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Friday, May 25, 2012

Simplicity: Plain Language & The Red Button That Reinvented Your Memories

NOTE: This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my new book Likeonomics all about Simplicity, the 4th principle of Likeonomics. I hope you enjoy it!


Annetta Cheek is a 25-year veteran of the federal government who now runs a nonprofit called the Center for Plain Language. There has never been a more important time for the Center to exist. ‘‘When you’re supposed to be a democracy, and people don’t even understand what government is doing, that’s a problem,’’ Cheek says. This is not just an American problem either.

All across the world, people are wasting countless hours dealing with bureaucracy and complexity on every level. In 2010, the Hong Kong–based group Political and Economic Risk Consultancy surveyed more than 1,300 business executives in 12 Asian countries. In the results, India was named for having a bureaucratic system that was ‘‘one of the most stifling in the world.’’ The report cited a strong correlation between an inefficient bureaucracy and high corruption rates. Sweden, in contrast, enjoys very low corruption and has been credited as being one of the first cultures to recognize the power of natural language. Way back in 1713, King Charles XII of Sweden dictated this ordinance:

His Majesty the King requires that the Royal Chancellery in all written
documents endeavour to write in clear, plain Swedish and not to use, as
far as possible, foreign words.

Today, more than half of all Swedish government authorities are involved in plain language projects. The Swedish government has a linguist in the Cabinet Office, and a division whose responsibility is to review government documents and ensure natural language is used before allowing them to be distributed widely. In other governments across the world, there is a lot of support for the plain language movement, as well.

IMB_Simplicity_ClearmarkAwardsRecently in the United States, the government passed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which requires all federal government agencies to use plain language in every covered document and train federal workers on how to use plain language. A year later, when the Center for Plain Language announced the winners of their annual ClearMark award for plain language, the IRS was the unlikely choice as Grand Prize winner.

The Myth of Good Complexity

When it comes to most government organizations, hardly anyone wants more complexity in documents. Typically when you end up with bills featuring thousands of pages of content, it is usually because large armies of people worked on writing them, or because no one took the time to make them succinct and clear.

IMB_SimplicityCartoonIn other words, the reason for complexity in government typically comes down to either inefficiency or laziness. In business, however, there can be the real possibility that some complexity exists because it is seen to be valuable in some misguided way. Brands launch more product extensions because they think consumers want more choice. Lawyers add 30-page disclaimers and terms and conditions in an effort to shield the company from some unforeseen liability or potential lawsuits. Airlines are notorious for having dozens of different flight ‘‘fare codes’’ so they can offer varying rates to different types of travelers based on when they book and other factors.

Unfortunately I have sat in plenty of meetings with very smart business people who argue passionately to keep the complexity in their business because they believe they need to have it. Here are a few of the arguments they usually use:

  1. Our business is inherently complex.
  2. Our customers are smart and they get it.
  3. We need the complexity in order to make money.
  4. It would be impossible to get the right people to agree to simplify.

No matter how forceful the arguments, ‘‘good complexity’’ in most forms usually turns out to be a myth. There are probably certain situations today where complexity may not be causing any serious problems . . . yet. As the consumer electronics industry has been learning for the past decade, the problem is that just because complexity isn’t killing you right now, that doesn’t mean it never will.

Gadget Confusion

A few months ago, I searched on Amazon to find a new Blu-Ray player and found 335 different models. When I went that same day to check the price of a mobile phone I had seen several months ago, I found that it was no longer offered and there was a brand new, barely distinguishable model available in its place.

If you purchased a digital camera just six months ago, chances are if you walked into an electronics retailer they would no longer offer it for sale.

IMB_SimplicityTVSetTVs have become so complicated now that many manufacturers of high-end sets recommend you pay several hundred dollars (on top of buying the TV) for a ‘‘calibration service’’ just to make sure all of the settings are optimized for your TV once you get it home.

This constant complexity leads to gadget confusion, where competing products differ only slightly and consumers end up bewildered and frustrated. In response to the growing epidemic of gadget confusion, some retailers have created full ‘‘Geek Squads’’ of internal technical experts who can make house calls and help to set up or explain technology. In addition, a startup called launched in 2011, and has already partnered with Consumer Reports to offer a tool that helps shoppers decide whether they should buy a gadget now or wait until the next upgraded replacement comes out.

One of the most interesting types of products to examine in this evolution of complexity is one that has managed to escape the trend of increasing complexity, and instead, offer products that are getting simpler and simpler: the handheld video camera. When Sony launched the first consumer handheld video camera in the early 1980s, it was so bulky that it was designed to rest on your shoulder in order to be ‘‘portable.’’ The technology quickly evolved, though, and over the next 20 years, Sony and their competitors focused on two big priorities:

  1. Make the video camera smaller.
  2. Keep the recording quality as good as possible.

The products were still generally difficult to use, requiring you to wade through a user manual to learn how to use all the right buttons and features, but it was seen as a necessary evil.

