box turned me off in about two minutes flat. Verdict: I hadn’t stepped into an alternate universe. Ergo: Seth Godin had indeed lost his friggin’ mind.

Let me illustrate:

Wrong. Those of us who live in the real world still do come in the front door quite a bit. And even if the initial contact with a website is not with the home page, the next click or two will invariably take us there. So will most of our return visits. Perhaps Seth meant to say something else, but being that he makes a living writing articles and books and whatnot, that is pretty unlikely.

Wrong again. Old Marketing is simply a methodology, and as such has nothing to do with the quality of the products it aims to serve. Old Marketing is Old Marketing whether the product is great, average or plain lousy. The same is true of New Marketing.

True. But I’m curious about whether we’re talking about New Marketing or The New Marketing. I shouldn’t make fun. Seth just needs a better editor, that’s all.

Wrong. It demands better marketing as well. Hence the term “marketing.”

Wrong. I see plenty of brand new companies with crappy product, crappy customer experiences, crappy organizations and crappy marketing. Likewise, I see plenty of established companies turn their troubles around by adopting what Seth would call “New Marketing.” New Marketing is not the domain of fresh new entrepreneurs at all. I find that kind of thinking pretty disappointing, actually.

This is the kind of generalization that I would never have expected from “Papa Seth.”

Well… the end of the second part is true… It must be embedded into the experience of the product, but there are plenty of great “big” ideas everywhere, including the world of Advertising. And yes, advertising ideas sometimes travel VERY well.

The problem with advertising is that the US had never been all that great at it anyway. Yeah, sometimes you get a good one, but all in all, it’s a lot of noise aimed at the “good enough” middle of the bell curve. (We’ll come back to that in a bit.) Back to the point: Big ideas can indeed be advertising-based.

Let me add that if – as Bruce Mau suggested – “creativity is not device dependent,” neither is it industry-related. Seth’s anti advertising religion is starting to cloud his logic.

You wish!

In a perfect world of mavens and super cool intellectuals with unlimited greenbacks, maybe. But out here in the real world, market share matters. Volume matters. Why? Because massive amounts of revenue buy business, mind share, government regulation, premium shelf space and whatever else is necessary to either maintain that market share or increase it.

Simple illustration: I don’t care how great your burger is and how cool the setting of your new cool fast food restaurant, you aren’t going to displace McDonald’s.

Who is going to defeat companies in markets defined by volume and market share, Seth?

What little startup will defeat Verizon, at&t, Microsoft, Ford, HP, Gilette, Miracle Whip, Coca Cola, or Nike?

It’s a nice thought that may be true for some smallish businesses, but deeply flawed as a generalization. As much as I hate to admit it, the old model is very much alive, and no amount of daydreaming or ideation will change that.

I am not even going to touch that one. It’s… ugh. Never mind.

Earth to Seth! Earth to Seth! Come back!

iPod is neither remarkably weird, nor remarkably well priced. The same can be said of just about anything made by Starbucks, Nike, HP, BMW, VW, Ford, Chevy, McDonald’s, KFC, Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, RayBan, Microsoft, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Verizon, cingular, HBO, Trek, Pepsi, CNN.com, Colgate, Speed Stick, Whole Foods, Levis, Fruit of the Loom, Exxon, etc. I don’t think I need to go on, but I can if you want me to. For hours. Days, even.

And advertising still matters. A lot.

You are so wrong it hurts.

You say everyone is a critic.
And you want to satisfy the critics.
Which means you want to satisfy everyone.
Yet… you can’t satisfy everyone. Surely, you realize that.

So I have to ask:

1. What the hell are you babbling about?
2. How does pleasing everyone play into the whole “marketshare is irrelevant” thing?

Even if I agree with you on this point, how is it different from what every company has been trying to accomplish since the dawn of enterprise?

Dude. You’re scaring me.

What are you smoking, man? Breadth and depth are not mutually exclusive.

Until recently, marketing was all about breadth because the tools weren’t there to reach people individually, based on specific criteria. Now that these tools are getting more accessible, effective and affordable, companies will be able to combine breadth AND depth to drive sales, product adoption, mindshare, or whatever they want.

To say that mass isn’t important is to say that generating revenue – and growth – are not important.

I’m worried about you, Seth. Seriously.

Kinduv. I’ll give you that one. I could argue it, but I don’t feel like splitting hairs right now. I’m getting a headache trying to make sense of your ramblings.


Obviously, you have never set foot in a K-Mart or a WalMart. Or a restaurant chain. Or pumped gas into your car. Or walked down the street.

Seth, people buy average crap every day, seemingly by the pound. They can’t get enough of average, in fact.

Average food, average cars, average clothes, average haircuts, average music, tickets to average movies, hours of couch time watching average TV shows… Our entire culture is based on the premise that the fat middle of the bell curve is where the lion’s share of the revenue (and value) is. The point here Seth, is that the majority of people actually do go for what’s “good enough.”

The sweet spot for most businesses, is right there between “not good enough” and “very good.”

