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What I learned at summer camp

My friend Tim dropped me a note, asking me if I had any tips as to where he might go to improve his public speaking. I was flattered that he asked, and then took a minute to think about where I learned how to speak in public.

Answer?  Camp Arowhon.

Wait, there's more. I also learned marketing there.

My summer camp was a marketplace (a loud one). Everyone had to do something, but what you did was up to you. So the canoeing instructor (that was me) was always struggling with the sailing instructor (that was Mike) and the others to get people to come to our dock. If no one came, you were a failure and you didn't get asked back.

I discovered that:
1. No one cared about me. They didn't care about how hard I'd trained, how little I'd slept or how much effort I was putting into my job.
2. People were rarely willing to try something new. If they'd never done it, they didn't want to start any time soon.
3. Word of mouth was electric.
4. You get more chances to screw up than you imagine.

The biggest and best discovery, though, was how willing people (even sullen teenagers, which if you think selling to cranky purchasing agents is hard…) are to suspend disbelief. One week, I persuaded 300 people that Paul McCartney was coming to visit, checking the place out for his daughter. It was only at the last minute, when a friend of mine, impersonating Sir Paul, fell out of the approaching motorboat and was (allegedly) mangled by the spinning rotor that people figured out that it wasn't really him.

My point, and I do have one, is that marketing is a show, a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney entertainment designed to satisfy wants, not needs. We need to take it a lot less seriously (even if we're marketing Social Security fixes or a world religion) at the same time that we take more risks. If you're not growing now, playing it safe isn't going to help you grow tomorrow.

My advice was Tim is the same advice I've got for you, whether you're speaking or running ads. Be fearless. (but wear a lifejacket.)

public service announcement

[Update: I wrote this post in 2005. I have no idea what the company is like today, and wouldn’t presume to tell you one way or the other. You should consult more current sources. The interesting thing is that three years later, this post is the #2 match in Google for the term Skycasters. That means that the way you and your company act today is going to be around for a long, long time. Makes you think about the long term a bit more…]

One day, you might be considering installing Skycasters satellite internet access. (Satellite Internet DiRECWAY broadband satellite internet access satellite ISP by Skycasters.) It’s possible that a google search as part of your due diligence would bring you to this posting.

If so, then it’s worth the space it is taking up.


They provide a frustratingly slow connection. Far slower than their web page implies. They are no fun to work with.  Installation can be a hassle as well. Unless you live far away from any other alternative, you can do better. I just had them rip our service out.

This post not only shares my humble opinion with potential customers, but is a living example of how your customers can spread the word about your products in a way that they never could before.

All Marketers...

Costa Rican Tilapia

 That’s what the sign said at the fancy fish market in Manhattan. It was more than $10 a pound, and it sure sounded exotic.

It turns out that Costa Rican tilapia is grown in backyard ponds by women just like this one. Here’s’s a picture I took of her, kissing our fish before cleaning it on the open-air table in her backyard. She grows 500 at a time, has a dozen or so chickens for eggs, and she’s a lot better off (and doing a lot more long term good) than the rancher next door.

A tilapia from this wonderful person costs about seventy-five cents.

When you see the sign in New York, though, you imagine spear fisherman or spring-fed crystal clear rivers. You certainly don’t think you’re buying a home-farmed commodity.

Somewhere between cheap protein near the equator and my home in New York, the price and the value of the fish skyrocketed.

Not because of the cost of shipping. Because of the story. Tilapia sounds exotic. Costa Rica is exotic. Put them together and amateur chefs are ready to line up and pay a premium.

Is someone getting ripped off here? Of course not. Chowhounds like me want to buy something that sounds exotic. Fish mongers want to find new supplies of fish and also want to charge enough to cover their risk. And my friend in Costa Rica certainly deserves the higher prices she’ll get if her fish becomes popular in the United States. Everybody is telling a story so that I’ll be able to lie to myself when I cook dinner tonight.


