Join Guy Kawasaki on his 100th episode of the Remarkable People podcast with marketing legend Seth Godin. It's an insightful look into how Seth has built his marketing legacy with plenty of actionable ideas. Get ready to take notes and be inspired by Seth and Guy!
Guy Kawasaki: I'm Guy Kawasaki, and I'm very excited about this episode for four reasons. First, this is the 100th episode of Remarkable People - Holy cow! We've been doing this for more than two years. Time flies when you're doing the best work of your life. I was born to podcast.
Second, we're excited that we've joined the HubSpot Podcast Network. This network is for professionals who want to grow their businesses. More about this later.
Third, the chief design officer of our sponsor, the reMarkable tablet company, is joining us to explain the genesis of the company and its future directions. We've truly enjoyed sharing their cool product with the world.
Last but not least, our guest is the one and only Purple Cow of promotion, master of marketing -- drum roll, please -- Seth Godin. Seth is a marketing pioneer, speaker, entrepreneur, teacher, and podcaster. He's the founder of one of the most popular blogs in the world. More than 7,000 posts and more than a million readers. It comes out every day. If that's not enough, he's the author of nineteen books.
Seth studied Computer Science at Tufts University, followed by obtaining his Master’s in Business Administration at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. As a champion of talent, Seth is the ultimate advocate for global conversation on business and marketing. Seth leads the marketing conversation and pushes it forward with his ideas.
Finally, I'd like to thank you, the listener, whether you've joined me during the first episode with Dr. Jane Goodall or this with marketing legend Seth Godin. We've got lots more coming in the future. Thank you for listening, reviewing, and sharing the podcast with your friends. It means the world to me. Here's to another 100 episodes.
Now, onto the interview with the remarkable Seth Godin.
2021 -- How do you define marketing anymore?
Seth Godin: Marketing is not advertising. That's the place to begin. You've figured that out a long time ago but only in the '80s did they start to diverge. Before that, they were the same thing. Now marketing is the generous work of doing work that matters for people who care, and making a change for them and with them.
It's the products we make, the way we make them, the communities that people are involved in when they use our product, the network effects, the side effects. All of that is a story about who we think we are when we engage with you and your product.
Guy Kawasaki: That's an all-encompassing definition of marketing. Well, so way back when, Philip Kotler would say, “Marketing is four P's: price, promotion, people, and place,” or whatever. So throw that whole definition of P's away? Are we adding P's or are we just -- are we adding?
Seth Godin: So Phil does good work. He's a nice guy. But he certainly lucked into having a textbook that stuck around for a very long time. I added a P when I did permission marketing, and then I added another P when I did Purple Cow. Now there are so many P's, it doesn't really make sense.
But I will tell you that if you read Kotler, what you'll see is that the vast majority of that book is about advertising. That is because the marketing department, before Steve said to you, "Go do this thing," was supposed to take average products for average people and slap some hype on them. That was the job of the market. You didn't get to see the thing before it came out. They just gave you a barrel of money and some stuff.
Now pick an example like Volkswagen, the marketing department forgot to speak up and say, "Hey, if you guys keep committing felonies and faking the pollution output, that will be a really bad marketing idea.” But instead they were just making commercials. I just think that it's very clear the internet is not about banner ads or YouTube ads. The internet is about what people say when they talk about you.
Guy Kawasaki: So is there a place at all for advertising?
Seth Godin: Well, let's think about most of the great brands that have been built in the last fifteen years. Name a Google ad, name a Facebook ad, name an Amazon ad… can't. You can't. The network effect is so much more powerful than the advertising effect that you also can't launch a new kind of ketchup and make it really work because Heinz was built on distribution and advertising, neither one of which matters so much anymore. So you're going to build a great brand with the network effect and with innovation and with community.
Guy Kawasaki: Does your definition of the network effect include an ad in Facebook that can truly target the customer? Is Facebook advertising part of this irrelevant advertising? Because Facebook makes a shitload of money.
Seth Godin: They do. So let's be clear. There's two kinds of advertising. There's brand advertising, there's direct advertising. Brand advertising is unmeasurable, but it sticks with people for a very long time. Direct advertising is more of an announcement to go to the right person, knock on their door and say, "I know I'm interrupting you, but when you and you alone see my announcement, you'll be interested."
So what Facebook has figured out how to do through masses and masses of hypertargeting and stripping away people's privacy is make announcements to the right people in the right way. But the vast majority of Facebook advertising is terrible. It doesn't pay for itself because the people who are doing it are greedy. They're interrupting the wrong people and they're not being truthful about the announcements they're making.
Guy Kawasaki: Then why do people keep doing it if it's not paying off for them?
Seth Godin: So there's this button on Facebook that says “boost.” If you are a small company and you have discovered that you're no longer allowed to talk to your friends and fans, and you are struggling with your average stuff for average people, there's a little button you can press and pay twenty or fifty bucks, and maybe, just maybe, you'll reach that next circle that will change everything; It's hard to not press the button.
Then if you're a company that's used to spending money on advertising, and when you run an ad in a magazine, your phone doesn't ring once, you move that money over to places like Facebook, but they're not good at it. That doesn't mean they won't get good at it.
But what's missing is most organizations still make average stuff for average people. They try to go right down the middle, and there's no room for the middle anymore because no one's going to pay attention to something that's boring. They're going to seek out something that they see themselves in, that matters to them. If you start by making that product, what you really will benefit from is not your Facebook ads but other people talking about you on those channels.
Guy Kawasaki: This leads us to the Seth concept of smallest viable market?
