(Cross-posted on PromoKitchen). Mark Graham, a good friend of mine and brilliant business corroborator, hails from Toronto and thanks to the magic of Skype, every few weeks (or, rather, as our schedules allow) we co-host a podcast over in the kitchen. One of the highlights of our forty recorded episodes was the conversation we had with Seth Godin. You can listen to the interview or read the transcript, as follows:
Bobby Lehew: Hello everyone. If you are new to PromoKitchen, the PK podcast is a community inspired conversation featuring guest suppliers, distributors, and service providers discussing insights into the $17 billion promotional products business. I’m Bobby Lehew, CEO of ROBYN Promotions, and I’m joined by my friend and cohost Mark Graham, President of Rightsleeve and CEO of CommonSKU.
Today, we are privileged to have as our guest Seth Godin. Seth has written 14 books that have been translated into more than 30 languages. Every one of these books have been a bestseller. American Way Magazine calls him America’s greatest marketer. Business Week hailed him as the ultimate entrepreneur for the information age.
Seth has many accomplishments, but I want to point to his latest project, The Icarus Deception, which will be available in January. The Icarus Deception is a book about mythology of success and failure and how our economy rewards people who are willing to stand up and stand out.
Seth, welcome to the PromoKitchen tribe and welcome to our program.
Seth Godin: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure. Thank you to the two of you for the effort you’ve put in. It’s unsung but really appreciated.
Bobby: Seth, are there key factors to differentiating in an industry where you are seen all as the same, such as banks, florists? How do you be remarkable in a profession or a business where that type of perceived environment exists?
Seth: Or even business specialty items?
Bobby: [laughs] Yes.
Seth: Advertising specialty items. Sorry. Here’s the thing. Industries where everything is seen as a commodity are that way because the industry wants them to be that way. People in an industry either work to be just like everyone else but cheaper or they work to be different from everyone else. And the second one is a lot more rare. But when I think about anybody who enters a commodity space, what they are basically saying is, “We want your RFP. We want to bid on your project. We want you to pick from this catalog. We want you to look at our standard items.” We’ve organized our entire operation around making average products for average customers, because at the heart of the industrial economy is that scale gets you efficiency. Efficiency is what industrialists seek, and it pushes customers to become average.
What’s fascinating is that every industry, every industry, is capable of not doing that. My favorite example is what happened in the steel business. When I was a kid there were basically two steel companies ‑‑ US Steel and Bethlehem ‑‑ giant steel mills that raced to the bottom in terms of pricing to be massive industrialists who would get you average steel for your average building.
And then a company called Nucor came along and they started what was called a mini mill. A mini mill would not make you average steel. You paid extra or you got something extra. You got specialty steel, high tensile steel, steel with less impurities, steel that could build certain kinds of buildings, etc.
The big guys looked at that and they said, “We don’t care. Go ahead and take that little sliver of the market, because we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. We’re so efficient.” And bit by bit Nucor and the other mini mills expanded what they did to the point where the giant steel people went out of business, because given the choice, customers want a choice. And the choice they will make is to not be average.
Mark: Seth, I have to throw in a little follow‑up question to that. A lot of people that are on this call are probably thinking right now, “Hang on a second. We deal with big Fortune 500 companies that send out RFPs to 10 different promotional distributors, and that we then have to go out and fill out a form and specify specific prices and sometimes divulge costs and do all of this stuff that ultimately strips out a lot of the creativity in the business.” Do you have any quick words of wisdom for people that are selling to such large companies that are ultimately dictating the terms of purchase?
Seth: First, thank you for pushing back on this. These are the best kinds of conversations. Yeah. It’s simple. If you are waiting for the RFP, you’ve already lost. The industry is the way the industry is because people have let it be that way. And yes, there are plenty of people, and I would put your company, Mark, as an example of that, that say, “Well, if you are going to send me an RFP, I’m not even going to bother.” I mean I don’t know if you say that, but your big wins are with clients who’ve talked to you before, they’ve sent out the RFP, who don’t use an RFP. But the fact is that most of what organizations buy is not bought based solely on price. If you look at the kind of car you bought or the kind of windows to get installed in a $10 million venue, or who a giant retailer is buying their carpeting from, they’re not buying a commodity, because they don’t want to be in the commodity business. They want to do something remarkable that stands out. And the RFP is the last resort of an industry that has given up.
