Below is a transcript of the Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio show titled Are You Weird Enough to Succeed at Online Marketing?.
The original podcast aired on Friday, September 30, 2011.
Please note: this transcript has been edited for clarity.
Robert Bruce: I have my own opinions on this, but who do you think is the weirdest person at Copyblogger?
Brian Clark: Hmm. Outwardly or actually?
Robert: Let’s say actually.
Brian: Actually, probably me.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, I was going to say Brian. No question.
Brian: But outwardly you, with that thing on your face.
Robert: That thing on my face. Oh, you mean my beard. Uh, immortal beard.
Sonia: Mr. Amateur Recluse.
Brian: I’m waiting for you to go pro, but then of course I’ll have to send people over to your house periodically to make sure you’re still alive. It’s such a hassle.
Robert: Yeah, when that happens you’ll never hear from me again, so …
Welcome y’all to yet another episode of Internet Marketing for Smart People radio. I am Robert Bruce and I’m joined today by Sonia Simone and Brian Clark. How are the two of you feeling today? Are you ready to get weird?
Sonia: I’m feeling pretty freaky.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, I was in Tampa with a bunch of crazy SEOs and internet marketers at the Blue Glass conference and talk about a weird group. But, that’s why they’re really good at what they do.
Robert: Well I heard it was particularly weird on the flight home.
Brian: It was only weird in the sense that I was in first class, which I don’t normally fly because I’m too cheap and I’m just surrounded by guys in suits with Dell laptops, so they’re all lawyers basically, and I’m wearing shorts and sandals and my hair is sticking up every which way and I open up my Mac and I’m like, “I could be an Apple ad right now!”
Robert: Nice job, CEO.
Brian: Yeah, exactly.
Why Seth Godin thinks normal is no longer a strategy
Robert: Alright. So, our pal Seth Godin has written another book. This one is titled We Are All Weird: The Myth of Mass and the End of Compliance and it’s published through his Domino Project. He’s calling it a manifesto of the end of the mass market.
He says mass — as in mass market — is dead and here comes the weird. He defines weird as anything that is not normal, anything that flies in the face of the culture of mass, and he calls weird an opportunity. On the other hand, he makes the case that normal or mass is no longer a strategy.
So we’re not going to be able to cover nearly everything in this few minutes that we have, but let’s go over some of the most interesting points from his book.
Marketing weirdness defined
So, first we’ll talk a little bit about weirdness as he defines it, or the fragmentation of culture, and then we’ll get into what this means for marketers. So Sonia, you have pink hair, which I think qualifies you to discuss Seth’s idea of weirdness here.
Sonia: Well, it’s peculiar because when this book came out I remember that a couple of years ago I wrote in an e-mail that the long tail is just the collection of everybody on the internet who is weird in the same way that you are. So I’m glad to find out that Seth Godin has finally caught up with my mighty thought leadership on this important issue.
But yeah, I mean it’s been there for a while, and now it’s starting to become very visible.
And Godin makes a lot of comparisons with something that’s been dead for a long time, which is that mid 20th century mass market where a handful of companies supported by three channels – all of you out there who are 19 are just going to, like your minds are going to implode at the idea that there used to be three television channels.
And if you didn’t like what was on, too freaking bad, like go mow the lawn. That was your option.
And so that was the era of Wonder Bread, and Wonder Bread is the icon of that period of time. It was exactly uniform; every kid in America ate this kind of terrible, overly processed white bread, which probably completely destroyed our health as a nation.
Now, I’m not 100% sure Wonder Bread is still in business. My family, I eat this crazy stuff called Ezekiel bread, which is make out of like sprouted grains.
Brian: Yeah, Sam buys that too. Wow.
The death of the mass market
Sonia: It’s awesome. So it’s for weirdo like me who want super whole grain stuff, and like flour is the enemy. My kid eats Udi’s gluten free bread, so that’s made by a local bakery that has been assisted by Whole Foods, which is a tremendous friend of the weird in that kind of space. My husband eats Whole Foods baguettes that are baked by cute little French people who Whole Foods imports to the United States to bake good bread.
And, if Wonder Bread is still on the shelves, it’s fighting for space with lots of other “me too” products positioned in all different kinds of ways, and then lots of bona fide niche, weirdo products for strange people who like strange things.
