Seth Godin Interview

I recently interviewed Seth Godin. Seth is a well known marketing guru who's blog and books have helped me become a more holistic marketer. I read everything he writes. He also did a video interview on AuctionBytes recently.

Here is the interview:

In Purple Cow (one of my favorite books) you stress the importance of being remarkable. How does that relate to linking or internet marketing? Can a company succeed on the web without being remarkable? What should I do if my business or field generally is not remarkable?

By remarkable, I mean only, "worth making a remark about". So, if you want your idea to spread online, you only have three choices:

a. buy a lot of ads.

b. do really good SEO so that people who have already decided to search for what you have, find you

c. have the community that knows about you tell their friends, their blog readers, etc.

C, naturally, is a neat way to get to B. That's part of the genius of Google... that being remarkable is the easiest way to improve you Google ranking.

If what you sell is boring, it's probably because your organization WANTS it to be. Which is fine, but then you shouldn't expect fast growth or high Google ranking most of the time. They can make coffee and charity and political candidates interesting. Only by treating what you do as a commodity do you make it a commodity.

In All Marketers are Liars you stress the importance of telling authentic stories. What are the easiest ways to judge how authentic a story is? How can you tell if outsiders perceive the story the same way as you do?

Authentic means that it's real, it's true, it holds up to scrutiny.

It means you don't have to check a script before you make a decision. Nice people do nice things, so if your story is "we're nice", it's a good idea to hire nice people!

And yes, of course, people are going to misunderstand your story. Happens all the time. But if you tell it long enough and consistently enough and in all the right places, sooner or later, your authentic story will sink in.

When I tell people to be remarkable I often link at Purple Cow. When I tell people to sell a story that helps build their brand I often link at All Marketers are Liars. Like your books, many of your blog posts also seem like they are very good at sticking to a single topic, and are very easy to understand. How do you know when something is a blog post, an ebook, or a physical book? What do you think about when writing, or what things do you think about that help keep your narratives and blog posts so well focused and easy to understand?

This is a great question. It deserves a great answer. I don't have one. For me, alas, it's intuitive. I worry that if I studied it, it would disappear.

When should a new author consider getting a book physically published?

A published book tells a story before it's even opened. A published book is about credibility and portability and substance. So, if you need those things--if it will help your idea, or your career, or help you to reach people in a different way, then yes, do it. But be prepared for it to take a year or more, and to not make you any money at all. (Not the book part, anyway).

I believe that in most cases, for most people, it's not necessary.

I also believe that in most cases, for most authors, a "real" publisher is not worth the hassle. It's very easy to 'self publish' a book that looks and feels just like a traditional one, and to sell it on Amazon just like a traditional one.

I think you were a book publisher before you became a well known author. What sparked you to change course?

Actually, I was a successful book packager and an occasional and failed book publisher.

Publishing is truly difficult. It's about taking financial risks in a fundamentally broken business. Packaging, on the other hand, is a fantastic gig and I commend it to anyone who is creative and sleepless.

Some of your blog posts have been fairly critical of the SEO industry. I tend to think of SEO as being as much about viral marketing and creating and spreading good ideas as it is about gaming engines. What causes you to believe in and understand viral marketing so well without having much faith in SEO?

We have a semantic difference here. What you describe is totally in line with my thinking. I have never criticized that. My criticism has been reserved for two sides of one coin:

a. lazy companies that think they can buy web traffic by tricking search engines into sending them more traffic than they "deserve" by modifying sentences or code of their site without changing anything else, and

b. companies that will take money from these sites in order to do some mysterious thing for them.

Basically, I'm pushing people to dig deep, to work hard, to make stuff worth linking to.

SEO, as an industry, seems to have a bit of a black eye. I think part of that comes from many people not learning about SEO until a scammer posing as an SEO contacts them. I also think many people who sell high end consulting services make more by claiming that others are unethical, etc. Is there an easy way to fix the industry reputation problem? Or is it just something that is part of the game?