So, I think that rather than blaming the state of the industry, you see this as the opportunity. And the opportunity is how do I earn enough trust by making enough of a ruckus, by doing enough art, by being generous enough that they don’t bother issuing an RFP to save $20 on t‑shirts. They call me because they want to be special instead.
Mark: Yep. I think it’s such a challenge in the industry, but I think that there’s the small wins that you focus on and then you really start to see how that can change the buy‑in landscape. It’s such a challenge in the business, but it’s exciting to see that if you do have that confidence in what you do, customers will be willing to purchase it. Seth, I have a question that ties into a blog post that you wrote in 2006 called “Small is the new big,” which ultimately became a book, a collection of different blog posts. The reason I wanted to refer to this is that a lot of small entrepreneurs in the promotional products business I think are quite interested in growing and scaling and becoming larger businesses. Yet, there’s this challenge, I think, when people start to grow that they start to lose their mojo. They start to become less special. They start to lose their art. I think the question that I’m trying to ask here is, is it possible to be big and awesome at the same time? Or is that something that is fundamentally impossible in this day and age?
Seth: I guess I would start by wondering what awesome means in terms of awesome to who? In the industrial setting, big is almost always required if you want to have industrial size returns. So, General Electric can make a nuclear power plant or an MRI machine precisely because they’re so big. They sell big. That’s what you buy when you buy something from General Electric. On the other hand, if you go to a chiropractor, it’s not clear to me that you will have a better experience if the chiropractor is part of Chiropractics of North America, Inc. and there are 300 chiropractors in the building. It’s not going to make your experience better.
So the real question is what do you sell and why do the people who are buying it value it when you sell it to them. There are a million examples. But if you look at what value is created by someone who makes a birthday cake from scratch, you are buying flour for cheap and you are buying sugar for cheap, and the farmer makes a few pennies. The next level up is that you buy a cake mix where the Duncan Hines people are going to make more than a few pennies because they offered you something of convenience.
The step after that is buying a cheap supermarket cake that is premade, and now the supermarket makes a dollar on top of that. The step up above that is, you go to your local friendly bakery where they know you by name and they’re going to make $10 or $15 on that cake, partly because it’s convenient, but mostly because you like the way it made you feel.
And then the last step is, you go on your birthday to, per se, a restaurant in New York that takes a month to get into and dinner costs $275, and you are delighted to have paid whatever portion you paid for that cake because it’s a cake you are going to remember for the rest of your life.
Now, you paid that much not for the calories or for the flakiness, but for the way it made you feel. So you can’t tell me what a cake is worth, because a cake could be worth anything from a nickel to $50.
Now, if you are in your industry and someone thinks what they are buying is the imprint on a piece of ceramic, then you better get as big as you can as fast as you can because you’re only going to make pennies every time.
On the other hand, if you have figured out the equivalent of, per se, if you have figured out how to print whatever, a limited edition Milton Glaser hand‑signed t‑shirt that is irreplaceable…I met a guy in Germany who makes books for clients like Adidas. The books cost between $75 and $150 a pop.
So, Adidas would buy about 100 copies of a book about a rugby team that they commissioned. And at $150 a piece, it’s a $15,000 item. They gave those books to their retailers, etc. They got way more than their money’s worth. Yes, it’s something that a typical “I’m going to order it out of a catalogue” seller could never have sold. The challenge, to answer your question, is if this guy’s company had 500 employees, A, he couldn’t keep them all busy, and B, Few of them would be as smart and as connected as he is and they wouldn’t be able to make these expensive sales.
So it’s not clear to me that big is the answer if your goal is to be a non‑industrialist artist.
Bobby: Great point. Go ahead, Mark.
Mark Graham: No, no. All you Bobby.