The bigger problem was that consumers were all building up a vast but nearly useless library of video on tapes or data cards. After forcing some immediate family or unfortunate friends to watch those videos right away, they would be stuck on a shelf or in a drawer waiting for the day when you would finally return to edit them. The day usually never came.

Then, in 2007, a single product changed everything.

Flipping the Video Camera Market

A small startup named Pure Digital had first launched a product the year before called the ‘‘Pure Digital Point & Shoot’’ video camcorder, which was exclusively available at CVS pharmacies. It was a one-time use video camera designed to enable you to record video and then bring it back to your local CVS to have it turned into a DVD.

A year later, the camera was relaunched as a permanent camera that most industry analysts thought wouldn’t last a month. The video quality wasn’t great. The price point was less than one-third of other video cameras on the market. Even the design of this little product looked like a toy, with just one simple red button at the back and barely any instructions. It was that easy to use.

As founder Jonathan Kaplan would later explain, ‘‘The really successful [products] are ones people never thought they wanted.’’ And Kaplan’s product did have one killer feature aside from its simplicity of use: a built-in USB plug that would allow users to easily plug the camera directly into their computers in order to upload or edit videos easily using the built-in software. What was their big insight?

The most important thing about video wasn’t the picture quality. It was how simple it was to take and how easily you could share it with the people in your life. Realizing that the product’s name would be a vital component, Pure Digital hired a naming company, which developed hundreds of potential names.  The name Kaplan gave to the product, though, was inspired by the keychain to his Audi and how the spring-loaded key would pop out at the touch of a button.

He named the new camera Flip.

This excerpt is from Chapter 7 of Likeonomics, all about Simplicity - the fourth of the TRUST principle that I lay out in the book.  For a longer excerpt, please visit the book website at - and if you enjoyed the reading this, please consider buying Likeonomics today!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Unselfishness: The World's Most Ethical Company & Why Collaboration Works

NOTE: This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of my new book Likeonomics all about Unselfishness, the 3rd principle of Likeonomics. I hope you enjoy it!

IMB_JimSinegalThe biggest clue that Jim Sinegal is not your ordinary CEO came in an article in The Seattle Times a few months before his retirement. The headline read: ‘‘Jim Sinegal takes pay cut in last year as Costco CEO.’’

If that seems like an extraordinary thing for a CEO to do, it’s not all that makes Sinegal and the members-only warehouse retailer Costco unique.

Costco has a rule that no branded items can be marked up more than 14 percent and no private-label brand item more than 15 percent.  In contrast, some of their competitors markup as much as 50 percent for products such as fashion items. The policy comes directly from Sinegal’s belief that the path to building a successful company is passing savings directly to customers. He is fanatical about it.

As Costco fresh food buyer Jeff Lyons once explained, the store managers used to dread the monthly budget meetings with Sinegal for a single reason: ‘‘Our margin goal is 10 percent, and there’d better be a very good reason you did better than that. Otherwise Jim will say, ‘Well, why didn’t you lower prices?’’’

As if a CEO taking a pay cut and a limit on profits wasn’t enough, Costco has also built a reputation as one of the most generous employers in the retail sector. Their standard employee salary of $17 per hour is more than two times the federally mandated U.S. minimum wage and nearly 50 percent more than their closest rival. In addition, the full health and 401(k) benefits are perks that have helped Costco maintain an extremely low employee turnover and low theft rates (a common issue for other retailers).

You might be tempted to think that with all this generosity toward employees and customers, Costco would be lucky to break even. They are certainly no darling on Wall Street, as Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Dreher once complained, ‘‘Costco continues to be a company that is better at serving the club member and employee than the shareholder.’’ Sinegal, though, takes this whining criticism from money hungry Wall Street analysts in stride. ‘‘We think when you take care of your customer and your employees, your shareholders are going to be rewarded in the long run. And I’m one of them [shareholders]; I care about the stock price. But we’re not going to do something for the sake of one quarter that’s going to destroy the fabric of our company and what we stand for.’’

So far, the philosophy is working. Since its founding in 1983, Costco has grown at about 15 percent every year with $88.9 billion in revenue for 2010. They are the biggest seller in the United States of fine wines and the average Costco store generates nearly double the revenue of an average store from their closest competitor, Sam’s Club. It is an impressive result for a company described by the media as the ‘‘Anti-Wal-Mart,’’ as they refuse to charge their customers more or shave the benefits and salary of their employees. Yet, as Sinegal (who is retiring in 2012) is painfully aware, Costco seems to stand alone in their unselfish behavior. Why don’t more companies adopt this approach to business if it works so well?

