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Traffic Jamming

Lately I've been having some really odd dreams. I enjoy them for the most part, even if I do sometimes wake up feeling like I've been up all night at Mardis Gras.

I won't go into the dream about the five foot tall denim-colored rabbit, or the one where a child swallowed Julia Child (creepy, I know, and if you're a psychiatrist and afraid for my sanity, feel free to write me).

I'll just tell you about the dream I had two days ago because I think you might find it useful. (I'll skip the beginning, where I'm looking around Martha Stewart's bathroom, amazed that her shower is as big as a locker room and doubles as a bumper car rink, complete with white and gold gilt bumper cars in styles ranging from rococo to Jetsons.)

Here's the useful part: I'm in the wings of a theater (the wings are the area to the left and right of the stage, areas the audience can't see). I'm watching the performance on stage—Don Johnson (who is a musician in real life) is rehearsing a kind of dance/mime play. People are in a long line, with big pieces of cardboard on their sides, and it's clear they're supposed to be driving on the freeway, stuck in a traffic jam.

They get out of their cardboard cars in unison, pull out cardboard musical instruments, and start to play. The group has created a "happening" where musicians are invited to drive onto on crowded freeways and when the traffic stops, they get on top of their vans and jam.

They are jamming traffic to promote awareness of conservation—showing that traffic jams are a big waste of time and energy. They want to encourage people to telecommute, which efficient and easy.

They get lots of press coverage. Trafficopters flying overhead get the perfect view of the group's name, painted on top of their vans, and transmit it to the evening news. Soon the group starts making and selling CDs they sell on freeway onramps, donating the proceeds to the non-profit group, "Traffic Jamming."

Genius marketing—it's entertaining so people like it, it costs nothing, gets a lot of attention, and is memorable later on, every time someone's stuck in traffic.

I'm watching all this from backstage, drinking ginger/bacon tea (it's a dream, I can't explain these things) and thinking, "That's a brilliant idea, I wish I'd thought of that."

Then I woke up and realized I *did* think of that. And I wrote it down on the pad next to my bed, so that I could tell you about it—because it has two important lessons.

The first is about marketing—about how marketing needs to be entertaining, and about how there are many ways to get free publicity.

The second, and more important, is that you have to listen to your own ideas—no matter how stupid they may sound at the time.

The thing is—everybody has ideas, but *most* people don't listen to themselves.

We all spend years listening to other people tell us our ideas are no good, and sometimes we start to think other people are right. Well, what do *they* know? There's no harm in *having* the idea. Write it down. Maybe you'll use it, maybe you won't. Maybe it will lead to another idea you *will* use.

Let the idea age (like fine wine or cheese, but a lot faster) and see which ones still sound good in a day or a week. Then tell other people about it. Don't be upset if people try to tell you all the reasons why your idea is impractical, if not impossible, or just plain stupid. They may be right, but it's *just as likely* that they're wrong.

Most of the inventions we use every day wouldn't be here if the inventor had listened to the people who told them all the reasons why things wouldn't work. It works both ways—next time someone tells you their idea, first try to think of how it *could* work, instead of the other way around.

So excuse me—I've got to go put my guitar in my van. OK, so it might help for me to buy a van and learn how to play the guitar—but at least I know the first steps. That's how it starts. Watch for me playing in traffic. Film at 11.

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Fantastic Freebies

One great way to get people to your site is by giving away freebies. Word travels fast, and good stuff for free can get a lot of people to your site.

The downside, of course, is that some people will come *only* for the free stuff, then leave, probably never to return. Even so, if only 1% of the people who come for the free stuff end up staying to look around, you are ahead.

The trick is to find something useful to the type of people who would want to visit your site. For example, with the FuseLetter, I offer free fonts to sign up, and more when you get a friend to subscribe. http://friends.efuse.com/tellafriend.cfm . Since people building a web site can use fonts in their design, it works. And since fonts are downloadable, there's no cost each time someone downloads it (you want to avoid having to mail freebies, as that gets expensive).

Now—you can only legally give away things you own the rights to. The fonts I give away with the FuseLetter are courtesy of http://www.Bitstream.com. I asked, and they gave me their permission (in writing!) and in return, they get links to their site and mention of their products. It's a win-win-win situation—I get something to give to people who sign up, Bitstream gets exposure to more people, and the people who sign up get something for free.

