Seth Godin is an author, a marketer and a climate activist but most of all he’s a teacher. He’s also an incredible podcast guest.
In this episode we discuss:
- A $50billion mistake
- What the internet has in common with the rail road and oil
- Open v closed systems
- Wheeler’s Which and the value of the old school
- Smallest delightable audience (SDA™️)
- Tesla and crossing the chasam
- Cows, concrete and carbon footprint
- Pricing carbon fairly
- Was Gandhi right?
- How to write a book
For more than thirty years, Seth has been trying to turn on lights, inspire people and teach them how to level up. His blog has been appearing daily for more than a decade.
He has spent most of his professional life as a writer, publishing 20 bestselling books that have been translated into nearly 40 languages. These books are a great way to go deep into a concept, and he hopes many of them stand the test of time.
Along the way through his career, Seth has found countless detours, interesting projects, designed to inspire and entertain you as you continue to do your work.
In 2015, Seth created the altMBA. It’s a life-changing 30-day workshop and it’s entirely possible it will change your life. It’s now part of Akimbo, which is now an independently owned entity, a B corp, creating new ways to learn. More than 60,000 people have taken his online courses, including The Marketing Seminar and several on Udemy.
He’s a member of the Guerrilla Marketing Hall of Fame, the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame and, just recently, the plain old no-modifier Marketing Hall of Fame. Which is pretty cool.
Seth is an industry leader and marketing royalty. To use his words: “Go, make a ruckus.”
Find Seth at seths.blog
The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu
Neal McCullough – Hand Drawn Creative, the man behind that beautiful bit of artwork
Big Marketing Meet Up – where I first met Seth
Strategy Sessions Host – Andi Jarvis
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This transcript has been done automagically using Happy Scribe and hasn’t been checked by a real person, so there may be some hilarious mistakes where the AI can’t work out our accents – I’m sure they’re trained on just the American accent.
[00:00:04.210] – Andi J
Seth Godin, welcome to the Strategy Sessions. I want to start with the same question I ask everyone when they join the show. What one thing do you wish you’d have known 10 years ago?
[00:00:14.350] – Seth G
It’s good to see you. I read science fiction starting from the time I was nine. I’ve read most of it. And one of the things you learn about time travel and immortality is that people can do time travel and people who are immortal are very unhappy. And if you knew what you needed to know, then tomorrow would have no promise to it. So there’s nothing I wish I knew 10 years ago. There’s lots of ways I could have profited from things 10 years ago, ways I could have made my life happier, but I don’t want to know.
[00:00:50.200] – Andi J
I remember the firm is seen in Back to the Future. I think it’s number two, maybe number three, where Biff manages to get the almanac from the future so you can bet on all the sports games. So yes, you can profit from the future. But that’s really interesting that there’s nothing you would have wanted to change.
[00:01:10.220] – Seth G
I’ve made more mistakes and had more failures than most people. And if I hadn’t had them, I wouldn’t be me.
[00:01:18.680] – Andi J
And aren’t mistakes central to everything we do? Getting things wrong is an essential step in getting things right, isn’t it?
[00:01:27.550] – Seth G
It’s the exploration of it. And evolution doesn’t work unless we learn as we go. So I made a $50 billion mistake. That was my biggest one in cash money. But I’ve made errors in commission and omission, the things I forgot to say, the people I forgot to see or help. And I think about them every day, but they are an incredible part of who we become.
[00:01:53.490] – Andi J
Now, I’m going to make the classic podcast host mistake. And I’m going to first start by asking you about the $50 billion mistake, because that’s one of those the lights are flashing and the sirens are going off. But I am going to ask you about the more personal elements that you mentioned as well. But let’s start with the 50 billion mistake. Can you unpack that for us a little?
[00:02:14.290] – Seth G
Oh, it’s pretty easy, and it was a great thing to have happen in retrospect. I started one of the first Internet companies. I started an Internet company before the World Wide Web. And we were working with Prodigy and AOL and CompuServe. And Mark Hurst, who was one of my early hires, came over to me one day and said, There’s this new thing called the World Wide Web. And I said, That’s stupid. It’s not as fast as Prodigy. It has no business model. We have nothing to do with this. And David and Jerry saw Yahoo and they started a search engine. I saw the World Wide Web and they started a search engine. And I saw it and I went back to work. And the end result is my half of Yahoo belonged to them. Starting a search engine back then would have been easy and obvious if you knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t. So I went back to making email.
[00:03:11.280] – Andi J
Making email is still. I saw someone describe email recently as the cockroach of the internet. If you think of what has been and gone in the internet since email was invented, yet email, despite every… I don’t know anyone who doesn’t complain about their email, and it’s still here.
