Over the last two weeks, I read two books on how marketing, like every other enterprise function, is changing under the onslaught of 2.0 technologies. One, Spanning Silos: the new CMO imperative, by David Aaker was a serious surprise. It underpromised and overdelivered. I felt educated. Though written in a classical, non-2.0 idiom, it is extraordinarily smart and analyzes its topic solidly. You can read my review/summary at the link above. But the other — and there is no other way to say this — just made me very very sad. It is Seth Godin’s Tribes (free audio book here).
Godin, long a god to his acolytes, has a well-deserved reputation as the marketing thought leader of our times. Permission Marketing (4 free chapters here) was the first marketing book I read, and I was blown away by the intellectual excitement he sucked me into (at the time I was knee-deep in one of the very few marketing gigs on my resume, crafting newsletters for a large permission email list). Though I am not in marketing, I still find myself using its ideas frequently in other, general-communication contexts. The Dip was a gem of a book that made a tough philosophical idea easy to understand.
And then we get Tribes. I almost cried as I was finishing listening to it.
It is clearly supposed to be a visionary book about marketing 2.0. It ends up being vacuous. All high-concept and no real substance. The basic premise is that marketing, in the world of 2.0 technologies, is about creating tribes of what Kevin Kelly calls ‘raving fans‘ around charismatic and renegade leader-archetype figures. He isn’t the first to say something along these lines (try Groundswell), but his particular take is, quite simply, fatally flawed. The book has three redeeming features, and a host of failings. Here are my lists:
Now for the failings
Now, let me reiterate, I am not a marketer, and I try and watch and learn from great marketers (Godin definitely still included, despite this mis-step) as they go about inventing marketing 2.0 in the trenches. There is a lot of hard work and learning going on out there. Nobody has all the answers yet.
Godin, unfortunately, played this exactly wrong. What the environment needed from the God of Marketing was a curious, exploratory book; a book intent on learning, asking questions and framing smart hypotheses for his legions of very smart fans to test. Instead of a front-line General, we got priestly pronouncements from a lofty peak, with fog obscuring his view of the battlefield.
For me, Godin is now a fallen idol. I hope he gets up again. And oh yeah, do read Spanning Silos: the new CMO imperative, by David Aaker. We need new gods of marketing, at least temporarily.
And for those of you are itching to throw stones back at my own glass house, here is my analysis (almost a year old, so I should probably do a follow-up) of Twitter.
Venkatesh G. Rao writes a blog on business and innovation at www.ribbonfarm.com, and is a Web technology researcher at Xerox. The views expressed in this blog are his personal ones and do not represent the views of his employer.
Can’t please everyone, I guess.
Sorry you hated it so much. Thanks for giving it a try.
Whoa. I don’t even know where to begin. I guess the first thing is the lesson about criticism, since I’m in the Godin cult so deep I can’t see out of it, but I have heard from a number of folks saying “dude, the emperor’s got no more clothes.”
Their particular beef w/him is that he doesn’t actually roll up his sleeves.
I really try to put his stuff into practice as I believe in it, but the execution is a lot messier. Clients don’t necessarily understand it and you can’t exactly tell them 10 years worth of Godin (plus others) in a 20 minute chat…though I try. Plus, there are existing organizational structures which exist…
There’s so much here, it’s late, and I’m tired, but I’ll hone in one one point…I don’t think a tribe is necessarily around a person. It’s better to be around an idea or, as Hugh MacLeod (gapingvoid.com) might say, “a social object.”
Take how we met…Dan PInk/Johnny Bunko. It’s not a tribe around Dan, it’s a tribe around people who like the story of Bunko.
People are passionate about all types of things that aren’t other people (harley davidson is one of them).
Anyway, there are some very good points here…the best one being that I am a “frontline experimenter.” That’s going in my sales collateral!!!
Tribes was the first Seth Godin Book I ever read after following is blog for a while, and I somehow felt the same: Is this it? Is this really everything I can take out of this book?
On the other hand, I tried to get something positive out of it: If that’s really everything, it’s easy to give it a try
And with managers: well, depends on which business you’re looking and what you want to sell them. And sometimes this black-and-white stuff (all managers are idiots) helps to get yourself going: it makes me talk more directly, louder and with more power behind my ideas, because I act like talking to pumpkins…
With regards to point 6 and Twitter, you do realize that the Seth Godin account that appeared on Twitter was someone else’s, right? Are you basing your judgment on that Twitter account?
If you go back to Godin’s original article, the point that he makes is that a person who continues to deliver value, interesting content on a continual basis (whether each piece was big or small, profound and simple) via a service like Twitter, or a blog, or in a message board, or Amazon.com recommendations, or… whatever medium, builds up trust and reputation over time by consistently sharing useful stuff with other people. Twitter is one of several media that allow you to do that. Also, Godin was writing from the perspective of the follower or friend who watches that information stream over time and makes a judgment based on the value to them.
I think he definitely gets the value of Twitter from the perspective of the viewer and anyone can make that assessment.
So what am I missing?
@ Mark, Yes, I did see the whole story and his explanation and final bailing out with the ‘no time’ excuse. But that makes his endorsement of the concept somewhat content free. You would expect a more substantive opinion of a major medium from Godin. I probably oughta clarify that in the body of the blog to prevent misconceptions, will do.
@kbex, IMO, the danger of rhetorical negative views of managers is that they can too easily be taken seriously. Short-term acceleration at the expense of longer-term damage.
@jeremy, I agree with your object/person distinction, but the book puts most of its emphasis on persons, especially around exhorting people to become the sort of leader whose portrait Seth paints.
@seth, thanks for reading…
@Venkatesh – OK, I see your point, although I do respect that we all have to make decisions about where we spend our time.
I may write a blog post in response to yours. I found myself agreeing with you a lot at first, but after further review and reflection I think that I agree less with the failings that you note above, but I need to put it into long form.
Mark, please do. Maybe Tribes+ensuing blogosphere conversation will do what the book alone didn’t… :)
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