And that’s what he means, in a nutshell, by the death of the mass. Mass is no longer more than half of the population. Mass still exists, and we’re going to talk about that because in a couple of ways mass really still exists. But more and more, you can’t really command 50, 60, 70, 80% of the market anymore in most spaces, it’s just not going to happen.
Brian: Unless you’re Google.
Brian: Good exceptions that we will discuss.
Sonia: Yeah … I want to talk about that, just because you can find exceptions to the argument does not mean you as a business owner are going to get to be Google or Apple. I mean, you can try, and bless you for it.
Brian: We’re talking about proprietary technology, intellectual property patents. You know, that is the last bastion of protection for any sort of mass. Now of course, Google will end up probably declared a monopoly at some point, and Apple’s getting assaulted on all sides. We’ll just see what happens.
The bad thing about Apple is a lot of what they do can be learned from and replicated, but a lot of people have failed. Microsoft has done it repeatedly; some of the tablet competitors are already gone. Can you believe it? It’s just like come out, fail totally; okay we’re not doing that anymore.
The rise of weirdness and modern positioning
Robert: Yeah, and he brings up the reasons why, kind of the rise of weirdness. And one of the things that he talks about specifically is as wealth and productivity compound, the weirdness comes on hot and heavy.
And we’ve seen that in the last couple of years; so wealth in general, especially in the culture that the three of us live in, and then productivity, specifically as brought by the internet. And one of the examples he uses is artists selling their stuff on Etsy.
Artists that you would never, ever see; it goes back to the same example, the bread that you would never, ever have an opportunity to even know about, much less eat is now a block away.
Sonia: Yeah, and Etsy is a great example, and Etsy’s a tough space because you’re in the world’s biggest flea market with thousands and thousands of other people who make handmade hats or scarves or skirts or jewelry, but nonetheless that marketplace exists.
You don’t have to pay some kind of hundred dollars a day booth fee. You get your stuff, you put your pictures up, and actually that’s a very interesting place where the model can break down because I think a lot of people think, “Well, the marketplace exists, right?”
eBay, Etsy – these spaces exist – Amazon now, for writers. “This marketplace exists; I’m just going to put my stuff up. I don’t need marketing because we’re in the world of the weird.” Okay, no, you know?
Brian: That’s a good point Sonia, because when you really think about this book it’s a shorter version of Purple Cow, right? The same story being told differently, it’s a play on modern positioning and being remarkable to the right people.
Not necessarily to become one of the few mass market success stories, because the definition of a really big market has shrunk so drastically and I think that just accelerated and that’s why we have this new take on what’s a classic problem, which is how do I position myself so that people resonate with my product and with me.
And now we have this kind of one to one world marketplace and whether it’s within the Kindle section of Amazon or iBooks, yes. And there are lots of people out there selling ebooks, but they’ll tell you it’s a lot of marketing. It’s almost more marketing than it is book.
Robert: Let me ask you a little sidebar on that. The thing I think of most with this stuff is the generation that we just came out of as opposed to what we’re going into. So let’s give it another five years to really let this stuff ramp up, this idea of weirdness and the fragmentation of culture.
But the question I have is: Will there ever be another Aerosmith, for example? Is it possible that there will ever exist in history another U2? Success on that scale in this “weird world”?
Brian: Can I answer this one?
Sonia: I think you’re going to have to.
There will never be another Nirvana
Brian: I think about this all the time because you know, Nirvana’s Nevermind turned 20 years old last weekend. Gosh, poor Gen Xers, we are getting up there, aren’t we?
Robert: Let me go get my cane.
Brian: Exactly. But, and I kind of give the young people today a hard time because I do listen to indie rock by 19 year olds and 21 year olds, and there’s great stuff out there. I can always hear the influences though, so I have these two theories that number one, there’s nothing ever new.
Like rap was really kind of the last form of music, and of course that was inspired by all sorts of things that came before just like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were inspired by American blues music, right? So you’ve always had these derivations, but now the kids today are combining genres or styles that were from the 80’s. That’s not exactly a long time ago in the grand scheme of things, right?
So there’s that, but the other thing is no matter what, there will never be another Nirvana Nevermind. That literally changed the face of music because that was the end of mass, right?
