The PromoKitchen Podcast was honored to once again welcome Seth Godin as our guest. During this podcast Seth spoke to chefs Mark Graham (commonsku) and Kirby Hasseman (Hasseman Marketing) about his new book, "What to do When it's Your Turn", avoiding the race to the bottom, the importance of community building and a whole lot more. The full transcript is listed below.
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Mark Graham: Hello everyone, welcome to the PromoKitchen Podcast. We are a community inspired conversation featuring guest suppliers, distributors and service providers discussing insides into the 20 billion dollar promotional products industry. This podcast has been generously supported by SanMar and PPAI. As PromoKitchen is a non-profit entity, friends like this help us keep PromoKitchen on the air and online. Thank you so very much for your friendship and support.
In today's special episode of the podcast, we welcome Seth Godin back to the program. For the uninitiated, Seth is the author of 17 bestsellers, each of which are extraordinary gifts for sales and marketing professionals. He’s an entrepreneur, speaker and masterful community builder. He writes about treating people with respect, the changing economy and ideas that spread. In 2012, Seth joined us for a fascinating conversation about what it means to be remarkable in business, and specifically in the promotional products industry. We spent time exploring the themes presented in his many books and daily blog. Fast forward 3 years, Seth joins us again to talk about some of the themes presented in his new book, "What to do When it's Your Turn". Beautifully written and artfully presented, Seth compels people to take action over their lives and careers. It's an inspiring kick in the pants for anyone who has ever dreamed of accomplishing a big goal, but has struggled to take the first step. Seth, it is such an honor to be speaking with you again today. Welcome.
Seth Godin: Well, I consider it a privilege, it’s really a treat and the fact there’s three of us this time makes it even more fun.
Mark: Seth, why did you decide to write this book and why now?
Seth: You know, most people aren’t in a position where they can write a book when they want to write a book. Well, everyone can write one, but to publish one, and I long ago stopped thinking to myself “Oh it’s time for me to write a book, what should I write?” It’s such a journey and effort to bring a book to the world and I’d only write one if I have to, if the idea won’t let me go, not because it's time. And, a few years ago I was pretty much done writing books, mostly because most people don't want to read books, they’d rather read a blog post. I don't need to chop down trees, I'm happy to make change anyway that I can. In this case though, I discovered this format printed in Vancouver that really felt like a book that people who don't like books would want to hold and browse and read and think about, and no one had ever turned it into a book. That’s not enough reason to write a book but it opened a door for me thinking about what artifact I could create that someone would want to share. Because, when people share it with those they work with, their clients, their coworkers now we have a mutual topic, a topic we can all talk about and that's the conversation I look for every day; that's why I write a blog so that someone will send it to someone else and the two of them can talk about it. And, this is as close as I'm able to come to that experience in print and it turns out that I was right in many aspects. The book became a best seller the first day, we have sold more than 60,000 copies so far. Way more important for me is the feedback I'm getting from people who talk about how the book is changing their posture because I think we are living in a revolution, the biggest change of our lifetime, and I also know that anyone who’s listening to this is incredibly privileged, privileged to have time and resources, trust, authority, privilege to have the ability to make change, and I fear that we are wasting that privilege and I don't want to do that.
Mark: Why are we wasting that privilege?
Seth: I spend time with people with people who are under-respected, under-educated, who don't have the ability to make the kind of change that most of us do. And, if you ask somebody like that "How should I spend my day?" I think that they would be angry, disappointed, offended if you told them that you had spent a third of your day watching viral videos, a third of your day in meetings where you weren't a key element, where you shaking your head as someone blathered on and third of your day just trying to get by so you can go and watch TV. This is a magical moment in time, anyone with a laptop can reach over a billion people. The number of resources that are available we put behind projects and elevate us is huge yet we decide to establish our agenda for the day and the week and the month by what is important to someone else and we race to the bottom when it comes to content, when it comes to getting a new client, when it comes to making a living and I would really like to believe that we have the opportunity to make a difference at least as much as we have the opportunity to make a living.
Mark: I love it. Seth, your earlier books were more focused on traditional business and marketing where I feel this book is more about art. How do you see the relationship between business and art?
