Category Archives: Thoughtware

Want Less => More Wealth

Lets start with a premise: Money enables us to buy things we want

The normal corollary is that we need to get more money to buy more stuff. But what if we flipped that on its head, and just wanted less stuff? Then, with the same money, we’d be able to get everything we want.

There’s a great post here on 4HWD that lays this out.

Its a great argument, and in the pursuit of minimalism, a powerful way to turn the tables on the forces of consumerism that assault us every day.

The Unclutterer Blog

I recently discovered (and recently fell in love with) the Unclutterer blog.

Its a site full of interesting observations on the random stuff we collect as humans, and how to simplify.

Example topics from the site include:

Not a bad place to get ideas on how to further seek simplicity.

100 thing challenge

How many things do you own? Its fine, this post will be fine waiting while you go count.

Its too easy to pile up a horde of stuff we don’t need, and for some reason, really hard to get rid of it afterward.

I’ve been a big fan (and struggling to reach) the goals of the 100 thing challenge. David Bruno has done a ton to promote the idea, and the core of it is simple:

Stuff (unless its really nice) doesn’t make us happy. Therefore have less stuff.

Its much easier said than done. If you’ve ever felt the pang of guilt or doubt when throwing something out, you’ve see what happens when the things you buy start to own you instead of the other way around.

Give your old clothes, books, and other stuff to charity, to benefit those who might really need it. Downsize your albatross of stuff, feel the weight lift off your shoulders, and see the difference it makes in your happiness level.

Watch that TED talk – even though its from a few years ago, its just as true today.

Do you have a crappy product?


I offer you two basic premises here, that I think we can all agree on.

1. Most products are crappy – You know this is true. Call me a cynic if you’d like, but if you combine the facts that a) half of the stuff in any category is below average by definition, and b) products that are just above average rarely cause excitement, we’ve just ruled ~75% of the products in any category, and collectively, 75% of all products everywhere, as crap.

That just is what it is, and as the creators of products we need to know that without some real planning, thought, and design (and maybe luck) we’re going to put out a crappy product. As the consumers of products, we’re just so bombarded by shiny new products that —

2. The bar to meet for quality products is always rising – Last year’s great stuff is just okay stuff today, and even top of the line from 2-3 years ago is basically crap. We could be talking about cars, clothing, or consumer electronics. We human creators are always trying to out-do each other and ourselves, so as long as we keep putting out improved products, the older stuff has got to get updated, thrown out, or settled for.

Call it “product-quality deflation” – and it is always working against you.

The result? If you’re not consistently, rigorously, aggressively improving, and more so than the next guy and all the rest of your competitors, your product is getting crappier. As a creator of products, you’ve got to always run a little faster than a treadmill whose speed is set by your customers and competitors.

Product-quality deflation is merciless, and works against you while you sleep. Stay vigilant, my friends, or you will wake up one day to see that this silent force has slowly devoured your whole operation.

This doesn’t even touch on whether you have the right customer or not, whether your price is right, or if your value prop is meaningful. These elements of product strategy will need to wait for a future post.

Breaking bad: Top 3 terrible email habits


If you asked digital executives today what was the one activity that they credited with a majority of their day-to-day commercial success, 90% would tell you ’email’ without missing a beat.

But if asked most of these guys whether they were happy with their email, whether they thought it was a real center of excellence for them, you might start getting some mumblings: “Our customers keep unsubscribing, our conversion rates are going down, I’m not really sure if we’re doing the best we can.”

Email is the lifeblood of customer communications today, and the majority of digital groups that I’ve seen are suffering from a cancer of email. A slow degrade away from quality communications, away from excellence in marketing, and away from their fans. Cancer. And if there’s anything we’ve learned about the cure for cancer from TV, its that you have to Break Bad. (Was that too much of a stretch?)

So next time you hear a digital exec offer you the excuses below, or the next time you hear yourself saying them – think about how you can break away from these, or more simply, what Walter White would do.

Excuse #3: “We have to tell them everything” 

Pour acid on the desk. I hear some variant of this whenever I find myself criticizing an email campaign that is full of text – 500 words of dense gibberish. Remember the last time you got one of these? Probably not, you marked these companies as spam a long time ago.

