Tag Archives: Seth Godin

Avoid Meaningless Words

From Seth Godin’s post Meaningless, published today…

There are words that now have no meaning at all…

‘Well’ and ‘so’ have been doing this work for a long time, but add to that the more syllabic words like ironically, literally, and hopefully.

And don’t forget all the adjectives, beginning with ‘very’  and ‘really’ that (ironically) make something sound smaller, not bigger.

When you remove meaningless words, the power of your words goes up.

I very much enjoy the simplicity of Seth Godin’s writing style, particularly on blog posts. He practices what he preaches.

And I’d add a lot more words and phrases: game-changing, disruptive, billion-dollar, out-of-the-box, and new paradigm, to name a few.  Awesome and amazing when applied to mundane matters that are neither.

 

Planning Is Telling Stories and Making Them Come True

You could call this synchronicity. A few years ago I was reading Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars at about the same time that I caught Harvey Cox talking about the power of stories as truth telling in all major religions. I paused to think about the importance of stories in so many different modes of thinking and communicating; and of course, me being obsessed with business planning, I started thinking of stories as building blocks of planning.

Around that same time, people liked my post Let Your ‘Story’ Frame Your Business Plan, one of my columns at entrepreneur.com. This is moving forward with my sense of planning and stories as closely related:

Suspend your image of a business plan as a document, for a while, and think of it as a collection of stories combined with concrete specifics or goals that aim to make those stories come true.

That led to more recent posts including Stories as Business Strategy earlier this year.

As time goes by I see increasing attention to the wisdom of framing ideas in stories. Just to give you the idea, think of your marketing strategy as a story about how a specific kind of buyer solves a problem or gets something he or she wants by encountering your business. What did she want? How did he find you? What made you different? These are all stories.

A sales forecast tells a story. An expense budget tells a story. So does a set of starting costs, and a balance sheet, and a cash flow projection. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think through these numbers without imagining the purchase decision, the channel, the process, and the scale of units, prices, and costs, assets we need, debts we accumulate, and so on. I can’t be the only one who sees stories in numbers. I hope. Maybe this is what happens when former lit majors fall in love with business analysis, but I’m hoping you agree.

The best way to talk about goals is a story:

Think about your long-term objectives story. Are you looking for wealth and fame, or to do what you like? What does success look like to you? Is it getting financed and making millions, or taking off at 4 p.m. to coach your kids’ soccer team?

And the planning specifics take those stories and break them into specifics required to make them come true:

As you imagine what those stories are, break them down into meaningful, trackable parts. Set tasks associated with those stories, assign tasks to people and give them dates.

The Seth Godin book carries the subtitle: the power of telling authentic stories. I say we go it one step further: we tell authentic stories and make them come true. And that’s a really good path to better business planning.

Understand the New World

My Friday video this week in six years old now but still important. This is what is slowly and steadily replacing advertising. Here’s a quote:

There is good news around the corner — really good news. I call it the idea of tribes. What tribes are, is a very simple concept that goes back 50,000 years. It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas. And it’s something that people have wanted forever. Lots of people are used to having a spiritual tribe, or a church tribe, having a work tribe, having a community tribe. But now, thanks to the internet, thanks to the explosion of mass media, thanks to a lot of other things that are bubbling through our society around the world, tribes are everywhere.

Here’s the link to the TED site that hosts this talk: Seth Godin on the Tribes We Lead.

Stories as Business Strategy

Stories are the oldest and probably the best way to communicate ideas, truth, and beliefs. Stories as business strategy can be extremely powerful. Think of the key stories that are foundational in the great religions. Or think about the stories behind the phrases “sour grapes,” “the fox in the henhouse,” and “the emperor’s new clothes.” They all have power because they communicate. They resonate. We recognize their truths.

“All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by.”

– Harvey Cox

business stories

Stories are a great way to define and communicate business strategy. A strategy that can’t be told as a story is doomed. And a strategy could be laid out as a story that includes the main factors, for example. And  it could be as simple as a story defining the problem your customers have, the solution your business offers, and the factors that make your business especially suited to offer the solution. In this method the problem is also called need, or want, or, if you like jargon, the so-called “why to buy.” Strategy should be flexible. And a lot of successful presentations start with the problem and its solution.

Your Essential Business Story

Strategy starts with an essential business story. Imagine a moment of purchase. Somebody is buying what you sell. It happens with every business. For example:

  • A group walks into your restaurant.
  • A web browser subscribes to your membership site.
  • A customer in your store picks up one or more products, puts them into a basket, and walks to the checkout counter.
  • A potential client decides to take on your management consulting or social media marketing.

