Tombstone Incentives

An immense amount of marketing talent comes from rationalizing human behavior, particularly when money is involved. Combining my interest in American history with my passion for marketing, I submit to you my passage below…

In the Old West, more specifically 1881, a famous silver mining town spawned in the Arizona State of the United States of America. Tombstone, the town “too tough to die”, as it is nicknamed, is best known for it’s association with the battle at the O.K. Corral in which the infamous post-lawmen Earp brothers fought against the Cowboys aided by none other than renowned Doc Holiday.

I give to you the story of incentives that powered Tombstone, which in turn, through a butterfly effect, shaped bits and pieces of our American culture, the location of a capital, and arguably the standing of our nation as recognized today through the political influence of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Now, before we travel back to 1881, let me ask the question, “How do you spot incentives?”. Data is always a great way to scratch away at falsehoods and find the driving force of a batch of cases, but let’s assume we’re looking at an isolated case. Data might prove less helpful here. Well, we can ask questions. However, it’s important that they are answered with awareness and a lack of biases, which is actually surprising hard to come by.

For example, I bought a wrist watch yesterday. Go ahead. Ask why I bought it. If you asked why I bought it, I might say, “I wanted a black waterproof watch.” Is that it? Is that really why this transaction took place? No, it goes deeper. Deeper than most will even be aware.

Waterproof and dark met the basic criteria of my purchase but, what was the real driving force, the motive, the ultimate and underlying incentive that lead me to this watch? It was, of course, a messy combination of things. I love the look and textural appearance of matte black, I surf regularly and would like to see the time during such occasions. I wanted a watch that can be worn 24/7 and somewhat match with anything I might wear. I would prefer to find it online. It must not interfere when typing on a keyboard. It needs to be more than $100 dollars for quality purposes, yet less than $200 dollars for financial purposes. It also needs to resonate with me on a more personal level. In fact, this is the case with many purchases, whether you pay attention to it or not. It just so happens, this watch marks the date of a drastic change in my life.

Based on this reflection, we might deduce that my truest incentive for buying a watch was to mark a change. Would you call this an incentive? I would! I might call this a self-fulfilling incentive scheme which I’ve inflicted unto myself. I don’t expect anyone to see me different, therefore I can’t classify this as some peer-approving social incentive that drives so many of today’s gym-goers. This was strictly to remind myself of the change I’ve made. I restate, without data, we must, without bias, answer penetrating questions as correct as possible.

Now, back in time we go.

It’s no feat to uncover the root incentive of Tombstone. Silver. For obvious reasons, we can call this a financial incentive during the time of the Silver Rush. As stated in “Think Like a Freak”, the size of a financial incentive matters. Let’s try to work it backwards. How much money would it take to get a swarm of bankers and lawyers to leave their high posts by train to the boonies of Tucson, Arizona, followed by a seventeen hour stagecoach ride across the barren desert in which they will have a 70% chance of getting shot and killed by the Apache legend ‘Geronimo’ before arriving in the booming town of Tombstone. Then, upon entering, they must leave their days of luxury literally in the dirt as they dig up rock embedded with silver ore using only hammer, nail, and dynamite for ten hours a day in a dark cramped underground tunnel. I can assure you, they were profiting handsomely.

The financially obscure town of Tombstone was such a powerful oddity,  that it caused a trickle effect throughout the capillaries of the community. The miners were mining the mines, and the townsfolk were mining the miners. Tombstone was said to have 140 saloons on it’s main street which didn’t stretch more than a quarter mile. The miners became gamblers in the evening, and watched as the chips dwindled to the mining done by “the house”.

Additionally, these 140 saloons obviously served alcohol. The bartenders would typically offer a drink for a pinch of silver-dust. Silver was carried in a sack as ground-down dust to deter robbers from knowing whom to shoot. There were three primary bartender tactics used to mine miners. One, the bartender grew his thumb nail and pointer finger nail extra long to secretly stash extra silver with each pinch. Two, the bartender would constantly sweep the counter for excess silver. Three, at nights end, he would then sweep the floors, allowing dust to fall between the beams to then pan for silver underneath the flooring. Even the laundromats, run by Chinese Hop-Town captives had a hand in the game. When the miners clothes were washed, they were panned! Financial incentives, indeed. Money drove the townspeople in, and money drove the townspeople out. But before we go there, let’s see what effect this town had on the world.

