The Best of Seth Godin on Copyblogger

Two weeks from now, Seth Godin will be providing one of two keynote speeches at Authority Intensive.

It will be just the latest instance of one of our favorite marketing teachers delivering useful advice and inspiring stories to the Copyblogger audience.

Mr. Godin has imparted his wisdom on how to develop authority. He has shared with us how (and where) he writes.

And he has spent nearly an hour talking shop with Brian Clark and Robert Bruce on past podcast episodes.

Those episodes are the crux of this latest episode of The Lede.

I dug them out of the archives, dusted off the cobwebs, listened … and realized that almost everything the guys discussed with Mr. Godin remains relevant today.

Over the course of two engaging, story-filled interviews, you will get answers to all of the following questions — and so much more:

  • Is the traditional business book still relevant?
  • Where is the line between art and really good marketing?
  • What’s the secret to his prolific output?
  • What is his definition of marketing?
  • How does the Internet build trust — and why is it so important?
  • Why does just running a ton of ads not work anymore?
  • When should you start marketing your product, service, or idea?
  • What does good storytelling marketing look like?
  • What is one example that shatters the old marketing system?
  • Is traditional advertising really dead?

And to close, Mr. Godin delivers advice for any of you who are struggling to get your ideas and messages heard.

I’m so glad I decided to go back through these old interviews. And I’m so glad you’ve decided to take time to listen. Even if you’ve already listened to both interviews, there is enough meat on the bone to satiate you during a second nibble through.

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The Show Notes

The Transcript

Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: The Best of Seth Godin on Copyblogger

Jerod Morris: You’re listening to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.

If you’ve been enjoying these episodes, and if you get a lot out of this episode — how could you not, it features the great Seth Godin — please consider giving the show a rating or a review on iTunes. And tell your friends, or tweet a link. We greatly appreciate any help you can give us in spreading the word.

As I mentioned, today’s episode features Seth Godin.

Seth Godin: I think if you figure it out for yourself, you’ll have taught yourself something better than I could teach you.

Jerod: No, I did not have the privilege of interviewing Mr. Godin this week. I wish. But I will get to meet him soon, which I am so very excited about, at our Authority Intensive event coming up in Denver right around the corner May 7th through the 9th. Tickets to the event have been sold out for a while, but we’ll let you know when the early bird specials begin for the next one.

Mr. Godin will be one of two keynote speakers at Authority Intensive. Which is why I decided to go back into the Copyblogger audio archives and listen to the two interviews that Brian Clark and Robert Bruce have done with him. I enjoyed listening to the interviews so much, and got so much out of them, that I decided to re-run them for this week’s episode of The Lede.

So please forgive the unusual length of this episode … but trust me, it’s worth it.

Seth: Well, I think it’s very important that I don’t answer that question …

Brian: Oh! …

Seth: … and the reason is … I mean, I’m happy to answer it for you when we’re not talking on the air …

Jerod: What question did Mr. Godin not want to answer? Listen and you’ll find out.

In a little over 20 minutes from now, you’ll get to hear Robert Bruce and his velvet voice interview Mr. Godin. Their discussion focuses on marketing: what is marketing? how has marketing changed over the years? And when should you start marketing your product or service?

Brian Clark’s Interview with Seth Godin

Jerod: But first, we begin with Brian Clark’s interview with Mr. Godin, which took place in September of 2011. You can tell it was a while ago because Brian mentions that Mr. Godin has written 13 books — of course, he’s up to 17 now. The two discuss their respective blogging philosophies, business books and how publishing is changing, and, of course, the importance of doing work that matters.

Note that Mr. Godin’s Domino Project is discussed in the interview. The project ran for about a year, with Mr. Godin halting it in late 2011, a few months after this interview, because, as he said in a blog post, quote “it was a project, not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books. Projects are fun to start, but part of the deal is that they don’t last forever.” unquote.

Every book in the project became a bestseller, so I’d say it was a successful project.

And, yes, all of the book titles that mentioned in the interview you’re about to hear remain available for purchase on Amazon.

And now, please enjoy Brian Clark’s interview with Seth Godin. The audio quality isn’t perfect — and is much better in the second interview you’ll hear — but the quality of the content more than makes up for it.

