Godin, Seth (No. 2)

Seth Godin is the author of seven international bestsellers: Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, The Big Red Fez, Survival is Not Enough, Purple Cow, Free Prize Inside!, and All Marketers Are Liars. He is also the editor of The Big Moo and the founder and CEO of Squidoo.

His blog is one of the most widely read and linked to business blogs in the world and consistently one of the hundred most popular blogs on any subject. Check it out at www.SethGodin.com"just click on Seth's head.

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tompeters.com asks …

Seth, you’ve been a very busy man of late. In addition to discussing your new book, Small Is the New Big, I’d like to also talk about some of your other projects. But let’s start with the new book. What prompted you to put together this collection of blog posts [note: from Seth’s blog] and columns from Fast Company?

SG: And e-books, as well.

Two hundred forty-three dollars worth [note: “Special Bonus! $243 Worth of Free E-books, Reprinted Here at No Extra Charge to You, My Faithful Reader,” p. 277].

SG: At least.

But I only counted two e-books.

SG: Well, it depends on which country and exchange rate you were using to calculate the value.

I was writing my one thousandth blog post a few years ago, and I realized that a bunch of people were reading them, but a whole bunch of people didn’t even know they were there. I also knew that the people who were reading them wanted to be able to share them with others in their organization or their lives, but I wasn’t giving them an easy way to do that.

The thought was to create a slightly waterproof, handy book that you could walk into your boss, and say, “Here,” and put Post-Its in, and write in the margins, and stuff that books are good at that blogs are bad at.

The hope is that I’m going to be able to help the people who want to spread these words by giving them a tool they can use to spread them.

Meaning that the viral-ocity of e-mail or pushing a blog post around hasn’t quite caught on, in a lot of cases?

SG: Yes. Different people respond to different forms of media. I was amazed to watch what happened to The Da Vinci Code. I mean, how is it possible five years after it was the number one best seller that some people hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet? It took a movie to get a certain kind of people to pay attention, because some people pay more attention to movies than books.

The same thing’s true here. Once it’s in book form, a whole bunch of people who didn’t necessarily see it all together will notice it.

How would you answer someone who asks, “What’s purple cow-ish about this?”

SG: What’s remarkable is that the people who read my stuff already know what to do. They already have great ideas. They already have enough insight about what they do for a living that they know the right answer.

But they don’t do it, and they don’t do it because their colleagues make them nervous, or they don’t do it because their boss won’t let them, or they don’t do it because they’re stuck in a committee.

My job, and Tom [Peters]’s job, is to set off fireworks, to light a spark that causes the right kind of explosion to happen, because that person’s already carrying around everything else they need.

What makes this book remarkable is that someone who reads the essay about how to give criticism or the essay about thinking small, realizes there are five people they know who need to read that essay. They could e-mail them that essay, because I’m not taking any of it down from the sites where they are currently posted, but they know that those people might not respond to a link in their e-mail box, because it’s not solid and heavy and sitting on their desk. So they’ll buy three, or four, or five copies, and pass them out, and use it as a way to start a conversation in their organization.

And it does have a good looking cover.

SG: Doesn’t it have the best cover ever?

I’ve never been all that conversant about Kewpie dolls, but that’s what they look like to me, yet the dust cover mentions that these aren’t really Kewpie Dolls.

SG: If you look at the tiny print on the back, it’s a very funny story. Kewpie Dolls were invented almost a hundred years ago by an illustrator for Ladies’ Home Journal. They became a prize at fairs and carnivals. As she got older, she did a deal with a few people, and it got murky about who owned the rights. It all got straightened out and eventually, the rights ended up with a very, very small company in California. But Kewpie Dolls have been around for a really long time, so other people make dolls that they’re not allowed to call Kewpie Dolls.

I found these really arresting images in Japan. We got all excited and flew the dolls in for a photo shoot, giving them snacks, makeup, the whole thing.

Why arrange the content alphabetically, not chronologically? You lay that out clearly at the beginning, but I found myself every once in a while trying to figure out when something was written. It could’ve been ten years ago. Is that right?

SG: I think the oldest one is probably eight years old. And you’re absolutely right about several things. First of all, alphabetical order is a ridiculous way to organize something when I’m using just the first letter of the post title. You’re not able to look something up by content. The M’s aren’t where the marketing articles are. That was an intentional statement of the fact that marketing and the business that we are all in of spreading ideas is now jumbled. It’s random. There used to be a core set of rules 30 years ago. Here are the ten things you need to do. Here are the five P’s. Here are the established benchmarks. It’s all gone. It’s meaningless.

So, one of the lessons in this book is that the new marketing has become hundreds of little, small things; small notions, small ideas that can lead to a big insight. Starbucks is based on one of those. Starbucks is based around the idea that you have a home and you have an office, but the third place can’t be a bar that serves alcohol. We needed a place to meet people during the day. That led to a multi-billion dollar company. Now, that’s not a rule you can use again, it’s just a small idea that Howard Schultz blew into a big one.

