May 21st, 2013


Dat's one speecy-spicy sundae!

As regular followers of these reviews will no doubt recall, I've read a good chunk of Seth Godin's books over the past several years, but there are still quite a number that I haven't gotten to as yet. Typically, when I read something that would make me think I'd like to check out a book, and am not in a position to “pull the trigger” on getting it (either due to not wanting it badly enough to pay discount-from-retail, or not badly enough that I don't need it on this end of my vast stacks of “to be read” books, both physical and potential), I'll drop it onto my Amazon wish list where I can surf through and see if anything has dipped into the “cheap enough” zone with the new/used vendors to move me to ordering. Well, towards the end of last year, Godin's Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync? hit whatever magic price point was in my head (that with $3.99 shipping seemed reasonable), and I got a copy.

Now, I need to indulge in a bit of a mea culpa here … I finished reading this five months ago, so it's really not very fresh up in my grey matter, and (unlike a lot of other books) it managed to run past my eyeballs without getting a forest of little bookmarks stuck in it to lead me back to choice passages/concepts, so I'm pretty much having to wing it in terms of being pithy in my commentary. I really do try to crank out these reviews within a couple of weeks of reading a book, but I hit a long stretch there when I just could not get a review out. It was just these past few weeks when “the dam broke” and I've been back to sitting in Starbucks all night punching away on my little netbook. So, my apologies up front if this doesn't end up being the most fluid review I've done of one of Godin's books.

One other thing I suppose I should note, Meatball Sundae came out in 2007, which is six years ago, which is, of course, forever in social media and/or digital marketing time. To give you an idea of what that means, the 3rd largest Social Media platform today, Pinterest, wouldn't even be founded for 3 years, Facebook was only a year past requiring that members have an .edu address and still had less than 100 million users, and MySpace was the big dog on the social block. I've noted this sort of “platform disconnect” previously (and, as I recall, in regards to some of Godin's earlier works), but what keeps these books attractive is that they're more ventures into the philosophy of marketing, within the context of new tools and realities, and less manuals on how to use any particular tool out there.

What I'm going to do in this review is to pretty much just “cherry-pick” bits and pieces that sound good to me, and try to weave them together into something that will at least give you a sense about what the book's about. To start out, here's where Godin defines the freaky title:

A meatball sundae: messy, disgusting, ineffective. The result of combining two perfectly good items that don't go well together.
The meatballs are the basic staples, the things that people need, the stuff that used to be marketed quite effectively with TV ads and other mass-market techniques.
The topping is the New Marketing. MySpace, Web sites, YouTube, permission marketing, and viral techniques are all part of the magic that makes up the top of the sundae.
Godin warns of the “shiny new thing” (and aggressive consultants pushing it) obsession … and furthers the analogy here:

People treat New Marketing like a kid with a twenty-dollar bill at an ice cream parlor. They keep wanting to add more stuff – more candy bits, and sprinkles and cream and cherries. The dream is simple: “If we can just add enough of [today's hot topping], everything else will take care of itself.”
Now, considering what I noted a few paragraphs up from here, one would think the last thing that I'd point out would be the author's prognostication of trends, but it really is Godin's genius to sense how things are moving and in which direction, and while some of these may have played out in quite different particulars than what he was envisioning in the ancient days of 2007, the 14 trends he lays out that are “completely remaking what it means to be a marketer” still sound solid today:

Trend 1: Direct communications and commerce between producers and consumers.
Trend 2: Amplification of the voice of the consumer and independent authorities.
Trend 3: Need for an authentic story as the number of sources increases.
Trend 4: Extremely short attention spans due to clutter.
Trend 5: The long tail.
Trend 6: Outsourcing.
Trend 7: Google and the dicing of everything.
Trend 8: Infinite channels of communications.
Trend 9: Direct communication and commerce between consumers and consumers.
Trend 10: The shifts in scarcity and abundance.
Trend 11: The triumph of big ideas.
Trend 12: The shift from “how many” to “who”.
Trend 13: The wealthy are like us.
Trend 14: New gatekeepers, no gatekeepers.
Personally, I felt that Meatball Sundae was worth the price of admission for the story of “The Man Who Invented Marketing” … which you probably would take a very, very long time to hit with unaided guesses, as he dates back to the mid-1700s! This was Josiah Wedgewood, who went from being a potter's apprentice in a little village to being the head of a brand which still thrives centuries later. Godin equates the cultural changes of Wedgewood's time (which he was able to exploit by approaching his family's trade in a radical new manner) with those of our current era, and this is a story (really, it's worth the cost of the book – especially via the used vendors, a “like new” copy of the hardcover will only set you back six bucks with shipping right now!) is something that will resonate in all the right channels, and be a touchstone for moving forward in new modes.

Speaking of new modes, Godin says we're operating in the fourth industrial revolution, the first coming in the late 1700s with the introduction of factory work with Wedgewood being an exemplar of that era, the second coming in the late 1800s through the 1950s with Henry Ford typifying that style of business, this was followed by the third which was fed by mass marketing and the post-war booms, with information, coordination and communication being the key components, GE's Jack Welch is the figure Godin identifies with this. The fourth is driven by the web and “new marketing”, and this is creating changes, new industries rising from the ashes of niches devastated by the Internet's dynamics.