[00:03:31.160] – Seth G
I don’t complain about my email. I had my first email address in 1976. I invented email marketing, and it’s now a $50 billion industry, and I don’t get any piece of it. Fine with me. But the problem with email is that it’s an open API. Anybody can plug into it. And what I tried to sell people on when I was at Yahoo, I met with AOL and four other big companies, and I was like, We can solve this problem in one day. We just need to have stamps. There were stamps for email. All the problems with it would go away.
[00:04:07.850] – Andi J
And there was no-.
[00:04:10.190] – Seth G
They weren’t willing to-.
[00:04:10.980] – Andi J
-desire from the.
[00:04:11.460] – Seth G
Other companies to- They were like, This isn’t broken. Let’s just leave it because our stock price went up in three dollars since we started this meeting. We’re not going to do something bold right now.
[00:04:20.850] – Andi J
Do you see any similarities between those early days of the internet and the early days of other great American industries? I see often compared to the early days of the railroad, the early days of oil and the story of standard oil and things like that, which again does connect into the railway story. But do you see those comparisons with the early days of the internet?
[00:04:45.290] – Seth G
Well, I wasn’t there for the railroad part, but I have been there.
[00:04:50.550] – Andi J
I certainly wasn’t suggesting.
[00:04:53.930] – Seth G
I know. I have been there for the- I’m sorry, I certainly wasn’t suggesting. I know. I have been there for the early days of a bunch of these industries. I was there at the beginning of DVD. I was there at the beginning of online networks. I was there at the beginning of the computer game business in the ’80s. And I’m hooked on that feeling. And there are some things in common. I would say this era has more in common with the hustle, fraud, antitrusting that went on in the early 1900s. Because this time around, the governments, the legislatures were intimidated by the technology because they didn’t want to spend the four hours it would take to understand it. And so it was easier to just pretend crypto didn’t exist than to get Samuel Bankman-Fried to explain himself. And when we think about something like net neutrality, for example, the free market is not the solution to many of the problems that people think they have. That net neutrality is essential to the Internet growing and developing, but that’s not the free market. The free market, if left to their own devices, ATT, Verizon, and the rest would choke the big services, et cetera, et cetera.
[00:06:13.240] – Seth G
I think that what we discovered with the railroads is only after we regulated them did they start to work well.
[00:06:22.560] – Andi J
And the railroads certainly, well, not just in America, but quite disparate weren’t there in the early days, which I think is another comparison? There was just hundreds of whether speculators or businessmen involved in building their own railroads from A to B, but they didn’t connect to C to D or E to F. And it just became this whole mess and then became centralised a little bit more, which again, as you said, made them work better. And I think the comparisons are there really aren’t in between the early days of those industries.
[00:06:52.620] – Seth G
Yeah. I mean, when Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell stole the telephone. He invented the network. And the network is why the telephone was a home run. So what we see is this tension on the internet. And for marketers, it’s important to understand there’s a tension between the open systems, things like WordPress and the API of email, and the closed systems, which is you can’t get your data out of Facebook no matter what. And open systems become pervasive. They create productivity, connexion. But as soon as someone tries to make a profit, it seems to them that what they should do is close their system. And we are watching one more time with AI a race for people to close their system. If people are interested in this Tim Wo’s book, The Big Switch, it’s absolutely must read. It will change the way you see networks.
[00:07:52.160] – Andi J
Okay. I have a little book recommendation section at the end, so I’ll drop that in already. Excellent. This is already speaking to my heart, this podcast, Seth, I must tell you. I love looking at the old days, whether that was five years ago, 50 years ago, 500 years ago, and finding comparisons with what’s happening today and making it stick. In fact, the place we first met at the big marketing meet up in Belfast, thanks to Trina for helping organise this, my presentation was about looking at some things, it’s called Back to the future. It was looking at the old days of marketing and sales and showing how that is still relevant today and therefore relevant tomorrow as well. And one of the people who’s the cornerstone of my presentation is a gentleman by the name of Elma Wheeler.
[00:08:42.540] – Seth G
Who- The Wheeler Witch. I was ready to talk about that.
[00:08:45.300] – Andi J
I use Elmer Wheeler’s five selling principles as the cornerstone of a presentation, but tell us about Wheeler’s Which, because it’s a stunning bit of reframing, I suppose. That is… Well, look, I’ll shut up. You tell us about Wheeler’s Which?