I mean that was at the tail end, where I listened driving down the freeway on my way to law school in ’91, and on your typical corporate rock channel I hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I knew the world had changed right then.
Brian: But, it’s never going to happen again. I mean, now we have alternative mainstream channels. What’s alternative mainstream?
Brian: That’s meaningless, it’s silly. Only a guy in a suit would think of that.
Robert: Have you seen any Spotify play lists lately? I mean, from one person to the next there’s just almost – you know, you have the same interests, the same stuff especially for the older folks like us – but, those play lists are so unique.
Brian: Yeah, and it’s great for a music fan like me, but at the same time it’s so obscure.
Brian: And there are people out there who only like the obscure, but there’s no trigger anymore. Back when Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, all of those were bands I listened to before they broke, and then they broke huge and changed the way people think about popular music.
We no longer have that mechanism. It doesn’t exist, so my long drawn out answer is I don’t think it’ll ever happen again.
Sonia: Because we don’t have to all listen to the same radio station anymore.
Sonia: And that’s why that used to work, is every once in a while something like Nirvana or the Beatles, something that’s really brain bending would get onto popular radio, where there was one venue, one big watering hole where everybody came to listen to music for young people.
And if you could get something really weird and innovative on there, it would become a hit. We don’t have that anymore.
Everybody’s kind of splintered and fragmented out into their own Pandora accounts and Spotify and so now, commute radio has completely devolved into, you know, Wonder Bread music product that’s produced scientifically, but that has become a niche audience. It’s a big audience.
Brian: Yeah, even the Jack FM thing, which was basically, conceived of as a DJ-less iPod on shuffle, right? It’s just a random mix of songs from all sorts of decades, all sorts of genres.
Basically though, stuff our generation – they were mainly targeting Generation X – would find cool, even if you had never owned Donna Summer’s anything, you still didn’t mind hearing that tune, right?
Sonia: Dude, don’t diss the Donna Summer man.
The new types of bonds that actually form tribes
Brian: Okay, that’s me. But I enjoy the occasional Donna Summer but I would not purchase Donna Summer, right? But Jack FM is the most calculated play list ever made, based on data. And they get it right and we’re like, “Oh, that’s so random.”
No, it’s not random at all, but again, that was a mass medium trying to adapt, much like Sonia’s post today, adapt or die, and yet even now they’re not going to make it, right?
Because we don’t have to tune into Jack for that; we’ve got Spotify, we’ve got Pandora. We have so much choice; there is no chance that we’re ever all going to agree on anything again.
And we can lament the lack of a shared culture because you know, when we were kids you could talk about something from Saturday Night Live to a band to a movie that we had all pretty much seen. And when you met someone who hadn’t seen Star Wars you’re like, “Are you kidding me?” You know?
But that’s pretty much how everything is going to be from now on. And when you do find people who have a shared culture experience with you, you’re going to bond with them much tighter regardless of the typical things that keep us apart like race and religion and ethnicity and all this kind of stuff.
Now, when you do find someone that bonds with something that you really love as far as an album or a movie, you kind of stick together and forget your differences to a certain degree.
And that’s what Godin’s saying. He’s saying, “Tap into that because that’s the new emotional resonance. That’s the new bond that forms tribes, communities, audiences,” whatever you want to call them.
Robert: Yeah, and Seth brings it back, stating that the biggest impact that the internet and tech in general have made is this personal impact that you can make on your own culture; your own tribe.
And the flipside of the coin that we’ve been talking about is that 40 years ago breaking through, he uses the example of van Gogh, which I think is a fantastic example. He sold one painting…
Sonia: One painting in his lifetime.
Robert: …in his lifetime. And imagine if van Gogh had the power of the internet, of course is the bottom line. So, there is a flipside to this. There is a positive, there’s a lot of positive, obviously. But are marketers screwed then, in this brave, weird world?
The death of the middle
Brian: Well, this is what Sonia always calls the death of the middle, because you’re going to have huge multinationals with cash and resources and IP that make them huge and true global companies.
And then small business is going to thrive. Everything from the individual all the way up to the hundred person firm, that’s a small company. Everyone in the middle of those two is going to have a really hard time because they’re not small and nimble enough to be weird and really bond with an audience segment or multiple segments.
Smart companies are going to learn to segment much better so that if you have a somewhat kind of commodity product that’s useful to a lot of different people, really you just have to learn to talk to different groups of people differently.
