Seth Godin: His Brand, In Public

September 24th, 2009
Author: John Ratcliffe-Lee

Seth Godin

Seth Godin is on the tip of everyone’s tongue’s today (as he probably planned to be).  Not only did he launch the Brands in Public project yesterday evening but I was able to be in attendance (thanks HarperStudio!) today while he gave a talk to the Digital Publishing Group addressing critical issues in today’s publishing landscape.  Before getting into the re-cap about the event, a bit more about Brands in Public:

Squidoo has built several hundred pages, each one about a major brand. (Here are some examples). More are on the way. We’ll keep going until we have thousands of important brands, each on its own page (and we’ll happily add one for you if you like). Each page collects tweets, blog posts, news stories, images, videos and comments about a brand. All of these feeds are algorithmic… the good and the bad show up, all collated and easy to find.

Of course, these comments and conversations are already going on, all over the web. What we’ve done is bring them together in one place. And then we’ve made it easy for the brand to chime in.

That last sentence is probably most important.  For this ease-of-use, Seth wants $400/month for a brand to use this page as a portal to interact with consumers on the web.  Is this the right thing to do?  Is it worth it?  Where is the value for consumers and the brand?  There has been significant debate surrounding this move and even Seth himself says “BIP” probably shouldn’t be the 1st option:

If you have the tools and wherewithal to build a page like this on your own site, you should consider that. The challenge is getting it done, regardless of where the page lives.

A big post from Jason Falls today debates this even further.  He wonders if BIPs are holding brands hostage:

At first glance, you just think, “So what? The brands can just participate in the conversations on the various social networks and they Brands in Public spider will pick up those conversations as well. Hopefully, Brands in Public isn’t doing anything shady by parsing out the brand participation and that theory will hold true. However, think for a moment of the power, reach and influence Godin has. If his idea takes hold (it probably will because on the surface it’s a good one) and he markets it the way he’s capable of, Brands in Public could be come THE place to go see the “unfiltered” conversation about brands everywhere.

If that scenario plays out, then the $400 or more fee Godin’s company plans to charge is, in a way, blackmail.

It’ll be important to watch how this develops over the coming weeks and months.  There is no denying that time time is now to engage with consumers, directly, online but is this the best way to do it?  How many “walls” should be between you and your audience?  Seth talked a lot about platforms and tribes in today’s #digpub event and a lot of what one sees in this BIP execution also was discussed today in regards to the publishing industry.

During today’s talk, Seth made strong analogies between the necessary innovation that must and is happening in the music industry to what has to happen in the publishing industry in 2009 (arguably, it should’ve started 10 years ago).

  • Thinking less about the physical product.  Actual books as “dead trees” shouldn’t be the focus but more books should be the vehicle of great ideas which people will forever be attracted to.
  • Applicable to marketing in all industries, he then ran though some solid strategy points -
    • Permission marketing – it’s about developing relationships, creating value and making marking (with permission) a two-way street
    • Scarcity – simply, if you have something of overwhelming value and cap access – it usually becomes more sought after
    • Selection related to risk – as a publisher, you want to be in a position to be finding writers for your readers instead of the other way around
    • Finally, it’s all about attention – if the tools and content you’re producing are creating overwhelming value for your audience, you’ll often hold their attention and, subsequently, their permission

Update:  Seth posted a change in direction for the Brands in Public project today.  In what I think is a smart move, if a brand wants to participate, it becomes opt-in and they must contact Squidoo directly.  All the pilot pages set-up for brands to adopt are now inactive.

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  • sethgodin

    I guess it's a bit like a trade show, John. You don't have to go, you don't have to have a booth. If you think it's worth having a booth, that it's easier and more efficient than building your own trade show, then you do it. I don't think the guys who run ABA or CES are holding companies hostage, do you?

  • Seth,

    First of all - many thanks for the comment and I truly did enjoy your talk at Random House on Thursday. It was equally inspiring & necessary.

    I also understand your trade show analogy but I think the complexities of BIP extend a little further. While yes, you don't have to "have a booth" - at the same time, CES or ABA aren't setting one up for you. Sure, the "conversation" is happening no matter what/everywhere but there wouldn't be a proverbial line of consumers waiting at a faux CES booth expecting an answer that might not ever arrive. I suppose this seems a bit similar to an issue 37signals (disclosure: 37s is an MWW client) had with Get Satisfaction back in March: The argument there is a bit more granular and focused than the debate surrounding BIP but the principles are similar. 37s didn't feel comfortable with a third-party channel claiming itself to be an option for "official support."

    With this said, for companies looking to address communications issues the way Squidoo imagines the Brands in Public project working - then great, I'm sure it's a solid solution and product. As you've acknowledged in your follow-up post (which I've updated above with), you've changed the approach to be opt-in and I think that's a solid decision.

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