Seth Godin became famous as a marketing guru, but I think his real value lies elsewhere. Lots of people say the same stuff he does about marketing. His real talent, IMO, is his ability to distill trends and marketing know-how into inspiring manifestos.
About three years ago, Godin's Linchpin completely changed how I thought about my career and the business I'm in. We Are All Weird takes the core ideas from Linchpin and applies them in a marketing context. However, this is more than a marketing book. It is very purposefully meant to change how the reader looks at the world.
Seth Godin's premise is simple. When people have an opportunity to make choices, they tend to want to express themselves. At no other point in history have we had so much opportunity to do both. We have nearly unlimited choices on who we want to be and what we buy. No matter how we may want to express ourselves, there are others like us to whom we can instantly connect. As a result, we are increasingly unsatisfied with one-size-fits-all goods, services, and lifestyles. Companies and organizations that thrive on normal are finding it very difficult to eek out the steady results they used to.
Godin discusses how "normal" mass markets were a creation of mass production and mass communication. Brands profited from defining the normal and making sure everyone wanted that. Governments and religions enforced normal to ensure a well-educated and independent populace was controllable. It came down to efficiency and productivity.
But then, something started to happen. We got so good at normal it allowed us to be weird. Increases in efficiency and productivity lifted everyone's standard of living. We had more time and more money for discretionary purchases. Advances in the technologies of production made it cheaper for companies to offer more choices. Computer technology and the Internet let us reach out to a larger world. We could express our individuality, find other people who were into that, and gather ideas and products from anywhere.
Seth Godin presents several arguments which come together to make a convincing case that weird will prevail. In our desire to express ourselves, we will continue to pursue the weird. Some people will only get a little bit weird. Others will really color outside the lines, and push the envelope within their affinity group.
-The forces of normal fear the weird.
Seth Godin is a pretty provocative guy. He is not afraid to point out the forces allied against our freedom to express ourselves. The forces of normal fear the weird because it disrupts mass control. Weird throws a monkey wrench into their ultra-efficient factories and control mechanisms.
In most cases, market forces have allowed the weird to get more of what they want. In nearly every product and service, there are far more choices available now than in the past. We vote with our wallets, and if companies want our money they have to somehow fulfill our desire for change.
In a few cases, especially those connected with government, we have little power of choice. Americans have become much more diverse and individuated in our political beliefs over the years. In fact, most elections are decided by independent voters. Yet, we are stuck with two political parties, both of which are dominated by centrist power brokers.
So whenever we vote, we're stuck voting between the two candidates deemed acceptable by the privileged folks in the parties. And that candidate, if elected, has huge incentive to avoid rocking the boat. We vote for change, and get very little of it, because the status quo is too beneficial to the privileged.
If you'll allow me to step on the soapbox for a bit, this is why embracing free-market capitalism promotes our right to choose better than pushing centralized bureaucratic control. In a free market, companies and organizations have to serve us if they want to make money. When government bureaucracies rule, they can do whatever they want because they have the authority to take our money with guns.
-Smart companies will embrace the weird.
Seth Godin makes a persuasive case for why brands need to let go of the nostalgia for mass markets. All of the economic forces that made mass markets the most efficient way to make a buck are now helping the weird get weirder. So brands can pursue a shrinking "normal" or get their fingers in a lot of "weird" pies.
Embracing weirdness and niche markets will also help companies resist cost pressures. If a brand delights a dedicated audience, they will be willing to pay for the product or the experience. If a brand is an average commodity, people will just look for the cheapest price from all competitors.
-The Politically Correct Revolutionary
Seth Godin does an excellent job of pointing out the problems with the status quo, but he seems to have a real aversion to naming names. This is true for a lot of his critiques that involve government and politics. For example, he is highly critical of education in the U.S. He makes all the points of how our educational systems are holding kids back. However, he completely fails to point out the culprits - teacher's unions and sympathetic politicians. There is now a Bipartisan consensus that education needs to be modernized. The ONLY thing standing in the way is the power of the teachers unions. This is demonstrated throughout the country. I think it's really unfortunate that Godin won't say this, as his influence could really help people who want to reform our schools.
-Does not sufficiently warn against "fake weird"
Seth Godin does have a small section of the book where he talks about the pitfalls of faking weird. This is the phenomenon of brands giving some halfhearted lip service to niche marketing without actually changing anything. I would have liked to see more emphasis on this issue in the book. Because I can see a lot of brand managers reading Seth Godin, adding a couple of "edgy" signifiers to their existing offerings, and then patting themselves on the back. That's not enough to genuinely serve the weird. They'll see right through that stuff. I truly believe that even the weirdest subcultures are open to marketing, but brands need to be humble enough to learn from their customers.
This book is available on Kindle for $3. It took me about two hours to read. I'll be using many of the principles from this book for years. What's not to like?