One popular argument why they don’t is the view that businesses (and people by extension) are inherently selfish. There is a wide body of research and thinking to support the argument that at a basic level, people always focus on themselves first thanks to the natural human instinct for self-preservation.

What about the Selfish Gene?

IMB_TheSelfishGeneIn 1976, an evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins wrote a book called The Selfish Gene. In it, he elaborated on his research that suggested people were genetically predisposed toward a sort of ‘‘social Darwinism’’ in which we each would look out for ourselves first. His theories were centered on looking at people through the lens of a biologist. As a result, his theories predicted that there may be selfish behavior in nature out of necessity, but the alternative was also true. He would go on to write that this idea also explained what you might call ‘‘biological altruism’’—the instance that explains moments like when bees commit suicide using their stingers to protect the hive.

Author Mary Midgley posited another theory in her book Evolution as Religion, saying, ‘‘People not only are selfish and greedy, they hold psychological and philosophical theories which tell them they ought to be selfish and greedy.’’

All of these were shades of the theory that author Ayn Rand also popularized by calling ‘‘rational egoism’’ or rational selfishness. Her philosophy was that any action was rational if it maximized one’s self interest.  In 1964, she published a book on the topic called The Virtue of Selfishness, where she argued that one’s own happiness should be the highest purpose in life.

IMB_BowlingAloneFor decades, this argument persisted. In 2000, Robert D. Putnam delivered what should have been the knockout blow in favor of the selfishness argument. His book Bowling Alone profiled what he called the collapse of community, where large groups of people ‘‘began to join less, trust less, give less, vote less, and schmooze less.’’ The cover of his book featured the powerful image of a man bowling alone, a sport that Putnam noted only five years earlier was usually done with others and seen as a social activity.

But that same year something fundamental had started to change.  The dot-com boom was just beginning, and the Internet was offering a way for people to connect with others around the world. The Internet didn’t change people overnight into more selfless and altruistic people.  It hasn’t really done it over the long term either. But it was one of  several factors that started to expose that perhaps we aren’t quite as selfish as some thinkers and scientists have made us out to be.

Wikinomics and the Rise of Collaboration

The first time I read Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, I expected the opening story might be about the rise of Wikipedia. On any level, it is the most significant global example of the power of unselfish collaboration, with millions of editors and over 4 million content pages created without any financial compensation.

Instead, they told the story of Goldcorp, a traditional gold mining business that realized great success in March of 2000 by issuing their ‘‘GoldCorp Challenge,’’ where prize money was offered to anyone who could help GoldCorp calculate the best places to dig for gold in one of their mines.

Their biggest risk was to share all of their proprietary data about mining sites online and invite anyone to contribute—a move that was unheard of in their closed and secretive industry. Suggestions for digging locations came in from around the globe, and more than half were for dig locations that GoldCorp themselves had not identified. Much to their surprise, more than 80 percent of those suggested locations resulted in ‘‘substantial quantities of gold.’’9

As Tapscott and Williams went on to conclude, the Internet has allowed some of the most fruitful collaborations in modern history, even more significant than digging up lots of gold. From scientists working together to map the human genome to new open source programming platforms like Linux—the positive examples of unselfish collaboration are all around us.

The power of mass collaboration goes far beyond just Wikipedia.

In some cases, like the GoldCorp Challenge, people may contribute for the promise of a reward. But in many cases, they are simply sharing their expertise and passion online because they want to be a part of something.

This excerpt is from Chapter 6 of Likeonomics, all about Unselfishness - the third of the TRUST principle that I lay out in the book.  For a longer excerpt, please visit the book website at - and if you enjoyed the reading this, please consider buying Likeonomics today!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Relevance: What Canada’s Favourite Storyteller Can Teach You About Marketing

NOTE: This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my new book Likeonomics all about Relevance, the 2nd principle of Likeonomics. I hope you enjoy it!

IMB_StewieSometimes making a big statement is the only way to break through the noise. We often describe things in terms of love and hate, but there is a third and more powerful category that explains how most of us act when it comes to the vast majority of issues in the world—indifference. 

It is impossible to care about everything. Things like irrelevant products and over-the-top sales people are easy to tune out. That is a choice many of us make on an hourly basis without thought. When it comes to seeing images of people suffering in the world, however, it is harder to ignore.