Is the traditional business book still relevant?

Brian Clark: So let me talk to you a little bit about something that’s been on my mind for a while, which is the business book. We both built our respective businesses with content. You’ve written 13 books. I’ve written zero. Well, I’ve probably written about five books’ worth of stuff, but not in the traditional form. Is the traditional business book still relevant?

Seth Godin: Well, I think we have to talk about relevant for what.

You know, everything that has value has value at some point because it’s scarce, and before Tom Peters, business books were extremely scarce. They didn’t publish many, and people didn’t read very many. After Tom, the number of books being published by major publishers didn’t go up very much, but the number of people reading them went up a lot.

So if you were chosen, if you were picked by Adrian Zackheim or any of the other leading business book publishers, it gave you an imprimatur. It gave you access to people who thought deeply about business, who made decisions, who had influence. And there’s no question that in 1998 or 2002 the single best way to influence the business conversation was to start a company that changed the world like Thomas Edison, and the second best way to do it would be to write an influential business book.

I’m not sure that that’s true anymore, because what’s scarce now is not the ability to get something printed on paper. What’s scarce is the attention of smart people, and it’s really clear that Copyblogger has earned the attention of an enormous number of smart people. And in that respect, you are writing the equivalent of a business book, you’re just not chopping down any trees while you’re doing it.

Brian: Yes, absolutely.

And again, from that content marketing mindset, my goals are being accomplished. And yet we both know, and we talked about this years ago, that the people Seth Godin wanted to reach, even in 2008-2009, even until today to a certain degree, were finding their business information in the bookstore, or on Amazon, and didn’t necessarily know about Seth Godin’s blog, which hundreds of thousands of people read. Is that any different today?

Seth: I think what’s the same is this: No one has ever invented a more effective way to transmit a block of thought than a book. If you hand someone a book you are handing them an open window. A way to think about something differently.

And you run into people who read Snow Crash or people who read Warner Earhart, or people who read Gone With the Wind, and felt transformed by it. More than a movie, more than a record, more than a blog post. And so I still believe that in terms of the whole package delivered in a sphere, a book can do that with more impact and more ability than a blog post can.

So I haven’t done all the numbers, but I believe that I probably reach 5-10 times as many people with my blog as I reach with any of my books. But I also believe that I have a better shot at changing your mind from you reading one book than from you reading one blog post.

Brian: Big Snow Crash fan here, by the way. Neal Stephenson. Great guy. Great author.

Are rich, interactive eBooks better than text-only eBooks?

Brian: Okay, so let me ask you this: Because technology and the book are meeting head-on, and some people are doing some very interesting things. What are your thoughts on the new breed of interactive multi-media e-books, such as Al Gore’s Our Choice?

Seth: Well, you know, if I’m a Copyblogger reader, I’m thinking to myself, “How do I use writing to advance my mission?”

And the problem with the Al Gore project, which will probably be the last of its kind since the company that made it lost a ton of money on it and has since been acquired by Facebook, is that it costs 10 or 20 times as much to make a cool iPad app as it does to make a book. And it reaches one-tenth the number of people when it works. You know, a successful book might reach a quarter of a million people. But a content-filled app isn’t going to come close to that, at least in the short run.

And so I think that if you were looking at this, about how do I get in front of people, the answer remains, serialized, consistent, shareable content more than it relies on over-the-top, fancy eye candy. Which is fun to make and fun to talk about, but too expensive to sustain, I believe.

Brian: Yeah. I think I tend to agree with you. I bought the book, and it’s fascinating eye candy, but generally when I’m reading I just like to read.

But not everyone is like you and I, though. We are, I think, fundamentally readers and a big chunk of the population isn’t. So I could see perhaps something like an interactive white paper too, for product demonstrations or something like that. When people really have a need for a more immediate multimedia experience, rather than casual reading.

Seth: Well, you know, here’s the thing. I haven’t seen any data based on MRI scans, but I believe that when someone is deep in reading, their brain is pumping out different chemicals and they’re accepting information differently. And that sort of hypnosis is a very important way to get past filters that people ordinarily have.