In every case, there is a story. Think it through. Who is this person? How did he or she find you, your store, your restaurant, or your website? Was it by answering an email, looking at an ad, talking to a friend, or maybe searching in a Yelp app on a mobile device?

Every transaction is a solution to somebody’s problem. Understand what problem – need, want, or why-to-buy – you’re solving. Marketing author Theodore Levitt used to point out that people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.

So you don’t invite somebody to a sushi restaurant just because you’re both hungry. You want an interesting meal; you want to sit down together for a while and talk. It’s an event, an activity, with hunger satisfaction far from the top of the list.

You also need to understand what business you’re in. The restaurant business is often about occasions, not meals. The drive-through fast food business is about convenience. Starbucks is about affordable luxury, not just coffee; and in some cases, a place to meet, or a place to work.

So the solution has to match the problem, but it should demonstrate what’s different about one company when compared to all its competitors. For example, to make a restaurant story based on fine food credible, you need to add in how this restaurant’s owners and team can credibly deliver fine food. And in the software company example, there must be a sense of this company being qualified to deliver useful content in this topic area. That takes us back to the Identity component of the IMO framework; but it could also be called simply the secret sauce, or why we’re different, and presumably better.

A Real Example

Let’s return to a social media consulting company: HavePresence.com. Here’s its essential business story:

Terry loves her business, puts her heart and soul into it, and is successful. Her sales are growing, her customers are happy, and her employees are happy and productive.

She’s worried about social media. She knows it’s important for her business’ future. She knows her business should be on Twitter, Facebook, and the other major platforms. Experts seem to agree that business owners should engage. However, she’s already busy running a business, and she doesn’t have time to do meaningful social media as well. When she’s not running the business, she wants to be with her family, not on the computer.

Terry tried having an employee handle the social media, but it was still taking too much time. She made inquiries with some consultants, but they are expensive.

Finally, on the web, Terry finds Have Presence, a small business like her own, run by three co-owners who love social media, understand small business, and do only thoughtful, strategic social media updates for clients they know and represent well. They aren’t selling expensive consulting, telling Terry what and how to do it. Instead, they do the work, manage the social media, and give Terry’s business social media presence, for a monthly fee that’s considerably less than a half-time employee, without the long-term commitment.

That story defines three important factors. Identity is there in the phrase that begins “the three co-owners love social media and understand small business.” Target market is there in Terry, the business owner, and her problem with social media. And offering is there in the sentence that begins with “They aren’t selling expensive consulting.”

Stories can describe some important visions of truth better than, say, statistics. The real market isn’t a number on a chart or in a table; it’s that collection of people. Sure, the number is nice, once you know the people, but first you have to feel like these people actually exist, and the reason to buy exists, and that the people and the reason match up.

The Story Your Customer Tells

Imagine how your customer found you. What did he think was good or interesting or remarkable about you or your business? Why does she go back for repeat business? What do you want that story to be, and how can you influence that story? This is where the story leads to better business planning as alignment of all the elements of the business with your ideal story.

Your most powerful branding, like it or not, is the story that the customer tells her friends. Imagine your customer explaining your business to a friend. How would she describe your business? What can you do to influence that story?

Even before social media, there was viral marketing, and before that, referral marketing, guerilla marketing, and going back even further, word of mouth. John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, calls it getting people to know, like and trust you. Seth Godin, author of All Marketers are Liars, calls it being remarkable.

And now, with social media, Jim Blasingame, author of Age of the Customer, says your customers control your brand. Your business depends on collective opinions published in tweets and Facebook updates, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. It’s amplified word of mouth, and it’s in the hands of the world at large, independent of your advertising budget, signage, and tag lines.

Know the story. Create the story. Plan in useful steps how to make it true.

Management, Done Well, is a Collection of Stories

Your business revolves around the story of your history and your values and your team as it grows.

With business planning, you don’t just tell the stories of the past, you also create and develop the stories of your future. Look ahead with your plan, control your destiny, and drive it in the right direction. Go from vision to imagination to focus and step-by-step concrete measurable activities.

