Seinfeld on Marketing: Precedents

It’s that time again. In this week’s Seinfeld episode, Jerry is lamenting to George about Kramer’s girlfriend who heckled him during one of his stand up comedy routines:

JERRY: I should have let her have it! I held back because of Kramer.

GEORGE: You know what you ought do. You should go to her office and heckle her.

JERRY: Yeah, right.

GEORGE: You know, like all the comedians always say, ‘How would you like it if I came to where you work and heckled you?’

JERRY: Yeah, that’d be something.

GEORGE: I’m not kidding, you should do it.

JERRY: Boy, wouldn’t that be the ultimate comedian’s revenge? I’ve always had a fantasy about doing that.

GEORGE: Well, go ahead! Do it!

JERRY: Why can’t I?

GEORGE: No reason!

JERRY: You know what? I think I’m gonna do that! She came down to where I work, I’ll go down to where she works!

GEORGE: This is unprecedented!

JERRY: There’s no precedent, baby!

GEORGE: What…are you using my ‘babies’ now?

A precedent is an example, model, pattern or standard. The more revolutionary your idea, the less likely there will be a precedent in your industry. But that’s ok because precedents are safe (safely leading you to mediocre results). Precedents show the clearer trajectory of an idea – usually at best a little blooper into right field for a single. If the results cannot be quantified beforehand, some people get nervous. When it comes to revolutionary ideas, nervousness is always a better indicator of profound results than precedents ever will be.

This, of course, only applies to your own industry. Looking outside your industry I’d say you’d be crazy not to beg, borrow or steal ideas. In fact, you have officially been given a license to steal. Outside of your industry, you are like the James Bond of ideas.

What do you think?

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

Happy, happy Friday!

Two great ideas

  1. Andy Sernovitz turns the theory of the well known Express Lane at grocery stores upside down. He wonders why no grocery store has a “SuperLane” for those buying a cart full of groceries complete with “2 cashiers, 2 baggers, and a fresh cup of coffee waiting to get you on your way.” Why not reward those with full carts (instead of 10 items or less) and make the other lines speedier for everyone at the same time? Great idea!
  2. A great concert series is coming to Utah this weekend. It is called “Video Games Live” which mixes the orchestral video game arrangements with video game footage, synchronized lasers and lighting as well as live action play. It seems more like a rock concert than a symphony. Click here to watch a video. Great idea!

Signs of responsibility

sign.pngI took this picture just outside of the office. It has been up for two months and let me tell you, this busy road is really damaged. Here’s the thing:

Just because you put up a sign doesn’t mean you get to postpone action or shift responsibility.

Where your treasure is…

work-desk.pngIf you want to find out about your co-worker’s life outside of work you can browse the many pictures on her desk, the collectables taking over her shelf or the artwork from her three-year old hung proudly in her cube.

But how can you find out about her work life while visiting her home? Does she prominently display the pictures of her favorite customers? Does she fondly hang interoffice memos?

Why not? How much of the office do your employees take home?

Seinfeld on Marketing: The opposite

Good Friday to ya’ll. Things have been a little busy as of late, so I going green and recycling a post from last year. But don’t worry; it’s very timely. In this episode of Seinfeld on Marketing, George is lamenting to Jerry about how his life has turned out thus far:

GEORGE: Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but … I was perceptive. I always know when someone’s uncomfortable at a party. It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat … It’s all been wrong.

JERRY: If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Doing the opposite really worked for George. He met a woman and got a job with the New York Yankees. If George can benefit from doing the opposite, I’m fairly certain that you can too. Let’s take a common scene you may encounter this weekend.

Springtime in the US– A time for baseball, time spent outdoors and of course Easter egg hunts. We can learn a lot about business by watching children during an Easter egg hunt.
Remember as a kid when participated in Easter egg hunts? You heard the magical word “go!” and your heart raced as you headed for the middle of the lawn where the eggs were easily seen.

However, since most of the other kids also gravitated toward the middle of the lawn, you were often met with sharp elbows, pushing and shoving and other scenes that were better left for WrestleMania. If you were a bigger kid or a bully (heaven forbid!) you did quite well in the middle. However, most kids that headed for the middle of the lawn came away with little or nothing at all because the competition in the middle was fierce.

Contrast this to the children who went for the boundaries of the lawn. They often found little or no competition. They were left to themselves to grab the hidden gems in the cool grass at the edges of the lawn.

Your market is like a large Easter egg hunt -most companies fight for the middle of the market, the mass market. The middle looks very tempting because of its size. However, there is nothing exciting about the middle. The middle of your market often only contains homogeneous, morphed products or services that try (unsuccessfully) to be all things to all people. Instead, look to the boundaries (or the extremes) of your market – become über-luxury (Starbucks), über-inexpensive (Wal-Mart), über-fast (FedEx), über-customer friendly (Nordstrom), über-small (the Mini), über-big (the Hummer) or über-different (Apple).

