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Marketing guru Godin warns against being average

Seth Godin thinks people take away the wrong message from the myth of Icarus.

Yes, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too high, because the sun would melt the wax that held together his wings, but he also warned Icarus not to fly too low, because the sea mist would soak the feathers.

So it’s OK – in fact, it’s absolutely necessary – to take risks and avoid conforming, in life and in business, said Godin, a prominent marketing blogger, author and entrepreneur.

“If failure is not an option, then neither is success,” he said Thursday at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, in a fast-paced and humor-laced talk hosted by the Advertising Club of Buffalo and presented by Eric Mower and Associates.

The Buffalo native spoke for an hour and took questions afterward from Ad Club President Charlie Fashana and the audience of 170 marketing, advertising and communications professionals.

His wide-ranging lecture on the new “connection economy” included references to Betty Crocker, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, singer Bob Marley and the FarmVille social media game.

He also labeled Henry Ford the 20th century’s most important person, because Ford’s innovations in mass production enabled companies to make items faster, cheaper, more reliably and on a larger and larger scale.

But cracks are showing in the industrial economy, Godin said. He pointed to the music-recording industry, which he deemed the “perfect” industry for 1975 but one that saw massive upheaval in the 2000s, when just about every song ever made became available free online.

“The industry is gone. We don’t need the industry anymore,” Godin said.

The new economy is founded on building connections, not things, he said, and this leaves our country, and our society, at a crossroads.

We have to think of communities such as Buffalo as connection hubs, Godin said.

“So don’t call Buffalo an industrial city. That was a momentary population,” he added. “Buffalo is actually a cultural connecting place.”

The key is creating communities, or networks, where people who share similar interests can connect.

But in creating these networks, you can’t just try to do what everyone else does, and you can’t simply aim for competence, Godin said.

“Average is never beautiful. Average is just average,” he said, observing that no one ever recommends an “average” restaurant.

Don’t be afraid to take risks, Godin said. He asked where we would be if Frank Lloyd Wright, Steve Jobs or the Wright brothers had listened to their doubters.

Jobs wasn’t a particularly skilled computer programmer, or graphic designer, Godin said. “What Steve Jobs had was grit,” he said.

People in business need to embrace failure, he said, adding, “The guy who invented the ship also invented the shipwreck.”

Doing things the way they’ve always been done, in advertising and marketing, led to an emphasis on quantity over quality and left us with average products made for average people, said Godin, who believes this all started with Betty Crocker, the “patron saint” of marketing. “We branded ourselves to death,” he said, showing a slide of a baby covered in company logos.

Mass marketing doesn’t work today, when it’s impossible to reach everyone with a single TV ad and people self-segregate into groups of common interest. Marketers need to connect with these tribes of people, whether they are the Red Hat Society, “Star Wars” fans or triathletes. But the connection has to be genuine, or tribe members will see right through it, Godin said. “You need a micro channel to talk to the people who care,” he said.