And some companies do that very well; a lot don’t. And guess what, mass media advertiser, that’s direct marketing – knowing how to tailor a message to a particular audience in a particular vertical, or whatever.
So, a lot of what we’ve been talking about on Copyblogger , it’s just the way it is thanks to this fragmentation of culture. You have to know who you’re talking to, and you have to split off and address these other people completely differently.
There is no more one size fits all messaging.
Beer’s heavy hitters vs. microbrew’s weirdness
Sonia: Yeah, we have a couple of companies we want to talk about because you mentioned that the massive players and then the niche players, there is nowhere you see this probably as strongly or more strongly than in the beer industry.
So you have the major heavy hitters: Coors, Budweiser, and that other one. What is the other one? There’s another one.
Sonia: I don’t know, there’s another one. There are three big brewers and they sell like 98% or some crazy number of the beer sold in the United States.
Brian: This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Messaging, but it really gets to people when they realize who makes Blue Moon.
Sonia: Right, right. So you have this craft beer movement, which is really passionate and really exciting, and the U.S, is still the most advanced in the world in the craft beer movement.
It’s very interesting to go to Belgium where all the great beer used to come from, and they’re sort of like, “Oh, well we started putting hops in our beer.” It’s kind of weird.
So, the microbrew movement — powerful, passionate, perfect for social media. Classic weirdos, okay? Classic people who completely reject the normal mainstream; have a lot of contempt for the big breweries.
So, what does our friend Coors do? Very smart company here in Colorado – very savvy, actually surprisingly nimble company. They create a story called the Blue Moon Brewery. The Blue Moon Brewing Company is I think what they call it.
They create a fiction of this little microbrewery in Colorado that brews a microbrew that just happens to have distribution everywhere that your normal Coors and Budweiser have distribution. That’s interesting.
And more to the point, it tastes a lot more like Coors than it tastes like a microbrew. And so you think, “Well this is a big problem. People are going to taste this and find out that it’s fake and they’re not going to choose it.”
The truth is, a lot of consumers want the taste, the palatable light lager, that sort of very unthreatening taste of a mainstream beer, but they want the story of a microbrew. They want to be cool and hip and non-obvious and cutting edge.
Brian: Target is more than willing to sell you an old looking Coca Cola shirt so you can be cool and ironic.
Sonia: Yeah, absolutely. And it works. And I think the reason that it works is because Coors is not a big dumb company, they’re a big smart company and they looked at the customer and they talked to the customer and the customer said, “Oh, I really love the microbrew. I just wish it sort of didn’t taste so funny and strong.”
Brian: “It tastes so European.”
Sonia: “It tastes so…” you know, and they make a little face.
Brian: “It’s so cloudy.”
Sonia: My dad teaches sommelier in New York City and he used to run single malt scotch tastings when single malt scotch was first a cool thing that nobody had ever heard of. And he would always do blind tastings and he would always include a mainstream blended scotch in with the single malt tastings.
Well, that scotch always came in first every single time. That was the taste that people actually wanted, they just wanted the storyline of the single malt. I don’t say this to depress everybody, but what you do have to realize is you have to actually deliver what people want with the story that they think they want.
And that can be kind of deceptive, and I think Blue Moon goes into deceptive. I mean, there’s nowhere on the bottle of a Blue Moon beer that says “Brewed by the Molson Coors Company”.
Or it can just be a matter of understanding that you can’t sell broccoli ice cream. Nobody’s that weird, okay? Whole Foods does not have a broccoli ice cream aisle.
Brian: And I think this is the interesting thing here, because we do have our own taste and eclectic-ness to a certain degree, but a lot of people want to appear eclectic, but can’t really live it. You know? I mean, they really are.
They kind of go along with other people. Now again, Godin has some great bell curve charts in his book that show the idea of normal or consensus reality, if you will, keeps shrinking, right? So maybe we’re just in a process to where people truly will only gravitate to the truly authentic, but I don’t know.
Human beings have been living stories since we were in the cave. I think the three of us are very eclectic and diverse in our tastes, but we’re also students of human nature and again, a lot of it is about the story we’re telling about ourselves.
How to be profitably weird
Robert: I want to do a lightning round on this topic right now. I’m going to give each of you 40 seconds. Sonia, go.
