Tom Webster, writing and speaking

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Proving Seth Godin Wrong

Added on by Tom Webster.

I'm going to state this up front--I rarely agree with what Seth Godin writes. And I'll gladly engage in the comments section here with anyone who thinks differently, because I welcome your comments and debate in this space, always. Today's Godin piece, however, I found particularly galling. In "Proving The Skeptics Wrong," Godin takes a hard-to-disagree-with, populist stance against "skeptics" who seek to drag your work down, and instead encourages us to focus on delighting "true believers."

That sells books, I'll warrant, and he's sold more than I ever will (at least, I assume so--my sequel to Hamlet is still sitting on the old Blickensderfer.) But he's got the wrong word. His dismissal of skeptics states that "They don't care. They won't learn."

Poppycock. I'm reclaiming this word right now. The word he is looking for is "cynic." I am emphatically NOT a cynic. I believe in you. I think your idea has merit. I do care, and I most certainly do learn.

But I am a skeptic. A skeptic is not a cynic. A skeptic doesn't rush to early judgement of any kind. A skeptic challenges you, but does not defeat you. A skeptic does not allow you to slide by with intellectual laziness, or straw man arguments, or crap stats, or weak-ass "science." A skeptic makes your idea better.

A cynic seeks to drag you down. The flip side of cynic? I'd call that a pollyanna. You know, those true believers Godin admonishes you to delight. They are merely flip sides of the same coin.

To a skeptic, the sky is not falling, nor is it rosy and sunny. A skeptic merely makes you understand what you know, and what you don't know.

Ignore the cynics. They truly seek to drag you down. But heed the skeptic. I get paid by my clients to be a skeptic. For every mythical business fable about the leader who ignored the "skeptics" and succeeded, there are a thousand, quiet and untold stories about the leaders who avoided the poor decision because the skeptic made them think it through a bit more.

I'm a passionate skeptic. Want to know more about what being a skeptic really means? Check out this five minute Ignite talk I gave a couple of years and 15 extra pounds ago.

How I Travel

Added on by Tom Webster.

I've been on the road constantly in 2013--it's not an exaggeration to say I've been on an airplane every single week this year. So I love posts like Lee Odden's little tour of his laptop/conference gear bag. I'm always on the lookout for ways to simplify my travel, and seeing how fellow road warriors travel always stimulates my inner geek. With that in mind, I thought I'd put together a little Pinterest board of what is in my bag right now, along with some of the bags I use. All of this is literally in my Racer X right now as I write this from a hotel in D.C. (except for one pair of the headphones I pinned.) Enjoy!

How I Travel (a Pinboard)

[alpine-phototile-for-pinterest src="board" uid="webby2001" board="how-i-travel" imgl="fancybox" dlstyle="medium" style="cascade" col="4" size="192" num="25" max="100"]

The Marketing Companion Debuts!

Added on by Tom Webster.

NewImageSome of you may know that my friend Mark Schaefer and I have been kicking around a quasi-secret idea to collaborate on something, and today I am pleased to announce that this is that thing. Mark called me a while back and said, in his inimitable way, "So, this podcast thing." "Yes," I said. And so, The Marketing Companion was born. We thought long and hard about doing a marketing podcast (I understand there are several others), but we knew three things going into this: we knew we had a great rapport and that the podcast would have some humor; we knew we would shoot for a kind of "NPR" feel--a thoughtful look at a topic with some depth; and we knew that Mark and I could take opposite sides of an issue (with conviction!) and still be friends on the other side. Mainly because, in his heart of hearts, Mark knows I am right.

We will be producing The Marketing Companion every two weeks, and our goal is to provide balance, thoughtfulness, humor and above all else, a true companion to your marketing efforts. We've got a great sponsor in Voices Heard Media to help us with production and technical details, and after our first few shows, I can already tell this is going to be something special.

Our debut show talks about Klout's recent moves to insert influential content at the top of Bing's search ratings, their "Experts" initiative, and why influence measures make us so mad!

We hope you like the podcast--we'd love your feedback.

The Marketing Companion Episode 1: Flouting Klout

  • Klout steps into the ring as a content creator
  • Influence at the top of the search rankings
  • Guest appearance by Ringo Starr as a talking apple
  • Is Klout re-defining “expert?”
  • The search for “warmer” search
  • Klout and corruption
  • The emotional hook of Klout
  • Could your Klout score become a global VIP card?
  • Will we be seeing Klout optimization experts?
  • What Klout does well.
  • I reads some spam

To listen now:

Other Ways to Listen to the Podcast:


Added on by Tom Webster.