I'm going to close with two randomly picked pieces (well, they were on the pages that had bits of paper stuck in), the first is that “interruption=SPAM” … where in the 3rd revolution, you could load up the TV schedule with interruptions – commercials – and deliver your message, in the new model, any interruptions are resented as much as “unsolicited commercial email”. Secondly (and to some extant, “cutting to the chase”):

If you want to thrive, you need to do two things:
Make something worth talking about; and
make it easy to talk about.
As noted above, this has been around a while, so might not be in your local surviving brick-and-mortar book vendor, but the on-line big guys have it, and at a remarkable discount (currently 71% off, making it about a wash with the “like new” used copies, when their individual shipping charges have been added!). Despite it being a bit “antique” in the particulars, I really enjoyed reading it,and if you've got an interest in marketing, and the current trends in communication, you are likely to get a good deal out of this (above and beyond the Wedgewood story).

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A little review of a very bad time ...

This was one of those dollar store finds … picked up as much for its brevity (this is definitely a one-afternoon read) as for its topic. Starting Over: Why the Last Decade Was so Damn Rotten and Why the Next One Will Surely Be Better by Fortune Magazine's managing editor Andy Serwer is, as one would guess, a review of the “00's” and all the crappy stuff that happened over those years. The first half of the book is primarily taken up by a year-by-year rundown of the “top stories” from 2000 to 2009 … a decade that has been called “the Decade From Hell” and

“... began with 9/11, ended with the financial meltdown, and had Katrina in the middle. They also had Saddam Hussein, the invasion of Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and Bernie Madoff. Sorry to depress you.”
This part of the book is pretty "thin on content", with an iconic (bad news) photo on one page being paired with a run-down (in 50-60 words or so) of notable (bad news) story headers. These, and the introduction take up 45% of the book, with the remnant being essays on various thematic trends in the decade's news. These are: “In The Beginning” (opening with a pic of one of the jetliners about to plow into the World Trade Center), “The Great Meltdown”, “What Went Wrong”, “Not Just Acts of God”, “Starting Over”, and “The Promise”.

Of course, this all started around midnight on December 31, 1999 when the whole world was holding its breath (and hoarding food, water, and fuel!), expecting the Y2K bug to bring civilization to its knees,

“Instead, it was the American Dream that was about to dim. Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipe-out at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade that Americans have lived through in the post-World War II era.”
Sometimes Serwer does posit answers … in the “What Went Wrong” chapter he lists Neglect (warning signs of Islamicism), Greed (the go-go mortgage years), Self-Interest (labor unions gutted major industries, unwilling to admit to a changing manufacturing landscape), and Deferral of Responsibility (infrastructure decay, contributing to the Katrina destruction). He also cites the undoing of the regulatory Glass-Steagal act in 1999 which then allowed for disastrous mixing of banking functions, and re-writing of rules that allowed firms like Bear Stearns and Lehman to “pile $30 of debt onto each $1 of capital”.

In the “Starting Over” chapter he revisits the same things looked at in “What Went Wrong”, and suggests ways that we're going to address these things in new ways, and then takes a deeper look forward in “The Promise”:

“I tend to think of technologies as waves,” says Peter Bishop of the University of Houston. “My candidate for the next wave is biotechnology.” Bishop believes that “we will finally get our arms around how to manipulate code for DNA, create synthetic organisms as a platform, and then design how we want those things to work for food, for energy, and of course then extending it into human health.”
And the holy grail of this century, finding and optimizing energy sources beyond oil, gas, and coal, will naturally entail technological expertise – think batteries, as well as solar, wind, and geothermal – and likely even biotechnologial prowess. Bishop gives an example: “Biofuels, particularly algae, are probably going to really boom. I think we're going to see large algae farms, where you need three resources – water, sunlight, and a source of carbon dioxide, because grabbing it out of the air isn't efficient enough. So you'll put an algae farm next to a coal plant or a natural gas plant and try to pump CO2 into the algae and then turn the algae into a biofuel.”
Again, this is a slim volume, well under 100 pages all told, and how you like it possibly is a function of what price you find it for … the buck it cost me at the dollar store was not misspent, but if you shelled out the $14.95 cover price you might feel somewhat gypped (as many reviewers of it have). The on-line big boys do have it at a substantial discount (nearly 2/3rds off), which makes it cheaper (as an add-on for an order that will have free shipping) than getting a copy from the new/used vendors, whose lowest priced copies (at this moment) are all hanging just under two bucks … odd for a book that's been dumped into the dollar store channel. Starting Over is an interesting enough read, if somewhat of a major bummer, and largely stands as a reminder of what we've survived on our way into the current maelstrom dragging down into insolvency, tyranny, and societal madness … heck, the way things are going, in another decade those double-zero years might be seen as “the good old days”!

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