The reason that I went with the intentionally disorganized alphabetical order notion is to make a statement about hierarchy, and to say, “Nothing in this book is more important than anything else. It’s just what you’re going to make of it.”

You’re absolutely right, as well, about the date thing. I was very tempted to go back and update every link and get rid of examples that weren’t true anymore. But I didn’t feel like that was honest, in terms of using it as a document of the evolution of a bunch of years of thinking.

So, instead, the stuff’s still online. It’s easy to look up any single one of these things just by typing four words in a row in Google, and you’ll find it. Then you can explore the links in the context of when it was written.

That’s fair enough. What about blogging? You’re hugely into it. What does it represent for you?

SG: First, I’m not hugely into it. If I was hugely into it, my blog would be updated more than once a day, and have pictures, music, and all kinds of stuff. I hold back all the time, because I could fall into that chasm of just living and breathing in my blog, as some people do.

What my blog does for me is it keeps me from writing a book every month, or a long PowerPoint presentation. What the blog does is let me take an idea that’s nascent, and share it, and see what happens to it, as opposed to having to invest months or years into fully polishing it.

I’m the first to admit that half the ideas on the blog are nonsense. I just don’t know which half. This is a neat way for the community to think about things a little differently. So it’s a really good sort of steam valve for me.

You don’t allow comments at your blog, and I think you explained that you just don’t want to deal with trolls and unnecessary negativity. But it seems that you are responding in your blog, oftentimes, to e-mail of one sort or another.

SG: Yeah. I get almost as much e-mail as Tom, but not quite. I answer each and every piece of it, because e-mail is from real people who want a response. The amount of really nasty, anonymous e-mail I get is tiny. So I’m very comfortable with that. In fact, the e-mail I get helps me motivate through a day, and gives me plenty of ideas as well.

You hit it on the head about the blog comments. Comments are broken. They’re broken for almost everyone, unless you have a thick skin, and are willing to spend a lot of time every day curating. I’m not able to do the first, and I’m not willing to do the second.

I feel badly that I can’t give a platform to people who would like one. The good news is that I send way more traffic to other people’s blogs than they send to me, which is fine with me. If someone writes something cool on their blog, I point to it. If someone writes something cool on their blog and e-mails me, I read it. That’s a good way of having a platform that’s not anonymous, that gives people some context as to who you are and what you’re writing about.

What about inventing words?

SG: Did you know there’s a word for that? Neologism.

I’ve always wondered what that word meant.

SG: I stumbled onto the art of neology when I did Permission Marketing, maybe even before that, and haven’t looked back. It’s an incredibly powerful way to change the conversation. Karl Rove is the master of it, but it’s pretty clear that if you can coin a word, like a “tipping point“, that people can then use to describe something that didn’t used to have a name, you’re going to get it described more often. If it gets described more often, it gets done more often.

I think there are plenty of organizations that are able to invent some words internally. I’ll share a couple with you. At Pepsi, there’s a word called “slam” or “slammability.” Slam is how likely a container is going to be used by a teenager to drink the entire beverage at once. Mountain Dew in the wide mouth bottle, that’s got great slammability, whereas something that might be bitter or shaped differently doesn’t. Guess what? At Pepsi, they’re busy making things that are more slammable because they know how to talk about it.

Stephen Colbert created “truthiness.” What a great way to inject a little bit of skepticism into the voting public, because now we have a way of talking about something that didn’t used to have a name.

What do you think is your most successful phrase or word?

SG: For a long time, it was “permission marketing.” I think that the “ideavirus” book [Unleashing the Ideavirus] certainly put the word “ideavirus” into the vocabulary of certain marketers. Now, there’s no question that it’s “purple cow.”

Purple cow was invented to be a neologism. The best story about it is that I got an e-mail from a guy saying, “I want you to know, I just read your book, but I thought you’d like to know how I found your book. I have two bosses. My first boss said, ‘Blah, blah, blah, you need to get to work. We need a purple cow around here.’ And I ignored him. Then four hours later I had a meeting with my second boss, and she said, ‘But is that a purple cow?’ Then I realized I was really out of the loop.

“I googled ‘purple cow’, discovered your book, read it, and really enjoyed it. I went back to a meeting with my boss a week later, and I said, ‘Thanks for recommending that book Purple Cow. It was terrific.’ My boss said, ‘There’s a book?'”

That’s why I write. To have that conversation take place was better than being on the best seller list.

What are your thoughts on podcasting, since, as you say, you don’t do audio, you don’t do video?

SG: I took a lot of flak a year ago when I posted about why I don’t have a podcast. But everything I said is still true, which is that blogs are searchable. Blogs work into the Google molecular world. If you type “chocolate marketing” into Google, you find me.

