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One-on-one with marketing guru Seth Godin

Seth Godin thinks marketing is broken and that he can help fix it. Based on the success of his books, his readers obviously agree that he's the right guy for the job. Godin sold his interactive direct marketing firm to Yahoo in late 1998, then stayed on for a bit to create Yahoo's online marketing program. Now, he's busy churning out best-selling books, such as Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, helping make over marketing organizations and talking to

In your last book, you introduced the concept of purple-cow thinking. What does that mean?
If you want to grow faster than the marketplace and you want to do that in a B2B or consumer setting, I believe the only way to do that is to create a product worth talking about -- a 'purple cow' product that stands out in the field. For example?
Jet Blue didn't put its marketing budget into advertising the airline. They put it into placing TV sets on the back of the seats. Apple iPod has 70% market share, not because their ads are good. Because the white head phones are what everyone sees walking down the street. What's the connection to marketing? Isn't this more of a product development issue?
I believe the entire company is in the marketing department. If marketing is slapping spin and hype onto an average product, then we're going to fail. The reason so many companies are stuck and facing limited growth is because they believe marketing is putting a good face on a product that's ordinary. Widgets and cooling system parts aren't all that sexy. How can a manufacturer apply the purple-cow philosophy?
Let's realize that companies don't buy stuff, people do. Someone who buys widgets doesn't leave their personality at home. The opposite is true. Issues that are sexy in the business setting -- incredible rapid delivery, unbelievable product design -- are sexy to someone who buys widgets. What's not sexy is saying you're a nickel less than the competitor or you've got a bigger booth at a trade show. @4992 So how does your new book, Free Prize Inside: The Next Big Marketing Idea, build on this concept of purple-cow marketing?
I needed to really lay out for people the thing that makes something remarkable is almost never the element of the product they set out to buy. We already have everything we need. If you make something people need, you're in slow growth mode and not in a profitable business. But we don't have everything we want.

Take the Aeron desk chair. It's not a chair that anyone needs. It is not worth $1,000. But they sold a billion dollars worth of them. The reason is the 'free prize inside' -- the way it makes employees look and [makes them] feel that you're taking care of them. The challenge is to find that free prize, which some might call a gimmick but isn't a gimmick if people turn out to want it.

A great example is frequent flier miles. When American Airlines launched [its program], there were plenty of people who said 'why are you putting a game on top of the experience of flying?' We all know a frequent flier program is American Airlines' single most valuable asset because it's something worth talking about. It's something that changes the way people feel about a flight. And it doesn't have anything to do with whether the flight is on time or not. Is it true that your publisher packaged your latest book in cereal boxes?
The first print run came inside a cereal box. There's also a free prize in the box, besides the book. We sold out every single one of them. The reason I did [the cereal box] was to demonstrate that a 10-cent cardboard box becomes something you can talk about. There's a four-page printout in the box about how much trouble the publisher gave me for doing this. I include that to demonstrate to people that everyone has trouble doing remarkable things. And I demonstrate in the book how, step by step, I got it done. So what's the free prize inside Free Prize Inside?
They're going to have to buy it if they want to know. The publisher has just run out, but there are [still] some in bookstores. @4991 Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers came out in 1999, arguing that businesses need to find customers who want to be marketed to. How do they find them?
You don't find them, they find you. The mistake people make is assuming that access equals ownership. Just because I sign up for frequent flier program doesn't mean you can market flights to Budapest to me. The people who are succeeding are the ones who can say to the consumer, if you sign up for this newsletter, I'll tell you about the book. What's the one thing companies should do once they assemble a database of customers who are willing to be marketed to?
Almost every company does it wrong. I think marketers want to do the right thing but greedy managers won't let them. They want a quick profit. My best story is CDnow . They used to be the largest seller of CDs on the Internet. They accounted for 33% of all their sales [using] e-mail. First they sent out an e-mail every three weeks and sales went up. Then they sent it out every two weeks and sales sent up. Then every week and sales went up. Then every three days and sales went up. Then they sent an e-mail every day and sales went to zero. What they had done is not keep track of all the people they had alienated. Instead, companies need to treat [their customer database] like a treasured asset. If they did that, they'd do fine. You trumpeted permission-based marketing years before government regulations like "do not call" lists and Can Spam made it such a necessity. I'd guess that makes you the Nostradamus of marketing.
I don't call myself Nostradamus because he was wrong most of the time. I take the blame for being wrong most of my life. (laughs) The only thing that surprised me was how fast it got broken -- how fast spamming broke e-mail and how fast greedy people made telemarketing a farce.

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