Why Seth Godin Is Weird…and Wrong!
You’re weird. I’m weird. And the world is getting weirder according to Seth Godin’s new book We Are All Weird.
The official book description says,
“For generations, marketers, industrialists and politicians have tried to force us into little boxes, complying with their idea of what we should buy, use or want. ….As Godin has identified, a new era of weirdness is upon us. People with more choices, more interests and the power to do something about it are stepping forward and insisting that the world work in a different way. By enabling choice we allow people to survive and thrive.”
Seth’s premise for this book is that those who embrace, and cater to, the weird will be the ones who succeed. I agree with the broad premise – that’s what I call good marketing.
The best marketers have always known that you should talk to people differently. I’m reminded of the late Gary Halbert, the undisputed champ of direct mail. He made a fortune selling family coat-of-arms (letters and wall plaques) by specifically speaking to his prospects based on their last names. No general mass mailings. (He actually tried to introduce a catalog of the same products, and in the best case they broke even. When he returned back to direct dialogue with his prospects he made millions.)
Are the most successful those who embrace the weird and market to them? Let’s look at two of the most successful companies of the past decade, Facebook and Apple.
Facebook started out embracing and marketing to a very small (weird) audience – college students at Harvard. They quickly (and wisely) broadened their audience to include all universities, and then eventually everyone in the world.
Their focus went from a specific niche (weird) market to a very broad market. Sure, Facebook certainly embraces the weird, and that makes it easier for them to connect, but they have now become marketers to the masses.
What about Apple? Take a look at their product line. You’ll notice they’ve slowly become more and more of a mass marketer. This mass marketing effort began back in October of 2001 with the release of the iPod. They’ve since begun adding additional products that have more of a mass market appeal.
Which company embraces the weird more, Apple or Dell? You can now only purchase a silver colored laptop from Apple. However, Dell will allow you to select from dozens of colors. Which of these companies is doing a better job of providing choices for the marketplace (and allowing people to be weird)?
Of course it’s Dell. Why then the ridiculous success of Apple in the past decade and not Dell? I believe the answer is that Apple built superior products for their (weird) tribe, and provided mechanisms for their tribe to easily share with others. They empowered their tribe to become evangelists.
Being Weird Is NOT Enough.
Being weird because it is “what the market wants” or because Seth Godin says to won’t give you amazing results – nor make you a master marketer. Being weird for the sake of being weird will simply make you weird (imagine that).
Let’s look at a couple of “weird” companies that thrive, and see what else (in addition to weird) they are using.
When Blake Mycoskie set out to found a shoe company, he had a simple vision: build a mechanism that would help him provide shoes for those who didn’t have shoes. His business model was simple – for every pair of shoes they sold, they would donate an identical pair to someone in a third-world country (truly a weird business model).
But a weird business model by itself wouldn’t have led to Tom’s Shoes’ amazing success. Tom’s Shoes are remarkable. They look different (a little weird). They fit different. People notice.
When Ari Wienzweig and Paul Saginaw founded Zingerman’s Deli back in 1982 it was a bit weird. They opened in the bad end of town and tried charging prices that were higher than their competitors.
But being in the bad (weird) end of town by itself wouldn’t have led to Zingerman’s amazing success. What was it then? It was a combination of a few factors: amazing customer service, absolutely the best ingredients, and funky marketing.
The Goulet Pen Company
When Brian Goulet started his company, The Goulet Pen Company, he simply wanted to enjoy his hobby of woodworking. When he began he only had his small apartment balcony as his workshop (a bit weird).
Making handcrafted writing instruments on a small balcony is weird, but not enough to lead to success. What is it then? It was Brian’s (and his wife Rachel’s) commitment to amazing customer service that led to their success.
But What Do I Know?
Although I think Seth is a bit off (and possibly wrong) in We Are All Weird, maybe it is me who’s weird (and wrong). As with most of Godin’s writings, maybe his goal is simply to make his readers think outside the box. Make them a little uncomfortable and give them permission to question the status quo. If you’ve read Tribes, you may want to skip this book. On the other hand, it is only 94 pages and can easily be consumed in a few hours.
Whether you read We Are All Weird or not, go and continue being weird – I’m counting on you, Seth is counting on you, we’re all counting on you! But realize that being weird alone won’t guarantee your success.
In full disclaimer, I’m a Godin fan. I read his blog most days, have read most of his books, and believe he’s truly a marketing master. I listen and learn from him – daily.
photo courteous of Wikipedia.com
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