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What's it like?

Seth Goldin is a respected commentator on a range of emerging topics, and has a knack of capturing the essence of an insight. Too often, when we've been developing new programmes that link re-design for nature, business and community, or connecting purpose, wellbeing and innovation, clients have often shied away because they don't know what it's like. Next time, I'll give them this to read:

What's it like? (The sad story of the hot pepper)

Can you imagine how difficult it was to sell the jalapeño when it came over from the new world?

"What's it like?" you'd be asked.

Well, it's like a pepper (of course, it wasn't. Black pepper is dried and tastes very different).

Well, it's hot (no, it's not. Hot is a temperature, spicy is a taste).

It's not like anything, actually. Capsicum is an experience unto itself, and forcing me to tell you what it's like does neither of us much of a service.

"What's it like," is actually shorthand for, "I don't trust you enough to just try it, so you better explain in detail what category this item fits into so I can decide in advance how to understand it."

"What's it like?" is a huge impediment to growth and to the spread of new ideas, because forcing a marketer to pigeonhole an idea naturally limits it.

"What's it like?" leads to sequels and high concepts and crossovers, but it doesn't get us 1966 Bob Dylan or even yoga class.

Great marketers take advantage of categories every day. Great marketers understand how to create books or services or products or technologies that are very much like something else, but better. You should do that whenever you can.

If you want a fast start and good sales, be ready to answer the question.

When you have something that's a breakthrough, though, perhaps you need to say instead, "It's not like anything. You need to trust me and just taste it."

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