Triple Your Sales by Doing Something Remarkable

May 8, 2015

I’ve been a follower of Seth Godin since college. His book Permission Marketing completely changed my perspective on the marketing process and overall profession.

He is the foremost genius on creating ideas that stick and building promotions around more than just a sale but around being truly remarkable as a company.

In today’s age it is not enough to have a better price or product. You have to provide a better experience. You must truly be remarkable at what you do to survive.

For anyone who hasn’t seen Godin’s TEDTalk, “How to Get Your Ideas to Spread” (aka “The Purple Cow” talk), I’ve included the video and transcript below. Watching it is a great way to head into the weekend.


I want to give you four specific examples how a product called Silk tripled their sales by doing one thing. How an artist named Jeff Koons went from being a nobody to making a whole bunch of money and having a lot of impact. And how Frank Gehry redefined what it meant to be an architect.

And one of my biggest failures as a marketer in the last few years, a record label I started that had a CD called “Sauce.”

Before I can do that, I have to tell you about sliced bread and a guy named Otto Rohwedder. But before sliced bread was invented in the 1910s, I wonder what they said… like the greatest invention since the telegraph or something. But this guy, Otto Rohwedder invented sliced bread. And he focused like most inventors did on the patent part and the making part.

And the thing about the invention of sliced bread is that for the first fifteen years after sliced bread was available, no one bought it, no one knew about it. It was a complete and total failure. And the reason is that until Wonder came along and figured out how to spread the idea of sliced bread, no one wanted it. That the success of sliced bread like the success of almost everything is not always about what the patent is like or what the factory is like. It’s whether you can get your idea to spread.

And I think the way you’re going to get what you want or cause change is you’re going to figure out a way to get your ideas to spread. And it doesn’t matter to me if you’re running a coffee shop, you’re an intellectual, or you’re in business, or flying hot air balloons. I think that all this stuff applies to everybody regardless of what we do. That we are living in a century of idea diffusion. That people who can spread ideas regardless of what those ideas are, win.

At the heart of spreading ideas is TV and stuff like TV. TV and mass media made it really easy to spread ideas in a certain way. I call it the “TV Industrial Complex.” And the way the TV Industrial Complex works is you buys some ads, interrupt some people, and you get your distribution. You then use the distribution to sell more products. You take the profit from that to buy more ads. And it goes around, and around, and around the same way the military industrial complex worked a long time ago.

That model, and we heard it yesterday, if we could only get on the homepage of Google, if we can only figure out how to get promoted there, if we could only figure out how to grab that person by the throat and tell them about what we want to do, if we do that, then everyone would pay attention. We would win.

Well, this TV Industrial Complex informed my entire childhood and probably yours. All of these products succeeded because someone figured out how to touch people in a way they weren’t expecting.

And the thing that’s happened is the cancelation of the TV Industrial Complex. Just over the last few years, when anybody who markets anything has discovered is it’s not working the way that it used to.

The product in the blue box in the center is my poster child. I go to the deli. I’m sick. I need to buy some medicine. The brand manager for that blue product spent $100 million trying to interrupt me in one year, $100 million interrupting me with TV commercials, and magazine ads, and spam, and coupons, and shelving allowances, and spiff, and I’ll start to ignore every message. I ignored every message because I don’t have a pain reliever problem. I buy the stuff in the yellow box. I always have. I’m not going to waste a minute of my time to solve another problem because I don’t care.

Here’s a magazine called, “Hydrate.” It’s 180 pages about water! Articles about water, ads about water. Imagine what the world was like 40 years ago when it was the Saturday Evening Post, and Time and Newsweek. Now there are magazines about water. New products from Kobe Japan like water salad. Okay? Kobe Japan comes out with a new product every three weeks because they have no idea what’s going to work and what’s not.

This, I couldn’t have written this better myself. It came out four days ago. I circled the important parts so you can see them here. They come out, Arby’s is going to spend $85 million promoting an oven mitt with the voice of Tom Arnold hoping that that would get people to go to Arby’s and buy a roast beef sandwich. Now, I want you to try and imagine what could possibly be in an animated TV commercial featuring Tom Arnold that would get you to get in your car, drive across town, and buy a roast beef sandwich.