Bobby: All right. Seth, switching gears a little bit, Seth, you seem to have defied what is now known as the most advisable route for authors to build an audience. They hear “get on Twitter, get on Facebook, build engagement”. You’re stuck with writing, speaking, and thought leadership. You haven’t engaged on these platforms, nor allowed comments on your blog yet. You create some of the most engaging content on the web. Here’s my question. Many of us look to you as an exemplar. I know you are a little uncomfortable answering questions about you, but I’m wondering what this means for us as brands and individuals. What lessons can we learn from your success, despite not engaging on these popular platforms?
Seth: OK. Well, I don’t think I ever once said people shouldn’t engage on these platforms. All I’ve said is I can’t do it. I can’t do it for two reasons. Reason number one is the resistance is strong enough in me that if I knew every time I posted something, I would have to engage in anonymous criticism that’s often personal, I would just stop writing. So, not hosting that on my blog in the form of comments is an easy choice for me, because the other alternative is to have no blog at all. If people want to engage in it, feel free. Just don’t do it in my front yard. In terms of the other social networks, here’s the problem with them. And I think we’re starting to see that I was probably right about this, is that it doesn’t scale. You don’t friend Starbucks. You can press a button that lets Starbucks into your life. But Starbucks is not your friend. And the reason they’re not your friend is if you are having a bad day, they’re not going to call you on the phone and say, “I heard you were having a bad day.”
Starbucks is not a person. And if I was on Facebook or Twitter, I would not be a person either. I would be a staff of people, because if you send me a note, given the number of people I’m lucky enough to have reading my stuff, it would be literally impossible for me as a human being to answer you.
So rather than being a pretend friend of yours, I just chose to tell the truth, to say if it’s got my name on it, I wrote it. And I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t.
So what does that mean to organizations like yours? It’s this. I think that if you have an appropriate number of engagements, and there’s no reason a business can have those engagements with 100 or 1,000 prospects, then by all means that works. But if you are a massive brand or you want to touch 100,000 people on a regular basis with content, I don’t think anyone online has successfully described how you build a bridge between what we expect from a unit and what we expect from an entity that’s bigger than a unit.
Mark: Seth, there’s an active debate in our industry around how technology is or has disrupted the promotional products business. I’ll give you some context here for my question. We’ve seen how sites like Expedia and Amazon have come in and almost singlehandedly obliterated the travel agent and the local bookseller business respectively. Yet, Amazon and Expedia have been around for the better part of the last decade.
If you look at the promotional products business, well, there’s no question that many companies are starting to move online. The very biggest of the online players represent a mere fraction of a percent of the overall sales volume in our $18 billion business.
Do you see an industry like ours where there is an element of customization and that relationship with the customer as being a little bit more immune to disruption compared to those other industries? What do you see happening for an industry like ours in the next 5‑10 years? Do you see us being taken out by an Amazon or similar?
Seth: Well, here’s the distinction. Amazon and Kayak and all the other popular consumer disintermediaries tend to sell one item at a time. What that means is that all customers are pretty much the same. Whereas in your space, someone might buy a million dollars worth of stuff and then the next customer might be $100 worth of stuff. Treating different customers differently is one of the key watchwords of understanding how business works. So I don’t think there’s going to be one universal answer. But when I look, for example, at a company like CustomInk, CustomInk has built a multimillion dollar business by saying to people who have $100‑$10,000 worth of t‑shirts to buy, it’s faster and cheaper and easier and it works. As a result, if you are a little local t‑shirt guy, that’s not good news because that is your bread and butter sized market as well.
So in industries where speed and convenience are important, expect to be disintermediated in specific niches, particularly if there are repeat customers as there is in a business like CustomInk. We see this happen.
Let make this distinction because it’s really important. Amazon spent billions of dollars to get 40 million people to use them at least once, because the theory was if you are going to use Amazon once, you are going to buy another book soon, you will use us again. So the lifetime value of a customer is high. So the question is, going forward in the specialty business, are we talking about one‑time customers or are we talking about long‑term customers? If we’re talking about long‑term customers, the challenge you’ve got is simple, which is, can you keep the people you have and engage them so that they bring in their colleagues. If that happens, then the Internet is your friend.
On the other hand, if you are relying on Google to be found and you are creating the environment where you are begging your customers to price check you by going to Google, then the Internet is your enemy, because there’s always going to be someone around the corner who’s willing to take it at a loss to get a new customer.