Seth: The world has changed in the last 20 years and I am not largely but I'm smally, tinily, partly responsible for that. That marketing used to be the same as advertising. And what started happening in 1990's is that advertising stopped working because we can ignore it ever more easily. The mass market stopped being a mass market and started splintering into little pieces and the Internet fundamentally changed our ability to connect. So if marketing is not advertising, what is marketing? I believe marketing is the promise that we make when we tell someone a story about what we do and that means that everything we do is marketing. When everything we do is marketing and the mass market is gone, and average people buy average things is no longer a way to make a living and people in your industry completely understand this. The generic water bottle with a logo on the side isn't going to make anybody any money because the minute you have a client who is going to buy a lot of them they are going to buy it from someone cheaper than you. And so, if it's not about "How can I be cheaper than the competition who also sells average stuff to average people", marketing become something more human, something more real and what it becomes is the human act of saying "I made this, I made this for you", the human ability to say "This might not work" . This is the core of my book, to live with "it might not work" and "it might work" in our head at the same time. We have an enormous amount of trouble doing this because we were raised to be obedient students and to be successful cogs in the industrial system and when you are a cog in a system, you're not allowed to say or imagine "This might not work", that's reckless. But if we are going to do something that's going to connect us, that people are going to talk about, that they will pay extra for, we have no choice but to do something real and artistic. What it means to be artistic is to do something that might not work.
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Here at PromoKitchen, we are proud to be partners with and members of PPAI. PPAI is the world’s largest and oldest not-for-profit association serving the $20-billion-dollar promotional products industry. They advocate for the industry’s more than 34,000 businesses and its nearly-half-million professionals. PPAI is the host of The PPAI Expo, the industry’s largest trade show; and is the industry’s go-to source on product safety and compliance, and professional development and certification programs. For more information visit them at ppai.org And now back to our program …
Kirby Hasseman: You know Seth, in some of the books you have written in the past, you've said that in some way "we're all weird" and we should not necessarily focus our business on the mass but on niche markets instead. I get that. For someone starting out in this industry -or any industry for that matter -how do you tell someone new that they have to focus on a niche when in reality they just want any costumer? They’re just trying to pay the bills.
Seth: Well, thank you Kirby. Here's the deal: the word niche has built into it the dismissive tone -you didn't use it -but it's built into the word, the dismissive tone that a niche is merely a specialty side show. The real meat belongs to the people who can figure out how to get the customer and go for mass. And the argument I'm making in the book “We're All Weird” is that mass has left the building because the people who want average stuff don't care that much and if they don't care they are just going to sort by price. So if you are one of those people who justifies racing to the bottom by figuring out how to get a customer at any price, you are fooling yourself if you believe that that customer, that particular customer is going to stop being a bottom fisher and start being somebody who is choosing to do important work. That's not what happens. What happens is people’s world view of "I am the kind of person who cares about this, I am the kind of person who wants to be known for this, I am the kind of person who will pay extra to get extra”, that's one person, they’re over on your right. Over on your left is the undifferentiated, bored, bottom fishing RFP circulating mass, and while it feels like a short-cut to start with those people, it's not. It's a dead end to start with those people because if those are the people you optimize for, those are the people you end up with. Someone needs to be the 99 cent store, someone needs to be the person who is selling junk to people who want to buy junk but it doesn't have to be you.
Mark: Seth, I'm interested in this idea of community building, something you have played a huge role in for the entirety of your career. What I am curious about, and I think I represent the conscience of a lot of people who are listening to this, is how to connect the dots between building a strong community and asking for the business? Ultimately, an investment in community building has to translate into sales at some point. How do you gracefully move people from community member to costumer?
Seth: Well, let me try to be specific and you guys jump in and correct me when I get the specifics wrong. You know the business that you're in, you are leading the edge of this business but the bulk of the business is inherently, from its beginnings, generic. In that, if I go to someone who wants to sell me a specialty business item, they have a big catalog – they didn’t make the catalog -the catalog is a collection of things from the people who make items, and so it's very rare to find someone in the middle of the market who says "I am the only person how can sell you X ", because generally like a travel agent, this industry has been people who bring a certain level of expertise but aren't necessarily selling you something that is one and only. And, commodity businesses often chose to act like commodity businesses and the frustration they face is that they get paid like they are a commodity business. So, there are two ways I think that one can approach this problem. One way is to say "I am better at closing sales than my competition" and that what I’m actually getting paid for is getting found by the person who’s about to buy or, more predictably, getting someone who wasn't about to buy, to buy. I think there's a different way to approach this and I think the way to approach this is to say that what you’re actually charging for is expertise and trust and insight and the “stuff” just comes along for the ride. That, when you think about the advisers -whether it's Morgan Stanley or BBDO -or the other kinds of institutions that big businesses hire. They’re not paying for accounting services, they’re not paying for someone to set type, they're paying for the fact that someone of significance would work with them, bring to them a level of confidence and expertise and insight that changes the organization itself. And, then they get the other stuff along for the ride. So, there's never a discussion if you have a big 4 Accounting Firm, that they charge you 400 hours of bookkeeping when it should have been 372 hours of bookkeeping. Because that's not really what they're what charging you for. They're charging for the confidential trusted advisor who's sitting at the table with you. And, in every industry, including your industry there are people who are doing this, where the CMO knows in one phone call that she can call somebody like this, describe the upcoming events, describe the problems, describe the impact she wants to make on the industry and this person, this trusted confidential advisor will bring back a fair and honest and insightful and remarkable suggestion and then they’re done. It not "OK, thank you, now I'm going to submit this to 20 people who do what you do and buy it from the cheapest person" because the CMO know it if she does this she's never going to get the confidential advice ever again from you. So, that position is not available to everyone but it's available to the people who are listening here. But in order to do it you must reject serving the other costumers in the same way, you can't say to your other costumer “we do all this singing, we do all this dancing” just to close the sale and then, “sure shop around”. Because, then you haven't sold the thing you really sell which is that this medium has so many choices and so much potential impact, and so many pitfalls you'll make a bunch of crap that sits in the back of someone’s closet that your insight is what's really for sale, not your ability to close the sale.