Seth Godin: Right. So smallest viable audience is a big idea that I slipped into my This is Marketing book and I think we're not talking about it enough. What we were trained to do, you and I and others, is what's the biggest possible market? We spent all this time building this database or this piece of hardware or whatever go get the largest number of people.
What I'm saying to almost every business, including giant ones, is, “Can you tell me who the smallest viable audience is? Which are the people, the smallest group you can possibly live with, who this is perfect for, who will be overwhelmed when they hear about it, who will wait in line in the rain to buy one? If you can't tell me who's in your smallest viable audience, why do you think you deserve a bigger one? If you have a smallest viable audience, then just whisper to them. They'll go do it.”
I remember standing in the rain. My son wasn't very old. He was in middle school. He took a day off from school. David Pogue was there with his camera, taking pictures. We waited in front of the Apple store for four hours the day it opened in New York City. The number of people who were waiting outside that day, that was the smallest viable audience. It was enough.
Guy Kawasaki: So walk me through how we go from smallest viable audience to worldwide domination.
Seth Godin: So there are two ways. Number one: it's remarkable. Now, all that word means is your life will get better emotionally if you tell your friends. I was just reading the article by the guy who was involved in the Segue book.
Now remember, before the Segue came out, it was on the cover of Time magazine. It was being buzzed about on television. All these people were talking about it. Even though the product itself didn't exist, people talked about it because their status would go up if they could say to a friend they had a theory. So that's one way.
Then the other way is your life will actually get better if your friends use it too, which is why people hear about Twitter, not because they have ad campaigns but because you want them to follow you on Twitter. So Jack Dorsey isn't calling people up telling them to do that. You're busy telling people your handle so that they will follow you.
And so, if we look at a breakthrough product like Canva, the successes and the failures are both about those two things. Does Canva work better if the people I work with also use it? Certain products, that's certainly true, like Clubhouse, which I think is a vapid waste of time, but you can't use it by yourself, because otherwise you're in the shower alone.
The more the network effect becomes built into products and services, the more products and services grow really fast or fail, because it either catches on or it doesn't.
Guy Kawasaki: Now I work for Canva, right? So I'm conflicted.
Seth Godin: Of course I know that.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay. Okay. But I would love to hear your opinion of why Canva took off.
Seth Godin: It starts with a G and ends with a K. There's no Guy Kawasaki, there's no Canva as far as I'm concerned. You're the hardest-
Guy Kawasaki: Why do you say that?
Seth Godin: You're the hardest working man in show business, that before it caught on, it needed to catch on. The way that happens is someone who cares deeply shows up to small communities and introduces something to them that isn't spam, that they want to hear about.
Then what happens, for example, in my case, Taylor, the woman who used to work for me, says, "Here's the thing I just did. Oh, it's in Canva.” Now I have no choice, but I have to use Canva, because it's not on a platform I'm using. She's sharing it to me there. So it works better if I use it, too.
That's the hump to get over is how do you make it so that her life gets better if she takes a risk in terms of her status and authority by demanding that her boss start using a piece of software he doesn't want to use to see the work that she's doing?
And so, how did Slack do it? Slack did it really beautifully. Only 500 people needed to use Slack who had the right job titles, who could say to seven other engineers around them, "We're using Slack." They didn't get the IT department's approval. They didn't get the CEO's approval. Seven of them started using it. Well, once seven people are in a conversation, the eighth person got to go along.
Guy Kawasaki: Truly the network effect. So that still doesn't explain why you think I'm such a big cause of Canva's success.
Seth Godin: Because you don't have to do it. You never once have said, "I'm just doing my job." You show up with authority and status to say, "I could have picked anything and I picked this."
So this morning, I was making a podcast about bad CEOs. So I did a search on Steve Ballmer and found him talking to you on YouTube. He almost hit you over the head with a MacBook. I don't know if you remember that.
Guy Kawasaki: Yes, that's true.
Seth Godin: So you've been there. If you represented a piece of junk, you'd blow it, because then the next time, we wouldn't look. The boy who cried wolf and the villagers didn't come.
And so, part of the problem with this influencer marketing thing is if you're paying people to hype your product, we'll be able to tell. Those people won't be able to hype a product the second time. It's not sufficient fuel to get a network effect going.
Guy Kawasaki: Since you brought up the I-word, do you think that influencers really influence people?
Seth Godin: Not the way some influencers think. Some influencers would like to think that if they just got a better hat and did some fancy SEO, they'd have more followers so they could charge more money to hype the next brand of pajamas or whatever. The Kardashians certainly figured out how to do that, but it's not clear we need another Kardashian. I'm not sure it's a useful way for somebody to spend time because they tend to try to reach everybody, back to the smallest viable audience.
I've been building canoes from scratch using hand tools to survive.
Guy Kawasaki: Canoes?
Seth Godin: Canoes.
Guy Kawasaki: Like paddling canoes?
Seth Godin: Yeah.
Guy Kawasaki: Do you know who John McPhee is?
Seth Godin: The guy who ... The writer!
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah.
Seth Godin: Yeah, of course.
Guy Kawasaki: Do you know his book?
Seth Godin: Yeah.
Guy Kawasaki: He wrote a book about birch canoes.
Seth Godin: Yeah.
Guy Kawasaki: Oh, that's a great book.
Seth Godin: I will share a video with you. I've been paddling on the Hudson River almost every morning. I've taught thousands of people how to paddle an old-fashioned canoe up in Canada. Anyway, neither here nor there.
There are people, if you look on YouTube, not hard to find, who have 100,000 followers, who do videos to teach you how to do a thing, make a dovetail. If one of those people says, “This little tool makes making a dovetail easier,” I'm going to buy the dovetail machine and so are 4,000 other people.
