Seth Godin: Permission Marketing and "My Own Private Idaho"
"Permission Marketing." "Purple Cows." "Idea Viruses."
As the progenitor of literally dozens of brandings most popular buzzwords, Seth Godin is virtually responsible for the entire lexicon of modern marketing.
A one-time Yahoo marketing VP, self-proclaimed "change agent," and author of bestsellers from Permission Marketing
to Unleashing the Idea Virus
to All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World
, Godin has long argued that successful companies must stifle the "antichange reflex" to build brands and create products that practically sell themselves.
Of course, harnessing change takes on new importance in an era when mobile technologies promise to extend the brand experience as never before.
Invoking Darwin, youve said the companies that are best able to adapt to change-to "make something happen"-will thrive. But you simultaneously argue that its the small ideas and the low-cost, low-risk tests-evolutionary steps versus evolutionary steps-that often result in the largest ROI. What does that mean to companies that might be thinking about using mobile technologies to competitive advantage?
I dont think there is such a thing as revolution in nature. I think nature just does evolution, and its
revolution that gets all the good publicity. But its pretty rare. Today, business is about irrevocable, irresistible, accelerating change that every company is wrestling with. Its about how innovation-mobile Internet technology or anything else-can change the ground rules of an entire industry.
What Im telling companies is, dont sit around waiting until you have the perfect solution, because the perfect is the enemy of the good. In the enterprise space, I can easily imagine a sales force with fifty people, where you give ten people the sort of mobile toolkit that has the potential to increase their efficiency and gives them the freedom to test and to try things and to keep evolving. Pretty soon the other forty people will be yelling and clamoring and saying they want that stuff too. Thats how change happens. And the companies that experiment like that will be able to identify what works, what doesnt, and what could lead to fundamental new ways to do business.
What does this mean for consumer goods companies-the Pepsi-Colas of the world--who might be exploring ways to use the wireless Web to create remarkable experiences?
The bad news about packaged goods companies is, they built their business model around something that was true a hundred years ago. Just because they were really successful and really profitable selling sugar water, doesnt mean that thats a guarantee its going to be true in the future. Procter & Gamble is sucking wind, and will probably do so for the foreseeable future, because the mantra of supermarkets and television arent whatre driving our economy anymore, but thats what drives their companies. So when I look at, "Can I use my cell phone to buy something from a Coke machine?" I think thats sort of a cool innovation, and its probably going to happen. But its not going to change the dynamic of their business in a big way, in my humble opinion. If I were one of those packaged goods companies, Id be scrambling as hard as I can to say, "How can we be in a completely different business five years from now?" If were going to be in a completely different business five years from now, we better start now trying lots of little things so that we know what the big things going to be when we need it.
Whats an example of an innovation that could attract customers in the wireless age?
Well, I can tell you what Id like. I call it My Own Private Idaho. I want a device, maybe using Bluetooth, that I keep in my pocket. And I want it to tell every merchant, when I walk into their store, where Ive been-sort of like [an Internet] cookie for the real world.
So now, if Im in the mall and I just spent a fortune at Abercrombie and Fitch, and I walk in to the Gap, all those guys with the headsets instantly get word that Im a big important customer, and they drop everything and run over and fawn over me like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman
. And then when Im done browsing, I just throw the merchandise I want in the bag, and I leave-because the system knows who I am, and it knows how to charge me, the way Amazon remembers my one-click preferences, and Im on to the next store.
I want to subscribe to that, and I will gladly permit the businesses my mobile carrier signs up with to know everything about me. I insist they know everything about me.
As you know, these sorts of scenarios are becoming reality, sometimes connecting directly to consumers via mobile devices, sometimes transparently through RFID and other technologies. Why should companies be looking at wireless as a brand enabler?
[As soon as businesses realize that wireless is] an asset that increases in value, as opposed to a wasting asset or a
decreasing asset that you use up, then we end up with a whole different business dynamic.
In the future, the stuff that used to work isnt going to. Thats nature. The early adopters in mobile are the ones who pay all the bills, because after you get to critical mass, its all gravy. What do early adopters want? They want to save time, and they want to save money. If you cant figure out how to deliver that, wireless technologies arent going to help. The secret is trying small pilots, new experiments, to see where things might go, so you can ride the next wave of innovation. Because as long as change is the only constant, evolving businesses will always win.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.