If you run a business, handle marketing of any kind, or are just interested in marketing strategies, you should set aside 20 minutes for Seth Godin’s TED Talk entitled “How to Get Your Ideas to Spread.” I’ve embedded the video for your convenience, or you can watch it at the link above. Otherwise I’ll summarize the major points for you below.

When sliced bread was invented, it was far from the greatest thing. For nearly 15 years, no one wanted it. A similar thing happened with Ford when they invented the seatbelt. What it took was ads involving a company called Wonder, in the first instance, and commercials with a few crash test dummies, in the second, to convince people they needed these new and different products.

These are prime examples from The TV-Industrial Complex, a cyclical phenomenon wherein companies bought ads, interrupted people, got more distribution, sold more products, and used profits to buy more ads. This is how things went from the 50s to roughly the 00s. But not anymore.

“Consumers don’t care about you at all,” says Godin. “There’s way more choices and way less time now. And when that’s the case, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff.”

Godin illustrates this point with an analogy about our everyday driving habits. When we drive on country roads and pass cows, we just ignore them. We’ve seen them before, so we’re not gonna pull over and admire them. But if that cow was purple, we probably would. The thing that differentiates products now, is if it’s remarkable. Like a purple cow.

“And remarkable is a great 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,” he says.

At the time Godin made this speech at the infamous technology, entertainment, and design conference, the biggest selling cars were Hummer and Mini Cooper, and the two biggest retailers were Tiffany and Wal-Mart. These pairs have nothing in common with each other (in fact, they’re basically opposite sides of their respective spectrums), except that they are different within their market, and therefore are remarkable.

“It’s not about interrupting people with full-page ads or arranging meetings with people. It’s a totally different kind of process that dictates which ideas spread and which don’t,” he says. “… Mass marketing used to be average products for average people. Smooth out the edges and go for the center. They’d ignore the geeks and laggards; it was all about going for the center. But in the world where The TV Industrial Complex is broken, that’s not the strategy we want to use anymore.”

Godin recommends ignoring “the middle” (because they’ve gotten good at ignorance), and instead marketing to the “innovators and early adopters.” These people may be nerds and fanatics, but they care. They’re obsessed with something. They like listening because it’s about them, and if you’re lucky they’ll tell their friends and it’ll spread.

Godin provides examples like soy milk, which stood out in an otherwise boring and standard dairy section. He talks about Pearl Jam, who from 2001-2002 released 96 albums (mostly live recordings) that all made profit because they marketed and sold them to their psycho fans through their website. He posits that the reason Apple products go over like crazy is because super-fans listened really hard whenever Steve Jobs gave his infamous TED keynote speeches, which are essentially just two-hour commercials for their shiny new devices.

Points to take away:

  • Don’t be boring, safe, or good. Those things are average, therefore not remarkable.
  • Find your psycho fan audience and deliver your message to them. Obsessed people like to talk about their obsessions. And that obsession could be you.

Tags: Advice, Apple, Marketing, Steve Jobs, TED Talk, Seth Godin, TED Conference