The baron of buzz
Who: Seth Godin
Brand identity: Marketing as a partnership between businesses and consumers.
Brand extensions: Ten books; a blog; nationwide lectures and seminars
Months before his first book was due to go to press in 1999, Web marketing pioneer Seth Godin talked his publisher into an unusual stunt for a rookie author: Godin wanted the image of his bald crown to dominate the book's cover, with Godin's name standing as tall as the book's title. "No one had done that on a business book before," Godin says. "I realized I could be sort of a living spokesperson for the brand."
The "brand," in this case, was the big idea behind (and the title of) the book. Called Permission Marketing, it defined one of the bedrock principles of doing business online: Traditional advertising methods were dead, and companies that could figure out how to share valuable information with consumers to get their attention would reap the biggest rewards.
Godin had run a successful Web marketing startup called Yoyodyne, where he helped teach clients like AT&T and H&R Block how to navigate their way onto the Net. But after Yahoo bought the company in 1998 for $30 million in stock, the serial entrepreneur decided it was time to move on. The book, he thought, might be the perfect vehicle for striking out on his own.
Permission Marketing became a runaway hit, selling 100,000 copies in the first two years, in part because Godin practiced what he preached. True to the spirit of permission marketing, Godin offered up a third of the book free via e-mail, and nearly 200,000 readers took him up on his offer.
Two years later Godin took the concept a step further with Unleashing the Ideavirus, a manual for creating buzz. This time he invited readers to download the entire book free of charge; 3,000 people did so in just the first day. Then, when he self-published the book in hardcover form and sold it for $40 through Amazon, Godin moved 25,000 copies -- pulling in more profit than he had with his first, traditionally published book. "I became cognizant of the fact that, if I wasn't able to do the marketing, I shouldn't be writing about it," Godin says. "That insight took my career to a whole different level."
Godin makes money now as an author, speaker, and blogger, eschewing corporate consulting. And he's drawn such a following that his blog, www.sethgodin.typepad.com, has become a sounding board for new ideas about everything from why global warming is marketed badly to how to build a better homepage. The richest online material has become the basis for Godin's recent book, Small Is the New Big, a compilation of business ideas and anecdotes pulled from eight years of blogging and writing.
"Having a reputation for inventing something cool is great," Godin says. "Even better is having a reputation for thinking a certain way."