Choose to Create Value

It was Medium article gold, handed to me on a silver platter. Talking about the difference between doing things for customers and to customers, Seth Godin called out Amazon’s new review system.

Instead of showing you the usual five stars, filled with color up to wherever the rating was, they were testing showing you just one star with the rating as a number. In the newly gained space, they now told you that 75% of the ratings were five-star ones and that 200+ people had ordered this item in the last month.

Seth criticized that where seeing three, four, or five full stars was simple and easy to understand, doing the mental gymnastics of percentages was not. What’s more, why do you care that 200 other people bought the same item if, for you, a single one that works will do? You don’t, but this social proof makes you more likely to buy — and that’s why this whole redesign is about Amazon, not the customer.

I could see the headline instantly. “Amazon Is Already Dead, and Their New Review Design Shows Why.” Back when I ran Better Marketing, we pioneered an entire category of “bad business case studies” like this. They were extremely popular. You zone in on a particular incident gone wrong, explain why it failed and how to learn from it, and if the case has some element of mystery to it or covers a brand everyone knows, you likely have a winner — and this story definitely smelled like one.

Instead of opening Medium and furiously typing away, however, I simply moved on with my day. Why? A few posts above the Amazon story, Seth dropped another gem: “If your job feels like a dead end, it might be because you’ve traded agency and responsibility for the feeling of security. But real security lies in creating value.”

When I first discovered them, marketing case studies were part of my job. They helped us grow the publication, and they made good money, too. But I no longer run that magazine, and in a long list of drafts, this is not a story I particularly care to tell. It’s an article I would write mainly for claps and money — and that’s not creating value. “Creating value isn’t easy,” Seth says, “but it’s resilient and generous and often profitable.”

When you know where your calling lies, there’s no need for detours. Keep pushing the boundary of the contribution you have chosen, and do the work that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Choose to create value, not noise.