That sort of influencer can change the way a product shows up in the market. Where people get into trouble is in an area like cosmetics or sports nutrition, where they're hard to tell apart, no one's really an expert, and everyone's going for this messy middle. You don't own an asset there because your trust runs out really fast. Certain people have made it work for a long time, Martha Stewart or Oprah, but it's not as juicy a category as some people think.
Guy Kawasaki: So you don't think that Matthew McConaughey really drives a Lincoln? If we went to his house and say, "Matthew, let's go off for a drive. Let's go to In-N-Out," we're not going to jump in his Lincoln?
Seth Godin: Maybe, maybe. You did a thing about Audi once, I think. I was trying to guess if you really had an Audi or not. I couldn't tell.
Guy Kawasaki: Well, I was a Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador for four years.
Seth Godin: Mercedes.
Guy Kawasaki: That is some testimony. But honestly, when you sign up to be a Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador, you cannot use anybody else's car.
Seth Godin: So the Mercedes CMO was quoted as saying, "It takes four years for me to get somebody to buy a Mercedes." He had no idea which brick in the wall got somebody to say, “yes.”
Guy Kawasaki: It was me.
Seth Godin: It could have been you, but my point is Mercedes probably buys Facebook ads, but a Facebook ad never got anybody to buy a Mercedes. What it might do is be that last knock on the door to get somebody who's in it because there was enough of a cultural environment -- this is back to brand advertising -- paying you to be a Mercedes brand ambassador.
It doesn't make sense for them to also sponsor this podcast and have you say Mercedes.com/guy, because the number of people who will be driving a car hear you say that URL, pull over, write down the URL, and then remember to type in the URL tomorrow is zero. And so what they're doing is they're measuring something that's not worth measuring. That's the peril of when amateurs do direct marketing. When amateurs do direct marketing, they measure the wrong stuff.
So as long as I'm ranting…Lester Wunderman invented the term direct marketing. He was on the board of my internet company Yoyodyne. We invented online direct mail. Lester also invented the Columbia Record Club and part of the American Express Card. He was way back there.
Columbia Record Club had this problem: they would run these ads in the Sunday magazine, in the Parade magazine, it said, "Pick any twelve records and you can have them all for a penny." You remember these, right?
Guy Kawasaki: Yup.
Seth Godin: When you mailed in the coupon, they could tell which magazine the coupon had been in. So they would run that ad in that magazine again. Well, Lester got the idea to put the ads on television with Dick Clark and some wise guy at Columbia said, "We can't do that because we can't put a coupon on television."
And so Lester came up with this great idea. The idea was Dick said, "On Sunday, check your newspaper because there'll be a little gold box on the coupon." It doesn't say what the box is for. If you write in a thirteenth code there, you can get another record for free. So all they had to do was see if they were getting people to write in the gold code, and if they were, it made sense to be on television. But stuff like that is really hard to find.
Guy Kawasaki: A little commercial break here. The sponsor for the Remarkable People Podcast has been the reMarkable tablet company. This is the final episode that it's sponsoring. My theory is that the product is so successful, it doesn't need the exposure anymore.
We are parting as great friends and we remain big fans of the tablet. I use one during interviews and for design projects around my house, such as a surfboard shed, recording studio, and custom-made tables and beds. Here is Mats Herding Solberg. He is the chief design officer of the reMarkable tablet company. He's going to explain the genesis of the company.
Mats Herding Solberg: The actual genesis of reMarkable was Magnus Wanberg, our founder. He started finding the early, early signs of what he wanted to do while in university in Trondheim, seeing as the way he was working when studying was all based on paper. So you had this desk at university where you had all your printouts, you had your books, you had your notes, you had all of that. That was his way of working.
That was the founding idea, the fact that paper is not necessarily only the paper itself, but it's a method of thinking. So he saw that there was a possibility of doing a respectful take on how to combine paper with digital technology. We saw that there were some products that were testing it, but they didn't do it properly. It was not respectful of paper.
Seeing the early ink products then having paper displays but not really nailing the written experience, he spent three years, basically, sitting now in, firstly, his basement, then sitting in his apartment for three years, slowly moving towards finding an early proof of concept.
Guy Kawasaki: We talked about the four P's and Kotler. How about the product lifecycle, pioneers, early adopters, middle of the road, all that? Is that still a good theory?
Seth Godin: There's no more important theory that I can think of that folks who need to understand it need to understand, politicians, people at the Centers for Disease Control, folks who are trying to get us to pay attention to climate change, all of it. It's missing from their vocabulary because they think, like most marketers, that everyone's as interested as they are and that people are making rational decisions based on rational inputs, and that's not true.
So you got the early adopters, the geeks and the nerds. They're the ones who have a Newton. They're the ones who bought something the first day it came out.
Guy Kawasaki: Nobody listens to the podcast knows, “What the hell is he talking about?”
Seth Godin: Well, they should look it up because it's worth it.
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah, right after they bought a Palm. Yeah.
Seth Godin: Then there's a chasm, and Geoff Moore has written about this brilliantly. The chasm is the hole that so many products fall into before they are adopted by the masses. The masses don't want it because it's new; the masses want it because it works.
Then there's a last group and they go last. They don't want it because it works. They want it because everyone else has it and they're going to be in trouble if they don't get it. They're the ones who have a twelve flashing on their VCR, because they just do not want to shift what they believe in.
Guy Kawasaki: What's a VCR?