The other thing is that in a book, no one knows if you’re a dog. Meaning that when they’re reading your writing, they don’t know what you look like, they don’t know how you’re dressed, they don’t know if the quality of the camera was any good or not. And we judge contented movies, and we judge contented apps largely based on the surface, not based on what’s underneath it. Right?

So someone could hand you a dog-eared paperback and you get the full experience. But if someone hands you something that was coated in lousy Dreamweaver HTML and it’s filled with flashing gifs, you’re just not going to go along for the ride.

You are correct that we are entering a post-literate society, and that’s why I would love to see you guys start writing about how one writes and delivers straightforward video. And I think the video I’m talking about is one person looking straight in the camera and talking. Because we all have the technology to execute on that now. For someone who doesn’t want to read it’s a very direct way to learn something, and I think it takes some skill to do it right.

And I’ll give you a very simple example, if I can pull it up while I’m talking to you here. I discovered it just the other day. There’s an e-zine called “How to Play Bass.” Had nothing to do with fish. And if you Google “How to Play Bass e-zine” you can find him. A guy named Paul Wolfe teaches you the bass by looking straight in the eye and talking about it. I’m pretty sure if he wrote it down in a book it wouldn’t work nearly as well, but I’m also sure that if he made it into a fancy app he’d bankrupt himself.

Brian: Yeah. That’s a great point. And you’re so right. People think of writing as text when, in fact, we could all wing it a little less and have a script for video.

It’s all — you know, it all comes down to that essential copywriting, and it’ll definitely be on our editorial agenda this year to talk about that a little bit more, because we are transcending text with a lot of people. And as you point out with the bass example, some things just don’t lend themselves well to the written word.

Where’s the line between art and really good marketing?

Brian: Okay. So let’s shift gears a little bit and talk more marketing. One of my favorite of your books is “All Marketers Are Storytellers,” which used to have a different title…

Seth: Yep.

Brian: (chuckles) …that might have gotten you in a little bit of trouble. But the whole idea of telling a story, and in this sense with a blog, or you know, if you want to call it a trade magazine online like Copyblogger appears to be more of these days, you’re still telling a story over time.

Where’s the line, in your mind, between art and really good marketing? And I mean that in the sense of how you think about the content you create.

Seth: I’m going to argue that there are two kinds of really good marketing.

There is really good marketing that involves repeatedly executing on standardized objectives and strategies so that you maximize your return on investment. And I would say that McDonald’s 1960 to 1980 was an example of that kind of marketing. Disciplined, focused, not ego-driven, and it generated profit for its shareholders.

The other kind of marketing, which I’m far more interested in, is I would say art, and that is transference of emotion.

I would say art is the transfer of emotion from one human being to another, doing something new, doing it for the first time, and doing it in a way that touches other people. And that is the art that we applaud when we talk about Steve Jobs, right? That is the art that Howard Schultz brought to the table when he took over a struggling chain of four coffee shops that didn’t sell espresso.

You know, Starbucks is here because they’ve done the first kind of marketing, the grind-it-out marketing, McDonald’s style. But they couldn’t have done that if it weren’t for the brilliant marketing, the art of Howard Schultz caring so much about a third place and caring so much about Italian espresso.

When did Seth start blogging and how has the landscape changed since?

Brian: You’ve been blogging how long now? Over a decade?

Seth: You know, I think so.

In the fog of my memory I remember the day I switched to TypePad. I was sitting at a conference with Justice Breyer, the supreme court, Sergey Brin of a little search engine no one had ever heard of, Jacqueline Novogratz who I’d just met, from Acumen Fund, and this guy named Joi Ito, who is now in charge of the media lab at MIT. And I watched Joi blogging on TypePad, on this absolutely beautiful platform. It turned out he was one of the investors in Six Apart, and on that day I switched and started my TypePad blog.

But I honestly cannot remember where my blog was before that, because I’m pretty sure I had one, and my e-mail newsletter, which is what became the blog, started in 1995.

Brian: Yes.

Seth: So I guess I’m happy to say it’s been 15 years.

Brian: Wow. Yeah, that’s right, I forgot about the newsletter during the Yoyodyne years, and then you were at Yahoo! for a year, and then after that, really when we think of the Seth Godin that we know now, you’ve been at it for quite awhile.

