Ep. 254 – Alistair Croll and Emily Ross, Co-authors of Just Evil Enough on Getting Noticed & Subversive Go-to-Market Strategies

Ep. 254 – Alistair Croll and Emily Ross, Co-authors of Just Evil Enough on Getting Noticed & Subversive Go-to-Market Strategies

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Alistair Croll and Emily Ross, co-authors of the upcoming book Just Evil Enough. We talk about the changing role of marketing and how companies can subvert systems, undermine industry norms, and get platforms to behave in unexpected ways that tilt the scales to generate attention and demand. Let’s get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help you rethink, reset, and remix yourself and your organization. Each week, we’ll bring you the latest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses, as well as the tools, tactics, and trends you’ll need to thrive as a new innovator.

Interview Transcript with Alistair Croll and Emily Ross, Co-authors of Just Evil Enough

Alistair Croll and Emily Ross, Co-authors of Just Evil EnoughBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have some amazing guests. Today we have Alistair Croll and Emily Ross authors of the new book, Just Evil Enough, which is a book about getting noticed in this noisy environment and subversive go-to market strategies. Welcome to the show guys.

Alistair Croll: Thanks for having us.

Emily Ross: Thanks a million.

Brian Ardinger: Well, I’m super excited to have you on this call to give our audience a little bit of a sneak preview of the upcoming book. But first let me give a little bit of background. So, Emily Ross, you are a founder of a tech marketing consultancy company called Ink Vine based in Ireland. So we appreciate you coming across the pond to give us some insights on what’s going on.

Alistair Croll and Emily Ross, Co-authors of Just Evil EnoughAnd Alistair Croll and I go back a long time back in the days of Lean Startup. And he’s the coauthor of Lean Analytics. We brought him back to Nebraska about six or seven years ago, I guess it was, when I was working with Nmotion to help with our startup teams in that. So thank you for both being on the show. The title of the book, Just Evil Enough. Alistar Croll, how’d  you come up with that  and what’s it all about?

Alistair Croll: So I’ll tell you a quick story. We ran an accelerator in Montreal called Year One Labs. And one of the companies in Year One Labs was a company called Local Mind. And Local Mind was a platform for asking people questions, asking strangers questions about an area.

It was later acquired by Airbnb and Lenny Rachitsky,  the CEO ran supply-side growth there. And he’s now the author of one of the most prominent newsletters for startup growth marketing, Lenny’s Newsletter. And in the early days they were doing what every startup does, which is building lots of stuff. But because we were very Lean Startup focused, we have them ask what the biggest risk was.

And it turns out the biggest risk was that whether people would answer questions from strangers. So they ran a very quick study, which we talk about in Lean Analytics. And they found that 94% of people on Twitter would answer a question from a stranger. But this happened because I had been asking Lenny, are you being evil enough?

And they were like, we’re not evil. And I said, yeah, but just a little evil, because it turns out that people answer questions, but people on the platform won’t ask questions. The real risk is the supply of questions. And so they actually built a system that would ask fake questions of new users. So they get in the habit of asking questions.

Now you can debate the means versus the end, but what we have found ever since that time is that almost every startup that’s successful has some little dirty secret in their background, where they were able to take advantage of an emerging technology or subvert the way a platform is supposed to work and turn it to their advantage.

And so the basic idea behind Just Evil Enough is that almost all the time, the problem isn’t whether or not you can build something it’s whether anyone will care. So your job should be creating attention you can turn into profitable demand.

Emily Ross: I think the subversive word is really, really important because we want to clearly differentiate between nefarious, which is downright evil and subversive, which allows you to think a little bit differently.

And it’s very hard for people who’ve been conditioned to think a certain way, to try and think differently.  So the book is about trying to teach people how to think subversively, and to show examples and frameworks in order to do that. And I remember working at a platform years ago and one of the engineers said, right, I’m going to put this button on the website to test if people will click it.

And my instant reaction was, but it doesn’t go anywhere. That’s a terrible idea. They’re going to have an awful experience and that’s bad for them. And he’s like, no, but I don’t want to build something unless I know they’re going to need it. So I’m just going to put that button there and yeah, I’m going to burn a few thousand clicks and they’re gonna have a terrible experience. I don’t care. I’ll learn something.