Whatever you do, just get to the boundaries first and become the best in that category. The boundaries are where the profund products and services can be found getting most of the word of mouth on the playground.

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

Happy Friday!

What you’ll get (and not get) from customer feedback

Starbucks just announced the launch of it’s website, designed to generate “revolutionary and simple” ideas. Customers can submit ideas and then they can vote on the ones that they think are the best. Here’s the deal with asking your customers for innovative ideas:

What you’ll get: A lot of incremental ideas that make small waves (to wit, the most popular idea thus far is a loyalty punch card that will get you a free drink after purchasing a set number of drinks). But don’t get me wrong; I do think that asking for customer’s ideas is very important because it demonstrates that you are listening and that you care as begin to implement some of the ideas. Also, the idea of voting for ideas gives customers more of a sense of control, which tends to lead them further down the path of engagement.

What you’ll not get: Transformational ideas. It is very rare that your customers will come up with the “next big thing” as we often times don’t know what we want or like until it already exist (or is at least only a step or two away from reality). Starbucks does have a very large customer base so they have a better chance that a customer will come up with something truly revolutionary, but for the rest of us, it’s very, very unlikely.

For a very good in-depth analysis, read John Moore’s excellent post.

[UPDATE: I love John Moore’s suggestion that he has here]

Happy Thursday!

Time out for a good cause

Take some time and watch this moving video:

If you’d like to make a difference, click here

2 reasons why people recommend stuff

I put together this grid to help me to see two common but opposing reasons why people go out of their way to recommend stuff to other people:


In your business you will more then likely encounter both types of recommendations so the distinctions are important. In reality, most recommendations are a combination of the two but usually lean to one side. What do you see that needs to be added (or removed)?

Retakes, editing and business blunders

nxnw_plug_ears_small.pngI really like the old 1959 movie, North By Northwest. One of the final scenes takes place in the crowded cafeteria at Mount Rushmore. Just before Carey Grant’s character gets shot, a little boy in the background of the scene plugs his ears (presumably because they have shot this scene a few times and he knows that the loud gun is coming next).

The great thing about movies is that there is a chance to yell, “Cut!” and do another take – to magically play the whole scene over again. But at times, little things like this seem slip past even the best of directors (in this case, Alfred Hitchcock).

I guess if Hollywood cannot perfectly control every scene, what chance do businesses have at perfectly orchestrating every scene with a customer? The answer…not very likely. The true mark of a business’ directing skills is not in seeing if they never mess up – they will. No, the true mark of genius business directing is manifest in how often they mess up, the severity and maybe more importantly how they handle the mess up.

Do the participants blame the production company (the business)? Maybe they blame their fellow actors (their co-workers or you as the customer). Perhaps they lay blame aside and quickly head for the editing room to try and salvage what they can. Since businesses don’t have a chance to stop and do another take, we should cut them some slack. Give them a chance to edit and make things better. Once they have handed over the edited scene, then we can sit back and give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

What business blunders have you experienced that were saved by editing? What experiences were beyond editing and why?

Seinfeld on Marketing: Kramer, Mavericks and Trailblazers

No, this episode of Seinfeld on Marketing is not about two NBA teams (but great guess). In this setup, Jerry and Kramer are walking down the street at dusk:

KRAMER: Look how dark it’s gettin’ already.
JERRY: Well, it’s not Daylight Saving time yet.
KRAMER: When does it start?
JERRY: I don’t know, they just tell you the night before.
KRAMER: Uh. Well, I’m sick of waiting. [Pulls out his pocket-watch and sets it ahead]. I am springin’ ahead right now.
JERRY: [Under his breath] Oh, I’m sure that won’t cause any problems.

[Side note, but important: A reminder that this weekend on March 9th is Daylight Saving time here in the US. Be sure to set your clocks ahead one hour.]

Here’s the thing. Jerry is a floater (“They just tell you the night before”) – like the feather in Forest Gump, he follows along where things take him. He follows the rules and no one gets hurt.

Kramer on the other hand is a maverick…a trailblazer…a rebel. Society says “this is when Daylight Saving time is” and he ignores it. He comes up with ideas that others think are too risky or won’t work (i.e. making your own pizza pie, starting the Peterman Reality Tour, writing his coffee table book about coffee tables, et. al.)

It’s the Kramers of the world that dare to see more out there beyond what society, your boss, government, your own mind, the status quo, The Matrix or whatever you want to call it says that you should safely see (and do). The Kramer’s of the world are the ones that inspire change. Here’s to the Kramers!

This old Apple commercial inspired this post and is dedicated to the Kramers of the world (Truly an awesome commercial, one to watch each morning before your begin the day):

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

Happy Friday!