Sonia: Okay, the internet means you can now find the people who are weird the same way you are. So, you need to get out there and do it. You need to really think about what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, what kind of story you’re telling, keep your eyes opened, keep paying attention, and keep talking.
This is your age, so don’t worry too much about Blue Moon. Don’t worry too much about Apple. Worry about what you’re going to do and how you are going to find your people. Because they’re out there and they’re waiting for you, and this is an opportunity that’s not going to last forever.
Robert: Brian, you’re up.
Brian: This is really just the latest spin and the evolution, and some would argue it’s always been this way to a certain degree. Ben and Jerry’s, the Grateful Dead. I mean, weird has always had a place, but weird in a way that Seth is talking about it is about bonding with someone because you’re like them.
And again, we know these big companies make up stories, but trust me – if you’re a smaller company or a solo entrepreneur, finding that aspect of yourself that’s a little offbeat and positioning around that, I’ve seen it succeed wildly time and time again online.
We’re going to link to some of our classic positioning articles to give you foundational thoughts, but what’s inside of you or your product or your company that you’re like, “Should I talk about this?” Maybe you should, because that may be the thing.
Robert: And speaking of finding yourself, this show is sponsored by
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Sonia, who can benefit from signing up to the Internet Marketing for Smart People course?
Sonia: I think anybody who’s listening to this and telling themselves, “Okay, the weird part I have covered. It’s the marketing part that’s a little bit of a stumbling block.”
It’s how to take that message, how to take that distinctiveness, how to take that very much outside the mainstream and find the right people for it and get the message across, so it’s just a very complete but manageable course on how do you do it.
Brian: Maybe we should rename it “How to be weird profitably.”
Sonia: Ooh. Domain name searches in progress.
Robert: I think I did hear some typing there. And also, nobody mentioned here that this is completely, entirely, 100% free. To sign up, just head over to copyblogger.com/imfsp and drop your e-mail address into the little box. We are going to take care of the rest for you. That’s copyblogger.com/imfsp.
Weirdness and the strategy of positioning
Okay we have, my friends, about five minutes here and Brian brought up the idea of positioning. We’ve been talking about it all along, but how does this weirdness reality factor into the all important strategy of positioning?
Brian: You know, one of my favorite stories, and we always go back to these classic copywriting guys like Claude Hopkins and the day he, speaking of beer, since we’ve been talking about beer and this airs on a Friday I guess we’ll get everyone in the mood for the weekend.
So yeah, he visits the Schlitz plant, they’re number five in the market, they need help and they show him the water purification process and how they go through all these steps to have the purest water possible and he’s like, “This is it. This is the story.” And they’re like, “Everyone does this.” And he’s like, “Yes, but no one talks about it.”
And that’s a really old school thing and it’s hard to do that anymore, but think about it. What are the things everyone knows in your industry, in your field, but none talks about because it’s weird or we’re not sure.
A lot of people have positioned themselves strongly on the whole concept of giving away the inside secrets or whatever, but now we kind of call that transparency. So the struggle is how do you choose the right way to pull back the curtain on the wizard so that people are attracted to you, they like you, they feel like you share the same world view?
The flipside of that, of course, is just going directly to the audience and matching up elements of yourself or aspects of your persona in the psychological sense, to them and again, wildly successful to a lot of people. You just have to be careful.
If you’re trying to build a brand that’s beyond you, it’s dangerous to make it too much about you. But it’s been done before where the quirkiness of the founders is translated into the brand and it resonates and they’re probably all sitting by their pools right now not really worrying about it.
Robert: Thanks everybody for tuning in today. If you love us at all, please…
Brian: He’s got this great delivery and voice and he’s like, “I’m just trying not to sound desperate now.”
Sonia: Even if you think we’re kind of cute.
Robert: Kind of cute, kind of sexy, kind of weird, even. Please help us out by heading over to iTunes and giving us a rating over there. You can even comment, when you rate.
Right now we’re only accepting five star ratings, so if you’re disappointed with the show at all you’re just going to have to wait until we open that up for you again, but five stars over at iTunes, we’d love it.
Ms. Simone, Mr. Clark, you have done it again. Thank you.
Brian: Thanks, Robert.
Sonia: Thanks, Robert.