Seth Godin’s books are compulsory reading for any marketer. His latest, Meatball Sundae, is stuck in my inbox, behind a few textbooks. So, I found a way to get it to jump the queue, courtesy of SF Entrepreneur who hosted a call with Seth, which I joined just now. I don’t agree with everything Seth says, but I don’t have his following and I do find him thought provoking!

Seth focussed on the book, making the point that this is the moment of our revolution. Seth says there have been 3 or 4 or 5, revolutions depending how you count them. Every time one happens, the people in the middle of it get busy, but don’t realise that they are in the middle of it. They end up fighting against it, and getting stuck in-between the last thing and the next thing.

He said that when you look back on the revolution, it is easy to see it. e.g. looking back at Henry Ford’s production line, it is obvious, looking back at it. Seth scoped out what happens when a revolution occurs, and how we end up living with the vestiges for a long while.

Factories are arranged in a line. Why? Because when steam was first used for power, they would build one steam engine at the end of the factory. That drove a shaft, which powered all the machines, so you had to line them up along that shaft. Factories are still laid out this way, even though they don’t have to be. Old habits stick around for a long while.

What is sticking around now? We grew up with TV, and TV thinking. A world where anyone with money could interrupt you. The could buy an interruption – an ad. If you want to interrupt a lot of people, you better have something of interest to lots of people. That leads to average stuff for average people. That leads to a focus on ‘lower the costs, keep the quality, …’ Seth says this is the line shaft of the modern age – the ‘meet ball’ – safe, predicable.

But now there is a revolution. That interruption engine is broken. Not slowed down, but broken. Direct mail, with 1% hit rate, is considered good. But people don’t open junk mail any more. TV ads don’t build brand anymore. In the US not one brand has been built from scratch via TV ads in the last 5 years, may be more (according to Seth). Interruption media is falling apart. 50 million people in the US joined the do not call list within 3 months of it being started in the US. People don’t want to be interrupted anymore

So what happens to average stuff for average people?

Seth went back to talk about Josiah Wedgwood (mentioned in the book – a great brit) He invented sales people paid on commission, water-based logistics, showrooms and lots of other revolutionary business ideas. Josiah’s brother lived and died poor, he didn’t listen to his brother’s ideas. Josiah was richer than Bill Gates is today (in adjusted terms). Years later, Josiah’s wealth funded the science projects of his grandson – one Charles Darwin.

So what do you need to change? Seth says change your meatballs. A company like Gillette isn’t part of this new world, because of their meatballs. They don’t have a ‘right’ to our/my attention. Seth said you have to be old world or new world. You have to make a choice. It isn’t about new tactics on old things (the idea of Meatball Sundaes).

Seth book lists 14 trends, but he ran through these on the call:

  1. New media allows everyone who makes something to establish a direct connection with the people who use it. No middle men. Directly connected players have an advantage over indirectly connected ones.
  2. Every single person person you interact with is the equivalent of a major newspaper critic. Everyone has a printing press. All customers are equally capable of spreading the good or bad news about your product, through blogs, youtube, facebook, and so on.
  3. Speed. Things are fast. And getting faster. People who organise themselves around speed gain an advantage, that appears to be more sustainable.
  4. The Long tail (Steve Anderson’s concept). In the ‘limited’ shelf space era, we worried about the bulk, the short tail. The long tail introduces the idea that when inventory becomes infinite, the long tail wins – it is 50% of what is sold today on Amazon and other on-line sites. Lots of things long forgotten in the short-tail world.
  5. Outsourcing, as a competitive speed advantage.
  6. Dicing the world into little tiny bits and rearranging it for the user. Seth gave Google as an example. You don’t choose where your content goes anymore.
  7. Infinite media channels. There are hundreds of channels, every Google search is a media channel, every blog is a media channel. Those people are in front of you with the message that you wanted at that moment. If you can find a media channel that matches what you have to offer, you win.
  8. You can win by enabling connections, because you can profit by enabling connections.
  9. Who and who many. Too many people are focused on how many, rather than who. e.g. how many people read my blog (tell me about it Seth!). If you are selling wireless spectrum, do you want the twelve multi-million dollar bidders reading, or the twelve million people who want to read about Paris Hilton? (Hmmm… I’m sorry Hilton fans, I am going to have to cut you loose. Thank you for joining for the ride so far)
  10. Gatekeepers are going away. But new gatekeepers are coming in – they are leaders, with a tribe.
  11. The Seinfeld curve – which is an upside down bell curve. One the left, scarcity. On the right, ubiquity. you need to be at one end of the other. Don’t get stuck in the middle (Seinfeld gets to be at both ends – ubiquitous via his TV shows and scarce via his personal appearances).

Seth listed some other switches, of which the following jumped out at me:

  1. Limited number of media outlets, versus countless (the Internet).
  2. Limited media versus countless.
  3. Horizontal applications, versus small vertical niches.
  4. Marketer-to-consumer versus consumer-to-consumer communication.
  5. A barrier between consumers and makers versus no barriers.
  6. Spam vs permission.
  7. A product line limited by the line you own versus limited by your imagination.
  8. Features versus stories.
  9. Advertising funded versus innovation funded success.
  10. Customer support versus community support.
  11. Focus groups versus launch and learn.

Seth’s closing words? Stop pondering and start now – go!