I've read the piece that is today’s Outside the Box multiple times over the past several weeks. It’s theoretically about the music business, but it’s actually about everything. I’ve been finding it helpful as I think about my own business, and you may, too.
One major takeaway (and this is one that most of us have always known but can stand to be reminded of from time to time):
We all need to hear it from our friends. Who we might know in person or might just know online. It's about trusted filters. And those filters guard their credibility wisely. Credibility is everything in the attention economy. If you can't be trusted, then you're probably going to be ignored. You're building your reputation every day online, and all the bread crumbs are there for everybody to see.
The author, Bob Lefsetz, is a longtime music lawyer with deep roots in all streams of music who has been a perceptive commentator on the music world. His political philosophy is deeply mainstream Hollywood, but his analysis of the music business is brutally on-target. When he is not commenting on various artists and music, he offers insights on how things are changing and how to change with them, which I often find applicable to my own business and the investment world – I forward his work to my partners from time to time. This essay is at the heart of the changes going on in the world.
I find myself in DC listening to George Friedman and friends talking all things geopolitical. Panel after panel analyzing the world. It is most fascinating, and when I find out how to get the audios, I’ll let you know.
Tomorrow I am off to Atlanta, hoping to get my weekly letter done early, as I will be staying in Augusta, attending the Masters, and I’m told I have to be technology-free on the course. I will need some kind of drug to get me through withdrawal. But I do get to watch the greatest golfers on the greatest course on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, so perhaps I can cope (written with a smile).
Then it’s on to Tampa Bay for a two-day focus on biotech with Patrick Cox. Lots to think and report about.
Have a great week!
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
By Bob Lefsetz
Originally published at the Lefsetz Letter, Feb. 28, 2017
Is the number one commodity in today’s world. Unless you can get it, you cannot proceed.
1. You don’t get multiple bites at the apple.
Since attention is scarce and stretched, if someone checks you or your product out and is not closed, chances are they will never check it out again. Which is why you should not launch before you are ready and when it comes to a product many companies release first iterations as betas, signaling the customer should expect rough edges. If the concept is good, if the utility is reasonable, people will put up with bugs in betas.
2. You can’t spread the word, your users must.
We all need to hear it from our friends. Who we might know in person or might just know online. It’s about trusted filters. And those filters guard their credibility wisely. Credibility is everything in the attention economy. If you can’t be trusted, then you’re probably going to be ignored. You’re building your reputation every day online, and all the bread crumbs are there for everybody to see.
We don’t take a look until our friends/trusted filters tell us to. And oftentimes, we have to hear from multiple friends/trusted filters that something is worth checking out.
3. Overnight success is history.
MTV blasted acts to the moon and they fell to Earth just about as fast. If you can gain major attention in today’s world right away chances are you’re going to immediately fail thereafter. Because few things live up to the hype and the hype causes backlash and in today’s world it’s not about stagnation but evolution, what does version 2.0 look like, how good is the follow-up song. When the bar is set so high to begin with chances are you cannot jump over it the second time around and people will stop paying attention.
Better to grow slowly.
4. That which is big may not be anointed as so.
Forget the awards shows. Hell, look at the Oscars, those pictures they were honoring all had mediocre grosses at best. And the media is a tool of the companies purveying. Other than politics and wars, where newspapers have full time reporters, the rest of what comes over the transom as news is really glorified press releases. So you read about something and then it has no traction thereafter. Because it’s not that good and there is no base to sustain it and the press is not that powerful.
No one has come up with a metric to detail what gets attention in today’s economy. Except for maybe Netflix subscribers and Facebook usage, but as for art...
We’ve got grosses in film. Ratings in television, but the best shows aren’t rated. And we’ve got streams in music. All these quantifications are relevant (and ignore the weekly “Billboard” chart, it’s out of touch!) But how to quantify the success of “Hamilton,” which for over a year played in only one theatre and has had no Top Forty success, but is referenced by Seth Rogen at the Oscars, sung along to by Melinda Gates... “Hamilton” has yet to peak and unlike so much other art it crosses ethnic and political boundaries, it’s one of the few things that appeals to all. But there’s no chart, just a lot of press which doesn’t resonate.
But when someone tells you about their favorite “Hamilton” song... Then you feel the bond and know how big it is.
We all have our own internal chart now. We determine whether something is big or small. And we do this by gut feeling. Hell, the media missed the Trump phenomenon completely. But based on the blowback I was getting online I knew something was up. Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters. If you don’t think something is that big, despite the press hosannas, it’s probably not.
5. Don’t hammer the audience.
If you spam us every day looking for attention we ignore you. Launch and then follow up. New songs/more product is much more important that more publicity. Satiate the core, which wants more. It’s the core who will spread the word. But if you drop an album and promote it for two years you’re missing the point. You’re going after the looky-loos, the least committed people, your core is burned out on your new work and abandons you. You need to keep the attention of the core. And the more you say “Look at me!” the more you are ignored, or made fun of. Sure, there’s train-wreck attention, where someone blows themselves up and we all know about it, but it lasts for about a day.
The most successful people in today’s economy are accessible. Look at Mark Cuban, responding to the hoi polloi’s tweets. He could run for President and win, he’s more credible than Trump and on TV every week too. So come down off your throne and get in the pit and mix it up a bit. People want to be able to touch you, even if it’s only online.
7. Respect your audience.
You’ve got no time and they don’t either. Even babies are scheduled, we’re all overwhelmed. It’s a privilege to get someone’s attention, you’re not entitled to it. Ask for it nicely and thank people for giving it and don’t ask for too much. Ask people to listen to one song, not an album, if they like the one they’ll ask for more. If you send ten, they probably won’t listen at all. You don’t want to overload people.
8. Pull economy.
You cannot push, that’s positively last century. Sure, you can grease the skids, pour some oil to get something started, but it’s only working if people are demanding more. And if they are not, you don’t have a marketing problem, you have a product problem. Marketing has never meant less. It’s seen as phony and manipulative. You lead with your product. And it’s either growing or failing. Either every day more and more people are watching your YouTube video or you need to make another one, that’s different.
9. You rarely feel like you’re winning.
With everybody clamoring for attention and traditional news outlets challenged you oftentimes don’t know whether you’re winning or losing. Which is why today it’s about stamina and follow-through. When someone hypes you on the work of a twelve year old, laugh and ignore it. The “artist” doesn’t have enough experience to understand the game, they just want fame. And those seeking fame first and foremost are losing out in the attention economy, because it’s not about the one time buy, but a continued relationship. And when there’s no there there, people move on. So you’ve got to polish your product and create new ones and stay in the game, constantly tweaking what you’ve got and trying new things, and if you’re getting more attention you know you’re on the right track, if not, back to the drawing board.
This is where we are today. Tomorrow will be different. Virality is a thing of the past. As in faking it to get everybody to pay attention, it rarely works anymore, we’ve seen the trick and if you’re trying to goose the process for instant success you’re on the wrong track. Today it’s about an overwhelming number of messages, tomorrow it’s about the winnowing down of those messages. What will this look like? Will there be new gatekeepers? Will so many outlets fail that the ones remaining have more power? If you’re not reevaluating and pivoting on a regular basis you’re being left behind. Now, more than ever, what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow. So you have to keep experimenting. But success remains tied to attention. Your goal is to get people interested, dedicating their time, giving you their money. And the more sunlight there is online, the less fakery there is too. So, instead of promoting, you should be practicing. The truth is we’re all looking for great stuff 24/7 and if we find it we tell everybody we know. Let it be you we are telling everybody about.
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