Wednesday, July 20, 2005
There are certain business books out there that you really worry about, because they do such a good job of unlocking certain secrets that you know your business might suffer if others get ahold of it (notwithstanding C.B. Macpherson's, Tim Sanders', and Herbert Marcuse's hopes that we'll all adopt "abundance thinking," reject the standard view of "modernity/liberalism as trade-offs," and turn into libidinally rational "lovecats"). There have been a couple I purposely haven't reviewed on this site because they are handbooks that explain how to build a certain type of business. Why tell people how to compete with you?
Then there is other powerful knowledge that you wish everyone knew about, like all the sensible work being done today on usability and web standards. I guess it's just a bit over the top to be so competitive that you hope your competitors' sites will continue to suck. The powerful idea of a positive user interface experience overwhelms any selfish view that somehow your company will out-UI the others over the long haul. Sure, get a couple years' lead on your competitors. But expect that they'll eventually iron out their foolishness by investing in that side of the biz.
Godin's new book, All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World, is knowledge anyone in my business hopes will percolate out to at least our immediate environment: companies trying to do a better job of inspiring customers to buy. "Liars" is a bit of a misnomer. Godin actually shows that the best companies tell a great story. The most successful people, period, have always told a great story. The backdrop of an evocative narrative is like the set for a feature film or Broadway comedy. I guess in showbiz they call this "production values." Without the backdrop, you're just a bunch of crazy kids doing improv. That won't work, unless that in itself is the story.
Many online marketers still don't understand that they need to tell any kind of story, let alone a great one. Godin marvels at the power of the story behind Kiehl's, which sells lotions and cosmetic products with insanely high markups. This is one of a few central examples in the book. For fun, while preparing to work with one of their competitors (to boost their online sales), I wandered over to kiehls.com. Now that site tells a story. Sure, you might be saying, but do their product pages convert? Sure, you'd want to understand how to make these pages compelling and usable, but it wouldn't be enough on its own. 38 bucks for sunscreen. If consumers are just shopping for a good deal, you have no hope of converting them. So it's that backdrop, that story, that conversion environment, that lays the foundation for a long-term business success.
With the right approach to myth-making (this doesn't rule out authenticity and basing your story on solid facts, as Godin stresses; in fact, he counsels talented myth-makers to use their power wisely), everything else falls into place more easily. Smaller companies can build on "little stories," like being in business for six years, or a physical location... anything is better than nothing. The power of telling authentic stories, for example, will be one of the things that really drives the growth of local search in the coming years. Very small companies will have ample opportunity to capitalize on their "touchability factor."
Certain master storytellers (liars in the good sense, because customers are complicit in wanting to believe there is something larger behind that pair of $200 jeans) can really clean up.
The challenge of doing this well is so great -- historically, the world has been divided into successful leaders and businesspeople who can tell great stories, and the failed ones who can't -- there is no risk in broad dissemination of Godin's powerful teaching. The more businesses work to create these value-enhancing stories, the easier it becomes for those assigned to specific marketing tasks to hit their targets. Why? Because your customers aren't rational (thank God).
Then there is always the counter-view that says that we're all immoral bullshitters who will likely burn in hell. A full review of Godin's book and some related works is forthcoming in this space (unless I'm lying).
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Andrew's book, Winning Results With Google AdWords, (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed.), is still helping tens of thousands of advertisers cut through the noise and set a solid course for campaign ROI.
And for a glowing review of the pioneering 1st ed. of the book, check out this review, by none other than Google's Matt Cutts.
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