Seth: Yeah. I’m a little like Zig Ziglar. I’m a cross-eyed discus thrower. I don’t set any records, but I do keep the crowd alert.

Brian: (Laughs) So what have you seen? Let’s just go back to, say, 2000-2001. How has blogging spread ideas, launched new businesses? I mean, how has this changed from back then?

Seth: Well, you know, who your readers are really determines your impact.

When Wired was just getting started, Wired Magazine, or Fast Company, both of them had a set of readers that were reading because they were in a hurry to make something happen. And so an article in Fast Company or an ad in Wired had this huge impact. I still run into people who saw the one and only “Help Wanted” ad I ran in Wired in 1994 or 1995, with my baby picture in it. That was hugely successful for me.

Now lots and lots of people are reading blogs. Lots and lots of people are in that space. But a lot of them aren’t walking around with the posture of making a difference tomorrow. So it’s a different kind of impact. You’re sort of layering in this foundational thinking as much as you are alerting a tiny group of alert people to go pounce on the next thing.

What are the “secrets” to Seth’s writing process?

Seth: And so one of the things that I’ve shifted in my writing is, sometimes I’ll do a blog post that you’ve got to think about, maybe even for a week, before it settles in. And sometimes my readers don’t get it, and I’m okay with that.

Because what I’m trying to do is not blog for the day. I’m trying to blog for the long haul and sort of layer in this different way of looking and thinking about the world.

And I’m really tempted. I mean, like, the blog post I have in mind for tomorrow, I’m really tempted to add three more paragraphs to explain it. But I’m not going to, because I think if you figure it out for yourself, you’ll have taught yourself something better than I could teach you.

Brian: Yeah. I agree with that, even from a learning psychology standpoint. That’s true.

I’ve always wanted to ask you about how you blog, because you write in brief, which is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize. That’s why I write 1,000 words. I — you know, if I had more time, right, it would be shorter.

Seth: Right.

Brian: (Laughs) So give us some insight into where the ideas come from, what’s your editorial process. Do you kind of wing it, or is it more planned out where you want to take people over time?

Seth: Well, I think it’s very important that I don’t answer that question …

Brian: Oh! …

Seth: … and the reason is … I mean, I’m happy to answer it for you when we’re not talking on the air …

Brian: Okay.

Seth: … but the reason I don’t want to answer it in person is, there is this feeling that if you ate the same breakfast cereal as Stephen King, you’d be able to write the way Stephen King writes. And the breakfast cereal has nothing to do with the writing. And the habits that I have developed are extremely idiosyncratic and totally irrelevant.

Everybody who is a fabulous writer, and I’ve met hundreds of them, does it differently. So there’s no correlation between how someone does it and what they make, and what we do is, because of our fear, Steve Pressfield would call it “The Resistance” to confronting the page — sometimes we spend a lot of time making sure we’ve got the same laptop as this guy, and the same writing setup as this guy, and the same process as this guy. And it’s all stalling.

And what I would rather say to the Copyblogger reader is, write. Just write.

And put it in front of people. And if you don’t put it in front of people, it doesn’t count. And if you get in the habit of putting something in front of people every single day, even if it’s only ten people by e-mail, your writing will shift, and you will adopt the voice you’re meant to have.

But everything you do that stands in the way of you writing — you know, going and buying a 12-pack of Black Wing pencils — is foolish, because you’re just stalling.

Brian: You’ve got to do it for yourself. I don’t really ever talk about my process either, because people would think I’m insane. I mean, I am the least productive. There’s an image of me I’d rather not spoil by how crazy my process really is. So I totally get where you’re coming from.

But yeah. Just write. And one of my most popular posts is that ten steps to becoming a better writer, and it’s just write, write, write, write, write. I thought of that late at night, and people still love that post because it’s a shock. They’re waiting to see what you’re going to say. How can you possibly tell me to write better in ten steps, right? It’s ridiculous.

Why did The Domino Project only publish short manifestos?

Brian: You mention Steven Pressfield. Big fan of Steven. He’s appeared on Copyblogger before. His new book that came out with your Domino Project, which I’d like to talk about, I didn’t expect to like it. I’m a big fan of The War of Art. I didn’t see how this Do the Work could possibly be meaningful. It’s so brief and compact, and yet it’s probably one of the best books I’ve ever read on productivity. I just blazed right through it.

