How to Get Your Ideas to Spread: Seth Godin (Transcript)

Arby’s is going to spend $85 million promoting an oven mitt with the voice of Tom Arnold, hoping that that will get people to go to Arby’s and buy a roast beef sandwich.

Now, I had tried to imagine what could possibly be in an animated TV commercial featuring Tom Arnold, that would get you to get in your car, drive across town and buy a roast beef sandwich.

Now, this is Copernicus, and he was right, when he was talking to anyone who needs to hear your idea.

“The world revolves around me.”

Me, me, me, me. My favorite person — me. I don’t want to get email from anybody; I want to get “memail.”

So consumers, and I don’t just mean people who buy stuff at the Safeway; I mean people at the Defense Department who might buy something, or people at the New Yorker who might print your article.

Consumers don’t care about you at all; they just don’t care. Part of the reason is — they’ve got way more choices than they used to, and way less time.

And in a world where we have too many choices and too little time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff. And my parable here is you’re driving down the road and you see a cow, and you keep driving because you’ve seen cows before. Cows are invisible. Cows are boring.

Who’s going to stop and pull over and say — “Oh, look, a cow.” Nobody.

But if the cow was purple — isn’t that a great special effect? I could do that again if you want. If the cow was purple, you’d notice it for a while. I mean, if all cows were purple you’d get bored with those, too.

The thing that’s going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built, is: “Is it remarkable?”

And “remarkable” is a really cool word, because we think it just means “neat,” but it also means “worth making a remark about.” And that is the essence of where idea diffusion is going. That two of the hottest cars in the United States is a $55,000 giant car, big enough to hold a Mini in its trunk.

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People are paying full price for both, and the only thing they have in common is that they don’t have anything in common.

Every week, the number one best-selling DVD in America changes. It’s never “The Godfather,” it’s never “Citizen Kane,” it’s always some third-rate movie with some second-rate star.

But the reason it’s number one is because that’s the week it came out. Because it’s new, because it’s fresh. People saw it and said “I didn’t know that was there” and they noticed it.

Two of the big success stories of the last 20 years in retail — one sells things that are super-expensive in a blue box, and one sells things that are as cheap as they can make them.

The only thing they have in common is that they’re different. We’re now in the fashion business, no matter what we do for a living, we’re in the fashion business. And people in the fashion business know what it’s like to be in the fashion business — they’re used to it. The rest of us have to figure out how to think that way.

How to understand that it’s not about interrupting people with big full-page ads, or insisting on meetings with people. But it’s a totally different sort of process that determines which ideas spread, and which ones don’t.

They sold a billion dollars’ worth of Aeron chairs by reinventing what it meant to sell a chair. They turned a chair from something the purchasing department bought, to something that was a status symbol about where you sat at work.

This guy, Lionel Poilâne, the most famous baker in the world — he died two and a half months ago, and he was a hero of mine and a dear friend. He lived in Paris. Last year, he sold $10 million worth of French bread.

Every loaf baked in a bakery he owned, by one baker at a time, in a wood-fired oven. And when Lionel started his bakery, the French pooh-pooh-ed it. They didn’t want to buy his bread. It didn’t look like “French bread.” It wasn’t what they expected. It was neat; it was remarkable; and slowly, it spread from one person to another person until finally, it became the official bread of three-star restaurants in Paris.

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Now he’s in London, and he ships by FedEx all around the world. What marketers used to do is make average products for average people. That’s what mass marketing is. Smooth out the edges; go for the center; that’s the big market. They would ignore the geeks, and God forbid, the laggards. It was all about going for the center.

But in a world where the TV-industrial complex is broken, I don’t think that’s a strategy we want to use any more. I think the strategy we want to use is to not market to these people because they’re really good at ignoring you. But market to these people because they care. These are the people who are obsessed with something.

And when you talk to them, they’ll listen, because they like listening — it’s about them. And if you’re lucky, they’ll tell their friends on the rest of the curve, and it’ll spread. It’ll spread to the entire curve. They have something I call “otaku” — it’s a great Japanese word. It describes the desire of someone who’s obsessed to say, drive across Tokyo to try a new ramen noodle place, because that’s what they do: they get obsessed with it.

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