Mark: I absolutely love what you're saying and I think that if I was to imagine people listening to this podcast, they’d all be nodding their heads. Here’s something I want to get your perspective on. Let's say I'm a sales rep, maybe I’m on commission, maybe I’m on base salary and, at the end of the day, I just have to make my number. I'm one of those sales people with a quota on my head. And I have been selling for the last 10-15-20 years a Gildan polo shirt or “such and such” a pen for X dollars, and that’s what the customer is getting. Never have I gone to them and said "My expertise is worth $500 an hour and then I'll give you the product a wholesale". There's a lot of different models in the promotional industry but I think that one of the tried and true models we have is that we give away all of this creativity, we giveaway all of this professional advice for free, but yet built into it the cost of product. Seth, are you recommending that people in this industry reevaluate how it is that we price, specifically not on the product but more as an agency model? Is that what you're getting at?
Seth: Well, first let me respond to your question because your question is based on several incredibly unfair fallacies. If you are that kind of sales person, you chose to be that kind of sales person, you don't have to be. Right? If that's the item you're selling, you chose to sell those items, you didn't have to sell those items. I used to be a book packager and as a book packager I sold really complicated, non-fiction books to the top 10 publishers in America, and Almanacs, things like that. Well, I could insist that I still have the right to do that but that's not going to make anyone to buy it from me, because the Internet killed that business, it’s gone. Now, in this case, what I'm saying is that the tension, and my book is a lot about tension, comes from starting a conversation with a customer saying "Here are the phone numbers and the websites of 3 people who are cheaper than me. By all means, if that's what you want, if you want a Gildan shirt and a pen, custom shirts or whatever you want, please, they are better than I am at letting you upload the image and get it for cheap and track it as it’s coming. Call me when you want my help.” Mark: I love it. Seth: And if you are not prepared to talk that way, then don't be surprised that you’re left with people who are cheap and too stupid to use a website! Right? Because that's who's going to show up. On the other hand, if we are able to say to people “you used to put all your money into TV ads, then one day you said, Wait a minute, we need to put our money into web ads and then you said wait a minute, there's all these other things that are happening in the social connected space that don't look like ads that we spend money on so we buy, you know, content and we create conferences and all these other things because they work. “Well, guess what? I have figured out how to use physical items, molecules to create stuff that goes into the world and changes people. That’s what I do. So I would be delighted to work with you, I charge this way, I charge this way, what matches the way you do business? But what I don't do is sell cotton, thread and stuff, because you can buy the stuff cheaper than I can sell it to you. And in fact, I'm happy to order it for you from any place you want because I can order better than you can. But, if you want me to be the professional that everyone in this building is, this is how I get paid. Maybe it’s by the job, maybe is by the hour, maybe it’s on retainer, there are lots of ways I can imagine getting paid for this that's scalable that could make me a great living and I also could imagine that this is just part of my portfolio that in addition to selling giant cardboard boxes filled with wearables, I also know how to put on a conference. Those two things have a lot in common and the person who's trying to solve a problem with A probably needs someone to solve the problem with B as well. Kirby: You know, Seth, I think you're saying that part of what we're charging for is our clients’ trust in us, in our creativity, and it seems to me that the secret to gaining that trust is by giving more, by providing value upfront, and I think that's consistent with some of the theme of what to do when is your turn. People, I, Mark, need to take action and advance, whether it’s to write a blog, create a video, and I think that you're trying to convince people of that. Why do you think it's so hard to get people to choose themselves and take that action? Seth: I love that question, let me try to slightly different one for a second, which is: Most of the people who buy these items are not the owners of the company, and it's a business to business sale. Well, business to business selling it's all about 2 things: 1. What will I tell my boss? and 2. Did you made me feel stupid? Those are the 2 things. Not if is it cheaper. Not will this make me money. Those aren't the issues, the issue is when I tell my boss I did this what will I tell her and that's why, for example, it's so easy to get a Hertz or an Avis car, because no one ever got fired because for buying a Hertz or an Avis rental. Where if, you know, get some third rate thing and you and your boss have to wait half an hour for the car, you don't want to be in that position. And the bigger one is, will you make me feel stupid? Well, here's the problem with the promotional specialty business. If I buy a thing from you and that's what you're selling, and I tell my boss I did, and anyone looks it up and finds I could get exactly the same thing for half the price, you just made me feel stupid. And, if you make me feel stupid, I can't ever do business with you again. That's why there's a race to the bottom. Now, your point about doing things in advance, doing things first. The reason we need to make videos or organize the kind of things you're organizing this