Interview: Seth Godin on marketing on the web

'Marketing is no longer about unanticipated spam'


Marketing pioneer, speaker and entrepreneur Seth Godin's blog is rarely out of Technorati's Top 20.

Here, Seth talks to .net magazine's Oliver Lindberg about his latest book, Tribes, and the future of marketing.

.net: You've got your own action figure. How did you become such a successful marketing guru?

Godin: Well, the action figure is a joke: it raises money for charity and plays off the entire guru nonsense. But you knew that. I think I have a following because I only have one goal: to spread ideas that help people achieve what they'd like to achieve. Nothing really to sell, just ideas.

Can you explain the idea behind your latest book, Tribes?

Marketing is no longer about interrupting the masses with unanticipated spam: ads about average products for average people. Instead, marketing is about leading tribes – groups of people who want to go somewhere.

If people did just one thing to market their site, what should it be?

Understand that marketing is not advertising. The way you market your site is by making a remarkable site, something worth talking about, something worth visiting. It's not about manipulating the system, it's about over-delivering with skill and generosity.

Has the online obsession with ROI killed off traditional advertising in TV, radio and print?

You betcha. But the obsession isn't online, it's everywhere. The difference is that online you can measure it. I think mass media has a place – for Coke, for example – but it's not a medium that you can count on any longer.

Jason Calacanis is famously not a fan of SEO and recently told us it's turned into an arms race where people spend more time optimising than building good websites. What's your view?

Search engines benefit when sites do a better job of presenting the information people are seeking. They fail when you need to spend time or money to trick them in order to gain traffic. As search engines get smarter, that makes black hat SEO less productive. But white hat SEO, the idea that you can design your site intelligently, will probably be here for a while.

Jason also thinks the majority of blogs are not about authentic conversations any more and that it's mostly about marketing, promotion and link-baiting. What's your take on it?

The majority of restaurants are lousy. That doesn't mean you should stop going out for dinner, it merely means you should be selective about where you go. The truth is that there have always been lousy or manipulative sites online. Just ignore them.

What's the biggest mistake online marketers tend to make?

They are selfish and in a hurry. They have hubris. They think other people care about them, when they don't. They believe that pursuit of their goals (usually profit) gives them some sort of right to interrupt, lie or cheat.

Which trends in online marketing are you anticipating for 2009?

Less bravado and more hard work. A lot more analytics. A dip in generosity followed by a rebound later.

Can you explain what your start–up Squidoo is all about? How popular is it at the moment?

Squidoo is one of the most popular publishing platforms in the world, with 20 million page views a month and more than 300,000 registered users. Each of those users has built one or more pages outlining and deconstructing a topic of passion. So there are pages about works of art, cities, books and laptop bags. The members get a royalty (or donate it to charity) based on the ads and affiliate income from each page. In the last six weeks we've raised and donated more than $100,000 to charity, and some of our members earn thousands of dollars a month. Plus it's fun.

Why haven't you got a Twitter account?

The Dip, one of my books, describes the fact that you only come out ahead when you focus on things where you can be the best. Having a second-rate blog isn't worth the time, for example, because most people, given the choice, would choose to read a first-rate blog instead. Well, I'd be a second-rate Twitterer.


First published in .net magazine, Issue 185

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