05/31

Seth Godin on the Evolution from Advertising to Marketing

The following is transcribed from the Copyblogger podcast “Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio,” hosted by Robert Bruce.

It’s an interview Robert conducted with marketing guru and author Seth Godin.

Seth is almost universally known (and has been interviewed several times for this blog), and he never ceases to nail exactly the issues that matter most to an audience of broadcasters.

That’s why I transcribed this Q&A, and it’s why I am sharing the key portions of it with you now. It’s long, and it’s extraordinarily worthwhile.

It should inspire a conversation in your office about what radio’s role is in mediating the relationships – the connections – between consumers and clients.

Because the advertisers who pay you to force attention on those who own it will gradually yield to the marketers who earn attention through connections and results.

Seth, you wrote a deceptively simple blog post back in March of this year that stopped me cold. It’s titled “When should we add marketing?” And I think it addresses and challenges some commonly held beliefs about marketing that most folks who are trying to spread a product, service or idea hold. And it might seem an elementary question to some but in order to meaningfully frame the next few minutes, let me ask you, what is marketing?

Well, the easy answer is, it’s not advertising. And a lot of people have trouble right there because for 50 years it was advertising. Mad Men was all about this notion that if you ran enough ads – they didn’t have to be good, you just had to run enough – they would pay for themselves. It was a perpetual motion machine of money. That ended a few years ago.

I like to describe marketing as “the art of telling a story that resonates with your audience and then spreads.”

And that story better be true, which means that implicit in marketing is making something for which or about which you could tell a story that resonates. And this is almost diametrically opposed to what every big company marketer in the world does and lots of little company marketers who think they’re supposed to copy big company marketers. They think their job is to “get the word out” and that they have moral right and a professional obligation to interrupt everyone they can to talk about their average stuff for average people.

I’ve heard you tell it before but I love your description of why this has changed. Some of it’s obvious, you know, the change in media, the change in the world with everything coming or most of media coming online, but why has this changed so radically from the old Mad Men era culture that our culture is leaving behind to this new culture that you describe.

Well, we all grew up learning about the industrial revolution. Every revolution then brings an age behind it. The industrial revolution created the industrial age. What was hard about the industrial age was making stuff. Henry Ford didn’t get rich because he ran good commercials. He got rich because he made a car better for the money than anyone ever had before. So, for half a century making stuff was key.

Then, once you got factories up and running making stuff, there’s a demand for mass media. We invented television to make advertisers happy, not the other way around. And so in this second era, the mass media era, we’ve got lots and lots of attention because television manufactured attention and we needed to grab that attention and turned it into money. But attention is now scarce. It’s not abundant anymore. There’s a million or a billion channels to choose from, not three. There is a store one click away that sells every item ever made as supposed to the local store where shelf space was scarce. All of those things undermine the importance of making average stuff because it’s easier than ever before.

You can design something on your computer, send an email to China and a month later it comes back and you didn’t have to do anything. The hard part isn’t getting shelf space because everyone gets the same amount of shelf space on Amazon as everybody else. The hard part is earning attention and trust, and nothing that Henry Ford did was about attention or trust.

And one thing seems to be carried over from that older era, it’s very popular to do and that is the practice of interruption. Why doesn’t interruption work?

Interruption does work unless your interruptions are being interrupted.

If you stand up in church and start screaming and yelling, everyone will notice you. They may not trust you but they’ll notice you. What has happened is the amount of interruption, the amount of noise, has gone from getting two emails a day to 450. So you can interrupt my email box all you want. It’s not going to work.

And so we replaced this idea that you could steal my attention with the idea that you could earn it and I have to pay it to you. I can’t get it back because once attention is gone, it’s gone forever. But the person who owns attention has built a worthwhile asset.

Name one company that has gone on the internet and built a brand, a jingle, a slogan or a logo. The answer is none. The Internet doesn’t build those things the way TV does. What the Internet builds is connection, and every successful Internet company and every successful Internet marketer is successful for that and only that reason: They have earned attention, built trust and turned it into profit.

To be very clear then, when should we start marketing our products, service or idea?

Before you have your products, service or idea.

How do you decide that running a service that’s going to help homeowners lower their property taxes is worth your time and effort? The decision to do it is a marketing decision, right, because the implementation of it isn’t difficult anymore. The implementation of importing rugs from Turkey or the implementation of deciding to build a new kind of social network, the coding isn’t hard. The hard part is marketing it, telling a story about it that people choose to listen to.

I did a post shortly after the “When We Should Add Marketing” post about Sea Monkeys. Anyone who grew up reading comics knows about the Sea Monkeys. If you ever ordered them, you didn’t get the king and the queen and the kid little happy monkey thing; you got microscopic brine shrimp and if you turned off the lights and used a flashlight, millions of them would swim around. That’s how you train them.

Well, clearly the marketer had nothing to do with the guy who put the brine shrimp in the packet. They said to the marketer, “We’ve got a bunch of brine shrimp in a packet, come up with the way to sell them.” And if your job is to sell somebody else’s Sea Monkeys, it’s an interesting intellectual problem but it’s not the marketing I’m talking about.

Given the choice, the purest form of marketing starts from scratch. If you’re an ad agency, your big win is to let your client have you sit in the product development meetings because then you can help them design products that don’t need advertising. But if all you’re going to do is sit there and wait for them to bring their average stuff, you’ve made your job much harder.

What does this look like, Seth? What does this storytelling look like digitally online today? Give us an example of one good way to tell a story over time about your company, about your idea, about your product?

A lot of times what’s going on is you’re not telling a story about what the industrialist would have envisioned.