But remember—you can't just give away fonts or clip art unless you have permission from the people who own it!

There are many different things you can give away for free—including things like a free consultation to discuss problems you can solve.

And—if you make a digital product, then you can offer free samples. Next month, my own "Elements of Time" computer clocks will be offered, to coincide with the sale of my real-world watches. If I give it away, will no one buy? Perhaps—but it's more likely that more people will come, and if they like the free one, they'll be more tempted to buy others.

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Free World Time Clock / Currency And Units Converter

http://www.breitling.com/eng00/aero/bwt/index.html

One of the best freebies I've downloaded recently is from renown Swiss watchmaker, Breitling. This computer clock shows the time all over the world, day and night, even phases of the moon.

It also lets you convert measurement units and currencies (updating the exchange rate at a click of a mouse). It even performs time-related calculations (though I haven't quite figured out how that part works yet!) It's a 6.5MB download, and Windows only. Very handy.

What's Breitling's one mistake? While they've created a truly useful and valuable piece of software, they neglect to get your e-mail address before they let you download it.

You want to collect people's e-mail addresses in exchange for your freebie. Make sure to include a check box that let's them say they don't want you to e-mail them, and another that keeps you from letting others e-mail them. Most people who are interested enough will want you to e-mail them with updated info, and if they don't, they may still come back if your freebie is useful and memorable enough.

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Easy Market Research Idea

Mary Gillen's http://www.ideasiteforbusiness.com e-mail has lots of useful marketing stories you can learn from. I particularly liked this one, because it was so simple and made so much sense:

"Research on a Shoestring: Want to launch a new product and don't have the budget for focus groups? In the April issue of American Demographics magazine, you can find out how Michigan-based Bissell Inc.'s marketing research director creatively used his local PTA to conduct an ethnographic research study."

Reading the article costs $2.95 at Contentville (but I have to say that the most important part of the piece was using the local PTA as a market research group—and to get them motivated they rewarded the group by donating to its fund and letting them keep the test products):

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Speaking of dreamy marketing...

http://www.dreyers-dreamery.com/

Here's a great example of entertaining marketing. Dryer's premium ice cream is called "Dreamery" and so their clever site includes a dream analyzer and a dream generator. The dream generator is fun, a kind of "Mad-Libs" for dreams—enter words and it sticks them into a story.

The entire Dreamery line is designed to be unique, starting with the beautiful package illustrations (the site lets you download versions of them and even includes information about the artists.) and of course, ending at the flavors. My friend Pete from Australia tells me that the Chocolate Truffle Explosion is perhaps the best ice cream he's ever had (my wife agrees, when she's too busy to make her own ice cream).

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URLs On Tomatoes

I recently saw a URL on a tomato. Really. www.BChothouse.com. They had little stickers on each and every tomato and now they have their URL. Their web site is very well done, too, educational and attractive.

This is a perfect example of how you need to put your URL on everything you can—your own products, of course, as well as your biz cards, letterhead, magnetic signs on cars, sleeves on coffee cups, t-shirts caps, etc.... And where do you get all that stuff? Keep reading...

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Promo Products

In my family, they're called tchotchkes (pronounced "choch-keys). You've seen them at trade shows—caps, t-shirts, pens, etc. If you want things like these for your business, you need to go through a rep to get these items, rather than working directly with the manufacturer. Talk to Matt.Davidson@leewayne.com —he's friendly, responsive, and managed to get excellent prices.

His site, http://www.logomd.com is not the best example of web sites, but in this case, what's more important is his service. See the bottom of his home page for links to customizable gift search sites and then talk to him about ordering.

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Do Good For Free With Just A Click

NOW is the time to visit these sites, and click to donate for free. Visit their advertisers, too, so they'll keep supporting these good causes.

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One More Thing: Dream on

I used to write down all my dreams, but now I only write down the ones I remember when I wake up, and I do that with a pad and pen right by the bed—or in the case of really long dreams, a little tape recorder, because sometimes my writing can be, well, illegible.

For example, here's all I can read from last night's dream: "shore of acceptance, big beach nugget lots of people a king of big bath in Sumor all the time surprise! Diane Sawyer."

I do remember it was about beach houses that were made of those huge aluminum cargo containers you may have seen on giant cargo ships, and come to think of it, that's not such a bad idea for emergency shelter!

Then again it's starting to sound as if I need professional help, isn't it? Involving either psychology or graphology...

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.