I agree with you 100%. I think the good guys should change the name of what they do. Traffic Leverage or Engines of Revenue.

As much as SEO is about gaming engines, for most companies it is more about ensuring the right contents are indexed and the wrong ones are not. How can the image of SEO be shifted from blog comment spammers, guestbook spammers and the like to people who help make content accessible?

The challenge here is the game itself. As long as we define the game as doing something to a site that makes it worse for a human and better for a computer, it's always going to be dicey. I visited a site today that rents vacation homes. It was superclear from reading it that they had rewritten their site to be engine friendly. I have no idea if that part was successful, but I'm certain that it wasn't working on the humans.

What is your favorite marketing related book that you are 99%+ certain I have never read?

The Republic of Tea, now out of print, but findable.

What is the best marketed candy bar in the world?

This is hard because if you mean "more than 20 years old" then it's got to be Hershey, because they had a remarkable product decades ago, they went to TV early and often at just the right time and they have great distribution today.

But of course, it's not the best marketed TODAY. If they keep up what they're doing, it'll just slide away.

So, what's the best marketed bar today? Well, if I describe "best" as fast-growing without a lot of investment (read: profitable) it might be Scharffen Berger. It might be Vosges, even though I don't know how to pronounce it.

What type of people should have a blog?

People who

a. have an idea they want to spread

b. have an idea worth spreading

c. are willing to tell the truth


d. are willing to do in consistently, over time.

What type of people should not have a blog?

People who need to be in control over the flow of ideas, who are impatient and not willing to stick with it, and who can't tell a story. Those and the ones that try to sell us a line of bs.

What is Squidoo? How does it differ from other content management or information retrieval systems, like blogs or search engines, for example?

Squidoo is a user-generated card catalog, a bunch of signposts in close proximity to each other, a way to find a few handpicked matches, not a million. Squidoo for the lensmaster is a place to point to your blog or your company or your organization. It's a place to assemble RSS feeds and links and stuff to buy. It's a cheap and fast way to increase links to sites that ought to get them.

For a surfer, it's more direct, more trusted and easier than a search engine in some ways. It's a place to start, a place to leave, and easy directory.

And for me, it's a way to raise a lot (I hope) of money for charity.

What are 3 things I should do differently on to make it a better website?

It's a great website. Everyone should read your book. I did. I'm glad I did. I'm jealous of your site.

Wow! thanks for that Seth. What are the biggest errors you tend to run into with most ecommerce websites?

They're selfish. They don't reflect the user experience. They're too slow. They're no fun. They don't get permission to followup. They're still no fun.

How does online marketing differ from offline marketing?

How much time do you have?

Offline, you get one conversation with a homogeneous and anonymous world.

Online, you get thousands of conversations with people you can learn about.

Search engines teach publishers to blend contextual ads in content to gain higher clickthrough rates. Do you eventually see people trusting link citations less, and perhaps growing to ignore them like banner ads? In margin based industries how does one remain profitable without blending when the blend can increase income per pageview by 300%?

Do you mean how will media companies make more money by integrating the ads? I think they shouldn't. The yellow pages and google adwords are both the greatest ad mediums ever because every person using them KNOWS that they are ads. So advertisers get productive traffic. You can goose income for a while, but soon, advertisers will be able to tell the difference.

Earlier you hinted that publishing might be a flawed business model. If publishers are losing out to independant types how do they stay relevant if they typically are not allowed to be as biased or opinionated, and do not integrate ads as heavily as some independant publishers?

Book publishing is in trouble for a different reason (actually, more than one).

The guaranteed return policy at bookstores means that most, almost all, books lose money the glut (175,000 titles a year) of new titles makes it the noisiest market in the world and the big authors get huge advances, sucking much of the profit out.

There are doubtless very profitable niches, but the mainstream guys have troubles...

What's so good about Pop Tarts?

I haven't had one in forever, but I remember them being gooey, crisp, sweet, crunchy, soft, hot and proustian, all at once.

And then once, I ate six and had to stop, forever.