Seth Godin: Exactly. So if we think about the politician who stands up and has a lot of people at their rallies at the beginning and then can't figure out why they're polling so poorly, it's because the people who come at the beginning, they're nerds. They're into politics. They understand all the insides and the outsides, but they're not telling their friends, and their friends aren't showing up because it doesn't feel normal and safe.
If we look at the adoption of vaccination, or if we look at when people start paying attention to health concerns or how people quit smoking, it's always the same thing. The geeks and the nerds go first. Then there's a chasm. It takes a lot of effort to get across it to the other side. Then, eventually, maybe, you clean up the last few folks.
If we can go back to Apple again, the second Super Bowl commercial was a disaster because the Lemmings ad made fun of the people in the middle of the market. It should have been the opposite of that, and so it cost Apple at least two years of adoption because Apple doubled down on saying this is just for cool people, for early adopters or people who get the joke.
If we look at the iPhone, I think Tim has eviscerated innovation at Apple, but he's made more money. How come? Because he has the patience to ride the iPhone all the way to grandmas. Grandmas are the ones who are buying it now because it's not only safe, but everyone else has one, too.
Guy Kawasaki: Why does that mean he eviscerated innovation? Because he's not making something that obsoletes the iPhone?
Seth Godin: Correct. Hasn't made a product for me in a really long time, something that early adopters will wait in line for because it changes the game. It hasn't been that there haven't been technical innovations everywhere else in the world. It's just that if you are making a luxury brand company that sells a high-margin product with a long lifecycle of subscription-based revenue, the single best way to increase shareholder value is to stick with it and to stick with it.
It worked for Hermès and Louis Vuitton for 150 years. Hermès doesn't announce that there's a new technology that's going to make handbags obsolete. They just sell a Birkin bag for $30,000. Apple is the most profitable luxury brand in the history of the world, and they stopped being a daring innovator because it wasn't in the shareholder's interest.
Guy Kawasaki: Or because Steve died, basically.
Seth Godin: But lots of people know how to make innovations. But if you are undermined in your ability to ship them out the door, then the public never finds out about them.
Guy Kawasaki: So while we're on the Apple topic, maybe you can explain this to people, which is, by any chance, did you buy any Apple tags?
Seth Godin: No, sir. I'm a Tile guy.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay. This may help you explain this even better. So I have Tiles and I have Apple tags. Now, what do you think went on in the meeting where Phil Schiller or Tim Cook or somebody said, "We are not going to put a hole. We're going to make people buy a twenty-nine-dollar piece of leather to put it under your keychain." They obviously looked at every Tile. Every Tile has a key chain hole.
So do you think it's just corporate greed, "Let's screw these people and let's get twenty-nine dollars out of them"? By what standard of intelligence would someone say, "We cannot put a keychain hole in an Apple tag"?
Seth Godin: So there are two problems with superhero comics. The second problem is the hostage problem, which they always skip over. The easiest way to win over Superman is just abduct Jimmy Olsen, and then the whole thing falls apart.
But the first problem is when you are immortal and cannot be defeated, your life gets really weird and I would imagine leads to a bunch of existential crises. So when they're sitting there looking at these things, they're not saying, "Oh, Tile will beat us on functionality." They're saying, "What's the lifetime value, the net present value, of us using this square foot of shelf space and some meeting time to bring this to market? Should we do this or should we do that?"
My hunch is that someone two levels down from Phil has a spreadsheet and was able to show that the net present value of leaving out that hole was probably a billion dollars. They're like, "Yeah. So it's going to be a hassle, but it's okay. It's worth a billion dollars."
Guy Kawasaki: No.
Seth Godin: They make a lot of choices that true-blue people like you and I are disappointed by because they're not doing it for us. We are not the customer. The customer is the stock market.
Guy Kawasaki: If I were Apple, I would invest in dongle companies, because who has a Mac who doesn't have a dongle? I think they secretly own Anker. Must be.
Seth Godin: I have a fourteen-port one on this side, a five-port one on this side. It's because we're not the customer. They need people to see high-resolution Squadcast, StreamYard examples of what people who have tech shops are doing. But those people are buying a closed-end system.
If you've ever been on a Zoom call with some seventy-five-year-olds who are holding iPads, which I have, it's not a pleasant experience, because the guest of honor is broadcasting her lap as she drops the thing. It's not organized for functionality. It's organized to be a luxury good.
It took an understanding of human behavior to realize people are way more likely to play Scrabble on their iPad than they are to devise the next breakthrough technology because it's not what it's for.
Guy Kawasaki: So would you make the statement that you and I and people like us are no longer the smallest viable market for Apple? We're not viable anymore?
Seth Godin: For sure. There's no question about it. These are not stupid people. They are making rational decisions, and what they said is, “Locking into the luxury standard for phones and computers is a ten, twenty-year run, and one of the things that would distract us is figuring out how to entertain Guy and Seth.
Guy Kawasaki: Like putting in an SD card reader and putting in more than two USB-C ports. That's too much to ask.
Seth Godin: Yeah, it is.
Guy Kawasaki: At some point, does it catch up with them? Maybe after we're dead, but at some point, does the Marques Brownlee no longer say buy a MacBook Air because there's only two freaking ports and you really need twelve?
Seth Godin: I think that there's two competing things going on in the world. The first one, which Google is betting on, is that internet democratization and access trumps hardware. That's the idea of Android and that's the idea of the browser, that, if you control that, it doesn't matter which device you're using to get access to it. There are more Android phones than iPhones.
But the other thing that's been going on is the combination of bigger division in wealth and access to tech together with a higher-resolution of execution in video and sound, both of which play to Apple's strengths. I think if those two things hadn't happened, then Google would've won the hardware war. But because those two things persist, and luxury goods are still a signifier, they've got this lock-in.
