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A Return on Trust with Seth Godin

Why generous marketers win

Seth Godin on Becoming a Generous Marketer and Building Trust Again, Again & Again

We’re all brands now, or at least that’s what it seems like if we want to get our intentions recognized by those around us. Where now in a time where either we take control over how we are perceived in the world or it just happens to us. Or possibly worse, it doesn’t happen at all and we’re just not noticed. No promotion, no raise, and no audience to achieve the goals we’ve imagined for ourselves.

While it may be hard to monetize fame, it’s impossible to monetize obscurity.

Yet, I’m finding that we’re all challenged with the same task, getting down to the business of spreading the word about our brands to achieve some desired goal. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a personal brand or a business entity, the road to recognition is a necessary part of our collective journey to realization.

If a brand is based on trust, this begs the question, how do we build trust and awareness at scale?

I used to think about branding in the shiny object sense, as a bit of lipstick on a pig. You know, Mad Men stuff where you can sell ice to Eskimos.

Don’t get me wrong, many of those pure “attention getting” branding tactics have real merit, but without the follow though, they just turn into another sucky brand trying to sell stuff that doesn’t make a difference in our lives. We’ve all experienced the “all hype, no substance” brand that makes us want to cringe.

I believe that the big question today is “what does it take to create recognition and trust in a world full of brands just like us?

To dive deeper, I called Seth Godin to chat about what it takes to build a brand today.

If you don’t know Seth Godin, look him up, he’s written 22 books on marketing, many of them best sellers, he coined the term permission marketing decades before it became a buzzword, taught us how to embrace the purple cow of daring to be different, and he’s one of the most direct, honest and endearing people you will ever meet.

Seth has been writing about marketing since the late 90s. Fantastic “how to” marketing books about making an impact in a noisy world. One of the things that I remember early on in my career was reading one of his books called “Permission Marketing.” If you read that book today, you’ll find that Seth Godin predicted so much of our current marketing landscape almost 2 decades ago.

The following is the Q&A session that ensued. Don’t miss the audio interview with Seth on iTunes or SoundCloud.

What’s changed in the attention-getting game?

“Well, I think the biggest shift is that it’s become a game. I don’t think it used to be a game. It was a given that if you paid money, you got attention. So enterprises where money buys you success don’t usually get called games.

The gamification of what’s going on, the trickery, the trading behind the scenes, the snooping around, the sliding things under the door and over the transom has demonstrated new levels of selfishness among marketers. But I also think it’s created an opportunity for the generous marketer to make an even bigger impact.”

What to do when you’re just getting started?

“I wrote a post a couple of years ago called “First Ten” and I send that URL to more people than any other post that I’ve written. Basically what happens is people come to me knowing I don’t do consulting. So they’re looking for free advice, and they say,

“How do I make a big splash?”

“How do I get the word out?”

“How do I get to the size that you are?

“Please write a post or tell me how to get my Kickstarter to be super successful, or whatever.”

My answer is from my own experience, the way I did it, which is to tell ten people. If those ten people tell no one else, then there’s something wrong with what you built. But if they tell other people, then the word begins to spread. And if you show up, day after day with something important, and notable, and remarkable, and generous, people will talk about it. They will miss you if you are gone. And that is the slow and steady only route to actually making an impact, that I know of.”

Earning Attention instead of stealing it

“It’s easier than ever to demand attention. It’s easier than ever to steal attention. But it is harder than ever to earn attention. – Seth Godin

People who want to steal attention use gimmicks. And sometimes a gimmick works and everyone who’s lazy thinks that they just need a better gimmick.

But, earning attention. You don’t tell ten strangers, you tell ten people who know you and trust you. And hopefully, there are ten people in the universe who know you and trust you. And if you give those people a story worth telling, then it spreads.

So if you think about my friend Danny Meyer and the Shake Shack. You know, Shake Shack’s worth a billion dollars.

When did Shake Shack become worth a billion dollars?

Well, was it when he opened the first one in Madison Square Park, in New York City? Because the fact is, in the act of doing that a couple things happened.

One, Danny had earned the privilege of telling maybe 10 thousand of his best customers that he had opened a Shake Shack, which is not what he usually does.

Two, a line formed. And sometimes the line would last for two hours because he was selling a remarkable product in a remarkable way. Then as he grew the business, he used real estate, which costs money, to put it in front of new people.