[00:09:01.450] – Seth G
You’re doing great. Zig Ziglar was my friend. He was my teacher. He was my mentor. I have memorised hundreds of hours of Zig’s recordings. I used to listen to them over and over and over again. Some of them you can find online for free. Others are lost or you have to go get a DVD player. And in one of the stories he tells, he explains that in the 1920s and into the ’30s, when the depression hit in the United States, soda fountains were a big industry. Soda Fountain was in every town. You would go and sit at the counter and instead of drinking whiskey, you would have a milk shake. And the people who worked at the Soda Fountain were called Jerks. They were Soda Jerks. And a chain of Soda Fountains hired Elmer Wheeler to increase their revenue because during the depression, everything was slow. And one of the things that they would do is if you bought an ice cream soda or an ice cream milk shake, sometimes for an extra nickel, people would add an egg to it, a raw egg. That sounds horrible to me, but for extra protein, because that would be your big meal of the day.
[00:10:12.060] – Seth G
And what Wheeler taught the jerks was simple. If someone orders a soda, you then say one egg or two. What happened was a huge percentage of people who had previously had no eggs started saying, Just one, please. He generated, who knows how many millions of dollars in revenue from one egg or two. The wheel of which then is this idea that we probably benefit as marketers by saying this or that as opposed to saying yes or no.
[00:10:47.880] – Andi J
I love how… The previous guest on the podcast is Rory Sutherland, who I don’t know if you know, he’s another best-selling author that talks a lot about behavioural science and things like that. He’s always looking for different ways to reframe problems. And I love the option between give them the choice between something and something rather than something and nothing. You see it in SaaS product pages where they’re trying to make you buy a subscription and various ways, it still lives on today. So I love that from the 20s and 30s, a simple sales technique for eggs into soda is still relevant now, and a channel of distribution that is hugely different in a world that people then couldn’t see. Yeah. And it still holds true. Can you think of any other areas of old school marketing or old school sales that still live on today?
[00:11:41.340] – Seth G
Well, let’s talk about the biggest one that doesn’t, because that, I think, will help us get to the heart of it. And your talk at Belfast was terrific. The biggest one that doesn’t exist is in the US, three TV networks, or in the UK. I don’t know how many you guys had, like two.
[00:11:59.460] – Andi J
Or something. It was two initially. We ended up with five, but that was a recent thing.
[00:12:03.890] – Seth G
So if you were on a TV network and there’s only three things to watch, your job is not to win. Your job is just keep your third. And if you can get your third to get to 40 %, you get promoted. And if you’re an advertiser, you understand that mass is the key to everything. So you can sell Fluffer, Nutter, and Tide, and you can build marks and sparks. And it’s about the masses because that’s the only thing you can do is reach the masses because the smallest viable audience is not available to you. You have to pile up as much money as you can by as many ads as you can afford, make average stuff for average people, and advertise it like crazy. And when the Internet came along, marketers were thrilled because they got advertising for free that they used to pay for. And they kept the history of the Internet, and I was there from the beginning. The history has been trying to turn it into television. That if we can just make it into television, the advertisers will be happy because they understand how to do that. And there’s still ads on YouTube that look like they should be running on network TV, right?
[00:13:09.640] – Seth G
They’ve completely missed the point. It’s not about reaching everyone now, it’s about reaching someone. There aren’t three networks. There’s more than a billion networks. So the upside is not in selling average laundry soap to average customers. It’s in finding left handed woodworkers who want to make dovetails. It’s in finding people who are tired of buying liquid soap because they see what it does to the climate and they want to buy those little pieces of paper that you can drop in. The more specific we are, the better we do. So when we think about this shift, now I can go back to 1880. Now I can go back to Wedgwood who invented modern marketing. I keep this on my desk. I don’t get to talk about this very often. This is a piece of modern Wedgwood that some of my students gave me. And Josiah Wedgwood invented direct mail. Josiah Wedgwood invented the retail showroom. He invented paying his people with health insurance. He invented selling on commission. One guy in the UK invented all of that. And it’s all true now. And so we have to take out the part that went from 1920 to 2000, which is let’s make average stuff for everyone and go back to the idea of being specific.
[00:14:34.340] – Andi J
So again, the gentleman on before you, so it was Rory Silverland. Sorry. So the one before Rory was a guy called David Mannheim. Sorry, I forgot David’s name for a second then. He runs a company that is called Made with Intent, and they are aiming to really ramp up personalization. But what he refers to as proper personalization, he believes that personalization in the internet era is recommendations, and that’s not personalization. But he also believes that personalization has been lost along the way because the PLCs have effectively signed up to the Friedman Doctrine, quarterly earnings calls. We’ve got to drive the stockholder prices, and that’s the only thing that we’re interested in. Senior leadership teams are incentivized in stock bonuses, so they’re only interested in driving that up as well. And along the way, personalization is not actually personalization anymore. It’s just about recommendations to sell more things.