TiffanyEverything about this Tiffany’s billboard at Grand Central is perfect.

No URL. No slogan. No USP or benefits or call to action.

Just a story… worth 1,000 words.


On Critics, Criticism and Remarkability

So, why haven’t you and your team launched as many Purple Cows as you’d like?


Not just the fear of failure. Fear of failure is actually overrated as an excuse. Why? Because if you work for someone, then more often than not, the actual cost of the failure is absorbed by the organization, not you. If your product launch fails, they’re not going to fire you. The company will make a bit less money and will move on.

What people are afraid of isn’t failure. It’s blame. Criticism.

We don’t choose to be remarkable because we’re worried about criticism. We hesitate to create innovative movies, launch new human resource initiatives, design a menu that makes diners take notice or give an audacious sermon because we’re worried, deep down, that someone will hate it and call us on it.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” “What a waste of money.” “Who’s responsible for this?”

Sometimes, the criticism doesn’t even have to be that obvious. The fear of, “I’m surprised you launched this without doing more research…” is enough to get many people to do a lot more research, to study something to death and then kill it. Hey, at least you didn’t get criticized.

Fear of criticism is a powerful deterrent because the criticism doesn’t actually have to occur for the fear to set in. Watch a few people get criticized for being innovative and it’s pretty easy to persuade yourself that the very same thing will happen to you if you’re not careful.

Constructive criticism, of course, is a terrific tool. If a critic tells you that, “I don’t like it,” or “this is disappointing,” he’s done no good at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. He’s used his power to injure without giving you any information to help you to do better next time. Worse, he hasn’t given those listening any data to make a thoughtful decision on their own. Not only that, but by refusing to reveal the basis for his criticism, he’s being a coward, because there’s no way to challenge his opinion.

I admit it. When I get a bad review, my feelings are hurt. After all, it would be nice if a critic said a title of mine was a breakthrough, an inspirational, thoughtful book that explains how everything, from politics to wine, is marketed through stories.

But sometimes they don’t. Which is just about enough to ruin your day. But this time, it didn’t. It didn’t because I realized what a badge of honor it is get a bit of shallow criticism. It means that I confounded expectations. That I didn’t deliver the sequel or the simple, practical guide that some expected. It means that in fact, I did something worth remarking on.

The lesson here is this: if I had written a boring book, there’d be no criticism. No conversations. The products and services that get talked about are the ones that are worth talking about.

So the challenge, as you contemplate your next opportunity to be boring or remarkable, is to answer these two and a half questions:

1.    “If I get criticized for this, will I suffer any measurable impacts? Will I lose my job, get hit upside the head with a softball bat or lose important friendships?” If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing something worth doing. Being remarkable is exciting, fun, profitable and great for your career. Feeling bad wears off.

And then, once you’ve compared the two, and you’ve sold yourself on taking the remarkable path, answer this one:

2.    How can I create something that critics will criticize?

The Reviews are trickling in…

My new book (Seth Godin – Liar’s Blog) comes out next week, and like it or not, it’s getting reviewed.

Here are a few you might want to check out.

800-CEO-READ Blog: BOOK REVIEW: All Marketers Are Liars.

Joi Ito’s Web: All Marketers Are Liars.

Link: 800-CEO-READ Blog: Jack Covert Selects–All Marketers are Liars.

An interview: gapingvoid: e-mail exchange with seth godin

And, as usual, Publishers Weekly weighed in with a review that wasn’t, hmmm, quite as rewarding. Here are quotes from four of PW’s reviews of my books over the years. See if you can match the quote to the book.

"A slapdash mix of insight, jargon, common sense, inspiration and hooey"

"As a result the book is fiery, but not entirely cohesive; at times it resembles a stream-of-consciousness monologue."

"He lays the metaphors on a little thick."

"Readers will likely find the book’s practical advice as rudderless as its ethical principles."

I will try to comfort myself by basking in their bad track record.