And he was prepared to be disagreeable in order to learn something different and to save an awful lot of time and money. And it was funny. It was like, okay. I need to think a little bit differently about how we’re treating users sometimes.

Alistair Croll: Yeah, we did a similar thing at Gradient. We had a reporting feature. Gradient was a startup that I launched in 2001. Eventually got acquired by BMC, their TrueSight product line. And we were about to launch reports in the product. And so we created our reports tab, and the reports tab went to a survey page. It says, we’re going to do reports soon, what would you like to see?

And people put in their email address and the report they’d like to see. And of course we were building a generic reporting tool. So what we did is we then generated like the top 20 requested reports. Made them defaults and then mailed those people saying we loved your feedback. Thank you so much. We’ve built the report you’re looking for.

Forget about the fact that 40 other people ask for the same report. Every one of them felt like they were a unique and special snowflake. And so we were exploiting the asymmetry between what we knew, which was 20 people asked for it and what they knew, which was, Hey, look at this, I’m special. You listened to me. And the customers loved it. Right? Is that evil? Well, it meant that we were able to build the default reports people wanted, which made the product better, but it’s a little subversive.

Brian Ardinger: Well, I think part of that learning is the fact that I think a lot of people think that they need to build the entire thing, because that’s what shows the value. But, you know, again, you have to incrementally de-risk some of these new startup ideas. And so how do you do that with building just enough to get the learning that you need so that you can move it to the next level and build it out if you need to?

Alistair Croll: Well, I would say that the problem’s not minimum viable product, it’s minimum viable attention.

Emily Ross: Yeah. And actually, if you think about, and this is the one thing that the book, I suppose, hammers home, is that getting your go-to market strategy right, is as important, if not more important than getting your product right. Because if you can’t capture attention and turn it into profitable demand, then no one’s going to know about your product. And it’s all about various different approaches that you can use to figure out how to do that. And  asymmetry being just one of about 10, I think that we cover.

Brian Ardinger: So, is it a form of customer discovery almost so rather than the traditional customer discovery interviews there, you’re looking for different ways to engage with a marketplace, engage with a customer to get that understanding of what their demand is and where they want to go from there?

Emily Ross: Well, it’s really interesting. Some of the examples in the book are not business examples. There’s a lot of historical stuff in there, right back from Machiavelli,  all the way through to The Godfather. There’s businesses, oh, tell the Genghis Khan story. I love that one.

Alistair Croll: So I mean, the idea behind a lot of this is that if you know something to be true, that other people discount, you can take advantage of that. And there are many times where people knew they could do something better, but didn’t Genghis Kahn, for example, knew that women could be very effective rulers. This was something that was not widely held.

And so he would conquer a city, marry one of his many, many daughters off to the leader of that city. Send that leader off to war, he’d promptly get killed. Now you have a blood relative in charge of that city. Was that evil? Well, Genghis Khan did a lot of nasty things, but he did have a decent amount of respect for women’s ability to run cities, which was something nobody else was factoring in. And this was an unfair advantage. Right.

And I think, I mean, we’re getting a little ahead of it. One of the things that Emily talks about a lot, is the idea that you need to know the norms of your system in order to subvert them. So do you want to talk a little about the water stuff? Emily?

Emily Ross: Yeah so normative versus formative is like super interesting. So there’s a story of by two fish and they’re swimming along, and a much older fish is swimming the opposite direction. And this is from…

Alistair Croll: it’s a commencement address, right?

Emily Ross: That’s it, the older fish says, Oh how’s the water? And the fish swim on a little bit and they turned to each other and go, what the hell is water? So, you have to be able to recognize the fact that you’re swimming in the medium. And the best way to do that is to use external viewpoints to help recognize what you’re swimming in or downing  in.

I also use a log jam metaphor, which works as well. And this is a one I use all the time for teaching for problem solving, but it’s really, really applicable as well too, to recognizing the difference between normative and formative.