[00:15:28.560] – Seth G
[00:15:29.670] – Andi J
Know, so this move away from TV to, Oh, we now have this opportunity for personalization. Have we missed it? Because we’re too obsessed with the shareholder return. Have we missed the opportunity this presents?
[00:15:41.700] – Seth G
Well, shareholder return is a four-sided knife and none of the sides are good. But I would amplify what David told you by saying there’s a difference between personalization and personal. No one actually wants personalization. What they want is for it to be personal about them. Whether you put my name in an email doesn’t make it personalised. They’re figuring out how to iterate to make it look like I have it for me. If I don’t feel like it’s about me, if I don’t feel like there’s a personal thing going on, I’ll just buy someone cheaper than you. And so the race to the bottom that public companies go through is the only way they can think of to grow fast and gain market shares to lower their prices. And then they make up for that by lowering their quality. And the race to the bottom, you might win. That’s not good. So the alternative is to say, what’s the smallest audience that would be worth delighting? And how do I delight them by charging them a lot, but giving them more than they pay for? Because if I do that and I race to the top with something personal for people who care, I get to do it again tomorrow.
[00:16:58.670] – Seth G
And that’s where a resilient business can be built.
[00:17:02.770] – Andi J
So the SDA, the smallest, delightful audience, because we love acronyms in marketing, don’t we? So the SDA is what we should be focused on. And I think as you were giving that example, my mind wanders to Tesla. And I don’t like talking about Tesla because I don’t particularly care for the person who runs them. But love him or hate him, he built a brand that people said was impossible to do. Only car manufacturers can build cars and so on and so on. But in the last year, in the face of declining demand, they’ve taken the classic move that any well trained marketer would tell you to stay away from, they’ve cut prices to keep generating market share. And it just seems to me to be the, I’m not looking at their figures. I’m not looking at their returns. I don’t know anything other than what I’ve read from the outside. But it just seems to me to be the most short sighted stupid move you could ever come up with.
[00:17:58.750] – Seth G
Okay, so I don’t usually rant about Tesla. I had a couple. I got rid of them because I didn’t want to drive around town with his name on my car. He did not start that company, and he just took it over. But what we have here is not a diminishing demand for electric cars. What we have is people who got excited about the curve of growth, extrapolating that it would go on in a certain direction, and it has slowed compared to what they expected. So what we’re seeing is actually classic Jeff Moore’s crossing of the chasm. That the people who bought an electric car five, seven years ago like me are geeks, nerds, people who were buying it not because it was better, but because it was first. And now the chasm is right here. The next group of people who are going to buy an electric car aren’t going to do it because they care. They’re going to do it because it’s the selfish, obvious, short term, safe thing to do. And the way a product crosses the chasm. So most people don’t know this. The Apple Newton, which has been much maligned, sold 100,000 units its first month.
[00:19:12.920] – Seth G
It was a massive home run because the geeks all bought one, right? I got one the first day. But then it hit the chasm because we showed it to our friends and said, what the hell is that? We don’t need one of these. And it disappeared. And so, in fact, while it’s easy to point to the cyber truck as an idiotic juvenile side road that is a dead end, lowering the price of their existing cars, and if they had done it even more aggressively, is the way you cross the chasm. You cross the chasm by saying, This is a three year old car. Notice the not very clever thing, they don’t have new model numbers. It’s just a model three. It’s the only one. Here’s the model three. It’s cheaper than a Toyota Camry. It’s better than a Toyota Camry. That’s all you need to know. Here it is. Because that’s how you get across the chasm. That’s how you get everybody to buy.
[00:20:10.440] – Andi J
That’s interesting. My thoughts on it were that by reducing the price… We don’t want to make this a podcast about Tesla.
[00:20:22.310] – Seth G
Okay, we can go into anything you want.
[00:20:24.090] – Andi J
By reducing the price, what they’ve done is… Because there is much more competition in the market now, so they’re trying to keep the market share, but as they reduce their profitability per unit, they actually make it harder to then do all the other things they need to do, such as provide shareholder return, innovate on a new design because they haven’t had one in years, advertise if they decide to start doing that. And the only way they have to go is they maybe have to reduce the quality of the product. In a market which is now being flooded with competitors of increasing quality, Chinese cars are starting to enter the market. Maybe not so much in America, but in the rest of the world, of increasing quality that are, according to some journalists, of better quality. So they just seem to be caught in almost like a death spiral, almost, that is really hard to shake out of. The old famous HBR, How do you fight a price war? Article. They seem to be making all the classic steps of getting it wrong at the beginning bit, and it’d be interesting to.
