brand inspiration

Seth Godin: "We've Branded Ourselves to Death"

Posted by Sheila Shayon on September 27, 2010 03:00 PM

This just in from the IAB’s MIXX event in New York City today, where Seth Godin gave the keynote and fired up the crowd with this comment: “There is too much clutter … because we’ve branded ourselves to death.”

Godin's beef: Savvy consumers are over-saturated with the glut of brand advertising and “no longer want to be spammed with information about a product, service, or experience; they want to feel a connection to it,” as Emily Molitor reports.

The key takeaway: “People need a reason to purchase, to be part of something bigger, to join a tribe.” Godin has been banging the "brands must have tribes" drum for a while; see the 2009 video above. His latest examples?

Nike: People always had running shoes, but Nike created a tribe of runners who are proud to wear a swoosh because of what “Nike” represents to athletes driven to achieve glory.
The Beatles: Teenagers already were a tribe, but needed leadership. The band capitalized on the opportunity to build loyalty with a pre-existing group seeking a champion for their message.
Zappos: The now-Amazon owned e-tailer doesn’t just sell shoes — it sells an experience that customers appreciate and want to share. It’s not about the shoes, it’s about the principle of service.”

Godin continued, "Ideas that spread, win." Using his iPhone as illustration, "No one bought this phone because it's a good phone. Everyone got it because it's a badge that you're on this team, not that team. Marketing management is now tribal leadership. It needs to be renamed, re-measured.”

The job of CMO today, added Godin, should stand for "chief movement officer" and not chief marketing officer. In short: don't market — inspire, lead, tap into your brand's passions and you'll tap into consumers' passions and build a small and committed following that will scale through word-of-mouth. Agree?


Axle Davids Canada says:

Thanks for this. I watched it right through. As with his statement on his blog that branding is "too expensive, too complicated, and too unpredictable" I also violently agree with him here.

Axle Davids
@Axle | ceo | Distility - 1day1bramd

September 27, 2010 10:59 PM #

john New Zealand says:

Actually, I bought my iPhone because unlike many of the competitors it's possible to use it even though my short distance vision isn't perfect, it's beautifully designed and a delight to use. On my criteria, therefore, it's the best phone on the market. And that's the only reason why I bought it.

September 28, 2010 03:44 AM #

Gunnar Loy, ECD, Triibe United States says:

Seth Godin (nee Goldberg, apparently) has been highlighting a very crucial facet of human and consumer behavior with his focus on tribes. In fact, tribal behavior is the key to understanding not just the examples Godin offers, but the entire adoption, development and growth of the digital universe. As such, it isn't just the CMO that needs to clearly understand the phenomenon, but everyone in the C-Suite, perhaps even in the entire organization, needs to be clear on how tribal behavior drives our modern world.

As for branding, at the risk of taking out of context Godin's comment about having "branded ourselves to death," I'd like to suggest that, just like tribal behaviors, branding is an intrinsic and uniquely human undertaking practiced by every parent who has ever given their child a name.

Along with identifying their offspring by name, presumably, they will also teach the child how to wash behind their ears, put on some clothes, and act appropriately when in public. Pretty soon the child's identity becomes associated with positive aspects across a multitude of public and private touchpoints and, as a result, the child becomes socially, or tribally, desirable. That's branding.

It is only when parents neglect to refine their child and attempt to foist off their drooling, rude, unattractive, and uneducated offspring on some unsuspecting eligible young thing whose family has money that it becomes an exercise in brand marketing.

I assume that it is that latter activity that Godin thinks we have far too much of, and I couldn't agree more!

September 28, 2010 04:46 AM #

Ferdinand Onandia United States says:

So encouraging to hear and to watch this. We are so bombarded with so many things that we get caught up in the race of competing with everything, then we start compromising what we truly want to accomplish and what we truly love to do.

September 28, 2010 05:19 AM #

S. Shayon says:

Thanks to all for your comments.
When Godin translates the traditional moniker of CMO to 'chief movement officer' - what does this mean and how do you envision this being implemented?
S. Shayon

September 28, 2010 10:01 AM #

Gunnar Loy United States says:

Sheila --

As the latest buzzword in marketing circles, the idea of founding or leading a "movement" is very tantalizing. I know I would rather lead a health movement than sell athletic shoes, drive a "save the print media" movement than shill tablet computers, initiate a political change movement than hawk a particular candidate.

However, there are two factors pitted against the longevity of this trend in the marketing realm. The first is in the nature of movements themselves; the second is in the nature of CMOs.

Movements will generally either have a quick adoption curve with long-tail drop-off, what we used to call fads or transitory trends, or long-tail adoption prior to reaching a tipping point and subsequent scale.