If I wanted to learn more about Seth Godin where do I go?

Published: May 15, 2006 by Aaron Wall in interviews


May 18, 2006 - 12:02pm

Great to see Seth interviewed - and not only that, some good questions raised, and correspondingly good answers, too. :)

May 18, 2006 - 6:34pm

Arron; I enjoyed the interview and appreciate the update of your book. I have to ask if there is a way to find out what vacation home rental site Seth was reffering to as that is what I do.


May 18, 2006 - 6:46pm

Hi Matthew
I don't think it is worth pointing out 1 specific site when so many of them are so bad on so many levels.

May 21, 2006 - 7:17pm

How many people think that creating content worth linking to is really enough? I think an idea from Purple Cow that needs to be mentioned in the same breath is that it works for industries that people talk about.

For example I have a new site on dating cultures with some very interesting content. But the people who I think should care about that (Sociology professors) don't care. They haven't updated their university web pages this century and they probably don't plan to.

On the other hand, my dad has a photo blog of antique cars. He has lots of links and 1500 people a day and while I do his SEO, I can't take any credit. I don't even know most of the sites linking to him.

I guess what I'm saying is car people talk about new sites while sociologists don't. So the linkable content idea works better with car sites.

May 21, 2006 - 7:48pm

Hi James
I totally agree with you. It is the same way with many of the colleges that still have links to search engine submission services, but rarely link to any news sources outside of the mainstream press, Search Engine Watch, and occassionally Search Engine Guide.

Ideas which surround active discussion are of course going to be easier to spread than those which don't. I think dating and human interaction is such a broad spectrum that if you are creative there should be MANY ways to get the attention of people and have them talk about your site.

May 22, 2006 - 1:22pm

The dating site's content was designed to appeal to academics. I'm sure it will interest others, but I don't know them...

June 29, 2006 - 9:19am

Sounds like it would be worth it to broaden your scope or research the market then James.

It is a mistake to create something and say it has to fit a certain group. If a group is disinterested then sometimes you can only get their attention by telling them to screw off and then let them chase you AFTER you have become successful and your meme has spread through other channels / networks / etc.

May 15, 2006 - 8:21pm

Seth is jealous of your site and I'm jealous that you interviewed Seth and I didn't.

Great work Aaron. You should do this more often... you ask great questions!

May 15, 2006 - 8:28pm

Thanks Brian

I cut back on the interviews because I got burned out on doing too many of them and because everyone started doing 12 interviews a week.

It is hard trying to be unique in a hypersaturated field while trying to stay profitable and keep on learning. Success has came a bit quicker than I would have expected (ie: I never thought I would be able to interview Seth!).

I might do more interviews again soon. Thanks for liking this one :)

Lee Odden
May 15, 2006 - 8:31pm

That's a sweet interview Aaron, nice job. Maybe you could rename your book: "Engines of Revenue"? :) That's not a bad name for a book on SEO actually.

May 15, 2006 - 8:34pm

Yes, Aaron's questions were clever, but Seth appeared a bit lazy to provide deeper answers. Nevermind, interviews on this site are among items I like to read most here. Good work!

May 15, 2006 - 8:39pm

I think Seth is probably far more overworked than lazy.

Rarely does a person get to his level of success and yet remain so accessible.

The fact that he had the time to answer at all is cool to me. I also think one of his strengths is the ability to clearly communicate without needing to try to be verbose. Thats a good thing to be good at, IMHO.

May 16, 2006 - 2:41am

Congrats for landing the interview. Though you might let Seth off a bit too easily regarding Squidoo.

Many would have probably done the same if they got the opportunity for the interview so no gripes there. But I thought more comparisons could have been made about Squidoo's "lens concept" to many of niche web marketing that are out there.

Adam C
May 16, 2006 - 12:20pm

Very good interview Aaron, thanks. The Republic of Tea - on to my reading list.

May 17, 2006 - 5:30am

"The Republic of Tea - on to my reading list".

Ditto. Great interview, Aaron.

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