But just a simple example, there's very little network effect going on to keep someone on the Mac the way it was so huge when you were trying to get people to switch away from the PC. "I can't switch because all my colleagues have software that's non-compatible." That's why the Microsoft deal was so important back when Apple was in so much trouble.
But now I'm exchanging stuff every day. The people who are listening to this or watching this, they don't have the same computer you and I have. The exchange… Apple has not done so many things that they could do that would make it so that if I'm talking to someone and I have an iPhone and they don't, it shouldn't work as well as it does. It should work better within the circles.
But they didn't embrace any of those opportunities to make the network effect stronger around their hardware. I think that when they decline, and they inevitably will, that will be the reason. They could have had another decade of hegemony if they had built in the network effect and they didn't.
Whereas, for example, Facebook, you can't do Facebook without Facebook. And so, if Facebook wires together three billion people, none of whom can leave, they have a totally different amount of market power than a company that replaces all its hardware every three years.
Guy Kawasaki: The vast majority of companies and people have a so-so product. So then is the solution to fix the product or find a segment that doesn't care if you have a so-so product?
Seth Godin: I think we've got to look at what the word so-so means. So if you love wine, you could say Cupcake is terrible. It's swill. But it's one of the most popular wines in the United States, because the people who drink it don't think it's so-so. The people who drink it think it's fantastic. If you are a runner, you don't want to wear Uggs. Uggs will hurt your feet. But some people think Uggs are fantastic.
So I guess what I would say is, number one: mediocre stuff is really hard to charge a premium for. Number two: make something that the right people don't think is mediocre. Make something that comes with a story or a community or a network effect or a conversation that I'm willing to wait in line to get.
So if we think about Warby Parker versus Luxottica. So Luxottica has made billions of dollars in Milano selling almost every famous brand of glasses in the marketplace. They mark them up to $500, $600. The guys at Warby Parker say we're going to make glasses for a different group of people, sell them in a different way. Are they so-so glasses? Well, it depends.
If you really care about cutting-edge design and innovation and eyeglass design, they're not as good as what you could get from the Prada line, but that's not who it's for. The people who are waiting in line in front of a Warby Parker know exactly what they're waiting in line for, and they don't want to buy the Prada glasses. They want to buy these glasses. That's what Neil and his team showed up to do.
Guy Kawasaki: It seems to me that you don't really use social media.
Seth Godin: That's correct.
Guy Kawasaki: Why is that? Because of all people, I thought ... You're about building community and all that stuff. So why?
Seth Godin: Well, I think there are two useful lessons here. The first one is if you're not paying and you're using social media, you're not the customer, you're the product. They are packaging up your emotions and building a habit so that they can make money from someone else by selling you.
Number two is all of us only get a certain number of cycles per day. What I wrote about in The Dip is being really good at something is usually underrated. So when Twitter came out, I was paying attention to it long before it got popular, same with Facebook. I said, “I could go do those things. But if I did those things, I would be less good at blogging. Do I want to be pretty good at three things or really good at one thing?”
And so my philosophy has been: these are great platforms for people to talk to each other, to circles of people, but they're not good broadcast media, because, as Facebook taught us, as soon as you trusted Facebook, they started throttling who you could reach without paying.
I said what I'm going to try to do is create content that people will choose to talk about on those platforms because they want to talk about it. So do I use Twitter and Facebook? No. But do people talk about my work there? Yes. If you think about a company that makes a mediocre product like Oreos -- Oreo has who knows how many people full-time tweeting for them? Wendy's, tweeting for them?
That amuses the digerati, but I'm not sure it sells hamburgers and cookies. I think they're way more likely to sell hamburgers and cookies if they made hamburgers and cookies that people wanted to talk about, the way you talk about In-N-Out, because In-N-Out stands for something for you.
Guy Kawasaki: But one of your chief tenet is building communities. So if you're not using social media, how do you build community?
Seth Godin: There is a community of people who, for example, care a lot about Labrador retrievers. But the person who bred and named the Labrador retriever has been dead for 150 years. So you don't have to be there for there to be a community.
What I try to do when I write a book or a blog post or create a course is to say “The people who will benefit from this, who want to come together with each other, will they be glad I did this? Did I give them something to talk about?” But what I don't do is say, "And I'll be there because I don't want to be the souvenir of the community. I want the community itself to support the ideas. I'm just setting the table and opening the door.”
Guy Kawasaki: So you literally don't try to support and grow your community other than the fact that you write good stuff?
Seth Godin: That's part of the discipline. It makes me really uncomfortable to be the prize or to show up in real time, because I'm not a guru. I just make all this stuff up, but what I learned from Alan and Bill at Fast Company, Alan's now the mayor of Santa Fe, and people in Santa Fe will be there after he's the mayor. He was the mayor of Fast Company. But the people who believe in the fast company ethos are still there long after he's gone.
The goal for me has never been to be recognized or to have people want me to whisper some magic incantation to them. Not interested. I am super lucky that there are people who have given me permission to whisper to them, but then they go talk to each other and I'm not part of it, which is great.
Guy Kawasaki: Are you saying you're the antithesis of Gary V.?
Seth Godin: Well, Gary is a friend, but Gary and I have approached things very differently. I'm not sure I'm the antithesis. There are other people who have mosh pits, who jump into the mosh pit and people got to touch them. I really don't want to be that person.
Guy Kawasaki: Why?
Seth Godin: It's just not what I'm comfortable with and I also strategically don't think it scales very well. It's good for your ego, but it's not good for making a change in the world.