But it was so literally useful, and of course I had Getting Things Done by David Allen on my shelf, and I never got that done. It’s too, you know, it’s like a brick. So how does that type of book fit into your philosophy with Domino Project?

Seth: Well you know, Steve didn’t want to write a sequel to The War of Art because it stands on its own. It doesn’t need a sequel. It just needs some more people to read it.

And what I said to him is, “More people aren’t reading it, and they’re not reading it because we need some more hoopla, and we need to grab people. But most important, what we need to do is give the people who have read it a tool they can hand to their friends that they’ll read. And so the goal there was a straight, unadulterated shot of adrenaline. A straight kick, caffeine, right to where it works.

And it only took Steve a few weeks to write the thing, because he wrote it the way he talks. This is what would happen if he could sit next to you and finally tell you to get started, and that’s one of my best definitions of a manifesto.

A manifesto is a book as short as you can possibly make it. The Communist Manifesto was only 80 pages long. It changed the world. A book as short as you can make it that people who agree with the ideas can’t help but share, and this notion of the book as a shareable social object is something that the book publishing industry benefits from, but doesn’t understand and doesn’t embrace.

So that when an author brings them an 80-page manifesto, they refuse to publish it, and it gets padded and lengthened, and it costs more. And they don’t sell them in five-packs, and they don’t sell them in fifty-packs, and they don’t make them easy to share. Which is what they’re so good at, right? Which is what a book is for.

You know, it used to be that a book was the only way to store knowledge for another generation, and a book was the only way for a stranger to bring an idea to someone they didn’t meet in person. Both those things are gone now. What we’re left with is this artifact as a tool for accelerating an idea through a vector, and that’s what we’re trying to do from the manifesto point of view.

Broader point of view is, what I’m doing with the Domino Project is prove a whole bunch of things that don’t work, hopefully come up with a few things that do work, and let my friends in the publishing industry steal from me. Right? My goal is that these ideas will be stolen from, they’ll be standard in a year, or two, or three, or four; and then I don’t have to worry about this as much.

Because I love books, I love the people in publishing, but right now there’s this sense that they’re just waiting for technology to obliterate them so that they’ll have a good excuse to go do something else. And I think that’s a mistake, and I think we’ve opened a lot of doors with format, and pricing, and distribution, and hopefully some of it’s worth the effort.

Brian: Big ideas. Big ideas. List some of the titles. I know there’s Poke the Box from you, and then you had the guy from CD Baby did a manifesto as well.

Seth: Yeah. Derek Sivers did one called Anything You Want that is one of our most popular ones. It is a love letter to entrepreneurs who love what they do. We just did Al Pittampalli’s Read This Before Our Next Meeting, which is a manifesto designed to destroy meeting culture. You and I don’t have to worry about meeting culture, but a lot of people do. And we’re finding that it’s becoming a subversive tool in a lot of organizations.

Last week we did Dan Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness which was the #1 most popular e-book in the world for the whole week. And it is not standard for us in that it’s a little more dry. It does not try to inspire. It just tries to inform based on real science and facts about what ideas spread and why. One simple stat. If you put the words “Please Retweet” at the end of a tweet, four times as many people will re-tweet it as if you don’t. I didn’t know that. That’s really interesting to know.

Jerod: Indeed it is Mr. Godin. Which is why I’ll take this time to remind you, dear listener, to please retweet this episode … right now, or when you’re done listening.

We’re only halfway through this two-part repurposing project featuring the wise and inspiring words of Seth Godin. Let’s move on to the second part now, which is Robert Bruce’s interview with Mr. Godin in May of 2012. If you want to now what good storytelling marketing looks like, listen … and learn.

Robert Bruce’s Interview with Seth Godin

Robert Bruce 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.

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?

What is Seth Godin’s definition of marketing?

Seth: Well the easy answer is that it’s not advertising. 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, just had to run enough, they would pay for themselves. It was a perpetual motion machine of money.

That ended a few years ago, and I would like to describe marketing as the art of telling a story that resonates with your audience and then spreads. 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.