Amid-st this towns boom were two fires which demolished the town, twice, and a historical gun fight at the O.K. Corral headed by Wyatt Earp. There are at least a handful of movies depicting this exact scene. However, it is lesser known that the entire infatuation of the cowboy genre, was heavily influenced by this battle, more particularly by Wyatt Earp himself. You see, after left behind his legacy, it didn’t immediately become popularized on a wide-spread scale. Wyatt lived his latter years out in Los Angeles, California. It was here he was found near a Hollywood set babbling in his old age about the Old West to some director and some young actor. That young actor was whom would soon be recognized as John Wayne. Thus the the film “Stagecoach” and hundreds of westerns that tailed it.

Now, do you believe in the butterfly effect? It’s not fair to ask such a question because it biases the respondent. The truth anything in history has a direct effect on some things, and some of those things have large impacts while others do not. It’s really a matter of distinguishing the two from one another to uncover whether or not is a profound realization. FDR, prior to his attendance at Harvard, attended the highly exclusive Groton School of Massachusetts. It is said that his experience there helped shape him into what he became, but to what extent? The reason I ask is because this school was primarily funded by a man who had become wealthy by his time in Tombstone. Considering FDR lead the nation through the Great Depression as well as World War II in addition to establishing the New Deal, it is worth bouncing around how much of his character and life’s path was influenced by that Tombstone-funded school.

As I mentioned earlier, money drove the townspeople in, and money drove the townspeople out. With one swift government decision, gold was in, and silver was out. The price of silver plummeted and it became more expensive to mine than to sell. If this weren’t the case, it is likely that tombstone would have become the capitol of Arizona. That’s the weight of financial incentives speaking.

While I have you here, let me clear up a few misconceptions about the Old West. First, we have the swinging doors at the entrance of every saloon. That’s a gross exaggeration. Some had them, but they were usually followed by a five foot deck to the actual door, the others were simply your standard door. Next, the red sashes. Cowboys didn’t all wear red sashes. That would give them away and they would be shot. It is simply a fake artifact dreamed up in Hollywood. Also, recall the high-noon quick draw. Most fights were forgotten the day of due to severe drunkenness, and there were by far more deaths by disease than any barrage of air-borne bullets. Oh and by the way, a shot glass is a called a shot glass because a bullet could pass as currency for it’s purchase.

Here’s an unanswered question for your own consideration. Why are there still people living in Tombstone today?

Grasshopper, Apartments, and Join Me

A few bits of marketing I enjoyed recently.

Firstly, Grasshopper.com. An incredibly well-branded platform with the right ideology built into the name and color choices, a clear target audience, a focused product/service, great design throughout from the web design, structure, categorical labeling, white space balance and layout, to the resonating taglines, to the simple CTA’s, to the fulfilling copy, to the slick typography, to their well-crafted demonstrative videos by means of animation and great sound composition, to their credibility-proving affiliations and testimonials, to their powerful image-based advertisement of a character taking the leap from “boring grey corporation land” to “super happy go-getting bright-colors land” which is now cached and following me around in Google Ad words. Very inspiring marketing.

Along with this I will lump in the new Apartments.com. They have the design to a science, they know who they’re targeting and what would catch their eye and the way they would like to search for apartments. Marketing superiority through lending an ear to the user.

I’d also like to briefly mention Join.Me. They run ads that humorously elaborate on the pitfalls and difficulties of most voice conferencing tools, and reassure they they won’t do that to you. Taking a familiar pain point and running with it like that is a great way to stand out, assuming you have the product to back it. Very well done.

♣ Grasshopper, Apartments, and Join Me ♠

Entry Time & Opportunity

Note to readers: Facebook is overly scrutinized. Too many people, too many opinions. So don’t bother reading this post, probably not worth your time, right?

My friend Mark Zuckerburg roughly admitted, “Had I tried to do Facebook a few years earlier, it might not have worked.” Why is this? How could such a monopolistic entity be so dependent on a matter of, perhaps, 1000 days?

Zuckerburg’s statement was in regard to the ‘then current’ trend of college institutions issuing students unique .edu email accounts. Based on my incredibly in depth research of the partially fictitious movie parallel, it was on this specific change that the special sauce of ‘exclusivity’ was founded on. This laid out an opportunity.