Guy Kawasaki: Shit. Am I doing all this stuff wrong then?
Seth Godin: Hardly.
Guy Kawasaki: One could say I'm in the mosh pit. Let's suppose that you're advising a young CEO and she asks you, "How do I introduce my product, Seth?" Let's, for the moment, postulate that it's good. Now what?
Seth Godin: So I'd say, “Are there ten people who trust you enough to, just because you ask them to, see the product the way you want it to be seen, to use it really and truly?” The answer to that for every human I've ever met is “yes.” There are ten people who will read your novel. There are ten people who will try your software.
After they use it, will they be able to go to bed without insisting that one of their friends use it, too? Because if your “are not” is greater than one, it means that within a short period of time, everyone in the addressable audience will have heard about it and tried it.
It's probably not going to be greater than one. That's almost impossible. But it's entirely possible for it to be more than half. It's entirely possible that, on average, when ten people engage in what you do, five of them insist that someone they work with or who's their friend try it.
Well, then you're on your way, because ten gets you fifteen, fifteen gets you seventeen. The people you got from the beginning come back and tell some more friends, et cetera. If that's not going to happen, then maybe you made a product for the wrong audience, or maybe you made a product with an insufficient level of remarkability or network effect.
So when I wrote a book called Purple Cow, I had been kicked out of the book publishing industry. My book before that had failed. It came out right after 9/11. It didn't sell. I had no publisher. I published it myself. What the book was about was making remarkable products.
I had a column in Fast Company. At the end of the column, I said, "If you want a free copy of my new book, send me five dollars for postage and handling and I'll send you one." Well, five dollars is how much it costs me to print it and mail it, so I broke even. But I only made 10,000 of them. 5,000 people mailed me five dollars. That's not a big number.
The book came in a milk carton, and it's not easy to put a book in a milk carton, I'll tell you. But when people got it, they put the milk carton on their desk. But it wasn't a gimmick. It was a flag. It was like the pirate flag that flew in front of the Mac Building, because if you wanted the people you worked with to get the joke, to let you make remarkable products, you needed a way to talk about it.
I gave you a totem. Here it is. I gave you a phrase. Tell the story of the Purple Cow. It won't be your fault if they say “no.” If they say “yes,” you can have all the credit. Those 5,000 copies, there was a little note that said if you want a twelve-pack, send me sixty dollars. I sold the next 5,000 three days later in twelve-packs. But if you get a twelve-pack, what are you going to do with it? You already read one. So you give it to twelve other people.
That saved my career as a writer. It also taught me a lot, because I didn't hype that book. I didn't promote that book. I wasn't even a book publisher! I only had 10,000 copies. I broke even on the whole project. But now there were 10,000 copies in the world that were being handed out, talked about in meetings, not because people liked me, not because I was on the internet -- there almost was no internet -- it's because their life got better if their boss heard the story.
The very same thing happened with what I think is your best book, because people bought the book about software evangelism because they wanted their boss to let them go do that job. And so, they said, "Here, read this. It works!"
And so, you weren't selling the book. You weren't hyping the book; they were! That's how you changed the world. That's the way the world has always changed. Not from TV ads. Tesla doesn't have any TV ads. How is it that all these people have a Tesla? So there you go. I'm ranting. I'm sorry. You're good from here.
Guy Kawasaki: I cannot pass this opportunity up. So I'll tell you that this podcast, Remarkable People, where I have people like you and Jane Goodall and Woz and Wolfram and Angela Duckworth, I think, as I look back, it's the best work I've done in my career. But I will tell you I also think it's the least appreciated of my work in my career.
So what am I doing wrong? Did I not find my smallest viable market? Did I not find ten people? I tell people that my podcast is NPR without the pledge drive. That's my positioning statement. I put my guest list up against anybody. I'll put my sound design up against anybody. So give me some tough love, Seth. What am I doing wrong?
Seth Godin: Well, here's the most important thing. What day is today? Monday?
Guy Kawasaki: Mm-hmm.
Seth Godin: It's Monday. You have until Wednesday at noon to send forty-nine dollars and we'll send you the tote bag. Send Guy forty-nine dollars and we'll send ... No, that's not going to work. Okay, next best thing. There is a confusion, and it is a confusion that is pushed forward by the equity-industrial complex. It is reinforced by the education-industrial complex and pushed onto all of us from mass media.
The problem is this: somewhere along the way, someone said “popular” and “good” are related. They're not! Some things like Hamilton -- popular and good -- however, almost no one's ever seen Hamilton. So not that popular. On the other hand, if you really want lots and lots and lots of people to talk about you, like if you want to have a popular cast like Joe Rogan's ... You know how to act like Joe Rogan. I hope you don't.
Guy Kawasaki: It's not in me.
Seth Godin: Right, and you wouldn't be proud of it, but you would have more listeners. So is that the goal? So what I'm being really clear about when I talk about marketing is marketing is about making a change in the world. It's on you to decide if you're proud of that change.
I think that when we hear CEOs say, "I just made the market what it wants," that's the worst form of abdication. How dare you use the leverage you've got, the tools you've got, the time you've got to pander to people who don't know better? And so, can I give you some tips to get more listeners for your podcast? Probably.
Guy Kawasaki: Of course.
Seth Godin: But that's not your question. Your question is: “Why does Joe Rogan have a hundred times more listeners than I do?” It's because your podcast is better.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay.