What Every Good Marketer Knows

“Godin reinforces what good marketers know.” The New York Times

I’m flattered! I wasn’t sure I knew what every good marketer knows. I guess I do now. But, assuming that you’re like me and the rest of the people I know (which means you haven’t figured out everything there is to know about marketing yet), here’s a list to get you started.

I’m confident that the trackbacks below this post will show you what some of the great marketers out there would add to this list.

  • Anticipated, personal and relevant advertising always does better than unsolicited junk.
  • Making promises and keeping them is a great way to build a brand.
  • Your best customers are worth far more than your average customers.
  • Share of wallet is easier, more profitable and ultimately more effective a measure than share of market.
  • Marketing begins before the product is created.
  • Advertising is just a symptom, a tactic. Marketing is about far more than that.
  • Low price is a great way to sell a commodity. That’s not marketing, though, that’s efficiency.
  • Conversations among the members of your marketplace happen whether you like it or not. Good marketing encourages the right sort of conversations.
  • Products that are remarkable get talked about.
  • Marketing is the way your people answer the phone, the typesetting on your bills and your returns policy.
  • You can’t fool all the people, not even most of the time. And people, once unfooled, talk about the experience.
  • If you are marketing from a fairly static annual budget, you’re viewing marketing as an expense. Good marketers realize that it is an investment.
  • People don’t buy what they need. They buy what they want.
  • You’re not in charge. And your prospects don’t care about you.
  • What people want is the extra, the emotional bonus they get when they buy something they love.
  • Business to business marketing is just marketing to consumers who happen to have a corporation to pay for what they buy.
  • Traditional ways of interrupting consumers (TV ads, trade show booths, junk mail) are losing their cost-effectiveness. At the same time, new ways of spreading ideas (blogs, permission-based RSS information, consumer fan clubs) are quickly proving how well they work.
  • People all over the world, and of every income level, respond to marketing that promises and delivers basic human wants.
  • Good marketers tell a story.
  • People are selfish, lazy, uninformed and impatient. Start with that and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
  • Marketing that works is marketing that people choose to notice.
  • Effective stories match the worldview of the people you are telling the story to.
  • Choose your customers. Fire the ones that hurt your ability to deliver the right story to the others.
  • A product for everyone rarely reaches much of anyone.
  • Living and breathing an authentic story is the best way to survive in an conversation-rich world.
  • Marketers are responsible for the side effects their products cause.
  • Reminding the consumer of a story they know and trust is a powerful shortcut.
  • Good marketers measure.
  • Marketing is not an emergency. It’s a planned, thoughtful exercise that started a long time ago and doesn’t end until you’re done.
  • One disappointed customer is worth ten delighted ones.

Obviously, knowing what to do is very, very different than actually doing it.

[irony alert: since the inspiration for this post has been misinterpreted a couple of times, I wanted to clarify: the New York Times wasn’t trying to be nice when they said what they said… even though it seems nice to you and me, they didn’t mean it that way. And this list didn’t appear in the Times, it was inspired by their attempt to be snide. Thank you.]

All Marketers...

Heart Surgeons are Liars

 Dr. Nortin Hadler, professor of medicine at UNC knows what he’s talking about. He’s spent the last thirty years examining the stats associated with various medical interventions… and he’s written up some of his results in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He’s got a new book out, and some of the takeaway is startling.

It turns out that bypass surgery (which is incredibly expensive, quite risky and leads half of the patients to suffer depression and a third to have measurable memory loss) does no good at all. None.

In one study, half the angina patients waiting for surgery got nothing but a cut in the chest–no surgery. The other half had the surgery. The results? The placebo group enjoyed the same improvements as those that had the “real” surgery.

Of course, if surgery works–even pretend surgery–it’s real. It turns out that something as examined and life-threatening as heart surgery is no different than a wine glass or an iPod. It’s the way you feel, not what is really happening.