The tech industry generates a lot of opportunities like this one, and it trickles to many other industries. However, it might be narrow in scope to limit opportunities strictly to newly evolved computer networking methods. Maybe opportunities will arise from breakthroughs in biotech, construction, or some astronomical discovery or change in government policy!

♠ Are you looking for opportunities? ♣

Start-up Marketing and Competition

I observed a particularly interesting phenomenon today and I’m interested in conducting a thought experiment on its applicability to start-up marketing against competition. Bare with me here. Bear with me.

I’m currently enrolled in a class in which, much like every other class on the planet, the instructor gives lessons to the students. However, this class is unique in the sense that most of the students have quickly developed some level of appreciation for the instructor. Some of that appreciation is potentially instilled in us from youth, “respect your teacher!” as we were told. This isn’t particularly the case, because a fair number of us are learning from the course material (ironically) the ramifications of “respect your teacher!” mentality and shifting to a better student-teacher framework. The instructor as an expert in the field, but his expertise doesn’t necessarily correlate with praise nor cause it. More likely an explanation is that the instructor is genuinely interested in each of our own aspirations. Moreover, most of us are paying a fair price to be there and might feel foolish too have spent a large sum of money on something we don’t glorify (the classes are great by the way). Additionally, after a few months, you begin to build some level of liking and trust with the instructor.

There, I just listed a few reasons why students might want to stick up for this instructor. So, when a rogue onlooker argues a point made by the instructor, how many students are influenced by some of the above five factors to either argue back at that onlooker or hope for a witty rebuttal from the instructor?

I would say… most of them.

Now let’s apply it to start-up marketing.

If your competition has instilled its branding into their customers, consider this. Replace the instructor with your competitor, the students with your competitors customers. Where do you fit in? That’s right, the rogue onlooker. With all of those barriers potentially built up, you’d better have a hell of a product to win everyone over or try to find the “student’s ditching class” or ones disappointed with their current solutions, because quite frankly, it’s not easy to steal already very satisfied customers. Think Bill Nye or Elon Musk. They’d have to crash or be thoroughly overtaken to be dismantled. Ever wonder how it is MJ was less ridiculed for his behaviors? Or perhaps why Obama’s ratings took so long to decline? They all have fans, and these fans are powerful when the idol (or competitive product) does something really spectacular or useful.

 ♠ Thoughts of Your Competitors’ Customer’s ♣

The U.S. Military Paints Powerful Pictures

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the art of persuasion transcends business. Sometimes we persuade for the greater good, sometimes we persuade for selfish intent, and sometimes we persuade for followers such as church attendee’s, club members, or even military personnel. With the number of advertising messages flying through our eyes and ears, it becomes evident that the world of marketing clutter necessitates remark-ability in our messages. Let’s take a look at how the United States Military Branches stay on top of the game.

One of the first things to note is how people attitudes often immediately shift when a U.S. Military advertisement comes up on any display. Many of us swell up with respect for our loved ones who have served or friends that we currently have serving. Many of us are already in sync with the message before us. Other’s are distinctively opposed. However, these advertisements are not for us, they’re for our youth.

The U.S Marine Corp. is notorious for running spectacular TV advertisements to convince today’s youth to sign up and support our country. The music is powerful and melodic. The volume is often notably louder than most other ads and the music more emotionally driving that most, not to mention, production quality is top notch. The images clearly illustrate a meaningful life filled with adventure, and it’s persuasion is undoubted. These types of messages provide a sense of belonging and adventure to prospective military applicants. It’s important to note here that the desire and need to belong is a well documented aid to any marketing material. Additionally, to a lesser extent, so is the desire for adventure. These are key marketing drivers, learn how to use them.

The U.S. Navy recently ran a new advertisement which caught my attention.  The ad depicts a small family standing in a local city, and a broad collection of U.S. military personnel begin to form a circle of protection around the family. The ad closes with a statement, “To get to you, they have to get through us.” One of the most instinctive motivations of human beings is the desire to protect loved ones from danger. While this message may resonate more strongly with parental figures, in marketing, it’s seen as a naturally occurring aspect of human nature that applies to everyone to some extent. Again, a key marketing driver, learn to use it.

