Forget obedience training and be an artist, says marketing guru

Sometimes on his way up to Ontario’s cottage country, Seth Godin likes to pull off Highway 11 and into The Candy Shoppe, a small but unique confectionary that would make Willy Wonka proud.

It offers sweets from all around the world, the prolific marketing author and blogger tells his audience at “The Art of Marketing” even held in Toronto recently. The store is adorned with a bright, multi-coloured sign with a wacky font, and the products have interesting packaging and weird names.

But the owner isn’t bonkers.

They’ve built a clone store on the other side of the highway so people can stop in whether they’re going to the cottage or returning home — plus, they sell their stock over the Internet. It all adds up to the average customer spending $60 per visit.

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“The reason is that you go crazy, you’ve never seen anything like this before,” Godin says. “They made $150,000 in the first year from this little candy shop.”

The point isn’t that selling candy is good business. It’s that selling something differently is good business. This candy store could have been your average penny and dime candy store selling licorice and jawbreakers, but it chose to do something unique.

That’s the secret to success in a world experience a total communications disruption at the hands of social media, the author says. For too long the world has been looking to the industrial model of creating labour as a metaphor for all jobs – factories create interchangeable parts with replaceable workers, who are repeatedly performing the same task and churning out the same product.

Godin blames the school system for brainwashing children into obedience. He also blames board games such as “Candy Land”, where rewards are given to players who merely turn over a card and follow instructions.

“A factory doesn’t have to have smoke coming out of the top of it,” Godin explains. “A factory is anywhere that people are given a manual and told how to do their job.”

So don’t just be a worker on a factory line, he continues, but be an artist. That sounds like a lot to ask from someone who compares being a chief marketing officer to a cafeteria lunch lady – a lousy job with horrible conditions, common mistreatment by customers, and no chance to excel.

Unless you wake up and start tapping the Internet’s potential as a marketing vehicle.

“The Internet is the greatest connection machine of all time and if marketing is about spreading ideas, that’s a big opportunity,” Godin says.

To use it correctly, you have to dispose of the obedience training you’ve undergone to fulfill your Ford-era factory job and begin approaching work differently. Most people associate doing work with getting a day’s pay, but artists have a compulsion to work and to give it away for nothing.

“When you are generous and you make connections, and you do that stuff that you don’t have to do, that’s when you’re leading and people want to follow,” Godin says.

Attaching this gift-giving mentality to a brand can help attach a sense of purpose to it, he adds. People appreciate a brand that stands for something other than the products it sells. Take Nike’s success in leading the tribe of weekend joggers for example, or Bob Marley’s near deity-like status amongst Rastafarians.

The world has been divided into tribes all over again, and those tribes stick together.

“It’s turned to this world filled with lots and lots of silos,” Godin says. “They overlap and move around. But people want to buy and interact with brands that stand for something.”

To create communities in social media space, marketers must be able to act without instructions because the space is new, and foreign. But that’s just human nature.

When a blogger’s mother passed away and she was left with several pairs of unused shoes to return to Zappos, the online retailer did something different.

When Zappos learned about the loss, they not only waived the shipping return fee but also arranged for UPS to pick up the shoes. They also sent a large flower arrangement to the aggrieved blogger, just to be nice.

That story has now been heard by countless people, Godin says. It’s because one customer service representative decided to be an artist that day.

“We are living through a revolution,” he says. “You have to make a decision about whether you’re going to look at this world differently, or fight against what’s happening.”

Selling candy can’t hurt either.

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