You’re Wrong

you're doing it wrong

When someone is clearly wrong about something, my first reaction is to tell them so. I’ve never really found that to be a great way to get someone to see the Truth, though.

Think about it this way: we make choices based on the information available. We used to know that the Earth was the center of the universe. Until it wasn’t. The speed of light was as fast as anything can go. Until it wasn’t. (Well, maybe).

So, if your customer is always right (even when they’re wrong), what’s a marketer to do? Help them feel validated and understood with some active listening. Ask questions about their assumptions. For this, I love to use IDEO’s Five Whys.

You can’t help shift their perspective until you truly understand it.

Truth(iness) In Advertising

Pacific Ocean Sunset
Pacific Ocean Sunset via jxb345 on Flickr

I had a poetry professor tell me once “don’t tell. Show.” We were supposed to write a poem about the color blue. I picked a trip to the California coast. She wanted me to show what that smelled like, felt like, looked like, sounded like. She didn’t want a true story– she didn’t want me to simply inform her. She wanted me to tell a story about the peace I felt watching the sun slink into the Pacific. She wanted a story about Truth. She wanted me to inspire.

When you tell stories about your product, are you informing or inspiring?

If you’re informing, you’re telling true stories about the product. But you’re not telling me why I should care.

If you’re inspiring, your product is telling stories about Truth. You’re making meaning, and connecting me with it. That’s way better than some lame feature dump.

The best stories inspire and inform.

P.S. If you’re not quite sure, you’re probably telling Truthiness stories– the kind of stories that give all marketers a bad name. So stop it.

P.P.S. Check out Tom Nies excellent Change This Manifesto about True stories, Truth stories, and storyselling.

Facebook Doesn’t Get It

Facebook has begun the The Inevitable Letdown. It was innovative. It was cool. It was fun. But Zuckerberg is so damned paranoid that some little startup is going to deflate his behemoth, that he’s clearly created a reactive culture. They are focusing on competitors more than customers (users). Let me count the ways:

  1. Geolocation & checkins: Facebook saw Foursquare and its ilk getting users to produce vast amounts of time & location data. Data that could be harvested to create revenue streams from partners & advertisers. Voila, Facebook Places. People predicted it was the death sentence for all the “smaller” players. Facebook would essentially be the schoolyard bully and squash them (by sitting on them, I guess). What they didn’t consider is who the average foursquare user is, and how they compare to the average Facebook user. The average Facebook user plays Farmville and believes Facebook will start charging unless they paste a stupid message (from their other stupid friends) to their wall. Ok, that’s a little harsh. How about this instead: the average Facebook user has a real life outside the interwebs, and they see Facebook as relatively passive entertainment experience. Checking in to a Place is not passive.
  2. Privacy and Google+: Ok. Most of Facebook’s moves lately [cough]Timeline[/cough] are me-too responses to Google Plus. Privacy, particularly. Sure, Facebook introduced new privacy control tools. But they don’t want you to be private. Their privacy strategy is a classic example of Confusopoly.
  3. Photo filters and Instagram: I can has filters? Apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram make even the most bland pic of a sleeping cat look artsy and fun. They’re kind of like autotune, but for pictures. Facebook wants in on this trend. Adding filters to photo uploads means more time spent on Facebook. Wich means more ad revenue. Here’s what I think they’re missing: using a third party app let’s me share to places other than Facebook– Twitter, Flickr, etc.

The list actually goes on and on. But here’s the point: sure, understanding your competition helps you avoid getting sucker punched by some startup. But if all you’re doing is dodging punches, you’ll inevitably lose sight of the one thing you have in common with your competitors: the customer. If you truly understand your customers’ trials and triumphs, you’ll be able to satisfy their unarticulated needs. And then the competition is chasing you!

Understanding your competitors is good. Understanding your customer is better.

The Grayscales of Justice

I saw this from a friend on Facebook today:

Remember when teachers, public employees, Planned Parenthood, NPR and PBS crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401Ks, took trillions in TARP money, spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and paid no taxes?
Yeah, me neither.

I understand the sentiment. And I agree. But I don’t like it. It furthers the us vs. them mentality that’s plaguing our culture. Creating and demonizing an “other” is good for trying to differentiate yourself in an election. Well, that and bumper stickers. But it’s terrible for actually trying to live your life. Because life isn’t us vs. them– there is only us. Most of the time.

Extremes make for good story arcs. But stories– with heroes and villains– are just how we try to make sense of the chaos of our existence after the fact. We look back at the series of events that got us here (wherever “here” is), and find patterns. We like patterns– they’re shortcuts. They require less cognitive effort than decoding, analyzing, categorizing, and acting on every stimulus life throws at us. So, it’s easier for us to look back at the fucked up things that happened over the course of this Great Recession and demonize the greedy bastards that caused it.

We’re the victims, after all, right? Yes. And no. Yes, because we truly were damaged when our nest eggs got scrambled. Yes because some people will never have as much as they did prior. No, because our insatiable appetite for More– more house, more car, more More— meant we consumed as much as we could at the cheapest price possible. Corporations– and the very intelligent imbeciles on executive teams and boards of directors– are no different than Pavlov’s Dogs: reward them for making cheap shit and they’ll make even More cheap shit. Reward them for subsidizing our consumption by reducing their costs however they can, and they’ll keep doing it. Then, of course, we lament when “our” jobs– manufacturing, sofware development, whatever– are outsourced to cheaper labor markets. We’re at fault because we were just as greedy as those Wall Street assholes. We’re at fault– all of us– because we forgot that More doesn’t equal better. It might be comforting to tell a binary story of good vs. evil– a story of us vs. them– in simple black & white terms.

But life isn’t black & white. It’s grayscale.

Maybe Seth Godin is full of, well, you know.

I know he’s just being provocative, but I’ll bite anyway. In a recent blog post, Seth Godin says “The Internet Is Almost Full.” He goes on to say that there’s so much content out there now, we are full– our attention is full. You used to be able to stay in the know about everything that mattered. You used to be able to make an impact easily. He advises “so if you have something left to say, better hurry. Once it’s full, it’s full.” I call shenanigans.

It’s not about seeing or being or doing everything. It’s about passion.

Whether you’re creating or consuming, it’s about finding that handful of things that you can’t stop thinking about. Joseph Campbell called it “following your bliss.” 

When you’re creating (products, experiences, blogs, etc): focus. Find the things your market is passionate about– recognize the value they’re already creating– and help them on their quest for “psychological self-determination

When you’re consuming: focus. Unless you’re god or a ninja, you’ll never be omnipresent or omnicient, so don’t even try… unless your bliss is drinking from a firehose of information, ideas, and idiocy.

One of my passions is music– listening, writing, recording. And I particularly enjoy finding new music. Let’s apply Godin’s logic to that crowded, noisy space: people have no more room in their lives for your music, young band, so you should either get in now, or not at all. Tell that to The Beatles. Or Mozart. There was already a plethora of perfectlygood music to go around when they got in the game. But that didn’t matter, because they were following their passion.

Sometimes the biggest breakthroughs happen in a crowded space.

What do you think? Is Godin right? Or is he full of it?