Marketing guru Seth Godin offered some pithy prescriptions for a crowd of business folk gathered Tuesday at the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia, including how leaders have to fail often in order to succeed.
Godin, who was inducted into the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Hall of Fame in 2018, talked about innovation, leadership, and how to market your business using customers as your sales force.
Here are seven takeaways from the talk, hosted by Jornaya, a Conshohocken-based software marketing company, during which Godin touched on lessons from the inventors of fax machine, the Gutenberg Bible, and Karl Benz, maker of the first automobile.
“Why didn’t Gutenberg wait to print the Bible until everyone knew how to read?” Godin said to laughter in the room. “He should have waited. Or Karl Benz, who had to get a special letter from the king” of Germany before testing his invention, the automobile. “Does it feel too soon to innovate? It’s always too soon. No one is ever ready, but you can be prepared — that’s why it’s leadership not management."
Godin cited the Italian phrase salto mortale, the dangerous leap. “If failure is not an option, then neither is success. As a marketing leader, do something that might not work.”
Whomever invented the fax machine, he pointed out, “needed other people to buy fax machines to make them worth using and more valuable.”
Technology has allowed inventors to adjust and fail quickly, then try again.
“Studebaker and Edsel had to succeed right away. They couldn’t adjust. We can now do that in the digital world."
Marketers need to have customers to “be your megaphone.” And one of the best ways is to have customers or potential clients recommend your product to each other. It’s the same impulse that prompts people to join tribes of folks with similar interests — such as Star Trek, Iron Man races, investment clubs, and dress up as Santa every year.
“I cried when Leonard Nimoy (who played Spock in the Star Trek franchise) died because it means something to be a part of a tribe,” Godin said.
He also showed a slide of Harley-Davidson tattoos all over the world, noting “no one has a Suzuki tattoo.”
“People only have meetings to figure out how to avoid responsibility. Instead, cancel the meeting and do stuff. Leaders take responsibility and send a memo. Then everyone can get back to work.”
“You become a baseball fan not by taking a test, or enrolling in membership. You become a baseball fan because you’ve been signed up for a journey,” a concept marketers would be wise to imitate, Godin said.
He described “tension” as “the act of creating change with enrollment into something new, even if the customers might be afraid.”
Finally, dignity is “giving customers the agency of transparency” into what they’re buying. Godin compared marketing to art, saying “Jackson Pollock changed what we thought of as art. That’s just another word for marketing — it changes people.”
“Of course, we are all impostors," he told the audience of several hundred. "You’re faking it? Great, you’re a leader.”
Godin told the story of meeting Neil Armstrong, who spoke about his Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
“He pointed at the moon, which was full that night, and said, ‘I’ve been there.’ He risked his life when NASA’s computing power was less than what’s on the phone in your pocket. Feel like you’re in crisis? Remember, there are footprints on the moon.”
Godin cited Disney as a brand that’s constantly reinventing itself, by marketing to adults who want to get married at Disney Land.
“Who knew they do weddings?” he said.
Airbnb “successfully connected people who have spare bedrooms” into one of the largest hotel chains in the world, he said.
Tim Cook at Apple: “He’s made Apple a valuable luxury brand, but more than anything he’s made the stock go up. He’s missing the boat” on innovation, Godin said. “Marketing successfully is all about asking customers is this a circle they’re part of that they think is worth paying for?”
Insurance companies, he pointed out, “could offer a whole neighborhood a discount. It’s easy, but none of them are doing it. A television jingle doesn’t help.”
If you’re measuring success by social media metrics, “it’s not going to help your business.” Godin told the story of a friend who was upset about her Instagram follower numbers.
“For her birthday, I bought her 15,000 followers for $89.” he said.