This is almost diametrically opposed to what every big company marketer in the world does and lots of little company marketers who think they are supposed to copy big company marketers. They think their job is to “get the word out” and that they have a moral right, and a professional obligation, to interrupt everyone they can to talk about their average stuff for average people.

How does the Internet build trust — and why must you get it?

Robert: 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 or most of media coming online, but why has this changed so radically from the old Mad Men era that our culture is leaving behind to this new culture that you describe?

Seth: We all grew up learning about the Industrial Revolution; every revolution then brings an age behind it. The Industrial Revolution created the Industrial Age and 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 better car for the money than everyone ever had before and so for half a century, making stuff was key.

Then, once you got factories up and running making stuff, there is a demand for mass media.

We invented television to make advertisers happy, not the other way around.

In the 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 turn it into money.

The thing that is going on now is that attention is now scarce, it’s not abundant anymore. There are a million or billion channels to choose from, not three. There is a store one click away that sells every item ever made as opposed to the local store where shelf space was scarce.

All of those things undermined 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.

Why does just running a ton of ads not work anymore?

Robert: 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?

Seth: Well 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 will notice you.

What has happened is that 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.

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

I would say to your listeners, name one company that has gone on the Internet and built a brand, a jingle, a slogan, or a logo and the answer is, “none.” The internet doesn’t build those things the way TV does.

What the Internet builds is connection. 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.

What is the most important element of true marketing?

Robert: Alright, I am going to ask you a little bit later for an example or two of folks, individuals, or companies that are doing that well, but even good marketing, real marketing as you’ve described earlier, gets a bad rap from people in certain corners of the Internet.

It’s a word that’s called all kinds of inaccurate things and associated with all kinds of people and practices, but I think you are arguing something very valuable here, and that’s that we’re all already marketing, for better or worse, and that true marketing, almost by definition, lies at the very core of dreaming up and making astonishing product services or ideas. Is that about right?

Seth: Oh yes, it’s totally right. The problem, given how good we are at making up words, is that we don’t have a word for the other kind of marketing to distinguish it from this kind of marketing.

I’ll accept partial responsibility because I haven’t thought of a good one yet, but the guy who is selling Get-Rich-Quick $99-a-month PDFs that are exclusive to you, blah, blah, blah, and then slams some extra charges on your charge card … tells his mother-in-law that he is a marketer. I don’t see how he could be any more different than the marketer that brought us the iPad, but both guys are marketers.

And you are correct, that there are a lot of people who look askance at it, but if you ever went on a first date, or if you ever tried to raise money for your charity, you are a marketer too.

When should you start marketing your product, service, or idea?

Robert: To be very clear then, according to your post and the major point that you bring up in it, when should we start marketing our products, services, or ideas?

Seth: Well before you have your product, 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?

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 and telling a story about it that people choose to listen to.

I did a post shortly after the “When should we 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 little happy kid monkey thing, you got microscopic brine shrimp. 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 got a bunch of brine shrimp in a packet, come up with a way to sell them.” If your job is to sell somebody else’s sea monkeys, it’s an interesting intellectual problem, but it’s not the marketing I am talking about.

Robert: That can’t exist today.

Seth: Well I am not sure that I am ready to buy that. I think there are lots of people who are successfully selling average stuff to average people because we love a story, we like to be entertained, and we’re going to buy stuff.

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

What does good storytelling marketing look like?

Robert: 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.

Seth: A lot of times what is going on is that you are not telling a story about what the industrialist would have thought.

If I think about TOMS shoes, Blake tells a story that if you buy this pair of shoes, you will be part of a hip group in your community, plus you will have a story that you can tell everyone, which is an identical pair, went to someone who doesn’t have shoes. Right? So he doesn’t tell a story about the fabric or the workmanship, he tells a story about what your act of buying did.

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.

What is one example that shatters the old marketing system?

Robert: Alright, and to finally give a vivid picture of what this can look like, and you give a great example with TOMS shoes, but I would like to close by asking you for one more, or maybe two, examples of people or companies who are embracing marketing for what it truly is as you described it here. Adding marketing from the very beginning, and all the way through, rather than plopping it on at the very end of the sales process and bringing it to market.