Lots of people can sign a lease on a space. What Danny did is he put something in front of people that inspired other folks to bring their friends to. So it comes down to,

“Did you build a restaurant that people were interested in?” If you didn’t, it doesn’t matter what gimmick you have because it’s not gonna work.”

The entrepreneurial passion fallacy

“So let’s be clear about passion. I don’t think that Danny Meyer is passionate about french fries. I think french fries are a tool to help him get what he is passionate about, which is touching people with hospitality.

If you talk to the guys at DropBox and they tell you they are passionate about helping people share their files, they’re lying to you.

What they’re passionate about is using software to build an organization that changes things. They could have picked anything. They could have built a walkie-talkie chat app. They could have built lots of things. They built this one, not because they’re passionate about files, but because they’re passionate about touching people through software to make things better.”

Trust is the only thing worth measuring

“I decided 15 years ago that what I wanted to measure and what I wanted to increase was only one thing, which is trust. And if I could be more trusted, I decided everything else would take care of itself.

Even if your goal is to make a lot of money, the best way to make a lot of money is to be more trusted. Now that’s not why I’m trying to be more trusted. But it turns out it works.

And if you think about it, whether you a banker, a lawyer or a dog-walker, the most-trusted person is able to charge a premium. The most-trusted person will grow faster, the most-trusted person will find more people willing to go with them on a journey.

This return on trust is overlooked by people who are playing a different game.

If you’re a card hustler, then you only want to be trusted for an hour until you leave town. My point about the internet is that you can’t leave town.”

Why most investors are morons

“We’ve been through this four times before. We knew it when we talked about safety. Turns out, companies that have workforces that are safe have higher return on equity than ones that are killing their employees.

Turns out the same thing was true with quality, with Deming. You know, Toyota wiped the floor with Ford in 1990s because Ford said, “We need to make a profit.” And Toyota said, “We need to make quality.”

And then we saw the same thing happen with loyalty seven years ago where people said, “Well, it doesn’t matter if I rip people off because I’ve gotta make quarterly numbers.” And what Frederick Reichheld and others have shown is, that the organizations with the most loyalty also have the highest return on equity.

The same thing is true with trust.

If you’re going to go raise money, don’t you dare raise money from somebody who is so short-term they’re willing to destroy what you built to make a quarter work.

You ought to raise money from people who say, “If we’re the most trusted company, we’re gonna win.” That’s all you need to be.”

If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth anything. – Seth Godin

Finding the edges of the box to do good work

“Every form of media is a box. You know, a 30-minute TV show is a box. The two-hour movie is a box. A book is a box. And I find that the people who have the most impact are the ones who figure out where the edges of the box are and put a lot of leverage in those spots.

So you look at a movie, some second-rate B-comedy and you compare it to a movie like “Memento.” And they’re both exactly the same length and they both cost about the same to make. How come I remember Memento every time I think of movies? Well, it’s because one film maker went to the edge of a box.

I’ve been giving talks for over 20 years. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Everyone gets a microphone, everyone gets a screen, and everyone gets an hour. So where are the edges?

Well for me, no one said I couldn’t have 204 slides. So I do.

And no one said slides have to have words on them. So I don’t.

And no one said it has to be self-congratulatory. So I don’t talk about me.

My goal is to change people. And I don’t think I can change people in an hour.

But I do think I can light a fire that a month or six months later, I hear from them saying, “Whoah! I’m looking at everything differently now.”

That’s what I’m seeking to do.

I don’t memorize my talk, I change my talk every time I give it. I keep the greatest hits because that’s what my clients want, But I think very hard and practice where the transitions go. Because I can read the audience, everyone can. And when I discover something’s not working, it goes out and something else goes in its place.

So I’ve had hundreds of chances to figure out what moments works where. Every once in a while, I’ll do something with no slides, with no preparation at all in terms of an audience. Just thinking about it for a month before I get on stage. And that forces me to have a fresh take now and then, so I don’t get stuck.”

Creating the space to think

“My youngest son likes to point out that I’m unemployed. I don’t go to meetings, I don’t owe people stuff, I don’t do consulting, I don’t do advising, I don’t invest. So that forces me to think about something that I haven’t thought about before if I want to be productive,.

Activity exists because it’s an excellent way for people to hide. You can’t accuse yourself of being lazy because you’re busy. – Seth Godin

What you’re actually doing when you’re busy is hiding from the thing that scares you.”

Rethinking the way we teach and learn

“The first time I did the MBA curriculum was in my office, in-person for six months for free.