The goal of the email is not to tell the entire story, nor is it to close the sale. It’s about sharing a glimpse into life at your company, a peek at a cool product, a hint of a story. The email is an invitation to join the conversation, to learn more, to belong. How can you get that subtlety across if all you’re saying is BUYMYPRODUCT BUYMYPRODUCT BUYMYPRODUCT ?

Excuse #2: “We understand the customer, we don’t need to see data”

Set something on fire. What this digital exec really said is that they are so terrified of reality, they are clutching to their hopes (read: Hope is not a marketing plan) and probably to their job. Whenever I hear this, I know its time to start sending the resumes of actually competent people to this guy’s boss.

Excuse #1: “This is how we’ve always done it”

Throw a chair through a window. This is what you’ve always done, and you continue to get mediocre results. Keeping the same tactics is going to keep those mediocre results, or worse.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – misquote of Einstein

If what you are doing is failing, try something, anything, different. It just might surprise you.

Sales Yield: How to not waste money growing a business


If you ask a digital business owner today what their job is, I bet you’d get pretty strong alignment:

“My job is to grow revenue – 10%, 50%, 100% over last year” – Every digital business owner, everywhere

But if you ask the next level question, you’d likely get a lot of disagreement, confusion, and if you have more than one of these guys in a room, an 8% chance of fistfight.

The common threads of Ecom VPs, Digital strategists, CMOs and other titles that business owners take on are instead: confusion, misinformation, and wasted opportunity.

Some folks will tell you that the right answer is to give all of your money to Google, others will tell you that they have a preferred high-cost consultant, and others might say that spamming their shrinking email database is the way to go.

The right answer, as it is with so many things is – it depends.

For products and services that are either super pain-point driven, or extremely timely, it may not at all be a bad idea to put some money into search. For products that are interesting, and at an impulse price point, channel partnerships make a ton of sense. For commodity items that are selling on known terms, it might make sense to have another dimension of value, like a well-known affiliate, help to peddle the goods.

But no matter what, no one should go into such a mission with unflinching preconceptions of the right answer. The marketing budget should be split by month and by channel – and then measured rigorously for conversion optimization.  So if at the start of this program you don’t know what the hell you’re doing (this is not an insult: the first step is admitting the existence of an issue), and if you have a theoretical $1,000 for the month, put $333 into search, email, and affiliate and track the results. This may involve discount codes, or it could involve cookie tracking – whatever your level of savvy is. The next month, maybe you do the same split but for display ads, sponsored posts, and radio (don’t laugh, I know some brands that make an absolute killing on remnant radio).

Over time, you should have a reliable list of different marketing methodologies, conversion rates by cohort, and a real shot at calculating yield: dollars produced per dollar spent.

Acquisition cost and LTV get all the headlines, but for all their pomp, they remain really challenging metrics to get right. You could run a dozen campaigns and get a different CaC for each one, and run three different styles of calculation for three different LTVs per.

Yield, however, is yield. Keep doing high yield activities, and eventually you will dance past your competitors.

Hope is not a marketing plan


“Build it and they will come”

We’ve all heard that before. Many product-focused people in industries as far apart as CPG, apparel, and software will tell you that all you need to do is put out a better product, a better service, a better story — and customers will come and find you. Through intuition, through magic, or just through the grapevines, people will sell themselves. Somehow.

“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” –misquote of Emerson

This whole backwards way of thinking can be best paraphrased as: If I just sit here quietly, tooling away at my desk, and just hope really hard, I’ll succeed.

HOPE is not a marketing plan. At best it is misplaced sentiment, and at worst, its a spin of the die. Its a gamble that luck will carry you, or a complacent excuse to fall back on when the inevitable failure appears.

The best executed businesses do not run on hope. They run on discipline, structure, and raw hustle. Even the companies known for being the best, and with a reputation for being the best for decades don’t sit on their laurels. Fedex has thousands of salespeople, even though they are practically a verb. Apple, in Jobs’ time, and even today, meticulously plans and coordinates press, retail, wholesale and partner activity. Even apparent exceptions like Google and Facebook are lobbying like crazy behind the scenes for advertiser dollars. They will work super hard to close deals and then super hard to paint the veneer of effortless success.

