A Draft from 10/10/08:
My Seth Godin Problem
I really do have immense respect for Seth Godin.
He's on a tribe kick these days:
Brand management is so 1999.
Who does this work for? Try record companies and bloggers, real estate agents and recruiters, book publishers and insurance companies. It works for Andrew Weil and for Rickie Lee Jones and for Rupert at the WSJ... But it also works for a small web development firm or a venture capitalist.Actually, I see a lot of brand names here. Andrew Weil? Is he even a real person? I joke, but seriously, what the hell is Godin on about?
It must be difficult, being a guru. People are constantly looking to you to come up with the next big idea. Sometimes it seems like Godin is attempting not to reinvent the wheel so much as deinvent the wheel, invent a round thing with a hole in the middle, and give it a fancy name. It's frustrating for me, because I really do value what he does. The Purple Cow, The Dip, Unleashing the Ideavirus ... I dig his work.
We had an exchange on e-mail back in March, which I believe is illustrative of why I'm so frustrated. I started off the exhange in response to a blog he wrote, "A dumb branding strategy":
Jewelry Central is a really bad brand name. So are Party Land, Computer World, Modem Village, House of Socks and Toupee Town.Here's my e-mail response:
It's a bad brand name because Central or Land or World are meaningless. They add absolutely no value to your story, they mean nothing and they are interchangeable. "Here honey, I bought you these cheap earrings at Diamond World!" Not only are they bland, but you can't even remember one over the other. This is the absolute last refuge of a marketer who has absolutely nothing to say and can't even find the guts to stand for what they do. It's just generic.
Seth -I was hoping for a more robust exchange on the matter. I know, silly me: Seth Godin is a big, important marketing guru, and I'm a self-described "puppeteer and theatre guy." What I got was a toss-off response:
Interesting blog yesterday ("a dumb branding strategy.")
Yes, the way they have been thrown around, words like "central" "land" and "world" have become generic (I would add "zone" to this list.) In each example you give, these words have been paired with generic words (Jewelry, Computer, Toupee, Modem, etc.) This is just incorrect usage.
Pair an established brand name with any of these generic location words, and you do have something remarkable. Case in point: Disneyland.
What's the story? If you love Disney, and all the wonderful experiences Disney products give you, here is a place you can go to where you will literally be immersed in Disney. It is a destination, not just a generic word writ in neon on a storefront.
I think the "dumbness" of using these words in all their generic glory arises from arbitrary usage, not from the words themselves. In other words, not taking the time to come up with a story in the first place: "We sell socks. Uh ... 'Sock Town.' That'll do."
(I see you'll be taking up 'Radio Shack' and how this name was a liability. I think 'Radio Shack' is brilliant and tells the right story ... once upon a time. The name hasn't kept pace with technology, and nowadays no one except ham radio nuts and electronics hobbiests know [or even care] what the hell a 'radio shack' is. So how do you take an established name like 'Radio Shack' and re-brand it for the age of iPods and Hi-Def?)
-- Andrew Moore,
puppeteer and theatre guy in Los Angeles
right. And Disney, of course, is not generic.Thoroughly missing the point, and changing the thrust of the argument at the same time. I believe this is called "hand waving" in the parlance of online debate.
I responded back to him, in a likewise terse manner:
In the 1950s? It was a specific flavor.... and heard defeaning silence. I unsubscribed from his RSS feed after this exchange, completely disillusioned by the bald man's lack of common sense and understanding, two qualities I had supposed he had in abundance, based on his books. (I realize now that the e-mail response I got was most likely from an intern or other lackey, and Godin probably never read my well-reasoned retort.)
I could post a bunch of YouTube videos and links to websites regarding the opening of Disneyland in the 1950s to support my argument, but I believe it's pretty self-evident. It's in the freaking name: Disneyland. If the park were called "Cartoonland" I would agree with the assessment of "generic."
I was also looking forward to defending Radio Shack. Here's what Wikipedia says about the name:
The company was started as Radio Shack in 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts, by two brothers, Theodore and Milton Deutschmann who wanted to provide equipment for the cutting-edge field of amateur, or ham, radio. Theodore and Milton Deutschmann opened a one-store retail and mail-order operation in the heart of downtown Boston on Brattle Street, near the site of the Boston Massacre. They chose the name "Radio Shack," which was a term for the small, wooden structure that housed a ship's radio equipment. The Deutschmanns thought the name was appropriate for a store that would supply the needs of radio officers aboard ships, as well as "ham" radio operators.For the people they were selling to, the name made perfect sense. It conjured up a world of adventure on the high seas, of long-dstance comunication devices slapped together and kept running by hand. It's a name that has become gradually obsolete to all but the die-hard electronics types who still go to Radio Shack to buy diodes and capacitors and such.
So there you go. My Seth Godin Problem. I like the guy's work, but he can be pretty dense at times. Just like all of us.