Seth Godin: My podcast has fewer listeners than yours. I've made 200 episodes. I've had zero guests. I am really proud of it. Some of the best work I've ever done. But I don't beat myself up. I don't look at the stats. I don't know how many people listen. I don't sell any ads because I'm just making it because I want to. If people appreciate it, I'm proud to share it with them.
You and I are super fortunate, privileged, lucky, benefit of the doubt beneficiaries, and to do work that we're proud of without someone telling us we can't, I'm giving you big points for that.
Guy Kawasaki: I think that my podcast will be mostly appreciated after I die. But, anyway, so give me these tips.
Seth Godin: Okay. So the biggest tip is this: Podcasting is generally done with headphones on. Podcasts are generally awkward to talk about, unless something really odd is going on, like looking for Richard Simmons or mystery show episode three, that when someone goes way outside the genre or does something where we can't discharge our discomfort unless we talk about it, or raise our status because we were first, we generally don't talk about it.
The second thing is: Podcasts sometimes make us feel more connected, but often make us more secure in our aloneness, because somebody is piping in right into our ears and making us feel a little bit less alone. So the podcasts that can get to the next level have figured out how to be the topic of conversation.
So Radiolab became Radiolab because I, and you, would say to people, "Did you hear that one about this?" because we needed to say it. We needed to have a conversation because tension was created and we could relieve the tension by talking to someone else about it. Roman Mars has even better sound design than you or I. 99% Invisible isn't successful because of his sound design. It's successful because talking about kidney-shaped pools made me feel smart, and Roman gave me the ability to do that.
And so the next step, now that you've earned the attention of a bunch of people, is to say, “How do we create a community out of this? How do we make it so your life would get better if you tweeted about something we just did on this podcast?”
I was talking to Paula Poundstone about her podcast. A lot of people have me on their podcast to find out how to get more people to listen to their podcast. I'm just saying.
Guy Kawasaki: That's not why, but okay. That's an IQ test. I passed the IQ test.
Seth Godin: Yeah, you're up there. I said, "So, Paula, what would it mean for somebody to be able to have a private circle live podcast with them and fifty of their best friends and you?" because Paula likes to be in the center of a community she's building, and she can't go to standup clubs as often as she used to.
So how do you build that into the followership, that the best way to be a good fan of Guy's is to tweet about it and talk about it and organize things? If you find fifty people who you want to invite to a session with Guy to talk about what you're working on, we can make that happen if you're in this status-filled inner circle.
So now I've got a selfish reason to build a circle of people, or let's say you decided to say, "Most of my listener are entrepreneurs. Maybe not Silicon Valley, but people who want to build that. I'm going to do a five-part series, the most frequently asked questions, and I'm going to get the experts to answer them. But I'm only going to answer your question if you get upvoted with your question. So here's the place online where you can get upvoted and here's how you can build the following getting upvoted."
Suddenly it becomes a game and suddenly I have an incentive to be part of Guy's community and to show that I can bring the heat, because I really want Guy to ask Geoffrey Moore about why my product can't cross the chasm. I'm just making this up as we talk.
Guy Kawasaki: Your making this up in real time is better than McKinsey's two-year project. To me, just thinking about what we've discussed so far, I think the hook for this podcast is: "Seth is going to explain why you should look for the smallest viable market, not the biggest one."
Seth Godin: It takes guts.
Guy Kawasaki: Because that's very, very contrarian to anything I've ever heard. Go pitch a VC and say, "Let me tell you about my smallest viable market, Mr. VC."
Seth Godin: Well, let's do the VC thing, because Fred Wilson and Jerry Colonna, when they started their partnership, I was their first investment. I was a voluntary partner at Flatiron. I came up with ideas during the glory days.
If you look at the best investments they made, things like Delicious that sold four weeks after they invested in it, or things like Wattpad where they made forty times or whatever it was their money, almost every single time that a VC hits a home run, it's a product that, particularly at the beginning, was perfect for a very, very small number of people, Airbnb, Uber.
These are ideal for a hundred thousand people, a quarter of a million people, not everyone. That's why at the beginning, they got customer traction. The smart VCs don't talk about this a lot because it's a code, but that's what they're really looking for. They're saying, "Does this person have raving fans who fit in a barrel? Because if I put a bunch of fish in a barrel, I can make the water that just those fish want. Then eventually it'll spread. But first I need to create enormous amounts of customer traction to get to where it works.”
When VC fails, it's because they put up fifty-million-dollars and try to go straight to toys.com. That just doesn't work.
Guy Kawasaki: I want to talk about your work habits. How do you write a book?
Seth Godin: Against my better judgment, it depends. So I wrote 120 books ... I created 120 books and I was a book packager, a book a month for ten years. So that was my job. So every time I looked around, I said, "Is there a book in this?" So emoji’s. Someone had to write The Smiley Dictionary, and it was me.
So before anybody knew what an emoji was, I did that book. I came up with the idea on Monday. I sold it on Tuesday. I finished the book on Friday. That was my job.
But once I became an author-author, I say, "Is there something in the world that I am seeing that other people don't see? If they saw it, would it make their life better?" That's the calculus. Then I say, "Is it possible for me to write a blog post about this?" Because if I could, then I don't have to write a book.
That's the goal. Can I just get the idea in the world for free and then I don't have to write a book? But every once in a while, an idea comes along where I can't let go of it. Then I say, "What sort of package does this book have to go in to make its impact?"
I did this book of What to Do When It's Your Turn. I said I'm going to have to make this beautiful. And so I taught myself in design. I designed the whole book as I was writing it. I created the whole thing to layout stage. That meant every day for two hours, I was looking for the right pictures, writing around the pictures, or doing the writing and looking for the pictures and laying the thing up.