Are you or your team out there pulling harder than your competitors? Or are you just hoping to win?

Product as the Hero. Let them fall in love with it.

GG LegoBatman2

There’s a narrative that’s happening on your site whether you’re writing it or not. The only question is: who’s your protagonist?

In a well told story, the audience cheers for the protagonist. Is that your brand? Company founder/face? Something else entirely? Some sites are so poorly organized that people get bored and get out.

Some, on the other hand, are awesome.

Hard Graft:

I love these guys. Even from the landing page (as previously featured here), these guys are clearly all about product. They live and breathe product. And after getting you from the landing page to the product detail page, they take it to the next level.

hard graft Product 1

Crisp, uncluttered page. Its all product, a review from a dude with a Managing Director title. The leather looks so crisp you can practically taste it.

But then, if you click on the product: it takes over the entire screen.

hard graft Product 2

Full page shots. Multiple of them. Product in action, product on a desk. Product in use, product not in use. All with super-clean, focused photography. I don’t even need an ipad/laptop case, but i’ve got so much depth and detail on this thing, I can’t help but want it.

Now, is it crazy to suggest that you put product pictures on your site? Of course not. The crazy observation is that sites with focus on the product, rather than lists of features, expounding copy, and other extraneous picture are better at creating an emotional link between you and your customer.

Take a hard look at your product page. Do you have tiny pictures? Do you have paragraphs and paragraphs of text and bullets that no one cares about? Do you do that weird zooming thing where a magnifying glass follows the mouse pointer? (you know who you are.)

Get back to the basics, clean it up, and let your product be your hero.



Telling stories: There’s a reason we love your brand

Old Book 2

The landing page. Its the start of a narrative, the beginning of a relationship, and if you’re good — the opening of a great story.

Sometimes, the product is the hero. Sometimes, its something else entirely. However, the common thread is that the great sites start showing you the road to walk down, paved with yellow bricks and all.

In the first example above, we’re looking at The North Face:

Landing rotation The North Face

The story is clear, and comes at us from all directions. The North Face isn’t just slinging product — they are collaborating with top athletes from multiple disciplines to bring us awesome stuff. Cool photography and immediately believable.

It’s about adventure, adrenaline, and athleticism — in some out-of-the way spots all around the world.

The second example above is from the Yoox site over the holidays. landing color voice

Here, the story is a little different. It’s colorful and fun. Its evocative of the holidays, and the heartfelt silliness that comes from hanging out with our loved ones. Its playful, hints at presents (and who doesn’t love presents) and extremely interactive. Each color had a different scene with relevant product and a similar spirit.

Indeed, you can click right on the scenes to start getting lost in the store.

Finally, one of my favorite storytellers: J.Crew.

J.Crew Landing 1


Sure, the landing page shows you product, and good landing pages do that. But it does more — it starts telling you about the reason you came there. Were you looking for a cashmere sweater => come right this way.

No? That’s okay, maybe you came looking for a suit.

J.Crew Landing 2

You’re thinking about fabric, and the clothes, and before you know it, you imagine the places you’ll go, and the things you’ll see in the sharp new threads that you could have in a few clicks.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether the shopper was looking for cashmere or a suit. The juices are flowing, the pictures are inviting, and the story of what might happen has begun.


Fab’s 5 Rules for crushing eCom


This is old content, but I stumbled back onto it, and realized that it is more relevant today than ever.

The Fab team in Forbes shares some of the reasons they’ve been able to blow it out. Anyone who is building or improving their ecommerce is probably wondering how they can emulate some the success that Fab has had.

Here are their five guidelines. How many are you doing?

1: Sell stuff you can’t find on Amazon – Otherwise, people will just google for it cheaper and pick it up there.

2: Have a personality – The classic advantage of small, fun brands vs a goliath

3: Think mobile first – May not work for everyone, but if frequent email is part of your plan, people get those on their phones today more than ever.

4: Be social – Another classic advantage of being small. Talk to people, let them talk to you. Huge faceless companies can’t do this.

5: Go global from the start – Hello, the internet? Yes. Nothing but a little bit of Fedex between you and anywhere in the worldF