But podcasts aren’t, which means that you can say something really good, but the only people who are going to hear it are your subscribers. In order to make podcasting worth the effort, you need 50,000 or more subscribers. The number of podcasts that have that many subscribers is tiny. And they don’t grow very fast, because the only way for them to grow is word of mouth and word of blog. Google doesn’t help them.

So I’m not willing to put the effort into creating this linear media medium that isn’t going to grow fast enough or spread far enough.

But video’s different. I did an experiment with Google in February. I gave a speech there, and they said, “Can we put this on our video site?” I intentionally had changed and edited my speech, so I wouldn’t be giving up all my best slides. I said, “Sure.” It’s been downloaded, I think, more than half a million times. It spread far and wide.

What I discovered is that people who had never read my work and never would read my work, had watched the video. There’s something magical about video. It’s a drug that goes straight to some part of your brain that people cannot get enough of. I posted the other day that three-quarters of women would rather, according to one survey, have a plasma TV than a diamond necklace.

Yes, I just saw the folks on morning TV talking about that.

SG: Part of the reason is that television is just the great all-time science fiction thing where they jack it into the back of your skull. So I do spend some time thinking about what a video product would look like, and whether I have enough energy to do it right.

Has your video piece ended up on YouTube yet?

SG: It may have. If I get the technology right, I’m going to post a couple other things on YouTube in the next few weeks.

I think every marketer, every organization has to have at least one statement on YouTube. Because if someone looks for you on YouTube and doesn’t find you, you don’t get a chance to talk to them. That doesn’t mean you have to do one every week. It doesn’t mean it has to be brilliant, viral stuff. But I think if I owned the Nescafé brand, I’d want to put up a five minute interview with the CEO of Nescafé, just in case someone types “Nescafé” into YouTube.

It’s interesting to try to figure out where that’s going. Someone has ripped a piece about cable station TNT out of Tom’s “Re-imagine!” video, three and half minutes or so, and posted it at YouTube, which I found very interesting.

SG: This is from an expensive one, right?

Yeah. But I think it’s fine. I’m just concerned that a lot of people are going to start worrying about copyrights. I think I know where you stand on that.

SG: Well, I am not anti-copyright. I am just anti-stupidity, as Scott Adams would say. I think that if you guys put up ten five-minute segments of a thousand dollar video, sales would go up, not down. The chances that anyone’s going to be able to make a video ever again and prevent access from it being seen by anyone who wants to see it are zero.

The challenge is not to fight it. The challenge is, make sure you’ve got your name and URL emblazoned on the bottom of the video, and get everyone to see your version.

Yes, and, in fact, there’s a woman at Beach Walks with Rox that even mentioned Tom Peters in her little stroll along a Hawaiian beach. She put our web address over the top of the video.

SG: Oh, yes. In the notes for their stuff, people will reference some of the things they talk about. What the difference is with video and audio is there’s so much nuance that doesn’t show up in the notes, because there isn’t a transcript.

Without that nuance, all you’re going to find when you search are what other people said about the video. And when someone talks as fast as me or Tom, there’s no way all those words are going to show up.

I would like to have some audio of Tom up at our site. I think people just get a thrill out of listening to his voice.

SG: I have right here an audio cassette from ten years ago of Tom giving a speech back in his most high energy period. And I still listen to it.

Let’s talk about Squidoo.

SG: Let’s.

What is it? What’s your hope for it? What’s it all about?

SG: Well, I promised myself I was never going to start another Internet company, or another company period, and kept my promise for six years. A confluence of events led me to break my promise and start something. The first is, I’m really disappointed at how the richest nation in the world gives so little to charity; that there’s a group of people who give a lot, and then there’s a huge number of people who give nothing. I wanted to figure out how to create an organization that would make it easy and painless, and leveraged to raise money for charity. My audacious goal is 100 million dollars.

The second thing that happened was I found something about Google that I thought was broken, which is that Google’s too good. It gives too many results. As a result, many of the searches fail, because if someone’s confronted with 1.2 million matches, they look at a couple pages worth, and then they give up.

And I thought, if we could let people, individuals, for no charge, build a single page that gave their view on a topic—whether that topic is Tom Peters, or collecting sea shells, or where to stay when you’re in Milwaukee, a page filled with links, short notes, pictures, things to buy, all around a single topic, we could deliver meaning for the Google searcher.

I have a lens—that’s what we call a page—that I built, for example, about me. So, you type my name into Google, you’ll find my lens. My lens on Squidoo says, “Here are Seth’s books. Here are his ten best blog posts. Here are the most recent posts on his blog. Here’s some other information about this, that, and the other thing.” And in one page, you get the big picture, which is different than what I find if I visit someone’s blog, or even if I visit their homepage, because it’s a different sort of interaction.