NewImageI've seen Mitch Joel give his "book talk" for his latest release, Ctrl Alt Delete, a few times--it's a compelling talk about the future of business, and his book lays out a clear case for reinventing your business before it's done for you. What I didn't know, until I got my hands on the book, was that there was a Part Two--reinventing yourself. There's a theme Mitch brings up several times in that part of the book that really resonated with me--the idea of creating collisions. This week I had the honor of keynoting a conference devoted to retail technology put on by Gilbarco Veeder-Root, best known for providing technology for convenience stores and gas stations (e.g., gas pumps that accept PayPal and have integrated TV screens.)

It turned out to be one of the most fun talks I've given in a while. First of all, while it wasn't completely out of the box for me (my company does a lot of work measuring the effectiveness of the advertising you see on those gas pump tv screens), the subject matter was certainly not my typical bread-and-butter.

I spent the day, however, marveling at both how many people came up to me and said "I didn't know you guys could/do research that" and asked for a business card--and at how many times I honestly responded "I didn't know YOU did THAT either." I came away from the conference with a satchel full of ideas for researching other aspects of their business, and I hope they left full of ideas for learning more about their customers' motivations and behaviors.

Just as one of Mitch's keys to creating fertile collisions within companies is to remove "silo" barriers, he also talks about putting your personal lives in positions to "collide" with persons and situations you might not normally encounter, and use the combination of serendipity and healthy cognitive dissonance that results to spark new ideas--and new opportunities. Apple designed its headquarters to encourage hallway collisions for that very reason--and, as Mitch suggests, we should design our lives in the same way to make such collisions inevitable.

As 2013 continues, I'm going to be working harder to create those collisions in my life, both in the events I attend, the social situations I place myself in, and the client work I pursue. I like to think of it as career Darwinism. You can't teach yourself to evolve--you need to place yourself into situations that force you to evolve.

Mitch's book is excellent, and you can learn more about Ctrl Alt Delete here. Also, I'm thrilled to have Mitch as my guest on this week's Friday Five! What better way to reboot your weekend then by listening to two marketing guys talk about music, eh? Now that's a collision!

Intuition, Instinct, and Bravery

Added on by Tom Webster.

Dog JumpWho needs data, when you have a vision? "Ship it!," they tell you. Don't wait for permission--beg for forgiveness! Go with your instincts, and they'll never fail you. We see these sorts of platitudes daily. It's hard to make a populist argument against "go with your gut" or "lead from the heart" or other romantic notions of leadership.

But survivors get to write history, as I've often said in this space, and for every bold, swashbuckling CEO who ignores the naysayers and succeeds, there are scores of CEO's who ignore the naysayers...and don't.

Stephanie Clifford's marvelous article on ousted J.C. Penney CEO Ronald Johnson highlights one such example. Johnson was formerly the Senior Vice President of Retail Operations for Apple, and a man who "liked to tell employees that there were two kinds of people: believers and skeptics, and at Apple, there were only believers."

There is, of course, a BIG difference between a skeptic and a cynic. I'm no cynic. But a little healthy skepticism is good. Skepticism is often what reveals a key piece of data that either prevents an awful decision, or facilitates a better one. According to Clifford's article, some of that key data was available, but was ignored in favor of Johnson's instinct:

[Johnson] ignored a study Penney had just completed on customer preferences, and gave merchants a one-sheet grid explaining what prices they could use.

“Ron’s response at the time was, just like at Apple, customers don’t always know what they want,” said an executive who advocated testing. “We’re not going to test it — we’re going to roll it out.”

Now, my intent here is not necessarily to roll my eyes and issue the self-righteous "I told you so" of the professional market researcher. OK, maybe a little. But this attitude--that customers don't know what they want--is a dangerous one. Henry Ford was famously dismissive of market research, claiming that "if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Maybe so, but that's because Ford was a car man, and not a market researcher. I can assure you that if a competent practitioner in my field asked Ford's customers what they wanted, the answer would have been "to get places faster." Just so.

We all love a good story, and the received wisdom we learn from the outliers--those truly visionary CEO's who make markets--provides fodder for some good ones. But the corollary tale--the tale of the competent CEO who seeks the data, listens to the advice, and changes their mind to make what turned out to be a better decision? These don't show up on most people's Kindles. Those CEO's are every bit as brave, though the best-seller lists rarely celebrate that kind of courage. But there's nothing more brave than recognizing that your personal instinct is wrong, and changing course to make a better decision for shareholders and stakeholders.

Here's the one truth I've come to after two decades as a professional qualitative and quantitative researcher: if you can't get a customer to tell you what they want, you asked the wrong question.