I recently had the chance to chat with Seth Godin, one of the top marketing bloggers and authors in the U.S. He’s the best-selling author of “Purple Cow,” “The Dip,” “Permission Marketing,” and several others. We spoke about my new favorite Godin book, “Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?” Here are a few select snippets from our time together.
Bryan Eisenberg: Explain the metaphor behind the book.
Seth Godin: What’s a meatball? A meatball is a commodity, something that we need. It’s something average, for average people, something made in large quantities in a factory. It’s sold at the cheapest possible prices through mass marketing. Meatballs got us all through college. Meatballs paid for a century of this country and are the foundation for lots and lots of successful organizations, charities, and nonprofits, and political campaigns. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with meatballs.
Now a sundae is whipped cream and a cherry and hot fudge, and it represents the new marketing. It represents YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and everything else. So it’s the fancy, cool stuff that gets people excited, and it works great. Except when you put it on top of meatballs. You don’t get a better tasting meatball, you have a mess.
BE: One of the big questions that you get asked is, is it OK to have meatballs sometimes and sundaes other times? And one of the things your saying is to avoid mixing them, correct?
SG: That’s right. What I am saying is we don’t have any examples of organizations that can do both well, but we do have plenty of examples of companies that try to mix them and fail, every time.
BE: Like what?
SG: Like Bud.TV. They are $40 million in the hole so far, and if you do a search on their traffic, you find that they do just slightly better than a site that sells sheet rubber wholesale B2B. So they are $40 million in the hole because they didn’t understand the rules of new game, they only understand the rules of the old game. Which is “We are Bud, we have a lot of money, we can buy Super Bowl ads, we are in charge.” Contrast that with a company like Threadless.com which makes T-shirts in Chicago, where the number $40 million dollars comes to mind as well, because that’s the revenue they are on track to earn. This is a company that plays by nothing but the new rules and doesn’t try to defend an old model but can embrace the medium and take advantage of it as they move forward.
BE: For a lot of online marketers, especially the traditional marketers, their big concern is: can they reach the same kind of scale these old meatball marketers have? It’s interesting to note that some of the key brands over the past decade probably weren’t built through meatball marketing, companies like Starbucks, Google, Amazon, and Krispy Kreme. What would you tell those people?
SG: Those are four examples I use all the time, and there is not one new successful consumer brand that was built on the back of television. Part of what I would tell people is scale in the spirit of the ’80s and ’90s is great, but you can’t have that anymore. So let’s get over that. The second thing I would say is, it’s not up to you. It’s up to the market, it’s up to the medium. This market is saying we are about the long tail, we are not going to pay attention to you because you have a lot of money. This market is saying I don’t care if you need a certain amount of volume to make your factory happy. It matters what the market will put up with. And what the market is saying over and over is that average is a liability. That people go to the edges and cater to and embrace a niche, even a big niche, with remarkable stuff that people want to talk about.
BE: You give an example of how a product review on Gizmodo is much more influential today than the cover of “PC Magazine.” How does this affect how you approach marketing and PR today?
SG: There are two kinds of people: there are people who are listening and people who are not. The people who are listening are not listening to everything, they are only listening to what they are interested in. So the people who read “Vogue” magazine look at the ads because they are interested; that’s what they paid for. The people who read “Gizmodo” are the type of people who are going to buy a piece of hardware, whereas the people who are reading “Newsweek” or “PC Magazine” may not be in the same listening mindset. What that says is that as a marketer, what you should care about way more than how many people do you reach is who do you reach. That’s what I call “who versus how many.” And that is hard, really hard, for marketers to get over the fact that they spent an entire career focused on how many.
BE: You recently wrote on your blog about the difference between word of mouth and viral marketing. Can you elaborate?
SG: Word of mouth keeps fading and needs to be fueled with other marketing, while viral marketing has an exponential effect that can be shared and scaled over time. It feels like a holy grail to the selfish marketer who wants to save money and grow fast. They say, “Oh that’s what I want, some of that viral stuff,” and, back to the original thesis in my book, that is a meatball sundae. You can’t just put viral on top of your real estate development or your presidential candidacy or your brand of chocolate milk that you are selling. It doesn’t work that way. When it’s viral, it’s because the fundamental nature of what you are selling and how you are selling it is viral.
BE: In a lot of boardrooms people are talking about creating a viral marketing campaign. What would you tell them?
SG: I would say to people: Would you share it, would you forward it to someone? If you won’t, why do you think others will?
Hear More of Godin
We had to edit quite a bit of this fabulous interview to keep it short, but Godin also shared his insight about Disney, Wal-Mart, the upcoming presidential election, his Squidoo site, and several other topics. Listen to the entire interview online at WebmasterRadio.fm.