We launched in March, and we’ve now signed up more than 30,000 pages built by 20,000 or more people. Sixty percent of the pages donate 100 percent of their royalties to charity. We give 5 percent of all the revenue to charity on top of that. We’re raising thousands and thousands of dollars at a time for a rotating list of charities that range from NPR to Room to Read to juvenile diabetes.

What’s really cool is that our traffic grows every single week, and 85 percent of it is people who have never been to the site before. Eighty-five percent of the people are looking for information about Milwaukee or Tom Peters, and they find it, and they leave. That’s what we tried to build and it worked.

Now our challenge is, how do we compound the growth? How do we get people who wouldn’t ordinarily have built a page like this to go build one?

What about the name Squidoo? Do you think there’s any issue with that?

SG: You mean because some people don’t like cephalopods?

It seems to reference sushi or something. It’s a great word, but I’m not sure that it describes what’s there.

SG: See, now we can have a whole aside about naming. So, we make a list of the great names of the last ten years. It includes Starbucks, Google, Yahoo!, Digg, YouTube, and Flickr. Only some of those things are vaguely related to what the item is.

Yes, well Google references big numbers.

SG: Except the people who use Google, a) didn’t know what the word googol was before they got there. And b) they spelled it wrong. Starbucks is a character from Moby-Dick. It has nothing to do with coffee.

Squidoo will be a great name on the same day that the site becomes a true success. What Gil [Hildebrand, Jr.], who works with me, said is, “Right now, people google Squidoo. We’re hoping that soon, people will start squidooing Google.” When it becomes a verb, we win. So I’m not worried that the name doesn’t mean anything.

We should probably create a lens for Tom. Maybe somebody already has. It’s very easy to create content there.

SG: Well, thank you. But the win is not for Tom to build a lens. You probably have a thousand loyal commenters on the blog. The win is for each of those people to build a lens about Tom, because if there are 100 or 200 lenses about Tom, his Google juice will go through the roof, the number of new visitors to the lens, to the blog, and to the site will go through the roof. Book sales will go up, because you’ve got all these people building filters with different points of view that appeal to different people.

Someone could build, for example, a lens about Tom and non-profits, or a lens about Tom and marketing to women, or a lens about Tom and India. Once these separate little silos are built, that’s when the Long Tail kicks in, because someone types in “Tom Peters marketing women,” and instead of finding one post on Tom’s blog, they’ll find a lens that’ll have like three of his PowerPoints, notes from something, and six blog posts.

Now a stranger’s been turned into someone who really gets Tom’s message, and you haven’t done anything.

I see that your new book has its own lens. So, any new book you do moving ahead will have its own lens as well?

SG: Well, I try very hard not to flog my other stuff. So, my blog doesn’t talk about Squidoo every day. But what we’re going to be launching in two days is a new piece of technology, called a group, that will allow anyone who wants to write a lens about my new book to do so, and link back to this lens of lenses.

Yes, I built a lens about my book, but my hope is that I can get 100 other people to build a lens about my book.

Are you going to invite them through the blog?

SG: Yes.

It’s impressive, the way you’ve connected your work through all these websites. It makes sense.

SG: The cool thing is that it’s for everybody. I made a lens for myself, but my hope is that my dad, who makes hospital cribs, or you guys, who make brilliant ideas in books, or the March of Dimes, will all do the same thing. It’s free and it takes ten minutes.

Can Squidoo people have their own charities receive money?

SG: Yes. All you have to do is nominate a charity to the list. Once it’s on the list, you can automatically send the money straight there.

What’s next for you?

SG: Oh, that’s not enough?

Well, it is enough. It’s great, and I think your book looks great, and I enjoy reading your blog. I always learn something.

SG: Here’s what’s next. A lot of people have the same problem I do, which is they get all excited about doing something. They do it, and then they move on. Speeches are really good for that, because when your speech is over, you can’t go back to the audience and say, “Oh, one more thing,” because the speech is over. The problem is, there’s no tail. When you’re done, only the people in the room heard it, and you get no more leverage out of what you did.

What I’ve tried to build in the last couple years is a platform that I can stick with that keeps benefiting from this Long Tail of time, this Long Tail of Google, and this Long Tail of ideas spreading. I’m leaving a better trail of breadcrumbs.

What’s next for me is consolidating that. Not walking away and saying, “Okay, that book’s done. What’s next?” But to, in fact, keep putting the bricks and the mortar on, so that when people want to find these ideas, or better, want to share them, the tools will be in place to do that.

So that no one will be saying, “Purple cow, that’s a book?”

SG: Exactly.

Seth, thank you very much for your time.

SG: My thanks go to you.

Website: www.sethgodin.com

Lenses: The lens for Seth is www.squidoo.com/seth; the lens for Small Is the New Big is www.squidoo.com/smallis.

Email: sethgodin (at) – yahoo.com