Q&A: Seth Godin unplugged


When it comes to marketing advice, Seth Godin is in a class by himself. He pens the most-read marketing blog, writes best-selling books and is in high demand on the speaking circuit. The secret to Godin’s appeal is simplicity. His books are written in short sentences but are packed with original ideas. Though his latest book, Linchpin, keeps to that formula, the subject matter is more personal than in Godin’s previous books. Here, the focus is on making yourself indispensable in a down economy. Godin spoke Monday morning at the IAB MIXX Conference & Expo 2010, part of Advertising Week. Prior to that event, he discussed his new book and other topics with Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman.

  In Linchpin, you argue that employees should treat their work as “art” and think of their creations as “gifts,” but in an environment where employees are doing their job plus those of their fired peers, isn’t it difficult to get into that frame of mind?
  If you don’t get into that frame, you’re going to be a lot less comfortable than you are now. Great creative work is rarely done in a beanbag chair by a coddled creative with a big budget and unlimited M&Ms. The situation many people are in now is either a platform to do your best, most generous work ever, or it’s the plank you’ll walk on as you whine your way out the door.

  Are there any ideas from your previous books that you think have now become outdated?
  In E-mail Addresses of the Rich and Famous, I outed the e-mail accounts of Roger Ebert and others. That was irresponsible and dumb, and I apologize for that. In Permission Marketing, I spent a bit too much time on games and not enough on egoboo and the power of community as an incentive for people to choose to pay attention. But that’s about it. The revolution we’re living through hasn’t been shy about exposing what works and what doesn’t, and the rules have been pretty clear since Kevin Kelly wrote them down a decade ago.

  What about people who aren’t creative or at least that’s not their primary gift? Does your book apply to them?
  Who’s not creative? Not one bit? Never told a joke, invented a curry or engaged with a sullen kid? I think we’re brainwashed to believe that creativity belongs to someone else, and that it has something to do with art school. It doesn’t. Creativity is the act of being human, of solving interesting problems in a new way and in being brave enough to speak up.

  What is your opinion of advertising. I get the sense from reading your books that you think it’s unnecessary.
  Not unnecessary. Gradually becoming obsolete, though. The cost of the ads goes up, the impact goes down. How can it not? Once people get a TiVo and a Facebook account, the way they allocate their attention changes. And that means the people you most want to reach don’t necessarily want to be reached.

  Who do you think is doing good marketing right now? And please, don’t say Apple.
  Chicago edition: Groupon, 37signals, Threadless. None of them really advertise; all three of them market—by changing the very nature of what the product is. The product is the marketing. New York edition: Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, Pure Food and Wine, and Uniqlo.