(Ed note: this is taken from a section of Lean Business Planning)

Truth is a Believable Story

I grew up believing that facts, like research, numbers and percentages, told the truth. I believed in objective, verifiable truth, based on fact. I distinguished that from mystical religious truth, based on faith.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/8268159192/

I was a mainstream journalist for almost 10 years in the 1970s. Every professional journalist believed in objective verifiable truth based on fact. That was the goal of reporting. We separated subjective opinion from objective truth. Truth was hard to find, yes. It often had to be dug up and uncovered. But it was there.

Now I know better.

Truth is not research and data. Although my generation grew up believing hard numbers were truth, it just isn’t so.  Nowadays there is data to prove anything, regardless of how absurd. And people routinely hide their opinions as data. Eggs are good? There’s data to prove it. No, eggs are bad? There’s data to prove that too. The same for coffee, sugar, exercise, structure, discipline, whatever.  The truth is not in the data.

Truth is not just a believable lie, either. It’s more like a matter of angles and reflections and angles of light, like a gas, not a solid. It’s something like what William Blake implied about  300 years ago, in Proverbs of Hell:

Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.

Truth is a believable story. And much of human truth is better told in stories than a facts, and much less numbers.

And in business, Seth Godin says marketing is stories. I say planning is stories. Truth isn’t what the research says, or the focus group, or the latest survey.

Take a step back from it and ask, always: Does this make sense? Is this credible?

Truth as told in stories is still truth. I love how Harvey Cox says truth is in stories. This is from his book When Jesus Came to Harvard:

All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by…religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need.

I don’t mean it as disrespectful to see the “story” to religious doctrine. On the contrary: The right stories, real stories, the best stories communicate truth better than so-called facts. And it’s almost a proof of God how themes and meanings overlaps between the different stories of the different religions. Maybe there is a good gene, in our species DNA. And the stories are an expression of how humans all struggle to understand God, or creation, or whatever that immensity is, in their own way. With their own background and culture.

My summary: truth is a believable story.

(photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc)

What Really Happens With Idea Adoption

Seth Godin has a good post today on idea adoption. He calls it you’re not a slot, you choose a slot. It’s an important point: 

wikipedia technology adoption life cycle

Individuals choose a slot based on what sort of leadership or risk or followership behavior makes them happy right now. Early adopters and nerds like to go first. But some people are early when it comes to shoes, or to mystery novels, or records, while others adopt early when it comes to political ideas or restaurants.

Most of the time, most of us choose to be in the slot of mass. The masses wait to see the positive reviews, or they monitor the bestseller lists. The masses know they have plenty of time, that they’ll get around to it when they get a chance, and mostly, they are driven by what their peers (the early adopters, the ones who keep track of this stuff) tell them. “Why waste time and money on the wrong thing,” they argue, with some persuasion. So they wait for proof. Social proof or statistical proof.

I think it’s also a matter of which market, which product. For example, I’m sure I’m very early adopter on high-tech products, even if a bit less so now than I was 20 or 30 years ago; but I’m late on novels, television, and movies. What about you?

More important, Seth’s nice sense of timing. I sense how right he is with this, but I hadn’t seen it as clearly:

The glitch in the system is that many marketers obsess only about the launch. They put their time and money and effort into the first week on sale, and then run to work on the next thing, when in fact, the mass market, those that choose to wait for more than, “it’s new!” haven’t decided to take the leap yet.

That’s so true. And so easy to forget. Great post. 

Thinking of Quitting? Don’t Let Survivor Bias Ruin Your Life

You may have missed Alyson Shontell‘s piece asking an answering the question When You Should Quit Being An Entrepreneur? I marked it when it first appeared earlier this year, then left it in the back burner. If you’re an entrepreneur, especially if you’re engaged in a startup and not yet rolling strong and on your own, it’s a good piece to read. After musing about multiple pivots and startup failures, she concludes:

While we’re not trying to encourage quitting, more founders should ask themselves tough questions. Maybe it’s time to help someone else make their dream really big. Tomorrow’s companies depend on it. Plus that corporate experience could be what makes your next startup a success.

That relates to a really interesting comment added to my April 20 post on the myth of persistence. The comment, signed by faxauthority, was:

Most common phrase I hear from successful entrepreneurs: it was all about persistence. 

Most common phrase I hear from failed entrepreneurs: I’m glad I got out before all my money ran out…

That comment is a great illustration of survivor bias. We hear only from people who succeeded, never from people who failed. 

