Snap, Crackle, Innovate

Free Prize Inside
By Seth Godin
239pp. New York: Portfolio. $19.95.

Seth Godin never writes a boring book. In a series of insightful must-reads, he has consistently pushed forward our thinking about marketing. His latest book is no exception.

Not surprisingly, Godin believes the time-honored methods of marketing are no longer effective. Others, of course, have made that observation. But leave it to Godin to quip the “TV-industrial complex” is on its last legs. Quite right.

As Free Prize correctly notes: “In an era of too much noise and too much clutter and too many choices and too many channels and too much spam, you can’t make a good living by interrupting people over and over.” In other words, pestering people to buy your product may have worked in the era of three networks and snail mail, but it’s little more than an exercise in futility today. Rather than giving up on marketing all together, Godin offers an intriguing solution.

Why are cereals with free toys able to charge higher prices than other brands with just the flakes? One could argue it is because little Timmy whines incessantly until his parents buy it. Anyone with children can attest this is indeed a potent motivating force. Relying on impatient children is hardly a tenable long-term strategy, however. The secret, Godin argues, is innovation.

By changing the product, rather than just shoveling out more advertising, marketers can get the consumer’s attention and increase sales. This is related to Godin’s thesis in his earlier book, Purple Cow. Put simply, a “purple cow” is a remarkable product. By introducing a “soft innovation” (a free prize inside a cereal box, for example), a marketer can turn an ordinary heifer into a purple cow and reap the consequent rewards.

Using countless examples, Free Prize illustrates how this can work. Want kids to eat more pasta? Make pasta in dinosaur shapes. Stuck with a bunch of unpleasant documents but don’t want to buy a shredder? Let the mobile shredding truck come to your office and take care of things. Godin is nothing if not encyclopedic in his knowledge of marketing, although one suspects the average reader could have lived without details of his recent hernia operation.

Of course, this all sounds painfully simple in theory. Even Godin admits such innovations do not always succeed. The point is that marketers have to stay in there and keep pitching. Merely relying on an expensive media plan to carry the day is no longer wise. At the very least, an effort must be made to distinguish the product in the minds of consumers.

To sum up in Godin’s words: “None of this is hard. It’s all difficult. It takes commitment to do something that matters. So go . . . make something happen!”

Right on.

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