minute, or speak at conferences or publish our best ideas to the world is so that we'll be trusted, and the reason we want to be trusted is because we are promising people "We will not make you feel stupid". And that means if someone is well known in their field, you get to say to your boss "Don't worry boss, I bought it from Mark. That means we got the right product, the right price, he would never made us feel stupid.” That’s what we're trying to build. Now, the reason this is hard for people, and thank you Kirby for bringing that up, is because it makes you responsible. That it’s not standing up and saying "Anyone can sell this to you and I am anyone". It is, instead saying "I have a point of view, here I made this. I think you should do this, not that. I think that these are the important things." When you say any of those things out load someone might say to you "You know, you're not as smart as you think you are.” And we really don't want to hear that. And the reason we don't want to hear that is that in the industrial age, what we have taught our students and children is “lay low.” Because, being called out as someone who's arrogant or a fraud or someone who is speaking out too much is one of the worst things that can happen to you. And I don't believe that, I don't agree with that but that is what we have been teaching.
Mark: You know, it's so interesting Seth. I’m just listening to this and I know that feeling of wanting to hide, you feel stupid, you embarrassed yourself in front of your boss or in front of your colleague and it's horrible, You're right, we run away from it. But, I'm wondering if there's some sort of ironic twist here. Aren't you encouraging people to want to look stupid in some sense? I don't know if I'm getting too meta and philosophical here, but how does that connect in some twisted way with making a client look stupid in front of their bosses? Is there any win there or I'm just misunderstanding that? Seth: No, no, no. So, that goes back to idea that we are all weird. If you need to not to look stupid in front of everyone, you must act like a cog. But if you can understand that only 2% of the market embracing what you have to say when you’re right is plenty, then you need to stake out a position that wouldn't work for some. So, if we think about, you know, the people who stood up, 5-7 years ago and said, like Laura Fitton, who's known as @Pistachio, shows up on Twitter right at the early days and says Twitter is a business tool, and starts talking about this and building an entire company on how does one use Twitter as a business tool. This was when Twitter had 10000-50000 users. A lot of people said 'You're stupid". A lot of people said "Prove it, you have no proof”. A lot of people said "You're uppity just quiet down, this is not for businesses". And the businesses that did embrace it were a tiny fraction of the available base. But, it was enough. So, she was willing to be stupid and for certain companies she was “stupid” at the beginning because she couldn't prove the ROI, for 6 months, a year, 2 years, 3 years. But it's Laura Fitton who gets to write the “Dummies book” about how to use Twitter for business because she went first. Because she stood up before it was the received wisdom, and so now if you say "I'm gonna put out a shingle and say that what I do is consult on businesses going on on Twitter" you're worth $4 an hour, because anyone can teach people how to do that. The hard part is putting a stake in the ground at the beginning that's not going to work for everyone but that you can justify from the position of generosity and art. Kirby: Seth, when you do put yourself out there, sometimes trolls are going to speak up. Seth: Of course!
Kirby: Intellectually, I know I supposed to ignore them, but it's hard. How do you do that on a regular basis? Seth: If trolls don't show up, you're not trying hard enough. And, you know, I talk about the marathon in the new book. And the fact is if you talk to someone who runs a marathon, you'll never find someone who says "I love running marathons but I hate the fact I get tired". No one says "Teach me how to run a marathon without getting tired" because getting tired is part of the deal. People who finish the marathon don't avoid getting tired, they figure out where to put the tired. Where to put the tired is the hard part. Well, the same thing is true with this work we're talking about. You can't say "There may not be, it's now allowed for there to be criticism". Well you have to say "This is where I put the criticism". And I have two suggestions for that. The first one is avoiding the resistance trap we set up for ourselves, of seeking out anonymous criticism so that when someone, you know, when we finish this podcast, what's the hashtag you want people to use? Mark:#PKSethSeth: #PKSeth. So, it would be a real mistake for you guys to look at the hashtag when we're done to see who's criticizing this talk, this conversation because it won't make your work any better. You will not learn anything from what an anonymous troll has to say on Twitter about this conversation. They are not willing to send you an email outlining the fact that you’re stuttering, and you have parsley in your teeth. Well, then you don't need to hear it, just don't look. I never met, never once, the author who said she had read all her one-star reviews on Amazon and now she's a better writer. So, that's the first step. And the second step is when it does arise, we say "Thank you". Thank you for caring enough to tell me that. Thank you for caring enough to post your thoughts. Thank you for speaking up." And then, we forgive them, we forgive ourselves and we move on. The meditative thought of being able to say "Thank you" not "let me explain myself; let me tell you more, let me tell you why you're wrong, let's have an argument about this". But just "Thank you" frees us to get back to work. It's not easy, it's practice.