Most of us are personally affected for a short time. Yet, it is a common challenge for any nonprofit organization to inspire people to do something to act on this emotion in a more meaningful way. To illustrate, here is a quick example:

In 2011, the Horn of Africa with parts of Kenya and Somalia were experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. At the time of publication for this book, that drought has continued. Does that bother you? Most of us would, of course, say yes. But if I asked whether you have done anything in the last year to actually help people there? Most of us would probably have to say no. This is not an attempt to make you feel guilty about all the causes you are not supporting, though it might seem like it. Instead, it is an example of why relevance matters so much.

Relevance is not only about getting someone to care about something; it is getting them to care about it RIGHT NOW.

This challenge doesn’t just apply to social concerns like poverty or climate change, either. Any of us faces this challenge when confronted with making a new conversation with someone we are meeting for the first time at a party. Managers face this challenge when trying to motivate their workers. Brands face this challenge when trying to convince consumers to consider their products.

As a father and a marketer, I can safely say that one of the toughest groups to consistently find some way to be relevant to is also the smallest: my kids. So it is fitting, perhaps, to start the discussion of how to be relevant with the example of a master storyteller—who manages to captivate large audiences of little people who are united by their size and the fact that they all believe in a man who delivers presents every Christmas from the North Pole.

Canada’s Favorite Storyteller

IMB_RobertMunschOutside of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, Robert Munsch is the closest thing to a living legend that you are likely to find in Canada. Any parent who has had a child in Canada over the last 30 years probably has a story of their own to tell about reading one of Bob Munsch’s stories to their kids when they were younger. A former daycare worker and anthropology student, Munsch actually got his start as a storyteller quite accidentally—as he shares in an entertaining bio on his website: ‘

Back in daycare I discovered that I could get the kids to shut up during nap time by telling them stories. For 10 years I did this without thinking I had any special skill. After all, while I made the best stories in the daycare centre, most of the other teachers made better Play-Doh.’’

He only published his first book at the urging of his fellow workers and principal where he worked. It was a story called Mud Puddle about a girl named Julie Ann, who is attacked by a mud puddle every time she steps outdoors. It sold just 3,000 copies. He continued writing, though, and each new book did successively better. Most were anything but traditional stories.

IMB_PaperBagPrincessIn 1980, for example, his story of The Paperbag Princess was one of the first to reverse the princess and dragon stereotype by having the princess outsmart the dragon, save herself, and decide not to marry the lazy prince because ‘‘he was a bum.’’ The book won critical acclaim from feminists and was one of the few children’s books to receive an endorsement from the National Organization for Women.

Another thing that set Munsch apart was his aversion to creating a hero character to appear in his books, like Olivia the pig or Corduroy the bear. As he shared on his website, ‘‘The first kid I make up the story for sort of ‘owns’ the story and gets to be the kid in the book—if the story ever gets to be a book.’’ Munsch also had something else besides engaging stories, though, that set him apart from the other children’s authors at the time.

My wife taught grade school for several years in Ontario, and she remembers how Munsch would often visit local schools and tell these stories in person to children across Canada. His style was silly, animated, and completely mesmerizing for the kids who watched him. As he told his stories, he made funny sounds, jumped around on chairs, and kids quickly learned each story by heart. 

Kids loved his stories because they were inspired by real kids, but also because they knew the author personally and could see him perform the stories as he told them. These personal connections were what inspired Munsch, as well. Once, while on a book tour in California, he remembers looking at a map and seeing that he was going to be near a him. Deciding to visit, he took the letter the class had written, showed it to the school secretary, and said, ‘‘Look, Ms. Clebanoff in grade 2 asked me to visit.’’

IMB_LoveYouForeverThese unscheduled stops combined with writing stories that people loved to share helped Munsch become a global success. In 1986, he wrote his best-known book, I Love You Forever, a story he wrote as a memorial for two stillborn babies he and his wife had in 1979 and 1980. The first year of publication, it sold 30,000 copies and was the best-selling kid’s book in Canada.

The following year, sales doubled. In 1988, it sold one million copies and was also the best-selling kid’s book in the United States. In 1994, the New York Times updated their list of best-selling children’s books and for the first time in years, there was a change in the number one slot. Goodnight Moon had officially been replaced by I Love You Forever, which has since gone on to sell more than 20 million copies.

Today, Munsch is one of the most beloved storytellers in the world, and his books have been read by millions of children and their parents. What he always understood about relevance was that it would take more than a great story to get kids to care.





Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Truth: The True Story Of How Oprah Became Oprah

NOTE: This is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of my new book Likeonomics. I hope you enjoy it!

    The truth is more important than the facts.

            —Frank Lloyd Wright

    Always tell the truth. That way, you don’t have to remember what you said.

