A Lesson From Seth Godin: How to Get Your Ideas To Spread

I recently listened to an amazing Ted Talk by Seth Godin on how to get your ideas to spread.  I wanted to summarize it for you.  Hopefully, this is as inspiring to you as it was to me.

Seth gave us four specific examples, about how a company called Silk tripled their sales; how an artist named Jeff Koons went from being a nobody to making a whole bunch of money and having a lot of impact; to how Frank Gehry redefined what it meant to be an architect. And one of Seth’s biggest failures as a marketer in the last few years — a record label I started that had a CD called “Sauce.”

However, he told us that before he could get into his specific examples he had to talk to us about sliced bread… lol

This guy, Otto Rohwedder, invented sliced bread, and he focused, like most inventors did, on the patent part and the making part.

Here is the crazy thing about the invention… for the first 15 years after sliced bread was available no one bought it.

No one knew about it; it was a complete and total failure. And the reason is that until Wonder came along and figured out how to spread the idea of sliced bread, no one wanted it.

You see, Seth showed us that is not always about the patent, or what the factory is like — it’s about can you get your idea across to the consumer.

And it doesn’t matter whether you’re running a coffee shop or you’re flying hot air balloons. I think that all this stuff applies to everybody regardless of what we do.

Seth argued that we are living in is a century of idea diffusion. That people who can spread ideas, regardless of what those ideas are, win.

Next, Seth showed everyone a picture of Copernicus.  He said “The world revolves around me.”  How true this is.  We now live in a me generation because people don’t care about what you are selling.  They care about how it helps them.

Consumers don’t care about you at all; they just don’t care.  Part of the reason is — we’ve got way more choices than we used to.

We also have way less time.  In a world where we have too many choices and too little time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff.

The thing that’s going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built, is: “Is it remarkable?” And “remarkable” is a really cool word, because we think it just means “neat,” but it also means “worth making a remark about.” And that is the essence of where idea diffusion is going.

Every week, the number one best-selling DVD in America changes. It’s never “The Godfather,” it’s never “Citizen Kane,” it’s always some third-rate movie with some second-rate star. But the reason it’s number one is because that’s the week it came out. Because it’s new, because it’s fresh. People saw it and said “I didn’t know that was there” and they noticed it.

Two of the big success stories of the last 20 years in retail — one sells things that are super-expensive in a blue box, and one sells things that are as cheap as they can make them. The only thing they have in common is that they’re different.

Godin points out that we are now in the fashion business, no matter what we do for a living, we’re in the fashion business.

And people in the fashion business know what it’s like to be in the fashion business — they’re used to it. The rest of us have to figure out how to think that way. How to understand that it’s not about interrupting people with big full-page ads, or insisting on meetings with people.

It’s a totally different sort of process that determines which ideas spread, and which ones don’t. They sold a billion dollars’ worth of Aeron chairs by reinventing what it meant to sell a chair. They turned a chair from something the purchasing department bought, to something that was a status symbol about where you sat at work.

Market to people because they care. These are the people who are obsessed with something. And when you talk to them, they’ll listen, because they like listening — it’s about them. And if you’re lucky, they’ll tell their friends on the rest of the curve, and it’ll spread. It’ll spread to the entire curve.

They have something I call “otaku” — it’s a great Japanese word. It describes the desire of someone who’s obsessed to say, drive across Tokyo to try a new ramen noodle place, because that’s what they do: they get obsessed with it. To make a product, to market an idea, to come up with any problem you want to solve that doesn’t have a constituency with an otaku, is almost impossible.

Instead, you have to find a group that really, desperately cares about what it is you have to say. Talk to them and make it easy for them to tell their friends. There’s a hot sauce otaku, but there’s no mustard otaku.

That’s why there’s lots and lots of kinds of hot sauces, and not so many kinds of mustard. Not because it’s hard to make interesting mustard — you could make interesting mustard — but people don’t, because no one’s obsessed with it, and thus no one tells their friends.

Krispy Kreme has figured this whole thing out. It has a strategy, and what they do is, they enter a city, they talk to the people, with the otaku, and then they spread through the city to the people who’ve just crossed the street.

It’s really simple — you sell to the people who are listening, and just maybe, those people tell their friends. So when Steve Jobs talks to 50,000 people at his keynote, who are all tuned in from 130 countries watching his two-hour commercial — that’s the only thing keeping his company in business — it’s that those 50,000 people care desperately enough to watch a two-hour commercial, and then tell their friends.

And one person at a time, the idea spreads. These are not diamonds, not really. What you have to do is figure out what people really want and give it to them. A couple of quick rules to wrap up. The first one is: Design is free when you get to scale. The people who come up with stuff that’s remarkable more often than not figure out how to put design to work for them.

Number two: The riskiest thing you can do now is be safe. Proctor and Gamble knows this, right? The whole model of being Proctor and Gamble is always about average products for average people. That’s risky. The safe thing to do now is to be at the fringes, be remarkable.

Back to Seth’s examples… Silk put a product that does not need to be in the refrigerated section next to the milk in the refrigerated section. Sales tripled. Why? Milk, milk, milk, milk, milk — not milk. For the people who were there and looking at that section, it was remarkable. They didn’t triple their sales with advertising; they tripled it by doing something remarkable.

Frank Gehry didn’t just change a museum; he changed an entire city’s economy by designing one building that people from all over the world went to see.

And Seth’s big failure? He came out with an entire  record album in this remarkable new format, and he marketed it straight to people with $20,000-dollar stereos.

People with 20,000-dollar stereos don’t like new music. They don’t care he has a new format. So what you need to do is figure out who does care. Who is going to raise their hand and say, “I want to hear what you’re doing next,” and sell something to them.

The last example Seth gave was a map of Soap Lake, Washington. It is in the middle of nowhere, but it does have a lake.  People used to come from miles around to swim in the lake, but they don’t anymore.

So the founding fathers said, “We’ve got some money to spend. What can we build here?” And like most committees, they were going to build something pretty safe. And then an artist came to them — this is a true artist’s rendering — he wants to build a 55-foot tall lava lamp in the center of town.  Now that’s something worth noticing.

In conclusion, find something remarkable and talk to people who care about it.  Simply put… this is how you get your ideas to spread.