Fans of Seth Godin are no doubt aware that he recently released a new book, The Icarus Deception. Here’s the premise: Industrial society has trained mankind into the safe, the comfortable, the mundane. Study hard, get good grades, and maybe you’ll get into an elite school. Once there, study hard, get good grades, and maybe you’ll get a job at an elite company. Work hard, keep your head down, and you may work your way up to management and retire a little better off than your parents did.
In this book, Godin argues that the comfortable path is no longer safe. He argues that now, conformity and predictability are liabilities, and that we should all be taking the path of the artist, no matter what our vocation. He’s not arguing that we must all paint, sculpt, dance, or create music. Instead, we should approach everything we do with the creativity and courage of an artist.
Sounds great, but what does that really mean for those of us in the corporate world? Here are a few characteristics of the true artist:
- He ships. Art isn’t art if nobody else sees it.
- She creates an emotional connection. With human beings. You can’t do that if you don’t ship.
- He doesn’t pander. Growing and evolving because of feedback is part of being an artist. Selling out to give your audience what they think they want is not.
- He keeps trying. Great art comes from passion. Passion will not be extinguished by a few failures. The artist learns from those failures and refines his craft.
- She takes risks. Art worth remembering defies convention and traditional classification. If there’s no risk, she is pandering, imitating, or hiding. Even the best books, movies, restaurants, gadgets, and brands have critics.
Why am I writing about this?
I read this book, as I do most of Godin’s books, looking for new insights or ideas I could bring to the work we do for our clients. I was pleasantly surprised to find that what he describes is what we strive to do every day.
Our industry is hitting an incredible level of saturation.
- 371,777 people mention “Social Media” in their Twitter bios. 105,785 mention “SEO.” 216,686 people identify themselves as bloggers in their bios. Source
- More than 500 MILLION tweets are sent every day.
- 532 million Facebook status updates are posted.
- 2 million blog posts are published daily.
Web marketers have adopted a formula: write enough blog posts, tweet enough, post to Facebook enough, and you’ll succeed. Comment on enough blogs, exchange enough links, and your search engine rankings will improve. The problem is, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people doing this, and the definition of “enough” keeps growing. Comfortable is no longer safe.
Most of us like to play it safe. We don’t go out on a limb because limbs can break. We can fall. This applies to marketing strategy as well. “Create more content. Good content. But stick to what we know works.” To do otherwise is dangerous. We risk failure, scorn, loss of a client, being fired.
What we’ve found, though, is that some of our biggest successes came from the most risky, creative, unorthodox ideas. Allow me to share a few examples:
The Sweetest Sixteen Recipe Tournament
What began as an idea to generate new recipes using pie filling turned into something so much larger and more powerful for the brand. We recruited 16 of the top baking bloggers in North America to participate in our tournament. We mailed care packages of Solo’s products to each one of them. Yes – a web marketing company mailed physical things to real people via the US Postal Service. The outcome?
Oh, and we got 16 spectacular recipes out of the bargain, while making friends with some seriously talented bloggers.
To get the most mileage out of this, we’re taking it a step further. We’re compiling all of the recipes from the contest into an e-book. We’re partnering with No Kid Hungry, selling the e-book for $1.99, and donating 100% of proceeds to their mission. Now all of those tasty treats will help feed hungry children!
It started with a conversation that went something like this: “This will either be the dumbest thing we’ve ever written, or it’ll be an amazing story that people will want to share.” It’s a story about two people finding love. It also happens to be an analogy for Development and Operations working better together when it comes to application support and server monitoring. Sounds insane, right?
This post resulted in a massive traffic spike on Valentine’s Day due to dozens of retweets and enough votes to make it to the front page of HackerNews (a prominent community site in the IT world).
Visualizing Facebook Activity of TV Shows
Ocean Media provides media buying and media planning services for major brands. They’ve recently ventured into social media as well, so they wanted to showcase an expertise at the intersection of TV and social media. So, we created a data visualization tool. Every day, our tool pulls Likes and Talking About numbers for 30 prime-time TV shows that debuted this season. That data is then charted over the course of the season so you can see the popularity of each show on Facebook, color-coded by network:
To get the full experience, click the image above and try it out for yourself. We’re taking public data, using a free visualization tool from Google, and creating something interesting and unique.
The success or failure of this project has yet to be seen. We’re still building and gathering data. We’ll find out soon whether it resonates with the public or not!
Fortune Favors the Bold
There’s still a place for “safe.” Safe will still generate incremental gains. You might see 1-2% growth in traffic each month by playing it safe. But safe never goes viral. Safe doesn’t get many retweets. Safe is unremarkable. Occasionally, you need to mix it up with the risky, crazy, quirky, weird ideas that will knock people out of the flood of mundane and say “Wow, that’s different.”
To our clients, current and future, we’d like to make a few requests:
With your permission, we’d like to take more risks.
With your permission, we’d like to try things that might fail.
With your permission, we’d like to fly a little closer to the sun.
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