So if that changes this business to be one of maintaining relationships with clients that are worth courting and romancing, you’ve got to figure out how you can do that and still make a profit, because the answer isn’t every once in a while really stick them for a lot of money. I think the answer is sell them something they can buy from everybody else.
Mark: Bobby, I know that one thing that you and I have chatted about in past podcasts is this idea that, in time, the promotional industry will be made up of three principal players, the first of which will be the online players, the next will be the people that are really focused on fulfillment ‑‑ companies like Robyn that will take on programs and manage company stores for people, and pick and pack ‑‑ and then you’ll have the more ad agency‑style businesses that will take a more creative and strategic approach with their clients. And the rest of the smaller players will kind of go away. So, that’s interesting to get Seth’s view on that, too.
Bobby: Absolutely. Seth, we think we have a tremendous opportunity to facilitate powerful and emotional connections in the new connection economy with branded products by incorporating a tangible gift that surprises and delights people. How do you recommend we enhance the connection economy with branded products?
Seth: OK, in the business‑to‑business setting, almost everything that’s bought is not bought by the CEO, it’s bought by someone else. And the person who is doing the buying is not spending their own money. So, what they are buying, in fact is not the price. They are buying a story, and the story they’re buying is, what will I tell my boss? So, the first question is, how do we create an environment going forward where the story that you bring to your boss is not, I’ve got this standard, boring, average tchotchke for a nickel less, but that the story is using some of those words you just used about making connections and surprising people. Because if that story gains in currency, then more and more business people will want to tell that story right to their boss.
Part two is, what story do we tell ourselves once someone gives us one of these items. And the problem that I’ve seen as a buyer and recipient of this stuff that your industry creates is, over the last 15 years, many people have engaged in the race to the bottom. Which means that when you leave a conference or when you leave a meeting, you need to find an available but not obvious garbage can to throw the piece of crap that someone gave you that you will never use and not want to have on your desk, because someone decided to save money instead of making a difference or making an impact.
So, I think the junky part of the industry is doomed in the long run because we already have enough junk, we don’t need more stuff. We need more meaning, and you just don’t find meaning in a nine‑cent personalized pen that doesn’t work very well.
Mark: It’s always depressing to walk outside of a conference hall like at the Javits Center in New York, or wherever a conference may be taking place and to look at the trash bins and see stress toys and similar products. It’s somewhat depressing. I suppose that depresses me about the industry, but then what gets me so excited about the industry is looking at the promotional gear that hits Facebook and Twitter that people are so excited about, and they’re wearing the product, and they’re giving a shout‑out to the brand, and just really shows that emotional connection. So, I think it’s a business of opposites. Seth, I’m just taking a look at the time here, and I think we probably have time for one more question before we get into about five to ten minutes of Q&A from the audience.
Seth: All right. Well, I’m having fun, so whatever time you need, it’s good.
Mark: All right, well hey, great. Don’t say that to Bobby. You know, Bobby will go on forever, but…
Seth: Yes, but Bobby talks fast, so we’ll be all right. [laughter]
Mark: I thought you were going to say Bobby talks funny.
Bobby: Yes, funny and slow, all right, the Okie thing. Go ahead, Mark.
Mark: Exactly, OK. All right, maybe two or three more questions, because I know there are some people that are here… [laughter]
Seth: Well, at least someone is enjoying this.
Bobby: Somebody is.
Mark: That’s the Seth fan club right there behind him, all right.
Bobby: Yes, it is.
Mark: I don’t know, I think that’s from Seth’s office. [laughs] Anyways, I was going to say that, Seth, I’ve been reading your blog…Wait till I get my words straight here. I’ve been reading your blog for years and years, and you wrote this post just yesterday called “Four Questions Worth Answering.” And for people that are listening right now, you should go and Google this if you want to see what I’m referencing. What’s interesting about this is that it reminds me that sales and marketing is actually really dead simple. Understanding your customer and his or her worldview, and you’re well on your way. In light of that, how cautious should we as an industry and keeners in business be of all of these shiny new tools that distract people from fulfilling these simple strategies when it comes to customer engagement? And when I talk about the shiny tools, I mean Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Squidoo and blah, blah, blah. To some extent, that can be a bit of a distraction, I think, at the end of the day. What are your comments about that?