Nine people moved in. And they grew and I grew. It was an extraordinary thing that I’m not sure I could sustain again because it was so hard.

I went in every day prepared to spend two to eight hours in performance with this group. It was transparent, it was vulnerable. I had no place to hide and it could have all fallen apart. Maintaining that pace for six months was insane and I’m glad I did it.

Then I did a three-day seminar for entrepreneurs. And there are entrepreneurs who wear on their sleeve the fact that they don’t have any money. I knew some of them would say that I was being a bad person by having this seminar and they couldn’t come because it wasn’t free. So I decided to call their bluff and I recorded the whole thing. And then a friend from Earwolf said, “Can I make that into a fake podcast?” and I said, “Sure.” And it’s been one of the top ten business podcasts for years and years. Even though I made it all in three days and I haven’t added anything to it. So I like being able to contribute that.

But now, I’m doing something different which is called the Alt-MBA. It’s a virtual workshop. It lasts for four weeks, it’s expensive, it’s transformative. It’s not like any other online course. And I won’t say anything else about it. People can check it out if they want.

What I’ve learned is, we don’t have a shortage of information. We don’t have a shortage of videos to watch, we don’t have a shortage of books to read. I don’t need to write any more books because if I have something to say, I can say it in three paragraphs on my blog.

What we have a shortage of is change and the willingness to be transformed. – Seth Godin

Transformation doesn’t happen very often because you read something. It usually happens because you’re in a social setting where you realize that people like us do things like this. And you are transformed to a new level. And this leveling-up is my passion.

We’ve run the Alt-MBA twice, running the third one next year.

Watching people transform is incredibly seductive and I love that I get to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I have solved the education problem the only way it can be solved. But I do believe that this typical lecture-lecture-lecture online thing isn’t going to last very long because the drop-out rate is 99%.

The reason the drop-out rate is 99% is because as soon as it gets hard, people leave. But you can’t learn without doing something that’s hard.”

What is a brand?

“I don’t think a brand is a logo.

A brand is expectations and promises, That’s what’s of value. – Seth Godin

When somebody stands for something or an organization stands for something, we expect something. They have a brand value.

So the way a human does that is not by social grooming, updating their Twitter account, making sure their Linkedin page is accurate.

Your Linkedin page is a signpost, it’s not a brand.

Your brand is when you walk into the room, what should people expect? So if you’re in college, what a perfect time, what a moment to build a brand.

So when I was in college, my partner Steve Dennis and I built that largest student-run business in the United States. We had 400 employees at a school of 4400 hundred students. And we launched a new division every five weeks.

People knew if I walked into the room, something was about to change. And that if we talked for ten minutes, a new business was gonna happen. That was my brand, that’s what I stood for in that moment.

You can also be the brand of, I’m always in the library, but I’ve got a straight-A average.

Or you can be the brand of there are eighteen non-profit organizations on this campus and I coordinate all of them. That’s what you should expect from me going forward.

That’s what these people should be doing. Not figuring out how to report accurately on it in social media.”

The other Seth’s favorite Seth Godin books

When it comes creating a culture of trust, I am huge fan of Permission Marketing.

His thesis on the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them was revolutionary in 1999 and just as relevant today.

If you’re trying to figure out how to stand out. Purple Cow cuts through all the bull (no pun intended) and produce remarkable products, then target people who are likely to spread word of mouth about the product.

All Marketers are Liars is a manifesto about telling truthful stories.

According to Seth “All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better–and look cooler–than $20 no names. . . and believing it makes it true. But Godin claims that marketers are not, in fact, supposed to lie.” Marketers should be storytellers – but truthful ones.

In Tribes, Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change.

And one of my favorites – What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) In this book he explores the dance we all have to do with our fears, the tension we all must embrace in order to do work that we care about. It pushes us to dig deep inside so we can do better work and impact the things we care about.

And lastly his KickStarter book project The Icarus Deception: Why Make Art, where over 4000 people pledged $287,000 before the book was even written.

This is a book about the mythology of success (and failure) and how our economy rewards people who are willing to stand up and stand out. According to Seth, “For too long, we’ve been seduced into believing we should do less. It’s time to redefine what we’re capable of.

We are all artists now, and the connection economy we’re living in relentlessly rewards those who do work that matters. Okay, you knew that. So why aren’t you?”

He also used Kickstarter to send a message about how books and bookstores can still be part of the conversation.

I am honored that I get to do what I do, thank you for reading and listening. – The other Seth

*Seth Godin image source: Jill Greenberg

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