And um… “people avoid the deceitful?” Really? Tell that to Exxon, McDonald’s and the current administration, for starters. People don’t give a crap about the deceitful. They’re jaded. As if integrity was even a blip on the radar anymore.

We’re kind of into denial, Seth… in case you hadn’t noticed. Check out the stats on how much money is spent each year in the US alone on weight loss products. Deceit obviously sells just as well as anything else.

The very fact that over 93% of Americans eat red meat is proof enough that people don’t avoid the deceitful at all. Come on, man. What country do you live in? Our entire way of life is firmly anchored in denial. Deceit doesn’t even enter the picture.

I don’t mean to be critical, but I have to call bullshit when I see it. (Even if John did a kickass job for you on the improvised presentation.)

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Seth. Everyone goes a little crazy sometimes… but… wooh. You don’t do anything half-assed, do you.

I think I’m going to go drown my sorrows in Kambucha now.

Or better yet, go watch some “good enough” TV.

It’s a world gone mad I tell ya.

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Again from Seth Godin, here’s a great little post on Marketing. (It’s good to hear it from the horse’s mouth:)

Very rarely do we come to meetings and say, “well, here’s our cool new PBX for Fortune 1000 companies. It’s exactly the same as the last model, except the phones are designed by frog design so they’re cooler and more approachable and people are more likely to invest a few minutes in learning how to use them, so customer satisfaction will go up and we’ll sell more, even though it’s precisely the same technology we were selling yesterday.”

Very rarely do vodka marketers tell the truth and say, “here’s our new vodka, which we buy in bulk from the same distillery that produces vodka for $8 a bottle. Ours is going to cost $35 a bottle and come in a really, really nice bottle and our ads will persuade laddies that this will help them in the dating department… nudge, nudge, know what I mean, nudge, nudge…”

It would be surprising to meet a monk or a talmudic scholar or a minister who would say, “yes, we burn the incense or turn down the lights or ring these bells or light these candles as a way of creating a room where people are more likely to believe in their prayers,” but of course that’s exactly what they’re doing. (and you know what? there’s nothing wrong with that.)

It’s easier to get people to come to a meeting about clock speed and warranty failure analysis than it is to have a session about storytelling.

We don’t like to admit that we tell stories, that we’re in the placebo business. Instead, we tell ourselves about features and benefits as a way to rationalize our desire to to help our customers by allowing them to lie to themselves.

The design of your blog or your package or your outfit is nothing but an affect designed to create the placebo effect. The sound Dasani water makes when you open the bottle is more of the same. It’s all storytelling. It’s all lies.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, your marketplace insists on it.

To find out how that post got started, click here.

My point for the last decade or so has been this: Marketing isn’t all about the “message”. Brands aren’t about fresh coats of paint and cool logos and expensive advertising. No matter how many time brand shops will tell you otherwise, brands aren’t about creative or media buying – which is why ad agencies are the last place any business should look for advice when trying to ‘develop’ a brand.

Bleh.

People, listen to me: Design a better PBX. Develop a tastier vodka. Don’t just tell stories. Design products, services and experiences for your users that will make them talk about you.That’s how you build strong brands. That’s the foundation upon which you build your marketing and branding practices.

As a marketer, if you are only in the business of telling stories, you are in the business of charging a pile of money to deliver a whole lot of hot air. Regardless of how many awards you win for your brilliant work, you aren’t contributing much to your clients’ brands.

Food for thought.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 😉

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A little over a year ago Ernie Mosteller wrote this, over on Tangelo Ideas‘ blog. (I never grow tired of Purple Cow thinking.) Here’s the skinny:

Family resemblances are a good thing. For families. But for agencies, it can get you into trouble. When the stuff you create for your boat manufacturer client starts to look or sound or feel just like the stuff you’re making for that software startup, oh, and the athletic-shoe retailer, and maybe the fast-food restaurant, too; you have to ask: Are you doing what speaks best to the audience? What’s best for the client? Or are you doing what you personally think is cool? Worse yet, are you doing what the competition is doing, too?”


Absolutely.

I was flipping through some old issues of Fast Company this morning, when I found this very cool little article by Christine Canabou entitled Fast Ideas For Slow Times (May 2003). In it, Christine makes the argument for the fact that offering something different/unique is now a crucial part of any company’s success.

Creativity is no longer exclusive to the ad agency world. Likewise, innovation is no longer exclusive to the design world. In order for businesses to thrive, creativity has to become part of their product operational DNA. In order for agencies to keep doing exceptional work for an ever-growing list of quality clients, they have to breed curiosity, exploration and innovation into their DNA.

It isn’t change. It’s evolution.

Here’s the thing: If you keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing, nothing new is going to happen to you. Your sales aren’t suddenly going to double. Your market share isn’t going to enjoy a sudden increase. Nobody is going to really notice you. If you’ve been growing at 6% per year for the past ten years, it’s probably safe to say that you’ll keep seeing 6% growth for a while longer.

A little while.

As Christine puts it: “Do nothing new, and you won’t make a mistake. But do nothing new for too long, and you risk making the biggest mistake of all.”