Seth: Well, I want you to try to imagine it’s 1968 and you’re thinking of investing in someone, and they say, yes, our business is based on cutting‑edge use of the telephone. Everyone in the office has a telephone, and some people in the office know how to use the touch‑tone phone. I mean, no, that’s not the way we talked about it then. The telephone was a tool, and its purpose was to connect to people. And if you used the telephone right, it’s because people wanted to connect, engage with people. The telephone became invisible, it was merely a means to the end. So, when you hear anybody ‑‑ particularly a social marketing consultant ‑‑ talking about tools, you really have to say, well, what is the tool for, and is the tool likely to lead to more connection. Because here’s a hint. Twitter followers and Facebook likes are interesting metrics, but they are not a replacement for connection. And we know that maybe one out of a thousand Twitter followers will click on a link when the average person sends it, and if you have 100,000 Twitter followers and you tweet something, maybe 1,000 will click that link, and maybe 10 of them will buy what you just said. That’s not effective, right?
So, when you look, for example, at the difference between what happened to Oprah when she was on TV and what happens to Oprah when she tweets, when she was on TV, she could look people in the eye and talk to them in a way that made them believe in what she said, and she could make a book a number one bestseller because there was a connection.
When Oprah tweets from her iPad that she loves the Microsoft Square…Is that what you call it? The slate, what’s that thing called, the new tablet? Whatever it is…
Seth: Surface. She doesn’t sell very many of them, because we’re not connected with her on this topic, and nothing comes through that feels urgent or real. So, if you’re racing to use these new connection tools because you think they’re going to scale, that may be, but you also have to understand they are merely a shadow of human connection. They are a digital indicator of it without a creator.
Bobby: Seth, there’s a mentoring aspect. To PromoKitchen and the tribe here, there are lots of young entrepreneurs starting out in our profession. Many don’t know that your first book that you co‑authored, that you were rejected 900 times. Is that right?
Seth: Actually, the first book, I sold it the first day, and it was the second book that got 900 rejections. So, I think if it had been my first book, I probably would’ve given up a lot sooner.
Seth: Like, given that I understood that it was possible, it made it easier for me to persist. And that’s one of the things that informs my work is that I like showing people that in fact it is possible. Because once you know something can be done, like the four‑minute mile, it makes it way easier to persist long enough until you do it.
Bobby: So, what can we look forward to in The Icarus Deception? Can you give us a hint to what we can expect?
Seth: Well, I’ve got four books coming out at the end of December, three of which you can buy online and in bookstores. But The Icarus Deception is the real cornerstone of it, and my argument is ‑‑ as I started in Linchpin ‑‑ the industrial economy’s 100 years old, and it’s over now, and the recession that we lived through is a permanent one. There’s the cyclical economic one, but there’s the permanent one of, those jobs where you got six‑figure salaries to do what someone else told you to are over. And it’s being replaced by the connection economy, which rewards people who do something new or different, or that makes an impact. They reward what I call art.
It’s a chance of a lifetime if we choose to take it. The problem is, we have been brainwashed our whole lives into thinking that a good job and a good education and a good career are all about compliance and conformity and doing what we’re told. And it goes so deep that even the myths that we were told when we were five are made up in that story in The Icarus Deception.
If I ask anyone, what is Icarus about, they’ll say, don’t fly to close to the sun, that hubris, disobeying your father and the boss leads to the wax from the wings melting, and you will surely die. But that in fact ‑‑ if I can say that there are facts associated with the myth that’s not true ‑‑ isn’t what the myth said. Until 150 years ago, the myth had two parts. One part was, Daedalus said to Icarus, don’t fly too close to the sun. But he also said, and don’t fly too close to the sea, because if you fly too low, the mist will weigh down your wings, and the waves will surely engulf you and you will die.
And I think we have been guilty of flying too low for a long time. What I’m arguing as urgently as I know how is that we have no choice but to fly high. Far more people are under stress and they’re failing because they flew too low than the few who had the guts to fly closer to the sun.
