Poke the Box: Seth Godin on Marketing Trends, 6 Traits of Better Blogs & His New Book
By Brian Pittman, Partner, CommPRO.biz
Seth Godin is a top marketing mind in America today. Author of “Permission Marketing,” “Linchpin,” “Tribes” and many more titles, he recently started a new publishing venture, The Domino Project, geared toward getting “worthy ideas and books to market in an era where traditional book publishing isn’t what it once was.” He also just published his latest book, “Poke the Box.” In this exclusive interview, Godin provides a sneak peak into the new book—and discusses everything from the recent uprising in Egypt to the latest marketing trends and who to follow online:
BRIAN: How are you doing and what are you working on these days?
SETH: Well, they’re related—fabulous and busy. I’m working on the launch of a new publishing company I’m starting that’s powered by Amazon. Our first book (came out) March 1.
BRIAN: What is the title of the book?
SETH: You may recall that almost a year ago, I said I was done publishing books the traditional way. I published a post in August to that effect. I was never done with writing, but I was done with the traditional system, the delays and everything else. So this new project came along and the timing could not have been better. The name of the book is, “Poke the Box.” I wrote it. There will be many more books to come and not all of them by me. “Poke the Box” is about the spark of initiative—choosing to stand up and do something.
BRIAN: What lessons might come out of that book for marketers? Any lessons or takeaways relevant to our audience?
SETH: There is a giant lesson, in particular for your audience, who are sometimes people who tend to find themselves being reactive. They get a job or client and it’s based on that boss or client’s agenda. It ends up being a situation of, “Here’s an average product and a pile of money—now go interrupt some people in the media. Try to generate some buzz in the media about this thing we have already done.” You then go through the steps and checklists. What I’m arguing is that in a world where almost every resource we need is cheap and easier to find than before, the only scarce resources are attention—which I’ve talked about in at least ten books—and initiative, which is the ability to stand up and do the new thing with a willingness to lead and the desire to figure out how to do things by “poking the box.”
I know the clients and bosses of the future are going to think that is far and away the most important thing to look for when hiring someone. They’ll ask, “Is this someone who will change the game, change the agenda, and figure out what to do next as opposed to being told what to do next?”
BRIAN: This is further afield—but let’s address what has been dubbed Revolution 2.0. I’m talking about the “Egypt Uprising,” and what has spread through the Mideast. How does all of that relate to what we’re talking about—or to any of your books? I am thinking, in particular, of “The Idea Virus.”
SETH: I think it’s really dangerous to watch the demise of a 30 year-old regime that used torture its own people and try to draw lessons on how we can do a better job selling soap. I think there are really important revolutionary things going on right here and right now in the world we play in, and I worry that we are sometimes eager to conflate world events into this. I’m not sure that’s where I would start.
BRIAN: Fair enough. Then let’s talk about who you follow online. Who do you read to stay ahead of marketing trends?
SETH: This goes back to my thing in “Linchpin”—the book before this one—about “looking for a map.” I read about 100 to 200 blogs a day. They always change. Boing-Boing is always on the list. My friend Steve Dennis has a blog. But in general, the answer is it needs to be semi-random. That’s because what you’re looking for is NOT that nugget that will tell you what to do today. Instead, you’re looking for provocation that will take you off in a direction you never expected.
This is important because the revolutionary aspect of our time is that we are moving from an industrial age with single-function people and facilities optimized to do “something” really well into this broken field, where it’s more of a mindset like, “How do we figure out what to do tomorrow that nobody has ever done before?” In that world, the playbook isn’t important. Instead, what is important is a posture of flexibility.
BRIAN: Let’s go back to “All Marketers Are Liars,” which you later repositioned as “All Marketers Are Storytellers.” We’ve talked in the past about mistakes marketers make–what are those mistakes, and what are the solutions for them?
SETH: Well, the title change was a mistake I made. I didn’t really mean that all marketers are liars, but I thought a title like that would attract attention to the story I was trying to tell. What I discovered was that insulting your readers isn’t a great way to sell them a book. My publisher was very generous in letting me put a new title on the cover. One of things the book is about is that in this ever-crowded, faster-moving world, we are going to make snap decisions all the time. And those aren’t always based on the truth or facts—they’re based on stories. If those stories are true, authentic and resonate with people, then we will be happy with our snap decisions.
If you look at the pushback Apple got with the fact that the iPhone didn’t work so well with AT&T … the pushback came because the story of Apple and the iPhone belied the fact that it didn’t work that well. If their story had been, “This is experimental” … then people probably would not have bought it as quickly and certainly would not have been as angry at AT&T.
So we need to think hard about the story we tell about our company’s posture on the environment, and what story we tell about customer service, for example. Zappos tells this incredible customer service story. So you can bet when you call them, you have a totally different expectation about what is about to happen than if you call Delta Airlines, which doesn’t even bother to tell a customer service story.
So part of it is about the story you tell and part is about whether you can deliver on that story.
BRIAN: Just one more question about your blog. I love the stories you tell and how inspiring it is in a very digestible way. What tips might you have for people trying to develop more engaging blogs?
SETH: What’s going on here has nothing to do with blogs and everything to do with whether or not you’re prepared to do business in this way. I wrote a post a year about why CEO blogs tend to fail. I said all blogs that succeed combine some mixture of :
If you as a corporate communicator are freaking out because your boss, legal or board won’t let you say something or they’re freaking out because they’re worried about putting something into writing that might come back to haunt them … If the organization’s posture is to never tell the truth when they can instead dissemble, well, of course you’ll have trouble with your blog. Why would anyone go out of their way to read your pre-chewed, pre-digested, pre-approved joke? They’re not going to—because it’s not interesting.
I’m not telling you to change your company. I’m just saying that if that’s the way your company is, then don’t have a blog—because you’re just going to waste time.
BRIAN: Any final tips?
SETH: I guess the heart of this is that we’re in the middle of a revolution. It’s as revolutionary as Henry Ford’s assembly line. It’s as big of a revolution as Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone revolution. The people in the catbird’s seat and those with the most leverage are the people reading this today. I hope that they’ll get off their asses and start shipping stuff out the door, because this is our moment.