So when these to say a logs down the river, to ship them to the log yard, And they would occasionally get tangled up and a team of river pigs used to have to surround the problem really quickly because it’s obviously getting worse and worse all the time, and figure out which was the one key log that you could extract to unlock the whole problem.

And the only way they could do it really, really well, was through diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective. By surrounding the problem, by sharing ideas, by looking at it from lots of different perspectives.

And that’s why diversity in your teams, that’s why diversity of perspectives is so important so that you can actually recognize what you’re swimming in, whether it’s water or something, a little bit stinkier. And also getting the sense of looking at it from outside, what you’re used to. So ideas from different verticals, from different walks of life. That’s going to help you think subversively.

Alistair Croll: And that’s kind of the supervillain stuff. I mean, Brian, I’ll give you an example, that’s a concrete example from when I came to visit you .One of your startups was making a rotary sprinkler solution.

So to recap, rotary sprinklers, when they’re lateral to a strong wind, get blown over and this costs a lot of money to fix. And so they built a thing that could measure the weather and the incoming winds and rotate the sprinkler downwind kind of like a wind sock, so it wouldn’t fall over. And they’re having a hard time selling. What the startup revealed to me at the time when we were meeting, was that there’s this weird existing system between farmers, farm subsidies, insurance, salespeople, and the makers of those sprinklers.

They don’t really mind when it gets knocked over because everyone makes some money and then they use that money to go on a fishing trip. If you don’t know that you’re in that water, all your efforts to sell are going to fail. You’ve got to recognize that and then go, huh? Maybe this is something I can sell through the maker of the sprinklers, or like maybe I can, you can subvert that system.

Maybe you have to create an awareness campaign that farm subsidies being wasted and they could be spent on something else. But if you don’t know that strategy, you can’t subvert it. And that word subvert just means find another version. By definition, the hardest problems we face are the ones for which we don’t have an obvious solution, because the normal approaches don’t work.

Which means you’ve got to find an unusual approach and that’s normally called hacking, right? Hacking is getting something to work in a way it wasn’t intended. Whether you’re using a Pringle can to focus wifi signals, or you’re getting a computer system to throw an error, so you can own a system.

The problem with hacking is that in startups, hacking has a horrible polar reputation. Growth hacking is a bag of cheap tricks.

Brian Ardinger: Talk about some of the examples in the book that maybe some people have heard of or can get a visual around. I know you’ve mentioned in past talks and that I’ve seen around this is like things like Peloton or Burger King.  Can you give examples from that?

Emily Ross: I would quite like to talk about one of the ones that I had the hardest time with is about being disagreeable. And we talked about it slightly there in terms of doing things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being quite right. But as a woman, I have been raised to be polite, to be agreeable. And actually, if you look at some of the most innovative, interesting entrepreneurs in history, quite a lot of them have been profoundly disagreeable.

They’ve been prepared to be unliked or unloved. And this is something, a behavior that you can adopt or think about as a means to finding new ideas, or it means of finding new ways of doing things.

One of the examples that we talked sports a little bit earlier, but Wilt Chamberlain was arguably one of the best basketball players of all time. He has on more than one occasion scored over a hundred points in a single game. But he had a problem. He couldn’t shoot free throws to save his life. Back in college, he had a really high score, but over his career, it went down and down and down and he had a career low of like, I think 26% success rate.

He was a star player. He got fouled a lot. So this was a really big problem for him. So he went to see Rick Barry. Rick Barry was the guy who could not miss. He actually had a career average of 89.3% and he got better and better as his career progressed in the last two years of his career, he had a 94% success rate from free throws.

But he actually threw in a really interesting way. He threw underhand, which is actually kind of a cool word for the, Just Evil Enough book, because he shot underhand. But he was the best at shooting. But this was called the Granny Style. This is, you know, if you throw like a girl, you throw under hand. He didn’t care. His father had drummed it into him from a very young age, how to shoot underhand, overhand, underhand, overhand, and he could just nail it every single time.