Have you read Seth Godin’s The Dip? Here’s a quote:

The old saying is wrong-winners do quit, and quitters do win

Do I sound negative about entrepreneurship here? I’m not. My wife and I own a multi-million-dollar company we started ourselves, without outside investment, that has 40 employees, profits, and no debt. But I am negative about sloppy thinking in entrepreneurship myths. On this one I’m with Alyson, faxauthority and Seth Godin. 

(Image: bigstockphoto.com. It’s suppose to represent a bottomless pit. Y’know, where the money goes, when an entrepreneur sticks with a bad business?)

Turn the Negative of Worry into the Positive of Planning

Worrying is a waste of time, stress, and effort. It ties knots in your soul. Forget the worry. Turn that energy into a positive: planning.

Seth's BlogI just read Seth Godin’s brilliant small post, from last weekend, asking

In When is it okay to start worrying? With apologies to Seth for quoting the whole thing (but it’s that short, and that good), here it is:

A friend was waiting to hear about the results of a job interview. He hadn’t heard in a while and he asked me, ‘how long before I should start worrying?

Of course, the answer is, ‘you should never start worrying.’

Worrying is not a useful output. Worrying doesn’t change outcomes. Worrying ruins your day. Worrying distracts you from the work at hand. You may have fooled yourself into thinking that it’s useful or unavoidable, but it’s not. Now you’ve got one more thing to worry about.”

While I agree completely with every word of that, even in the exact example Seth uses, there is a time when you start thinking about what comes next and what else to do in the aftermath of a job interview that has produced no word.

What else to do? What are the contingencies? Next steps? Is there an action point? Have you gained any new information? Are your assumptions still correct?

Don’t worry: Plan.

Planning Is Telling Stories and Making Them Come True

You could call this synchronicity. A few years ago I was reading Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars at about the same time that I caught Harvey Cox talking about the power of stories as truth telling in all major religions. I paused to think about the importance of stories in so many different modes of thinking and communicating; and of course, me being obsessed with business planning, I started thinking of stories as building blocks of planning.

Fast forward to this month and I’ve been getting a lot of warm fuzzies for Let Your ‘Story’ Frame Your Business Plan, my most recent column at entrepreneur.com. This is moving forward with my sense of planning and stories as closely related:

Suspend your image of a business plan as a document, for a while, and think of it as a collection of stories combined with concrete specifics or goals that aim to make those stories come true.

Just to give you the idea, think of your marketing strategy as a story about how a specific kind of buyer solves a problem or gets something he or she wants by encountering your business. What did she want? How did he find you? What made you different? These are all stories.

A sales forecast tells a story. An expense budget tells a story. So does a set of starting costs, and a balance sheet, and a cash flow projection. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think through these numbers without imagining the purchase decision, the channel, the process, and the scale of units, prices, and costs, assets we need, debts we accumulate, and so on. I can’t be the only one who sees stories in numbers. I hope. Maybe this is what happens when former lit majors fall in love with business analysis, but I’m hoping you agree.

The best way to talk about goals is a story:

Think about your long-term objectives story. Are you looking for wealth and fame, or to do what you like? What does success look like to you? Is it getting financed and making millions, or taking off at 4 p.m. to coach your kids’ soccer team?

And the planning specifics take those stories and break them into specifics required to make them come true:

As you imagine what those stories are, break them down into meaningful, trackable parts. Set tasks associated with those stories, assign tasks to people and give them dates.

The Seth Godin book carries the subtitle: the power of telling authentic stories. I say we go it one step further: we tell authentic stories and make them come true. And that’s a really good path to better business planning.

3 Posts on Stuff We Know But Frequently Forget

Does this happen to you? You read something, love it, realize you sort of knew it, but this author puts it in a new context, new light, or new list, so that it’s very useful to you just to see it again? I found three of those this week in three blog posts:

  1. Donna Fenn posted The Top 10 Best Ways to Fail as an Entrepreneur on BNET. Manage partnerships poorly … hire too fast — grow too fast … delegate sales. She has some useful surprises and good reminders.
  2. For a good practical review of what makes your website work, read 6 Must-Haves for Your Small Business Website, by Lisa Barone, on Small Business Trends. She mentions intuitive navigation, sticky content, a blog … that’s another good collection of reminders.
  3. Seth Godin is amazing. He so often says so much in so few words. His post Pleasing is maybe 100 words long. If you’re in business, read it. You know what he’s saying there, but you keep forgetting.

I saw an interview with Seth Godin where he says he puts labels on things we already know. I think he’s underestimating himself with that description, but still, give me those labels. Well done. 

(Image: Evlakhov Valeriy/Shutterstock)