Kirby: Yeah, and I think you go along with this. I've seen that you've written that “the person who fails the most wins.” Can you explain that?
Seth: There's some nuance here. If you fail really, really big, if you fail through errors of judgment and morality, if you fail epically, you won't get to play anymore. You're not going to be the person who fails the most. On the other hand, if you fail productively, if you fail serially in the sense that you learn each time, and you produce well enough in between and you get to keep playing, then you're going to keep racking up the failures. And every time you rack up a failure, several things happen. One, you learn yet another way not to do something. And two, you earn the trust of people who see you as a resilient, honest individual who is willing to fail in the service of her art. It's going to fail on the path to doing ever better. So Miles Davis made some absolutely terrible, terrible records.
Seth: Well, I have some over on the wall, I don't remember their names or any of them. But, during the disco era, the electronic era, and you know, you have a contract you have to make a record and you go to the studio and you make a record. This is not “Kind of Blue”, it’s a mediocre Miles Davis record. Or we listen to a speech of someone who's supposed to be a brilliant politician. Well, not every speech is the best speech he ever gave. Or we see a CEO who decides that there going to do X instead of Y and it doesn't work. Lots of organizations make big mistakes. Apple has had 18 different connectors for the various computers and phones they make. 18?! Why can they get them to act together? Well, it's a mistake. But, we understand that they're on a journey and that journey is interesting. And some people want to be on that journey and that's what we have to sell. If you want to go to the market and say "I am perfect and I am cheap” … Well fabulous, “I have Google, I can find people just as perfect and just as cheap as you, so bid against each other”. But, if you can say to the world "I'm interesting and I care, and we might change things together" most people want nothing to do with you, but right people will, and they'll pay for it.
Mark: Seth, I have a question for you about non-entrepreneur and non-freelancer. Your books speak predominantly to the independent freelancer, the entrepreneurial person, ultimately to a person without the boss. What advice do you have for the person who is screen-printing T-shirts from 9 to 5, each and every day and they have to meet their number. If you're working on a production line in a promotional products factory, and your report to a boss, how does art factor into your job when you have to print 1000 shirts by the end of the day or else? Seth: Well, here's the interesting thing. I had an email 3 days ago, the chief of staff of the US Army, which last time I checked had 400 000 or so employees, maybe more, just picked 10 most important books the people in the Army needs to read and Linchpin was one of them. So, I think if you're talking about the people who work in institution, that is pretty focused on compliance I'd list the US Army on that list. So, I'm not ready to say that most of my readers are freelancers or entrepreneurs and I certainly don't write just for those people but it's a good way to feel like it's not for you. My dad, for many years, ran the largest hospital crib company in North America, it's in Buffalo New York, UAW United Art Workers unionized work force, that's the kind of organizations you're talking about. He spent more than a decade training the people in the plant to understand that if they act like they own the place, everyone would come out ahead. And so, if somebody on the line who's taking my dad on side while he's walking the plant and says "Wait Bill, why are we doing it in this order, why don't we do it in that order?" and that one shift turns into $100,000 which gets shared with all of the employees because all of them know more than any of them. And, if you know, I used to run an organization with 400 employees, temporary employees, production people, you know, the kinds of people you're talking about, and either the boss is going to say to the team "I know exactly how you're do it. Here are the numbers, “Scientific Management” which was an important but very damaging book of the 1910's and 1920's which said "Take a stop watch, measure everything, make it faster" or you say "The world is changing and in the world that changes no one knows the right answer, we have to test". When you're in environment like that, yes, the person operating the punch press or the T-shirt press or the cappuccino machine probably has something useful to say. And, that ability to speak up internally can change things. And in the second half of it is the emotional labor that we do at work, and this isn't the person who's hauling T-shirt boxes, but this is the person who answers the phone, it is the receptionist, that emotional labor isn't the physical labor of lifting, is the emotional labor of doing something you don't feel like. Of smiling, of connecting, of listening, of being human. I went to a fancy restaurant last week, that had a nice review, not from Joanne (Kates) but in New York City, and the hostess who greeted us was not hosting much of anything other than a pity party for