Unleashing the SUPER Ideavirus (Enhanced Edition)

Unleashing the SUPER Ideavirus (Enhanced Edition)

by Seth Godin

"Seth Godin is the author of twelve books that have been bestsellers around the world and changed the way people think about marketing, change and work. His books have been translated into more than 35 languages, and his ebooks are among the most popular ever published. He is responsible for many words in the marketer's vocabulary, including permission marketing,… See more details below

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"Seth Godin is the author of twelve books that have been bestsellers around the world and changed the way people think about marketing, change and work. His books have been translated into more than 35 languages, and his ebooks are among the most popular ever published. He is responsible for many words in the marketer's vocabulary, including permission marketing, ideaviruses, purple cows, the dip and sneezers. His irrepressible speaking style and no-holds-barred blog have helped him create a large following around the world.

Editorial Reviews

A marketer with the zeal of a missionary advocates the idea that information about a product is spread most effectively from customer to customer. He argues that the public doesn't want to hear from traditional marketers anymore, shows how companies such as Napster, Hotmail, and GeoCities have successfully launched "idea viruses," and identifies successful techniques for propagating them. Distributed by Dearborn Publishing. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Michelle V. Rafter
The Internet industry has been enamored of buzz-based marketing ever since venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson coined the phrase "viral marketing" in 1997 to describe Hotmail's strategy of tagging every e-mail message with a promotion for its service. The self-replicating promotion helped the company achieve an epidemic growth rate of zero to 12 million users in a mere 18 months. Since then, viral marketing has propelled everything from Napster to The Blair Witch Project to legendary success. Even with all the buzz about buzz, though, many Internet companies still pour the bulk of their marketing budgets into ill-conceived TV advertising (who could forget January's orgy of dot-com expenditures on Super Bowl ads?) and other ineffective channels, like banner ads. Depending on whose numbers you use, last year online and offline companies spent $3.5 billion to $4.6 billion on Net ads. Yet, according to Nielsen NetRatings, average click-through rates for banner ads have fallen to a pitiful half a percent. There has to be a better way. With investors increasingly focusing on profits, the time is right to do more than just talk about viral marketing. And here to lead the rally are two new primers on the subject - Seth Godin's flashy Unleashing the Ideavirus and Emanuel Rosen's more pedantic but meatier The Anatomy of Buzz. Both agree on the basic tenets. Instead of blindly (and expensively) advertising to mass audiences, companies should focus on creating buzz among key potential customers - early adopters - and let them market to everybody else. Godin, who fills his book with infectious analogies, calls these folks "sneezers," whereas Rosen dubs them "network hubs." They could be celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, influential members of a particular industry or ordinary people involved in their neighborhoods, schools, church groups or companies who consciously and consistently spread the word about new things they encounter. The trick is to reward such efforts. Give away samples or discounts. Create affiliate programs a la Amazon or run promotions that reward early customers for signing up new users. Post testimonials from happy customers on your Web site. All simple stuff, but according to Godin, "too much work for most sites." Both authors warn that none of these efforts will work with a lousy product. Hotmail, Polaroid's iZone camera, the new Volkswagen Beetle and the Palm are all top-notch products - they're simple to understand and use, they work and look great - that benefited from good buzz. Godin, who founded an online promotions company he sold to Yahoo and authored last year's Permission Marketing [see "Permission Marketing"], calls these killer products "ideaviruses" because they're easy to launch and spread quickly from person to person until they're ubiquitous, like Napster or The Sopranos. If you have a great product, give buzz a boost by first giving it away or selling it dirt cheap, a lesson many Net companies already apply. As Rosen relates, the publisher of Cold Mountain gave away 4,000 galley copies to bookstore owners and others to help make the Civil War novel an unexpected hit that eventually sold 1.6 million hardcover copies. Microsoft gave away 450,000 copies of Windows 95 before the software was commercially available. Of course, you can't give away everything. So how to make money? Aim low. Pick a small market with no established leader and use buzz to dominate it before anybody else does. "If you can fill a vacuum aggressively and permanently, it is far easier to extract money," Godin writes. The jury is still out, however, on whether that theory will fly with standalone online retailers and companies such as Napster that don't charge for their services. Because the Net speeds up communication exponentially, dot-com companies have come to rely solely on online means for creating buzz. Big mistake, Rosen says. For buzz to work, companies need a multichannel strategy. Cisco, he points out, prides itself on connecting with customers online, but also arranges 1,000 offline seminars a year for potential customers, holds even more events for current customers and attends dozens of trade shows. Likewise, don't rest on your laurels. Once you've successfully used buzz to launch a product or service, leverage it to launch your next big thing. There may be no such thing as bad publicity, Rosen cautions, but negative buzz can be lethal. Apple was vilified for the Newton, as was long-dead company Momenta for its early '90s pen computer - the device was so buggy that people who got free demo units ditched them, something even a $40 million marketing budget couldn't rectify. For that reason, both authors suggest that companies actively track what people are saying about their products through all media, including on consumer feedback Web sites such as PlanetFeedback.com or Epinions.com. Both Godin and Rosen also pay homage to Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary theorist who first came up with the concept of the meme, an idea that replicates itself like a living organism, growing and evolving as it passes from one person to another. But while they cover much of the same intellectual territory, they diverge radically in execution. Godin, an unabashed self-promoter and online marketing industry fixture, offers, hands down, the faster, sexier read, with pictures, to-do lists and up-to-the-minute examples. But he fails to provide much historical perspective. He calls his slim, 197-page book a "manifesto," penned a cover story about it for Fast Company's August issue and made it available on the Web a month before its September publication date. In notices posted between pages of the online version, he encourages readers to "Steal This Idea" by downloading the text file and circulating it to friends. As of mid-August, Godin claimed more than 400,000 copies had been downloaded. If Godin's Ideavirus is fast food, Rosen's tome is an eight-course meal. Rosen stuffs his 303-page book, due in October, with examples of good and bad buzz taken from 40 years of innovations inside and outside the technology industry, and offers copious scientific research to back up his assumptions and conclusions. He includes extensive interview footnotes for each chapter and a lengthy bibliography. Such an approach is not surprising coming from the former marketing VP who helped launch EndNote, a program that helps academics compile the bibliographic material found at the end of scholarly papers. (It eventually sold 200,000 copies - mainly by word of mouth.) Though Rosen's is the better researched and structured of the two books, it's a drier read that would have benefited from a dash of Godin's peppy prose style. Together, both books make a convincing case for viral marketing - just keep in mind that no amount of buzz-building will turn a dog into a winner. And tell a friend.