Copernicus was right when he was talking about anyone who needs to hear your idea. The world revolves around me. Me, me, me, me, me. My favorite person, me.

I don’t want to get an email from anybody. I want to get me-mail.

So consumers, and I don’t mean just people who buy stuff at the Safeway. I mean people at the Defense Department who might buy something or people at the New Yorker who might print your article, consumers don’t care about you at all. They just don’t care. They have less time and way more choices than they used to. And in a world where we have too many choices and too little time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff.

And my parable here is you’re driving on the road and you see a cow and you keep driving because you’ve seen cows before. Cows are invisible. Cows are boring. Who’s going to stop and pull over and say, “Oh, look a cow!”? Nobody. If the cow was purple, you would notice it for a while. If all cows were purple, then you’d get bored with those too.

The thing that’s going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built is: is it remarkable? And remarkable is a really cool 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.

One of the hottest cars in the United States is a $55,000 giant car big enough to hold a mini in its trunk. People are paying full price for both and the only thing they have in common is that they don’t have anything in common.

Every week, the number one bestselling DVD in America changes. It’s never “The Godfather” or “Citizen Kane,” it’s always some a third-rate movie with some second rate star. But the reason it’s number one is because that’s the week it came out. Because it’s new, because it’s fresh, because people saw it and said, “I didn’t know it was there,” and they noticed it.

Two of the big success stories in the last 20 years in retail, one sells things that are super expensive in a blue box and one sells that are as cheap as they can make them. The only thing they have in common is that they’re different.

We’re now in the fashion business. No matter what we do for a living, we’re in the fashion business. And the thing is, people in the fashion business know what it’s like to be in the fashion business. They’re used to it. The rest of us have to figure out how to think that way, how to understand that it’s not about interrupting people with big full page ads or insisting on meetings with people, but it’s a totally different sort of process that determines which ideas spread and which ones don’t.

They sold a billion dollars’ worth of Aeron chairs by reinventing what it meant to sell a chair. They turned a chair from something the purchasing department bought to something that was a status symbol about where you sat at work.

Lionel Poilane, the most famous baker in the world, lived in Paris. Last year, he sold $10 million worth of French bread, every loaf baked in a bakery he owned by one baker at a time in a wood fired oven. And when Lionel started his bakery, the French poo-pooed it. They didn’t want to buy his bread. It didn’t look like French bread. It wasn’t what they expected. It was neat, it was remarkable, and slowly, it spread from one person to another person until finally it became the official bread of three star restaurants in Paris. Now, he’s in London and he ships by FedEx all around the world.

What marketers used to do is make average products for average people. That’s what mass marketing is. Smooth out the edges, go for the center. That’s the big market. They would ignore the geeks and God forbid the laggers. It was all about going for the center.

But in a world where the TV Industrial Complex is broken, I don’t think that’s the strategy we want to use anymore. I think the strategy we want to use is to not market to these people because they’re really good at ignoring you. But market to these people because they care. These are the people who are obsessed with something and when you talk to them, they’ll listen because they like listening. It’s about them. And if you’re lucky, they’ll tell their friends on the rest of the curve and it will spread. It will spread through the entire curve.

“Otaku” is a great Japanese word. It describes the desire of someone who is obsessed to drive across Tokyo to try a new ramen noodle place because that’s what they do. They get obsessed with it.

To make a product, to market an idea, to come up with any problem you want to solve that doesn’t have a constituency with an otaku is almost impossible. Instead, you have to find a group that really desperately cares about what it is you have to say.

Talk to them and make it easy for them to tell their friends. There’s a hot sauce, otaku, but there’s no mustard, otaku. That’s why there’s lots and lots and lots of kinds of hot sauces and not so many kinds of mustard. Not because it’s hard to make interesting mustard, you can make interesting mustard. But people don’t because no one is obsessed with it and thus no one tells their friends.

Krispy Kreme figured this out. They have a strategy where they enter a city, they talk to the people with the otaku, then they spread to the city who have just crossed the street.

There is a yo-yo that costs $112, but it sleeps for 12 minutes. Not everybody wants it but they don’t care. They want to talk to the people who do and maybe it’ll spread.

