Thoughts on Seth Godin’s keynote at SES

Seth Godin provided the morning keynote on Tuesday morning at SES Chicago. His talk was an overview of his latest book, Meatball Sundae. He recently did a pre-show seminar that received excellent coverage from Kevin Newcomb and Lisa Barone, yours truly, and I also interviewed Seth about the book. In addition, every attendee to SES Chicago got a free copy of his book, a book which has not yet been released for sale to the general public.

Because of the prior coverage, this post will focus on offering some additional impressions about a few key points in his keynote. The first is that watching Seth on stage is like watching a nightclub entertainer. And it is entertaining. He also provided a compelling presentation that was completely text free. Every single slide was a live example of some point related to the Meatball Sundae.

The focus of the book is how to succeed in the new marketing environment. New marketing here refers in a general way to the environment that is emerging from the Internet. One of the big observations about this is just how much control a consumer has today, and also just how easy it is for them to express their opinion of your product or service.

If you are looking to truly capitalize on the new types of marketing opportunities that exist in the new marketing environment, there are a couple of major things that you should really think about doing:

1. Design your business around the new marketing. Older businesses that were not designed around the new marketing environment have difficulty in making the shift. Seth cites the example of Walmart’s MySpace knockoff, called “The Hub” which was instantly doomed to failure from the start. One reviewer commented: “Dude, is there anything more excruciating than some lametard adult trying to speak to teenagers in their own language?”

Another example that he cites is Bud TV. This also had an underwhelming response.

The problem with these initiatives? It is really hard for a business built on one set of assumptions about the market to simply take on a new set of assumptions and change overnight. There are often major cultural and economic problems for them in making such a shift. For example, if your business is built on a model of delivering a product to a customer in a week or two, and you have a new competitor who delivers it to you in the same day, it will be very, very difficult to make that shift.

2. Design your busines to capitalize on major trends in the market. Seth itemized 14 in this presentation which are also featured in his book. There are more than 14, but these are the ones he has chosen to emphasize. The idea is if your business can is leveraging some of these trends (even just a few of them) you are more likely to “have the wind at your back”

For example, instead of worrying about what it means when the consumer is in control, turn this into an asset for your business. One fundamental way to do this is by completely unbundling your products, and/or offering a wide range of “long tail” solutions. People today want to have a lot of choices – so give it to them.

Don’t worry that consumers can communicate to other consumers what they think about you, embrace it. Engage directly with the consumer. You can create mechanisms for doing this on your site, or you can go out to the web and find out where they are talking about your company or where they talk about the types of problems that your products or services are trying to address.

One key to this is being able to tell an authentic story. In other words, if you are trying to tell a story to the market, and people are able to figure out that the story you are telling is not genuine, you are going to be into a whole world of hurt.


Ultimately, major market shifts create new winners. That is why EBay rules auctions on the web, and not Sotheby’s. Understanding what the major trends are, and the new marketing environment will put you one step ahead of the competition.

Meatball Sundae covers these things in much more detail than I have here, or that we collectively did in the articles referenced about. It’s thought provoking indeed.

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