[00:21:19.290] – Seth G
See- Right. Well, let’s just talk about this generically, right? So I happen to have this here, so I can just show it to you.
[00:21:24.530] – Andi J
Here’s what I made earlier.
[00:21:25.990] – Seth G
So the thing is that the whole product solution that Moore talks about, which is what you’re going to get the early majority to be excited about, that is not the classic price war. The classic price war is the idea that we’re all making commodities. And so I’m going to lose money on the next one so I can just stay in business. It doesn’t work. What this is about is the experience curve. Most people who have a watch have a digital watch. Where do digital watches come from? Digital watches used to cost a thousand dollars just for the one that had the LED numbers on it. Texas Instruments did the math, and they figured out that if their production went up, they could lower the price that it costs them to make each watch. They jumped ahead of the experience curve, lost money on a million watches. By the time those million watches were sold, their assembly line was so cheap, no one could compete with them on watches because they had gone down the experience curve, but nobody else had. So when Tesla has mature adult management, they can figure out that they can go down an experience curve.
[00:22:42.420] – Seth G
They can make batteries cheaper than other people. They make frames cheaper than other people. So in fact, they’re not losing money on every car. They’re not having a price war. They’re differentiating by saying, We’re ahead of you on the experience curve, and you’re never going to catch up to us. Because ultimately, an electric car is software with wheels. And software has changed everything in our world because of the network effect and because of the experience curve. That once you get ahead, you can stay ahead. That’s what Google has done, for example.
[00:23:12.610] – Andi J
Yeah, absolutely. While we’re on electric cars, we’ll move off from Tesla and we’ll move on to the environment and climate change, which is something I know is close to your heart. I’d be interested in your thoughts on electric cars and their role in being a solution to the problems that we’ve created. You would see some people say electric cars are the solution. You’ll see others say, A million cars on the road, whether they’re electric or not, is still a million cars. And other people saying, Yeah, but what about the production? What are we going to do with the batteries when they get to the end of the useful life? And so on and so forth. What’s your take on this? I think you’ve spent more time looking at this type of thing than many people, so I’d be interested to hear that.
[00:23:52.310] – Seth G
So for context, I organised almost 2,000 people in 90 countries to create the Carbon Almanac. It’s been translated into eight languages, won a worldwide award for design. It’s a 97,000 word almanac of what we need to know and understand about the climate. And it’s all footnoted, not one significant error has been found since it came out. We were all volunteers, so I have nothing to pitch, but I would love to point people to it if they’re interested. I hope you’re interested because it’s our future.
[00:24:24.770] – Andi J
I’ll put a link in the show notes for that one.
[00:24:26.690] – Seth G
Here’s what we know. When we say the word solution, the Earth is going to be fine. It’s people that are going to have a problem. Millions and millions of climate refugees in just a couple of years from now, entire places on Earth that are inhabitable by humans, people are going to have a problem. But we know about the solution mostly. If we grow up in a Western culture of consumption, what we really mean is, what can I do that I will feel good about? Not, what can I do that will save the climate? Because when we look at the math of what is putting carbon equivalence into the air, that the amount of carbon equivalence in the air has gone from 320 a few years ago to 420 now. And when it gets to 500, the world, as we know it is over, 500 out of a million. So very, very, very, very, very tiny number. It’s like on an American football field, less than an inch of carbon out of 300 feet. With that understanding, we can either say, I will feel good by doing just a little bit more than all the people around me and not need to be exposed to the math, the science, and the engineering of it, because all I need to do is feel like I’m a little bit more virtuous than everybody else.
[00:25:53.690] – Seth G
The answer to that question is yes, that’s all we have to do. That electric cars will make you feel a little bit better than everybody else. But if we’re going to be serious about making an impact, one of the charts inside the almanac, the one that has stuck with me the most is this. Eight % of all the carbon equivalents in the air come from concrete, the production of concrete. And 25 % comes from cows. Cows in terms of using oil to fertilise the things they eat, using land to create the place for them to graze and stuff, and most of all, the way they burp and fart. If you are serious about the issue, just solve those two problems and one third of the problem goes away in one day. In one day. We don’t have to have any conversations about any little tiny things like composting your grape seeds. Composting your grape seeds is one millionth of the problem. Problem. That’s part of it. Then the other part, and I’m ranting and I know I’m ranting, at least where I live, gas-powered leaf blowers are endemic. They’re loud, they’re unfair to the people who get paid to use them.