herself. She made no eye-contact, she grunted at us, she had no interest in who we were, where we came from, what we wanted, she did nothing to earn our trust or the money of the person who is paying her. And if you compare that with someone who makes you delighted about the choice you made, welcome to the place you went, that one moment, you know, at $15 an hour took that person a minute, so what's that work out to be? I don't know, 20 cents? That 20 cents spent turns a $100 evening into a $500 evening. That's a choice. That's the choice of management, and more important, that's the choice of the person on the line who can choose to bring their human self to work. Kirby: That's awesome Seth and I love how you get many of the nuances of our industry. As you know, we have an aging industry and there's a generational divide that can be a source of stress for many. What kind of advice would you give a more tenured sales person? You can look at that and when I say tenured sales person I, of course, mean all the grey hair I have. How can they make themselves more relevant to a 20 something buyer? Seth: Well, let's get right back to where I started, which is you need to decide if you're a 55 year sales person what exactly is it you sell and who are you selling it to? Because, remember there used to be a scarcity of places where one could buy a printed T-shirt. Or a scarcity of places where one could buy a beautiful hand-made embossed briefcase. There’s a reason that a lot of these companies have 7 A's in their name because they show up at the beginning of the Yellow pages or because you’ve been to enough conferences, word of mouth and business cards get spread around, you're the guy. But Google completely transforms all of this and I have trouble bragging to my boss that I just bought $40000 worth of anything from you without shopping around first unless you've chosen to be a different kind of sales person and the way that that happens is not by waiting for a client to decide they want to buy a specialty item. It happens because you are running seminars, you're giving speeches, you are writing e-books or printing books, you are causing a change to happen in a subset of any industry where it comes down to people like us buy from people like you. People like us do promotions like this, the standards, the measurement, the “who's better at this than everybody else thinking” is transformed by you, you're not just a bystander, you are the forward motion. That choice will pay off in some period of time that is more than 3 days and it might be 3 years, but you got time, you got 3 years, because if you don't start now, it will be too late to start later. Once you are seen as that person, then a 28 year old buyer is delighted to buy from you. Because a 28 year old buyer maybe an arrogant millennial but he still has a boss and if you can give that 28 year old a story to tell his boss, that gets him a pat on the back, he'll be back for more.
Mark: Seth, I'm just taking a look at the time and want to make sure that we got enough time for some Q and A. I'm going to ask you one last question and then we are going to turn it over to some eager folks who want to ask you some questions directly. My last question is really simple one. When, Seth, did you realize it was your turn? Seth: You know, until Freud most people in the world were unwilling to talk about the fact that they had a voice in their head. But this narrative in our head of, you know, self-aware monologue is brand new. I don't remember having a self-aware monologue my whole life, I can have one right now, and say "Oh yea, that's right" but I think early on I saw things, noticed things, and wanted to talk about them, and I got very fortunate that the internet and the world lined up in a way that permitted these things to work. What I did make the decision to do about 15 years ago, 20 years ago was say I know how to go to a meeting and pretend I believe something in order to get someone to buy from me. But what I found, is that not only does it not work as well as I want it to but when I tell my own story about my own vision it works even better. And that I can serve my clients better, and I still remember this day, closing my briefcase, standing up after a 10 minute meeting and saying “you know, I hear your objections and you’re right, we’re probably not the people to sell this online promotion. Thank you for your time.” And these two guys looked at each other, like, I was from Mars, no one had ever done this, it’s one of the 100 most famous companies in the world. And they couldn't believe that I had listened to their objections and agreed with them that I shouldn't sell them anything. And they were so stunned by my candor that they stood up, insisted that my sales guy and I sit down and kept us there for 2 more hours and ended up buying a huge online promotion from us. Because, they couldn't get over the fact that somebody didn't say "Yeah, yeah, but now will you buy from me". And I think on that day I realized that not only was this the human thing to do, but it turns out our economy wants us to do it.
Mark: Seth, thank you. That was spectacular. I want to open it up now to some people for some Q and A for about 15 minutes. Seth, thank you again for all of your time. I want to invite Lee Strom from Sanmar to ask a question.
