“All I want to do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom.” 

– Wreckx-n-Effect

I doubt many of us really want to “zoom” – or do any of the other eight or so conferencing tools that are out there. But when we held a roundtable discussion with Digital Marketing Guru Seth Godin and six global marketing executives, we all admitted we were relieved we weren’t on planes. So I guess it’s all relevant. 

Which was the point of the roundtable – to discuss being relevant, and staying relevant when everything under our feet is shifting. This is particularly true in the Ecommerce industry where the physical world has shut down and the digital one has borne a new species of competitor. 

I learned of Godin early in my career when I heard him speak at a Yahoo! sales conference. At the time, my little company in South Africa was the sole sales agent for Yahoo! in southern Africa. Godin had recently sold his company YoYoDyne to Yahoo! and was fresh off the book tour for “Permission Marketing” – one of his early best-selling must-reads. 

Somewhat star-struck, I and hundreds of others in the audience, swallowed every utterance, and it set me on a course of consuming pretty much everything he has written since – including his daily wisdomsLooking back to check my timeline facts, I was somewhat shocked to see YoYoDyne had actually been bought by Yahoo! on October 12, 1998 – literally, last century. And 22 years, 1 month, and 7 days later, I had the opportunity to moderate this virtual roundtable. 

The roundtable was actually my second go around with him inside of a month. He spoke at our Relevance 360 Conference, on how being relevant is a form of differentiation. 

Sit Down with Godin
Watch: Relevance Is How You Differentiate

Indeed, when he addressed our guests at the roundtable, he took time to note how each one of the companies represented impacted his life personally. He strove for that connection immediately, and by the notes I received after, I can say without hesitation that he succeeded. 

So much has changed in the last two decades, yet some things remain elemental truths. Seth reminded me of those again this week.: 

  • Be ”peculiar”
  • Be idiosyncratic 
  • Be remarkable

Peculiar seems like a peculiar word – but actually, in Latin, it means “cattle as private property,” which is a way of saying it is “owned.” “If you are peculiar, it means you own it,” Godin explains. And if something is peculiar to you — it means you are different. You will stand out. You own that. Of course, the crux is to stand out for the right things.

In our conversation all of us at the table wanted him to input how we stand out and be remarkable in a world that’s gone a little nuts. I’ve tried to capture our guests’ questions succinctly and excerpted Godin’s responses for brevity. 

So here is my recap of Godin Musings. 

Approaching the Holiday Season

Question: We are ensconced in our homes, zooming 24/7. How should Ecommerce companies approach the holiday season?

In “This is Marketing” I talk about two things almost all humans keep track of – whether they are in a small village in rural India or somewhere in Washington DC – affiliation, status, and dominance.

Affiliation means how am I fitting in with who’s next to me. Status and dominance are who’s above me, who’s below. How am I winning, How am I losing? The holiday season – amazingly, paradoxically, sadly – is about both of those things. Sometimes we’re buying luxury goods or engaging in aggressive gift-giving as a means of displaying our status.

As we enter this [holiday season] people are spending as much as 30 percent of their discretionary income, often in a panic. They’re probably in a panic because they don’t want to be left behind, they’re probably in a panic because they have something to prove.

Part of our goal as providers is to say, you came here with a problem, you’re going to leave without a problem. And that’s one of the reasons why search is so important. Because the only time anyone types anything into a search box is when they have a problem. And if you can help them solve that problem in the moment, the release of that tension is something they’ll happily pay for. 

Trust Advertising

Question: In 2014, you wrote about the shift from TV to digital (including Facebook) and about direct response vs trust vs demand enhancement advertising. As a proponent of trust advertising, can we achieve this via digital channels when you don’t have time for the story or connection?

Okay, so first that’s a great question. The thing about the internet is it’s not a mass medium. Television is the last mass medium, and the internet is a brilliant micro medium. When I was at Yahoo, we sold out the home page for two years in advance because foolish marketers wanted to buy “the internet.” They want to tell their boss, we bought mass. So if you can’t buy mass, you can buy specificity. The opportunity is to buy the right specificity. And this so far has mostly favored small specific organizations.  

When I was building Akimbo, which I don’t own anymore. It’s now a B court. We were spending a significant portion of our revenue on Facebook ads, establishing trust, not measuring direct marketing, but we were establishing it with a very small group of people. 

You need to be sitting with your ad people and insist that they’re not doing something that can be measured because the minute they start to measure it, they will start to hack it and when they start to hack it, they will become direct marketers. It’s really hard for me to see how a business like yours grows with just more direct marketing until you’ve built a new level of trust and affiliation.

COVID Winners and Losers

Question:What are your thoughts about those industries that have all of a sudden taken big winnings as a result of COVID and those that have seen big losses as a result of COVID?

I feel your pain. [In the past] we have gone through very significant cycles of creative destruction, and they’re usually caused by capitalism’s desire to eat itself. This wasn’t caused by that. This was caused by a rewiring of how people affiliate,  how they seek to grow. And making it a matter of life or death really focused the attention of a lot of people.

Here’s my guess. My guess is that the middle is going to be hollowed out. There is going to be a growth of things that are cheap, because they’re cheap. And there’s going to be a growth of things that are worth it because they’re worth it. And so if we need to bring people together in an office setting. We’re going to do it right, or we’re not going to do it at all.

The whole idea that we return to normal makes absolutely no sense to me. We accelerated the acceleration of Zoom by five years with COVID – you can look at the graphs. And that means that if someone wants someone like me to get on a plane they’re going to need a much better reason than they used to. If you’re used to paying X number of dollars per square foot to warehouse your employees, you’re going to need a much better reason. But I’m wrong a lot so that’s just a pontification.

Being Human Through Computers

Question: With COVID it’s very difficult for commercial salespeople to be in front of the actual decision-maker. How do we use digital to bring that human aspect of human-to-human interaction?

You used to be able to hustle people or hype people by using social pressure to get their attention and make a sale. And you used to be able to use geographic proximity and 400 other techniques to get in front of someone who wasn’t on the journey and somehow sell them on the next step. That spamming hustling hyping, no one ever liked that, but we didn’t have a lot of choices, and now we do.

What you get to do instead is find the people who want to go where you are already going. And so the race in the future is to raise your flag and say, if you want this we have it. And I think if we look at an organization like Disney, in its best moments over the last 90 years. Its best moments have always been. “This is what we do. If you’re looking for a Down to Earth punk experience don’t come to Disney World, that’s not what we do here.” And so be specific to the smallest viable audience.

Learn more about how to hold onto humanity in a wholly digital world
Read: Bringing Humanity into Digital Experiences with Relevance

Amazon B2B 

Question: Will Amazon do for B2B – with all the risks that go with that – what they’ve done to B2C?

One of the things I learned is that Amazon doesn’t know how to sell anything. They only know how to sell everything. They don’t care, deep in their DNA, what they sell. The system will not allow a merchant to do their job. You put the data in, the system does its thing. 

So that means if you’re a commodity provider of B2B stuff, Amazon’s gonna destroy you. But if you sell something that needs to be sold not bought. If you sell something that is specific not generic Amazon can’t touch you, because they don’t know what it is to promote a thing that someone wasn’t already looking for. So you do not want to be a category. You want to be something unto yourself. And Jeff, I think, has never wanted that piece of the business because it doesn’t lend itself to the algorithm. And for him. The algorithm is way more comfortable than people.

Dig Deeper

For more golden Godin musings, be sure to tune in to his talk from Relevance 360: Relevance Is How You Differentiate

Don’t have the time to watch it? Then read this: Bringing Humanity into Digital Experiences with Relevance