So Chamberlain went to see Barry learned to shoot underhand and his performance doubled. He went from a career low, to a career high, in that same game where he scored a hundred points. So it turns out it’s a much better approach. However, Chamberlain didn’t have the guts to keep shooting underhand because he cared too much about what people thought. His career best was 61% from the line in 1961, he sank 28 of 32 free throws against the New York Knicks.

So after a while, though, he reverted to shooting the way he knew, and his percentages  plunged. And he admitted that he felt like a sissy. He worried too much about what other people thought. And unlike Barry who was rational, Chamberlain was being agreeable and wrong. Barry meanwhile said he could be as selfish as he wanted to without hurting his team. So being a little bit disagreeable or asking yourself what you’re prepared to do is a really good first start.

Alistair Croll: Just to chime in quickly, we’ve all heard of growth hacking right? Growth hacking is these little tricks that get people to click a button or move down a funnel or whatever. The problem with any of these known tricks is that they’re known.  Andrew Chen talks about the law of shitty click-through rates, which is simply the idea that as you find a vulnerability, if you will, a way to change the market, it becomes widely known immediately.

So the first click-through ad on Hot Wired had an average of 44% click-through rate. Some people say it was as high as 70% for a banner ad. What’s that at now? Emily?

Brian Ardinger: Well, industry averages will tell you, or they’ll tell you it’s 0.1%. But in my opinion, it’s closer to 0.02%, if you’re lucky.

Alistair Croll: So that’s a huge decline. Same thing happened with email and so on. And so there are these known hacks that are the sort of marketing equivalent of a script kitty, who’s running an attack on WordPress. And if you haven’t patched your site, you’ll be selling Viagra off your website. What you should be doing is trying to find the marketing equivalent of a zero day exploit.

So in security a zero day, is an attack that nobody knows about yet. And they’re incredibly valuable. Two of them were used to retard the Iranian nuclear program and damaged centrifuges. The marketing equivalent of a zero day exploit, we call this zero day marketing, is finding a new way to get a platform to behave in an unintended manner, with which you can create attention you can turn into profitable demand.

And there’s some amazing examples of like Farmville, for example. When Farmville’s app would send you a message saying, Hey, Brian, Alistair’s cows need some grain. And you’d click on it. Now you’re a user. Well, they got to 30 million users before Facebook went, Whoa, we maybe don’t want apps posting to people’s friend feeds.

There are so many examples of this, and we can tell you those examples. But the point is you can’t use those examples because they’ve already been done. Right? What you have to do is devote much more of your time to inventing your own zero day marketing exploits.

Brian Ardinger: So from that perspective, is it a series of experiments that you just have to run? You, you come up with some ideas and you run them like that, or is this, talk me through the process of how you get better at it?

Emily Ross: One of the examples that I like to share, if you see it often enough, you begin to understand how you can apply the thinking. It’s a model and you just try and apply it to your own environment. So if we take the information asymmetry, and example, the idea of subverting, one thing for another. Or a bait and switch. The idea of you’re selling one thing, but actually getting another and Tupperware parties did this, you know, you think you’re going for dinner and you end up getting guilt ridden into buying a load of plastic.

But when I was working in a comparison platform, we subverted the PR channel for the generation of white hat backlinks. So PR is generally around building brand and brand awareness. But one of the side effects of PR was the generation of backlinks. So this is back in like maybe 2013.

So what we did was we mined data. We attached big data trends to celebrities, pushed out, press releases to high value domains, and pretty much one in five hit would generate a backlink. When we started. We had about 1400 high quality backlinks. And we were generating about 60,000 non-brand organic visits to site per day. After three years of pushing out two releases a month, month in, month out, we had over four and a half thousand unique domain backlinks and almost 200,000 non-brand organic visits per day.

This was a platform that turned traffic into money. I won’t tell you how, but what we did for example, was we mined hair transplant trends and prices. And one example of the many, many crazy pushes we did was the Jude Law index of baldness.

So here’s a scale up from Colin Farrell all the way up to Dr. Evil,  of how bald are you? And you find yourself on the index and you see, Oh, this is how much it would cost for me to have hair transplants. It was a price comparison website for private health clinics. And this was a fun, interesting way to attract attention and turn it into traffic to the sites.

