March 20, 2005

e-mail exchange with seth godin


I recently e-mailed Seth Godin some questions regarding his terrific new book, "All Marketers are Liars", and he kindly wrote back with some answers.

HUGH [italics]: 1. You're most famous for "The Purple Cow". Purple cows are cute. Then you had "The Free Prize". Free prizes are cute. Before those two you had "The Idea Virus". Maybe not quite so cute, but still, pretty nifty sounding. But in your latest book, you have "The Lie". Lies are neither cute or nifty. Did your editors have a problem with this?

SETH [no italics]: They did! So did the salesforce at the publisher. But I persisted.

There's HUGE inertia at most every company to do the safe thing, not the remarkable thing.

So far, it appears that I'm right. My readers "get it." They're quite intelligent folks, actually.

2. The word I associate with you the most is "Remarkable". In "Lies", you seem to be telling people, "Look, if your product cannot generate a remarkable story, then Q.E.D., quod erat demonstrandum, the product is not, by definition, remarkable".

Actually, the most common word is "bald" followed by "slightly annoying" (which is two words, but who's counting.)

Yes, you got my point re. 'Remarkable' spot on.

I can see a possible cause of contention where people who buy your books or attend your seminars erroneously thinking, "Gee, maybe if I give Seth some money, my product will somehow end up less unremarkable than it currently is."

Except I rarely do seminars, which aren't particularly profitable anyway. I want them (the reader) to figure out how to be remarkable, not for me to do it for them.

And I can see you answering back, "This has nothing to do with me; make your product more remarkable and more people will remark on it more often. Deal with it."

That sounds like me.

Do you ever get asked to wave a magic wand, even though you have never made any claims to be a magician? And when you tell your potential clients/readers that you possess no magic, do they ever get upset/disappointed?

More like the heartbreak of psoriasis than upset. I'm pretty upfront about this, so so far, no real meltdowns.

3. A friend of mine, Jamie Fleming writes fiction [His uncle, Ian also wrote some fiction, about a British spy or whatever]. Jamie's great line that I always remember is "Nonfiction doesn't exist".

Or, as my tenth grade art teacher once told me, "All art is a lie". ("Ceci n'est pas un pipe" etc, "The map is not the terrain" etc)... The story about the product is not the actual product. But if you can believe "The Lie", then oh yes it is.


This is roughly how I interpreted your definition of "The Lie". And this allows you to contentiously name your book "All Marketers Are Liars", which probably means more sales than if you'd named your book "All Marketers Are Storytellers". And since you're in the business of telling people how to sell and being remarkable, to not do something remarkable to increase sales would not be good for "Brand Seth".

"Purple Cow" is a great metaphor "Free Prize" is a great metaphor. "Idea Virus" is a great metaphor. I think "The Lie" is also a great metaphor, the observation it makes is brilliant, but equally I can see your average marketing professional getting all snitty about it.

I hope so.

"That man just called me a liar! How dare he think that when I tell the world that my value mouthwash has all the great, fresh, minty taste they crave at only half the price of the leading brand, I am somehow lying! I am not pleased! I am angry and I demand justice!" etc etc etc.

Where do you think your ideas are aligned with mainstream, corporate, MBA-inspired marketing, and where do you see yourself parting company?

Oh, I parted company with these guys on September 12th, 1982 when they almost threw me out of my first class at the Stanford Business School. Every word you just said was true (if anything can be true). By the way, I think I once saw a movie about a book from your friend's uncle.

What a cool thing to have an uncle like that. My uncle is a lawyer.

I part company with marketers at the selfish part. Marketers are selfish, because they think they can get people to pay attention just by buying media or shelf space.

5. How has "Brand Seth" evolved/changed/mutated over the last 5-10 years? What are you happiest about? Unhappiest about? What concerns you/excites you the most about "Brand Seth" and its future path?

I think the brand has evolved a great deal. I'm a lot more mature and a little bit more confident and less manic. I also see a bit more of the bigger picture.

My big concern is that I have no ideas left at all, and I'm just retreading the most recent book until something comes to me. Which it usually does, but still... That, and I wish I could get the people playing at safe at the big brands and in some of the political parties to take a deep breath and do something while there's still time.

I also believe wholeheartedly that it's all marketing (politics, jobs, etc.) but sometimes my readers hesitate to go there.

6. Who's your tailor?

I had this Italian guy named Giorgio, but I'm scouting for a new one. Suggestions?

Posted by hugh macleod at March 20, 2005 10:36 PM | TrackBack

Seth continues to lay it on the line. I had the good fortune of meeting Seth at a Fast Company, Real Time Event in Miami. As I sat there and listen to him, I truly began to get it when he show us his purple sneakers.... Since then I have embraced his vision which has allowed helped me to find (or refind(?)) the remarkable things about myself; personally, professionally and politically. I have pre-ordered 6 copies of his new book and continue to be a sneezer. Good interview.

Posted by: Mark LaRusso at March 21, 2005 1:45 PM

Okay... As always, Brand Seth rules... I work in politics and do so within the labor movement -- definitely two types of institutions not used to doing things remarkably and poor at telling stories... How might we do this?

Posted by: Clint Schaff at March 21, 2005 10:29 PM