[00:27:16.520] – Seth G
In one hour, a gas-powered leaf blower puts out as many carbon equivalent as driving a Ford F-150 gas-powered pickup truck from New York to Los Angeles. And still, in one hour. And that means that my neighbour, who usually has landscapers with three of them for one hour, he has undone all the benefits of his electric car every single week. The lifetime of owning the electric car nullified by one week’s worth of leaf blowing on his yard. I don’t bring it up because leaf blowers are going to save the world. I bring it up because if we can’t even fix the leaf blower problem, what are we talking about? There’s nothing easier to fix than the leaf blower problem, a rake or an electric leaf blower, either one. But we are so hooked on convenience that we don’t even want to stare into the problem.
[00:28:14.440] – Andi J
I feel I’m going to attribute the quote to the wrong person, so I maybe just won’t say a name. There’s a famous quote that says, if you want to change the world, you first have to change yourself, which I believe is Gandhi, but it may not have been, and I don’t want to answer. But when you’re saying this, and there’s a part of me saying, look, we need to solve the big things first, and if we solve them first, the minuteiae, it becomes less relevant. But do we all need to take that action of composting grapes or driving an electric car? Because that couple of billion people taking that small step at least creates the momentum for action. Yeah.
[00:28:53.540] – Seth G
Andy, that’s a great point. And one of the, I know that you like the history of marketing, I would argue that in the last 50 years, the single most successful, evil but successful marketing concept that was created was created by Ogilvy and Mayther. And it’s two words, carbon footprint. Their client was British Petroleum. British Petroleum hired them to come up with a phrase, carbon footprint, so that people like you and me would feel like hypocrites. Because if we are aware of our carbon footprint, how dare we try to change the system until we are pure. So I don’t like being a hypocrite, but we’re all hypocrites. I haven’t been on an aeroplane for work in three years. And part of the reason I do that is I don’t want to feel like I’m being that profligate. But the second reason is because some conferences are starting to pay attention and running things online that they might have organised for a thousand people. And so I have leveraged to do that a little bit. What we have to do, what we must do is change the system. So I agree with so much of what the Mahatma said, but in this case, he’s incorrect.
[00:30:04.130] – Seth G
We cannot make an impact on the climate by changing ourselves. The only way to do it is to change the system. And the system is actually quite open to change if we just organise a few dozen people. That two towns from me in Irvington, New York, leafblowers are against the law, took four years. And they’re against the law because 30 people just kept showing up. And those 30 people had an impact far outside of what would have happened if just the 30 of them had stopped using leafblowers.
[00:30:39.080] – Andi J
That’s a great point as well. I thought you were saying when you said organising the number of people, you were going to make a very different point. There was a piece in The Guardian recently about the impact of a very small number of very rich people, or rich people on climate change because they are outsized in their use of private jets and transport. And then even down to the middle classes, which people listening to this by the nature of marketers, certainly within this country, are probably middle class, so this might feel like an attack on them. But the middle classes by a Western standard, is actually quite a very small number of people by global standards. So somewhere between the middle classes and the filthy rich, we have a huge outsized input on climate change. And I thought the angle you were going to go when you said about the small number of people saying, if we can just get the top one % of earners to stop using private jets, we’ll change everything. But there is something in that as well, isn’t there? I think.
[00:31:36.840] – Seth G
Well, I don’t know how to do that. And what I do know is that if we had a system that’s not hard to articulate where everybody in a developed first world country got a check in the mail every month that was paid for 100 % by an appropriate price on carbon, it would mean that if you want to fly your private jet from London to New York, it would cost $450,000, which is what it actually costs all of us for you to do that. So people who want to do it will do it, and the money they spend will go to everybody else who’s affected by the fact that they did it. If we priced carbon accurately, the world would shift in a minute because price is a signal. That’s the system, the big system that’s missing. If people spent as much time on that as they spend composting their grapeseeds, it would happen.
[00:32:36.340] – Andi J
As I’m listening to you, Seth, I’m thinking if you were making this argument and running for the presidency of France, you would given their socialist link, you’d be probably be in with a chance of winning. And certainly in many European countries, Germany and the like, some of these points you’re making would put you very top of the polls. There’s a bit of me that thinks if you make these points too loudly in the United States of America, you’re going to have a mob with pitchforks outside your house telling you that you’re a communist and your house needs burning down and all this type of thing. I’m being a little bit of over the top here, but is there something particularly American about the changing this system that just sounds grossly unfair to an American here?
