Interview by

Bianca Ghose

Seth Godin speaks to WOOL on permission marketing, the future of work, and much more…

WOOL: How has the concept of permission marketing evolved in the age of social media and hyperconnectivity?

Seth: Permission marketing is a simple idea that anticipates personal and relevant messages will always be more effective than spam.

If you didn’t send that text message, would I miss it or ask where it was? If the answer is ‘no’, then you don’t have real permission. Permission marketing is the privilege, not the right, of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

Permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention, they are paying you with something precious. There's no way marketers can get their attention back if they change their mind. The question that those who seek to serve need to ask is “how do I earn and treasure attention?”

WOOL: Is programmatic marketing the anathema of permission marketing or is it the logical outcome of applying massive amounts of data to permission marketing?

Seth: What matters is who is doing it. Many marketers steal attention, and do it with a smile, believing that they’ve earned the right because they paid for something. Programmatic marketing can be a race to the bottom. The problem with that is that you might win.

WOOL: What do you think organizations need to do to be able to straddle the "Purple Cow" while maintaining the trust of their consumers?

Seth: We earn trust when we make and keep promises.

WOOL: How should leaders counter a “lizard brain” culture of risk aversion to nurture creativity and innovation?

Seth: IThe lizard brain doesn’t go away. It gets stronger as we become more successful. But management is all about working with boundaries and obstacles. How much time are you spending on this issue? If it’s an issue, probably not enough.

WOOL: One of the most contentious moves for most organizations is changing or refreshing their brand, yet, in a bid to stay relevant, this is the path that many take. What is your advice to organizations undergoing this transformation?

Seth: A brand is not a logo, it is a shorthand, a promise, the thing we expect from you. If your promise has been, “low-cost provider of outsourced, measured task work,” then it’s not easy to change your promise to “innovator.” But if you recognize that this is the challenge, it opens the door to the mindset that allows you to incrementally make and keep new promises.

It’s simple.

If you didn’t send that next message, would I miss it? Would I ask where it was? If the answer is ‘no’, then you don’t have real permission.

WOOL: In your book "Poke the Box", you talk about how organizations should invest in instigation capital. How must organizations do this often and better while being able to scale from the failures that may come from it?

Seth: Some organizations say that they are in favor of innovation, but then they say that the work is so important, “failure is not an option". The commitment to invest in instigation capital is that you are not only embracing failure, you are actually seeking out the same. Until the management is comfortable with that, true innovation isn’t going to happen.

WOOL: Books and publishing have been close to your heart. How has the book business changed with the internet’s ascent over the last 20 years, with e-books becoming popular and attention spans becoming shorter?

Seth: The book business is in a mess as book publishers are organized to serve bookstores, not readers. When reading an e-book, the reader is a click away from checking emails or watching a video. Due to these two factors, it is difficult to imagine that books will be at the core of our culture as a mass product...those days are over - sad but true.

WOOL: In an environment of content saturation, how do individuals and organizations take advantage of this while making sure that their idea is able to cut through this chaos?

Seth: The opportunity isn’t in finding a huge market. Instead, seek out the smallest possible market and overwhelm it with promises you will keep. The word will then spread. But, we are often distracted by the quest for mass.

WOOL: How do you see leadership evolving as the future of work and workplaces change to accommodate co-bots and AI as potential colleagues and part of the workforce?

Seth: If someone can write down what you do all day, put it into a spec, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it; it could perhaps even be a computer. The alternative is to choose to do work that requires a great deal of judgement, to go off the script at every opportunity, to listen, think hard and speak clearly.

WOOL: What is the biggest mistake that organizations make today while marketing their products?

Seth: They are in a hurry. They cut corners, they lie, and they steal attention.

WOOL: What according to you are the next big trends in marketing?

Seth: The next big trends are the same as the old ones:

1 . Being remarkable

2 . Being missed if you are gone

3 . Making promises and keeping them

The opportunity isn’t in finding a huge market.

Instead, we have the opportunity to seek out the smallest possible market and to overwhelm them with the promises you make and keep.