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hitmakers

Why do some ideas become wildly popular while others languish in obscurity?

Derek Thompson’s riveting, and impeccably researched, book; “Hit Makers,” postulates that there is a formula to making ideas popular. It argues that knowing how manipulate ideas to create successful products has major implications, but that it is also just as important is to understand when successful products are the result of manipulation.

At its core, Hit Makers asked two questions:

  1. What is the secret to making products that people like, whether they are music, movies, TV shows, or Apps in the vast cultural landscape of today?
  2. Why do some products fail, while similar ideas catch on and become massive hits?

Mr. Thompson tells us that people are both neophiliac, a love of the new, while also being neophobic, a fear of the new. People who are hit makers marry old and new ideas. They create familiar surprises. People tend to gravitate to the familiar – the most popular movies in recent times have all be sequels or reimagining of existing properties. People want new things, but they want those new things to seem familiar.

The most popular theory of modern content creation is that if you make great content, it will be recognized, shared, and go viral. However, Mr. Thompson states; “Content might be king, but distribution is the kingdom.” Catchy tunes that do not get air play on the radio will remain unknown. New tunes get on the radio by being new, but being familiar enough to listeners that they do not turn off.

Repetition, repeated exposure which creates familiarity, can actually be used to engineer popularity in groups of people. Politicians have known this for years. Consider this speech by Barack Obama:

“For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.
It was the call of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, to justice and equality.
Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can.”

Or this speech by Winston Churchill;

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Mr. Thompson makes a convincing case, although not guaranteed, that popularity can, and has been for centuries, been manufactured and manipulated, but that it can also occur spontaneously by specific sets of circumstances.

Hit Makers is a starting point for understanding how and why things become popular and how we can get our ideas to find their audience, and what we can do to create that audience in the first place. It postulates that we misunderstand terms such as “viral” and “influencer” therefore ideas are not spread in the ways that we hope.

Hit Makers is a phenomenal book for anyone who sees to understand ideas and popularity. It draws from history and the present day. It should, for better or worse, change the way you share ideas and see how ideas change the world.

You might have heard, but getting your business online is kind of a big deal. It is not everything when it comes to marketing, but it is a significant component of any, and all, marketing strategies in the 21st century.

An online presence, more than any other area, is the one piece of marketing you must have. You must have a website, period. No ifs, no ands, no buts.

An online presence, more than ever, has always been about content. Even in the days when there was no term “content marketing” you could have someone build a website for you, but someone who knows your business inside out (that means you) still would have had to write the content. These days content, and particularly, new content, is king. The return on investment of a website is directly related to the effort, not necessarily money, that is poured into it. Your clients will be much more impressed by the effort, and the creation of a useful tool, than by flashy graphics. There was a time when a website could be a “set it and forget it” proposition (however the good websites were never this) and today that is almost impossible to do unless you want to be thought of as irrelevant. Your website will need to included the tools, and you will have to devote the time and energy, to keep it updated on a regular basis.

A lot the content of your website will be informed by your marketing strategybranding,  and your ability to market to your strengths. But it is also worth talking with your staff, and clients, about what they want to see and what they would find useful to have access to. Make a plan of action consisting of what you must have, what you would like to have, and things you might want to experiment with at some point. This will allow you to have a real idea of what you will be buying from your website designer. It will also give you some stages to work with so you can get started, see how it all works, and then make any tweaks before moving on.

Notice I said “what you will be buying from your website designer,” not: “what you will be buying from your website designer- if you use one.” If you are thinking of breaking out the books and learning to code your own website to save a few bucks, please stop. If you are bored with your current job, and web designer is your new passion, then please go for it. If not, please spare the internet, your customers, and yourself, the pain – do not go there. I’ve made quite a number of websites in the past, and today I just do not do it enough to be remotely good enough to satisfy myself – let alone anyone else. There are just too many browsers, platforms, search engine optimization tools, social media plug-ins, user interface issues, and a host of other magic things, to make it worth your while. Hire a professional and get something that you might actually want to use.

Spend your time actually writing the website content and thinking about how that tool, that you can direct customers too, is going to be best used. If you really know what you want, and have the content ready to go, your designer will quite probably cut you a deal on the price of the site. The content of a new website is always the killer, from a designers point of view, when creating a website – particularly when it is not your business.

How much is your new website going to cost? Well that is a good question, and one to which I do not have a good answer. The bottom line is that you can spend as much money as you have building the world’s greatest website or you could spend very little indeed. I’ve always used as a rule when it would just be cheaper to employ someone, with then all the added benefits of having them around, it probably means it is too expensive (or i should just hire someone). That is, of course, unless you want something really special, in which case you’re paying a premium because of what that designer can offer you. Another good barometer is to look at what you are paying, or have been paying, for a yellow pages ad. Take all that money you have been paying to the yellow pages and make it your website budget. The only issue you’ll have is that your yellow pages rep(s) will be mad, and you’ll have a website – which will serve you a lot better in both the short and long term (we will address the yellow pages in a future post; but I don’t thing I’m spoiling any surprises by saying it will not end well for the yellow pages.)

If you must do it yourself, please use one of the blog creators, such as WordPress or Hubspot . They will give you a good looking website (this is a wordpress site) will hold your hand through the process, and do allow for a certain amount of customization if your really want to go there. If you can’t do what you want to do with these tools, then you need a designer.

Finally, I’ve started seeing a habit of businesses having only a Facebook page and not having a website. This is a disgusting, lazy habit and your clients will see it as such. Search engines will have a hard time finding you, and many people do not think of searching Facebook when looking for a business – maybe your existing clients might but they are already your clients. Facebook is also quite limited as a platform, unless you a going to go to the same level of trouble that you would encounter building a website.

Have fun and if you have questions please leave a comment!

Next week: Up to your Ankles in Social Media.

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