Yep. It’s easy to let your successes pigeon-hole you into Sisyphean repetition. Before you know it, companies come to you with requests to do for them what you did for your other client(s): “That thing you did for Spalookaboo, Inc… the thing with the talking cow and the karate-chopping mongoose… can you do something like that for us?”

Look. The last thing the world needs is another subservient chicken. More to the point, the last thing Crispin Porter + Bogusky needs is another subservient chicken project.

Something is only original once. Something is only creative once. After that, everything becomes derivative and stale. Copies of copies of copies are just what Seth Godin would call brown cows. (No matter how good and cool they are, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.)

It’s completely natural to see a competitor’s latest product or ad and think “Doh! Why didn’t we think of that?” It’s also natural to want to jump on the bandwaggon by doing something similar. (The reasoning being that if it works for your competitor, it’ll work for you too.)

*sigh*

Copying for the sake of not being left behind is an expensive and terribly ineffective business strategy. (And it’s lame.) 1) You’ll come across as an “also in”. 2) You’ll back yourself into a price comparison corner (kiss your revenue goodbye). 3) You’ll be turning your back on your biggest competitive advantage – the practical application of your creative power: Innovation.

At best, being a brown cow guarantees stagnation.

At best.

It also guarantees that you will have to spend huge amounts of resources to promote yourself over and over and over again. That’s time, money, people… all of which could be better spent actually doing something rewarding and relevant that will help your business grow.

You could be creating WOM-worthy work for smaller clients, for example. For non-profits. For NGO’s. For niche markets.

You could be broadening your horizons… meeting new people, immersing yourself in cool new subcultures. You could be making every day a learning experience. An exercise in curiosity. A creative harvest. (By the way, the cross-polination of ideas and disciplines is the lifeblood of innovation. Ask IDEO and FROG Design, how it’s worked for them.)

Yeah, Hybrid Thinking. That’s where it starts.

By default, you would also be broadening your reach across a wider range of industries than any other agency in your sphere of influence (not just because it makes great business sense, but because it’s fun.)

Fun feeds creativity at least as much as new experiences.

Think about it. What if instead of chasing big clients, you focused on helping great little companies grow into extraordinary ones? What if you only worked with clients that you want to work with? What if you turned away work that didn’t interest you? What if you did what every innovator has done since the beginning of time: What if you changed the rules, one client at a time, one project at a time?

Would you rub a few people the wrong way? You bet. But they’d get over it.

There are also other options beyond simply increasing the breadth of your playing field. The very nature of the way you approach your work, your services and the way that you market them doesn’t have to be set in stone. Don’t sell yourself short.

Tom Peters, for example, makes a good argument for agencies to evolve into more deep-reaching Professional Services Firms (see his downloadable ‘PSF Manifesto’). After all, if creatives can come up with great advertising ideas, they can surely come up with insightful ways to improve a company’s customer service call center, design unforgetable retail spaces and help create groundbreaking new products, for starters.

This kind of transition won’t happen on its own. Client companies certainly won’t be the first to suggest it. (“Hey um… you guys make great ads, but… do you also do product design?”) It’s one of those build it and they will come things. Create the service. Create the market. Become a purple cow all over again.

More importantly, help your clients become purple cows in their own fields. (Ultimately, that will be the key to your success.)

Trust me on this, many of them wish they had access to this kind of insightful innovation for hire. Not everyone can afford to keep top-notch designers on staff. Or brand strategists. Or marketing communications specialists. Or graphic artists. As for consultants… well, they can be terribly expensive and often too narrow in their approach.

Similarly, not everyone can afford a PR firm and an ad agency and a product design studio and a retail design consultant. (Assuming that, even if you could, all of the pieces would fit together properly… which is pretty unlikely.)

Enter the fully-integrated PSF/Agency: Cost-effective, versatile, nimble, responsive, insightful, completely immersed in their client’s culture. One-stop shopping for all of your innovative needs. Beyond its core team, imagine a network composed of the most brilliant minds and creative talent in the world, just a mouse-click away. A phone-call away.

Imagine if a PSF/Agency like the one I just described suddenly opened shop in your town. What if it were courting your clients? What if it had more talent than you could hire in a lifetime? What if they were a lot cheaper than you are?

What if, although advertising were only one of their revenue streams, their work still blew yours away?

What would you do?

What if they cut your revenue in half inside of two years? What would you do to stay alive?

Advertise more? Lower your prices? Work for free?

Purple cows don’t have to shake their baby rattles to be noticed. They don’t have to put up billboards all over town. They don’t have to engage in price wars. All they have to do is be purple cows.

Pistachio cows.

Tangelo cows.

Here’s a fresh little bit of Set Godin insight:


“Ad agencies have been backed into a corner and mostly do rattling. It’s the
high-cost, high-profile, high-risk part of marketing, and the kind that
rarely works. What a shame that some of the smartest people in our field
aren’t allowed (by their clients and by their industry’s structure) to get
behind the scenes and change the product, the strategy and the approach
instead of just annoying more people with ever louder junk.”

Yesterday’s purple cows are today’s brown cows.

Tomorrow’s purple cows won’t look or feel or sound anything like you.

The question is, what are you doing about it?

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂

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