            —Mark Twain

Phil Donahue didn’t know it yet, but his days were numbered. His self-titled Phil Donahue Show had been nationally syndicated since 1970, and by 1984 he had risen to become the undisputed king of daytime television, watched by millions every day.

That year, A.M. Chicago was the show stuck at a distant second place in the 9 a.m. timeslot that Donahue dominated. With little to risk, they decided to bring in a new and relatively unknown actor and beauty queen with very little experience to anchor the program. No one expected much from her. In her first few months, she modeled her show’s format to be exactly like Donahue.

She borrowed her interviewing technique directly from watching Barbara Walters on television. Yet despite her inexperience, audiences responded to her. Early critics were even complimentary, noting that she stood out as ‘‘more genuine, and far better attuned [than Donahue] to her audience, if not the world.’’

Within months, her show took over the number one slot in the regional Chicago local market. In two years her show was nationally syndicated and already competing with Donahue. It was a great start, but looking backward it was only on November 10, 1986, that this up and coming host named Oprah Winfrey would become the legend we now know simply as Oprah.

Oprah’s Secret

On that day, the sensitive topic for the show was sexual abuse victims and their molesters. As the show was nearing its end, Oprah stunned her audience by revealing that she had been raped by a relative when she was nine years old. Her deeply personal admission was unlike anything a daytime TV show host had ever shared. At that time, more than 25 years ago, there was a much more distinct separation between personal and celebrity life. Celebrities (and particularly talk show hosts) just didn’t reveal that much about themselves.

But as Audrey Edwards, the former editor of Essence magazine wrote,‘‘By confronting her own worst demons . . . Oprah showed an entire generation of women how to look small and large terrors in the face and beat them down.’’ It was her extreme honesty that stood out from the first day she went on air, and it was a quality she continued demonstrating for her entire career, making her one of the most influential women in the world. By the time she went off the air to start her own network in 2011, the media had even given a name to her ability to turn all kinds of products, from books to greeting cards, into bestsellers. They called it the ‘‘Oprah Effect.’’

She had an estimated viewership in the United States of 48 million, and her show was broadcast in 150 countries around the world. Books that were featured as part of her Book Club had sold over 55 million copies collectively. Her endorsement of Barack Obama was widely credited in 2008 with being one of the major factors in his presidential victory. With an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion, Forbes recently noted that Oprah is the only female African American billionaire, and ranked her the third-most-powerful woman in the world.

When Donahue retired, he was once asked why he thought Oprah had become so popular. ‘‘I think she can dish with women better than I can,’’ he said. ‘‘She can talk about weight and clothes and men and the real-life drama of a single woman in a more personal way than I can.’’Not only could she talk about those things in a personal way, but she always did it with the truth.

Are You Building on a Sinkhole?

There is a very good reason why the truth is the first principle of Likeonomics, and it is not hard to explain why. If you were building a house, the worst possible place to build it would be on top of a sinkhole. A favorite natural disaster for writers of fictional medical dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, but sinkholes are real phenomena that happen when the rock under the surface of the ground is made of a material like limestone, which dissolves. Eventually, the surface doesn’t have enough support and the entire ground caves in.

Building a business or a personal relationship on a lie is the same as building a house on top of a sinkhole. It may not collapse right away, but eventually something will change and the unstable ground will cave in. The point of starting with the truth is to make sure you’re building everything else on safe ground.


This excerpt is from Chapter 4 of Likeonomics, all about Truth - the first of the TRUST principle that I lay out in the book.  For a longer excerpt, please visit the book website at - and if you enjoyed the reading this, please consider buying Likeonomics today!

Monday, May 21, 2012

How To Be A Better Entrepreneur, Friend, Parent, Marketer & Human

NOTE FROM ROHIT: Likeonomics is now AVAILABLE - if you read my previous post and decided to wait to buy it because I asked you to, thank you!!

Please purchase your copy of Likeonomics RIGHT NOW!

About four months ago I was sitting at home during an unseasonably warm evening in late January. It was the night of the State of the Union address, and was feeling that unshakeable mixture of happiness and sadness that happens usually on the last day of an amazing vacation. That day I had just delivered the final manuscript for Likeonomics, but as I read the news online that afternoon I found a story that was still bothering me hours later. 

The media was reporting on comments from politicians delivered in something called a "prebuttal." A prebuttal (as opposed to a rebuttal) is based on the idea that you can talk about all the ways that you disagree with someone before they have even said a word. Welcome to politics in 2012. In fact, welcome to the world itself. 

