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Tim Lorang Blog

What Seth Godin’s “Weird” Can Teach Us about Social Media Marketing

Posted by Timothy Lorang on Wed, Oct 03, 2012 @ 03:00 AM

Marketing to the new tribesIn my last post I reviewed Seth Godin’s latest book: We Are All Weird, The Myth of Mass and the End of Compliance. Godin is one of the leading voices for all of us who are trying to navigate the new world of marketing whether we think of ourselves as social media experts, inbound marketers or online advertisers. In We Are All Weird Godin shows how what we used to call normal is splitting up into silos of self-identified tribes of shared interests and passions. What people are now choosing to do is not normal, it is weird. How can we as marketers deal with weird? What does this mean for what we do online?

What is Weird?

  1. Weird is not a niche to be pandered to by mass marketing. Godin shows how Hyatt Hotels tried to market to the new “boutique hotel” niche. Weird is not a sub-market of normal who wants to be patronized to by a large company. The people who like boutique hotels didn’t like Hyatt and the normal market didn’t like boutique hotels, mass marketed by Hyatt or otherwise. If you have a boutique hotel how can you reach the tribe who is truly looking for something different?
  2. Weird is choice freely made by rich individuals. Rich means anyone above subsistence level survival who has a choice. In most places one can choose to be a vegan or not; one can choose to listen to jazz or punk; one can choose to grow a beard of shave their head. Marketers should not pander to a niche but to offer choices, not every choice to everybody, but the right choice to the weird individual looking for a choice.
  3. Weird is the tribe of people who share the same values, aesthetics, and ideals. It may be a tribe of people who are passionate about vintage Vespas, saving the rain forest or eating gluten free bread. One person can belong to several tribes, for example the Vespa riding ecologist searching for a gluten free bakery. When marketers become a trusted part of the tribe then they become trusted by the weird members of the tribe. For example Hyatt was not a trusted member of the tribe of boutique hotel enthusiasts.
  4. Weird is about values held by the tribe and not about price or even the product. Godin gives the example of Tom’s Shoes, a company started by Blake Mycoskie. Every time they sold a pair of shoes they would give an identical pair to someone in the developing world who had no shoes. Blake’s story and values would not resonate with someone just looking for a pair of shoes but would resonate with someone who valued helping others and just happened to need a pair of shoes.
  5. Weird is authentic and you can’t fake that. Back in the heyday of mass marketing when I was a teenager, I can remember watching soft drink commercials that catered to “today’s youth.” I didn’t know anyone who dressed or acted like the normal teenagers in those commercials. I didn’t like Coke or Pepsi, I liked Club Soda and I was defenitly weird. (Here are some vintage soft drink commercials on YouTube.) Marketers can’t pretend to be cool or hip anymore because if you are marketing to the weird and you are not trusted you will fail.
  6. Weird is being connected in a way that has never happened before. In the past people where constrained by geography, family and class. Now it is possible to connect with vintage Vespa lovers across the world or find out about the Vespa rally this weekend in the next town. Your market is online and it is your job to connect with them and become part of their tribe.
  7. Weird is finding what you want when you want it. While riding to the Vespa rally our weird tribe member is going to pull out her smartphone and look for a gluten free bakery, preferably with free-trade coffee. She may find that a chain donut shop is around the corner and a gluten free bakery is a mile away but no worries, do you know how many miles-per-gallon a Vespa gets? The best part about it is the gluten free baker has a coupon on her Google Places for a free cup of free-trade coffee for anyone on a Vespa today.
  8. Weird is about finding happiness. Part of the attraction of being part of the tribe is belonging and being valued. In the past these forces compelled people to be normal. Weird people were loners who would never get a job and probably end up under a freeway bridge. Today weird is all about the community and sharing with other. Our job as marketers is to bring happiness to those who are searching for what they want. You may not be able to sell vintage Vespa rear view mirrors to everybody but I bet there is a group of people you will make very happy. Not everybody will care what Blake does with an extra pair of shoes but others will be happy that somewhere, a shoeless child now has a pair of shoes.
  9. Weird is not normal. It is not big media, large corporations, mass marketers, standardized tests, major political parties, franchises, most organized religions, or law enforcement. The old standards of appealing to the middle will return smaller and smaller dividends. Are the days of Mad Men over when a large advertising budget reached 95% of the households to sell a product most of them would buy? Yes. Does it matter to you? Unless you own a large advertising firm or a mass marketed product you should be fine.
  10. Weird has responsibilities to the innovators, artists, business people and marketers who cater to their tribe. Buy the products, use the services and support the causes that cater to your tribe or you may find your tribe has fewer choices and options. To quote Seth Godin, “Consumers have more power than ever before. What a shame it would be if all we used it for was to get a Whopper for a few pennies less.”

Have you read Seth Godin’s We Are All Weird, The Myth of Mass and the End of Compliance? What lessons do you think it has for online marketers? Are you a marketer or product that caters to a particular tribe? What are you doing? Let us know in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: Jen Merrill 

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Topics: Social Media, Online Marketing