But actually it wasn’t really about traffic. It was always about the backlinks. So one in five hits generate a backlink, but again, it was channel burnout. It was a zero day exploit because you know, over the course of the three years, the number of backlinks that were being generated, went from maybe one in five to one in 10, because the platforms themselves started to recognize the value that they were accidentally giving away.

So naturally you get published in a paper. If there’s an online version of it, they print it online and they put a backlink out. It was a side effect of the real, a pure PR. And channel burn happened, those backlinks are no longer as readily available as they were. But it worked for about three years, four years. It was a fun time.

Brian Ardinger:  You have to have a continuous funnel  yourself of new things that you need to explore it.

Emily Ross: Exactly.  Exactly. So that was a, we had a good run, but it’s about thinking about, well, what is the channel? What is the platform? So PR was the channel and we used it in a way. It wasn’t intended to be used for our benefits. And so what are your channels? How can you use them differently? And that’s a really great question to ask of yourself, no matter what you’re doing.

Alistair Croll: One of the things we often do is. What has changed in a technology platform. So for example, Travis Kalanick has this new startup Cloud Kitchens. What has changed in restaurants? Well, first of all, there’s a huge abundance of restaurants that I could order from. Far more than I would know about. So I’m already overwhelmed with selection when I go to order food, because we’re all at home, in a pandemic, ordering food.

And second of all, The fact that the storefront is virtual, it means one kitchen can have many restaurant front ends. And so Cloud Kitchens will set you up with brands and their brands have games like Fucking Good Pizza, My Pasta, Dirty Little Vegan Bitch, Don’t Grill My Cheese. None of these tell you about food, but when you’re overwhelmed, and you have that sort of paradox of choice, you go, no, I’ll just order it from that one. That sounds fine. Right?

That’s only possible because that brand is part of an experiment. You’re ordering from an experiment. And they’re constantly testing, which ones get more attention and then the restaurant can deliver all of those things that might be the same kitchen. And so Cloud Kitchens has taken advantage of an exploit within the traditional model of food ordering. So it’s looking at, you know, what technology changes or combinations of technology, makes something possible that wasn’t possible before that you can then subvert to your ends.

Brian Ardinger: How do you go from not just creating a gimmick or how do you, I guess also approach being wrong, like trying these things and, and being wrong?

Emily Ross: Growth hacking is gimmicks. Growth Hacking is doing something that maybe it’s a publicity stunt or, I mean, one of the examples that we use in the book is pairing two things unexpectedly together. That’s a great way to draw attention and Heineken did this really well in the UK just last week, where they put out a mobile hairdressing units and bar, so you could get a free haircut and a pint together.

So this generated publicity and it’s nice, but it’s gimmicky, right? Is that really going to move their needle? You know, for the year? Possibly not. It’s a nice story. So, but if you look at governments have been doing this for years and they’ve done it so well, there’s a really good example in the book, which I won’t go into now about how the government shamed people into stopping spitting in the twenties, as they tried to fight TB. Instead of just saying it’s bad to spit, they actually made people feel bad, and socially, and vulgar  by spitting because before that it was perfectly normal.

And if you look at the Chinese government, they use Fapiao.  Fapiao  are receipts. And they use Fapiao  as a lottery to fight corruption. So this is really interesting. In China, corruption can be rampant. Merchants will give their customers a discount, if the customer doesn’t ask for a receipt.

So the merchant doesn’t have to report the income and like just pockets to the savings. The government used an incentive to combat this called Fapiao, which is a receipt  from the merchant. And there’s a couple of hacks in here that are super clever. So the merchants have to buy the receipts beforehand and then hand them out to customers in return for payment.

So the first one is the merchant has to pay tax before the transaction. That’s really smart. And then customers demand their Fapiao, because there’s a scratch and win lottery element. Then the government runs the lottery and customers can scratch off the panel to see if they’ve won anything. And so the second hack there is create demand for a receipt by making it a game.

Then of course the government can also adjust the prize amount of each lottery to create just the right amount of incentive. So they’re literally able to alter the rewards of the game to like tilt the Nash equilibrium, which is just like super smart. So you can do this at a macro level and absolutely get away with it.