Lee: Seth, I’m loving this take on how your theories apply to our industry. I have a crystal ball question for you. You spoke to a time when advertising and marketing were the same. We’re an interesting industry, we’re one that’s not always seen as mainstream media but we are a form of advertising and media. I'm curious, what your thoughts are on the health of the promotional products industry moving into the future. Just to give you a little bit of background, the industry has been growing by a few percentage points every year at least since 2008 and I'm curious as to whether you are bullish or cautious on our industry. Seth: Well, I would say for most players in the industry it doesn't matter what's going to happen to the whole industry, it's what happens to the segment that any given person is part of. So, those are the things I would really focus on. If you are at the high end or if you're selling a disposable, if you're dealing with a certain client or a certain geography, the rest of the trend isn't nearly as interesting as what's happening in your part of it. I would say that there are two or three factors going on in the future. One is that the long tail, small companies, solo practitioners, people who ordinarily wouldn't have had access to your industry now do and that the number of items that are available continues to sky rocket. So both of those things means more people will be buying more things more often because of the democratization of the interactions. The flip side of that is unlike digital media, physical goods don't scale. That, if, 10000 times as many people see a video, it costs me zero, but if 10000 as many people want to buy a T-shirt it costs me 10000 times as much. And so, as marketing expectations shift to the scalable, this industry is going to have a challenge in terms of marketing to marketers that the impact of a physical item can go up in a digital world, but it can't be used indiscriminately. The whole idea of the T-shirt cannon is ridiculous, because if you are going to indiscriminately splash items that cost you money to undifferentiated masses of people who don't care, it's sooner or later going to completely backfire on you. On the other hand, the right item in the hand of the right high leverage individual that maybe changes their perception of an institution is as close to priceless as marketing can get. And so, we are going to have this opportunity in the face of the long tail to get more surgical and that means more often saying no, no to certain items, no to certain clients, no to certain users because it's only by saying no that we can get to the real yes. Mark:Paul Bellantone from PPAI, you've got a question.
Paul: Seth thanks so much for your time on this call and for the answer to that last question. PPAI represents and advocates for thousands of member companies in promotional products industry, so our focus might be different than any individual member. In your new book, I was taken by your story of Yertle the Turtle and the need to be recognized and supreme at the expense of generosity and meaningful connections. In our industry, members often get distracted by competing with each other rather than elevating the profession or focusing on winning over the hearts and minds of buyers. So I have a two part question. Can you expand on how Yertle’s style can help in everyday business in what can be perceived as a highly commoditized business? And second, what is the role of organizations like PPAI and PromoKitchen in helping their members to get there? Seth: Well, the first part is easy and thank you for the kind words. You know, the Yertle spread came to me all at once and I was very pleased to have the impact it’s had on people. But, basically what I'm saying is this: In your industry 98% of the sales are sales that never happen, that you're only reaching the 2% of the moments and the people that actually transfer into someone writing a check and getting something purchased. So if you want to argue over the 2 %, by all means go ahead and do so, but it is far more productive to evangelize and delight the 98% who don't get it, who don't get it often enough than it is to argue about the 2%. And the way that this is going to happen is not by persuading people that you are the fastest or the cheapest, it's by persuading people that you are the most trusted, because the reason they not buying these items is because they don't trust you. They don't trust you that buying this item is actually going to pay for itself in a way that helps them to achieve their goals. And if they did trust you, than the sale will happen and you don't earn trust by denigrating your competition, you earn trust by elevating what the industry stands for. And the second half is, I think that when the people who seek to make change in an industry come together, they can't help but become more brave and that what institutions like yours can do is remind people when they are on the right track and censor them when they're on the wrong track. Right? That what you can do is say “people like us to do things like this, raise the bar and remind everybody that they're doing work that's actually working”. Mark: Thanks for that Seth, that's fantastic. I want to invite Patrick Black to ask a question.
Patrick: All right, thank you Seth for taking my question, thanks Mark and Kirby for the opportunity. Seth, we live in a world that’s way different than 10 years ago in the terms of marketing and it seems consumers now more than ever seem to create more personal relationships with companies. So because of this do you think that we will see more of a decline in the big box stores in favor of small businesses. Why or why not? Seth: I want to make sure I'm in sync. Big box stores that sell which? Patrick: Let's clarify that as large companies versus small companies. Seth: Ok. So, there's in inextricable movement in every industry for consolidation amplified by the way information flows, by natural monopolies, by the internet and so you got one Google, one Facebook, one Twitter, sometimes you’ll have a couple but you're not going to have a thousand. Staples shows up and replaces hundreds or thousands of office supplies stores but that's ok because there’s Office Depot and six others but then Amazon says "No, we're all of those things". But, and it's a big but, at the same time we're seeing more and more people who would probably describe themselves as freelancers, who are building two or three or four person organizations that can bring a personal non-commoditized touch to markets that want that. So, whether that’s a popup