[00:33:22.890] – Seth G
Well, I think we need to examine two things. One is stories and the other one is indoctrination. Stories are what people pay attention to. So, for example, in the US, in the last few years, we have spent more than $50 billion with tax subsidies that people paid to subsidise the price of beef. When people hear that, it doesn’t match what they think of about cowboys. It doesn’t match what they think of about American independence. And so the stories bump into each other. And the indoctrination… The indoctrination of Western culture, the indoctrination of how we do things around here starts very early in every country. And what we do is after 20 or 30 years of indoctrination, we just come up with one word, is that you’re a socialist, and run away without actually wanting to dissect the stories. That’s why systems stick around. The status quo is the status quo because it’s good at sticking around. And so what marketers need to do is tell true stories that hold up to scrutiny that undo systems that we have subconsciously and unconsciously embraced. And in the almanac, there’s a memo on the original paper typed from Exxon in 1982.
[00:34:47.700] – Seth G
And a senior engineer at Exxon wrote a four-page memo in which he described to a tenth of a degree exactly what was going to happen to the climate. And it is 40 years later, and he was right. He was right. He was right. He was right. He was right. It’s been known for a long time. We’re not having a science argument. We are marketers, all of us. And what marketers do is tell resident stories that spread to make a change happen. A lot of the best marketers in the world right now are working to fool people into thinking that net zero is right around the corner and to fool people into thinking that it’s okay to go buy the next thing. I think there’s an enormous opportunity, the biggest opportunity since the internet for marketers to make profit and to make a change happen by seeing these systems and getting on the right side of history.
[00:35:39.310] – Andi J
I don’t know what to say. A very good point. I think there’s a lot of marketers and a lot of effort being put into polishing things that if they just let us pull the curtain back and tell people the story of what’s really happening, it feels like the tobacco story, and it took so long for that to come out into the open. And although it feels different, though, because it feels like the story is out in the open. It’s just been obfuscated better by people with more money and more vested interests. And the COP26, 2080 is on at the moment with the chair of that saying, I don’t know about the science of climate change. The chair of that also happens to run a very oil-rich nation as well. I take your point. So moving on from the climate set. The almanac is your latest book, and it’s the latest, the 20th book.
[00:36:36.760] – Seth G
I don’t think of it as my book. I think of it as something I organised. My latest book is called The Song of Significance. And came out in May, and it’s about work worth doing. It’s about telling the truth to our team members and showing up after the great resignation, after we all got a look at what the end might be like and saying, Why are we even here and what are we going to do about it? And it turns out that building a significant organisation is its own reward. It will make you more money, but it will also make you better.
[00:37:17.030] – Andi J
Your books have changed, not changed, but changed in theme over time. And is that just as you’ve grown as a person and developed and your career has moved on over the years since you’ve written your first book?
[00:37:28.400] – Seth G
I happily listen to my old audiobooks because I like to be reminded of who I was back then. And it’s interesting to be able to re-meet that person. I redefined marketing, I wasn’t the only person, but I redefined marketing in 1998 by saying it’s not advertising, it’s everything we do. It’s if it touches the market, it’s marketing. Well, once you do that, everything is marketing. And so I can write about anything I want. And you are right that I now have more of a benefit of the doubt that permits me to write the kinds of things I would have written 20 years ago if someone would have let me. But I did a book called Wisdom Inc. When I was a book packager in 1994 that rimes with The Song of Significates. So I don’t feel like I’ve changed the story I want to tell. I do feel like the marketplace is significantly more open to taking a deep breath and thinking about something more than how do we make the quarterly numbers go up.
[00:38:40.300] – Andi J
I want to ask you a question I asked you in Belfast at the marketing meetup event about your books. Based on a conversation I had with a guy by the name of Dave Burz, and it was based on scientists, I think physicists, particularly, love coming up with ideas 20, 30 years ago, and they love debunking their own ideas and proving them not to be true. And the question I asked then, and the same one I’ll ask now is, do you look at some of your early books and think, that’s not true anymore? That’s changed a lot since then. Is there anything that you look at and go, maybe I should have been… That’s not right now.
[00:39:15.500] – Seth G
I think that the optimism that I brought into the book tribes needed to be balanced with, Oh, if we give everybody a microphone, some of those people are going to be voices of division. Some of those are going to try to make things worse. That we need to shine a light and say, this is not all one-sided. When we give everybody the power to do what they want to do, a platform, a media company, some of them are going to cravingly seek profit at the expense of everything else. I’m not sure if I’d written that, it would have made any difference. But as one of the early internet philosophers, I am as guilty as any of them as being too optimistic.
[00:40:02.440] – Andi J
And as you say, nobody knew then what we see now, but that’s part of life.
[00:40:09.620] – Seth G
I suppose. But it was predictable. It was predictable, but we all drank the flavorade and.