Alistair Croll: I want to just make sure we address your question about gimmicks. One of the big differences between a Zero Day Exploit and traditional Growth Hacking is that it’s not known. But another is that it is intrinsic to your business model. The haircuts aren’t intrinsic to Heineken’s beer, but when Dropbox launched, they were the first to pioneer this, both of us get something. I invite you, we both get storage.

That’s built into the product, right. That’s intrinsic to the system itself. And I think what it means is that you’re factoring in Zero Day Exploits, marketing exploits, to your business model and your product roadmap. Not just to your marketing campaigns. I mean, Genghis Khan’s  a good example, right?

It wasn’t just a tactic. It was a fundamental change in how he thought that societies could be ruled. So the real lesson here is, I’ll give you one more example. There’s a company that makes software called Energage  and they make workplace surveys. So they would sell to an enterprise and the enterprise would survey their employees and do  360 stuff. And so on.

But the way they go to market is they launched this thing called the top workplaces project in concert with the Washington Post, the Denver Post, the Dallas Morning News and so on. And they run this survey and they say to these newspapers, Hey everybody, here’s the survey. We’ll take care of it.

So now you go do it. And like, Whoa, isn’t this great. My company is one of the best workplaces. I’ll buy an ad in the newspaper. Everything’s wonderful. And then Energage can go back and go, Hey, congratulations on being the third best workplace in Nebraska. Too bad about the other results.

And you go what other results? Well, you know, we got more data than that, would you like to see it? Okay. And now you have a new customer, right? It’s intrinsic to the business model, right. Rather than just being a little trick or hack.

Brian Ardinger: That’s an interesting point. And it also goes to the point where you see a lot of these examples in startups, because you can build it early on into the business model and that. How does this play out for a large existing company that wants to try to use some of these tactics?

Emily Ross: So big companies really need to think about reframing and they also need to give themselves permission to think in ways they’re not used to. One of the exercises I like to recommend is called a pre-mortem. And you basically give them permission to imagine the worst possible outcome. You invite them to invent the worst, worst, worst thing that could possibly happen and then work backwards from there.

And it’s amazing what happens in an environment like that, because that group think is real. That tribal behaviors of wanting to be agreeable and wanting everyone to pull together is very much a systematic thing that you see in large organizations. So giving them permission to think disagreeably.  Giving them methods to reframe where they are, what they do. These are all great frameworks for them to try and think subversively.

Alistair Croll: First of all, I think that it’s really important. I mean, I would consider a marketing department, have a Red Team. Have a second group, hmm, that has the same product and resources, but their job is to put the first group out of business. What do you do? Right. That’s just hypothetical.

You’re going to think better. We Red Team on security. We Red Team on PR. Why don’t we read team on go-to-market strategies.  And the second thing is, if you look at great brands that changed how people discussed a product or a service, they found a frame of reference that favored them.

For decades we used to talk about electric cars. We would talk about sustainability and range. Pretty boring stuff, right? Lots of hippies sitting around going let’s save the planet and look at my Prius. Elon Musk put one of them on a race track against supercar and beat it. And all of a sudden the conversation on electric cars was performance. He’d reframed the discussion about electric vehicles to performance, right?

When Gmail first launched, your inbox on Hotmail or Yahoo mail had 10 mgs. That’s like one photo, right? We don’t remember that. My daughter doesn’t believe this. When Gmail came along, Google knew that they did not have strength in folders and archiving and hierarchy and export, but they were good at with search and storage.

So they said, Hey, email’s not about your ability to manage your folders and your inbox and organization and management. It’s about abundance storage. And they reinforced that so much that they actually had a counter showing you how much storage you get. Salesforce, when it first launched, was a web based CRM, but web-based CRMs had very few features compared to Siebel and Vantive and Clarify, companies that you don’t see anymore.

So they said no CRM is about not needing IT. In fact, their logo was no software. They had us the word software with a slash through it, despite the fact that they own their own programming language called Apex. Right? And so each of these companies found a way to reframe things, even like Listerine. Listerine was this clinical health thing. And then along comes scope and says, Hey, you know what? Mouthwash is actually about being attractive and sexy, not about clinical health.