I have written before about how we are in the midst of a very real believability crisis and to find our ways out of it and build a more trustworthy world will take a new philosophy.  Along the path to writing Likeonomics, I researched (and wrote about) many interesting nuggets from history, such as the moment when Microsoft almost bought Pixar to the moment almost exactly thirty years ago when two guys with a crazy idea started The Weather Channel. From the story of Nelson Mandela in South Africa to the surprising tourism policies of the Bhutanese government, the process of writing the book also took me to some unexpected places.  Ultimately, what I learned was about far more than marketing or even business.

Likeonomics is really a book about how any of us might become better people. How likeability might be the real secret to trust AND success ... and most of all how BEING more human could help any of us be better in every part of our lives.  

This week is launch week for Likeonomics. A chance for me to FINALLY share everything about the book with you. A chance for me to tell you NOT to wait anymore and to go out and buy the book and buy as many copies as you can! 

So every day this week I'll be sharing a different story and exclusive excerpt from the book here. Each day will be from one of the chapters featuring a different principle of Likeonomics:

  • Monday - This Post!
  • Tuesday - Truth
  • Wednesday - Relevance
  • Thursday - Unselfishness
  • Friday - Simplicity
  • Saturday - Timing

My goal is simple. The more I can share about the idea of Likeonomics and offer some value back to you and your daily life, the more likely you are to see what the book is about and perhaps decide to pick up a copy. 

To give you a head start, here is a password free, no-email-required, completely FREE download of the Prologue from Likeonomics, starting with the interwoven stories of a Lard Salesman, an NFL Agent and a YouTube Star:  

If your interest is peaked, or even if you are just up for doing something to support me and my efforts this week because you may have found some value in my blog over the years, PLEASE consider buying a copy of Likeonomics RIGHT NOW.  

Not only do I hope it will help you become a better entrepreneur, friend, parent, marketer and human ... but I look forward to sharing some real stories and lessons from the book with you throughout this week to show you exactly how!




Friday, May 18, 2012

The 5 Ways Media Will Cover The Facebook IPO & Why We Really Care Anyway

The big news all day today is going to be the Facebook IPO - and of course you would expect the media to care. UPDATE: Here is my interview with CBS News about the Facebook IPO ...

Lots of "virtual" money is going to be changing hands, there will be nonstop media coverage throughout the day. To help you navigate the coverage, I figured I would take a stab at segmenting it into the five media "takes" on the story that you will likely see throughout the day:

  1. IMB_FacebookIPOThe "Social Media Is Too Shiny" Take: We are totally in the midst of a bubble and Facebook is the poster child for unfounded social media hype.
  2. The "Zuck's A Genius" Take: Facebook has the biggest IPO ever ... let's all imagine Mark Zuckerburg celebrating with a cigar in his solid gold hot tub.
  3. The Dangerous Future Take: In order really to succeed, Facebook will need to figure out privacy/leadership/usability/regulation/global warming/[insert issue here]
  4. The "How High Can It Go?" Take: Why not turn the coverage into a predictive game and just have people predict the closing share price and when they should buy? My prediction, by the way, on was $48 for a closing price of $ 120,638,935,248
  5. The Facebook Will Save Us Take: And what kind of media coverage would be complete without the optimistic predictions about how Facebook will save California/entrepreneurship/ technology/social media/cute kittens in trees/etc.  

Of course, aside from the predictable media story lines is a question that I think should be more important to anyone with a marketing background ... why do we care so much? Only a fraction of us watching the coverage today will actually be in the market to try and purchase some shares, yet we will watch. Is it merely the historic size of the IPO? No, I think the real reason is something more fundamental. 

We all have a personal connection to Facebook. We all use it, and not just as a "user" of Coke drinks a can once in a while. We rely on it to manage many of our personal relationships and share our memories. Facebook is more than a social network, it is a utility - like water.

 And so for many people its IPO is as if someone put oxygen itself on the stock exchange and asked you to buy shares of it. You might not have enough money to participate, but you sure hope whoever does won't mess up the utility that you depend on.  




Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Yahoo's CEO And The Modern Believability Crisis

IMB_IrishLiteratureI don't actually have a degree in Irish Poetry. I share this because recently at a few events I may have mistakenly mentioned that I did. See, I studied English literature at Emory University in the late 90s. While there, I took exactly two elective classes specifically on Irish literature and as most people who study that field already know - Emory has one of the best collections of Irish literature and poetry in the world. So I did focus on Irish Poetry, but the degree that I earned in 1997 was a BA in English Literature. 

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, you can hardly blame me for getting more specific this week. As anyone watching the story of Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson stepping down because of accusations that he falsified his educational credentials knows - small exaggerations can become big controversies. The fact that it has become enough to cause the downfall of a newly minted CEO of a big brand like Yahoo says a lot not just about our watchdog media culture, but also about the most important weapon that your enemies have today to take you down ... the Internet.