So Tom’s Shoes tells a story that if you buy this pair of shoes, you’ll be part of a hip group in your community, plus you’ll have a story you can tell everyone, which is that an identical pair went to someone who doesn’t have shoes.

Tom’s Shoes doesn’t tell a story about the fabric or the workmanship; they tell a story about what your act of buying did. And you do that year after year after year and you end up selling literally millions of shoes that way. That’s really different than saying, “I can prove my shoe is better than your shoe and if you don’t buy it, you’re an idiot.”

Let me tell you about Shepard Fairey – he is the most famous fine artist of the century. Shepard Fairey is a talented graphic artist. But there’s millions of talented graphic artists and they look at the fine art market where someone might get paid $50,000 or $100,000 for one painting and they say, “That’s good work if you can get it.” And they go to the old system of “how do I get a gallery owner to recognize me? How do I get a show and then how do I get a bigger show?” They’re struggling. We invented the term “starving artist” for a reason.

Shepard did none of that. Shepard said, “I am going to make art with a story and I’m going to organize it to spread.” He put it for free on the wall. He was arrested more than 30 times putting his art on the walls of buildings in Los Angeles and in Boston and in New York. That is a real commitment to what I’m talking about in that he didn’t charge a thing. In fact, he was willing to go to jail to spread the art.

Over time, Shepard builds a blog and that blog built a mailing list and then he starts doing something where once or twice a week he will post that he has a new limited edition piece coming out, and you can buy it for between $40 and $100. He has to change what time he posts it because so many people want to buy it that he needs to make it sort of random. Many of the people who buy it turn around and resell it for $500 or $1000 to a collector because everything is limited. And over time he built this tribe of people who identified with his art and identified with the way he spread it and he started moving his way up the food chain to the point where one of his works has sold for over $100,000 for an original and he’s had a major New York City show.

But it was inevitable that he would get there because step by step, bit by bit, he spread a story, he built a tribe, he earned permission, he made connections, he did art that people recognized, it’s iconic. I mean it’s all of these steps built in to what he was trying to build.

And you said it just now but I can hear a small business owner out there saying, ‘Okay, I understand what’s going on. I see all of this but I don’t have a time. How do I make this happen now online? I’ve got to get my stuff out there. I’ve got to make sales. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it takes hard work and all of this but can’t I just get a bunch of money together and make something happen. Come on, what about the old days?’ What would you say to that?

I’m so glad, so glad you brought that up. That, in fact, is not what they’re saying. What they’re saying is “I like the industrial era. I like the industrial age. I got this pile a mediocre stuff. Help me sell it.”

Oh, and then they say, “By the way I hate marketing.” Well, the reason you hate marketing is you’re doing it the old way and you’re trying to push and trick and cajole and interrupt your way into someone buying your slightly better than average stuff for slightly better than average pricing. And I’m like, “Great. Have fun. But don’t tell me that’s the future because it’s not and please don’t ask me to give you countless examples of folks who used funnels and sales pitches to get that busy average person to notice them instead of their competitor and buy it.”

It’s not the way it works now.

So if you want the wind at your back, take a deep breath, prepare to get rich slowly, and you will get rich slowly by emulating this connection economy process that is relentlessly successful as opposed to herking and jerking from commodity to scheme to commodity and scheme and in the long run, you’re going to get nowhere.

Would it be fair to say that the old world is gone? Of course we still see some vestiges of it – some pretty powerful vestiges, but we don’t have a choice, right?

I think that if you want to hang in there, you’re going to be able to hang in there for a while. I think that if you want to grow, I don’t know how you can do it that way. The model is really simple.

Dell computer can’t do it anymore. Dell computer’s model is probably more similar to yours than my model is, and if you look at Dell computer and you say, ‘Why can’t Dell computer grow? Why can’t Dell computer sell more of its PCs using its brand and local…” blah, blah, blah, it’s because consumers are too smart for that.

And when everything is a click away, we’re just not going to give you our attention because it’s important to you.

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  • http://twitter.com/jeffschmidt Jeff Schmidt

    Seth, as always ruins the old schoolers day.  

    Most present radio formats were built in the era of “packaging” and “advertising”.  The Don Draper worldview. 

    Or to use Seth’s example – Sea Monkeys.  

    The take away from this interview for me is that radio formats need to be completely re-made rather than re-packaged. 

    Without much exception – no one is going to run around telling all their friends that there’s a new station in town playing “10 in a Row” or “2-fers” or “All The Hits” – no matter how “cool” we try to make it sound. 

    If it’s not cool to begin with – repeating a few words every 10 minutes isn’t going to make it cool.  

    And even if that technique worked just last week – chances that it continues to work shrink every day.

    Do we have the minds in this business to totally re-think new format launches for modern connected times?   

    Or are we content to keep applying “fresh coats of paint” to outdated ideas?

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Jeff, that’s a good perspective on the problem.

    There’s another perspective on the sales side of the problem, and that one is even more worrisome.  

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  • Jon Latzer

     Mark- I’d be interested in your perspective from a sales side of things.  BTW…while you are focused on the radio industry this is an over arching theme in many businesses today.  Ford made a product people needed. Are all the better mouse traps made or are we just taking all of those traps and repackaging them (advertising)?

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Hi Jon, it’s a long and involved conversation for a blog comment, but suffice it to say that if broadcasters are on the same side as their clients (who may not be on the same side as their agencies) then opportunities arise. And what about those situations where the agency is the client? In those situations, the folks buying media will see their budgets pinched by the folks on the digital side.

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