Want to Understand Your Customers Talk to Seth Godin

Seth Godin writes the most popular marketing blog in the world — and he gets customer experience.

As he once noted,  "The complaining customer doesn't want a refund. He wants a connection, an apology and some understanding. He wants to know why you made him feel stupid or ripped off or disrespected, and why it's not going to happen again." 

And he knows that an apology means more than a mumbled "sorry." It has to include both compassion and contrition, he wrote recently:

We're sorry that your flight was cancelled. This must have truly messed up your day, sir." That's a statement of compassion. "Cancelling a flight that a valued customer trusted us to fly is not the way we like to do business. We messed up." That's what contrition sounds like. We were wrong and we learned from it. The disappointing thing is that most people and organizations that take the time to apologize intentionally express neither compassion nor contrition."

Godin is the founder of Squidoo.com, a fast-growing recommendation website, and the author of 17 bestselling books. He is responsible for many words in the marketer's vocabulary, including permission marketing, ideaviruses, purple cows, the dip and sneezers.

Combine what has been called his "irrepressible speaking style" with his "no-holds-barred blog" and you can understand how he has developed a worldwide following. 

Reimagining the World


On Oct. 2, Godin is joining fellow authors Dave Ramsey, a personal money-management expert and radio host, and Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of Wine Library TV — a daily video blog about wine — to host an event at Lincoln Center in New York City. Business Gets Personal will offer keynotes, panels and networking opportunities. 

Godin will "show you how to make a difference in a world that needs you by ditching the system and pioneering a path that follows your heart." What's that mean, exactly? CMSWire caught up with him to find out.

Sobel: I was first introduced to you and your work when I received a copy of your book “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.” As much as I was impressed with the book it was the unique marketing plan that got my copy in the mail. It it was in some sort of milk carton. Can you explain about that promotion and did it work?

Godin: Indeed, it came in a milk carton. I self-published it —no publisher would touch me then — and offered the milk carton at cost to readers of Fast Company magazine. They didn’t know how I’d be sending it, just that they’d get a book.

The magic, of course, is that once someone sends you a milk carton with a book in it, you show people! And that conversation, of course, was the point of the book. I’ve engaged in other self-referential marketing projects since then, but that was the best one.

Sobel: In Purple Cow, you talk about a road trip in France were there were only green pastures and cows for several hundred miles. But then there was one cow, which took the whole tourist group by surprise. A purple cow. It was unusual, kind of odd, never mind good or bad, but for sure it was remarkable.

In the book you say that creative advertising is less effective because of clutter and advertising avoidance. It advocates that companies produce remarkable products and target people who are likely to spread word of mouth about the product. The book was written 11 years ago in 2003. How have things changed...or have they?

Godin: Just more! The death of advertising is only getting more obvious. The rise of remarkable products for weird consumers is only increasing.

Sobel: In a recent blog post entitled “What's wrong with your website?” you say “the secret (to online success) is maximizing the things that can't work in real life. The viral effects, the upside of remarkable products and services, the horizontal movement of ideas, from person to person, not from you to the market." Can you explain that in a bit more detail?

Godin: The old model is to make a thing that’s somehow ‘better’. But as we’ve seen from many products that have reached the peak of their betterness, that’s not so easy to do. What we can do, though, is make them more fun to talk about. We can make them tribal signifiers. We can add meaning. We can do work that matters.

Sobel: Talking about remarkable a few years ago you were speaking at the BRITE conference (Columbia University/Center of Global Brand Leadership) and the first thing you did was lift up your trousers and show off your socks. You said they were manufactured by a small company called “LittleMissMatched” but you said “LittleMissMatched socks is not a sock company. It just mastered being in the conversation.” Can you share that story with us and why it’s important?

Godin: It’s pretty simple: socks are mostly a commodity. Instead of making more commodities, LittleMissMatched makes a conversation. Twelve-year-old girls now have one more thing to talk about in school. What’s that worth? Last year, the company sold $40,000,000 worth of socks and other mismatched gear.

Sobel: A number of years ago you hosted a Revolution Conference here in New York City. At the event you took a hard look at sticking points in various businesses. On Oct. 2, you will be part of a unique program called Business Gets Personal. Can you talk a bit about that event and what you are planning?

Godin: Here’s the thing: we learn better together. We get out of our safety zone. We see what excites our peers. We meet someone smarter than us, sitting right next to us. I’m just there to instigate, but it’s the audience that’s going to lead each other.

Sobel: In addition to “Purple Cow...” you have written more than a dozen bestselling books that have been translated into more than 30 languages. Your company, Squidoo.com, is ranked among the top 90 sites in the US and you created your own publishing imprint called The Domino Project. But what I found most fascinating was your book “The Icarus Deception” and the way you marketed it. You used Kickstarter You were originally looking to raise $40,000 but have raised more than $280,000 to date. How do you do it all and how can our readers learn more about you and your work and how was the experience working with Kickstarter?

Godin: Well, I did the Kickstarter thing as an experiment, as most of my work is stuff that might not work. It looks like it took three hours to hit my goal there, but it actually took ten years. Ten years of showing up, sharing, teaching. I earned permission and trust, and the Kickstarter just gave people a way to take action.

I hope that people who want to make a difference will join Dave, Gary and me in New York. We’re going to try to change minds, and we hope those minds will change the world.