Whereas a book like The Dip, it occurred to me that a lot of people didn't understand what it meant to quit. No one had ever written a book about quitting. I said, “I could write a blog post about this, but it won't work, because the people will go, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’” I need it to be something they could invest in.
Once my editor Niki Papadopoulos and publisher Adrian Zackheim said, "Oh yeah, we'll do that," I just sat down and I wrote it and it was done in three weeks. Other books take a year of research and blah, blah, blah.
So it's always different. All I know is it's harder than ever to write a book because people have decided it's harder than ever to read a book. And so I am finding substitutes. A twenty-five-minute podcast has replaced a book idea for me at least fifteen times ...
Guy Kawasaki: Wow.
Seth Godin: ... because I'm just trying to make a point. I'm not trying to make a living.
Guy Kawasaki: What was the thinking behind the fifty-pound book?
Seth Godin: You're one of the only people who has one.
Guy Kawasaki: Oh, really?
Seth Godin: Yes. It was never wildly sold. When I did my first Kickstarter, my idea was to explore Kickstarter, experiment with it, and push Barnes & Noble to pay attention to my book that I wanted to write, because at the time Barnes & Noble didn't like our category and it was hard to persuade them to promote something.
So the Kickstarter went great, but I needed a prize for The Highest Level. So at the last minute I made up this idea, which is the best of my blog, an oversized book of 500,000 words, best of my blog.
Well, the Kickstarter did great and The Highest Level really did great. So now Alex Peck, who used to be my design guy, and I had four weeks to make the book, because it had to get printed in China because it's too big. No printer in the entire United States was capable of printing a book that big.
I asked my friend Bernadette Jiwa, who I had never met, who lived in Australia. I said, "Here's a million words from my blog. Please send me back 450,000. Delete the ones that don't belong. You have two weeks." Then Peck and I designed the book, shipped it to China, and I loved it. I loved the way it came out.
Then a bunch of years went by and I realized I needed to make volume two. So I made volume two. I think that's the one I sent you. Maybe I sent you volume one. Does yours have all the photos in it?
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah.
Seth Godin: It's as beautiful, but I only made 3,000 of them and I only sent it to people I love. So you have one.
Guy Kawasaki: Whoa! Well, thank you. Wow! It is as far from digital reading as you could possibly be. You should have printed it on papyrus. If you're going to go, go all the way. Oh my god. One last question. The last question is: how do you, Seth, do your best and deepest thinking?
Seth Godin: Three places: in my canoe on the Hudson River at dawn, because I'm working very hard not to think. The things that slip through are probably slipping through for a reason. Two: when I see something I don't understand and I need to explain it. I need to explain, “Why is that popular? Why did someone build that? Why did that person get any votes at all?” Three-
Guy Kawasaki: Could you answer that?
Seth Godin: Yeah.
Guy Kawasaki: I was just-
Seth Godin: I can. That's why I wrote This is Marketing. You read the chapters in This is Marketing about status roles and affiliation, you'll see some people want to be part of something and some people simply want to defeat those they think of as their enemies. Professional wrestling is all about status roles. Once you look at the world through status roles, a whole bunch of things begin to make sense.
Then the third is: if I am in quiet conversation with someone I care deeply about and I can find that space around us, between us, and build a bridge, that's rare and precious. I think so much of the trauma for so many of us over the last year and a half has been finding those bridges and finding that chance to build a circle around us, not to make a profit but to make a difference.
Guy Kawasaki: I covered everything I want to cover. You're the best.
Seth Godin: We should do this every thirty or forty years, I think.
Guy Kawasaki: So you got any closing remarks you want to make?
Seth Godin: Do you remember that magazine that David Bunnell did?
Guy Kawasaki: Macworld?
Seth Godin: No, it was a different one. It was an industry one. I can't remember what it was called. There was a two-page spread in it in 2000 in which he did a not very good illustration of a hundred people who were making a difference on the internet. Most of them were people who were sort of famous. But your picture was on it and so was mine.
I can't believe how lucky I am. I can't believe how much privilege I've been given, most of which I don't deserve, and what an obligation that comes with. When your note came to me, I just felt like it was a great parentheses because it's been a long, strange trip, and I never take it for granted.
Guy Kawasaki: I hope you enjoyed this interview with Seth. He is the man when it comes to digital marketing. There's lots in this interview that you'll be able to apply to your career and to your business.
My heartfelt thanks to Peg Fitzpatrick and Jeff Sieh. I would never have made 100 episodes without them, and I couldn't do another 100 episodes without them either. My thanks to the young guns of Remarkable People, Alexis Nishimura, Luis Magana, and Madison Nuismer. Peg, Jeff, Alexis, Luis, and Madison, you're all remarkable people.
Finally, here is Mats Herding Solberg of the reMarkable tablet company explaining the future of the reMarkable tablet.
Without getting yourself fired, can you give us a few hints about what the reMarkable three, four, five, and on will be?
Mats Herding Solberg: I would quickly be in risk of getting myself fired if I go too deeply into that. But I think on a more general note, looking at the reMarkable vision, we say better paper, better thinking. We have been focusing intensely on better paper. Call that the first part of our vision.
Better thinking is something that we've taken quite strong ownership of compared to other companies. We take, what I would say, are quite active choices on behalf of our users in saying that this is the product. You're not going to do this or that on our product. So looking ahead, I think it's super interesting to dig even deeper into what better thinking actually might entail.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay, that's it. This is the end of Episode 100 of the Remarkable People Podcast. Thank you for being with us. Until next time, that is the 101st episode, be safe and be healthy. Mahalo and aloha.