Mark: Absolutely. I think that there are a number of questions that have come in, and in the interest of trying to get to a few of them before we end, I wanted to start off with an easy one for you here, Seth. This comes from our friend Dan Pigott. Hi Dan, if you’re listening to this. And he asks a question that I think everyone in the promotional products industry is dying to ask you, Seth. It’s a tactical one. Seth, have you ever…Let me see here, I can just pull this up, I’m sorry. Have you ever personally used imprinted promo items in marketing, and which ones have been the most successful for you personally?
Seth: Well, thank you Dan, from big east. I appreciate it. I use stuff that I make all the time. For this new project I made the LP record album edition of my book. Not to sell ‑‑ I sold nine of them ‑‑ but to give away, because it’s so beautiful. And as an object, it filled me with joy and pleasure to create it and hand it to people. I would say two or three times a year I create something, usually on a very small scale, and give it to people. Not because I’m trying to make a sale, but because it makes me happy to have molecules in addition to bits in my life.
I can’t tell you, however, the last time I ordered something from a catalog that I couldn’t build. Maybe water bottles when I do my seminars. I love making water bottles for people who come instead of buying them bottled water. And in those cases I have found that the fact that you can make a water bottle for just 100 people sort of blows the folks in the room away, because it turns this session that’s intimate by nature into something that also feels shiny because you are using a big company kind of tool in a small company space. So I guess that would be my answer to the question.
Mark: Right. Bobby, can you see the questions here?
Bobby: Go ahead. I can’t see them in my queue.
Mark: So, Ruth Verver from Austin….Hi, Ruth, if you are listening. Ruth asks, “I’m a big believer in learning from failure and being stronger in the end because of it. Seth, do you have a story that you wouldn’t mind sharing about a time where things didn’t go your way and how you turned it around?”
Seth: You mean other than the 900 rejections or the time I was almost arrested in the offices of AOL?
Mark: Well, we didn’t hear about the arrest. We heard about the 900, but we heard that you sold the book the first time. So it didn’t really count. We want to hear about an epic failure.
Bobby: Let’s hear the arrest!
Seth: Well, the big book that I did for Kickstarter was 19 pounds and it’s 800 pages long. It has two covers. One cover is called “This might not work,” and it’s a list of, not a handful, but actually dozens of times that I’ve had epic failures in the projects that I have done. The story that I tell on page three involves…I’ll tell it as quick as I can.
When I ran Yoyodyne , it was the first online direct marketing promotions agency, we were giving away…we did promotions (indecipherable) email. Our biggest client was AOL. They accounted for about a third of our business. We had another client, Carter-Wallace, that made Arid Extra Dry deodorant. We did this big promotion with 100,000‑400,000 people in it. One day, all the people on AOL got their email from Arid Extra Dry deodorants instead of from AOL.
At the time, AOL’s stock was going through the roof. Everyone there wanted everything to just be up. They didn’t need to succeed, they just needed not to break it. So Audrey, the VP at AOL, calls me up, pretty much screaming about what had happened. I talked her down from the ledge and explained that we had a tech glitch and we’ll fix it, and don’t worry.
So the next week, the email goes out and it was wrong again. Everybody at AOL got another Arid Extra email. She called me this time, and this time she blows through the roof and she was hyperventilating, she was out of control.
I’m often a calm business person, so I said, “Look. This is horrible. I totally understand why you are so upset. I’m going to get on the next shuttle. I will be in your office in Virginia in three hours. I will look you in the eye and we can fix this.”
I will never forget what she said. She said, “If you step foot on AOL property, I will have you arrested.” And then she hung up.
Seth: So I got on the phone to my team in Boston that did the tech. And in talking to them, we hired a guy, triple the pay of anybody else in the company, to make sure stuff like this would never happen again. We got him to quit some big, fancy job. He came on to work for us and build all the systems. Next Monday, I go into work and I log on, I open my email, and in the address I had set up for our AOL promotions, there is an email from Arid Extra Dry. Telling this story, I’m still shaking! This was everything. This was 70 people who were going to lose their jobs. It was all over.