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Read an Excerpt

Section 1: Why Ideas Matter

Farms, Factories And Idea Merchants

magine for a second that you're at your business school reunion, trading lies and bragging about how successful you are and/or are about to become. Frank the jock talks about the dot-com company he just started. Suzie the ex-banker is now focusing her energy on rebuilding Eastern Europe. And then the group looks at you. With a wry look of amusement, you answer:

"Well, the futurethe really big money-is in owning a farm. A small one, maybe 100 acres. I intend to invest in a tractor of course, and expect that in just a few years my husband and I can cash out and buy ourselves a nice little brownstone in the city."

Ludicrous, no? While owning a farm may bring tremendous lifestyle benefits, it hasn't been a ticket to wealth for, say, 200 years.

What about owning a factory then? Perhaps the road to riches in the new economy would be to buy yourself a hotstamping press and start turning out steel widgets. Get the UAW to organize your small, dedicated staff of craftsmen and you're on your way to robber-baron status.

Most of us can agree that the big money went out of owning a factory about thirty years ago. When you've got high fixed costs and you're competing against other folks who also know how to produce both quantity and quality, unseemly profits fly right out the window.

Fact is, the first 100 years of our country's history were about who could build the biggest, most efficient farm. And the second century focused on the race to build factories. Welcome to the third century, folks. The third century is about ideas.

Alas, nobody has a clue how to build a farm forideas, or even a factory for ideas. We recognize that ideas are driving the economy, ideas are making people rich and most important, ideas are changing the world. Even though we're clueless about how to best organize the production of ideas, one thing is clear: if you can get people to accept and embrace and adore and cherish your ideas, you win. You win financially, you gain power and you change the world in which we live. So how do you win? What do you need to do to change the status quo of whatever industry you're in, or, if you're lucky, to change the world?

If you're a farmer, you want nothing more than a high price for your soybeans. If you're a manufacturer of consumer goods, you want a display at the cash register at Wal-Mart. But what if you're an idea merchant..

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What People are saying about this

Jay Levinson
Jay Levinson, author of Guerrilla Marketing:

Take Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach and Mark Twain. Combine their brains and shave their heads. What's left? Seth Godin.

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