[00:40:16.890] – Andi J
I’m aware we’re coming into the time of the last lap on this podcast. There’s a couple more questions I want to throw at you. There was a quote you gave to, it may have been to another man by the name of Jarvis. It may have been to Chase Jarvis. I’m not entirely sure. No relation that I know of anyway. But you said something like you got 20 best selling books, and not one of them has been bought by more than 1 % of the US population, and that’s success. I think there’s a real lesson in there for marketers. Do you want to explain what you meant by that?
[00:40:46.540] – Seth G
Yeah. I mean, you and I talked about this 20 minutes ago, the smallest viable audience. So many marketers believe that if they don’t aim big, they’re going to fail. And what I have lived is you don’t need to be known by anybody to a rounding error, 99 % unawareness, zero % market share. That’s enough. What you need to do is matter. You need to be someone that some people would miss if you were gone, not someone who has massive market share among average price seekers. But it’s very gutsy to make that choice to say, We will stand for something, not pander for everything.
[00:41:30.570] – Andi J
You’re right. The smallest viable audience, or what do we call? The SDA, the smallest delightful audience.
[00:41:37.230] – Seth G
I like that better. I should have said delighted. That’s a good-.
[00:41:40.220] – Andi J
I think that might be the name of my first book there. The smallest delightful audience by.
[00:41:44.780] – Seth G
Please write that book. I will buy the first copy.
[00:41:48.060] – Andi J
Thank you very much. I might even sign it as well. But as someone who’s, well, I’m in my 40s now, so obviously I’ve tried to write a book and still haven’t. I struggle with the creative process, and you are a person who creates every single day and has been doing for a very long time on Seth’s blog. What’s the secret? How do you keep going and keep churning out stuff that’s useful? Because there are many people in the industry who churn out lots of stuff, but it’s not useful.
[00:42:15.730] – Seth G
This is true. I’m not here to pitch books, but I wrote a whole book to answer your question. It’s called The Practise. I don’t have more talent than you, for sure, but I have a method and I have a practise. And when you have your practise, you can leave behind all the drama and simply do the work. You chop the wood, you carry the water, and you do the work. And I write my blog, 9,000 posts so far because I want to, not because I have to. And if it’s not good enough, it’s not going to get published. I write four or five posts a day, and I only publish one. And you can have a practise. If you know how to talk, you know how to write.
[00:42:53.800] – Andi J
I have a friend who runs every second day and has been since lockdown, and he’s now hit so many days and so many miles that it’s almost like a badge of honour now. So it doesn’t matter what happens, doesn’t matter the weather, doesn’t matter if he’s at a beer the night before he has to run. Are you now at that stage where the agreement you’ve made with yourself is so high that actually to take a day off would be, because then you’ve got to start again. You know, it’s so high you’ve got to start from zero. Is that an agreement you’ve made with yourself?
[00:43:23.180] – Seth G
Well, from a marketing consistency point of view, the streak is worth something, and I’m not going to let the streak break. So if I get the flu, the streak will not break because I can have some in the queue. And so I’m not worried about the streak breaking until after I’m dead. But there was a time eight years ago when I was like, I don’t really feel like it. And then the marketer to me said, You can’t break the streak. But now it’s not an issue because there’s a cushion and the streak isn’t worth very much financially, but it’s something I like to be able to say, I didn’t break that one today.
[00:44:04.440] – Andi J
Brilliant. Well, look, just before I let you go to your next meeting, Seth, I want to just hold up to the camera. If you’re watching the podcast, a very talented artist by the name of Neil McCullough, hand-drawn creative based in Belfast, created this bit of artwork, Seth. Now I understand you have a copy as well, haven’t you?
[00:44:19.960] – Seth G
It’s arrived. I’m sorry I don’t have it here to hold up, but let’s pretend I am.
[00:44:23.770] – Andi J
I apologise. I’ll keep it on stage. Yes, there’s only five of these ever made, and I’m proud to have one of the five. So it was just a nice little treat at the end. So I just wanted to give Neil a shout out and just say.
[00:44:36.400] – Seth G
Lovely. Thank you, Neil.
[00:44:38.300] – Andi J
Well, Seth, thank you very much for your time. We could have literally spent hours and hours on this, but I know you’re a very busy man, and I am hugely grateful for your time to join the strategy sessions and to be part of this. So thank you very much.
[00:44:51.070] – Seth G
Well, thank you, Andy. You’re very generous and the way you’re leading, it matters. So keep making this ruckus. I appreciate it.
[00:44:57.330] – Andi J
Thank you very much. Seth, we’ll talk again soon.