I called Dan and I talked it through with him. His office was in the basement which was good because he would have jumped out the window. It turned out that Mark, the guy we had hired, had set up a special shadow account where everything would happen before it happened. So the only people who got the wrong email were (indecipherable) . We persisted and it all worked out.
So how’s that for a dramatic story?
Bobby: Oh my gosh!
Bobby: I get butterflies for ya! Oh! Wow.
Mark: Yeah, that is truly awful. [laughter]
Seth: I love the soundtrack. The soundtrack is really great!
Bobby: It’s good! I know, we need that every time, Mark. We’d be a lot more interesting.
Mark: [laughs] Bobby, go ahead.
Bobby: I actually don’t have any final questions tonight. Do you have any others that you see in the queue there?
Mark: There’s one. And Seth, you’ve touched on this. Why don’t we make this our last one and then we’ll just go into our finale? You’ve touched on this a little bit, but I think that since this question comes up literally all the time in our industry, I am going to ask it again. This is coming from Sanjay. The question is, “In our industry, particularly for the small to midsized distributors, which really makes up the vast majority of our industry, we all have access to the same supplier catalogues. Buyers have seen those same supplier catalogues time and time again. How is it that small to midsized distributors that don’t make their own product can truly differentiate themselves?”
I think I know the answer to this, but I think it would be really important for people to hear this again from you.
Seth: Two answers. Each one stands on its own. Answer number one is, if that’s your problem, stop selling stuff that’s in a catalog. Right? I mean, what if I said, “I’m having trouble making it as a writer, because all I do is use paragraphs that other people write.” But no one wants to buy them from me at a premium. And all I do is read speeches that other people have given. Well, of course, no one wants to pay me a premium, they’re not just like everybody else. Throw all the catalogs out, that’s one strategy, and it’s way easier than you think.
The other strategy is to say, “Yeah, this stuff is only a tiny portion of the story you’re going to tell your boss.” You also get to tell your boss the story of 24 hour a day customer service, someone comes to my office and sits next to me. They bring me to the loading dock, they put it in the special things and make sure it’s hand delivered, and they whistle a song while they’re doing it.
And there’s all this stuff that goes around the stuff. If you want there to be, right? But the whole key of differentiation is, you need to be able to sell this sentence and say this sentence and have this sentence be true. We will sell you something no one else can sell you. And if you can’t say that, don’t be surprised if people are going to send you an RFP.
Mark: Yeah. Well, I’m glad we’re recording this and publishing that, because it’s certainly quotable and certainly tweetable. And I think we’ll remind ourselves of that in the future. So, in closing, Seth, I wanted to, first of all, give you a huge, huge thank you for spending nearly 45 minutes and almost an hour, even before this call, chatting with Bobby and myself.
I want to remind everyone who is listening that Seth has generously donated his time. Seth is not the kind of person who normally does these things for everyone. And he was inspired by the PromoKitchen story and about what all of us in the industry are really trying to do in terms of sharing best practices and furthering the conversation.
So, the first thing I wanted to say, Seth, is a massive thank you. This is, I’ve had butterflies in my stomach all morning. And this has been wonderful. Still have them, I should say.
But on a final note, I wanted to say that no one makes money off PromoKitchen, we’re not a commercial entity. We’re 100 percent tribal.
Bobby: We’re 100 percent tribal. That’s right.
Mark: 100 percent volunteer. But in light of that, I want to give a shout out, in addition to Seth, I want to give a shout out to two special members of the tribe that have put a lot of sweat equity and talent into all of our efforts, specifically for this podcast. The first of which is Tee Hamilton. Tee is one of our chefs and did all of the marketing and creative work, all the work that we sent past Seth for his approval. Tee, your efforts have always been appreciated and certainly go unnoticed, or we notice them, I should say.
And then, another shout out to Charity Gibson, Green Banana promos, that has been our communications and social media maven. She’s wonderful and, Charity, we love you, and thank you so much for all your time and efforts.
If you have any questions or comments, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @PromoKitchen. Facebook PromoKitchen and of course, promokitchen.com, and then iTunes, where this podcast will be recorded and published within the next couple of days.
Thank you, Seth. Thank you, Bobby. Thank you, everyone, for all of your time. And until later, have a wonderful day.
Bobby: Take care.