How to get your ideas to spread | Seth Godin

Last updated on June 13th, 2023

Natasha Hoke
Natasha Hoke

Deep down inside we really do know when we’re about to send the right content
to the right person. We can roughly predict if they’ll be happy once they’ve
seen it. This talk by Seth Godin is both classic and still relevant to content
distribution. The key themes are of how people don’t care, the need to be
remarkable or fresh and talking to the people who really are listening or even


Key points in the talk that relate to content and distribution

Marketers used to make average products for average people.

Find the people who are obsessed.

Sell to the people who are listening.

Be remarkable.

Figure out who does care.

An edit of the original transcript from the TED talk

Consumers don’t care about you, they have more choices than before.

“The world revolves around me.” Me, me, me, me. My favorite person — me. I
don’t want to get email from anybody; I want to get “memail.”

So consumers, and I don’t just mean people who buy stuff at the Safeway; I
mean people at the Defense Department who might buy something, or people at,
you know, the New Yorker who might print your article. Consumers don’t care
about you at all; they just don’t care.

Part of the reason is — they’ve got way more choices than they used to, and
way less time. And in a world where we have too many choices and too little
time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff.

People notice the purple cow

And my parable here is you’re driving down 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.

But if the cow was purple — isn’t that a great special effect? I could do that
again if you want. If the cow was purple, you’d notice it for a while. I mean,
if all cows were purple 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. That two of the
hottest cars in the United States is a 55,000-dollar 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.

Because it’s new, it’s fresh

Every week, the number one best-selling DVD in America changes. It’s never
“The Godfather,” it’s never “Citizen Kane,” it’s always some 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.

People saw it and said “I didn’t know that was there” and they noticed it. Two
of the big success stories of the last 20 years in retail — one sells things
that are super-expensive in a blue box, and one sells things that are as cheap
as they can make them. The only thing they have in common is that they’re

We’re now in the fashion business, no matter what we do for a living.

We’re in the fashion business. And 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.

This guy, Lionel Poilâne, the most famous baker in the world — he died two and
a half months ago, and he was a hero of mine and a dear friend. He lived in
Paris. Last year, he sold 10 million dollars’ 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 pooh-pooh-ed 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 laggards. 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 a strategy we want to use any more. 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’ll
spread. It’ll spread to the entire curve.

Find the people who are obsessed.

They have something I call “otaku” — it’s a great Japanese word. It describes
the desire of someone who’s obsessed to say, 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 of kinds of hot sauces, and not so many kinds of
mustard. Not because it’s hard to make interesting mustard — you could make
interesting mustard — but people don’t, because no one’s obsessed with it, and
thus no one tells their friends. Krispy Kreme has figured this whole thing
out. It has a strategy, and what they do is, they enter a city, they talk to
the people, with the otaku, and then they spread through the city to the
people who’ve just crossed the street.

This yoyo right here cost 112 dollars, 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 loudest car stereo in the

It’s as loud as a 747 jet.

You can’t get in, the car’s got bulletproof glass, 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 they pick this.

Sell to the people who are listening

It’s really simple — you sell to the people who are listening, and just maybe,
those people tell their friends. So when Steve Jobs talks to 50,000 people at
his keynote, who are all tuned in from 130 countries watching his two-hour
commercial — that’s the only thing keeping his company in business — it’s that
those 50,000 people care desperately enough to watch a two-hour commercial,
and then tell their friends.

Pearl Jam, 96 albums released in the last two years. Every one made a profit.
How? They only sell them on their website. Those people who buy them have the
otaku, and then they tell their friends, and it spreads and it spreads.

This hospital crib cost 10,000 dollars, 10 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.

This paint can right here saved the Dutch Boy paint company, making them a
fortune. It costs 35 percent more than regular paint because Dutch Boy made a
can that people talk about, 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.

Be remarkable

They didn’t get this way by advertising a lot. They got this way by being
remarkable, sometimes a little too remarkable. And this picture frame has 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 everyday, 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’re
cremated you can have yourself made into a gem.

Oh, you like my ring? It’s my grandmother.

Fastest-growing business in the whole mortuary industry. But you don’t have to
be Ozzie Osborne — 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.

The first one is: Design is free when you get to scale. The people who come up
with stuff that’s remarkable more often than not figure out how to put design
to work for them. Number two: The riskiest thing you can do now is be safe.
Proctor and Gamble knows this, right? 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. And 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 whether you’re making a record album, or
you’re an architect, or you have a tract on sociology. If it’s very good, it’s
not going to work, because no one’s going to notice it.

So my three stories.

Silk put a product that does not need to be in the refrigerated section next
to the milk in the refrigerated section. Sales tripled. Why? Milk, milk, milk,
milk, milk — not milk. For the people who were there and looking at that
section, it was remarkable. They didn’t triple their sales with advertising;
they tripled it by doing something remarkable. That is a remarkable piece of
art. You don’t have to like it, but a 40-foot tall dog made out of bushes in
the middle of New York City is 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, you know, the Portland City Council, or who
knows where, they said, 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 —

A record album and hopefully a whole bunch of record albums in SACD, this
remarkable new format — and I marketed it straight to people with
20,000-dollar stereos. People with 20,000-dollar 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 that’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. They don’t anymore.

So the founding fathers said, “We’ve got some money to spend. What can we
build here?” And like most committees, they were going to build something
pretty safe. And then an artist came to them — this is a true artist’s
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.


Related: How to tell stories that resonate with

Also seethe rest of the content distribution series

Natasha Hoke
Natasha Hoke

Natasha Hoke was Upscope's head of marketing.