The 2008 Obama presidential campaign is an example of the first kind of movement with tremendous excitement, quick adoption, and rapid scale. Two years later, however, the iconic "O" logo has come to represent a "zero" for many once-converted Americans -- now, sadly, a symbol for them of No Hope, No Change -- although some voters are still convinced and most Europeans, it seems, are still enamored.

Facebook, is an example of the second kind of movement, a slow adoption curve over several years with rapid scale after a given tipping point. While we now equate Facebook with Social Media, that categorization fails to take into account the efforts of MySpace, Orkut, Friendster, Hi5, StudiVZ, and the thousands of other attempts at creating an online community movement that were ultimately not nearly as successful.

The problem with CMOs becoming chief movement officers, then, is that their primary goal is to move product or services. Immediately, if not sooner. They need rapid scale in order to move the needle, otherwise, as Heidi Klum says on her cable show, they are out.

As such, CMO efforts have proven to be more in the nature of publicity stunts than actual social movement creation. Given current CMO tenure, there is no way they can consider an approach that would build an actual movement over time. After all, they are on the quarterly return clock.

Finally, if companies are successful in building an actual movement, then the movement begins to take on a life of its own as consumers adopt the values and attitudes of that movement (i.e. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty). The movement then becomes separated from the original product offering and can be easily co-opted by other wannabes and even competitors. Again, not a value proposition for CMOs trying to hang on to their jobs.

So, movements will be the fad-du-jour in marketing circles for a while. Books will be sold, speeches will be made, and clients will be enticed with the prospect of creating a movement. Eventually, the excitement will die down, reality will set in, and we will collectively move on to the next new shiny object.

And that's too bad, because real movements can have actual, positive impacts on society.

October 1, 2010 09:00 PM #

Dennis Brazil says:

"Be a meaningful specificity instead of a wandering generality"

September 28, 2010 10:24 AM #

Michelle Taglialatela United States says:

brand is all about what is inherently unique about an organization. sometimes that uniqueness has a broad appeal and sometimes is has a narrow appeal. regardless, the interested parties want to associate themselves with what the brand stands for. then they become part of the tribe. commonality doesn't attract much and doesn't support the concept of brand.

additionally, if a brand markets itself in a way that is inconsistent with its brand, then that's a mistake and it will negatively impact the brand. i guess what i am saying is that all brand marketing/activity can't all be put under the umbrella of forcing itself on the community. that's bad decision-making and could be viewed as 'branding to death.'

September 28, 2010 11:51 AM #

Paul Biedermann United States says:

Godin has a way of capturing that “Eureka” moment and always making it seem so obvious. Makes you wonder why it’s so difficult to see ourselves.

September 28, 2010 11:56 AM #

Amelia United States says:

The Zappos Family definitely prides itself on making a "personal emotional connection" with as many customers, vendors, and guests alike.  Our culture is our brand, and it is a culture of welcoming and fun friendliness.

Thanks for the great conversation, everyone is welcome the Zappos Family office for a tour! Schedule at

We love Seth Godin!  Have a great day!

September 28, 2010 01:03 PM #

Wedding Photographers in Surrey, Hampshire & Middlesex United Kingdom says:

Far too much is made of brands and the hold they have over the public.  The likes of Apple do attract certain 'fanboy' followers but on the whole people buy their products because they just work.  Same with Nike, Adidas or Asics, you're going to get a lot more wear out of their footwear than say Dunlop or another cheaper alternative.  People buy brand names because they know they're going to get quality.

September 29, 2010 01:23 PM #

Joost Lindeman Netherlands says:

Yes I do think Seth is right. Although I wanted to add one thing. I believe people not necessarly need a tribe connection. It will help to grow its desire, but fundamentally people want brands that are build from what they are really about, from within, rather than brands that try to stick a sexy world on something that isn't. We just grew too intelligent, we can see through that now. Be honest and have a vision.  

September 30, 2010 04:08 AM #

Nikki Erasmus South Africa says:

Cannot agree more but down here in the Southern Hemphisphere
it remains important. When you have nothing a brand can carry tremendous hope. Except of course for Bono. Sorry. Africa is NOT a basketcase. ;) and peace out.

October 2, 2010 06:41 PM #

Jaded United States says:

So to sum this up, all a brand needs is "Tons of buzz, and very limited access!"  (Gmail, Iphone ..etc).

October 3, 2010 11:35 AM #

Ripe, Inc. United States says:

So true... it's human nature to seek out like minded people who feel the same way about a defining cause, philosophy, or political viewpoint. Brand tribes are a perfect extension of that. Successful brands make their followers feel like they're loyal to the best option and anyone who doesn't share that loyalty hasn't quite figured it out yet, they're not in the know.... maybe even not as evolved.

October 4, 2010 12:40 PM #

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