Do you want to know how to be very effective at marketing? Read Seth Godin’s “Small is the New Big” and then do what he says. I’ve read many of his recent marketing books, but I took a trip back to some of his early blog posts, which he expanded and published in his 2005 book “Small is the new big”.
A few Seth-isms can give people a flavor of what they will find in his books. He says that competence is the enemy of change, he hopes that organizations will maybe-proof themselves, he encourages us to be pliable in how we look at problems – a talent he calls “zooming”. On the marketing side, he advocates reaching out to the customer and making remarkable products – in essence, the same sentiment as ‘make what you can sell, don’t just sell what you can make.’
Here are five of my favourite posts that became chapters in the book (although the online versions are the abridged form of what you will find in the book.)
The wise observation in this post is that a consumer of the product and the buyer are not always the same thing. Seth grates on cat food packaging, which describes in precise detail the preparation, aroma and flavor of the food; all in ways that only matter to how humans evaluate food. If it weren’t for fancy packaging that lists foods WE think cats like, food would be a hit with CATS if it were simply mouse flavoured!
A Warning About Ostrich Farming
Never one to take himself too seriously, Seth slams folks like himself in this blog, to encourage us to sell products that are intrinsically valuable to the buyer. Ostriches, like blogs, can be useful in two ways. Both can be tasty morsels for the end consumer, but both can also be tilted towards peer groups (other ostrich farmers, or bloggers as the case may be). Problems arise when the seller gets too preoccupied with reaching intermediates and trying to be oh-so-clever in front of their peers, rather than serving the end-customer. In the case of the farmers, this led to a dangerous bubble a few years ago where Ostrich farms persuaded so many to get into the Ostrich farming business, they outstripped the demand for ostrich products by a huge margin. Those inside the internet/social media/gadget-toting bubble need to be careful that they don’t repeat this mistake by losing the general business audience they should really be serving.
Don’t shave that yak
This is one of my all-time favourite post – about a crime that we are all guilty of – not finishing a task because we get sidetracked by another task. The yak-shaving reference is a variant of the old shaggy dog stories; someone starts off innocently enough, putting down something they started to do something else that is sort of related, then reaching the absurd task of shaving a yak, because they didn’t stick to their original mission. Marketers get very badly pretzel-ed by all the technical things they could start and never finish. This post’s advice – do one thing at a time.
Torchbearers, or “and now from the Russian Judge”
I probably value this piece the most of all the things I’ve ever read by Seth. It originally came out in 1990 as a “Fast Company” article. He explains the psychology that happens as people go from being everyday Joes to becoming leaders. It’s not what you might expect, ego has nothing to do with it. He contends that most people who become passionate about something come to a point where they see a dire need and realize that if they don’t address that need, nobody else will. Oddly, the role of the leader is not hotly contested; it’s usually a vacant position, waiting for someone to fill it. Will you be that someone?
Playing by (and losing by) the rules
This post gives a beautiful sense of Seth’s world view. His message: do your own thing even if it means bucking “the system.” It’s less risky than assuming that “the system” will serve your needs. So much of his writing has this ribbon running through it. Still, I never tire of hearing Seth praise the virtue of thinking for one’s self. He manages to take the scare factor out of being unconventional while insisting that if we’re not bending or changing the rules, we’ll eventually box ourselves in by rules that end up holding us back, rather than helping us out.