One action that a lot of big brands should take is to step back and say, what is a new frame that favors us and disadvantages our competition. And then what is it about that frame of reference that we can do to prove it that will then allow the customer to find a different way of valuing the product?

Emily Ross: I would also chime in there and talk about generally large marketing teams will have, they’ll have done their marketing degrees and their MBAs or masters on they’ll turn out the four P’s from, you know, the 1960s or the seven P’s of service. And like there’s too much P. Just stop peeing. Guys just stopped doing it.

Right. Chuck, all of that in the bin and start thinking about creating attention. And it’s as simple and as complicated as that. We talk about human motivation and Alistair  I think coined laid, made, paid, afraid. I tidy that up a bit to the piratey AARG. Which is appeal, authority, risk, and greed.

So think about your customers. Think about your competitors. Think about the marketplace through the lens of human behavior and whether you’re selling radiator bits or cars or Cola, people have all those very basic triggers. They want to be liked, that’s appeal, and they want power, that’s authority. They want to feel safe. That’s the risk lens.

And then greed, you know, people want the things that they want. So. We’re just human meat bags, right? We’re just walking bags of meat with emotions. We have very simple motivations at the end of the day. And in a B2B setting for a big organization, the AARG framework is a really useful function. Like, so throw out the P. Think about AARG.

And if you’re trying to convince people to act, you need to appeal to base emotions more than you do plain reason, because most people really aren’t very rational. There’s also really a good examples of the seven deadly sins. If you look at the big, big enterprises, I think Chris Pack said this on Twitter.

I thought it was really, really good. Uber and Amazon are slough. Instagram and Tik Tok are pride. Door Dash is gluttony. Tinder is lust. Pinterest is envy. Twitter is rath. And Bitcoin is greed. So think about the fundamentals. Just think about the basics. We haven’t changed all that much.

Alistair Croll: But I think the biggest thing here is that big brands haven’t realized that the biggest risk they face is that someone else will subvert attention that they could otherwise be getting and turned into their profitable demand. And so if you don’t do that, you’re going to get eaten alive. If we can get the world to realize that the biggest risk is not whether you will build something, but whether anyone will care, we’ve already given people a huge headstart.

Brian Ardinger: Well, and the fact that the world is changing so fast on the fact that you can go from company like Airbnb in 12 years to being, you know, one of the most recognizable brands, you know, overnight effectively from what used to be to build a business. New technologies, new marketplaces, new access to talent. All of that is just accelerating the opportunities to be disrupted.

Alistair Croll: We used to have a new platform come along. You know, we had writing that took a few thousand years. Then we got to radio. It took a few hundred years. And then we got to television that took a decade, the rate of introduction of new platforms. And therefore, if you’re thinking like a hacker new attack surfaces, Is incredible, right?

The Cloud Kitchens example happened because of the pandemic and the rise of Uber Eats and Door Dash, and so on. The pace at which new exploit opportunities appear is very, very fast. And as a result, there are far more opportunities to subvert the status quo or the norms of your industry with one of these new platforms.

So we’re trying to get people to be much more opportunistic. And part of what we do, like I said I can’t tell you do this thing, because if I tell you, then it’s already been done. What we can do is we can say, here are some ways to think about it. You know, is there an innovation that happens? Can you reframe things and can you do a substitution where people think they’re getting one thing and they’re actually getting another. Can you appeal to the foibles of human psychology?

Emily Ross: Don’t be afraid to be disagreeable.

Alistair Croll: It’s weird because in the past I’ve written books that are very technical. There is a right answer. And Emily’s written lots of articles on like how to do stuff. This is a more subjective thing and candidly more uncomfortable for us as writers, because we want to make sure that there are applicable lessons, but it’s almost like, you know, teaching someone Zen. I can tell you what it is, but you’re going to have to go sit on a rock and figure it out for yourself.