♠ Marketing Messages Used for Military ♣

Mark Twain’s Proprietary Style

Yes, I am talking about the great American figure who authored “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” amongst a pile of other books and short stories. This is a self examination on why I chose to buy. This man’s works have me locked in as a “customer” for years to come. I wanted to touch on why specifically I have continually read his books as opposed to miscellaneous alternatives. If you can’t see the marketer’s value in closely examining such a thing, then doom on you.

With the internet, you and I have instant access to virtually every book on the planet. Ten’s of thousands of titles would likely be a vast understatement. So why is it that I have recently went with Mark Twain several times sequentially?

PROBLEM RECOGNITION: I felt I needed to balance out studying with leisure reading, preferably short stories, historical, witty. It’s safe to say this list contains some of the underlying factors of my information search. Note for marketers, my search opened and closed using only Google and Amazon. Not once did I ask for a peer’s input, or feel persuaded by any external source at that moment in time beyond the search engine results of Google and Amazon. I would find titles that stood out to me, open them in a preview window and see if it matched what I had been searching for. Surely enough, after a few searches, I stumbled unto Mark Twain’s “Roughing It”. It meet all of my criteria and was actually offered free. In fact, I noted that many of his works are now either free to the public on the web or, at the most, very cheap. But, budget was not necessarily an issue here.

PRODUCT DIFFERENTIATION: As I began reading, I quickly discovered the defining features setting apart this author. I loved Twain’s imagination, dry sense of humor and particular choice of words. This is something I have yet to find in other authors’. I have since downloaded or purchased three other books by Mark Twain. Every time I go for a book, I go back to his shelf, because of his proprietary style of writing.

What have you recently bought? Why did you buy it? How tough was the decision over its alternatives?

 ♠ Fun Fact: Mark Twain & Tesla were close friends 

Viral Souls of Minecraft & GoPro

I would like to offer an observation of mine on a similarity I noted between Minecraft & GoPro. Each opinionated speculation initially stood alone. However, in my mind, their similar “marketing models” bolstered one another in having more than one example to cite. How did GoPro grow so large? I’ve never owned a professional camera, but I do own a GoPro. Did Minecraft really just get bought out by Microsoft for 2 billion? I played Minecraft in beta years ago after receiving a key from a nerdier friend. I was hooked.

Why is this?

I suggest, quite plainly, two points…

  1. The product is superior to the competition – at least in some notable way
  2. The use of the product is – in itself – a promotional tool

There is undoubtedly a vast number of higher quality cameras on the market than a GoPro, and yet, GoPro thrives. It’s simply because GoPro developed a unique camera (or rather frame and mounting devices) that enabled it to be used in ways most cameras couldn’t. You can be reckless with it, carry it easily, mount it easily, and still capture 1080p or 60 fps. This enabled them to takeover a niche action sports filming. Indeed, there was no competitive undercut of price on an extremely similar product, nor was there an attempt at a superior quality, nor some combination of the two. Simply put, they found a niche market that could be served, and served it. From there, the pictures and videos produced by the product itself became the materials to market GoPro with, yet the Youtube community and youth culture likely carry much of their promotions without the need to advertise. Incredible…it markets itself to its customers.

This isn’t too much unlike Minecraft. There are many cheaper games and higher quality games that Minecraft, and yet it was bought out by Microsoft…why? What makes this one a little different from GoPro is the lack of authenticity. There were already “sandbox” games flooding the market when Minecraft was being born. In fact, Notch (founder of Minecraft) even mentions the game he emulated. So what’s superior about his product? It’s incredibly interactive, it’s artsy, it sparks our innate creativity that was once captured by LEGOS, it can be played with others across the globe, its user and kid friendly, thus it held the capacity for widespread adoption. That’s the product side. So how did it promote itself? A game this addicting gets people talking to one another, no doubt, but furthermore, the things people created, they most certainly wanted to show off. Boom. Images and videos of the game posted anywhere and everywhere. The game is built so perfectly for sharing in a video format, it’s no surprise that Youtube was a big platform for sharing…and it couldn’t have been more perfect…that the most ideal customers for the game were already sitting in the promotional web channel we call Youtube. Once again… a product that markets itself to its customers.

So can these ideas be replicated? Most certainly, with the right understanding of the underlying wants/needs of a market or potential market, we can put these principles to work. You need two types of people, or one person that encompasses both of the following traits. A passionate entrepreneur that knows the nitty gritty field, and a passionate marketer that understands humans.

Oh, and a winning idea.

♣ The Souls of Minecraft & GoPro ♠