restaurant or someone who has a letter press shop, these are real companies who over time are going to get to the mature stage where they can actually invest money in marketing. I think that if you want to be in this industry, you have no choice but to teach those people and cater to them because Amazon only needs one person to sell them the stuff you’ve got and you can’t say "I'm only going to sell to the top 10 companies in the world", I mean someone can, but not many of you can. Mark: I think we have time just for a couple of more questions. I'm going to welcome Bill Petrie to the program. Bill: Thank you very much and this is for me most delicious podcast. Seth: Thank you Bill. Bill: Yes, thank you. Seth, we're competitive and some of the commoditized industry where differentiation is absolutely critical. We all know that, but why do people continually follow the crowd even when they know they need to blaze their own trail? Seth: Because it's deniable, and it's safer and it feels like the right thing to do because that's how you got to where you've got today, because you don't want to have to say "I messed up". And the fact is everyone has made art sometime in their life. They done a finger-painting that was original, they told a joke when they were 7, they kindly helped the stranger when they were 24. We all know how to do this, but we are surrounded by the forces that create writers block. That create excuses, that create a reason to hide because it feels safe. That's what our culture did, so the thing that is scarce here is that willingness to embrace the tension. And so my job is to remind people that the tension is the point. Bill: Excellent! Thank you so much. Mark:Robert Fiveash has just submitted a most fascinating question. Ok Robert, you are on my friend. Robert: Thank you Mark, Kirby, Seth, good talking to you today. Quick question for you. You had mentioned the importance of failure and people seeing your resilience as a way to achieve the ultimate goal -which is trust. But look at Facebook and most social media today, they're mostly white-washed, sanitized, no failures at all. The best photo out of the 100 taken is the one posted. Is social media moving towards authenticity at a speed that will allow it to maintain its momentum and grow as a business tool, or are businesses too risk averse to be truly authentic, warts and all? Thank you. Seth: Love that question. It's both. So, go look up Amanda Palmer. And if you want to see warts, go look up Amanda Palmer, go look up her journals and diaries and reporting to her true fans about what it is to be an artist and a musician. Amanda Palmer only has 22000 true fans, not like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, but Amanda Palmer did the most successful music Kickstarter in history, raised 1.2 million dollars in 30 days. Amanda Palmer can record what she wants to record whenever she wants to record, she has 4 million views of her TED talk and her book was a New York Times bestseller because Amanda Palmer is present and human and real and if she wants to be super famous she has to give up all of that, so she has decided not to be super famous. And that is your choice. You don't have to be varnished, you don't have to be fake but you do have to trade in the fact you can’t be trusted and famous to everyone at the same time. So, that what you can do is realize that you only need 100 or 1000, I don't know the number is, really great clients. You don't need everyone. You need a small group of people that can look you in the eyes and say "This is the real deal, he's not going to make me look stupid in front of my boss". That choice flies in the face of "Let me sell everything to everyone, at the lowest possible price, because I'm good at golf and I have a warm and hearty handshake". Mark: Seth, you have time for one more? Seth: I do. This is great. Mark: You are awesome. All right, Heidi Thorne, you've posted a really interesting question and you are live. Heidi: Yes, I am. Can you hear me Mark? Mark: Yes, live from Chicago. Heidi: Excellent, excellent and Seth, thank you so much, I've been a fan of yours for a long time and you certainly changed my business in many ways. Seth: Well, thank you.
Heidi: In today's legalistic environment where we have consumers expecting warranties and guaranties all the time, how do we deal with "It might not work" ? Seth: Well, let's understand what “it might not work” means. I don't mean you should be selling me 10000 water bottles that have BPA or whatever in them that can leak. “It might not work” could be something as simple as going to a meeting, looking the client in the eyes and telling her the truth. That might not work, right? “It might not work” might mean putting on a conference for six competitors and asking them to come together for three hours to talk to each other about how they're going to the market space. That evening might not work. So when you do a thing that needs to meet spec, than yes, the spec ought to be met, because that's a different kind of promise. The “it might not work” of a painting isn't “it won't be a painting” it's someone might look at this painting and not get it. Someone might look at the new specialty item that we gave away at this year’s conference and might not like it as much as the water bottle they got every other year. That's the kind of "It might not work" I'm talking about. Heidi: Very good, thank you so much. Seth: Thank you. Mark: So Seth, as we close things off, I wanted to say three things to everyone. The first of which is as a reminder that PromoKitchen is a nonprofit organization, totally focused on education and mentorship within the industry. People who are intrigued by what we're doing or want to get more involved, can do so at PromoKitchen.org. Number two. Thank you so much to Paul at PPAI, and Lee and his team at SanMar for their support. As I said at the beginning, as a non-profit organization, we have expenses and we bring on some supporters and friends that are able to keep us online and on the air. A heart-felt thank you for your support and great questions as well. And finally, Seth a huge thank you for inspiring so many people to be great and to take risks. This has been such a special experience for me, for Kirby, and for everyone at PromoKitchen. And for that, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Seth: Well, it's a delight, it's a privilege. I hope people understand how lucky they are to have leaders like you guys. Thank you for making the time, thanks for making that happen. Mark: Thank you Seth and thank you Kirby and thank you everyone.