Seth Godin, Author & Entrepreneur, Squidoo
Interview with marketing guru Seth Godin by Yahoo! about the future of marketing and advertising.
My name is Seth Godin I am an entrepreneur and a blogger and an author. I’ve written 12 best sellers and I have a blog, you can find it by typing Seth into your favorite search engine. Here is the thing about revolutions; revolutions create things that are impossible.
If Henry Ford had come to you in 1919 and said, “Ok, because I have come up with a new way to make stuff the following things are going to be happening in just a few years. The government is going pay to put roads all over the country, there’s going to be places like Disneyland that you’ll drive to, there will be drive in movie theaters. The fact is that almost everyone in the entire country in the world is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy this product that I make in this factory.” You say that’s nuts, that’s impossible, in 20 years that’s never going to happen all because Henry Ford obsessively developed this idea of mass production, this idea of the assembly line, this idea of interchangeable parts which until then, didn’t really exist.
There is another revolution that’s going on right now. If you look at this revolution and say the Internet makes it possible for us to put TV ads online for free you’re completely missing the point. If you look at this revolution and say oh this is great, the web lets us promote our average products for average people to new folks in a really hypeful way your completely missing the point. The point is that internet advertising and spending money to get attention online is a lever–it is not the end, it is the beginning, and its a lever that allows organizations, whether they’re non profits or companies that are trying to sell something or someone who is running for office. It allows people to do business in a totally different way, and if you’re not prepared to do business in a totally different way, then you’re wasting your time and your money trying to turn the internet into TV 2.0. It’s bigger then that. This is a really fundamental shift.
Another example, transparency. What we know now is that if you do a search on a company you’re going to find dozens or hundreds or thousands of opinions about it. If you look up a book online you’re going to find dozens or hundreds of reviews of it. That was not true ten years ago. Ten years ago the information came to you from the company. Now we’re going to get the truth, whether you want us to or not. So the question is for the companies, are you going to bet on secrets? Or you going to bet on open. The companies that are able to bet on open will always do better in a world that is leading to open.
And I guess the fundamental easiest shift to think about is this: it used to be that the factory made stuff. Henry Ford churned out a bunch of stuff and then they gave money to the marketing department and the marketing department’s job was to take that average stuff for those average people and I call meatballs. And put some gloss on it so that people would buy it–that’s all Mad Men is. Now the magic of 1963, or the Mad Men era, was you didn’t have to be talented, you just had to have money. If you spent enough money on marketing you would make a profit. So we hear about all these heroes who did great work, but all they did really was spend money. That’s not what’s going on today–what’s going on today is the product is the marketing. If you don’t get that, you’re always going to be in this moment of tension between the people who make the stuff and the people who sell it.
In fact, the people who market the thing should be in charge of what gets made. That if you think about a car business or an accounting firm or anything in between, whether you’re selling to businesses or consumers, if the people who are in charge of telling stories and communicating with your public, whatever your public is, are also in charge of making the product, also in charge of what happens when the phone rings, you will then make more things that are remarkable and the internet part will be far more efficient.
That I view the dark age of the Internet during the bubble ten years ago was when any idiot with money would buy a lot of banner ads and their stock would go up. Those banner ads didn’t work ever, not once and people blame the Internet. No it wasn’t the Internet’s fault, it was the fault of companies who thought this was TV 2.0. So the push here and the reason this is taking a while and the reason it’s difficult is because marketers don’t have the guts to go back to the organization and say this product is not good enough. They don’t have the guts to go back internally and say don’t give me more give me more leverage, give me more ability to interact with people in a way that they will choose to talk about.
I guess I push for two things to start: one humility; no one cares about you, not even your mother-in-law, so you need to get over the fact that we are eagerly waiting for your press release, we are eagerly waiting for you to spam us, we are eagerly waiting, OH GREAT! That’s not what happens maybe for apple but nobody else. So you need to be honest with yourself about why does this matter–does the world need another book about X? Probably not, so just don’t write one of those. And number two is a two-word rule, which is “first ten.” Tell ten people about what you’re doing, ten people who trust you, ten people who like you. If that’s the end of it and they don’t tell anyone else, you have to start over. But if those ten people tell five more people, and those five people tell three more people, and those three people, now you got twenty and then you repeat it and you’ve got 40 and 80 and pretty soon you’ve reached the group you want.
So spending money on Internet media is not a shortcut to overcoming the first ten problem–it’s an amplifier. If you got the first ten thing linked and you know it scales, now go spend a fortune on Internet media because it’s going to work. Here’s the thing, the reason this has taken off so fast is because humans are still humans. The reason everyone wants to check what people are saying about them on Facebook is because we desperately care what people are saying about us. The reason that everyone is in a rush to use twitter is that lots of people want to be listened to and lots of people are lonely and lots of people want to spread ideas and people like talking about stuff, that’s what makes us human and it made us human in 1700 it made us human in the year 15, its making us human today. It was a temporary aberration that the TV industrial complex existed. It was a temporary moment in time that you could create capital; build a factory, Henry Ford, distribution ads, ads, ads, ads, ads.
The first best seller that I wrote in 1999 caught on because the idea of permission–in which I say run any kind of media you want but the deliverable is not a sale, the measureable output is permission to follow up–matches the way a lot of companies think. Because if I think, say, ok now there’s 10,000 people I can contact and I give a third of them one message and a third of them another and I can compare. Now that matches this sort of measure test measure test mindset of some companies and what we’ve seen is companies have built multi billion dollar assets out of using permission marketing to grow. So now it’s all a mess because now there’s lots of different kind of media you can buy or you can invest in and the problem is that if it doesn’t match what the company is about it’s not going to last because the first time you have a hiccup you’re going to abandon it. But the worse thing to do, and this is what I see over and over again, is bring in a couple social media consultants, get all excited about something and put it in a little sinecure section of your company and don’t let the CEO care about it. Because that’s ghettoizing it and its just not going to work.
The whole point of what we’ve been talking about is internalize the shift this revolution brings forward. You can’t hide from it. Spending zero money online is insane, spending no time online doesn’t make sense unless you’re selling ancient crochet materials or something. This is where people are now, but you’re going to have to change if you want to be there too. You know there’s a chasm here and the chasm isn’t obvious to some people. What you do well or what you did well isn’t important anymore–that’s the key shift. In 1980, if you made really decent parts for the product that people are buying you would win. Now, really decent parts are available for a quarter of the price online from over seas. Doing what you do really well used to be good, its not. Now you have to do something else really well and that’s what I write about in Linchpin. It’s that the industrial complex is falling apart because it’s so easy to do a search to find what someone makes cheaper then what you make.
If all you’re doing is doing average stuff for average people I can get it cheaper ,so that means you have to learn to do something else really well, and what you have to do really well now is make stories and create products worth talking about and enable conversations and build tribes. Then when you do those things really well now you do great. But if you don’t do those things really well please don’t buy media. So what are the keys to success? What if you made a three-point bullet point power point and you’re going to bring it to the CEO–what are they? Number 1; marketing needs to be responsible for what gets made. Number 2; we need to measure every bit of interaction we have. And Number 3; the asset, the only asset that actually gets built online is permission. Permission to talk to people who want to be talked to, delivering, anticipating personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them and connecting them to one another. That’s all we can build and that’s what we should measure. Not how many people thumbed up some video we made but instead how many people want to hear from us. I would say innovation has two components: one, it’s an invitation to failure. If there isn’t an opportunity for failure it’s not innovative. And two, it’s about solving an interesting problem. If you’re not doing those two things I don’t think you’re innovating.