So, if it’s so obvious, why do we still cut so many people open? Because of worldview. Hey, it’s your heart. You better do everything you can to protect yourself. Take no chances. Cut no corners. That’s the story we desperately want to hear. I predict it’ll take at least 20 years before bypasses go away.

(for those considering bypass surgery: I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. I haven’t done all the research, and I’m naturally hyperbolic. Consider this a grain of salt.)

The New Digital Divide

A few years ago, pundits were quite worried about the Digital divide.The short definition is that the haves would have reliable, fast access to the Net, which would give them employment and learning opportunities that others wouldn’t be able to get. This would further divide those with a head start from everyone else. Wiring the schools in the US was one response to the threat of this divide.

I think a new divide has opened up, one that is based far more on choice than on circumstance. Several million people (and the number is growing, daily) have chosen to become the haves of the Internet, and at the same time that their number is growing, so are their skills.


























The New Digital Divide
The Digerati The Left Behind
Uses Firefox Uses Internet Explorer
Knows who Doc Searls
Already has a doctor, thanks
very much
Uses RSS Reader RSS?
Has a blog Reads blogs (sometimes)
Reads BoingBoing
(or Slashdot)
Watches the Tonight Show
Bored with Flickr Flickr?
Gets news from Google Gets news from Peter Jennings

Does it surprise you that more than half of the hundreds of thousands of Boing Boing readers use Firefox? That’s about five times the number you’d expect. It turns out that a lot of these tech-friendly behaviors come in bunches. Someone who has a few of these behaviors is likely to have most of them. (and no, this is by no means a complete list. I’m sure the blog community will find twenty others and post them in a day or two!)

So what? Why should you care if a bunch of nerds are learning a lot of cool new stuff?

Well, five years ago, geeks pretty much kept to themselves. They’d be sitting in IRC chat, or arguing about Unix vs. Linux, but it didn’t spread very fast and it didn’t influence the rest of the world outside the tech community.

Today, though, the Net is far more robust and far more ubiquitous than it used to be. And it’s bloggers who are setting the agenda on everything from politics to culture. It’s bloggers that journalists and politicians look to as the first and the loudest.

As a result, your most-connected, most influential customers are part of the digerati. They can make or break your product, your service or even your religion’s new policies. Because the Net is now a broadcast (and a narrowcast) medium, the digerati can spread ideas.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the digerati are using the learning tools built into the Net to get smarter, faster. A new Net tool can propogate to millions in just a week or two. Unlike the old digital divide, this means that the divide between the digerati and the rest of the world is accelerating.

So, it’s choice time. Several of my colleagues (tompeters! being a notable example) are jumping in with both feet. Others take a look at the headstart and decide that it’s just too much work.

Try to imagine doing your work today without email. It’s inconceivable. I think the tools of the digerati are going to be just as essential in just a moment or two. You can wait until Microsoft issues them all as a dumbed down package, but if you do, you’ll not only miss the texture and understanding that comes from learning as you go, but you’ll always be trying to catch up.

I can’t decide if I’m really an us or a them. I’ve got all the tools above, but it’s still hard work. The good news, though, is that you won’t break anything if you try these new tools and commit yourself to understanding the new digerati. Better hurry, though, because they won’t wait for you.

It’s national tell-a-friend-about-blogs week!

Here at Seth’s Blog, we have no pledge drives, no advertisements, no product placement. Instead, every once in a while, I ask you to tell a friend (actually to tell ten friends) about blogs in general, about RSS and about your favorite blogs in particular.

Well, it’s national tell-a-friend-about-blogs week, and to celebrate, I’ve posted a bunch of provocative starter links below.

Now it’s your turn. If you’ve got a blog, why not put up a post encouraging your readers to participate in national tell-a-friend-about-blogs week? And if you don’t, how about sending an email to ten colleagues (just ten, no need to be greedy) and introduce them to your favorite blogs.

And no, I have no idea if there are special foods that are traditionally served during the celebration of national tell-a-friend-about-blogs week.