But once you start thinking this way, everything becomes a subversive opportunity. And once you have that subversive lens, you’re not being evil, you’re just being just evil enough. Opportunities are everywhere.

Emily Ross: And actually, if you think about it, just coming back to your very first question, which is a nice cyclicity.  The title of the book is exactly what we set out to do, which is we got your attention and we’re turning it into demand. So the book title is a really, really simple and effective way to showcase the thinking. And I think if you take one thing away from it, it’s change what you spend your time on. So building a subversive go-to market strategy is just as important as thinking about your product. And if you get the balance, right, you’re going to be unstoppable.

Brian Ardinger: Well, and you’ve also from the book perspective, the book’s not out yet, but you’re doing things to grab attention differently than a lot of, I mean, I get pitched every other day by a book author trying to get their book noticed and that. But I know that you’ve been doing some things as far as live online course that’s leading up to the book. And you have a interesting little survey. I don’t, if we got to talking about any of the things that you’re doing from a attention perspective to, about the book.

Emily Ross: Well one of the things I love, this was so much fun, is that you can’t just order the book. You can’t just pre-order it. You have to take a quiz so that we can decide if you’re evil enough. So you take the quiz and if you’re not evil enough, we think, you know, you’re not going to be able to handle the book.

And if you’re too evil, then this book could just perhaps be too powerful. So we have gamified the experience of the pre-order function, which was a lot of fun. And we’ve done a ton of tons of things, just mostly because we’d like to mess around, but that’s just one of the things we’ve done so far.

Alistair Croll: It’s also great that Emily has like a whole team of web developers that stand up.  Emily’s business is actually, she’s like the SWAT team or the MI6 for some very advanced tech brands, who can’t really explain what they do well. And Emily figures out how to do that.

So she has a team of people to build stuff. So a good example of that is we wanted to do a survey to see whether people would take our cohort based course, which we’re going to be running with Maven, the founders of  Alt MBA and UDemy,   set up this new, online cohort based course program.

But we wanted to get people to take the survey. So we told them one lucky winner will get a free workshop or talk from us for their organization, which is usually something we charged a lot of money for. But we also wanted to make sure they shared the survey, which is a paradox because I want the greatest odds of winning. So I’m not going to tell my friends, right?

So we made two surveys. One was Team Orange, one was Team Black. And we say, we’ll choose the winner from the survey that has the most responses. That’s a bit subversive. Right. And we found some funny things about people getting kind of tribal and like I’m Team Black and so on. We even did things to tweak the survey questions a little bit between the two.

So we ran like six or seven social experiments in the survey. But would you buy a book from people who weren’t thinking subversively? I mean, I wouldn’t buy a book on subversiveness for someone who went through normal tactics.

For More Information on Alistair Croll and Emily Ross

Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. Well, I appreciate you both coming on Inside Outside Innovation to share some of this subversiveness and hopefully get more folks to be Just Evil Enough. People want to find out more about yourself or the book itself, what’s the best way to do that.

Emily Ross: Just Evil Enough.com and I’ll actually, I landed Alistair in it on a talk we did last week because we were live Tweeting. They wouldn’t let us take live questions. So we just got everyone to jump on Twitter and ask us questions there.

And I promised everyone lives that if they hashtag Just Evil Enough that Alistair would read out whatever they wrote. And they all said smart, intelligent things. I was like, I can’t believe none of you are like trying to flog a course or a book or promote something. Like he will have to say anything you like. So people should…

Alistair Croll: I think one guy had me mention his podcast, but there’s a good example where like, Oh, you think you’re getting free promotion in this thing we’re recording, but you’re actually following the Just Evil Enough account.

Emily Ross: But yes, Just Evil Enough.com is where you can take the quiz. You can hear about the cohort class and you can, pre-order the book and there’s an Evil Enough Twitter account too. You can check that out.

Brian Ardinger: Well Emily, it was great to meet you for the first time here and Alistair. Always good to catch up with what’s going on in your world. So appreciate you both for being on here and looking forward to the conversation in the future.

Alistair Croll: Thanks so much for having us.

Emily Ross: Thanks Brian.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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Episode 254

Ep. 254 – Alistair Croll...