Seth: Okay well I always loathe to do this because inevitably the person I pick then does something that I didn’t know about and people say, “See you shouldn’t have picked that.” I mean, poor Tom Peters after In Search of Excellence, which was loaded with great stories, 80 percent of the companies had a hiccup, not his fault of course — it’s for analogy purposes.

Let me tell you about Shepard Fairey, who most people have heard of. He’s the most famous fine artist of the century.

So Shepard Fairey is a talented graphic artist, but there are millions of 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?” and, “How do I get a show and then how do I get a bigger show?” They are struggling. We invented the term starving artist for a reason.

Well Shepherd did none of that. Shepard said, “I am going to make art with story and I am going to organize it to spread.” So he put it for free on the wall and he was arrested more than 30 times for 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 am talking about and that he didn’t charge a thing, in fact, he was willing to go to jail to spread the art.

Well 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 posted 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 $1,000 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 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.

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, it’s all of these steps, built into what he was trying to build.

Is traditional advertising dead?

Robert: 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 the 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, 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?

Seth: I am so glad you brought that up. That, in fact, is not what they are saying.

What they are saying is, “I like the Industrial Era, I like the Industrial Age, I’ve got this pile of mediocre stuff, help me sell it.” Then they say, “By the way, I hate marketing.”

Well the reason you hate marketing is that you are doing it the old way. You are 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. I am 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 or folks who used funnels and sales pitches to get that busy average person to notice them and instead of their competitor and buy it. Not the way it works now!”

If you want the wind at your back, take a deep breath, prepare to get rich slow and you will get rich slow by emulating this connection economy process that is relentlessly successful as opposed to herking and jerking from come on to scheme to come on to scheme and in the long run you are going to get nowhere.

Robert: Would it be fair to say that you are stating that that old world is gone? Maybe not completely, of course, we still see some vestiges of it and some pretty powerful vestiges of it. But it’s gone. We don’t have a choice, right? This is not a choice between one or two. The choice is to proceed as you described.

Seth: I think that if you want to hang in there, you will 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. If you look at Dell Computer and say, “Why can’t Dell Computer grow, why can’t Dell Computer sell more of its PCs using its brand and logo, 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.

Jerod: Speaking of attention, I do thank you, dear listener, for giving us the privilege of your attention so that we can bring you these podcasts.

Advice for anyone struggling to get your ideas and messages heard

As a reward for listening this long, here are a few final words of advice from Mr. Godin directed at those of us who are working hard but who may be struggling to get our ideas and our messages heard.

Seth: It’s hard when there’s stress. It’s hard when your mother-in-law doesn’t buy into what you’re doing. It’s hard when the economy is going through a transition, to understand this. But this is our revolution.

This is the industrial revolution of our time. We are living through the death of the factory, and it is being replaced by something else. And the people on the cutting edge of that are the people who are inventing the next thing and talking about it with clarity. So when this revolution slows down, we’re going to look back and we’re going to say, “so, what did you do?”

And I guess what I would say to the Copyblogger listener is, do something that matters.

This is too important for you to do some little scam or some little affiliate deal, or some little way to make money tomorrow. This is a time to do work that matters, to do something bigger than you think you’re capable of, and doing it in a way that makes a difference.

Jerod: Advice as relevant today as it was in 2011. Seth Godin has, in the words of Robert Bruce, taught and shown a generation how to do this marketing thing ethically, artistically and remarkably. I can’t wait to be inspired by his words live, in-person here in a few weeks.

You can, of course, get more from Seth at his blog, which is a daily stop for me. Just type Seth into Google and you’ll find it. (Or click here.)

And while you’re out there perusing the web for nuggets of wisdom that will make you smarter and tools that will make you more successful, stop by newrainmaker.com. You may already know about the groundbreaking podcast Brian and Robert are producing over there, but did you know that the Rainmaker Platform is now in its beta stage? Sign up at newrainmaker.com to get more information.

Again, thank you for all listening. We’ll be back next week with another episode. Talk to you soon everybody.

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*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.

About the author

Jerod Morris


Jerod Morris is the VP of Marketing for Copyblogger Media. Get more from him on Twitter or . Have you gotten your wristband yet?

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