These guys make the largest car stereo in the world. It’s as loud as a 747 jet. You can’t get in. The car’s got bullet proof glass on the windows because it’ll blow out the windshield otherwise. But the fact remains, that when someone wants to put a couple of speakers in their car, if they’ve got the otaku or they’ve heard from someone who does, they go ahead and pick this speaker. It’s really simple, you sell to the people who are listening and maybe, just maybe, those people tell their friends.

So when Steve Jobs talked to 50,000 people at his keynote and they tuned in from 130 countries watching his two-hour commercial, that’s the only thing keeping his company in business, is that those 50,000 people care desperate enough to watch a two-hour commercial and tell their friends.

Pearl Jam has had 96 albums releases and every single one made a profit. How? They only sell them on their website. Those people who buy them on their website have the otaku and then they tell their friends and it spreads and it spreads.

This hospital crib costs $10,000, ten times the standard. But hospitals are buying it faster than any other model.

Hard Candy nail polish doesn’t appeal to everybody, but to the people who love it, they talk about it like crazy.

The Dutch Boy paint company saved itself with a paint can. Cost 35% more than regular paint because Dutch Boy made a can that people talk about it because it’s remarkable. They didn’t just slap a new ad on the product; they changed what it meant to build a paint product., every day 250,000 people go to the site run by two volunteers. And I can tell you, they’re hard graders. And they didn’t get this way by advertising a lot. They got this way by being remarkable. Sometimes a little too remarkable.

And then you have a picture frame with a cord going out the back, and you plug it into the wall. My father has this on his desk and he sees his grandchildren every day changing constantly. And every single person who walks into his office hears the whole story of how this thing ended up on his desk. And one person at a time, the idea spreads.

These are not diamonds, not really. They’re made from cremains. After you get cremated, you can get yourself made into a gem. Oh, you like my ring? It’s my grandmother! Fastest growing business in the whole mortuary industry. You don’t have to be Ozzie Osbourne. You don’t have to be super outrageous to do this. What you have to do is figure out what people really want and give it to them.

A couple of quick rules to wrap up:

  1. Design is free when you get to scale and the people that come up with the stuff that’s remarkable, more often than not, figure out how to put design work for them.
  1. The riskiest thing you can do now is be safe. Proctor and Gamble knows this. The whole model of being Proctor and Gamble is always about average products for average people. That’s risky. The safe thing to do now is to be at the fringes. Be remarkable.
  1. Being very good is one of the worst things you can possibly do. Very good is boring, very good is average. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a record album, or you’re an architect or you have a track on sociology. If it’s very good, it’s not going to work because no one is going to notice it.

So my three stories. Silk put a product that didn’t need to be in a refrigerated section next to the milk in a refrigerated section. Sales tripled. Why? Milk, milk, milk, milk, milk, not milk. For people who were there and looking at the section, it was remarkable. They didn’t triple their sales with advertising. They tripled it by doing something remarkable.

Frank Gehry didn’t just change a museum; he changed an entire city’s economy by designing one building that people from all over the world went to see. Now, at countless meetings, at the Portland City Council or who knows where, they say we need an architect. Can we get Frank Gehry? Because he did something that was at the fringes.

And my big failure, I came out with an entire record album and hopefully, a whole bunch of record albums in SACD format, this remarkable new format and I marketed it straight to people with $20,000 stereos. (And I found out) People with $20,000 stereos don’t like new music. So what you need to do is figure out who does care. Who is going to raise their hand and say I want to hear what you’re doing next and sell something to them.

The last example I want to give you. This is a map of Soap Lake, Washington. As you can see, if it’s nowhere, it’s in the middle of it. But they do have a lake. And people used to come from miles around to swim in the lake, but they don’t anymore. So the founding fathers of Soap Lake said we’ve got some money to spend, what could we build here? Like most communities, they were going to build something really safe.

Then an artist came to them, this is a true artist rendering, he wants to build a 55 foot tall lava lamp in the center of town. That’s a purple cow. That’s something worth noticing. I don’t know about you, but if they build it, that’s where I’m going to go.

Thank you very much for your attention. Thank you.

Feature photo by: Chris Marchant