Common Idiocy

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Tue, 2006-11-21 16:58.
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A long time ago, I learned a simple rule of life: When the crowd rushes off in a lather to the right… I take a serious look at going left instead.

You don’t have to be a student of history for very long before it becomes blaringly apparent that the “common wisdom” of any culture is usually just deadass wrong. There’s something slithery deep in our nature that makes us gullible whenever “everyone” starts believing something.

After the dust settles, it’s hard to see how anyone could have bought into whatever was thought of as a brilliant idea at the time. Enron was featured on every major finanical publication’s front cover as the “company of the future” just months before it collapsed. People went absolutely berzerk over really stupid (and completely unworkable) Web concepts while the Dot Com bubble stretched toward the inevitable pop.

And yes, while some people made a bundle during the recent real estate land-grab… I’m sure you know more than a few folks who are sitting on muliple mortgages equal to, gosh, more than they earn. On paper, they look like finanical geniuses. If only they can get someone to buy those overpriced spec properties, hopefully before the next mortgage payment arrives…

It’s the same mentality that fuels witch hunts. Something in our lizard brain wants to believe the worst about everything and everyone. For some folks, fear is the only thing that gets them up in the morning. Especially when “everyone” shares the same jitters.

The impending death of the daily newspaper is one example. Everyone — and that includes newspaper owners — believes the Web will kill off the entire concept. Soon. Maybe by September.

And yet, if you examine the actual numbers, nothing of the sort is about to happen. While almost no town has two newpapers anymore, every town still has one. And while the evening edition has pretty much vanished, subscriptions to morning editions have actually increased a bit. (Add online readership, and the numbers start to look staggering.)

More important… the actual business of running a newpaper remains mega-profitable. It’s just not profitable in a way that excites Wall Street. Traders hate slow, plodding, unsexy cash cows.

There’s a great post by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker last week about this. Newspapers will mutate, and probably stop trying to compete with the Web for reporting the latest national and international news… but will continue to be the primary source of LOCAL news. And, of course, still the first-choice for classified ads.

I mention this, because I just got back from yet another seminar, where otherwise smart people in the audience occasionally questioned the wisdom of using direct mail “anymore” to sell anything.

You know… because “no one reads mail” these days.

The fact is… I almost hesitate to show new clients how to use direct mail now. Not because it doesn’t work anymore, though.

Naw. Because it works so WELL.

And it’s kinda nice that the volume of competing junk mail has started to decline. The less number of marketers who get hip to the power of good (not bad) direct mail… the better it is for those of us who know the truth.

I love the Web, and I’ve made a ton of money using it. There’s more to be made, and I’m thoroughly enjoying going deeper and deeper into the wonderful world of nurturing and/or pillaging house lists through email.

But there will always be certain advantages to mail you can open and hold in your hands. No matter how “virtual” your world gets, the “real” world of senses and tangible materials will never go away.

Right now, the crowd is rushing off in crazy directions, like lemmings hunting for a cliff.

And I’m sort of enjoying the relative tranquility of strolling in the opposite direction.

Something to consider as you make your marketing plans for the coming days of turmoil and excitement.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton,

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