IMB_YahooCEOScottThompsonThe fact is, today most people are predisposed NOT to believe anything that a large company or one of its officers says - this is the modern believability crisis where people just don't trust in the institutions around them. In this low trust world, if the media and blogs report that a CEO claimed to have earned a degree he didn't, people believe it without question. Why shouldn't they?  After all, they don't know him personally. But what if they did? 

What if you did? Would Thompson's resume gaffe still have been as big a deal?  I started this post by confessing the truth about my education to you. I didn't mean to lie to anyone. When I tell people I studied Irish Poetry, it is the truth. But I didn't earn a piece of paper that says that, so technically I tok . While you are considering whether or not you feel misled by my exaggerated claim - consider this question as well: what if Thomson had his own platform such as a blog to clear the air and tell his story in his own voice?

The fact is, as we live in a world where people believe fewer and fewer messages associated with corporations, the only real solution is to find a more human way to make connections. We believe the people that we know and like - whether they happen to be CEOs of big brands or marketing bloggers. It may also be the best recent argument for every CEO to start their own blog - or at least their own personal platform to talk directly to the people they manage and those who are influenced by them. 


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Why I Don't Want You To Buy Likeonomics (And This Isn't A Marketing Trick)

A few days ago I got the first shipment of my new book Likeonomics to my house. Right now the book is sitting in front of me and I really want to ask each of you to go out and buy it - but I can't. In fact, it really helps me if you DO NOT buy it yet - and the reason why explains a lot about the nature of timing, business, and what is broken with the publishing industry itself.

LikeonomicBoxes1Book sales, like movie sales, are reported on a weekly basis through a reporting system called called Bookscan. The Bookscan number is a key factor in helping to determine which books make "the lists" (NY Times Bestseller List and WSJ Bestseller list, among others). Hitting any of these lists for a new book is a chance to build momentum ... which is a real and important currency in the fast moving world of publishing where there is ALWAYS a newer book than yours being released.

Likeonomics officially launches on May 22nd. That is the date that it will physically be in bookstores, and I will be doing many of my media interviews. It is considered the "on sale" date in the industry. And the way that the publishing industry measures success means that if you happen to buy the book the week of May 20th (launch week), it matters more. In fact, it matters A LOT MORE ... because that number resets every week.

HoldingLikeonomicsI realize that most authors don't really talk about this fact of the industry. So why am I tell you all this? One of the core beliefs of Likeonomics is that there is a real currency to unexpected honesty. It is why I told the story of the "Making of Likeonomics" several weeks before it was even out. I believe that if I don't hide my motivation from you, and share it openly - I can build trust, because I'm not trying to trick you.

Would I LOVE if you bought the book at any time? Definitely. But if you don't mind waiting, buying the book on May 22nd means a lot to me. I will also have a few amazing special offers and incentives available on that date for people who do buy it then, including loads of free content and a few giveaways.  And don't worry, if you have already bought the book, I'll make sure you get access to those offers too!

In the meantime, here are a few links that I hope will help you start to get a sense for what the book is about - and ways to get in touch with me:

1. Download a 42 page excerpt from the book >
2. Watch the "Making of Likeonomics" presentation >
3. Learn about exclusive bulk order options* >

*I have some fairly unique bulk order special offers, including a few things (like 1 on 1 advice sessions and custom webinars) that I have never openly offered to anyone before. If any of that sounds of interest, visit the link above or send me an email at and I'll happily share more information about that.

Thanks, as always, for reading and considering supporting Likeonomics on the week of May 21st!

Friday, May 04, 2012

5 Marketing Lessons From Uber (The World's Best Travel App)

IMB_Uber1Several weeks ago I was standing on a street corner in New York. (This is not the sentence I thought I'd start this post with, but go with me ...) After unsuccessfully trying to hail a cab, I decided to try out an app I had heard about called Uber. I had heard it was useful for those kinds of situations. From the moment of signup - a process which took way less time than I expected, to the actual act of immediately booking a car and heading happily on my way to LaGuardia Airport just 15 minutes later - the experience transformed my NY trip. Experience itself is getting lots of great media attention for solving a big problem in the taxicab experience - but what was particularly interesting for me, of course, was the marketing lessons their successful experience can offer. Here are five big lessons you can learn from Uber:

  1. Simplify mobile signups. I hardly ever sign up for any kind of service on my phone, because typing on a touch screen is such a pain. Unfortunately, when signing up for Uber, I was literally standing on a street corner and had no choice. The app seemed to be designed for exactly that. They only captured the most important and basic details, and let me take a photo of my credit card to scan in the number (instead of having to type it). Every app and signup process should do this one simple thing.
  2. IMB_Uber3Add fun to necessary waiting. After I requested a pickup, the app confirmed that I had a driver ... but it didn't stop there. As I was waiting, the app showed a Google map image of where I was and where my car was. Then I could track my car's progress in real time as it drove to meet me. Sure I was checking email and Twitter while waiting, but it was actually fun (yes fun!) to watch that car coming closer and closer until it arrived exactly as the map predicted. No empty hoping that every next car would be mine. The entire experience was stress free.
  3. Give people useful data they didn't ask for. After my trip, I received an email with my final total cost for the trip and a receipt. This was what I expected. What I didn't expect was that they also told me exactly how long my journey had taken, how many miles we traveled (which is how they calculate the fare) and what the average speed was that whole time. I definitely didn't need that information, but somehow I was still glad to have it.
  4. Make rating a two way street. When your journey finishes, you have the chance to rate your driver - which is nice. What you don't expect is that your driver also has a chance to rate you. So now karma has a real rating system, and it penalizes you for being an a-hole to your driver, if you happen to be that kind of person. That's how the world should work, and people should get rewarded or penalized for how they treat other people, so I love this. Not to mention that it finally gives drivers some way to be part of that rating conversation as well.
  5. Don't apologize for excluding some people. The app has been criticized for its focus on urban city dwellers and price point that makes it about 50% more expensive than taxis, if not more. But this criticism also means that they have a clear picture of who their target audience is ... a consumer who doesn't mind paying more for the reliability and comfort of a clean black sedan that shows up exactly when you expect it.

All of these together make Uber probably my favourite new app ... and marketing story to offer lessons to each of us no matter what we are trying to promote.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Greensurfing - The Rise Of Voluntary Social Media Jealousy

IMB_facebook-break-upThe idea that Facebook causes jealousy isn't new.  A study back in 2009 essentially demonstrated that romantic relationships were often suffering from jealousy induced by Facebook.  The same study is still being referenced today. Unfortunately, there are a few signs that this is becoming a much bigger trend than something driven by the insecurity of dating.

For the first time in human history, there is a place where any of us can go to be surrounded by only good news. Despite the troubles in the world, or your personal struggles - Facebook offers a nearly pain free bubble. Every status update is filled with friends getting married, colleagues finding their dream job, kids getting a new puppy and people sharing their vacation in real time. After all, how many people really share moments of desperation or loneliness, or just the ordinariness of their lives on Facebook?

In a world where we are only a few characters away from instantly experiencing the best moments in the lives of everyone around us, the bad news is that it makes us even more conscious of the normal and not-particularly-shareworthy times in our own lives. It leads to a new kind of voluntary social media jealousy. We start spending hours obsessing over what others are doing and comparing it endlessly to our own lives. How many times a day do you check your Klout score? What about waiting for Google Alerts with your name?  Or your blog ranking?

Greensurfing is a term to describe the time that many people choose to spend online "surfing" websites, social networks and conversations that cause them to feel more jealousy towards others for doing the things they wish they were (or could be) doing.

There are at 3 big reasons why I think this is becoming such a big behavioural trend:

  1. Rankings are everywhere. No matter what you do online, there are plenty of free services to rank everything from your influence to your relative level of hotness. You are always being measured - just seconds away from someone slapping a rank or number on your back to define you.
  2. People share good news more often. The simple face of social media is that people tend to share the good more often than the bad - so you end up with a warped sense of reality if you believe that people's lives are only as positive and happy as they share on Facebook.
  3. Real time updates make it addictive. When your score or what people share is updated in real time, it makes watching the flow an addictive process. When the mobile phone chimes with a new update, you can't help but check it.

The biggest reason I thought about writing this post is that I am about to enter a greensurfing moment of my own - with my new book finally launching I know it will be hard for me to resist checking my Amazon Sales Rank constantly over the next several weeks. IMB_KlouchebagIt is the ultimate comparison of your book (and yes, your popularity) against other Authors. And keeping it consistently high is almost impossible.

So what's my advice to conquer the impulse for greensurfing? I wish I could tell you I had the magic solution, but I don't. Awareness helps - just knowing that you are doing it can help you to change your behaviour. But at the end of the day, it doesn't have to be all bad. Check your online "score" on whatever platform matters to you. Enjoy your friends amazing life updates. But don't let your numbers define you. Klout scores are fine, just as long as they don't tempt you into to becoming a "Klouchebag." 

Image Credit: Facebook Breakup Image